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"A harem is where one individual has multiple sexual or romantic partners who are usually in a subservient role," Iskarot said. "Though in some cases, the harem is able to socially overpower the ostensible owner and seize whatever power they possessed. The reigning Azura Shah is little more than a ceremonial figurehead and war leader, as a faction within her harem has seized real political power. They are harsh negotiators, I would advise steering clear of Azura space even if we didn't have an Imperial Princess on board. In a similar vein, I expect you to keep your own harem in line, I do not have the time or desire to memorize an elaborate web of who is topping who."

Once again, the Hermetic's shadowed face and robotic voice makes it impossible to tell if he's serious.


That awful gun crashes away into the side of the room and almost no sooner has it landed than a wall compartment opens and a team of the ship's Hermetic cultists lunge forth to grab it and drag it back into their hidden passage. As they swing the panels shut behind them, one of them slides something across the floor behind the Plover - your Auspex identifies it as an "Abductor Mine", though what that means you don't have time to figure out.

As the feral machine catches it's bearings it swings about to look at the space where it's weapon had briefly been and half-flinches as though wanting to go after it. But then its helm swings about to face you - glowing blue visor and a long hideous painted tongue that drips down onto the machine's torso. It rolls its shoulders and with a whine of energy it activates its Electromagnetic Flux generators. Two jagged shoulder electrodes begin sweeping the area around it with dramatic jolts of lightning, flicking back and forth lazily.

"You're a thief," said the machine's pilot, sounding surprised, sullen and accusatory in equal parts. "That was mine and you stole it. What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Power begins to burn around it as its cable drinks deep of the Anemoi's reactor. A ragged volley of solid projectile shots slam into its face and torso - Jil and the surviving Lanternites - but it pushes through without slowing. It roars forwards towards you at full speed and then, just before impact, it burns all of its braking thrusters simultaneously - sending multiple blasts of fire vaguely towards you. The aim is off - the pilot had to target this blind through the solid projectile shot - but the wash of heat and surge of ELF lightning passes far too close for you not to feel.

The mangroves and rainforests of the Terraced Lake's archipelago surround you, a latticework of thick and tangled roots weaving into and out of each other. The trees are thick and heavy with fruits and the tropical birds who eat those fruits, and they are not quiet or dignified eaters. The birds take one bite of a fruit and drop the rest on the ground so they can screech at the top of their lungs at nearby birds for some avian slight. And while their cacophony of yelling is not yet echoed in your mother's voice you can feel the potential for it to start.

"Chen. I asked you to call me right as sunset started. Did something delay you?" There's an edge to Princess Ysel's voice, but she's giving you the benefit of the doubt. She's open to the possibility you have a good excuse but is prepared to move decisively if you don't.


In a different age, twilight would be a moment to rest and reflect on the journey, a time to prepare camp and gaze out over the mountains at the setting sun. Nowadays it seems like it's always twilight, and so twilight is a time for walking too. You come over the crest as the river falls away into a waterfall below you, standing high up on sheer and rocky mountains, overgrown with blooming yellow mountain flowers just so lightly dusted with snow. Little creeks run through the rocks, slivers of fire in the fading light, narrow enough to step over - if you do not have to crawl on your belly. The Scales of Meaning winces and mutters dark oaths every time she touches one.

"I seek -" she starts, and then closes her mouth and pouts at being invited to reveal a valuable secret. Her horns glitter and pulse with electric light and she sighs as she realizes that you do not value it enough to respond to her withholding it with anything other than mockery. Reluctantly, she instead takes the opportunity to express a little displeasure. "Nobody cares about you, Rose. You have tucked yourself away and rendered yourself as financially and politically irrelevant as a shipwreck, a washed-out old hulk only valuable to pearl divers. Only I see your value, just like I'm the only one who sees the value of the shepherdess Yue." She sniffed haughtily. "This is a veritable antiques road show of hidden treasures and the appraiser lives in the arbitrage."


Bait was offered and accepted, and just like the secret to catching flies is slow and steady motion so the wolf languidly pounces. She uncoils herself from the ground and steps up to you, taking your sword in fine fingers. She smiles because the wooden weapon is amusing, but there's only affection and gentle teasing and no contempt at all. "A wooden weapon can teach you bad habits," she said, turning it over in her fingers. "The weight is wrong, and the balance, so a real sword will feel wrong if you're used to this..."

She runs her fingers around it, brow crinkling in concentration. She's doing that same motion she did when she was casting her flight spell but slightly different - and then she gets it wrong. The magic sparks and breaks, but almost before you have time to process that she mucked it up she did the same motion again twice more with exceptional speed. On the third try it sticks, and oh, isn't the most remarkable part of all this that she just screwed up a spell twice in front of you without so much as blushing? Wouldn't it be great to learn that magic too?

"Here," she said, putting the sword in your hand and folding your fingers around it. It's heavy! And in all the wrong ways! "I adjusted the weight, this is what a real sword feels like to hold," said Hyra, stepping around behind you. "While we travel, I want you to keep this in your hand no matter what you do. Cooking, cleaning, eating, walking, I want you to get used to holding this even if it means doing other tasks one-handed. Can you do that for me, Yue?"
Vasilia and Dolce!

At first, Iskarot's instinct during your conversation seems to be to fold his hands in his lap and wait impatiently for your moment of warmth and affection to be over so he can go on with his discussion of important numbers. But then there's a brief flicker of yellow and red amidst the lights beneath his hood and he strangely changes course.

"I apologize, I was under the misconception that you were in a monogamous relationship," said the Hermetic. "But if the sheep is married to one or more planetary denizen(s) then I will have the imperial head recalculate our route. The lost time will be more than made up for with Aphrodite's favour in reassembling his harem. Captain, which worlds are these lost lovers located upon?"

Big Bone Lick!

You chose for your pirate name Big Bone Lick. This was an act of creativity for which you are still proud.

You inherited this ship, this crew, and these tactics from your weird uncle, New Ganymede, who died along with his heir in some sort of Shakespeare thing. You asked Hades if that meant you were going to see ghosts, and Hades said yes. You still kind of worry about him saying that, but you won a cool pocketwatch from the God of the Dead afterwards so you think you came out ahead.

You charge your Empathic Obliterator and blow up a couple of mice servitors coming at you with knives. You think that's awesome, but not in, like, a way that's worth remembering. It's awesome in the way that fried chicken burger you had this morning was awesome. You've had a lot of awesome burgers in your role as pirate queen. A couple of mice rain down from the ceiling, extremely dead, as you push ahead. You note the heavy weaponry and something in your brain tells you that this was a trap for you. You tell your brain 'that owns'.

The Empathic Obliterator is your favourite gun and you're always looking for excuses to use it - and in fact, if you have any sort of low cunning, it comes in the mastery of this weapon. Nobody really gets it like you do. See, what it does is that it kills the target, and then it finds everyone nearby who is thinking like the target and kills them too. It's an absolutely poggers weapon to have in mutinies, or against fancy-pants militaries doing the super-discipline-and-coordination thing. It's why you work so hard to maintain your beautiful one-of-a-kind individuality, Big Bone Lick, you singularly creative soul, you snowflake in the rough. If nobody is deep enough to, like, get you then you'll never accidentally Shakespeare yourself.

You're dimly aware that the other Plovers in your lance are struggling but you don't mind. This ship is like, fancy. The fancier you are the more dangerous you are, and that's a fact. That's why you had the people stitch together a giant white-and-blue leather admiral's coat for your Plover, gilt with gold. Because you, Big Bone Lick, are dangerous as fuck.

And this catgirl chick doesn't even have pants on. This should be another awesomeburger of a fight.

Probably the mouse is in charge, that necklace looks pretty fancy. You wonder if it'd make a good ring around one of your Plover's fingers.
Robena asks. She asks, finally, a question she has been trying her best to hope she would not need to ask. She asks and in the asking accepts the reality at last that this is no longer the home she remembers, the home she fought across the known world to return to.

"Tell me what has happened in my absence."

She stands a little straighter. Looks a little stronger. Looks for the first time upon England with unclouded eyes.
There is a lot of magical theory. Libraries, the archives of the Bransmuth piled high with secret wisdom and the pontification of generations of sages. All of these venerable mages think that they hold claim to ancient knowledge, but Ailee can see the modernity that saturates them and causes them to miss the oldest truth. She knows the spirit of the very first spell ever cast, the most powerful magic that exists and brought sentient life glory and empire.

The first spell went thus: Eat him instead of me.

Everything else was just commentary.

She speaks the Word of Pride, putting voice to the impossible echo of King Dragon himself. She articulates the full extent of the word, creating a third flare in the Dragon's sight. Herself, the Squeaker, and this - his mirror, his own self made manifest apart from him. It's a pure, unshaped mirror of fire and rulership conjured to be as itself, and Ailee throws it into the maws of the god.

This is a very real sacrifice of power. That renders it invisible to the King. To his eyes, Ailee has grabbed a fragment of his own soul, torn it free, and pushed it into his path. From his vantage point it would look exactly as though Ailee had fulfilled her word to throw the Chief Squeaker into his jaws, because the alternative required access to concepts the King had exorcised from his perfect vice.

[Talk Sense with Grace: 7. Using the Useful effect of my Word of Power: Pride to create an opportunity and incentive.]

Once, when Princess Qiu was younger, she allowed herself to be captured just to see how it felt. She found before too long that she did not much care for it - the gag cramped her jaw, she didn't like the vulnerability, and worst of all her captor was doing it wrong. She couldn't enjoy the moment when every thought was on how she could - would - do better when she was on the other side of the leash.

A rescue attempt did come before too long - a childhood friend who saw a chance for favour and came to rescue her with a blade she did not fully understand how to use. When Princess Qiu saw the outcomes she first tenderly nursed her would-be rescuer back to health with a heart full of kindness - and then once she was whole, Qiu put her right back into the hospital bed for daring to risk herself so foolishly. Legend says that the girl still has that black eye, years later.

So you're right - if this was really important, Princess Qiu would be doing it herself. The army of Princess Qiu is Princess Qiu. If she has servants they're just to make sure that nobody conquers her possessions while she's out and at war. The contest isn't entirely a distraction - Princess Qiu never half-asses anything - but it's not her main focus either. She's planning another attack.

"Of course," said Qiu with a flat, bored gaze. It's so blunt you almost feel embarrassed, like you said something that was so obvious it made you look simple. But the faint wag of Qiu's tail tells a different story - she's pleased you saw through the deception, even if now she has to change gears to make it seem like it wasn't a big deal. "But I have called you and Princess Yin. She's out there right now with all her wolves and she has quite a head start on you."

What are your feelings towards Princess Yin, Chen?


The Scales turns red and furious, and folds her arms, and pouts and blushes and thinks really hard if she might, in fact, be able to stab you after all. She is someone who is very used to having someone who they want to hurt who they cannot. You have done well, Rose. The Scales is now intensely motivated to give you everything that you want purely so she might then shut you up.

"Well - fine!" she said, huffily throwing her own clothes about her without bothering to dry properly first, instantly regretting as her black Burrow-style robed suit becomes damp and sodden against her still-wet skin and scales. "Come along if you must! But -" she fumbled for a 'but' that would make it seem as though she was in control and not mad. She didn't quite manage it. "- but, uh. But I'll wipe that smirk off your face before the end, you'll see!"

Traveling with a snake demon. An old story for monks in the Order.


Tea has a way of softening things, smoothing harsh edges and hiding little imperfections. It doesn't matter quite as much if you're flailing and getting the words wrong, you've got until the end of the sip to land on the right words. It doesn't matter if your rescuer is an elite sword-maiden in service to a Princess, those strong hands are now gently cradling ceramic and moving with slow and steady motions. It's time and distance enough to see beyond the excitement, and to contrast it with this moment now. In the contrast a glimpse of the heart can be seen.

Hyra of the Wolves enjoyed the battle, certainly - there was fire and adrenaline running through her and a savage grin carried her features. But did she love it? She does not brag of it, look to remind you of the moment. She carries a hunting bow and is at ease within the woods, but does she love that? Her ears flick and perk at rustles in the bushes - a soothing gesture, notice that someone has identified that there is no threat there - but her eyes do not linger on the shapes of trees and mountains. She is in service to a princess, but has not said her name or told of her love for her mistress. In fact, of all the things Hyra has shown interest in, you are chief amongst them.

This does not seem (entirely) like love at first glance, though. Everything about Hyra, from appearance, to fighting style, to the spells she's learned is flashy. Eye-catching. Entertaining. She's watching you but sidelong and fleeting, or direct and intense, without compromising the integrity of her own pose. And perhaps there is Hyra's true love - the stage. The show. Being able to awe, enthrall, and enchant. Here she glances at the twilight sun, reminded of some distant duty, but she does not want to tend to it when she is here with a beautiful audience.

"Don't praise me too much," she said, but her confidence rose in the face of your flattery. "I'm just lucky to have had a good teacher, and good opponents. A wolf is only as strong as her pack."

And there's as much bait as there is the answer to the other half of your question. She would feel lost and uncertain if touched gently and directly, for simple kindness is something she is not used to and that would be too much too fast for her. However, approach her in a more familiar way - by asking her to teach you how to use a sword - and close contact will be far more natural.
Alexa and Redana!

The crabs continue their thoughtless advance, for crabs know no respect and no fear. Imperial princess, avatar of Athena - they would clack their claws at the sun itself if they thought there was clamflesh inside.

Lack of fear does not equate to efficacy in battle, though, and these crabs are very much figuring things out. They are newly hatched, their shells are soft, and their battle tactics are crude and undirected. They are trying, bless them, but they're not putting either of you in any particular danger.

Vasilia and Dolce!

"Hmm," said Iskarot, clearly weighting the discussion of motivation far lower than you do. "Then what you want is planetary locals. Some backwater servitors who've been cut off from space and have stories and dreams about journeying amongst the stars. In that case, I definitely recommend intercepting the Yakanov - one of their exploration objectives is to elevate a tribe of primitives."

He shuffled through his papers and produced an anatomical diagram of an avian servitor, all sharp edges. "One of the Order's scouts found these and designated them Species AVX-44. Abduction and study indicated that they are sourced from dive predators such as kingfishers. In the absence of interstellar contact and modern energy sources their society has collapsed to the point of emphasizing ocean-going trade and warfare. Magos Birmingham is commanding the Yakanov to investigate and uplift qualified individuals into the Order and locate rare technology."

The Order of Hermes is one of the great interstellar powers in the post-Emergency Declaration galaxy, but it has no interest in conventional displays of might. Holding territory seems to the Order perverse at best, as does diplomacy or recognition of foreign rulers. The Hermetics are a self-absorbed and insular religious order with an ideology that considers all outsiders in terms of how they can be made to serve the Order's divine mission. There are a great many instances of them doing just this - taking up orbit over a primitive planet in one of their great cathedral-ships and conducting their research without bothering to communicate.

This, in the old parlance, is something of a prime directive violation. Plenty of civilizations have been pushed into religious rapture at the arrival of these star-faring magi, old traditions of power and government have been destroyed as the Hermetics invite all the qualified individuals on the planet to join them on the Saffron Path, and everything worth having is looted into sacred vaults. The Order leaves wreckage and cargo-cults in its wake, shattering cultures that were just starting to acclimate to being cut off from galactic society and their human masters. They are, of course, not the only faction who does this, but their means are considerably greater than many of their competitors as is their disregard for consequences.

"With their nautical culture they should adapt well enough to starship maintenance," the Hermetician went on, oblivious to the reputation that surrounded Hermetic interventions. "And they're likely impressionistic enough to believe we are demigods so control should not be hard to establish."


The knights let out a bellicose cheer in response to your words, banging on their shields in rhythms that their clans quickly pick up until the entire room is shaking loud enough to momentarily drown out the detonations against the hull.

Everything about these people is to do with courage and cowardice. Their responses, their rituals, the battles of their hearts is one of fear and of overcoming fear. The Lanterns wear heavy armour and bright lights so that they might render themselves too slow and too radiant to even be able to flee, and it is their exhortations that keep the clans standing firm. In the dark these people have nursed an ember of hope and now, with your recognition and words, it is finding fuel at last.

That same conflict is clearly raging inside the heart of your chosen herald - from her blush to her inability to figure out where she should put her eyes and the way she shivers against her collar and beneath your hand. But, too, the light of Apollo is settling around her shoulders like a mantle. "I am Jil of Bridge-Clan," she said in a voice that hardly wavered at all. "Daughter of Ri and Ter, defended by Lantern Gol. I will defend your ship, Praetor. May Apollo give me the strength to do so and abandon me in darkness if I fail!"

Impacts on the hull - those are different. Enemy Plovers - at least a dozen. You know enough of military strategy to get by, Bella, picked up from helping someone through Imperial lessons on war, but this is a novelty. The process for boarding an enemy starship is a well-explored concept, balancing skirmishers, phalanxes and esoterics in an hours-long struggle over key intersections and power nodes, striking always towards the Engine. But Plovers? Perhaps it makes sense from a financial perspective - splitting the spoils between a dozen champions rather than a hundred soldiers would make sense from a pirate's perspective.

"Bold of you to assume that this is indeed a person we're talking about," said Qiu. "We could be discussing an under-monster in disguise, or one of the Pyre's lost souls, or a goddess, or something even stranger. All I know is that when I asked the Scales of Meaning what in my new realm was the most valuable, this was her response."

She's a step away, looking out over the waters, fingers twitching in those little patterns that indicated thought, the hint of a smile. "And of course, it's so very dangerous to start letting a demon give you advice and solution with the same hand. A little competition will work to keep everyone honest."

Her smile is mysterious, but not impossibly so. She has a heart like any other if you wish to read into her motives.


Once there was a demon who pretended to be an angel...

At one time, the Scales of Meaning had pride - but pride is another vice entirely, and it was torn away from her. She schismed with her sister-vice and was left with a hole in her heart of amorphous bitterness. Refine vice enough and it can become an entirely different entity, for it can take more willpower than the corrupt possess to hold all that evil in your heart at once.

But even though pride does not constrain her, inexperience does. She is insufficient. She does not possess the coin to buy this treasure. She had not stopped to observe the mountains or wonder at the world's mysteries or learned the words to deceive maidens. She did not think these things were of worth and yet, here, a treasure she can buy no other way! She fumes! She sparks! Her horns glow in ferocious calculation as her valuation of the world and its treasures shift, as she realizes that a new form of currency has risen and in it she is bankrupt. She lashes out as she realizes this, as she fights, but only because such demonic frustration must have outlet and you happen to be close - but not so close that you are yet in danger.

"Fine, then!" she spits. "You trade in alien currencies indeed, river-daughter, but I shall not be found wanting. Let me go and I shall rearrange my accounts, filling them with all that you crave, and you shall eat your fill of them and beg me for more."


Grass grows thick and lush underneath the trees, for in this new world they have forgotten the secrets of herbicide to guarantee empty brown dirt beneath their branches. It climbs thick and lush, and the branches weigh heavy with patterned ivy with edges of magenta. In the evening's shade with the sun still golden on the horizon you see that it is not that this curse is pouring into Hyra of the Wolves - it pours out from her. It knits her wounds, true, but it also darkens the grass and ivy she rests her head against and draws the colour from your clothes. As you wash her with the cloth it fades until the threads themselves come unspooled, and by the end you have a ball of ancient and fritzy fluff in your hand. This was not a curse placed upon her by a demon, it is one that she has been carrying with her for some time, and it makes her fingers twitch and nails sharpen and wolf-ears prick at the slightest sound.

But she manages to drink the tea and seems for a moment like she's all right after all.

"Thank you," she said, "you saved -" she stops, but you don't think she was going to say 'me' there. Of everything that was damaged by that dark energy, she alone was not.

She took another sip and held that tea in her mouth for a long time, as though trying to drown some wicked taste. She swallows and then takes several long, deep breaths of the tea's scent, again seeming to wash away something from the air. Finally she relaxes against the tree, bringing up one knee and folding her hands behind her head, settling into a languorous, cool posture that implied if not control then comfort with the situation.

"You're... more than I expected," she said. "I've tried a lot of medicines but none of them... you're not hurt, are you? I mean you're clearly not, but... there wasn't any need to carry me. I can take care of myself, so you keep yourself out of danger, all right?"

As she's speaking colour is rising to her cheeks and she isn't making eye contact. If it wasn't impossible this might seem like shyness, awkwardness - the coin offered by a woman who only felt valuable as a protector, whose pack did not trade in kindness and so she only knew how to offer strength and safety.
This is a somber moment, and not the kind that Robena imagined she would find here in England.

Oh, that had always been a naive thought, hadn't it? England was not apart from the world for all the Channel's width. This was a land like any other, with knights and with things for knights to stand against like any other. Her very own shoulders were wrapped with the skin of a monstrous bear that she had strangled with her own hands not too far from here. Wallachia had its vampires and Jerusalem had its crossroads and England had...

A tyrant?

She frowned and flicked her eyes away. Far, far above her station to contemplate that. Her lady answered to the duchess and her duchess answered to the king. There were quests and then there were wars. A quest was to venture into an unquiet grave and lay the dead to rest. This, she could do. This she could be proud of.

She wrapped her arms around Constance in a giant's embrace. Half seeking the comfort of human warmth in the shadow of death and bone and blood - and half offering it to one who needed it as much as she.

The holy paper burns from both ends at an equal, dull pace. There is no struggle in the fire, no wrestling between order or chaos, no pattern to how the ash falls. Both Athena and Ares are utterly indifferent to this conflict. They do not favour you nor the crabs. This is indeed the reaction an augury would receive when contemplating the threat posed by a herd of cattle. An obstacle, perhaps, and perhaps a danger. But not a true military, nothing to draw the eye of the martial gods here - not yet at least.

That might be a matter of time, though. Crabs are advancing down the corridor, claws clicking, and their leader carries a flag made from a repurposed curtain. Some of the other crabs are wearing exceedingly basic war paint. There is a definite attempt to draw the eye of Athena in that, and the fire flares as the last few embers fall. These crustaceans do not have divine favour yet but they are, ominously, trying.


"Define people," buzzed Iskarot. "Define work. The gods alone know what kind of entities we'll find out here, and we need at least two hundred to properly man and maintain a vessel of this size - and up to five hundred if we expect to endure regular military engagements. We could absorb a full compliment of trained staff at Jorel Kell, but there the problem is as you put it, funds. We could acquire funds from the Yakanov, but that will be difficult while so short-handed. Our greatest asset in recruitment is, of course, the Imperial Princess, but that is an increasingly dangerous card to play."

"Not to say the matter is impossible," he added after a moment's thought. "There are great numbers of souls out there willing to adventure to the stars, and places where entire societies can be absorbed into the crew of a ship. The question that presents itself is would you prefer experienced spacers - footloose, disloyal, and expecting regular payment? Would you prefer planetary locals - provincial, naive, and with entrenched customs? Or would you prefer more... abstract solutions to the issue of crew?"


Ships contain secrets. The Anemoi is no different.

The menials have amassed in clan-ranks, well over a hundred and more arriving constantly. Each clan-unit is lead by a great warrior-knight, clad in plate, bearing lantern and sword, faces hidden behind visors marked with the icons of Apollo. These figures practically shine with the sun's courage; here in the heart of a ship of terror and darkness they are pillars of safety, as much in the presentation as in the power of them. These are the daring warrior-mice who fear neither owl nor cat.

Around them are their militias - thin and nervous, clutching improvised swords and spears and clustering in nervous and twitching bands. Each clan is marked with some unique heraldry in textiles and metals, different patterns of scales, rough fabric and smooth surfaces. In dark tunnels touch is a dominant sense and light a precious scarcity - and rarely have so many lantern-knights been gathered in one place that all the clans might behold each other like this.

The mouse girl you sent out earlier approaches your side again, and this time she wears a ceremonial-looking collar around her neck with a variety of dangling amulets that seem to match up to the heraldries of the various clans. She scratches at it with extreme discomfort, but takes a deep breath, puffs her mousy heart up with all the courage she possesses, and stands straight before you. "The clans are assembling as you ordered, Praetor. And, um. There weren't any problems or delays. Apollo gave us a prophecy that we would be called, and the Lanterns have sworn to put aside their differences as long as you lead us."

She clearly wars with the impulse to throw herself at your feet and praise you as an avatar of her god's will, but she resists. You can tell how much courage that takes, and how much sense - the Kaeri are accustomed to such servile devotion and it's an act of genuine insight that she's not doing that with you. Perhaps the shirt helps.

"What is your will, Praetor?"
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