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Dear Mr Curly,
I have done little travelling lately because I have been so dreadfully weary. Can it be true as the old Ecclesiastes said; that all things lead to weariness? Surely not. Perhaps the opposite is true: that all nothings lead to weariness. I have a peculiar feeling, Curly, that I am worn out from something I haven't yet done and the more I don't do it, the more exhausted I become. How strange. Could it be something I haven't realised? Perhaps it's something I haven't said? Something I haven't finished! It must be very large and true whatever it is and a lively struggle in the doing but I look forward to it immensely. I know I need it. First, however, I must curl up in my chair and sleep deeply with the duck. Perhaps I'll dream of this thing and wake up refreshed and do it. My fond wishes to you Mr. Curly, and to all Curly Flat.
Yours sleepily,
Vasco Pyjama
xxx
P.S. Not having breakfast can make you weary. That's for sure!
Michael Leunig. The Curly Pyjama Letters.

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Rosie crossed her arms at Odin. "I said I heard of one of 'em. And we didn't exactly go to school together." She peered around the outpost as she spoke. "Just pick one and knock the guy out. I think I'll...get behind the east corner of your homestead there. I can keep their attention while the rest of you do what you like."

She started walking. "And if you boneheads spend too long deciding, don't blame me!"
>Knowledge (Local): 16

Rosie pressed her upper lip behind her tusks. Her eyes went to the ground as she thought. "Hm. A cloak and a bow don't narrow it down so much. Two axes, though? Could be a few ladies." She turned her head left and right to talk to everyone. "I can think of three. None of them bigshots like the Stag Lord, s'far as I know, but all of 'em real rough types. One's crazy, another's clever, and another joined a gang by cutting off hands after they kidnapped her. If you fellas want to deal with this gang, you'd best commit to hunting them all if you don't want our hosts to get caught in a fire." She ran a thumb down her chain. "If you do want to fight, I hope you don't mind if we keep one alive so I chat with 'em."
Rossarm did not so much as lower his guard until Neesa was finished. He stood up straight, swallowed hard with a grimace, and brought his hands together to channel a healing spell. The blotches of blood under his skin cleared up very gradually, almost as if they were evaporating.

Fendros wiped his eyes. His vision returned, but the point of the flash was still marked in his sight and was fading slowly. "I think that is the first time I have heard Hal-Neesa approach sincerity in praising someone," he said to Meesei. "I don't know how I feel about that."

Pausing for a moment, Rossarm wiped his lips on his arms and eyed Meesei. He asked in a low voice. "Is there anything else you need me to do?"



Narsi's actions were surprisingly controlled. Rather than halt her momentum, she stepped low behind her shield, ducking the spell and rising up to slam her bodyweight shield-first into Julan's chest. His sword deflected off her shield, though the impact was not as strong as Julan might have anticipated. Julan was stronger than Narsi; her shove was not powerful enough to put him off balance. Indeed, she had exposed herself in that moment, despite trying to step back to a safe distance.
The word reinforcements slowed Rosie to a stop. Aw, hell, she thought.

Gascon's words willing to help pulled at the corner of Rosie's mouth. "Aw, hell," she said out loud.

They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Twenty minutes was not much time to high-tail it out of here, let alone convince her companions to do the same. They were treating this far too casually. If they were lucky, it was only a few brutes coming to shake things up. The unfortunate second edge of that sword was if it was a small crew coming their way, they would be part of a bigger organisation.

Rosie reached a hand toward Svetlana to cut through the conversation and spoke slowly and carefully. "How many are there and who do they work for?"
Rossarm did not hesitate to get back on his feet and resume his guarded stance, with his magic-hardened hand outstretched ready to ward or parry. He was evidently weaker than moments before, but he was far from out of the duel. His face tensed up as the same spell Teroiah coaxed out of him shone in his hand.

"You gave up your ability to feel," Rossarm muttered just loud enough to hear.

What followed was a rapid combination of effects that assaulted the senses. First, Rossarm's palm flashed with a hot light akin to the sun. The light was powerful enough to singe undead flesh, but against the likes of Neesa it was merely intended to dazzle her eyes. Immediately following was a bloom of strange energy exploding out from Rossarm's equilibrium spell that overwhelmed the senses for magically detecting life. The final strike was an explosion of fire at Neesa's feet, made forceful enough to blast the unassisted off their feet from within a short distance.

Whether it overcame Neesa's defences remained to be seen. To say it would rapidly leave the likes of an elite daedra helpless was difficult to refute.

However, when eyes readjusted and the dust settled, Rossarm stood with dark blotches all over his skin and bloodshot eyes where his blood vessels had ruptured. His equilibrium spell took its toll. Somehow, his face still showed its usual stony determination.



Julan's unease was not lost on Rhazii. He pat him on the arm. "Let's catch up after this. I want to hear what Aunt Kaleeth's home is like."

Narsi squared up opposite Julan, holding her shield ready and her practice axe up over her shoulder. Her brow lowered at Julan's magic but she knew complaining would not change anything.

She did not wait long. With a shout, Narsi closed in with her shield forward, trying to keep her shield brushing aside Julan's sword and swinging down on his arm.



Teknall reclined on the workbench which had been his operation table, inspecting the flask of softly glowing opaque red liquid in his hand. A pillow angled his head upwards slightly and provided a measure of comfort. The lustrous red potion simmered and the fumes burned Teknall’s nostrils with their spicy scent. Teknall hesitated for a few moments as he considered his choices.

After being restored to consciousness, Teknall had said he needed to rest. His daughters had also needed to rest, and they had found a spot to sleep. Ilunabar, having departed a while ago to attend to other matters, delegated a diva to bring bedding for Conata and Kinesis. Even injured as she was, Conata was characteristically difficult to convince to lie down -- that was up until her head touched the pillow and her consciousness blew out like a candle. Ilunabar had also wanted to get Teknall some bedding but he still struggled to move, so they settled for just a pillow.

Even in this state, Teknall did not sleep. Rather, he was healing. But even the nanomachines were not enough to treat all his wounds, for while they battled against Xos’ decay they had few resources left to reverse the existing tissue damage. So Teknall turned to alchemy, which he had used to treat very similar wounds for Vestec.

Most of the ingredients Teknall procured from his satchel. The Workshop’s robotic arms and Promethean Manipulators were quite capable of following the alchemical recipes, and Goliath was just as capable of crafting when guided by Teknall. The burn cream had been easy to make. Applying it had been more difficult, but they had managed. As for the red potion, Teknall had made the decision to use the other half of the essence of Violence he had collected, leaving a tiny amount only suitable for analysis. To enact the tempering ritual to make the essence fit for consumption, he had sent Ilunabar (who had sent one of her divas) to collect a rodent of exact specifications: one year old, born under the springtime noon sun, spotless and white, without scars. Goliath had performed the ritual on Teknall’s behalf, and the tempered essence of Violence had been incorporated into the potion.

Now Teknall held the potion above his face and contemplated the risks. If the tempering process had not gone perfectly, he would be ingesting another god’s raw ichor, which could be catastrophic in his weakened state. Even tempered, there was no certainty about the side-effects, besides the intense itching sensation the regeneration process would cause. Yet as Teknall took another breath, his diaphragm spasmed in pain, his lungs burned and he had to restrain himself from coughing. If he did not drink the potion, his recovery would be slow and painful, if he ever recovered at all. He could not afford to be bedridden for years.

Teknall glanced over to Goliath. If something goes wrong, you know what to do, Teknall said silently. He then looked back to the potion and drank it all in one swig.

The potion was sweet and spicy. The sweetness soothed, while the spice burned. The warmth from the spice then spread out through Teknall’s body, from the top of his head to the bottom of his toes. Wherever the potion went, flesh pulled itself together and tissue regenerated. And throughout this process, Teknall squirmed and writhed. Vestec’s wounds had been comparatively superficial, but for Teknall every part of his body prickled and itched torturously.

There was nothing Teknall could do besides wait it out. His adamantine hand gripped the side of the workbench tighter and tighter until the surface creaked and bent. His other hand clenched and unclenched in mid air. His head twisted from side to side while making pained expressions and his legs kicked and squirmed. All over Teknall’s body skin regrew, wounds closed and scars vanished. His flesh became full and firm. As the potion finished its work, Teknall took a deep breath in. A deep, refreshing breath uninterrupted by scarred lungs.

Teknall let out a whoop. “Okay! Let’s go!” he declared. He rolled over to get out off his bench. Yet his legs were not as responsive as he remembered them to be. He fell to the floor, comically slowly under the Workshop’s low gravity, and landed face first with a dull thump.

He exhaled a dejected sigh and lay there. Goliath stepped up and helped him to his feet. His stance was still unsteady, although the low gravity helped him avoid falling again.

"Are you okay, father?" Conata revealed herself leaning around an idle furnace, looking a dull copper and curious. "Mother said you would need a long time to heal." She said as she stepped out and towards Teknall, revealing a white fabric sling to hold her heavily-bandaged arm and shoulder and wearing a new outfit with a shine to it. "I don't know if it's a good idea to..."

Conata trailed off when she noticed the conspicuous absence of Teknall's wounds.

The pause gave Teknall time to recognise Conata's new clothing as a diva's handiwork. The lustre of its deep royal blue at first struck the eye as a kind of satin, inlaid with bright bronze embroideries of four-pointed stars evenly spaced upon the shirt and leggings. A cute pleated skirt going down to Conata's knees was highlighted at its hem with the same bronze, though her character was maintained by a small, heavy apron of the same shining weave down her front, similar to any garb she preferred. The apron did not look practical in design, true, but Conata had already fashioned a style-breaking belt for herself out of brass to secure it. All the same, the true practicality of the clothing stood out in the material: pure, nigh-unmeltable tungsten thread. Nearly pure, if it weren't for the lovely colours Ilunabar ensured.

"How did you…?"

Teknall looked down at himself, then back to Conata. “I brewed up something to speed up the healing process. I’ve treated similar wounds before. But it’s good that you’re up now. I want to make things, and you can help.” Teknall’s natural eye had burning determination behind it. He took a few steps forwards before he tilted precariously and had to be steadied by Goliath’s hand. He grunted. “First things first, something to support myself.”

Teknall hobbled over to a workbench with Goliath holding him upright. Various tools were brought over, including a lathe. A tree branch was also brought over, and Teknall began the task of carving the branch into a wooden rod.

Conata scurried up beside him. "So...how are you feeling? What happened?" She glanced at the dust flying from the lathe. "Is the thing that hurt you still out there?"

Teknall was quiet for a few moments as he continued to shave away at the wood, although there was palpable tension in each movement. “Not long ago, Zephyrion, god of the elementals, had suffered some form of catastrophe, leaving a murderous shade in his place, along with the more benevolent wish-djinn you saw earlier,” Teknall eventually explained. “This shade, whose name is Xos to our best approximation, has killed one of my brothers and wounded four more gods. He or a proxy sent a band of wind elementals to capture Kinesis. I could not allow this, so when the defences set up by Ilunabar, Kinesis and myself eventually failed I intervened personally. Ha! Serves those wind-bags right for messing with the gods!” After that momentary outburst, Teknall became more sombre as he continued. “Of course, it was a trap. We knew it was a trap. Xos was trying to lure me out to where he could shoot me. Xos was stronger than me by far. Toun had also known of the trap, and if he had been there…” Teknall’s hands trembled in barely contained rage, although the task of carving forced him to steady himself. “But Xos was too fast. By the time Goliath got to the scene, Xos was gone and Toun and Ilunabar were left to pick up the pieces. You know the rest of the story.”

Conata looked at the red marks on the back of her hand. After all the commotion, Piena had confirmed that the porcelain god had indeed been Toun. Conata hesitated to respond. "...Why does Xos want to kill you and the gods?"

Teknall paused as he removed the wooden rod from the lathe. His grip around the rod tightened as his memory recalled what he knew of Xos. “He seeks to bring oblivion, ruination, retribution and death. He sees us as little more than bugs and himself as the true supreme being. As to why he targeted me, perhaps it is because of my affiliation with Zephyrion. Or perhaps it is because he took the Celestial Citadel which I had built, or because I had defended Galbar in the past, or maybe he suspected that I am conspiring against him. As to why he feels this way, I don’t know.”

Angsty after speaking, Teknall picked up a hand saw and started to shape the handle of the rod. “Now, to make something. Get me a sturdy hollow metal rod, about this size. High-carbon steel should do it. While you’re at it you may as well make the other components too.” As he finished speaking, one of the Workshop’s robotic arms brought over a freshly printed schematic.

Conata took the design and looked closely. It depicted several precisely machined components which would form a mechanism on one end of the hollow rod. Now with a measure more practice with such diagrams, Conata squinted her eyes. "Seems kind of complex for just making that thin bit poke in one end, but alright."

She strode over to the Elemental Siphon to gather the materials. It felt like cheating to have it all right there for casual use. She spoke as she mixed the steel. "I never heard of a god called Xos before today. If he could do that to you, and even kill another god, then..." She shuddered as magnesium broke out around her face and lower neck. "It's not really safe on Galbar, isn't it? All my friends. My family...Can we do anything about Xos?"

"You wouldn’t have heard of him. The elementals are the only mortals who know of him," Teknall said, finishing the stick’s wooden handle. "And we’re already doing something about Xos. Toun and I and a couple others have prepared a plot against him. Toun is probably tracking the shade down as we speak."

"Right," Conata sounded unsure as she drew the steel between her hands. "...Toun...sounded like he was just as concerned."

Conata was quiet for a moment as she slid together a mechanism of tiny springs and levers before fixing it to one end of her newly cooled steel pipe. She tugged on the largest small lever with one finger -- it made a satisfying click.

She handed the whole product to Teknall. "Can I ask what the plan is? For the plot against Xos?"

"I… cannot share any details. Collectively we are adequately equipped, though," Teknall said. He took the steel device from Conata’s hands and ran a finger along its length.

Conata turned her head to the other end of the workshop and her eyes lit up. "Heya, sleepyhead!"

At this point Kinesis walked into view. She had woken not long after Conata, but had been slower getting out of bed. "Morning Conata," she greeted with a smile. Then she looked to Teknall. "Father, you seem to have recovered remarkably."

"Indeed I have. Still struggle to balance, though," Teknall replied.

Kinesis then eyed the length of metal in Teknall’s hand. "Is that a…?"

"Yes, it is, although I don’t think Conata’s figured it out yet," Teknall said with a wink. "But it’s good you’re up now. Let me show you both a trick I saw someone else do not too long ago."

Teknall heated a few metal bands in a forge and brought them over to the walking stick and steel device. He laid out the walking stick and steel device parallel to each other, both having roughly the same length. Then he brought them together, but in a manner which defied physical reasoning. The wooden stick bloomed open along its axis to accommodate the steel rod, which Teknall affixed in place with the metal bands. Then Teknall rolled the object along the bench, and the object folded and unfolded along its axis with a strange twist, leaving just a wooden walking stick.

"There's no way..." Conata breathed.

Teknall picked up the walking stick with a manic glint in his eye. He walked a few steps supported by the stick, although his eyes were searching. "Now, for a target..." he muttered. Then his eyes found one. "Goliath!" he barked. The robot bounded away from the girls, over Teknall and to a patch of open floor some metres in front of Teknall. "Shields up!"

A mirror sheen surrounded the robot as Teknall lifted his walking stick. As the stick rose, it underwent a strange axial twisting-folding until it became the wooden-handled steel rod with a small lever right under Teknall’s finger. As it drew level, there was a clunk, followed by a deafening BANG! and a surprised shriek from Conata as she shielded her face with her arms.

Smoke and fire flashed out the end of the steel rod along with a half-dozen speeding pellets of lead, too fast to properly see. They ricocheted off Goliath’s mirror armour, denting metal or spraying up concrete dust where they struck in the Workshop.

Teknall let out a whoop, then hastily lowered the shotgun-walking stick (which turned back into a walking stick) to steady himself. "Yeah! That’s how it’s done!" he said, pumping a fist in the air.

Kinesis, meanwhile, was still poised with tension. She had tested and used firearms before, but this had been reckless. She had noticed other signs, too. "Father, you don’t seem to be yourself," Kinesis said.

The worry in his daughter’s voice seemed to sober Teknall up slightly. "Eh?" he said, then shut his mouth and furrowed his brow as he concentrated on his last few minutes of actions. "No, I haven’t been acting myself. I’m not sober," he explained. "I made a potion to drastically speed up the healing process. The central ingredient of this potion was essence of Violence, which is one quarter of Vestec. I had made an identical potion for Vestec when treating wounds he received from Xos - this arm you made me was also first designed for him. However, even though I had tempered the essence to not suffer any catastrophic effects, it appears I hadn’t completely removed its side effects. I should sober up in an hour or two."

Conata slowly straightened up. Spots of calcium faded from her temples and neck. "Isn't Vestec a...bad guy?" she asked.

"Well… yes, usually," Teknall said slowly, "But he’s more of a nuisance than an existential threat. I wouldn’t trust him or want him meddling with my stuff, but he’s still family. And he’s sometimes helpful."

"Huh." Conata quirked her head. Copper neutralised the look on her face. "I grew up knowing Toun and Vestec a lot differently." She held the red-inscribed back of her hand up to look at it again. "I'm starting to think I shouldn't have shouted at Toun."

"I wouldn’t worry about that," Teknall said, "Goliath relayed to me all that happened. Toun seemed to take it remarkably well. As for your mortal perspective of the gods, well, it is only natural. What you knew were the gods as pieces of culture, religion and history, not as family. Mortal institutions tend to filter and even distort how us gods are perceived." Especially when the gods who established said institutions were acting with ulterior motives, although Teknall decided to omit that part.

Teknall’s hand holding the walking stick fidgeted as he spoke. ”But enough banter. Goliath needs more weapons. Kinesis, start making some guns. Conata, I’ll show you how to forge adamantine.”

Conata's ambivalence was washed away in a flash of excited bronze. "Without burning down anything?!"

Teknall nodded. "Without burning down anything. At least, not uncontrollably."

"Yea-! Ow..." Conata clutched her slung shoulder right before she could jump for joy.

Teknall led Conata to a forge as Kinesis got to work elsewhere creating firearms. "The thing about adamantine is that it is extraordinarily resilient, even to most supernatural influences. But while you might not be able to magic it as easily as other metals, it still behaves like a metal in every other way, just a metal with superlative qualities," Teknall explained.

An ingot of adamantine was brought over along a conveyor belt, which Teknall picked up with a pair of tongs and placed in the forge. He then twisted a dial and the flames being channelled from the Stellar Engine into the forge intensified from a dull red to a white-hot inferno. Even Conata had to squint her eyes.

Teknall continued. "When you tried shaping adamantine before, you tried to manipulate it cold like any other metal. But unlike other metals, it resisted. It took you an enormous amount of energy to overcome this resistance directly, even with Helvana’s curse dampening the resistance. And afterwards, it reverted to its natural state and all that energy had to go somewhere, hence the explosions. But in between, when you had applied enough energy to break the resistance and were keeping that energy there, you could manipulate it as easily as any other metal."

"I guess." She twisted her mouth. "I did try to heat it, but it wasn't enough, apparently."

Teknall looked into the blinding light of the forge and said, "Okay, it should be ready now. Get it."

Conata made an uneasy glance towards her father. The metal tongs would have been hard to use with just one hand had she not the ability to will it into the forge, but when the metal quickly drooped like a wet stalk of grass and came out of the forge looking bright yellow and sulking, she sighed. She almost reached in with her own arm. The radiating heat made her think twice.

"You're saying I can move it around now? Like any other metal?" She asked.

"That’s what I’m asking you to do," Teknall said.

Conata rolled her wrist and grew determined, skin turning iron. She half-reached with her hand and curled her fingers up.

"That's weird," she remarked with confusion. "Are you sure this isn't just more tungsten?"

On a whim, she brought the ingot out of the forge and into the open air. While it began as a white-hot ball of pure light, it quickly hissed and crackled before abruptly falling down. Conata jerked forward as if trying to catch it but the adamantine thudded upon the floor without a trace of its former compliance. However, even the bright light it gave off could not hide its distortion from its previous bar-shape. It had been distorted by Conata like a knobbly lump of clay.

Conata's senses did not lie to her. "Well that was easy." She let out a single, bewildered laugh. "To think how this stuff really bothered me back before I made my hammer."

Teknall simply nodded, then asked "Now, can you tell me why it was easy?"

Her copper face grew little lines of tin out on her cheeks. "Er..." She rubbed her fingers behind her head, making her hair wire hair lightly jangle. "I'm not so good with the words like you are. It's a feeling. Like when other metal ores get heated up...The word I've always used for as long as I can remember is 'awake.' It's like heat makes metal wake up. But the adamantine wasn't an ore beforehand." She gave Teknall an unsure look. "Is that it?"

There was a brief pause to let her reflect on her words. Conata's cheeks pitted with magnesium.

"Yes, that is an adequate description. Teknall answered, "The tricky part is that the adamantine needs to be heated naturally until it is awakened. My Workshop uses starfire for that, but on Galbar you’ll need to get creative. You could try heating a tungsten sheath. Although once you have awakened the adamantine, you can keep it hot by your normal means."

Conata's slowly nodded. Her mind already ran with ideas as she turned her eyes away.

The corners of Teknall’s mouth twitched. Teknall turned down the furnace then walked up to the adamantine ingot. He bent over stiffly and picked up the still-hot piece of adamantine with his adamantine arm. A couple of steps brought him within reach of the furnace, where he deposited the metal and turned the furnace back up. "Now, make a weapon for Goliath," Teknall said, almost commanded.

"Huh? Oh! Sure." Conata snapped to attention and brought her good arm up. She drew out the adamantine with her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth. She was much more careful with this than anything else she had smithed, whether it was necessary or not. "But what should I make?" she murmured to herself. "I could make an axe or a pick or a sword...but he's already got those...Hmm, maybe..."

Closing her eyes, Conata wordlessly made gestures with her unslung arm. It took her some time to shape whatever she intended to make. The light of the furnace made the weapon impossible to see -- Teknall worked it out by godly senses alone. The ingot was drawn into short rods capped with rings that linked them all together in a chain. The final rod only had one ring to link it, the other end being capped by a spike that sported barbs that hinged open.

"I heard the fishermen near Alefpria attach ropes to the ends of lances and stick them in big sea creatures to try and kill them," Conata explained. She finished her movements and looked up at her father. "Maybe Goliath could use this if he doesn't want something to get away?"

Teknall’s eyes lit up on seeing Conata’s creation. Goliath reached forwards and picked up the weapon and gave it an experimental heft. "How wonderfully creative," Teknall remarked. "Yes, that will be very useful. Now..." Teknall nodded to the Elemental Siphon, and a stream of adamantine powder poured out and along a channel towards the furnace where they were working. "Make more weapons."

Conata beamed and shone in polished bronze. "Can do!" she said enthusiastically.

Setting to work, Conata went about shaping with free reign. All sorts of creations came out of the furnace, from blades and spikes, to strange claws and projectiles. Many of the designs were impractical and discarded to be reshaped once Conata had Goliath tested them, but her spirits never wavered. She took a joy out of iterating on her ideas that was all too familiar to her father.

Kinesis too had been developing weaponry at her father’s behest, adapting blueprints used by the Prometheans to be integrated into Goliath. However, it soon became apparent that the manufacture of guns and missiles could be left to the Workshop and its mechanical workforce, so Kinesis joined her sister to better integrate their ideas. Conata’s harpoon received a mechanical launcher, and many other designs were brought to fruition by their combined talents.

The two girls leveraged the resources available to them and pooled their prodigious creativity to fulfil their father’s request. In the end, Goliath was equipped to at once serve the role of a small phalanx, a siege engine, a beast killer, an unstoppable plow through formations or just about anything Conata and Kinesis could fathom.

Teknall watched all this with intent interest. He was practically giddy from all the weapons being made and the possibilities they represented (although this, he reasoned, was an effect of the potion) and he was immensely proud of what the girls were achieving. Yet, while they toiled, he had another task to work on. His maul had been damaged in his fight with Xos and needed to be repaired.

Teknall’s weapons had been unceremoniously dumped beside a stack of spare machinery. Goliath took a moment to carry all of them to a workbench for Teknall to inspect. The railgun and Shard Conduit were undamaged, having endured the blasts in the fight. Of the three objects, only Teknall’s maul was damaged, for it had been in direct contact with Xos’ essence. The impression of Xos’ face had been etched into the maul’s head, the adamantine cracked and flaking.

Conveniently, repairing the effects of Xos’ decay on the maul was a simple affair compared to the ordeal Teknall had gone through. A plasma torch ablated away the corrupted portions of the maul. Teknall then affixed a square mold around the damaged head and poured out fresh, molten adamantine into that mold, replacing the metal which had been lost. Teknall massaged the heat and metal as the adamantine cooled such that it would form a seamless bond.

Repairs complete, Teknall stared at the maul pensively. He tried to lift it, but what had previously been effortless was now beyond his abilities. He could hardly balance while holding it, let alone wield it effectively. Teknall sighed. He bowed his head and stepped to the side with his cane as Goliath came over and claimed the weapons for its own arsenal. Only the Shard Conduit and his new walking stick were left to Teknall.

As Kinesis and Conata continued their work, Teknall went to produce his own additions to Goliath. If Goliath was to replace him in combat, it could do with some divine enhancements. Teknall produced modules implementing divine commands, blending electromechanical components with reality-altering calligraphy and infusing it with godly will. He then opened up Goliath and installed the modules.

The modules had three effects. They provided extradimensional space for Goliath to store its new arsenal. They granted Goliath the power to teleport, expending energy to ‘blink’ from one location to another. And they allowed Goliath to control its inertia, so it could be unmoving against massive forces or to ignore relative momentum when teleporting. With these additions Goliath was almost as powerful as Teknall had once been, at least with regards to physical prowess.

It had taken several hours, but eventually the additions to Goliath were completed. Teknall had sobered noticeably from the potion’s effects and was back to his normal demeanour. He walked up between Kinesis and Conata and hugged them around their waists (for he was considerably shorter than both his daughters in his current goblinoid form). "My daughters, I cannot thank you enough. Your ingenuity knows no bounds. As for your work with Goliath..." Teknall nodded to the towering robot. There was a flicker of shadow as a black rift appeared for a split second to swallow Goliath, then it was gone. "It shall help keep the people of Galbar safe from the threats the less considerate of my siblings produce."

"I'd like to see them try." Conata grinned and pumped a fist. "Goliath's unstoppable! I bet Aeramen would be jealous." She squatted down to properly hug Teknall, turning silver. "Thanks for helping me, father, sister."

"I’m always happy to help you, daughter," Teknall said.

The silver's polish faded on Conata's skin, growing somewhat rough. "I should probably let my friends know where I am. I've been here a while, haven't I? I think I lost track of time."

Teknall’s chest sunk. "You have been gone a while. Although, if you would entertain me a little longer, there is one more thing you can help me with."

"I guess it can't hurt..." She rose to her feet and pulled at one of the short sleeves of her dress.

Teknall hobbled towards the workbench where Kinesis and Conata had done their experiments in producing the nanomachines. He reached out a hand and rifled through a few of the sketches. "These nanomachines you made for me, incredible though they are, don’t last forever. Not when they are contending with a divine aura of decay. Your performance producing the machines was impressive and rapid, but unsustainable. Long-term management of my decay will require automated production of the nanomachines."

Conata lifted her brow, remembering something. "Hey...Kinny, didn't you mention something about making a grid to make the machines on?"

Teknall looked over to Kinesis. "What were your ideas?"

Despite having advocated for automating production from the beginning, she seemed slightly surprised by the directness of the question. "Oh, well, I figured electron beam lithography and photo-dye stencilling would be good methods, along with some chemical vapour deposition to build up the metal layers. It would need some lateral thinking to get these methods to work for full three dimensions, and getting the self-assembly to arrange the parts correctly would also be a challenge."

Teknall’s brow furrowed in thought. "Hmm." Although he did not say it, Teknall did not appear satisfied with the solution.

Conata tweaked two strands of her hair together. She went copper, looking as though she only understood half of what was said. Still, she had an idea. "When we designed the nanomachines, we had to start with the really basic parts that only did one thing each. Can you make flat nanomachines whose purpose is just to shift other nanomachines upright while making them? You could do it. The forces like to arrange themselves in three dimensional shapes if you form them together correctly."

"That could work," Kinesis said, "We could build nanomachines to manufacture more nanomachines. They’re probably the only method which gives adequate production rate and manufacturing precision."

Teknall drummed his fingers on the workbench, then stopped. "Not the only method," he said. Teknall straightened up and slowly started walking to another part of the Workshop. "Your nanomachines are incredible, wondrous, marvellous, but better can be done, not by machine, but by life. Before the beginning I told Slough to make sure life thrives in this Universe. I told her not to settle for bare survival, but to make life a wonder to behold, a wonder to challenge the work of even the best artisans. And she did that. Her creations are wondrously complex down to the microscopic level of order and beyond, their superiority unattainable and inimitable by any artifice."

Conata had her head quirked and one eye squinted for most of Teknall's explanation. Finally, she cut through to ask. "Who's Slough?"

Kinesis looked to her sister in surprise and asked, "You don’t know?".

Teknall shook his head. "No, she wouldn’t. Slough isn’t worshipped by the Rovaick." He looked back to Conata. "Slough is the goddess responsible for life itself. All organic life, besides some creatures made by Jvan-" Kinesis shuddered slightly. "-contains Slough’s designs. They are the designs I plan to leverage."

Teknall turned around and continued walking. "Living organisms have microscopic components which break down, transmute and rebuild matter into new forms, at an incredible rate and with astonishing ease. These microscopic components are readily made by living organisms. The variety of shapes and compositions they can produce are almost limitless. The challenge is to get these components to produce what you want." Teknall finally made it to a set of vats near the primary chemical refinery. He climbed a small step ladder and lifted the lid on one of the vats. Inside was a soup of grey flesh. "This is arksynth, and it provides a potential solution to that challenge. It grants artisans a way to utilise the marvels associated with Slough’s organic life. With patience, lateral thinking and a large amount of luck, even mortals can make this synthetic flesh produce incredibly useful compounds. I believe I can use this to establish efficient mass production of the nanomachines."

Conata felt the tin creep up her neck in her embarrassment. She let out an uneasy laugh. "That sounds really interesting, but..." She lowered her head and turned her eyes to Kinesis, grinning tensely. "Do you know how all that works?"

Kinesis rubbed her hand on the back of her neck sheepishly. "Well, um, not really. Something to do with chemicals."

"I don’t expect you to fully understand it. It is well outside your areas of expertise," Teknall said. He replaced the lid on the vat then hobbled down the steps towards the girls. "I can handle the rest from here myself. I shouldn’t occupy your time any further. Kinesis, I’m sure Ilunabar could do with some help cleaning up Pictaraika. Conata, I know you want to get back to your friends."

"I should," Conata said. "But, before that, is there a way we can see each other again?" Some flecks of rust blemished her cheeks. "I want to keep learning. And I want to be around mother and you both some more."

Teknall took Conata’s hand in his own and smiled warmly. "I of course intend for us to meet again. We might have a proper family reunion some time, one not marred by near-tragedy. And I’ll drop by from time to time. But, if you ever need to talk to me, you can pray. I’ll be listening when you do."

Conata blinked and smiled. The rust disappeared as she knelt down to hug Teknall one more time. "Thank you." She stood up and embraced Kinesis as well. "You should come visit some time, sis. I'll show you all the best places in Alefpria."

Excitement sparked in Kinesis’ eyes. "Alefpria? I’ve always wanted to go to Alefpria! Father, can I go?"

"You’ve never needed my permission to travel, Kinesis," Teknall said.

Kinesis bent down and wrapped her arms around Teknall in a big hug. "Thank you, father." She stood back up and grabbed Conata’s uninjured hand. "Come on, sister, let’s go!"

Teknall waved a hand and a black rift appeared beside the girls. "Have a good time, girls. And remember to watch your step on the way out."



Neesa's discorporation and the subsequent blow to the back of his head was the first moment of he duel where Rossarm was openly taken by surprise. He stepped frantically forward but did not regain his balance before falling front-first onto the floow. He tried to stand up as fast as he could, only to be covered in flailing leathery little wings.

Fendros half-stepped forward. He stopped himself.

Baring his teeth and flinging his arms about, Rossarm was hardly graceful dealing with the bats. But he did deal with them. He clapped his palms together, and when they parted there was a bright white light between them growing. It had the appearance of a restoration spell, though it had something of a uncharacteristic heat to it. The light flared out and instantly the screeching bats increased their cacophonous noise and produced a rising cloak of smoke. The flesh and fur on their bodies scorched and stank.

Rossarm maintained the spell in both hands for as long as it took for the bats to be repulsed, but not so long that he would let himself faint.



Rhazii gave Narsi a glance and looked back at Lorag unsurely. "Yes, sir," he said flatly.

Narsi didn't have anything else to say. When she had the opportunity, she picked out a practice axe and a shield, both made from wood.

"Hey, don't be so worked up, Julan," Rhazii said, perceiving his brother's nervousness. He nudged Julan's shoulder. "It's just some training. She's smaller than you."
Rosie readjusted her backpack and straightened up. "Hmph. One at a time ain't gonna cut it, doc," she said with her back to Kesal. "Don't you all get blind-sided by the idea that this place is yours already. That Stag Lord fella might be using his name to compensate for his prick, but no one gets to be in charge for long if any jumped up band of grumps with swords tries to kill everyone."

She blew a single laugh. "Unless one of you got some kind of big play up your sleeves."
Rossarm's face was a mask of concentration. Only the hardening of his brow spoke of his stress under the circumstances, though he had no time to openly express it further even if he had let himself do so. Despite this, he had a risky answer to Neesa's assault. He lowered his ward and, with his other hand, cast a simple, if refined transmutation spell that caused his hand and forearm to harden to a dull, slightly crackly texture. The fraction of a second passing indicated his intention to parry the sword with his magic-hardened hand -- and he was poised to do so -- though the tactic misdirected the subtlety of his other hand, which carefully lined a bolt of lightning right at the centre of a floating crystal right beside Hal-Neesa's sword arm.



"Woah, really?" Rhazii expressed a little surprise. "If they're like Aunt Kaleeth's that means they're not coming off, right?" He grinned, bewildered. "That's going to be weird, Julan."

Rhazii was about to add that he had only recently learned about Narsi as well before Lorag spoke.

"If you think a bunch of paint makes you all tough then why don't you need 'em?" Narsi mumbled back venomously without looking directly at Lorag.

Rhazii lifted his chin and asked. "Are they doing hand-to-hand or armed?"
Rossarm kept count of the crystals that came his way and he noted their behaviour; whether they followed his movements or leaded him as a target in spite of the smoke. Once what he counted was the final crystal circling Neesa was launched, his wall of flame petered out, dismissed by a flash of his right hand.

Contrary to his prior behaviour, the wave of fire prompted Rossarm to stand his ground. Another spell caused a shimmer of bright orange to pulse down his skin right before the blue flames washed into him. The base of his clothing began to brown and scorch, but he was otherwise unfazed and uninjured.

Rossarm did not hesitate. He stepped forward and shot out a palm, casting a streak of fire that seemed to suck the flames around it all the way to the base of Hal-Neesa's dress, detonating with a bright yellow blast of fire against her ward.

Fendros shielded his eyes. "What on Nirn was that spell?!"

"Some Telvanni magician's trick, no doubt," Teroiah said dismissively. "Hardly a riposte."



"Okay, see you at dinner, Julan." Janius waved and continued on.

Rhazii followed Sabine's hurry for a few more moments as he walked beside Julan, looking slightly worried. Julan's words with Narsi drew his attention back.

Narsi was no more impressed with Julan, even if his tattoos did cause her to lift an eyebrow momentarily. "What are you meant to be, the city clown?"

"She is Narsi," Rhazii explained through his bared teeth. "She's Lorag's daughter, and apparently she's got a mean streak." His ear twitched. "We have to help train her." After a pause, Rhazii's eyes kept flicking back to Julan's marks. "Did you get your body painted at Kaleeth's tribe?" He asked curiously.
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