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It's not possible to occupy two spaces at the same time, but Dyssia is doing her best.

(Or. You know. Yeah, it totally is, actually. She's done it, and found herself quite charming in the brief window she had to get to know herself.. The entire point of the sword--gun?--swordgun on the table is to, you know, summon your underworld clone and holy shit she's from the underworld.)

Up to this point, it would have been all too easy to pick up the signs--the twitching cheeks, the flaring hood, the fidgeting tail, the flicks between Mosaic and the vent in the corner. Would it be possible to get to that vent before--no, no, silly idea, she's seen those claws shred through steel. Collapsing the vent behind her would just mean that Mosaic has time to work up a lather before she gets Dyssia.

Now, though, the clenching and unclenching fingers, the--is she vibrating?--the held breath, as if any opening will be the start of the explosion, speaks of a very different direction she wants to go.

She's from the underworld! Not just from, not just a visitor, born there!

Claws! Red eyes! Danger! Clearly upset, at her, in a way that will result--will not result, probably?--in violence. Upset in a way that shows iron mastery of will in not lashing out, and which should not be tested by crowding! Historically bad results from crowding, especially with claws!

But she can answer so many questions and hell where does she even start and--

She's gonna rub this alllll in the face of the Oracle. See? See? It does exist! It's not a myth! You have way too many references to Hades for it to be a myth, you can't just erase a figure of that kind from history and say it doesn't exist, and she'll tell you all of that just as soon as--

As she goes home.

Which she can't.

Because she sacrificed that for success in saving--

And, you know, totally worth it, but also--

An entire planet, Mosaic, and are you absolutely--no, no, you're right, silly question but if we could get the gun back could we trade that and--

Don't ask to have the logic explained, don't ask to have it explained--

Deep breath. Realize the breath is still being held. Exhale, then deep breath. Don't let the pleading edge into your voice.

"Tell. Me. Everything. Don't leave out a single detail."
Does she trust her?

No, the mental censor insists, revise that sentence. Make it clearer.

Does she trust her, in both sense of she and both senses of her?

Would she trust her?

Because, on the one hand, right, Dyssia has done a lot of good for Mosaic, for the people of Bitemark. She's her sign from the stars, the comet that came right in the nick of time to get her people out.

And also, on the other hand, there's a scrap of fabric that's been carefully ironed in Dyssia's quarters, and a plover with tiger stripes that don't match its neighbors.

And also, third hand, sword, sold, in the process of being.

Which Mosaic doesn't know about. Yet.

Dyssia doesn't flinch at the sniffing, which she counts as a major triumph because--

It's like, maybe Mosaic's nose can't do all the things the Silver Divers say it can do. Given the things she hears, she'd be amazed if--

They say she can smell your thoughts.

Does she already know?

Should she trust her?

She doesn't flinch, no, but the hesitation is drawing the moment out longer and longer, and the longer it takes to respond the more it feels like she's winding up a lie.

Does Dyssia want Mosaic to trust her?

Yes, obviously yes. Wants in a way she'd have difficulty expressing to anybody else? Should probably interrogate that thought at a later time, after she gets out of this room.

Does she want it more than--

"The synnefo approached me," she admits. "Gun's worth more than the planet. He gets the gun, I get to redesignate the planet however I want."

Look at those claws. Tick, tick, tack.

… Look at that face. Dyssia's not good with faces, she'll be the first to admit it, but the words are sinking in.

"We'd gotten to the point of negotiation where the planet got freed, got given free access to technology and hyperlanes, and nobody else got to fuck with the planet in perpetuity when--"

She gestures at the sword on the table, but her eyes are on Mosaic.

"Well, now the gun's a sword, now the sword's in the space where the synnefo was, now there's bits of wool drifting down and Gemini bearing down on me and saying that's her sword, give it back and--

"And you know this sword, don't you? How do you know this sword? Why do you know it? Where d'you recognize it from? Mosaic, what's going on?"
I want to throw it into a star.

Ah. This has.

She's not blushing.

What did she walk into, exactly?

She's not! Just because she, you know, walked in on--

What was Mosaic doing before--

She wants to throw it into a star she needs it and your fingers would be so deep inside yourself and is that what she was no it doesn't smell like it and--

Dyssia sits. Hovers. Curls around the table as if-- Carefully uncoils. Doesn't know what to do with her tail. It's a stupid tail, don't listen to it.

She's still clutching the sword, she realizes, with a start. White-knuckling it, now that she notices. Which means that Mosaic has noticed it. Because of course she has.

"If you want, I can recommend some juicier texts," she says, blurting it out like words loaded into a shotgun, and doesn't blush hard enough to turn purple.

"That is! I mean!"

She stares at the sword, and wills her fingers to unclench enough to lay it on the table between them. Neutral. Our sword. Definitely not something she's going to use on you, and not something you're going to destroy, because if you destroy it then she can't trade it for several billion lives and--

"I'm pretty sure this was a gun before. Do you remember it being a gun before? Also, I may have--We may need to un-un-reality the Synnefo."


Are you actually insane? Like, out of your gourd mental, off your rocker lunatic?

(Note to self: invent a rocker for Azura. Seems like a very good way to spend a fortnight or two and after that, she gets to curl up around a bucket of cocoa on her new rocker.)

Have you forgotten the, I dunno, half-dozen hours we just spent fighting a snake-turned-tree-turned-crab?

(Which, now that she thinks about that evolutionary arc, she's almost jealous?)

But the point is, no stabbing! Minimal stabbing! Minimal, ahaha, minimal point!

She is realizing, now that it's very important, that the sword did not come with a holster. Sheath. Sheaths are for swords, holsters are for guns. Unless they're scabbards, which.

Scabbards for swords, holsters for guns, sheaths for knives, maybe?

A-ny-way, the sword did not come with anything to protect the sharp edge from, for instance, sending an unsuspecting Stonetribe laborer into another realm where fuck knows what's happening. And she doesn't know that it isn't doing that, and she doesn't know how to turn it off or turn it on and she really needs to figure out how to turn it off, because turning it off either brings back the sheep she very much didn't stab or brings herself back to whatever reality is--

Look, this is going to get very confusing. Either way, she wants out. Out of this hallway, potentially out of this reality, and for that she needs someone who can figure out this sword.

Someone who is not siccing waves of people on her for her to dodge, juke, and very gently throw out of the way. She's doing a lot more movement than they are--dodging from floor to ceilings, freezing feet and hands to walls, and diving her bulk into quickly-created holes in their ranks.

She has a sword. Now all she needs is a plan.

[Get away: 6,4,+2. 12. Choosing to get away quickly and quietly, avoiding harm and attention. She's looking for someone who might understand this technology--probably to Brightberry, though I'm open to alternatives]
Oh god oh fuck oh shit aaaaaaaa

Okay so one problem at a time, right, problem one being: the fuck?

Problem two: Where's the sheep? She didn't stab 'im, she's like ninety percent sure but also two seconds ago she was holding a gun and also not dealing with Gemini, so what does she actually know?

Assume. Assume, right, working assumption, okay, this is another bullshit thing like what she just got out of. Sheep is okay, because if he's not, she has to do a whole lot of panicking about holy shit she just stabbed somone, and also now that she's had a second to breathe, no, of course she didn't, because she's not currently being blasted with life newborn into the galaxy.


Which, by the by, ergo, fantastic word, need to use ergo more often. Delightful mouthfeel, could say it rapidly and feel quite happy about it.

Er-fuckin-go, the sheep is not dead or stabbed and thank goodness for that, because it means that she has a chance to get him back, which is good because she needs that designation.

Which, you know, maybe Gemini might help with that? If it is her sword? With getting the sheep back, obviously. Does this thing have an off switch?

And honestly, would it even be that bad for Gemini to hold the sword? Like, on a scale of one to will-plunge-the-galaxy-into-bloody-conquest, she's--

Well, neither the least nor the most likely. Who would she put as least likely? None of the Ceronians, right? But also like hell is she giving it to the Captain or another of the Pix, or--

But it doesn't matter, is the thing, because she's selling it, [i]Gemini./i] She has a plan, which is to buy the freedom of billions with your fancy bit of glass! They already shook on it! No receipts but a sheep's word is his bond, and there's a planet on the line and--

"I'll fight you for it!"

Oh god oh shit oh fuck aaaaaaaa
You know, she's pretty sure the gun wasn't this heavy before, right? Didn't sit in her hands like the weight of all the consequences of this moment?

Because, on the one hand, fuck this little sheep. She has no reason to despise this synnefo and his obsequious little smile and his pleasantly neat hat and his encouraging eyes.

She has no use for the gun. Too many regrets to wield it, and those among her companions who could, wouldn't.

She has every reason to sell it. Seven billion of them, in fact.

Purple and gold flicker around the edges of her vision. No plan. Every plan.

How do you plan for this? What can you even say to this?

Two hundred fifty years. That's a lot of time. Hardly seems fair that it's only two-hundred fifty, given he just said it's worth the entire planet. Like, in perpetuity.

An entire service with guns like these. Would they need two hundred fifty years?

She could smash it, here and now. Dash it to pieces on the floor. She meets the eyes, purple in their olive frame, and almost does it. Lifts the gun, dashes seven billion lives to crystal shards.

Seven billion lives in her hands.

Meets the gold eyes, the beatific smile. Uplift them. Condemn them to order. Perfect vassals, perfect subjects, kings and lords and rulers and godlets.

No. False. Imperfect. An impossible dichotomy. A fake dichotomy.

There has to be a line between perfect chaos, abandonment, all for one, and perfect order.

"Find out what they call themselves, and uplift them under that name. Not as servitors--as a new administrator species. Uplifted according to their own design, according to the things they value and prioritize. They are to be given resources and technology, and helped by the service as they request. No guidance on culture, on values.

"And they are to be left alone, to do with that technology and resources and service as they see fit. Given access to the hyperlanes, but left alone by others."

Awful. Terrible.

The only answer she can give that doesn’t feel worse.
What a tail.

Like, it's not a. It's not a thing people talk about, right? In conversation, polite or otherwise?

Like, you might discuss it in terms of aesthetic and sexual appeal, and here she's pretty sure that Azura have the advantage? You just can't beat a couple dozen feet of pure ripcord muscle for sex appeal? Can't beat it for the pure amount of cuddles it can dish out?

But she's looking at that tail--startling somewhat guiltily when Ember turns--and wishing she could whip hers around like that.

It's the swish, right? A swooshy tail, wagged furiously with the pleasure of achievement and a hard-won victory.

Of course it's Ember. It could never be anyone but Ember.

Or, you know, maybe Mosaic. But probably Ember.

There isn't. There isn't, you know, something she can point to? Not the voice, the hair, the facial structure, the bone structure, none of it is recognizably her, but--

It's the vibes. It could never be anyone but Ember.

Princess and child of the gods, huh?

That's gonna take a bit to sink in, honestly, at the same time as she feels silly for not seeing it earlier?

She looks at the Weapon on the floor, and does not reach for it.
Dyssia sits at the center of a supernova.

Around her, an expanding series of coruscating crackles and crunch, the ships of the Portuguese clutched in monstrous talons. She can see each one of the ships pop in sequence, spilling its crew, unenhanced by biomancy, into the void, watches as they shift and morph, dying and rebirthing and dying again until they land on a shape that can survive. Beautiful, in its own way.

Like the Skies, kinda. Beauty out of horror.

She wishes she knew their names. Someone ought to remember them, and she only wishes it were them.

This is it, then. She's stared death in the face before. Or, you know, life, as it were. (Come on, battlecrab, everyone wants to come back as a battlecrab!) But…

It's like, she's always known--no, no, known is too strong, cut that down to suspected--she's always suspected that she was fighting a losing battle. That the Skies had had too many advantages for too long to be overcome. That she'd--

Well, not that she'd end up here, but end up somewhere similar. One of dozens of planets, fighting one of dozens of fights.

Is it weird that she almost feels sorry for the Knight? Because, on the one hand, yeah, she's an asshole and a monster, and currently slaughtering people by the thousands. But also she's betraying everything she believes in to do it? Doing it by sacrificing the aesthetics that--

No, you know what, that's stupid. Yeah, she's betraying her sense of beauty by becoming a monster. She's fought long and hard, knowing that her methods don't match her ideals, boo fuckin' hoo, what a terrible life she's lead. Why do we care, again?

Like, yeah, it'd be nice to convert her. Convince her of the error of her ways. Can you imagine her, fighting to help people, instead of just to make them pretty? But be honest with yourself, Dyssia, she's a true believer--she was one of the people putting controls in peoples' heads before Zeus zapped that to bits.

So, fuck it, we're fighting. We're losing, every blow comes back stronger. We're taking out biomancers as best we can, losing against this self-reinforcing loop, but we're not going down without a fight.
Carefully, Dyssia rises from her resting place, and looks regretfully at the once peaceful grove.

It seems almost cheating, to be taken into a throne room, into a place of trust, a place of vulnerability, and then strike directly at the heart. To spin up the grav-rail at a figure bound to a throne. To see the rot accelerate, boughs split from trees, to hear the increased pulse of the distant biomancers and their oracular chant.

"You are wrong, and you'll fail whether you doubt it or not."

Beauty. What a thing to sacrifice billions for.

"Our culture is a hallucination of madmen--to think that there is one and only one objective standard of beauty, worth everything! Worth dying for, worth perfecting, when the idea of objective beauty, objective perfection is a fool's notion!"

In her mind's eye, she can see the food of the Portuguese--a thousand assembly line meat patties, two pickles, one tomato. Perfectly uniform. The platonic ideal of burger.

A million different shades of blue.

Leaves fall around her, grav drive whining like a banshee at her side.

"Beauty isn't a thing you can hold in your hands, define and codify. It's something different for everyone, in the same way that perfection is different for everyone. Enforcing it is insanity. If you doubted that, you'd die?

"Die, then."
Leaping from world to world, like a swan. Alighting on each, partaking in delights beyond measure, finding wonders past imagination. Looking up and seeing, not the sky, but the Skies--an endless, limitless sea of potential, ripe for the taking.

A sea of adventure, infinite beauty, for any and all.

She can't help but feel the longing of her own younger self. How many times, sitting in the spaceport and seeing the ships leave, did she wonder about the stars? About, you know, leaving it all behind. How many times did she sit on a mountain peak, and imagine that she could, you know, take a single step and soar into the sky?

The people of Bitemark, able to leave. The ability to leave, find a new home, wherever you want, whenever you want.


"It would just be the same empire."

No matter where they went, no matter how far they went, the same.

"The same empire, with the same petty cruelty, the same boots on different necks. How can we, the Azura, claim to be superior--claim to be administrators that deserve to be listened to and pampered and obeyed--and then hand it off to somebody else? How, when our entire sense of beauty is built on being Azura, on Azura values, on Azura sight?"

A million shades of nothing but blue.

"We create all this variety, all this wonder, all this beauty, we see all these new ways of thinking. And then we say that the only way any of it can be acceptable is if it's us. If servitors share our culture, our language, our sight. Genocide or assimilation, so long as the only thing left is Azura."
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