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Generated: Aug 26, 2022 8:36 PM
Post last updated: Aug 26, 2022 8:36 PM
matriculation
bella, caio, and aadhya in the college arcadia
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This isn't New Orleans.

Aadhya is there and it isn't New Jersey. Caio is there and it isn't Brazil.

"Oh fuck, did I -" breathes Bella. She was holding a torus of antimagic, as they went through the hall, with the three of them huddled in the middle. Most mals couldn't cross it at all; some had enough mundane form to manage, or enough momentum to be unable to turn back once they entered, and Aadhya's pike covered in argonet teeth and the poison Caio brewed was meant to turn aside those if they got to the magical donut hole, and Caio was maintaining a shield and he'd run himself ragged transmuting exotics for Aadhya's pike and making potions for them all to take so they'd be able to cast and jog and breathe and see where they were going through the shimmer of the torus at the same time.

Bella was supposed to be keeping an eye on the leading edge of her torus, and reshape it when they got close to the gates. She is probably not strong enough to break the gates but if she did they'd all be dead and a bunch of other people besides, so. And she was pretty sure she had it - she was so sure -

"Fuck, I'm so, I'm so sorry," she says, and she bursts into tears.

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The kind of not New Orleans (or New Jersey, or Brazil) that they've landed in appears to be a lightly fogged meadow, right on the very edge of a natural and undeveloped hot spring. There are trees off in the distance, visible through the fog, but sparsely; not a forest. In almost but not quite the opposite direction there are vague outlines of what might be a skyline. 

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"There's no way you busted the gates - and besides I saw the shimmer change shape, like it was supposed to -"

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Caio hugs Bella. Squints at the skyline. "They have lots of - failsafes, if they could be nibbled away by agglos or by mals that adapted to suck mana out of artifice they'd be long gone. They're probably fine even if they were tripped up for a second. We're wherever the Scholomance is anchored, probably, we'll figure out a comm spell between us, we'll get picked up and helicoptered away with bags over our heads so we don't tell anyone where it is. If we can't just hike to the city."

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"The - city? - why would they have put the Scholomance near a city -"

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"Mundie meatshield?"

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"Or the city's new."

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"Well, it's probably a better bet than camping out working on a comm spell."

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Approximately orthogonal to the line between trees and skyline, an oddly-dressed girl walks out of the fog. She's wearing a pink sundress with yellow and blue flowers embroidered on the skirt, and a pink flat-topped broad-brim hat with a cream hatband, a blue fabric rose on the left side, and a pair of cream cat ears. 

"Hey, are you guys okay?"

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"- we're lost," Bella says. Most people wearing weird getups are just eccentric mundies.

Speaking of weird getups, they make a weird looking set themselves. Bella's wearing much-repaired tatter-hemmed olive green cargo pants, mesh pockets full of rolled and folded letters, a pen, a knife; a T-shirt that began its life navy blue but has since been patched in many colors; and sneakers, the overengineered kind that sometimes go for jawdropping amounts of money, in black with gold and coral red piping and accents and laces, none of which are a discernible logo. The shirt and pants have been embroidered to a degree of fine detail more appropriate to a wedding dress, over and around the repairs especially, though the thread colors are pretty eccentric. Her hair's in an amateur and rather aggressive pixie cut, clearly done with more of an eye to making sure her vision would never be impaired than anything else.

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"Yeah, can you tell us where we are?"

Aadhya's clothes are in much better condition - she's got on a kurta over pants, the fabric blue with white hexagons printed on it or maybe woven directly in, and while it has a few carefully mended spots of damage and looks worn a bit thin it's held up all right to whatever these kids have just gone through. Her shoes, ordinary Converses laced with braided kitchen twine, are a mess, though, the sole half off the left one and the right one looking kind of charred.

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Their companion has neither well-maintained shoes nor well-maintained clothes. His buttondown (black) has clearly been through the wars; three of the buttons don't match and one of them is actually a paperclip, and it's too small in the chest. It has some embroidery like Bella's, around the hem and repair marks. His pants, unremarkable khakis, have an incredible slew of stains on them on top of the holes in the knees and the six inches that look to have been burned off on the left cuff. His shoes appear to have once velcroed but have been adapted to some other closure method since then which is hidden under the upper.

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"--You're on the campus of the College at Arcadia, did you...botch a rift?"

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"Botch a rift?"

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"You look like you just escaped from something actively trying to eat and/or ignite you, I was assuming you were trying to get from point A, attack, to point B, not attack but also not C of A. --Or last time you were here wasn't this cycle and the springs are confusing, which would be reasonable, I'm told most of the layouts are less confusing than this one. I wouldn't know! Freshman."

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"I'm sorry, I have no idea what you're talking about."

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"If this is a masquerade breach it is objectively not my fault. Um. You...do not recognize the terms 'rift' or 'College of Arcadia,' am I correct."

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"I know the words..."

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"- did you say 'masquerade breach' -"

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"Yes. Humans not in the know are not supposed to be on campus, so it is not my fault if I said things I wasn't supposed to." 

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"- are you trying to figure out if we're magic, or something else?"

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Aadhya has been trying to hold the gigantic poison-tipped pike unobtrusively, insofar as this is possible, and isn't going to stop doing that yet, but it's nice to have a conversation topic about when she can put it down on the table.

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"That is absolutely what I am doing. Or, whether you knew about magic; if none of you were witches but you had cousins who were and knew that way it still wouldn't be a masquerade breach."

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"We're witches - or, well, wizards, but I guess some places they say witches -"

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"So you're patched into enough of a network for 'they say' but not so you've heard of the College of Arcadia--if I say Hawthorn Academia does that ring any bells--"

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"No - you guys? -"

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"Are those, like, enclave schools or something, I just know enclaves by city name not by internal institution."

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"We can't've ended up in an enclave, can we?"

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"What's an enclave?"

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"Wow, I really hope we didn't just breach masquerade at you. How does anybody on the planet who speaks English and is magical not know what an enclave is?"

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"I don't know what that is to even guess! I've never heard a witch called a wizard either--do you mean, like, pocket dimensions, or like, uh--Hespatian Families--gosh, I sure wouldn't want to land on one of those--"

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"Pocket dimensions. What is a Hespatian Family?"

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"The Hespatians are...a big agglomeration of loosely-connected groups called 'Families' which have certain techniques in common. I've, uh, heard that they're not all evil, but the ones you hear about tend to be."

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"Are they... from... Pisa...? They're not going to be from Pisa, are they, this is just not how this conversation is going. Are there fucking two masquerades. Are we now going to be vulnerable to some horrible witchy problem that your masquerade was supposed to protect us from."

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"That, uh--don't look at Outsiders. Like, definitely don't do anything other than look, but don't even look if you can help it. That doesn't come up much, though--there are less psychologically hazardous dangers, though--but those don't come up much either. More often than outsiders, though. People tell their families and significant others all the time, it's not that big a deal, but I can't say there isn't anything. Why, what's yours protecting people from."

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"...I feel like that is kind of a weird question to ask, considering!"

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"Outsiders aren't on the top ten list of things I'd tell new witches!"

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"I mean, our masquerade among other things is supposed to protect mundies from knowing about a thing that is more dangerous if you know about it, and I have no idea how that applies to witches but it is definitely not obvious that you should know about it."

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"--Oh, I figured that if your masquerade was already broken on me it didn't matter, knowing about Outsiders in particular doesn't make you more vulnerable to them once you already know about witches." 

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"I will try diligently not to encounter any Outsiders, though I haven't the foggiest how to go about that."

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"They don't tend to be subtle. If you see something with too many eyes, run the other way. I can probably get you a textbook on Outsider identification if you want."

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"Do they appear just kind of wherever? Among the cereal boxes, under the bed, in caves in Mozambique, what are we talking here."

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"They appear where witches who have decided that 'become an Outsider cultist' sounds like a great route to power are fucking with shit. There aren't many places that are guaranteed one hundred percent Outsider free but in general anyone who hasn't lost all their self-preservation instincts who finds out about Outsider stuff is going to either kill it with fire or run off to find someone more powerful to do it." 

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"Well, good to know that fire works."

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"Well, you want to be real thorough, and look out for immortality methods, but yeah, fire, lightning, acid, your standard destructives work on Outsiders generally. Unless they're immune to whatever specific thing, but nobody's immune to everything." 

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"Mm-hm. - so, I'm Bella, and these are my graduation allies Caio and Aadhya."

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"I'm Eliza. Graduation allies?" 

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"We just graduated from wizard school. It's dangerous. For masqueradey reasons. You go in with a team."

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"Well. Uh, welcome to a magic school that isn't so dangerous you need teams about it?"

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"Oh yay. Another magic school.

Does it have... phones. We could maybe call our parents who probably think we have all died what with our not having appeared."

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"Oh, yikes, yeah--" 

She pulls a completely mundane phone out of her pocket, unlocks it, and holds it out.

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Bella calls her mom's cell.

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An unfamiliar voice picks up on the other end after a couple of rings. "Hello?"

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"- hello? I'm calling for Renée Swan?"

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"Sorry, I don't know anyone by that name." 

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"Oh, I'm sorry to have bothered you." She hangs up, re-reads the number. "Okay, either I forgot the number or it changed for some reason - Aadhya, here -"

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Aadhya dials her parents' house.

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"Frankie's House of Pizza, how can I help you." 

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"Wrong number, sorry." She hangs up. Gives the phone to Caio on autopilot.

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"Uh, my folks are in Brazil, can this phone handle international all right...?"

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“Yeah, we’re,” these people will have no idea what she means if she says hexvpn. “Yes.”

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Then he will dial his parents in São Paulo.

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The people on the other end are plausibly in São Paolo, but they are not his parents.

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"...Desculpe, número errado."

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"Caio I don't have Portu-

- oh."

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"I... don't know why none of us would be able to connect - I can try my dad and my enclave, but -"

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"We know whatever happened to Chicago hadn't escalated horribly as of a year ago...?"

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"Yeah, but there's whatever happened to Bangkok?"

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"...yeah."

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"--Something happened to Chicago? ...And Bangkok?"

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"To their enclaves, I don't think it would've made the mundie news."

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"Okay, that's good. Uh, not for the enclaves, I assume, but Chicago has a lot of normal people in it." 

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"It does. Fortunately it didn't spiral out of control, but Bangkok had a similar problem a year ago, and we don't know what kind of conditions that's turned into on the outside but it would have to be pretty bad to have affected all three of our families." She takes the phone back and tries her dad, and the enclave.

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This gets random people who are not her dad or enclavers. 

"If you give me names, I can google to see if I can find any obituaries. If any of these people would have obituaries if they died."

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"My dad's a mundie, he would - Charles Swan, Forks Washington?"

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"Bella, I can't think of anything that would get all our families and your divorced mundie dad."

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"Me either but..."

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"No obituary. No other obvious hits either, I'm getting some kind of historical article about someone in Washington County, Pennsylvania."

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"That's really weird."

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"While we all meditate on this mystery, is there somewhere we could... sit. And food we could eat."

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"Sitting down and food are trivial to accomplish; if you need longer-term accommodations then that's going to be slightly more complicated." She pulls a golden wand with a rose quartz crystal set into the tip out of thin air; a moment later and the wand is a broomstick with a much larger quartz crystal set into one end. She sets it into place in midair behind her and sits back sidesaddle on it. 

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"- oh that's very cool."

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"We are not carrying... currency... but are in theory ready to begin work as productive adult wizards? Though I think normally recently graduated adult wizards take, like, a gap year."

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"I mean, my roommates and I can probably put you up for a while, but we would have to actually talk to them first. Things in Arcadia mostly don't run on human currency anyway."

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"Is there witch currency? Wizards normally work on mundie money or mana depending."

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"Witch currency is mana." She pulls a small copper coin out of her sleeve. "Witch Kisses, coins containing quantized amounts of mana. You can make them out of pure mana and pull mana out of them when you need it."

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"- that's very cool."

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"Is it lossy?"

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"Nope. The main bottleneck is that if you don't have special materials or relics for it, it takes six minutes to make one Witch Kiss."

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"How much mana is that - also, was there going to be food, I had a soda for breakfast and dinner last night and that's all and the adrenaline comedown is a thing -"

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"There will be food when we get back to the dorms, I don't have any on me. One Witch Kiss is about a tenth of the mana needed to brew a rank-one potion, or a fortieth of what's needed inscribe a rank-one rune, or a fifth of the cost of a rank-one hex."

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"Very neat and tidy sounding, your system."

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"Are we meant to ride the broomstick?"

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"No, sorry." The broomstick starts moving smoothly in the direction the crystal is pointed. "It's just that there are enough springs that the ground is uneven enough I'd rather ride than walk."

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Well then, they'll set off on foot. "Are springs also a witch thing or does a lot of water bubble up out of the ground?"

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"Well, uh...actually this is a pocket dimension that changes the terrain every cycle, and this cycle somebody picked a hot springs theme. Uh, a cycle is a three-month academic period."

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"I realize we have now said this to you several times, but that's very cool."

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"Yeah, our school is nowhere near that nice."

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"I sort of picked that up from the graduation you need teams to survive, honestly."

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"Graduation all by itself kills fully a third of the kids who die at our school, the rest of it is less of a horrorshow. Or, like, at least a much more spread-out horrorshow."

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"...How...many deaths are there total."

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"Usually it's like one in four make it out?"

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"Our year was better though, for idiosyncratic information-hazardous reasons."

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"A seventy-five percent death rate!? Why the fuck does anyone go there."

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"Because it's about five times better than the death rate outside the school for the relevant age group."

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"--You said families, earlier--is this hereditary--why do any of you have babies--"

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"Good fucking question! I was an accident and for my own part plan to be extremely gay about it!"

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"I think it's about the same reason anyone had - or, well, wanted, some people wanted them - babies back when infant mortality was awful for mundies? It's just kind of - normal - and some people have better resources than others for getting through the danger years -"

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She makes a very complicatedly unhappy face. "Well--there's free birth control at Student Health, they don't exactly demand to see student IDs."

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"Bella's gay, I have the implant, and Caio is far too awkward to have this problem."

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"Hey."

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"If I had a genetic condition with a twenty-five percent survival rate I would get a hysterectomy and then every sterility curse I could find. --But a reasonable person level of caution is also reasonable and I'm not judging you about it, just kind of freaked out." 

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"Do abortions not work for witches?"

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She makes a face. "They do, but I don't want to have one."

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"Then if you were a wizard I would fully support you in having a hysterectomy."

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"My parents sucked, I have issues, I am not judging anyone else's life choices."

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"At any rate, uh, if we're - currently displaced - do you have a general sense of what our options are likely to be?"

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"Honestly, I'd need to know more about your powers to get into specifics, but if you have different magic than us then that means comparative advantage, and that can be leveraged. I expect that you'll need a little while to get on your feet regardless, and I messaged my roommates and they're fine with you staying over at least for a little while but if there isn't some combination of two of you who can share a bed while the third takes the couch we're going to have to get creative."

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"We all speak several languages, my affinity is metamagic, Caio's is complicated potions, Aadhya's is artificing with exotic materials. I don't think any two of us can straightforwardly share a bed but honestly the beds in the Scholomance are sufficiently awful that whoever draws the short straw will be grateful for a nice floor."

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"Okay then, one of you can sleep in my bed, one of you can take the couch, and one of you can grab some floor. We might even be able to scare up a sleeping bag but I bet someone at least has a spare blanket and pillow." 

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"Where will you sleep?"

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"In my boyfriend's room."

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"- god that's such a weird concept. Sorry. Scholomance thing. We will be on the lookout for things to do with ourselves that do not involve prevailing on the hospitality of the first person we encountered, thank you very much."

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"Which thing is a weird concept, having an opposite-sex lover with whom it is theoretically possible for birth control to fail? Putting energy into relationships instead of being part of the surviving quarter?"

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"Sleeping in someone else's room. It's weird in all possible cases but the case in which one ever even sort of thinks about it before realizing it is not to be risked is usually with people's significant others. People do date in the Scholomance, people do all kinds of things, but they do not have sleepovers."

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"For...weird...infohazard monster reasons?"

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"Right in one."

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Headshake. "I would be so curious if I didn't know perfectly well not to fuck around with infohazards. Does that mean whoever takes floor is going to want to camp out in the kitchen instead of my room or the living room, so that everybody's in a different room?"

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"I don't think it's quite that severe."

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"Okay." She has more questions but they're either kind of personal or skirting on infohazardous. 

They emerge from the fog into an area with an array of low buildings, only two or three stories apiece, arranged mostly in a sort of grid pattern with a quad between every relevant combination of four buildings. Eliza hops off of her broom and dismisses it as soon as there's a nice paved path to walk on.

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The Scholomance kids are perhaps overly enamored by features like "the sky" and "plants".

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Well, the sky is fake, but it's a really good fake. 

Eliza leads them towards a dorm on the opposite side of this quad, past what appears to be a cross between a pokemon battle and a yugioh duel, in the sense that a charizard is wrestling with a red-eyes black dragon while two girls, one of whom has green skin, make gestures with cards and yell enthusiastically with each other. 

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This gets raised eyebrows but no comment, since the people seem to be... having... fun?

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"Digicasting," Eliza says brightly, "is the practice of using magic to manifest fiction into reality. --It's less overpowered than it sounds, there's a reason those two lizards are wrestling and not throwing exotic ranged effects at each other."

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"It still sounds useful, depending on how long the lizards last and how tractable they are?"

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"It's definitely useful! My boyfriend uses it for prosthetics on demand whenever it's useful for him to get out of his wheelchair and walk."

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"...I realize we keep saying this, but that's very cool."

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"That one I don't feel horrified about the implied comparisons for, it is in fact very cool."

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"I kind of hope anything we can do is also very cool."

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"I'm sort of curious what your potions can do and whether your exotic materials and our exotic materials have any practical overlap."

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"An inconvenient number of my exotic materials are infohazardous."

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"Potion ingredients usually aren't, though. Uh, potions can do a ton of things, and my affinity's about how they're made, not what they do when you make them, so it's sort of hard to sum up..."

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"Innnnnteresting. Well, I wasn't going to ask to make a potion with any of your exotic ingredients anytime soon, because I assume that any you have on you are in highly limited supply, but I'd be happy to spot a few kisses for some inexpensive magic ingredients to see if you can do anything cool with them that we can't." 

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"We don't have any raw ingredients on us, just finished stuff."

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"I could repurpose a lot of it especially if Bella helps since she's got the good metamagic spells but yeah."

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"Also, why are they called 'kisses'."

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"I have no idea."

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"I suppose I will just have to wonder, then. So this is a school? How's it - operate, as distinct from, say, a mundie college or something."

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"There aren't any entrance exams or tuition; Arcadia will admit any newish witch who wants to come, and provides free room and board. The dorms are nicer than I'm led to believe human colleges have. A lot of things are more flexible; you don't generally have to fight with other students over the best timeslots for the best classes. The grounds change drastically four times a year. The teachers are here because teaching sounded like a good way to spend however big a chunk of their lives they wanted to, not because they needed a day job and college professor was what they qualified for. If you visit the chapel there is a non-zero chance you will meet someone who fought in the literal actual Crusades."

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"- how's that last?"

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"The chapel--it looks more like a cathedral, but it doesn't have a bishop, and apparently that matters--it's run by the Watchers, who are a group of Abrahamically-aligned religious witches. The Watchers are pretty old as an organization and apparently recruited from both sides."

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"I suspect she was asking about the being hundreds of years old business."

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"--Oh! Witches do that. Do you not?"

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"Not routinely. We live longer than mundies on the high end but most research into making us die less focuses on. Teenagers. Considering."

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"That...makes sense. Every race of witch except neutrals--humans--has their own innate way of not dying of old age, like, I'm an oread, I'm nineteen, if I stayed out of the ground completely for ten years I would age to twenty-four and then when I went to sleep buried I'd regress to twenty. And even for neutrals, there are magics that can prevent or reverse aging; they're expensive, but not so expensive that dying of old age is common."

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"Wow. Do they only work on witches?"

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"They do not." 

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"That's very cool."

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"I'm a fan! Ways to prevent or reverse death are sort of a special interest."

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"You can reverse it too? Man, I'm starting to be concerned that in fact we cannot do anything cool!"

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"It takes rank five magic, generally, and most people can't manage to get over rank three. Rank five alchemists make bank with their Arch-curatives."

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"Rank is what it sounds like?"

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"I think it sounds like what it is!"

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"Wizards have nothing so tidy, unfortunately."

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"I wouldn't have predicted it, before I learned magic was real." 

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"You didn't know?"

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"Nope. I was a 'natural' awakening."

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"Wizards don't - awaken - just improve in mana generation over time."

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"Witches awaken. It can be done manually, by another witch who knows how, or it can happen by itself, usually in response to trauma and adrenaline."

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"Estimated time on food?"

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"We're almost there." 

The dorm building has an elevator inside; she doesn't suggest using the stairs instead. They get out on the second floor, and after unlocking the door the first thing Eliza does is stride into the kitchen and fling open the snack cupboard. 

The suite has either five or six rooms depending on how you want to count them: four small bedrooms off the main common area, which contains a partially sectioned-off kitchenette. 

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They all know what an elevator is, though none of them have seen one in the last four years. Flinging the cabinet open gets them all flinching but they chill out a moment later. And descend on the snacks.

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The snacks have been selected with the gleeful abandon of college students able to brew curative potions if they ever encounter any kind of nutritional problem. Also, not all of them are recognizable brands. One jar of gummy worms warns that they invert your color perception. Eliza opens the fridge to pull out sandwich fixings, because in her experience when you're hungry sometimes snack foods just aren't enough and you want something more substantial.  

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FOOD. REAL FOOD.

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The door, not closed all the way, swings the rest of the way open as a man in a wheelchair knocks it aside. He pauses for a moment in bemusement at the sheer gustatory enthusiasm the three arrivals are displaying for perfectly ordinary sandwiches, before wheeling over. 

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Eliza leans down to peck him on the cheek. "Hello, love. Sweetheart, these are Bella, Aadhya, and Caio; Bella, Aadhya, and Caio, this is my boyfriend, Johann Morgan." She pronounces his first name the German way, with a y sound.

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"Hi, Johann. We had a graduation accident from our magical school from a different masquerade it is infohazardous to speak too much about certain aspects of, and are both traumatized and unable to contact our families, that's our deal."

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"Eliza told me. I'm sorry about the trauma. And being unable to contact your families. But mostly the trauma, honestly." 

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"Most people have less complicated relationships with their families than we do." 

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"True." 

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"I think all three of us were looking forward to seeing ours again."

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"I'm glad to hear it. It may be possible for us to help you get home, but the risk of infecting our world with infohazard monsters is, I admit, concerning."

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"Well, I haven't seen any yet? I don't know how encouraging to find that, I've never heard of this happening before."

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"I don't think any of us know how to evaluate that. We should probably talk to, like, adults, who are experts on planar theory."

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"If you have those then yes by all means."

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"We definitely have those! Portals and Aethernautics are both fields of magic that should be relevant."

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"You think it's another plane, not another masquerade?"

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"It'd explain the phone."

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"Well, other planes exist, and the phone thing seems pretty hard to explain just by separate masquerades, and the idea of separate masquerades requires that nobody managed to conjoin them before now."

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"Or that previous occasions have been covered up."

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"That's why I said conjoined and not punctured."

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"I don't think it's that much more confusing than mundies not knowing in the first place? I guess it's probably easier to convince witches and wizards of each other existing."

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"Once you've already passed through one veil of ignorance, the next one becomes more plausible, in my experience."

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"But we don't have that. - usually, anyway."

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"So it's only relevant one way, but it's still relevant the one way, some of the time. Anyway, regardless of how plausible it is for two ancient magical conspiracies to coexist in mutual ignorance, there's still the phone thing. We could probably get a Diviner to confirm."

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"That sounds good, do you have one handy?"

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"I'm taking a course on divination this cycle, I'll email my professor asking for a favor."

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"Must be neat having teachers. Our school doesn't have teachers."

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"...How...?"

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"The school magically sets and grades assignments and stocks the library and suchlike."

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"Why?"

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"It doesn't really support a commute."

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"In what sense?"

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"The only time anyone goes in or out is when we're inducted, when we're fourteen, and when we graduate, four years later."

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"And graduation is dangerous, even in teams. Brr."

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"A while ago they modified the school to kidnap a mundie school nurse every year but they had no exit plan for those. They usually last about a month."

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"I sent a stern letter out about that with a graduating team but I don't know if they lived to deliver."

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"It sure would be nice if nobody ever committed a nonconsensual human sacrifice."

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"Amen." Having demolished two sandwiches she sets in on a pack of snack cakes.

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"If there's anything in particular you want, Melody has decided to go grocery shopping."

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"- ice cream?"

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"A pomegranate."

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"Cheese."

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"Got it," he says, definitely not getting out a phone or anything to legibly send this message. 

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"You guys have some kind of comm spell running?"

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"Sending is rank zero, which means it's pretty much trivial."

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"Do you guys even have affinities?"

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"--Yes but given the givens I suspect we mean different things by that." 

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"Affinities for wizards are an area of spell that comes more easily and intuitively and cheaply. Everybody learns to cast out of affinity, too, but most actually useful things aren't trivial for most wizards. Or, well, wizards younger than us, we can probably relax about mana costs considerably more now."

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"For us, affinities are a set of mostly-racial quasi-elemental categories that make it easier for us to learn certain kinds of magic. For example, I'm 'neutral'--fully human aside from the magic--which means that my affinities are soul and body. Other affinities include mind, death, beast, nature, life, blood, water, fire, metal, earth, and wind."

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"...huh. At least most of those are plausible wizard affinities but ours're much more varied than that."

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"There are also three basic categories of witch, according to how we learn magic--I'm a sorceress, which means I mostly learn magic through instinct and practice; the other kinds are academics, who learn magic out of books, and warlocks, who make compacts with greater beings for power."

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"I suppose we're all academics by that scheme."

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"Or at least, your magic is more similar to academic magic in that way. Some kinds of magic are also easier or harder to learn for one or another category. Like, elementalism is a lot easier for me because I'm a sorceress." 

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"Manchester enclave had a water and a fire affinity in our year."

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"Come to think of it, you mentioned yours earlier--metamagic, exotic materials, aaand potions?"

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"Potions specifically created with stuff arranged around and not just in the container."

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"That is...I am sure much less remarkably specific in your familiar context than it seems to me."

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"It's 'arrays' and 'arrangements', depending on the stuff around the beaker or vat or what have you, and, yeah, there's lots of them."

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"We have potions, and there are different ways of making them, and someone might have more talent for one method or another, but it wouldn't be--it would just be, like, having more of a knack for doing things one way than another, it wouldn't be more magically effective for them to do things the way they're more comfortable with."

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"I mean, I'm not necessarily more effective at it? Somebody else's arrayed potion could be just as good as mine, especially if they had some other alchemy-related affinity but even if they didn't and were just good in the lab. It means I - remember how to do them more easily, and can push mana through them a bit more efficiently, and am less likely to make a mistake. It means I'm better at writing new recipes that way instead of a different way. But if me and Bella or Aadhya do the same recipe and none of us fuck it up the potion will be about the same."

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"It also wouldn't cost less mana!"

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"Do your affinities have nothing to do with mana efficiency or do they just not include stuff like Caio's?"

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"There are ways to improve mana efficiency but none of them have to do particularly with affinity, so far as I'm aware."

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"What does affinity do for witches then?"

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"'Easier to learn' isn't just a matter of a knack like what I was talking about with potions. It takes me half as much practice to develop a kind of magic that's in-affinity for me as one that's not--and for an academic it takes half as much study and for a warlock, half as much favor from their patron. The practices we use to develop our magic give us a sort of--intangible resource, which can be invested to develop what we're actually capable of. An academic could spend weeks studying complex rank-five runic rituals, and at the end have moved from being capable of rank-one rituals to rank-two rituals. Most people can never move beyond rank three in any particular discipline."

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"This intangible resource is a separate thing from mana?"

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"Right. Mana is about using abilities you already have; this thing is about gaining new abilities."

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"...huh. I think for us there's just - learning to do it, and then having enough mana to do it."

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"That's definitely an advantage. --I wonder if your mana and our mana are similar enough that you can use Kisses."

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"I'd be happy to try it, my power sharer hasn't worked since we graduated and I miss it already."

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What a power sharer is is a question she can ask later. She pulls out a small copper coin and hands it to her. 

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Bella takes and inspects it. "This is mana? What do you do to get it out, bite it or something?"

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"--No, you just--draw on it."

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She will attempt to draw on it like it is its own tiny power sink.

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There is a little bit of mana in there! 

The coin vanishes when she pulls it out. 

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"Ee! That's nifty. Barely a sneeze of mana, is it more for you than that -?"

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"Nah, I gave you the smallest denomination of coin in case you couldn't use it but it still got messed up somehow."

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"Sensible. It takes six minutes to make this? I think I could build that much mana in a minute and a half, maybe, if I went with a fast method."

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"Generally it does! There are ways to cheat. But the fact that they're so inconvenient to mint is why they're so valuable relative to the amount of mana involved; I could regenerate from empty to full in, like, an hour, but there's a limit to how much I can store."

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"And this is the only way you have to store mana?"

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"No, just the one that scales best."

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"Maybe the thing we can do that is very cool is build you a real power sink. Mine was put together outside the Scholomance, but I helped set it up, so I wouldn't be starting from scratch."

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"--Ooh."

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"Maybe not scratch scratch, but we don't have access to wizard books here."

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"There is that."

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"It is such a shame you guys didn't have textbooks on you, they would have been fascinating. Oh well. I wonder if you can use anything from any of ours."

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"Could give it a whirl, do you have a book of simple stuff handy?"

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"Hmm. We should..." 

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"Zero Hour by Belladona Quincey."

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"Oh, right!" 

She vanishes briefly into one of the rooms, and comes back holding the book in question. 

"This is a book about rank-zero magic, the basic stuff that almost any witch can learn without investing a lot of resources into it. Notably, minting kisses is rank-zero Hex magic."

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"Cool." She scoots next to Caio and they peer at the book together.

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The book notes in a foreward that new magic disciplines are invented sometimes, perhaps more often, privately, than anyone knows, and newly-invented disciplines often involve the discovery of new rank-zero magic, so this book should not be taken as comprehensive. The book has chapters on the rank zero effects of Hexes, Witchery, Familiarity, Divination, Necromancy, and Dominion. Each chapter not only describes the effects of the rank zero effect in general, but also different approaches often taken to them by Arcanists, Sorcerers, and Warlocks, and detailed minutiae of what the magic is actually doing. 

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It seems highly unlikely that wizards get "mothergifts". Instead they will try doing a Sending to each other.

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Actually getting the magic to line up right to go through is harder than the book implies that it ought to be, but it does go through. 

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"Neat, we have achieved Sending! I'm pretty sure there are wizard spells kinda like that but they're not common within the Scholomance, everybody's cooped up together and can usually just talk in person and also context-insensitive interruptions are fairly hostile."

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"I wouldn't Send somebody out of nowhere if I had another way to contact them and it wasn't urgent and I didn't have an ongoing relationship with them where we were all on the same page about when Sending is appropriate, yeah."

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"Quite. Handy to have, though, and not very expensive."

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"That describes a lot of rank zero stuff! And rank one stuff, you only need rank one Witchery to turn your rod into a broomstick. For example."

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"I think some wizards used to enchant broomsticks but they're no longer in vogue. Are they cooler than they sound?"

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"Depends on your rank at Witchery and whether you've got any spare abilities to boost 'em, but like, flying? Is awesome."

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"If we have mana to burn we can just fly straight up. It's useful for getting high-up library books occasionally."

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"Well, riding a broomstick doesn't cost mana, so there's that."

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"I think these days carpets are more popular for that with us."

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"Some broomsticks can turn into carpets! Carpets can carry more people but are slower."

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"Why are they slower?"

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"Dunno, mine can't so I haven't had a lot of reason to look into it."

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"...hey, question. How do you build your mana?"

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"Me personally, or witches in general? Every race has their own way of building charge. Oreads do it through physical proximity to people we're emotionally close to. Neutrals use sleep."

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"Buuuuuuullshit."

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"I think you are officially cooler than us across the board."

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"Sor...ry? I'm not actually sorry, it's nice being cool. How do you generate mana? Probably there is a race that has it worse and it's just that you didn't happen to meet a Lamia right off."

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"Effort and suffering."

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"Not ideal but definitely better than a Lamia or a Lilin."

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"Or a Hannya." 

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"Or a Hannya, eugh." 

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"Lamia gain mana by digesting creatures they swallowed alive. Lilin gain mana by doing things they consider to be morally wrong. Hannya gain mana by being drunk."

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"...okay, those are unfortunate. Though I imagine some people would like the drunk one? I don't personally see the appeal but people do drink on purpose."

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"People do drink on purpose but people don't usually become alcoholics on purpose, which is pretty much inevitable for pure Hannya. At least some actual Hannya like it, but, like...they're not the most stable people to be around. Also the Lamia situation is actually worse than Johann implied, they gain mana from the souls of the creatures they digest and most animals don't have souls that are strong enough to count."

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"Oh dear. I guess the Kisses are in practice how the more... neighborly... ones get mana? They buy them with whatever else?"

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"I don't personally know a lot of Lamias but I imagine so. I suppose if one had a friend with a convenient form of immortality and some kinks something consensual could be worked out..."

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"Is... that a real kink?"

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"What, vore? It's popular enough that there's, like, a word for it."

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"That's just Latin - or, like, an abbreviation of 'omnivore', probably, lots of things are - anyway it doesn't matter as we are not lamias and get mana by doing pushups or embroidery or whatever."

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"Is there a gym on campus? - that we could use?"

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"Prob...ab...ly? I know there are multiple gyms but I am not much of a gym person personally so I don't know which if any of them need student ID to get in. Lemme check." Pause. "Okay Lisao says there's a gym not that far from here that should be convenient."

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"Cool. We wound up doing bodyweight exercises in our rooms half the time for reasons."

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"That wouldn't work so well for me, I think I would wind up leaning more on the embroidery part."

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"It's good to have a mix of exhausting and annoying so you can switch between them if you run out of materials for your annoying or stamina for your exhausting. I think most adult wizards settle on having a kind of hardcore workout routine and optionally an irritating hobby."

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"Makes sense, even if it never occurred to me to seek out a hobby for being irritating before."

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"My plan for if I ran out of surfaces on my clothes to embroider was to take up lacemaking, which I expect I would find incredibly loathsome."

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"My mom goes for an hourlong run every morning and her job is magic weaving so that does for an irritating hobby for her, she just gets incredibly persnickety about it all, and my dad has a rowing machine and weights and crosswords."

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"I embroider, it's good for doing runes. It doesn't irritate me, though."

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"Yeah, if I loved it it would work less well. It did actually start working less well, after a while, just not to the point where I switched to lace."

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"Runes in lace would look really cool, I bet, maybe I should look into it. Or mention it offhand to Melody and see if she goes on a research binge about it."

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"Melody's a friend of yours?"

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"That room is hers," she says, pointing to the one on the right hand side farther from the door into the suite. "And that one's Lisao's," the closer right-hand one, "and that one's mine, so one of you will be using it," farther left-hand, "and that one's Johann's." Closer left-hand. 

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"Luxurious. We've been living in roughly a shipping container apiece. With a lethal curfew."

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"That sounds...better than a, what was it, five percent chance of survival? If you don't go to school?"

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"I think the ones who make it without having to go to the Scholomance might be better adjusted, but there are certainly fewer of them."

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"It wasn't as bad a few generations ago, or we'd probably've died out at some point."

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"That makes sense. I wonder what changed. ...I wonder if there's a non-infohazard answer to that question."

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"Is 'it's a research interest of mine' an answer?"

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"It's more of an answer than I was expecting, honestly."

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"Well, it is. I don't think we'd better go into much more detail till we know more about the relationship between our worlds whenever your... planar expert... gets back to us."

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"I won't argue." 

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The door opens again. 

"I have cheese, ice cream, and pomegranates!" Melody chirps. "Also some other stuff we were running low on."

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"Thanks so much! There's no decent perishables in the Scholomance at all." She falls upon the cheese.

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Melody got a variety of cheeses, including cheddar, swiss, pepper jack, asiago, and the really nice fresh mozzarella where you can practically drink the whey out of the packaging. 

"How come?"

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"The food there consists of what people bring in on a pretty sharp weight limit, a transmuted nutrient slurry that is just barely convincing enough as a facsimile of bad cafeteria food that one can choke it down, and a weird vending machine that dispenses a variety of dubious vending machine type foods but only the kind you can store at room temperature for kind of a while." Ice cream?

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Ice cream! There's Vanilla Bean, Death by Chocolate, Strawberry Cheesecake, Red Bean, Pomegranate, Panda Paws, and Maple Walnut. 

"Sorry about your horrible nutrient slurry."

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"Some decades back they didn't even transmute it and kids were dying of malnutrition! It gets better! Sorta! So are you blue on account of being one of the panoply of witch species?" She is going to spoon some of - that and some of th- yeah she's going to put a scoop of everything in the bowl she graduated she deserves it.

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"I'm a Vana! Some people use the plural Vanir as the singular form but those people are wrong."

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"I don't recognize the word.. I mostly stuck to Chinese and the Romance languages."

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"It's a bad idea in the Scholomance to pick up bits of languages you don't plan to get spell-competent in. Confuses the school."

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"And to be clear basically anything we say is a bad idea is so because it can kill you, though that one is typically indirect."

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"I don't think it's especially a foreign language at this point? People talk about Norse Mythology in English all the time."

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"We were all brought up on the understanding we'd be going to the Scholomance and needed to focus on what we'd need there."

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"Fair enough. Vanir the actual witch species are not gods but the word's the same as a kind of god from Norse Mythology and so I occasionally insert first-person pronouns into invectives that would usually reference divinity because I find it funny."

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"Why do you have the same word?"

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"My best guess is that we had it first and then some people mistook us for gods but I don't actually know all the historical details."

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Icecreamicecreamicecreamicecream.

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Aww.

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"It's also possible that when the fey folk decided to start calling themselves the Alfheimr Alliance some other stuff got Norse words slapped on."

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"That is also possible, yes."

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"Fey folk?" Caio is picking apart his pomegranate reverently.

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"Uh...well, in practice, the Alfheimr Alliance is a set of loosely-associated polities in a particular plane mostly grouped into two factions, summer and winter, with the summer ones being more authoritarian and the winter ones being more libertarian. Everyone there is, if not a witch, at least a non-human."

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"Are most witches not human? Are many non-humans non-witches? Wizards are just a kind of human, sometimes we even pop up with two mundie parents."

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"Okay, so...for most cases, a species acts like a species, except when witchness gets involved. If I have kids with another Vana, our kids will come out Vanir, and may or may not ever awaken as witches. But if I have kids with, say, a Jotunn, our kids will come out Vana/Jotunn hybrids, and if they ever awaken as witches they might awaken as hybrids, or they might awaken as full Vanir or Jotunns. And if I have kids with a human, and they have kids with a human, and so on and so on, then eventually you get what are basically humans with bits and pieces of heritage from whatever else lying around. And when a human awakens, they might awaken as a human, or they might awaken as some random thing they've got ancestry from. So, like, assuming Eliza and Johann have kids someday, any one of those kids might awaken as Neutral, or an Oread, or a Neutral/Oread hybrid, or some other thing that one of them has lurking in their gene pool, or some hybrid of that and Oread or Neutral, or even a Neutral/Oread/third thing chimera. --Eliza and I were both born human."

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"Lisao is the only one who lives here who wasn't born human, she's a Daeva/Mimi hybrid and her parents are a Daeva witch and a Mimi witch." 

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"What are those?"

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"Oreads and Mimis are both species with animal traits--any land animal, actually, Lisao and I are both catgirls but that's just a coincidence, if I had Oread children they might come out with fox traits or deer traits or even lizard traits--but Oreads have a deep connection to the earth, whereas Mimis are more connected to other people. If I die, I can come back if you bury my body; if Lisao dies, she can come back if someone builds a shrine to her and weeps for her there. Daeva are--basically if someone took a human being and was like, 'okay, what if this, but without all the parts that suck.' Daeva are taller and stronger and don't get periods or headaches or acne or cancer or allergies or...you get the picture." 

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"Also, on average, they have bigger breasts." 

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"Which I suppose is evidence for the idea that whoever decided to redesign humanity had never had to deal with them." 

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"We have a very easy potion that makes periods shoo. If there's a market for that among species that do not enjoy this feature naturally."

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"Most species don't get them, which ironically makes finding potion recipes to do that harder for Neutrals. I know some exist but you can certainly make money selling them."

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"You can do it on basically anything you'd reasonably call a 'tea' and a few things you cannot reasonably call a 'tea' in a pinch."

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"You can...put the potion into the tea, or use the tea as an ingredient in the potion...?"

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"...our potions are not just mixtures, you have to incant over them."

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"Same with artifice."

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"...Huh, we ever have incantations as part of potion-making but it's generally secondary to mixing things together, I don't think I've ever heard of a potion that was just--an ordinary liquid with an incantation."

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"Most of them are not very ordinary liquids but that one is - as I understand it, never having had to make one. If it's just mixing things together does it call for magic at all or could a mundie make your potions?"

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"No, it's definitely magic, if you try to follow a potion recipe without using magic you usually just get a bunch of useless glop."

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"I know a recipe for a restorative potion that makes a perfectly nice soup if you do it without magic."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If we needed soup ingredients for potions then the alchemy cupboards would presumably have sourced them somehow but they'd've been raided by people who wanted soup."

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"Yeah, we do not have this problem."

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"I guess in your school it must be an advantage not to be able to taste things."

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"My understanding is that that's actually risky - there's occasions where you need taste to make sure you stop eating something you shouldn't - and that besides if you have fewer senses to work with the illusions on the food won't have as much to convince you with."

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"Stop eating? And wouldn't the nutrient slurry be less horrible if you couldn't taste it?"

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"One of the many ways you can die in the Scholomance is by eating things you should not eat. And if you can't taste, you can still smell - unless you can't even do that, and you're solely feeling the food - and those senses still need to be convinced that you are consuming something that is okay to eat, you want more sensory surface area for that, not less."

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"Eesh."

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"I hope these infohazards aren't so infohazardous that we can't do anything to help with them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Honestly my bet at this point would be that it's fine but we should have enough patience to talk to professors and stuff."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, absolutely, the last thing I want is to get my soul eaten because I was a dumbass."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is that a reference to something?"

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"Not anything specific, why?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It sounded specific but maybe that's just because I haven't actually seen a movie in four years."

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"It's just that I'm one of the more robust kinds of immortal so having my soul eaten--or otherwise destroyed, or corrupted--is kinda necessary for it to be worse than an inconvenience."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So, so excited to set up interdimensional trade and be immortal. And also fix the wizard death rate."

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"I think we're all in favor of fixing anything describable as a death rate."

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"Do we have a guess when the professor can be got hold of? I'm sort of confused that we don't seem to be more of an emergency."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I've sent the email but haven't gotten a reply. You're unprecedented but 'unprecedented things happen' is not."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What other unprecedents precede us?"

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"Hm, let's see...there was that Aurai who was found to have been selling the effects of her screams to humans as an 'immersive VR experience,' very clever if not entirely ethical...there was that awakened tiger...if we want to expand past recent history there's of course the time a lich flew to the moon on a broomstick to found a city there..."

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"What do Aurai screams do?"

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"Do witches not have to breathe or did somebody just have a good air ward?"

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"Witches usually have to breathe! Liches not so much. --Lich isn't a species, it's a thing you can become if you're a good enough necromancer. Aurai screams send you back in time until you can find the magic glowy butterfly that'll bring you back to the present. Aurai gain mana from the energy produced by the timeline correcting itself so that from the perspective of everyone not the person who was screamed at, this never happened."

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"That sounds... sort of like the sort of thing that would eventually result in accumulated timeline damage? Does the timeline correction mechanism just have infinite energy to do that with?"

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"--Uh, that is...a good question...it might be that the energy is infinite, it might be that the energy is theoretically limited but is kept sustainable by the fact that Aurai are really rare and as time passes more past accumulates, I imagine that if this were a serious problem there would be more concerted efforts to hunt down the Aurai that do exist but I am definitely putting that on a list of things to look into."

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"Happy to help with my hard-earned skill of incredible paranoia."

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"That might be a really valuable skill honestly."

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"Sure is in our line of - work, existence, whatever."

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"Terrible things don't happen here often enough to acculturate people to extreme paranoia--"

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"Or to kill off everyone who lacks it."

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"--but they do happen, like, ever, and more ability to spot them coming would be nice."

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Nod nod. She works steadily through her ice cream and goes on flipping through the witch magic book for more things that might be handy.

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Rank zero Hexes magic is minting witch kisses (the book also does not provide an explanation for why they're called that). Rank zero Witchery magic is summoning mothergifts, which the three of them probably wouldn't have even if they did manage to become witches somehow, on account of not being descended from the witch who invented them. Rank zero Familiarity magic is just calling a beneficent spirit as a familiar, which is something of a commitment but certainly handy in at least some circumstances. Rank zero Divination they have already confirmed works for them. Rank zero Necromancy is basically just being able to see and communicate with ghosts who happen to be nearby, and if any of them happen to be around here none of the three witches have mentioned it. Rank zero Dominion magic is the ability to create temporary bubbles of altered reality only perceptible to those within them. 

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"...huh, I might want to pick up the rank zero Dominion thing, I don't have a very specific use case in mind but it seems like the sort of thing that would be good to have in one's pocket - what do witches usually do with that?"

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"Avoid masquerade breaches and/or keep dangerous things away from the civilians."

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"Sounds good." She will set about learning that.

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"Any plans for how to spend the time until Johann's professor gets back to us?" Melody asks Aadhya and Caio. 

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"I had been going to just decompress at home but since I am not home I have no idea."

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"Same."

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"Here isn't terrible for decompressing! There are lots of relaxing things to do around campus."

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"It does however lack several advantages, such as being their home," 

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"...Well, yes."

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"What are your decompression related amenities?"

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"Swimming pool, gardens, several different libraries, a couple of little cafes with very nice teas...I like the libraries best, myself, especially Cooper Library, there's this bay window on the third floor with lovely window cushions to curl up on."

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"Oh, a swimming pool... my house has a swimming pool..."

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"A garden sounds really nice."

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"Swimming's nice! Most of the pool is Olympic-style for swimming laps but about a third of it is sectioned off and tilted at the bottom like the kind you find in hotels and stuff."

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"I like the Fragrancy Garden but only in smallish doses."

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"Is it just full of flowers that smell nice?"

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"It's full of flowers that smell nice magicked to have stronger scents."

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"Gosh. We might faint or something."

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"Mostly it's for people with an impaired sense of smell, like, anyone can go there, but that's the reason."

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"Is that common for some reason?"

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"I don't know how common is common but it's a thing--so, when you awaken as a witch, this is generally overall a good thing, but it can come with downsides. Exactly what is and isn't a downside is a matter of personal opinion, of course, but there's a particular category of thing that we call complications, and one complication is that some sense can end up seriously dulled or enhanced."

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"I have enhanced hearing," Johann says, turning his head and tapping his ear to display the blue earplug in it. "It's--uncomfortable, in many circumstances, without compensation."

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"Losing his legs was a complication too, and it means he can't shapeshift 'em back on." 

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He takes her hand and kisses it. "But getting around in a wheelchair is fine, and if it's not, I have plenty of options for quality prosthetics."

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"...huh. We can do temporary enhanced senses with potions but it's not normal to just have them like that all the time."

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"Any given complication isn't overwhelmingly common but most people have some. And some of 'em are weird, like, I have an extra nipple on my back."

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"That doesn't sound too inconvenient."

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"They aren't all. But there are some nasty ones, like the one that prevents you from using any magic ranked higher than zero."

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"That does sound annoying, yes."

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"I take my wheelchair and earplugs and am grateful."

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"I wonder if you can learn our spells... probably not worth trying till we have a better infohazard assessment."

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"I'm coming down off the adrenaline and might want to just... crash," says Aadhya, after swallowing another mouthful of cheese.

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"Right, you guys have as far as I'm aware not allocated sleeping arrangements yet but I'm going to look for spare bedding for whoever takes the floor." She stands up and vanishes into the room she earlier indicated as Johann's. 

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For the time being at least Aadhya takes the bed and casts a few spells around herself and naps.

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Eliza does not discover a sleeping bag, but does come up with a couple of spare pillows and some blankets, which she lays out on the other side of the living room from the couch. 

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The door opens. 

This girl is more blatantly a catgirl than Eliza--she's wearing pants, which have a hole for her striped tail to poke through, in addition to her white cat ears. 

"Hey. I thought there were three interplanar visitors?"

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"Our artificer needed a nap."

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"Oh. Yeah, fair. Hi, I'm Chǔ Lísāo." 

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"你好,我叫 Isabella."

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She sporfles. "Honestly, I wasn't even expecting you to be able to get the tones right!"

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"We manage it."

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"Yeah, after I spent a couple weeks sporadically drilling you on it." 

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"I'm the only one on my team with Mandarin specifically but even Caio speaks four languages. Nearly half the kids in the Scholomance are Sinosphere and a lot of people just stick to their half but it's handy to be able to go between."

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"I am intensely curious how that works but I wouldn't be surprised if you have better things to do than explain."

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"Not lined up for right now. Besides eating ice cream, and I don't want to get a brain freeze so I'm taking that slowly. Uh, the school was built by Brits, mostly, British enclavers, and at first only kids from the enclaves - those are relatively safe pocket dimension dealies - got slots to attend. Later on the rooms were subdivided considerably and admission was opened up to independent wizards and other enclaves who hadn't been involved, and Shanghai enclave has been making threatening noises about making their own Scholomance - it would be heinously expensive, so they don't want to, and it would mean that to fill up the existing Scholomance both sides would have to actively court indie kids, not vice versa, so the Anglosphere doesn't want them to, and it's currently settled in a detente where the Chinese kids get lots of space in the Scholomance and core classes are offered in Chinese as well as English. It's not worth it to send a kid who doesn't speak either fluently, though, the coursework would be an issue."

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"Mandarin Chinese?"

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"I think some kids come in who are primarily users of other dialects yet can at least read fluently, but they need to be able to understand Mandarin or English to understand the history lectures and group conversations and stuff."

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"Yeah, ideograms are convenient that way. In most of the classes I'm familiar with lectures are a big part, but..."

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"They don't have teachers."

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"--Uh--"

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"Transit to and fro is extremely dangerous and they magicked the school itself to do the teaching." 

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"--Wow."

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"It's a monstrously clever bit of artifice."

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"Artifice?"

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"Magical concrete objects. Our artificer is napping but Caio and I took shop and can answer the very basics?"

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"Oh, like relics. As far as I know there isn't an organized discipline of making those, just runes that you can put on things, and I've seen relics without any visible runes--hm. Food for thought, I hadn't given nearly enough thought to relics before, on a theoretical level..."

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"Huh, seems weird that it wouldn't be organized at all as its own thing but I guess if you do things with runes then that's an obvious way to enchant stuff."

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"We do! Johann has a set of needles for tattooing runes that he inherited from his grandfather, it's very cool."

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"My grandmother's got magic tattoos, though I think the needles weren't artifice, the ink was just alchemical."

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"It could be done that way, yes, but the needles make it less mana-intensive."

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"Neat. What kinds of things do you do with tattoos? My grandmother's are for arthritis."

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"I haven't done many yet, but luck and minor elemental resistance are popular."

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"Oooh, luck tats."

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"They're very cool," Eliza agrees, turning and sliding the left shoulder of her dress down to display a small cluster of runes on the back of her shoulder. 

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"Aesthetic, too!"

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"Thanks. The basic runic shapes are mandatory, but details like size and color and so on are freely variable."

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"How hard are runes to learn? Is there a rank 0 version?" Flip flip through the book.

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"There is not a rank zero version but rank one isn't that hard, especially if you're coming at them from an Academic perspective."

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"Is there a book handy?"

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"Sure." 

She ducks into Johann's room to grab a basic textbook on runes. 

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Wizards will happily look through the provided books and eat snacks for rather a while.

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Aww. 

Eliza settles on the couch nobody is sleeping on right this minute and starts making some miscellaneous objects fly around in patterns in front of her. 

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Eventually, when the wizards seem to be at a slight lull, Lisao says, "you guys wanted to go to the gym, right? I can show you there if you want."

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"Yeah, it'd be good to know the way, maybe for tomorrow since today was graduation but perhaps I'll be seized by a desire to go for a run."

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"I might do some running but mostly I'm hoping to find someone to spar with." She vanishes briefly into her room to grab her gym bag. 

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"I don't think either of us are really the sparring type."

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"I will do a magical duel with you if you front the mana and we work out ground rules ahead of time."

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"--Oh, no, I mean regular martial arts. It's not the most common witch hobby but it's not completely useless."

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"Yeah, that I can't help you with at all."

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"That's fine, none of my roommates will help me with that either. I have other friends."

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Bella finishes her ice cream and gets up to follow Lisao to the gym.

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The path to the gym winds its way past a handful of other dormitory buildings, through a handful of quads variously decorated. One has a fountain in the center with pink water flowing from it; another one has wildflowers growing in weird but definitely deliberate patterns. 

The gym building is pretty enormous. There are locker rooms, male and female and gender-agnostic. 

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Flowers!

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The SKY!

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Wow their being charmed by objectively basic things is extremely endearing!!!

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Bella does not wind up being inspired to go on a run, but she learns where things are and reads the rules on the wall.

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Caio hasn't been using weights conveniently marked with how heavy they are and goes to see what his deadlift is up to. It's 210 pounds.

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The rules are mostly safety warnings for various exercise equipment, but there are also rules like "seriously, don't assault anyone, we mean it" and "running in places not designated for running is a bad idea." 

Lisao spots a potential sparring partner and heads over. 

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The two exchange a few pleasantries and get into one of the rings. 

 

They're very good. Not, like, inhumanly good, but definitely high-end-of-human-plausibility good. 

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Wow, that's kind of cool, and unlike being tempted to watch Orion Lake fight a digester, neither of them will kill him if it gets the upper hand!

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Actually maybe she is inhumanly good, being able to leap over your opponent is one thing, being able to jump onto your opponent and keep your balance as they attempt to dislodge you is another.

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There's magic for that!

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Bella's dad took her to the circus once when she was seven. This is oddly reminiscent.

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Eventually Lisao manages to dislodge her, which she seemingly effortlessly converts into a backflip, twisting away from the followup blow. 

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Lanhua's hyper-elven dexterity is ANNOYING but Lisao is, at least, able to keep on the offensive; being able to balance on the edge of a riftblade (probably not literally but WHO KNOWS) is less useful for punching than for dodging. 

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Bella and Caio experiment with Sendings to one another to carry on a nondistracting conversation while they wait for it to be over. For all they know the dorm won't let them in without a key card.

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Eventually Lanhua gets Lisao in a pin and the latter yields. They confer briefly, and then both head over to Bella and Caio. 

"This is Lǐ Lánhuā. She's an Elf! Lánhuā, these are Bella and Caio, two of our interplanar visitors, I haven't met the third." 

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"Hi! I am told you're new to the concept of non-human humanoids."

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"Yup, wizards aren't really a separate species. Nor do people turn into them, we're just born this way."

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"Neutrals aren't really a separate species either. I have to say I recommend the turning into things bit." She turns into a raven and flutters to perch on Lisao's head. 

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"Ooh, neat. I think that's usually too expensive for wizards unless it's their affinity."

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"I had a lab buddy sophomore year whose affinity was shapeshifting but he got himself killed in Shop that July."

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She flutters off her friend and resumes human form. "I'm sorry to hear that." 

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"Should we cut it out with anecdotes that end in death?"

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"I mean, I'm not the dead person or the dead-adjacent person! I'm not gonna tell you to stop talking about it, I'm just gonna confirm that it sucks whenever it comes up."

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"That's legit. It's just a whole heck of a lot of kids at our school die so it might get tiresome.."

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"I can shut up about it."

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"Not gonna bother me."

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"What about you?" she asks Caio. 

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"If it's going to be a downer I should learn to stop sooner or later. Plenty of people didn't die! More than usual even!"

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"I don't feel downed, I feel sympathetic."

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"I have no idea what the etiquette is on making people sympathetic."

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"Does there have to be etiquette? You can just say what you feel."

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"Someone started a group therapy session in the Scholomance. It was widely assumed to be a loyalty test or possibly just a total failure to be in touch with reality by its relatively well advantaged founder."

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"Or a scam to get the void to cough up chocolate."

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"That's fair, it did cough up chocolate at least once that I heard."

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"I don't have nearly enough context but the concept of pretending to do group therapy in order to trick the universe into giving you chocolate is great."

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"To trick the school, mostly, the Void surfaces around the Scholomance dispense what it wants to give out. They had the school nurse on board before she died and she was able to get medical supplies and convinced it that chocolate was a psychiatric medical supply."

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"Bonus sorry about the nurse, nurses are great."

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"They should really have planned an exit strategy for the nurse."

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"Ooh, people in charge the nonconsensual human sacrifice types?" she winces. 

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"Not usually as far as I know!"

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"So is the nurse an exception or do they find volunteers?"

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"Nurse is - not spun as a human sacrifice, the idea is that the nurse will be able to help keep some kids alive who'd otherwise die of the flu or whatever, but. No exit plan. Nurses aren't equipped to survive in there, let alone graduate. So in practice a new one dies in there every year and a new one gets inducted the next time."

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"I see."

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"Anyway, they think they might be able to put together mana storage more time-efficient than Kisses."

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"--Ooh, really?"

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"It's not something any of us already know how to do - or, well, the really high end kind, we can all make a crystal that leaks a little but at least doesn't take extra minting time as long as you focus on it while you build the mana - but I've at least set up a proper power sink you can access with a sharer remotely, deposit and withdrawal."

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"Innnnteresting, I know some people who might be very interested--there are some races of witch that have very low power storage but high power generation."

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"...fascinating. Caio, do you have your -"

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"Oh, yeah -" He rolls up his pant cuff, the relatively more intact one, and unclips a braided leather thong securing a chunk of white beryl to his leg. He holds it out to the witches. "There's not much in this, but can you draw on it?"

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She pokes at it carefully. 

"Yeah. It's...like a kiss, but liquid instead of solid? It's not in discrete units."

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"Yeah, we don't really have units that everyone can agree on, though sometimes you pick one for a given project just to have a benchmark. Can you put mana in it?"

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"Let me try." 

It takes her a couple of tries to get it right, and then--it just slides in, like pouring a fluid instead of crystalizing it. 

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"Beautiful. So we do not have much to sell but we have this, if my guess is right that that thing there is already less annoying than minting kisses? We can make those pretty easy and I can, if we are here long enough without interworld contact that you don't want to just hire an actual wizard expert, work on figuring out how to do a quality sink."

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"I don't think Kisses are going to become obsolete, they're easy to use as money and there are relics to make minting them more convenient, but yeah, this is a game-changer."

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"Maybe with a sink established the lucky folks who recharge with, of all things, sleep, can keep everybody with worse ways in mana."

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"Hah, you think sleep is a good way of recharging mana? I mean, yeah, it's not bad, but a Mimi recharges to full just from having their head patted for twenty seconds."

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"It takes longer to get to full for those of us who're hybrids with species with more capacity."

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"Yeah, a couple minutes, not hours."

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"These people have it much worse than you, don't whine." 

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"I'm not whining!!! I'm gloating!!!"

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"I did not know about the headpat option! It's just sleep is something one has to do anyway, so it would be convenient if it also recharged mana."

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Bella pats Caio on the head.

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"There are witches who don't need to sleep, actually." She hands Lisao Caio's mana storage and starts patting her head. 

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Lisao sporfles slightly and starts filling it up. 

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"Is it specifically headpats in particular? That's so specific."

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"No, not just headpats specifically, but like, belly rubs or whatever would be much weirder to do in public. Ear scritches are also fine. Headpats are just sort of metonymous." 

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"Weird."

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"That's amazing," Caio says, watching his crystal get glowier and glowier. "- you'll want to stop when it starts turning pink."

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"Like how you don't want to overfill a water balloon?" 

It starts turning pink; she stops. 

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"Yeah, like that." He takes it back and puts it on his leg. "But we can make more like it if you have materials."

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"If we don't have materials on hand we will get materials."

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"Awesome. This one is beryl, but a lot of kinds of crystals work."

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"I went to school with lab created rubies because my enclave didn't have an in-school power sink yet at the time, though I sold them when we got it."

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"Are some kinds of crystals better than others?"

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"Yes, though it depends what spells you're using. I in particular will do best with something that's already been enchanted - I helped Caio with that beryl. In general larger less flawed crystals work better. And some people use ivory or wood or weirder stuff, I knew a guy who used his own teeth, I knew a girl who swore by storing mana in a vial of potion... Power sinks attached to sharers are likely to be many crystals, and I heard once that Kyoto enclave uses a bonsai, and there's just a lot of variety, but if you just buy a bunch of lab grown moissanite or something that'll do us."

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"Big lab grown moissanite. Got it." She pulls out her phone and starts researching distributors. 

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Witch Sending Chat: 

Lisao: so the wizards' mana storage works REALLY WELL. 

Lisao: we need to buy a bunch of crystal for them to make more with

Lisao: "big lab-grown moissanite" is what we settled on 

Lisao: I've been shopping around a bit on the witchy dark web and I've found some promising leads

Lisao: we can probably get a better deal with some barter than I'm immediately finding but we'll probably need, like. more kisses than I have on hand

Eliza: do you have an estimate? 

Lisao: well you know haggling can be hard to predict in advance

Johann: absent haggling what kind of price are we looking at 

Lisao: uhhh well that sort of depends? on exactly how much crystal we're buying. we didn't settle on THAT besides, like, "more is better"

Johann: what amount gives us the best deal 

Lisao: well the BEST deal I can find on short notice gives us...about twenty kilos of assorted loose stones for 100kK

Lisao: but we're obviously not doing that one

Johann: ask them if they can use 20 kilos

Lisao: ? 

"Weird question, but how much can you usefully use in a reasonable timeframe?"

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"...depends on the quality you want? Caio's is pretty good or he wouldn't have been wearing it for graduation but we could do a preliminary enchantment on a decent rock in like, a couple hours per, in parallel since there are three of us. If supplied with mana for the enchantments we don't have to build ourselves we might be able to go faster than that. And a basic enchantment like that will leak, but I can go back and fix them up afterwards, and if you mostly mean to use them to transfer from headpatted Mimis to lamias or whoever, it won't have time to leak much."

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Lisao: Probably???

Johann: Give me a sec

Johann: Ok I have the money

Lisao: What the fuck

Melody: seconding what the fuck

Johann: I did not do anything illegal or unethical to get the money

Lisao: that's good but does not answer what the fuck???

Johann: I'm aware

Lisao: are you going to answer what the fuck

Johann: no

Lisao: this isn't going to bite us in the ass later is it

Johann: the only person at risk is me and I'm not less at risk if I don't spend the money

Melody: I mean that is objectively better than all of us being at risk but you can see how that's not super reassuring right

Melody: you got awakened by your grandfather, right, is he into some really sketchy shit

Johann: my grandfather is not as far as I'm aware into any really sketchy shit

Johann: also he's not really connected to how I got this money

Johann: can we talk about this later?

Melody: by later do you mean never

Johann: not necessarily

Melody: you didn't borrow it from Hespatians or anything did you

Johann: NO

"We can get up to twenty kilos, apparently, because Johann apparently has more money than any of us guessed and is not being maximally reassuring about where it comes from."

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"...wow. Uh, okay. Money is mana, right, you can probably - assume you'll have lots more of it to go around once you don't have to mint it every time?"

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"Presumably, yeah! Also I can probably get a better deal than what I found as the list price on the internet by talking to the distributor, a lot of commerce in Arcadia is done by barter and favors. But a hundred thousand kisses is still, uh, a lot, to be willing to drop on a moment's notice if necessary." 

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"What the fuck."

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"That's what I said!!! He has not been super forthcoming about what the fuck."

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"Do witches not have the thing where it's easy to make ridiculous amounts of mundie money by doing magic in the background of a normal-looking business? We can enchant mundie moissanite fine."

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"This is mundie moissanite, twenty kilos is a lot."

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"Yeah, just, I'm not sure why you'd pay for it in Kisses when it can be got for dollars, the only thing wizards pay mana for on the outside with a mundie economy to piggyback on is wizard labor."

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"It is not in fact completely trivial to make mundane money because you have to worry about the masquerade, and I was not in fact planning to pay in Kisses but the asking price was listed in that denomination for reasons of numerical convenience and then Johann was like 'well I have that much money in Kisses' and now I'm distracted by that because his last word on the subject of how fine or not-fine it was was that nobody but him was at risk and he wasn't at less risk if he didn't spend the money."

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"I agree that's concerning."

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Melody: Eliza you've been pretty quiet since this dropped, did you know what the fuck? 

Eliza: yes

Melody: Are you going to share with the class?

Eliza: no

Lisao: I vote we stage an intervention

Eliza: no!!!

Melody: good plan

Eliza: fuck

"I'm headed back to the room to demand answers in person. Backup would be nice, whatever's going on Eliza's in on it." 

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"I'm in." 

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"I'm a little worried Aadhya will freak out whenever she wakes up so we should be there."

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"Sorry for dragging you guys into it." 

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"You've been extremely hospitable! And I'm curious where he got all that mana now."

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Lisao is not nearly as cheerful on the walk back to the dorms but the sky is still extremely convincing and there are still flowers and so on. 

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Skyyyyy flowerrrrrs

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When they get back to the dorm Johann is sitting in the common area in his wheelchair with his head in his hands. 

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And Eliza is standing with her hands on his shoulders glowering vaguely at Melody, who's sitting opposite them on the couch with her arms folded. 

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Team Chat:

Bella: So we should like, hover outside the door where Aadhya's at, intercept her if she has a nightmare and comes out spells blazing, and otherwise just hang back and listen.

Caio: Agree

Bella: I hope the guy isn't in with the witch mob or something
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"We care about you. And we're not just going to let this go without an explanation." 

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He sighs and lowers his hands, raising his head and looking away. 

"We would have told you eventually. Probably." 

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"The money...I inherited it."

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"You said your grandfather had nothing to do with it." 

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"He doesn't. It's from a more distant ancestor, on the other side of the family." 

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"You have witch blood on both sides and still grew up ignorant?" 

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"My father's family has been burying our ancestor in a hole and pretending there's no connection for generations." 

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"Your father's--Jack Morgan is your maternal grandfather?"

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Nod. 

"My real name," he sighs, "is Johann Faust." 

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"--Faust like Goethe and Marlow and Mephistopheles???" 

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Protective shoulder-squeeze. 

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Nod. 

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Caio: Do you recognize that name?

Bella: Only vaguely. Faust sounds German, I didn't take German. Mephistopholes sounds Greek.
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"You...know, how some neutrals have the ability to gain power through the means of another class than their own." 

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"--Are you saying that you are in fact not an Academic but a Warlock. Did you decide to follow in your infamous ancestor's footsteps for somefucking reason? Consortation is serious business!" 

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"I was human and Eliza was dead," he snaps. "My mother wasn't a witch and my maternal grandfather refused to give any hint of magic existing to a descendant of such an infamous diabolist, and the love of my life was cold and lifeless and I had no idea that there was a place you could find elixirs that could heal her, all I had were the notes that my family kept locked up but never destroyed, that was my only path forward." 

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Hug hug hug. 

"Mephistopheles hasn't bothered us in a while," she murmurs. "He though Johann would be an easy target, young and desperate...he thought to take advantage. I couldn't bear it...I snapped. It wasn't the easy kind of natural awakening. But all at once--I'm not a hazard, not yet, but I had two ranks of most of the elements at my disposal, and...and I did my very best to scare him off. And he hasn't bothered us in a while." 

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"...Wow. Okay, well, this is. Not great, obviously, but." Sigh. "We can't help you if we don't know these things! Are there any other important secrets anyone has been keeping?" 

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"...I'm, uh. Also a mimi hybrid. Oread cougar and Mimi liger, with the Zooarch transformation, which helped with the whole trying-to-scare-off-a-devil thing." 

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"--Okay, you know what, fair and awesome, I feel slightly better about that now. Anything else?" 

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"If I say, I have secrets but they don't involve Consortation or anything like that, can we leave it at that for now?"

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"For now."

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"I don't have any weird secrets! I was super not expecting to stumble into this many secrets today." 

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"You we weren't specifically planning to tell, you're Lisao's friend more than ours."

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"Fair enough. I'm not planning to spill the beans regardless. Melody, don't get in too much of a snit, this actually totally makes sense to keep secret." 

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She pouts but doesn't otherwise object. 

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Bella: So consortation is sort of like breeding mals but heavier duty?

Caio: Or like, finding mals that already exist, and making deals with them?

Bella: Or maybe like mythological demon summoning, they aren't very nonmythical around here.
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"--Sorry, you probably need, uh, context. On that. Where should I start...?"

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"What is consortation?"

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"Summoning and/or dealing with demons slash devils."

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"Which are....?"

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"...Uh, beings from a dimension called Hell that is one of the places you can go when you die, but don't want to."

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"...okay, that's what they sounded like but for all I knew making assumptions based on our background culture would be as misleading as assuming things about wizards based on Harry Potter. You have afterlives? On top of being immortal?"

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"We have souls, and those persist unless something happens to them. Generally psychopomps usher you off to a sort of celestial waiting room if you don't have a strong enough affinity with a particular deity for them to claim you right away."

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"I wanted to stick around as a ghost but a psychopomp rudely kidnapped me while I was...admittedly ineffectually...trying to get through to my grieving boyfriend."

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"...can we test if we have souls without dying? Seems important."

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"I'm sure it's possible but I'm not sure how, off the top of my head..."

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"I assume 'get temporarily swallowed by a lamia and then regurgitated intact once she's confirmed whether you charge her mana or not' also does not appeal."

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"I would have to know her real well."

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"...this is a tangent but is it always a her? I'm starting to detect a gender ratio here."

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"It's not always a her, see our friend Johann here, but yeah, male witches are much rarer."

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"You sometimes get people who start out with a testosterone-dominant system who find themselves switched to an estrogen-dominant system upon awakening, and this...causes less dysphoria overall than the baseline rates of mtf transgenderism would suggest."

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"Huh. Wizards are fifty-fifty."

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"This isn't important at all but I'm curious what that does to your family dynamics."

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"Hexes to give someone new equipment aren't hard, I have two moms and was apparently conceived the natural way."

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"My mom was a witch and my dad was human."

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"My dad's a mundie too, high five."

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She high-fives her. 

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"It's much more common for wizards to have mundie moms. We owe more of our population than I'd like to guys sowing wild oats among unsuspecting random women who have no idea what's going on or why their kid most likely doesn't make it to adulthood, and if those guys do it enough some of the kids do make it to adulthood."

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"One of my grandpas is one of those. - is one of those kids, a great-grandpa I've never met would be the oat-sower."

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“Gross but unsurprising. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were any guys who decided to take advantage of a lot of human women but there’s not such obvious incentive for r-selection.”

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"I met a maintenance track girl who came from a background sort of like that except all the women were from this one particular village the guy was keeping the CCP away from and she'd had dozens of brothers and sisters and two older than her still alive when she scored a seat. - she died our junior year."

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“Well, that sucks. Better than leaving all the kids to fend for themselves but wow that’s a low bar.”

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"Indeed."

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“Not that I’m not in favor of keeping the CCP away but not at that price. —I’m from Taiwan.”

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"I knew some kids from Taipei. I did not understand their internal politics at all but at least they weren't as much of a mess as Shanghai."

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“What was wrong with Shanghai?”

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"Came in with a lot of deadweight and made some deeply questionable calls, geopolitically speaking, to try to carry them through. Nobody had to be executed by a student tribunal but it was a near thing."

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“…Wow. Uh, is that a thing that happens, uh, often? Tribunals executing someone? I can see the danger level really encouraging it or really discouraging it, either way.”

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"It's very rare, actually! Mostly people are too focused on their own survival to even attempt to call a tribunal and somebody has to be really dangerous to get such a call taken seriously."

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"Yeah, that's one of the scenarios I had in mind, the other was one where it was really easy for one person to make things worse for everyone so things were really authoritarian." 

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"It's not very authoritarian at all, really, there's no single central power. There's enclaves but they only have so many tools with which to govern their own."

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"Could be worse."

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"...could it?"

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"You could have all the problems you currently have and also an authoritarian regime. I'm damning with faint praise, here."

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"I guess an authoritarian regime could make nuisances of themselves in between crises in which such a thing would be useful. But the big Anglo enclaves wound up pulling together over Shanghai's thing, anyway, went around questioning people, cornered everyone who looked iffy in shop class..."

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"When we have solved all the problems this thing ameliorates I am going to set it on fire." 

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"I don't think fire'll work, but I'm sure you can come up with some way to wreck it and we'll all be behind you cheering."

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"I bet Eliza and Lanhua working together could make fire work once they've gotten better at elemental fire magic, sorceresses are neat like that." 

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"I'll set up recording equipment ahead of time so I can send video to Mephistopheles to warn him to keep his hands off my man." 

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"Is Mephistopholes likely to find destroying a large unpleasant building very threatening?"

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"Might depend on how I destroy it and how magic it is." 

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"Well, the building is very magic."

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"So we'll see. It's not really the priority, anyway, compared to, uh," she makes a gesture of encompassing lots of things. 

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"The school would have some remaining advantages if the death rate were solved and it would also make it possible to dramatically improve the school, albeit while reducing the incentive to do so. I do like being able to get spellbooks out of the Void, I think that's a Scholomance-only thing."

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"I think Manchester's got that."

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"Really? That was big of them, then, duplicating it for the school."

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"I think it wasn't as obvious a jump over the state of the art till thousands of kids got access to it? It's probably not as impressive if you already have an enclave library and haven't thought about indies much."

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"What's the void and how does extracting spellbooks from it work because depending on how it works, the implications I can see are...interesting."

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"The void is - nothing? Not like, vacuum in space nothing, not-a-place nothing. The Scholomance and enclaves in general are built out into it. It's safer, for reasons. The library ceiling's void, the drains lead to the void, every dorm room has a void wall or floor or ceiling, etcetera. The school is able to maintain its own library, but in addition to that, it will respond to spellbook requests - and academic journal requests, though it doesn't manage to extend to dictionaries or novels or anything - by spitting out whatever you asked for from the void. It's opinionated, too, the way a lot of kids figure out their affinities is by looking at patterns in what kinds of things it seems to give them when offered degrees of freedom."

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"How can things be built into it if it's not a thing at all?"

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"Magic."

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"...Magic does things to things, if I make a portal between points A and B then you can have all kinds of philosophical discussions about what exactly is happening and whether the space between points A and B meaningfully exist, but like, from a practical perspective, the portal exists."

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"...our magic isn't nearly so discerning about things having to exist."

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"But if it's not doing a thing to a thing then what is it doing."

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"I mean, the Scholomance was built with materials, they had to haul in all the ductwork and whatnot, the magic was arguably done on that? And the thing done to it was putting it in the void."

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"Okay--you said you get stuff from the void, how do you do that, does it just appear out of thin air."

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"Well, no, the void isn't air, it's actually sort of spongy if you poke it, but things appear from it. They don't have to traverse any distance to do that since it's not a place."

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"So it's--pokeable?"

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"You can walk right into it if you want, but if you hang out there too long some combination of hypoxia and not being in a location will fuck you up a bit, people come back from that unable to speak any languages anyone else can. Which surprisingly doesn't always render them crippled to the point of promptly dying of this or that but is certainly inconvenient. And if someone shoves you in so far you can't get back on your own you... don't. Nobody's sure what happens there."

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"Huh. I've never heard of anything like it. Anytime anyone tries to go nowhere they go somewhere instead, even if it's not a very hospitable somewhere."

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"Well, I guess your magic doesn't interact with the void as we know it then, I don't think any of us know how to do anything much with it, though."

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"Do you have anything that isn't the real world and isn't the void, because you said you don't know about any afterlives and it might help to be less crowded."

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"No, just those."

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"Yeah we live in a real crowded neighborhood, loads of somewheres to end up by accident. That'll probably do it. It's a shame, the spellbook thing is exciting."

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"Well, I'm sure you can very easily hire someone to do it up for you if the worlds make proper contact."

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"--Sorry if I seem ungrateful about not living in a world that's trying to kill me, I'm just--a really big magic nerd."

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"It's refreshing, honestly."

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"That it's not immediately emotionally salient to all of us that your world is lethal?"

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"That you've had time for non-survival-related hobbies."

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"--I mean, magic nerdery seems like it would be pretty good as far as survival-related hobbies go, albeit with more practice in not getting distracted and going off on tangents, but the latter might be, uh, obviously loadbearing."

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"I mean, yes, we do have to learn magic. But it's in a - very focused way. Even the people with relatively frivolous affinities have to figure out how to use them to trade if they can't leverage them directly."

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"Very focused like how...? I'm not immediately thinking of an area of magic that wouldn't be useful for survival, like, okay, individual spells, sure, and it'd be important not to--you don't have complications you probably don't have restrictions either--and there's nothing stopping you from getting to rank five in something and not starting the next thing until then--except you don't have ranks at all--uh, are you saying everyone has to specialize real hard?"

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"- I mean, learning a given spell competes for time spent on other things? I don't know how long it normally takes you to learn them but anything complicated for us can be kind of a bitch to get down, especially out of affinity."

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"--Well, there's a difference between learning individual spells and learning theory."

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"We do learn theory but in a - practically supportive way, like, usually there is something want to do stuff in and you learn the theory behind that."

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"...But learning theory makes learning individual spells easier? For academics, anyway. And warlocks who are pretending to be academics, apparently."

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"...huh. I think it makes writing spells easier for us but not especially learning new ones, there are so many stylistic differences anyway between different composers."

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"It's like--imagine a spell is a color by numbers--do you know what a color by numbers is."

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"...is it... a cross between a connect the dots and a coloring book?"

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"Sort of. So the way color by numbers works is, there's a bunch of discrete fairly simple shapes, and each one has a number in it, and at the bottom there's a key, like, one equals yellow, two equals green, etcetera. And then when you color in all the shapes with their assigned colors you get the picture. Or the color version of the picture; a lot of the time you can see a lineart version pretty well from just the shapes. Anyway, in this metaphor, if a spell is a color by numbers, then if you know theory, then it's like--knowing the color-number correspondences and being able to look at the picture and fill in the colors in your head and get the numbers that way. And if you don't know theory then you just have to memorize all the numbers."

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"...it's easier to remember spells that rhyme? I think maybe ours are just different. Should we teach you some basic wizard spells?"

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"--Yeah let's do that."

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"Let's see, I think 'stuff I could cast in my first semester out of affinity' is probably the equivalent of rank zero... trouble is most of it is not remotely useful or even particularly testable under these pleasant conditions..."

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"Freshman year I had a spell to - oh, what languages do you guys speak, that's important."

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"Oh, yeah, it is, if it's just English - and Chinese as the case may be - that's another filter to apply in our selection."

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"I speak a little German and high school Spanish?"

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"I have some Hokkien and a little Japanese."

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"Some German and some Spanish, and the smattering of Latin you pick up by noticing etymology in medical terms." 

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"I have like a little vestigial French but am mostly an embarrassingly stereotypical monolingual American. I can pronounce Mandarin reasonably well for having no idea what I'm saying, though, apparently!"

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"...well, definitely don't pronounce spells without knowing what you're saying, that's a good way to blow yourself up. Spell-competency is like, you don't have to be fluent and especially don't have to be able to generate novel sentences on your own but you have to know what all the words and grammatical components of the spell mean, for it to be wise to try casting it; we say someone is 'spell competent' in a language when a new spell viewed cold is pronounceable and the grammar is clear on a second reading but it's okay if you need a dictionary for some words. Unless it's French, they write spells you've got to toss off like it's a clichéd aphorism or something, I don't know why it's like that and none of the native Francophones could explain it either."

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"Well if your francophones don't know I bet ours don't have a clue."

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"Wouldn't expect them to. Anyway, sticking to languages y'all will be able to finesse..." She thinks for a bit, and eventually she settles on the standard make-and-mend from Shop, writes it out for them.

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Caio has a sanitation spell he used to clean his water condenser every few days. It doesn't cover much area but it's very thorough.

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She studies the make-and-mend for a moment, pulls a pencil out of her sleeve and snaps it, and holds the ends together and says the spell. 

Nothing happens. 

"Maybe it would work if I had any idea what was supposed to...happen, in the magic, as a result of saying the spell?"

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"Do you mean what intent you need to have for it?"

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"Or can you like directly see magic or something?"

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"I can't directly perceive magic out in the world but when I'm directly interacting with it I can feel it? I can feel how much mana I have and how much I'm putting into a kiss or your power storage and I can sort of feel how much is in there when I'm taking some out and I can feel what mana I'm manipulating one way or another is doing when I'm manipulating it."

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"That's normal for witches, there are apparently differences in how sorceresses and academics and warlocks perceive it but they're differences on the order of, like, paying attention to different things, not totally different sensory modalities."

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"We can feel how much mana we have and are spending and so on but I'm not sure what you mean by 'what happens in the magic'. Do you want one of us to demonstrate?"

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"Like she said, we don't really have external magic perception so I'm not sure it would help. It's like--when you burn calories to run, the thing that is happening is that your cells are burning calories to contract to make your muscles move to push yourself off against the floor? It's not just, chemical energy spontaneously transforms into kinetic energy, there's specific stuff happening, and it's different specific stuff than how, like, a car, turns chemical energy into kinetic energy? And if you're doing things the academic way you need to know how cars work and how muscles work but even if you're a sorceress you still need to learn how to walk and how to drive."

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"...huh. I don't think we exactly have that. Maybe because we're born wizards and don't 'awaken', it just comes more naturally?"

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"I don't know if that's why but it sure does sound like you have metaphorical self-driving cars."

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"I definitely would not put it that way but I do not know how to resolve this mismatch of understandings."

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"I have a potion recipe for seeing magic."

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"Oh, that's true, that stuff is great, it helped a lot with our graduation strategy."

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"Oh, that's amazing, I want that, I will give you many things in exchange for that."

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"I think the main problem with the self-driving car analogy is that self-driving cars are just straightforwardly more convenient than the regular kind and it sounds like you guys' thing is not that. But you can pretend that the self-driving cars have some compensatory inconvenience if it matters."

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"Wizard magic works on intent, might be what you're - interpreting?"

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"Happy to make a batch of see-magic once I have a lab setup that works for me - can I see a witch lab, and then make a shopping list?"

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"We brew a lot of our stuff on the hotplate in the kitchenette, but the school does have labs."

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"Since everyone knows about my secret spooky inheritance now I can tell you that I have a secret underground lair that has a laboratory in it. Slightly antiquated but still functional." 

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"...Or we could use Faust Junior's spooky laboratory apparently! If privacy is more important than non-spookiness." 

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"There are actually several other intermediate Johanns in the family line, I don't know what number I would be exactly but it would be higher than two."

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"The others weren't witches so I don't care."

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"Slightly antiquated is fine, the Scholomance labs haven't been updated in a while."

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"They have probably been updated since--when was the original Faust supposed to live, five hundred years ago?"

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"--Thereabouts, yes, but there's magic for most of the purposes that hadn't been invented then. The relics I inherited aren't all horribly obsolete."

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"It is true that the Scholomance is not five hundred years old but I'd need a shopping list anyway."

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"Shopping lists we can handle." 

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Johann takes a little mirror out of his pocket, and swipes across its surface, and suddenly there is a big old full-length mirror there instead. The mirror does not display everyone's reflections, but instead the inside of a slightly gloomy stone building. He pulls a large key out of apparently thin air, sets it against the surface of the mirror and turns it, and then there is a gateway to the slightly gloomy building. He wheels his chair through. 

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"...I find it rather nervewracking to go thorugh this portal into a secondary location without knowing how I'd get out again under my own power!"

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"--Oh, then you probably want to use one of the school labs instead."

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"Apparently! Sorry."

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He wheels himself back out. "It's perfectly reasonable."

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"Did you have claustrophobia on your bingo card?"

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"I didn't bring my bingo card along for graduation."

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"Yeah, me either."

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"If it helps, it's a real physical place in the material plane."

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"But does it have an exit."

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"It does if you are good enough at portals magic."

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"I'm curious if we can rank up or if we're stuck at the rank 0 witchy stuff."

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"My guess would be that ranks don't form hard limits to you the way they do to us but we'll find out."

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"Would you recommend any specific starting experiment?"

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"Um...hm. Maybe a high-level divination?"

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"Sounds lovely! Book me?"

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"I'd be expecting Bella's affinity to be helping her with this except I could cast Sending too."

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"Do we actually have any books on high-rank divinations yet." 

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"Well...not rank five, not yet, but..."

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"I have books on high-level divinations!" Lisao says brightly, and vanishes briefly into her room and comes out hefting a very thick textbook. 

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"Why do you have that, I know for a fact that you are divinations rank one at the moment." 

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"Because I am an enormous nerd, keep up," she says lightly. 

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High level divinations! What've they got?

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The book is incredibly jargon-dense and most of it assumes that the high-rank divination spells you are casting are leveled-up versions of lower-rank spells you are already familiar with, but there is one entirely new spell, Masking, which blocks or alters the information area-of-affect divinations can glean from the area around the caster. Several chunks of moving parts are highlit as being "like so-and-so in thus and such book in reverse" for reader convenience, but the highlighted areas are fully written out in and of themselves in case you aren't familiar with the thing in question. 

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Well. She likes the sound of this spell but she doesn't know how to do witch spells in other books backwards so she needs to pick it up the long way. She will puzzle over it for a while anyway. "Lot of documentation," she remarks. "I guess maybe this is what you mean about the self-driving car?"

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"I think so? All that documentation is necessary, for me. Or, like, some of it is a little extraneous, but--not by a lot."

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"Many wizards spells can be cast with just the incantation and a couple pointers along the lines of 'point at thing' or 'only works if you're startled'."