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Ophelia is a Fatebinder of Tunon, tasked with delivering Kyros's Edict - 'surrender or die'. This doesn't produce straightforward compliance.
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"Hmmm. I suppose I can try it, if you think it wise, Fatebinder. I admit I'm not enormously comfortable with spellwork, but Vigor seems less objectionable."


"I doubt I have the patience for it, but I guess it'd be useful."


"Magic is very useful, used correctly.  Though I'll admit that a part of why I thought about it enough to plan asking Barik to train while we're out was some ideas I had for bond experiments."


"If you study enough of it, I guess, but I've seen how much effort it took to dabble and it looked like a lot."


"It really depends upon the person.  And the quality of instruction, which I can't imagine was high amongst the Chorus.  That said, you know yourself better than I."


"I can give it a try, but Whispers was way better at that dusty memorization stuff and she never got past two or three types of Life spell."


"...Well, yes, because if you're doing it right it shouldn't be dusty memorization.  Yes there's the rote motions, but those are martial forms - and the right way to learn a Sigil is with stories.  With intense emotional weight.  Not...dusty memorization!  Who taught you that?  Why were they so bad at it!?  All of your sisters were keener than that and who started Whispers on Life as her first form sigil anyway!  Rote memorization!  I cannot believe!"

She's positively infuriated.

"The only reason you use rote memorization is if you haven't the slightest shred of the right sort of feeling in your bones - and don't get me started on that absolute ass-backwards thing the Blood Chanters do, speaking of bones, if they want to be ritual foci they can at least tattoo themselves for it properly like Lantry -

"Rote memorization!

"We'll do better than that."

That is the tone Ophelia uses, when she is delivering a threat.  It is not aimed at Verse.

"I wonder if ritualized storytelling is how Beastfolk shaman pass on their lore."

And that is her tone of 'I have just found something that might be a solution to the problem that has been nagging me for days'.  Albeit that it has in fact been sporadically nagging her ever since the campaign with Cairn, which is spans past, by now.

"The focus on physical embodiment, even during mental tasks, that I hypothesize might exist within their culture would tend towards a more literalist interpretation of magic being derived from stories..."

...She shakes her head.  "No time to lose in speculation, only time to try.  I'll see if this pans out and get back to you.  ...Should send a letter to Rhogalus, being as he's technically the Fatebinder of Lore and I have some fascinating new possible lore, but I'm still pissed off he set the Library on fire, there were better options.  I'm not sure he'd know what diplomacy was if someone hit him over the head with it.

"Anyway.  That fascinating line of thought that might explain how in the absolute fuck Beastfolk do magic without sigils aside.  I'm a better storyteller than most potential mage tutors, so I can confidently promise that whatever it is I end up trying, to teach you, will not be dusty.  It will regrettably include memorization; sorry about that."


Whispers mostly taught herself, after some basic training she asked for from one of the Eyes, with scrolls she bought from the Sniggler. Because Life was the one that seemed like it would actually be useful if she couldn't get it down well enough to cast in combat. She also knew a bunch of Tiers noble bloodlines and some law and history and liked the dusty stuff in between the killing. Verse wants to bother arguing about that even less than she did before she started thinking in more detail about Whispers, which was 'not much'.

"I said I'd try. Just don't get your hopes up."


...Ah.  "I know you did.  I - lost focus."

"...If the scrolls were all she had, your sister was a very clever woman.  ...I wish I'd known."  So I could have taught her, then, to have saved her between then and now, she cannot bear the weight of saying without breaking into grief and now is not the time.  (So she does not.  She buries it like the bodies of the soldiers she couldn't protect from Cairn, manning siege engines to buy time that were shattered like toys.  She buries it like the body of a man whose tortured face apologizing for his near-enough death to Nerat will haunt fresh nightmares.)

-- That she cared so deeply for you, and your sisters' wellbeing, because that was the feeling I needed to learn the sigil of Life from a scroll, she also cannot say.  Not without doing something tantamount to breaching confidences.

...And yet, something must be said.  She can't hold this there.

"I think you'll do her proud, Verse."  I'm sorry she couldn't be here to learn herself.  I hope you can forgive me.  I wasn't enough.

Her hands are clenched tightly around her own staff; her knuckles white from indescribable emotion.

To be an Archon is to have a terrible power.

To be an Archon is to have an equally terrible burden.

Ophelia Vaudelle will be an Archon by the time she is finished with this campaign.  She's won enough against them as a 'mere mortal'.  And that doesn't even consider Spire bullshit.

She can't say she's looking forward to it, not without lying.

She can already feel the weight settling on her shoulders, after all.


Verse shrugs and turns away, looking out at the camp.


Ophelia is going to just.  Take a minute.  Breathe, deeply.  Slowly.  Carefully, because she thinks she could make a bid for Archon of Despair right now, and that is not who she wants and needs to be.

"...Unfortunately, the work still needs doing.  As much as I wish time was on our side, and not the enemy's."

She has positively forgotten what they've done, where they stand in the process of getting out and bringing missing people home - but she must do it.  There is simply no other way to be the person she must.  "Let's keep moving, people."

She really hates her job.  She wouldn't trade it for the world.


There is one letter she sends, before she leaves.

Dear Fatebinder Calio,

I'm well aware it's not your field, but I'm afraid that if I wrote to Rhogalus directly upon the matter half my time would be spent preemptively excising imprecations from my words; I am somewhat frustrated that the Library entire was burned, rather than a targeted selection, and he could have stopped it.  Or, at the very least, saved what he could have from the pyre.  Most of the Sages' works simply cannot have been forbidden to us.  Not that I ever expected such things from the man, but you must surely know how much I value knowledge of all things.

...I am equally sure that I needn't reassure you as to my commitment to following Kyros' Laws in their full measure, but perhaps I shall anyway.

Regardless.  I happen to have a thought upon the open question of how one who is not themself an Archon or an Archon potential might cast without a Sigil, as we have observed that Beastfolk somehow can - and I would have it not die with myself should I undertake a mission ending in my death.  (I have not made of it a secret or anything, but I'd rather have at least one person outside the Well know that I've had this thought.  Just in case.)

The thought I have had is thus: We know that beastfolk are a very physical sort.  We know that whatever it is they do is not the consequence of some thing preventing them from using sigils.

We know that magic is developed from myth.

Do you suppose, then, that - and here I take my speculative leap - we might cast a work of magic, any one of us, by performing a myth?  By deliberately invoking its nature, not by drawing an arcane sigil, but reflecting and embodying the narrative that gave birth to it.

(Were I not convinced that Graven Ashe's Oathbound scout corps were rather the deliberate manipulation of an Exarchate subordinate to an Archon's own myth, I would point to them as an example.  Perhaps they still are, on the squad scale, but I daren't try to untangle them from the larger known factors.)

I'm sure that my hypothetical interlocutor is at this point going "But this is just ritual magic!"

Well.  On the one hand, I suppose it must be.  But on the other, if I am correctly understanding or impelling...

Hm.  Come to think of it, I am reminded of Sirin.  She is a performance artist, after all.  I shall have to write to her as well.

Anyway.  If I am, indeed, correct in my supposition, I believe that the key difference between a world where it works and a world where it does not, is the replication of magics with only intent, perhaps environment or circumstance, and state of mind - rather than purpose-crafted foci.

I don't truly have the time to test this, however, or even properly research further, because I'm rather busy with Nerat having decided that he wants little to do with the Empire if it will not give him blood, and some related matters.  Therefore, please do ask of Rhogalus if there is aught he knows, or perhaps if there is anyone who would.  I will not take offense if he writes to me himself; I merely prefer that I not waste lines on swearing at him.

Sincerely, and with much appreciation both of your professional support in these trying times, and much more pertinently your friendship,

--Fatebinder Ophelia Vaudelle

(Written before an excursion - possibly of multiple fists' duration.)


...There really is never just one letter, is there.

Archon Sirin,

I hope this finds you well.

I've no idea if the exploration of the depths and heights of magic is something you find intriguing, so please forgive my presumption in writing you to inquire as to a curiosity of mine - if you know of any Archons' stories besides your own, have you ever tried invoking them (to do magic) by way of performance?

I'm trying to figure out how Beastfolk cast without sigils, and while I certainly still don't know, I've had a thought that they might be achieving it by - doing something akin to imitation, rather than invocation.

(Replicating the stories' events, characters, and-or environments to replicate the magic, in other words.)

I am also curious if you've ever tried singing at inanimate objects more directly, but that's just needlessly prying, so please feel free to ignore me.  Or this whole letter, in fact.  None of these matters are pressing; I'm just trying to have as much as I can in order before I go searching for some lost folk in the backwoods - can't let Nerat find them first, who knows what he'll do.

May fate be kind to you.

--Fatebinder Ophelia Vaudelle


Alright.  That's all that needs sending.  Unless something has come in, they need to be moving out around right now.


The Iron Marshal comes to see them off, and has a small map wrapped up to give Ophelia.

"Not to delay you further, but a moment, Fatebinder. I realized I could spare this map of the Well - imperfect, but it may be useful. Also, I marked the village where recent reports say Matani Sybil and the Tidecaster are basing their forces. On the other side of the Matani, naturally, but if it proves convenient to approach, I thought you'd want to know where a parley might be conducted."


"My thanks, Marshal Erenyos.  I appreciate the consideration.  I sha'n't keep you, either; there's people waiting for us out there."

And thusly equipped, they begin looking for the missing Earthshakers.


And away they shall go. Squad Colus will fan out slightly in front of them in practiced fashion, and travel will mostly be smooth. They won't encounter Chorus or Guard in the first day, so they can make camp and test out the kata code at sunset.


Also, Lantry collected the various berries and leaves he needed, and will be grinding and mixing them into ink around the campfire.



Ophelia will be testing her theories on sigilless casting, and the possibility of educating Verse with dramatic recitations, herself.


They will not make noticeable progress on either in one evening.

The second day they again don't meet any opponents, though they do cross the trail of a large group an hour past noon.


Colus says, "Trail's pretty wide and messy, clearly not trying to hide their tracks. Together with the direction being up to the outer edges of the valley, my assumption is this is Chorus."

Antenor concurs, "The Vendrien Guard might not cover their tracks, but they'd walk in close file so their numbers weren't obvious. Do we pursue, commander?"


"We're not out here to pursue the Chorus; we're out here to find the missing Earthshakers.  Do you think this trail looks like it has prisoners in it?  Is it going towards their route?  Otherwise - we make a report and keep looking."


"Understood, ma'am," Antenor replies. "They might have prisoners, but unless something strange happened this is the wrong direction for them to have already taken Earthshakers prisoner."

"I don't think they had prisoners," Phorbas says, "I see a couple places where someone was dragging their feet but it looks like a limp, and it would be unusual for the Chorus to keep prisoners in healthy enough shape for that not to show up in their gait."

"Recent tracks, so if they're going for the Earthshakers they're taking a very roundabout route," says Colus, "We'd beat them there by a day at least, more if our search is more efficient than theirs."


"Then we keep moving.  Verse, you're our Chorus expert; any thoughts on what this looks like?"


"Well, they're not trying to hide, obviously... I think this is two or three gangs moving together, looking for safety in numbers versus Disfavored patrols because they're not good enough to avoid or ambush them. Probably raiding and foraging actively, maybe taking recruits in their path if they find any opportunities."

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