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A druid dislikes Brockton Bay for all the wrong reasons
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"The ... ah, the government might execute him," she hedges. "But he's more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment in an unescapable prison. The government doesn't really like executing people with powers that might be useful for fighting off Endbringers — giant city-destroying monsters — later."

"As for my mask," she grins. "You might be surprised. It looks like it's not enough, but that just leads people into not looking hard enough, because they think they've seen all they need to. See, the whole secret identity thing started as a way to make sure capes didn't drag each other's families into things, to stop it from escalating. Because even the least dangerous cape could create plenty of collateral damage if they had a reason to fight without caring about the people around them. But we do all live here, and only the most deranged capes actually want society to collapse into mayhem, so most everyone is incentivized to go along with the masquerade."


None of that makes any sense, but city-dwellers and their culture are all insane one way or another and it's not as if she understands Oppara either. Her family is Tora and a mask wouldn't help anything. None of this matters because she's not going to let Hookwolf go if he takes off his mask, no matter what the locals think.

"The government would dominate... mind-control him to fight for them?" she clarifies. And keep him in an "unescapable" prison the rest of the time? That.... might an appropriate punishment, if she trusted the prison really was unescapable and the government's wars should be supported and nothing else was going on with the prisoners, but she has no time to verify any of that.


"Uh, not as such, no. The government has some people with mind-control powers, but they're usually either limited, situational, or not fully trusted. A lot of people are leery about mind-control, which means that people with that type of power often end up getting ostracized and becoming villains," she explains.

She can tell that she's not really selling any of this to Aria.

"... look, I think we're getting a bit far from the point. It sounds like our interests are, if not aligned, at least overlapping. It's always good to have some idea about new neighbors, as it were. Grue's darkness is going to evaporate soon, and it would be convenient to have separated by then so there's no chance of being seen together. I expect you probably want to go corroborate what I've told you and track down Hookwolf — how about we plan to meet up again early Saturday morning?"

She pulls a piece of paper from her pocket and scribbles an address. "I can be waiting at this address a few hours after dawn, and I'll see if I can convince Bitch and her dogs to come as well. We can talk more then, or help with any preparation you need before hitting Hookwolf that evening."


Is Tattletale trying to make her shift human to take the note so she can see her face, which is apparently important in the local culture? "My translation spell doesn't let me read your language. Tell me the address and I will remember it."

More importantly, "are you saying Bitch doesn't want to be approached by strangers and you need two days to maybe convince her to meet me?" Druids often live in seclusion from human society and operate through trusted minions; perhaps Tattletale and Bug are her city-rangers. 

"I need to learn more from Bitch to plan for Saturday, and don't wish to do it on the last day. Let's agree on a meeting place later today." Assumptions aside, Aria doesn't know anything about these two; they may have lied to her. Angelica is proof of something interesting; she doesn't want to leave Bitch to Tattletale for two days and then maybe meet her "if Tattletale can convince her" if she can avoid it.

"How long until we should leave here? I want to talk to Angelica for a few minutes; it might help as an introduction when I meet Bitch later."


Tattletale runs her hands across her face; she hates being this wrong-footed by a conversation.

"Right, okay," she acquiesces. She rattles off an address. "We can meet there an hour or two before sunset. But — yes, Bitch does have problems with strangers, and especially with trusting strangers with her dogs. I may or may not be able to get her to agree to come along."

She pulls a phone out of the backpack that now contains their costumes and checks the time.

"And we have ... maybe 5 minutes until Grue's darkness clears. I'd prefer to be back out on the street and putting some distance between us a minute or two beforehand. But if you want to spend that time talking to Angelica, by all means," she finishes, gesturing towards where Angelica is sitting patiently.


"Are we sure that's safe?" Bug whispers to Tattletale, although not quietly enough for Aria not to hear.


Tattletale responds at normal volume.

"It's fine," she states, waving a hand dismissively. "She really can just ... talk to animals, somehow. And I'm pretty sure it's not a Master effect. Also, she has really good hearing."


She does, not that Tattletale has any way of knowing that, but even ordinary hearing would have been enough! Is she judging a big cat by human standards? Has she ever met one before?

A street address isn't very useful for a clandestine meeting, since she'll have to ask strangers for directions and then it will be known she was looking for that address. No matter, she'll find a way; better to keep Tattletale in the dark about what exactly she can and cannot do, while discreetly testing what Tattletale (or Bitch) can catch her doing.

"I won't ask her to trust me with her dogs, certainly not as a stranger." It's a very sensible policy for Bitch to have; Aria certainly wouldn't trust a powerful stranger with Tora. "I want her to tell me about Hookwolf and make plans together. I'll ask about her powers and her dogs, out of professional curiosity, and about the city life more generally, but I do know how to take no for an answer." 

And she casts speak with animals. This is the first spell Tattletale will see her cast in animal form, and she watches her for any visible reactions. A mage trained in spellcraft could recognize the sounds she makes, the deliberate gestures of her paws, if only by analogy.


Tattletale shows no sign of recognition, but she does look fascinated.

Not a parahuman ability, her power tells her, finally giving her some certainty on the matter. A cascade of other facts bring themselves to mind, but she finds herself entranced by the smallest details of how Aria moves her paws.

She watches in silence.


Aria lies down comfortably, in the most relaxed and non-threatening pose she can adopt, and signals Tora to follow suit. Spends a couple of rounds licking her paws. Looks at Angelica but not into her eyes, and waves her tail gently.

Hello, Angelica. I am friendly. I want to be a friend. I want to meet your pack. I will meet your pack later. I will be friendly and not attack you or yours.

A cat cannot bark or whine as a dog does, but dogs don't communicate with those sounds alone anyway. She uses sounds and body language both, and magic fills in the rest; artificial smells and sounds that she cannot herself produce, subconscious cues that will help Angelica understand her as well as she might understand a moon dog who has the right body and also high Cunning and Wisdom.

Speak with Animals is a divination, not an enchantment. She can't affect Angelica directly, only her perceptions; but she can understand her response better than Angelica herself might.

I want to meet Bitch. Who is she to you? She hopes Angelica recognizes the name Bitch, which she has to say in English; otherwise she'll have to use circumlocutions like 'meet your pack-leader' or 'your master' or 'your best human friend' and any of those will be misleading because she wants Angelica to tell her - what is Bitch to her? What is their relationship? What role in this dog's life is played by a human who names herself a dog?


She cocks her head.

You are not a dog, she observes. I want to sniff you and find out what you are but I am staying with the angry one and the sad one until the darkness goes away, because I am a good dog.

She looks up at the humans and then back at Aria.

Bitch is the smart one, the pack leader. She knows how to say things. She knows how to make food happen. The angry one never makes food happen. It is good that you won't fight us. We are strong and clever.


Bug does smell and act somewhat sad, but Tattletale doesn't seem particularly angry; Angelica must mean it more generally. Or - maybe she hasn't been around humans enough to learn that smiles-with-teeth are not aggression? Most dogs do learn that eventually but not all.

She slowly and carefully extends a paw towards Angelica's nose, so she can sniff her without moving too much, if that's acceptable.

I have seen that you are strong! she agrees. I will meet you later with Bitch. Goodbye. She has what she wanted; Angelica trusts Bitch, and obeys her, in the way she might a fellow dog. She thinks of Bitch as one of 'them'; that she is human is incidental. This is the work of a druid, or a ranger who knows what they're doing, no matter what Tattletale might claim.

"She says you don't feed her and you smile too much, which she perceives as aggression," she remarks to Tattletale. "I'm done here. We'll meet tonight."


Tattletale stares into space for a moment, and then shakes her head to clear it.

"Alright. It was good meeting you. See you tonight."


Angelica delicately sniffs the outstretched paw, and then snorts and settles back down on her hindquarters.


Bug crosses her arms and nods to Aria, but doesn't say anything.


Then she and Tora will leave, and walk in a random direction (not the one they came from) until they're out of the magical darkness.

She makes a careful note of the sun's position in the sky; once she sees how it moves through a quarter-hour she'll be able to estimate the number of hours until sunset, and her latitude.

And now she has a choice to make. She can follow Tattletale, and probably not achieve anything else of use until their meeting tonight. Or she can investigate the city, but she'll need a surefire way of finding the location Tattletale named. Aria told her she can't read the local language, and asking strangers for directions might lead someone else to their meeting; she isn't sure if it was intended as a challenge but she's treating it like one. Find this place without wasting time or effort. Prove you can navigate a strange city, or interact with its humans.

It is a reasonable demand to make, if she is going to operate here. She lets Tattletale slip from her mind for now, and turns her attention to the city that she can finally see properly. What is it like?


It is a place of incredible wealth that has fallen on hard times.

There are easily tens of thousands of people living here, maybe as many as a few hundred thousand, if she takes the crowd she can see on the street (even in the rain) and extrapolates based on how distant the most distant buildings are. Each one of them that she can see is wearing clothing with an incredibly tight weave and even dye job, often in hard-to-acquire colors, like the plumage of tropical birds. Many of them are carrying equally colorful umbrellas covered with some lightweight fabric that repels water.

Despite that, a lot of the clothing is torn, or starting to develop holes — especially the popular blue pants, for some reason. There are people in patchy, dirty clothing sitting on the sidewalk who everyone else walks past and pretends not to see. Even the least wealthy people have some garments of the same incredible fabric. Most people look well fed, although not everyone. Most people look healthy, although not everyone.

The architecture of the city itself tells the same story — there are towering buildings visible through the rain that stand impossibly tall. Their sides are stark, the color of granite or clay. The windows are glass, so impossibly well made that they would be hard to see, except for the beading droplets that beat against them when the wind gusts. The roads are wide, and smooth, paved with huge slabs of stone that must have been quite expensive to bring in. The gaps between them are smoothed over with tar, so that the vehicles can traverse them at high speeds with only the smallest bumps.

There are lights — not just in the buildings, but illuminating the streets, and guiding vehicles and pedestrians through intersections. Obviously magical lights, with steady unblinking colors. They reflect of the watery sheen of the road, painting the scene in streaks of eye-catching light.

And yet ...

The lower walls of the buildings are covered in scrawled words and pictures that are at odds with the dignified aesthetic of the upper floors. Some of the magical lights are smashed and broken. Further down the street, one of the glass windows has been smashed. There are holes in the road filled with rainwater that have not been patched, even with gravel.

The overall impression the place gives is of something grey. Not grey in the way stones are grey, with rain-washed faces. But grey in the way that ash is grey — something that was once colorful, which has had the color stolen from it, until all that remains are the bleak and despairing lines of a place that was once better.

And the colorful distractions of the people who refuse to see it.


Human cities share a fundamental flaw: they are too big. So big that people cling to them even as they degrade and fall into ruin. If a tribe's old hunting-grounds are empty they can migrate, if a village's fields fail their children can homestead anew; but how do you make a start on building a new city, when nothing you make in your lifetime can compare to even the ruins of your forefathers' mansions?

Aria has seen cities fall into decay and ruin before. Oppara too has many old palaces and grand monuments, and if its pride is no longer this is the seat of empire and civilization, at least it comforts itself that once it had been. But pride in past glories is no replacement for present comforts. The humans who live in Oppara are prideful, resentful, angry, forever upset with their rulers and subjects, their peers and neighbours, the entire world around them. Their legacy does not fill their bellies, and it does not satisfy them when they are hungry. They fight each other endlessly over their ever-shrinking commons, because they do not know how to make them grow again.

Humans and other intelligent races build cities, and nations, and societies, which eat food and fight each other for territory, and succumb to parasites and disease and old age, until their bleached skeletons are scavenged by adventurers. This is their natural cycle, sure as the salmon swim upriver. Individual humans are not happy in a decaying city, and yet they struggle to break free.

This city might not yet be as decayed as Oppara. The homeless and the hungry are fewer, the streets are cleaner, the wealth on display is perhaps greater to begin with. But just as the sun in the sky is moving sideways and slightly down, she feels this city will go on to die if nothing changes, and for a simple reason: 

Most of the people she sees are not happy.


Aria stops walking in the most secluded spot she can find on short notice - the rain is helping by driving most people indoors. 

She turns around to Tora, and relates her conversation with Tattletale. Tells her about Bitch, and the meeting tonight, and that they will probably stay in this city for days or weeks to come.

Tells her about Hookwolf.


You will end him. 

It is not a question.


I promise. 

Even if she hadn't already decided to do so, she would do it for Tora's sake. Because she doesn't know what this Hookwolf is capable of yet, and her Tora might not succeed alone but she would certainly try.


It takes her a few minutes to calm down enough to continue walking along the street without terrifying passers-by, if any city-dwellers can tell when a cat is bloody furious and the 'bloody' is about to become very literal.

Why not find him now and bite his head off? I know you have a better plan but I think I could bite his head off. Aria's excellent planning is half the reason Tora keeps her around, the other half being deep unshakeable love.


You probably could, dear! He can't be a powerful man if he tortures ordinary dogs. Someone truly powerful or rich would use grander beasts, tigers and lions and elephants. 

I want everyone in the city to get the right message. So no-one dares to do it again, even after we leave, even after a generation. For that I need to know more. About the organization he's part of, the city that can't put him down, the other men who go to his fights. I need to find out what will make them not do this again as soon as you've stopped biting heads off.

I don't want his simple death or disappearance. I want its effect on everyone else.

And I need to talk to Bitch about the dogs we will rescue, to know what should be done with them and to make sure no-one takes revenge on her after we are gone.


Human things. But she wiggles her ears in the equivalent of a smile.

Are you going to ask someone else about Hookwolf, now?


Maybe. But I think it would be best if I approached strangers as a human, and without a tiger. And I don't know yet if outside this city is safe. Do you mind being a statue for a little bit?

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