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"Thank you for meeting with me, Nico. I didn't want to talk about it in public, but I have an idea that might help humans. So, you can make your sparkles follow rules, right? I assume you could make them, say, go to locations a hundred feet above the water in the rock you're standing on. Could you make them show the shape that something had in the past or will have in the future? particular, could you show the shape that a baby will have while it's still tiny and inside my body and doesn't have any magic yet that could hurt me?"






"That sounds really complicated and difficult."

Green/white can probably do it. Well, maybe. Seeing how random things are going to grow up? That sounds hard! And complicated! Less like detecting water and more like predicting the weather, which is notoriously white-resistant.


"I think it probably would not work at all."

If it doesn't work, he doesn't have to think about babies and babies killing people.


Uh oh, what was that hesitation? Did one of the other girls get him already, but he isn't sure and is upset about not being able to tell?

"Ah, well, better try and burn than nought e'er learn.

Anyway, wow, you're moving up in the world, kid! You have a clerk with a heavy brow and everything. Any shows coming up?"


"No, I've been doing experiments about light."

Isn't Neffie scared?

"I heard that new kinds of babies kill people. I don't want to get it wrong and kill anyone. I'm sorry. I'd be so sad to be scared of my only magic."


"You mean, you don't want to say that a baby is safe and then it isn't? Or, like, you don't want to encourage experimentation by promising safety and then more women will die overall? That's their choice, not yours.

That saying - better try and burn than nought e'er learn - has the literal meaning too. We revere the catmother as much as they do. Without her, Kef wouldn't exist, Embal wouldn't, Calsa and your clerk... It would be a smaller sadder world without catfolk, and this world is itself a smaller sadder version of what might be when the next species is added.

I want there to be people of all types living with freedom and joy everywhere they can possibly be. With all sorts of useful magic to bring new things like the Kef experiment and the steel it depends on, and shatter the old ways of dons and personal favors from Magistrates. That's what human women are for. That's how we beat the elv- the shrinking chartreuse and the drydark and drybright and the other planets!

Oh, you're a polythaumist? You divide magic into multiple pieces per species? Like that catfolk make fire and tolerate fire, but those pieces could have been separate? And, I don't know, wolfbeasts, and mind-reading without understanding, and equartier strength being the same as boark strength. What does that even mean, 'could' have been separate; that's just what catfolk do, that's how the world works."


"Uh, sorry. I've bothered you enough, you don't want to hear my rambling.

I'd be happy to hear from you if you need me to sing again, or anything else I can do."

Neffie leaves.

She decides to keep the wroth she's pregnant with, in case Nico wants to look at it later. There's a risk of wasting a chance to touch him for a minute, if she visits him still pregnant. But, patience, patience.

Huh, he's a funny sort of polythaumist if he considers human women to have only one kind of magic. Usually they say that there are at least three: breeding the target, making new species, and making the baby grow like a regular baby with traits from the mother and able to breathe from the placenta. And sometimes they also separate out targeting by touch and triggering off the mother's physiological state.

It sounded like he thought of himself as having multiple kinds of magic? What can he do with his sparkles that's so much more flexible that what a human woman can do? Well actually that's obvious: he can make sparkles with conscious attention and he can also give them rules to follow by themselves. Can he also have the rules without the sparkles? Does he have a mental space like a drider, filled with rules? What can he sense, and without any sparkles to show that he's looking? Can his rules interact with his memories? He's like a wroth and a drider and a solitary elph all put together!



"Sorry, some ideas don't work. I will keep you in mind and think about everything you said," Is the last thing he says, looking serious and thoughtful.


Every kitten has tried putting a flame in water. It doesn't look like a flame, just flashes of light and heaving bubbles, but it does do something. Unlike, say, with rock or glass, which can be an anchor for a flame but can't contain a flame.

In an enclosed glass ball filled with water, the light flashes in a spot flat against the anchor - and the ball explodes. The light is still almost exactly the same color as in all the other experiments, and it looks like about the same total amount of light...

If, in the search for a sturdier enclosure, Nico tries one much smaller, the size of an eyeball, and allots a little black to hold it firm, then the light swells to a brilliant white, far brighter than one catfolk's usual output. With less total heat, although the glass is hot enough to melt if not for the black.


Yay! It's so bright! It's absolutely not viable for anything more than experiments, because the cost to his magic is pretty steep, but it is VERY EXCITING. Are the colors different? Just HOW much brighter is it? All of these things are things they can attempt to measure later.

The real question is, why is it so bright? What's different? Is it because it's in a sealed liquid? Maybe LAVA will glow just as brightly if they do it right.

And he gets a new point around this time too. Science! Magic! Learning!


Tanno's weekly reports on Nico have been largely unremarkable, and slowly declining in detail. He's studying light still. And algebra. Reading more complicated books, and the basics of writing and literature analysis. The water cycle, and how to estimate things. Mouse and insect biology, and more genetics. Accounting. They've tried filling a room with concentrated exhalation, and as long as it's also very bright, it does make plants grow faster. Slightly. But it's kind of hazardous and impractical, since only kappas can safely go down unless they rig up some complicated tube bringing in fresh air... Anyway.

Not so many new kinds of magic, just practice and development with the kinds he already knows. He's built some kind of clock out of white magic, and has been talked out of various inadvisable flying and wagon related magic experiments.

Also, they've had a breakthrough with one of the plants! A new strain of Golden Sweetgrass Wheat, which has long been bred in the Chartreuse, now grows in the freezing cold of the drydark acceptably well. Slowly, but that's expected. And about half of the seeds are sterile, but that's also expected for complicated genetics reasons. They're confident it can be worked around in time. Five or ten generations, which under drakebreath will be about two, maybe three deci-years. The end result should be a staple wheat crop that grows better than the current ones and is remarkably sweet.



Distinctly not mentioned to the Magistrate: Nico asked several times about just how dangerous pregnancy is. And could obviously tell that Tanno and Larian were being a bit cagy about the subject.


The unevenness of color is the same as in the flashes of light from a catflame in open water, but overall there's a greater proportion of blue and green. It's such a concentrated intense light that it's hard to look at, but when spilling it across the floor of the rainbow room though a small hole, it dwindles into invisibility at two or three times the distance, with the exact ratio depending on the species of observer.

The biggest increase is in blue, which wasn't present in regular catfire at all. The brightest point now, to Nico's vision, is a green that's about twice as bright. The brightest color from before, red, is slightly brighter now.

Letting a little air into the ball has no discernable effect on the color or brightness, for any of the available kinds of air. Calsa's color powders work fine.


Tanno's reports are always a joy.

Could they bury the chambers of concentrated exhalation just under the surface so a frogold could reach up for fresh air? (The frogold she asks says sure, but being in a chamber of concentrated exhalation is very unpleasant, like suffocating over their entire body.)

Complicated genetics reasons? She doesn't have memories to explain that part, but whatever, she's not a scientist. Her job as owner of the enterprises of Kef is to choose scientists and prepare for them to get lucky. And her job as Magistrate, as she has set for herself, is to provide a stable environment for other people to own enterprises, other people who may individually lack the flexibility and depth of knowledge of an elph, but who as a group have diverse expertise, and, as a group, can replace a number of elves that would be suspicious to gather in a town the size of Kef. (Not illegal, if they're not in government and her superiors could be convinced that owning a large private enterprise is not a government position, but then the law might change to count that towards the quota anyway, so it's better to avoid that whole path.)


The tengu reports that the alertness worked fine. Extended storage delayed it wearing off, "so I could keep a body with it in storage if I needed to be sure of having one that's perfectly alert, but I already have plenty of alert bodies. Maybe there's a more useful temporary effect that I could save for the right moment?

It occurred to me to ask: does your magic allow you to recognize me or my individual bodies? Would you like me to dedicate a set of them as your guards, possibly marked by you on some way? Then you could be absolutely sure that it's me and not some other invading tengu. My apologies for not thinking of this sooner; legbeasts can hardly ever recognize tengu."

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