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Kazelia!

Cassian deflates. He shudders with a guilty sob, and then wordlessly reaches up and lifts the thong of the Amulet off his neck, struggling, as if it is a heavy iron collar. Then, all at once, it's up and over his head, and he hands it over to you, closing your hands around it.

"I don't deserve to be here," he says. "Tell the Iluminan I'm... you know... I really am," he says, lamely. Then, he takes advantage of the sudden chaos as the Garthim go wild to duck away, trying to run away from the excruciating experience of having to look Alina in the eye after what he's said, what he's done. And maybe she'll forgive him, and maybe she won't; but what's important is that you have the means to control Oberon's last and final army.

***

Alina!

The moment should last forever. That's what you deserve. But Oberon ruins everything.

You pull Rita in close, and her surprised chirp fills your world, and so does the smell of Askaian perfume on her skin, as you roll out of the way of Oberon's boot. Where you were, there is a crater of splintered bark and crystal. He's not even following you! He just saw a chance to distract Jess by trying to kill you.

And it works! Jess makes a wrong move, trying to interpose herself between him and you, and he lunges out and grabs her by the throat--

***

Hornet!

You have only a few materials available to hand, but your best friend trusts you to fix things. And what's the first step in fixing things? That's right, analysis of the problem. So you construct (using a Garthim claw, your hairband, a napkin from the buffet table, Oberon's scarf that Alina dropped, and a floral bouquet) a Representational Weakness-Diagramming Automatic Writer Device, aligned towards Oberon.

It draws the head of a dragon, which makes a lot of sense. Of course Adila is his weakness! She's the strongest princess ever, you assume, although that reminds you that you should finish constructing your Strength Analytical Gauntlet, sized for both a dragon and a devil... wait, it's drawing another head on top of that one. One with what appears to be the representation of a crown. It's very spiky! And not connected to her head, weirdly. And then a third head, and this time it draws eyes, driving the claw deep into the napkin and scribbling the eyes as almost perfect black ovals, the white spots inside carefully avoided. A pattern?

"Adila!" You run over to her, and she politely sets only the Garthim around you on fire instead of breathing fire all over you. You hold up the Device. "Please assist me in interpreting this data!"
Sara Jimenez squeezes her wife's fingers, and slowly breathes out through her nose. It's a miracle that Euna gets to feel that squeeze, the sweatiness of Sara's hands, the warmth of their touch. It's an even better miracle that the two of them get to stand up here; that they get to have this.

"I had my career planned out," Sara says, her eyes wet but her voice even and steady. "I was going to string my whole team along for fandom clout and shipping wars, so that I would be big and controversial and popular. Because that was the only way for me to be safe. If I didn't have everyone's eyes on me, I'd fall between the cracks." Her grip tightens. It would be gauche to talk about hunger. At her own wedding? She can't talk about wanting to eat the whole world if it made her whole. "And then I met this nerd with a stick up her ass. She was a tiny munchkin with a rules fetish and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Duelist movies, and when I saw her, I was like, okay, here's the corporate snitch, better play ball so she doesn't whine to her handlers."

She rubs a circle around the side of Euna's palm with her thumb, and looks the bride the eyes. "And then she took the stick out of her ass and used it to kick ass. She saved my life more times than I can count, taught me that love is stronger than any curse, and tossed my entire shipping chart right out the window. And then I strung her along, tried to make us just friends with benefits, and, yeah, I deserved to be kicked to the curb. But she didn't. She gave me another chance to get my head straight, or, well, you know. Not straight at all. But she didn't abandon me. She didn't leave me in the dark. And now I've fooled her into taking care of me for the rest of my life? Like, hun, you know you're getting the raw end of this deal. I'm getting to spend the rest of my life with the most wonderful woman in the whole world, and you're just getting this amazing vag on tap. But if you're sure..."

"I promise that I'll stay," Sara says, even as a chunk of pew hurtles towards them, only stopped at the last second by an expanding mandala in silver and roses and lines that look like skillwires. The celebrant gestures for them to hurry up, please. "Always. Forever. I won't let go." She's crying, now, and her voice is thick, but she keeps forging on without taking a break. "No matter what. Rain, shine, sickness, health, all of that. I'm yours, Euna. And I'll always take that hand."

She sniffles, and finally closes her eyes and lets the happy sobbing out.

And she lets Euna guide her trembling hands up to lift the veil, and then pulls her Eunacorn in for the best kiss in the whole world, because the whole world is a knight and her princess, and their cheeks are wet with joy, and the tightness in her chest is fireworks forever and ever, world without end. All around them, hardlight blossoms in unconscious patterns, wings and shining eyes and shining mail arms choked with roses, and her hand is cradling the small of Euna's back, and their tears intermingle, and whatever the celebrant's saying to make it official is so much noise.

They've already done the important part. Everything else is just paperwork for other people to keep up with them.
Have you ever looked at something and immediately realized you were going to love it? It hits you right in the chest with feelings you weren’t expecting and definitely didn’t ask for! Like, the first time you saw the abandoned shrine on Pomegranate Way, up on the hill, with the knotted ivy and the moss lingering on the stony statues of sages and dogs and the biggest tree you’ve ever seen, and you’ve seen some big trees before, and you just know that you’re going to be able to call up what you’re seeing like it’s a picture for the rest of your life? Or when you’re a kid, darting from street light to street light on your way home, singing “Blow Ye Winds” to yourself because everybody knows that ghosts can’t get you while you’re singing, and you’re really looking forward to being home, and you look up the slope and see the moon, nestled in the branches like a nest, and honestly that’s probably where we get the word from, and you’re just like, oh, and you stop singing and put your hands in your pockets and stare in awe as the wind shakes the trees and the moon slowly drifts along, and then you go home and think so hard about the moon that you end up engaging on Fortitude’s first LUNAR EXPEDITION from your bedroom, only eventually you realize you never left at all, but the cardboard box was an amazing moon rover. Like that. That’s what seeing supporting characters is like.

It’s also like the glow around menu options when you select them, pulsing and saying pay attention to me but the pulse is their heart talking to yours, but because they’re not me, they don’t know how to tune their heart like a radio to send transmissions clearly so all they can do is send out: is anyone listening? pay attention! is anyone listening? pay attention!

So of course I notice her. And I notice Dulcinea, and suddenly I am caught in the terrible jaws of a FRIENDSHIP QUANDARY, because I want to immediately sit down and figure out who this straw-haired girl is and why I haven’t seen her around before and what her name is and if she wants to hang out so I can figure out why she’s going to be an important character! But also, friendships are important to maintain, and I am basically Dulcinea’s best friend forever. And only friend? She’s kind of a shut-in, and she keeps telling me we’re not friends, and without her heart (most of the time) I can’t tune in properly to tell her that we’re totally friends. I’m friends with basically everybody, except for jerks and creeps. And Dulcinea isn’t either of those things! Usually!!

And ignoring a friend so that you can shovel more sweet nuggets of friendship into your mouth is the kind of thing that proves you don’t deserve to have that friendship in the first place! So there’s nothing for it: I’m going to have to duplicate myself.

It’ll be tricky. I don’t even know where I could get a copier machine at this hour! And the one in the Archives is way too small, I’d be left with a Rinley head (again) or a Rinley butt, and that’s only useful if I’m trying to trick someone into a cunning trap! Like, the bad guy’s looking for me, and they see my tail nooooot quite tucked in behind a tree, so they creep up with their chainsaw gun and when they peek around the tree, surprise! It’s my butt! And I’m up in the tree dropping a fishing net on them, and when I pull off their mask, it turns out to be..... Principal Entropy??? And he would have gotten away with it, too, if not for my butt! Then, when the sheriff takes him away, I’m allowed to keep the chainsaw gun because I was a responsible citizen, which I then use in only the most responsible manner at a chainsaw gun range. But this is not a situation in which having a spare butt would be useful! So it has to be a Rinley-sized copier machine, and I need to have good paper, too, because if there’s a paper jam then the Rinley that crawls out will be in endless torment and want to fix herself with my skin, and I need my skin for a lot of things, like sunbathing, and swatting mosquitos, and getting scritches, and holding all my gross guts inside me where they can’t try to escape (except for that cheating appendix, who I’m keeping an eye on). So that wouldn’t be any good.

And I can’t stomp so hard I tear in half, either, because then I’d have to hop over to both of them and be like, hey, ignore that I only have one eye and one arm and one leg, I promise I’m not one of the dread Fomorians, and then Dulcinea would lecture me about how symbolism works whether you want it to or not, and the straw-haired girl would probably be too distracted by my resemblance to the Fomorians to become my friend, and would just want to hang out as long as I could curse her enemies, though I can’t imagine she has a lot of enemies and oh hello Dulcy I guess we are going into this Sideways now!

(Here in Fortitude, we call little alleys like this Sideways, cause that’s short for Outside Ways. I think that’s neat!)

“The sun’s broken?” I gasp! This Glass Dragon business goes all the way to the top! Literally!! “Of course, that’s the connection,” I say, smacking my fist into my palm. “Dulcy, have you ever heard the story of the Glass Dragon? Because, storytime!”

Kazelia!

"Do you, Ourania, take High King Oberon of Hyperborea to be your lawfully wedded husband?"

"She does."

("I've already got what I want," he says, tugging on Alina's leash. "He'll let me keep her after he changes her. I'm the only one left." His voice cracks. "He has to.")

"Do you, High King Oberon of Hyperborea, take Ourania to be your lawfully wedded bride?"

"I do."

(When he looks at your father, it's with envy and need and vulnerability. He wants that power. He wants a girl, so he can show off that power. If you don't object at the right moment, if something goes wrong, he'll treat Alina exactly the way he watches your father treat Ourania. Because he thinks that will make him safe, that will make him loved, that will finally make him feel respected.)

"The ringbearer will now present the rings." Cassian nudges you with his shoe, holding the impressive-looking book that's just for show, as he prepares to swear them in. Man and wife. And night over Hyperborea forever. He's not looking at you; he only has eyes for your father. One day, you can almost hear him thinking; one day, I'll be like him, and nobody will ever make fun of me again for sleeping with my plushies.

But then--

***

Alina!

"I OBJECT!"

Jessamine didn't get the timing right, but she's got the volume. Shiva swoops up into the sky above you all, and for a moment her wings are the only light. Oberon snarls, and shoves Kazelia aside as he uncoils Pearlion and throws--

And you will not let your sister be hurt, or Dandy behind her, or even Azora Howl rising elegantly off Shiva's rump, and most especially of all Rita von Catabas, clinging with grim determination to Jessamine's cavalry breastplate. Gold wraps around the ribbon-spear inches from Jess, and it slackens and floats uselessly down as Gold hangs in the air and glows brilliantly, suffusing the entire wedding party. Oberon draws some horrible whip-sword from his belt, and then drops it with a sharp hiss as the golden light plays around it.

Then everything happens all at the same time.

Azora Howl lifts up a dozen Garthim with her dark shadows, leaving them wriggling and roiling in her grasp, even as the rest begin boiling on top of each other in an attempt to reach Shiva and her tasty princess-sized magic treats. Dandy jumps, and even as she does, half of the flowers that Cassian used in the decorating -- the ones that aren't ice -- burst their pots, growing wild and dangerous and thorny around the host. They can't pierce those glossy black shells, but they can constrain and keep her free to rush over to Adila and Hornet.

Jessamine, meanwhile, swoops low on Shiva and then feints, makes him brace to stop the pegasus in her tracks, and he would have, he's strong enough with that gem glittering beneath his suit, but Shiva soars over his head and Jessamine drops down and plants her foot in his face, and Rita follows, diving for you with a heartfelt yowl, and you're going to be saved.

One more miracle. One more.

***

Adila!

This changes the calculus of tactics a lot, but what it can't change is the sincerity of what you just said. Hornet looks up at you through those goggles, those shields between her and the world, and she smiles a little bit. A fraction of a twitch at the corner of her mouth. But it's enough to tell you that she is listening, and trying her best to write this down in her heart as an important new data point.

Then Princess Dandelion swamps one of the Garthim holding onto you with a wave of moss and white lilies, you're able to wriggle out of its claws, and then you return to your proper self. The one that's sized properly for fighting these nasty parasites.

Your quick battlefield analysis: Azora's bowling Garthim through the biggest clumps, Dandelion has everything near the bouquets on lockdown, Jessamine's boxing Oberon, Rita's helping Alina out of her bondage, Kazelia's got her spear at the ready... if you can turn the tables and get a decisive victory here and now, you've got a fighting chance.

The longer that you draw this out, however, the worse things are going to get. The Garthim are unstoppable, even if they're easily confused and tend to get knocked about easily, and they're already starting to clip their way through Dandy's vines and flowers. Oberon's off balance, but if he connects with Jessamine even once, she's going to be out for the count.

For Hyperborea!
Lucien!

Jackdaw asked a question, bell started ringing, catfish-cat said that her story was consigned. Hypothesis: this is an excellent place for burned spies, people with unbearable regrets, and the like. An alternative to alcoholism and black nights staring out the window: give your sins to the briny deeps. As a result, you have no idea what these catfish-Beasts might be capable of, and honestly? Probably neither do they.

You, of course, have never regretted anything in your life, except possibly belated realizations of even snappier comebacks hours after the fact.

The bell’s just a bell! It’s not particularly likely to hurt you or help you. That being said, it does signify that Jackdaw has brought down the attention of one of the powers of the Heart, who is vastly more likely to hurt you or help you. As previously mentioned, the Flood could drown you, wash away your cares (and memories), drown you, dredge up strange and terrible things from her depths to torment you, or drown you.

Leaving immediately isn’t the best idea, but honestly? You are not presently likely to get any proper supplies here. It’d be better to calm the wet trash goddess down and then try to cross her ASAP, or just descend into the Houses of Parliament and hope you all get out alive. That said, there is almost certainly risk of being eaten crossing the Flood, given the ominous ripples starting to appear on that placid surface.

Thanks, Jackdaw.

***

Coleman!

“It’s best when they are given,” the Flood says. It’s impossible to tell if she is smiling, given the eternal rictus. “So sweet. So full of longing. And I am the first you have met. I do not taste the huntsman on you, or the lizard, or the Grail.” You can hear the absence and presence of capitalization. There’s another question: why does the Flood respect the clowns?

“Turtles lay their eggs in the sand.” Uh? Um? “When they hatch... so many die, as they travel to the sea. The birds snatch them up, the snakes poison them, and the careless tread upon them. The mothers shed their tears; so I am born. Maybe you will make it to Terminus,” she hisses, and reaches out to stroke Sasha, who flinches away with a chorus of metal whining. “But maybe you will not. I offer you certainty. Life. And she will not suffer. I am an end to suffering. I can even take away your guilt and shame. You need not suffer, either.”

You have to give her something, Coleman. If you don’t give her Sasha, she will make an attempt at killing you as you cross; if you don’t make any sacrifice, she will make a serious attempt. The difference between idly swatting at a fly and bringing the Flyfucker down on it with both hands. The fly’s much more likely to survive the first, even if it doesn’t enjoy it.

And it’s best if it means something. She cares about what it means, after all. That’s why she takes.

Oh hey would you look at that, the rest of your delving team just showed up with the whole town in tow, how nice.

***

Ailee, Jackdaw!

Coleman’s talking to a Wet Trash Homunculus. Behold, a god(‘s avatar). You can smell it from here.

Jackdaw, how blissfully ignorant of the Flood’s capability of taking your anxiety from you are you?
Sara Jimenez puts a comforting, mentorly arm around dear, sweet Pasey her name is Pasey this must be commemorated. “Pasey,” she says, to Pasey, whose name is Pasey, “take it from me. I have been in your shoes. Right where you are, trying to choose between the show and the girl. You feel like you’re nothing if you’re not living up to your rep, like everybody’s going to forget you. Going with her is a risk, and that’s terrifying. The kind of terrifying that makes you show up drunk at weddings, or vainly try to keep things down low with a one night stand. But between you and me,” and this whole wedding, and everyone watching on stream, “she’s worth more than the show. Being with someone who loves you means more than being on the cover of Excelsior Magazine, twice,” she humblebrags, because she literally can’t help herself. “If you gas her, pistol whip me, and carry off this whole evil scheme without a hitch, you’ll spend the rest of your life burying the regrets. If you go with her now... I can at least tell you that you won’t regret it for a minute, no matter what else happens, Pasey.”

For the first time this whole wedding, she lets her hardlight generator whir to life, and shines a spotlight down on the two, stepping out of the light. It’s their moment.

[9 on a Provoke to “kiss her, stupid.” I would like to suggest that Sara likely has influence over Dominus for that +1.]

Then she trips on a comatose mook and stumbles backwards into the waiting arms of Euna Kim (soon to be Euna Jimenez-Kim, and that only because the other way around is just begging for it to be slurred into “Kimenez,” which isn’t anything).

“Hey there, beautiful,” she says, sotto voce. “Come here often?” Outside, robots are exploding, and where the happy couple should be saying their vows, there stands the new will-they-won’t-they ship teetering on the choice only they can make, in the spotlight, and Sara Jimenez looks up at Euna Kim’s chin and flashes her a cheesy, ridiculous smile, because she can already see that telltale wrinkle of her nose. “I don’t say this often, but are you the deadly sin of pride, sweetheart? Because I think I’m falling for you.”
Alina!

Before you leave, Cassian takes the time to inspect his absolutely broken nose in the mirror. With very satisfying whimpers and squeaks, he pushes it back into place, and then a pale light plays at his fingertips. His face goes even paler, almost snowy white, as he runs one finger along his bridge. “Good as new,” he sighs, before sponging at the nosebleed and reapplying his blush.

Ah. That’s why Oberon keeps Cassian close. He’s a healer, a great big... a goblin battery, that’s what he is, to charge his father when he’s out of energy. The fight against Oberon will be a lot more dangerous if something doesn’t happen to Cassian beforehand.

Given the slightest opportunity, he’ll learn exactly what you think of his advances.

But you’re a little distracted by Ourania. She was holding it together for you, and now that she’s being called upon to be ready for the wedding, well... when Cassian started helping her into her wedding dress, you could see just how extensively the black-purple veins have spread across her back and shoulders. It’s possible that when she suggested you use Argossa, she was trying to make her own sacrifice in your stead.

Ourania...

She’s not having to hobble her way up the stairs onto the tea veranda, now a wedding stage. She’s limply being carried in the pincers of one of the Garthim, her wedding veil hiding the flawless black pearl set between her lips (to avoid inconvenient objections), her normally lustrous and shining hair bound into a dull, severe bun. If any half-respectable fox saw this, they’d call the whole thing off in horror and spend the rest of the day letting Ourania lie in the bath while preparing hot chicken noodles and tea, and then soundly spanking the would-be groom while dangling him upside down and lecturing him on how! you kidnap and marry! a queen!!

As for the wedding stage itself... the sky is slate grey, and snowflakes dance down, reminding you of Ilumina. Your home, freed. You have to keep it safe, no matter what. No matter the cost.

Garthim line the aisle. Of course, like any good invader, he has to set up a gaudy, lavish wedding. Hyperborea’s intimate, loving promises made before a few family and friends, and the exchange of clothing and jewelry, is so much better than this extravagance. It’s a display of Oberon’s power, his will to dominate, his army of magic sea parasites, and Cassian’s gaudy decorating sense.

You follow Cassian down the aisle with those ridiculous, mincing, hurried steps, waiting for the moment to make your move. Until... oh, no, Adila!

Cassian, no!!

***

Adila!

Hornet squeezes the badge, and follows that lifeline with you back to the present. To the time that is Now. To be with her friend, who is you, and you swell with pride as you come back to yourself, and stare into a nightmare.

Garthim feed on magic, and also on magical creatures. Magical creatures deep in the sea often object to being swallowed, and do their best to slip out of that awful mouth, which is why the mouth (surrounded by waving, barbed maxillipeds) is lined with bony teeth, all the way down the neck. And you’re staring down one right now.

The Garthim (plural) surrounding you and Hornet are trying to pry the two of you apart, but it was an uphill battle even before Hornet lifted her feet off the ground and wrapped you in a full-body hug. She’s little more than a snack for them, while you’re the main course they want to feast on, digesting you and your magic for... who knows how long it would take.

Why are they suddenly so active? You see the smug smile of Cassian Fleet as he glances over his shoulder at you, and know: they’re being directed. He told them to eat you.

And suddenly becoming huge might risk squishing Hornet, who’s standing between you and that nightmare mouth, forced down by walls of ersatz muscle into the dark furnace at its heart.

And, ridiculously, over the awful chittering you can hear the ominous, dirge-like wedding march. Things have already started. You saved your friend, but at what cost?

***

Kazelia!

You’re the ringbearer! Congratulations! These rings, he must have commissioned specially. On one of his journeys across Hyperborea, he doubtless stopped at Hobling Keep and slipped in as... someone. Not a peasant, not a shepherd, perhaps some rich Jedadi merchant or a dour Deep Hollow dandy, someone who could afford these interlocking serpent rings. Ouroboros, leashed.

You stand there in your stockings and squeaky-polished Mary Janes, and a dress the exact color of sunless ice, so ostentatiously precious and frilly and poofy that it is attempting to annex everything around you. There is a hair bow. It is enormous and easily gets caught on things. It is proving to be very difficult to hold both spear and ring cushion, and fighting in this is more likely to end with you face planting than anything.

Too bad Asteria’s wardrobe ended up being useful for your father one more time. And too bad that everything’s falling apart around you. They have Alina and Cassian’s trying to get Adila eaten and the dress has its own center of gravity, and you still don’t know how your father is poisoning Argossa or where it’s hidden...

But before you can think that it is hopeless, Mother Void takes the thought apart. Lies...

Then there must be hope. Somehow. Somewhere. Even in the dark...

Be a light.
“Dominus,” Sara says, in that tone of voice. The carnival barker. The are you all watching? And almost everybody knows it. Almost everybody. “I will marry you.”

Gasps! Is this a sudden plot twist? Was this the plan all along? Did Sara spend years stringing Euna along just so she could pull this off?? Or, less outrageously, is this a weird charity thing she’s doing? Speculation runs rampant as Sara steps inside the radius of the rock-steady gun, well aware that Dominus could easily throat-punch her. But throat-punches don’t go off on accident. Usually.

“But Euna has spent the last three years earning the right to get to call herself my bride,” she says, hamming it up. It’s not yelling, but she knows how to project to an audience. “Three years, Dommy! During which she overcame every challenge, every doubt, every hurdle! And now you want to come in and get to say you were my wife for the rest of your life?”

She breathes in deep, eliciting gasps as she subjects herself deliberately to Dominus’s mind control, challenging her. You could use it. Or...

“Not unless you beat me in a wedding challenge. Then you get everything. The certificate. The money. Euna’s dress.” She turns and mugs to the audience. “(Trust me, she looks much better without it.)” Nervous laughter! Aren’t we having so much fun, Dommy?

@SARAHPHIM snaps her fingers imperiously, the sound distinct and crisp in the cavernous hall. “Somebody get me the good champagne and the shot glasses from the back! Last woman standing gets the prize!”
You’d normally expect to see Sara whip out a phone or a camera drone and start streaming the awesomeness in front of her. But, nah. Not today. And there are a couple of reasons for that.

Number one, she’s watching Euna, starry-eyed and sighing. She really did rub off on her, huh? This is a total @SARAHPHIM move: breaking the cannon, mowing through the minions with brutal but non-lethal takedowns, smacking around Comstar. She rubs her cheek and watches the love of her life take the vestigial stick out of her ass to beat Comstar to within an inch of her life.

Hell. Fucking. Yes.

Oh, and (old habits die hard) also on her mind: the audience is full of versions of her, which means that Sarasylph has her shakycam pointed at the ceiling as she obliviously reacts with squeaks and tiny cheers, Phimmy’s got a director’s beret and curled mustache and an entire film set she pulled out of her leggings, TigerCam and Sarrrrrrrrrra Shanties and Last Bloom Of Twilight Light and The 1001 Streams are all recording this orgy of violent bridal rage for all time.

She’s not going to insult Euna by stepping in. This is her one chance to be Bridezilla, and that means it’s Sara’s job to look fab, not get kidnapped, and kiss her after she yeets Comstar through a stained glass window. Or possibly into the line of fire of her own stupid cannon. In fact...

“Hey, honey!” She points at the ominously whining cannon. “Throw her! Throw her!
Are you kidding? Of course I put some of my will into doing this! This is my job! It’s not my destiny, which is to be the best Rinley ever, but it’s my job, which means I’m on the clock and people get mad at me if I don’t do it, and there might be a termination of benefits if I don’t uphold my part of the deal, but the rewards are amazingly worth it. Exhibit A: scritchie scritchie scritchie, wub wub wub, whoooosa good kitty, huh? Whoooo’s my widdle ray of sunshine? It’s you! It’s youuuuu!! You’re my widdle Swiss croissant~!!

[Will 2 + Superior Cat-Speaker 2! A default outcome of 4 suggests that this is effective and brings me closer to my goals.]

It’s only once he’s doing his content squint and has stopped batting at my hand whenever I slow down that I lay the bait. “You know,” I say, so slyly, “I just so happen to have some kitty treats, but I was planning on giving them to a very clever cat who could find a place with information on the glass dragon. Maybe we could turn this into a mutually beneficial arrangement? You know: I scritchie your tummy full of wuv, you scritchie mine, that sort of thing.” Scritchie scritchie! His tummy is so full of wuv! If I brought him over to Dulcy, she’d measure him with a set of calipers and put him on a scale and then tell me that it was scientifically proven that his tummy was, in fact, 83% saturated with love and attention, but that his Badness Levels were unusually high for a cat of his size, and that he was shedding all over her black wardrobe please take him away Rinley before I am left with the prospect of starting laundry day three days early! This is because she is a sillyhead who doesn’t understand how cat hair can tie any ensemble together.
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