Jun 03, 2020 11:39 PM
Joss and Raven walk into a bar.
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There comes a point when you have to give up and accept life wants you to go to a bar. Joss had reached that point.

First one of her classmates had tried to drag her to a bar - she'd brushed her off to go running with one of her flatmates. Another of her flatmates had tried to drag her to a bar - she'd shrugged him off with excuses about homework.

But her room was apparently a bar today. She sighs, presses the heels of her hands into her eyes, and shakes her head. Her gut isn't flagging this up as dangerous.

Bar it is then. She pats her pockets down to find her purse and ID, and steps into the room, pushing the door most of the way closed behind her and walks over to the bar itself. A napkin appears on the surface introducing Bar, and asking if she'd like a drink. Joss pulls out her bank card and her ID and orders a beer, and asks for any reading material.

Bar, after a moment, requests a more specific request, noting the quantity of books at her disposal. Joss blinks, asks about crime-thrillers, and settles for one that she'd never heard of by an equally obscure author.

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Behind her back, the door swings open to admit a dark-haired girl in her late teens. 

Raven was expecting her father's library, but she may in fact have stumbled upon something more interesting than books. Taking a look behind her to make sure the corridor is still there, she steps through into the bar that just appeared inside her house, and looks around for someone who might be able to explain things.

The room appears to be mostly empty - although she is briefly distracted from noticing this when she notices the window showing are those exploding stars - with the exception of a woman sitting at the bar reading a book. Well, that's a good sign.

Raven heads over to the bar, walking confidently as though she knows exactly what she's doing and has every right to be there. She's not underage, no sir definitely not. Napkins appear on the polished wood in front of her, and she jumps, then begins reading them at lightning speed. 

"How are you doing that?"

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"Hm?" Joss looks up at the other girl's voice. Her gut twinged slightly, but she pushed it aside - she was here for a nice, quiet drink, that was all. "Napkins aren't me if that's what you're wondering."

She keeps half an eye on the girl as she turns most of her attention back to her book.

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"Then who--" Another napkin appears, clarifying that the bar is Bar and she is responsible for the napkins. "Oh, pardon me, I hadn't realised," Raven says to Bar. "Do you produce beverages from nothing, too, or is it only napkins?"

The next napkin says I can produce any non-living, non-magic, non-weapon item that will fit on my surface. The first drink is free.

Raven reads this over a few times to be absolutely certain she isn't misinterpreting the contents. "So, if I want something other than a drink, I will need to pay?" She wishes she had a purse with her, but she doesn't make a habit of carrying money around in the house. She considers the evidence, and forms a hypothesis.

"Excuse me?" she says hesitantly, not especially wanting to disturb a fellow reader. "Did the bar provide you with that book?"

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Joss looks up again. "Yup," she pops the p as she nods. "My room decided to be a bar, and I decided that I wasn't going to read my textbooks or lectures notes," she points at the bag at her feet. "So, I asked for a book. It's a very large list. You might want to be specific on what you want on your rec list." (It had taken her a minute to realise that she was going to need to narrow her own list down.)

She marks her place, sets the book down for a minute and stretches. She tilts her head slightly in the girl's direction, trying to figure out what it is about her that is making her own gut act up. She almost feels like a shifter, but...

Joss shakes herself and picks up her book again.

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A very large list, hmm? Combine that with Bar's statement that she can produce anything within various limitations... Raven freezes for several seconds, only jolted out of contemplating all the books when she realises she needs to breathe. All the books, in all the worlds...

"Thank you," she says when she remembers that social conventions exist again. "Bar, I do not suppose you could be persuaded to accept credit?" 

Bar, as it happens, is willing to lend books for free so long as they are returned in good condition and not removed from the premises. Shortly, Raven has a respectable stack of books in front of her, with titles like The Elements of Magic and Magical Theory Since Aristotle. One in particular, which seems rather slim for such a large title, declares itself to be A Practical Treatise Regarding the Nature and Properties of Quintessence, Called Essence. Forget her father's library, Raven is not planning to leave this bar for a year. She sits on the nearest seat and starts reading.

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"Interesting reading material," Joss does not appear to have looked up from her own book. "I guess you don't agree with keeping studying and bars separate, huh?"

She pauses to take a sip of her drink looking over. "Shifter?" she asks. If the girl doesn't understand what that means, she can write it off as muddling a word, or pretend she never actually said it.

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"This bar" - she pats the polished surface, smiling - "will loan me books I am not allowed to read anywhere else, books which do not even exist in my world and never will. That takes precedence over any social convention regarding the correct use of bars." There might have been a hint of sarcasm in that last part. 

Then the second question registers. Raven is a good actor, but nowhere near as good as her brother; her flinch is visible to anyone watching.

"...Yes," she confirms reluctantly, having no other option (except bolting and leaving the books) that wouldn't require the ability to lie. "What gave it away?" 

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"There's books you're not allowed to read?" Joss can't hide the shock at that, or her horror. "That's...barbaric. I mean, I suppose someone wanting to read Mein Kampf might raise flags, but... You should still have the right to. Heavens above, what are people thinking. ...I suppose books that don't exist that's fair." She snorts slightly, looking down. "I promised myself I wouldn't mix studying and bars, that way madness and alcoholism lies."

She notices the flinch, but pretends to not.

She does notice the reluctance to confirm though. She shakes her head at the question. "Nothing most people would notice, don't worry. I am...peculiarly gifted in identifying the supernatural."

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Raven relaxes when the woman's attitude towards her doesn't seem to change for the worse. It seems she won't be forced to abandon her books after all. "That's an interesting gift, especially since I would not describe myself as supernatural. How did you come by it?"

She smiles, just a little, at this person who apparently shares her opinions on books. "I am Isabella, by the way. Might I have the pleasure of knowing your name?" Giving out her Christian name to someone who knows her species is a risk, but not a particularly large one without her surname attached. Besides, someone so instinctively opposed to secrecy and censorship seems unlikely to be a spy.

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"Supernatural is kind of a catch-all term for us describing things that aren't just unpowered humans." Joss waves a hand vaguely, before ducking her head slightly. "Always had it. Don't ask me how. Took me a while to realise what it actually was. Uh, and Jez kinda whacking me over the head about it." She scratches the back of her head. "It took me an embarrassing amount of time to accept it." And a lot of family drama, but she does not want to think about that right now.

Joss sets her book down away and twists so that she can offer her hand. "Joss," she says with an attempt at a disarming grin. "Fair warning for my potential to babble."

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"Pleasure to meet you." Raven smiles back as she shakes hands. It's a genuine smile, not the one she's practised in the mirror since she was five, but most people who aren't her brother couldn't tell the difference anyway. "And I won't mind your babbling if you don't mind my asking questions about everything you don't warn me away from.

"So it isn't a mage talent? Or do you not mean literally always?" Technically, she's not asking how, just ruling out one possible explanation which doesn't fit the evidence anyway. She's curious, but she'll back off if Joss wants to avoid the topic.

The Elements of Magic has been discarded for the moment (bookmarked with a napkin) on the basis that this conversation is currently more interesting than the magical theory of which she already knew the basics anyway.

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"I'll let you know if anything's off limits," Joss says with a more genuine grin.

"I mean literally always. 'Mage talent' isn't a term I'm familiar with. I mean, I can gather the basic meaning, but to my knowledge, it isn't used very often. I think the people who learn their magics prefer the term 'abilities' or 'powers'. And they normally preface it with 'god-given' just to be pretentious. No-one really knows how I got my...Jez says I should call it a 'gift'," her tone might suggest that she thinks 'curse' would be a more fitting word. "But like hell am I bothering to preface that."

She sighs, grabs her drink and takes a long swig, before managing to smile again. "Is it rude to ask what your other form is? If it is, I'm sorry, and discount that question entirely." It's pretty clear that Isabella isn't entirely comfortable with people knowing she's a shifter to begin with.

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"I'm not sure there is an applicable social convention to determine the rudeness of that question. At least not in my - oh, that could explain a few things. We aren't necessarily from the same world, even though we're both familiar with magic and with shifters." Now she's aware of the possibility, Raven notices that Joss' clothes aren't exactly the sort she'd expect to see on the streets of London - not worn by a woman, at least. Now how to test it...

"To where and when does your door open? Mine is a London townhouse in 1849." She will need to check with Bar, but she very much doubts that there can be two doors to different time periods of the same world at the same time, especially since closing the door pauses time in that world. "Oh, and I might as well tell you, especially if it turns out we are from different worlds. I'm a raven. Corvus corax." It feels surprisingly good to tell someone. Everyone at home has either known for years, or isn't allowed to find out.

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"If you find it insulting, or rude, it's rude. Some packs are very...specific about who can and can't ask that question." She runs her fingers through her hair. "That would make sense," she says thoughtfully, tugging out a tangle.

"My uni halls. Britain, twenty-fifteen."

Joss feels like her grin is splitting her face. "That's really cool," she says. "I think you might be right about the different worlds thing. We don't really have many bird-shifters in mine. I mean, there's probably some somewhere and I just don't know about them. I'm basically the furthest from being a person most of our supernaturals will tell stuff to as is possible." She winces slightly as that falls out of her mouth. She had not meant to say that.

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"More than a century apart. That explains your clothing, I suppose." Raven's tone is decidedly not one of disapproval for Joss' choice of outfit. There might even be a hint of envy in her voice, and it grows as she continues. "Women can attend university in your time? That is good news, even if our worlds are different; they are similar enough that we both have a Britain, at least." Raven looks delighted at the prospect of higher learning. "Perhaps that will happen soon enough that I may take advantage. They would not let me study magic, but I could at least learn anything else I pleased." 

"Birds are not the most common--perhaps one in four or five? But yes, more frequent than anything except mammals, so it would be surprising if you had met many shifters and not encountered one. What animal forms are common for your type of shifter, then?" She seems to be completely ignoring the comment about Joss not getting told things, and happy to continue exchanging information for as long as the other woman will indulge her curiosity. 

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"I hope it does," Joss says sincerely. "I'm really lucky with when I was born and the chances I've got open to me." She tilts her head. "Why wouldn't they let you study magic? Does magic get split by gender or something?"

"I can't give you exact numbers," she admits, "but from what I know it's mostly carnivorous mammals and reptiles. Wolves, lions, crocodiles, snakes, that sort of thing. And...I haven't met many shifters." Depending on how you viewed 'met'. "I just know people who have. And are willing to answer my questions."

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Raven nods. "Willingness to answer questions is a valuable and unfortunately rare trait. I endeavour to be so willing, under the principle of 'do as you would be done by', but sometimes forget." 

Turning back to her stack of books, she flips through a couple of them, clearly looking for a specific piece of information. "Magic is only taught to those with enough essence to use it," she explains while she searches. "Shifters either never have enough essence, do not have essence at all like animals, or have a different kind of essence which is not detectable in the same way."

The object of her search turns out to be in Nature and Properties of Quintessence. Tapping the page, Raven reads out, "Although the factors which determine the quantity of a man's essence are as yet unknown, it is easy enough to show that one man in every hundred, and no more, has the potential to perform magical feats of any significant size. This was written over a century ago," she adds, "and the scholars still do not know what makes the difference between a mage and a non-mage."

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"That sucks." Joss hums, "Is there a genetic, uh, familial link between mages? I know that a lot of the different supernaturals in my world are connected by family bloodlines. Magic-users specifically are harder to pin down depending on the type of magic they're using. Some of it's book-learned, and doesn't need, uh 'essence'?"

"Did you want a drink by the way? I need a refill anyway." She gestures at Bar, requesting her own refill. "I'm pretty sure Bar can do tea if nothing else appeals."

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"Tea would be wonderful, thank you," Raven says distractedly. "I would describe mages as using book-learned magic, actually: just having the potential is not enough to be able to use it. The minimum requirement is seven years of schooling, but the best study for decades. I'm not sure exactly what difference it makes, though..." 

She looks ready to dive back into her books in search of an answer, but Bar chooses this moment to refill Joss' drink and appear a cup and saucer in front of Raven. She picks up her tea, instead, and blows on it while thinking about the answer to the question on heredity.

"No," she concludes after a moment. "Ancestry would be an obvious criterion to test - you thought of it within a few minutes - and trivial to notice given that magic has been known for three hundred years. If mage potential were hereditary, someone would have noticed in that time."

"You said there was more than one type of magic in your world, correct? Could you tell me about some of them?"

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"I have never been more thankful what I do is instinctive," Joss grimaces slightly. "Guess it was too much to hope that it would be something that simple."

She rattles her fingers on the bar, gathering her thoughts. "Again, I'm...not necessarily the best person to try and explain this. So. The non-bloodline magic tends to be more like alchemy - it needs ingredients, and some of it requires certain conditions to be met." Joss hadn't started reading up on this recently, no sir. "Then there's natural-borns, they still need to learn control, but it's less book-learning, a lot more instinct and word-of-mouth. Um. There's probably further distinctions in there that I have no clue about. But in terms of magic in general, other supernaturals have their own. To a degree. Reapers teleport, vampires have some weird mesmer thing going on, angels have their grace and demons...are weird."

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"I am not an expert on my world's magic either, if you had not guessed." Raven goes to run a hand through her hair, notices she's holding a teacup, and takes a sip. "Your world seems to have more types of...supernaturals? Than mine. We only have vampires, shifters and mages so far as I am aware."

That brings up an interesting question, though. "Bar, are there any other 'supernaturals' in my world? Is that the sort of thing you can find out?"

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"It's not even the full list," Joss says, dropping her head into her hands for a moment. "And somehow ordinary humans manage to typically ignore them."

She looks sideways at Isabella, decides she isn't needed for that conversation, and, for now, picks her book up again. She's still paying attention, and will get involved again if her involvement is called for.

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I can only account for those mentioned in published works, Bar explains, and it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. That said, the evidence seems to suggest that there were, at some point, dragons. 

Raven pulls out a notebook, borrows a pen from Bar, and starts taking notes. "What kind of dragons?" she asks. "The legends vary. Four legs? Wings? Diet of virgins?" The sarcasm is back. "Why have I not heard of this? The way dragons are commonly described seems as though they would be difficult to keep hidden."

References to dragons in works not intended as fictional decline sharply in the late seventeenth century, the napkins report. The latest mention which I can definitively identify as factual dates from 1723.

Well, that's certainly a mystery worth pursuing, given infinite time and resources. "Might I have a copy of that work?" It appears. "Thank you."

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Joss snorts. "Dragons. Rather like wolves. Except reptilian, have wings, breathe fire, more vicious, and you don't want to encounter one without armour piercing rounds and a fully automatic weapon. Also possibly a couple of tons of steel armour to stop them clawing you to pieces. At least in my experience." She shrugs. "Also, typically omnivores, they prefer meat, but they'll eat anything. Not, uh, that that's probably going to apply to your world at all. I'll just shut up now."

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"No, please do continue. It might be useful information," Raven points out. "Shifters at least appear to be quite similar between our worlds, although not entirely identical. Dragons may be the same." She checks back through her notes, and her memory of their conversation, to find another point of comparison, not willing to dig much deeper into the details of shapeshifter biology. They seem to be nearing the limits of Joss' knowledge on that particular subject, regardless. 

"Your world has vampires, I think you said? Shall we test my theory by finding similarities there?" It seems unlikely that two Earths would attach the same name to wildly different concepts, but just in case, Raven starts with the basics. "Vampires drink blood, burn in sunlight, and can live much longer than humans. Any differences yet?"

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