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Constance is terrible indeed to leave her with the duty of gathering bones - and more terrible still to leave her in the company of vengeful ghosts. The accusations ring in her ears now that she has time to hear them, now that her heart is not stopped by fear. Of course she is innocent of guilt - she walked a path of holy pilgrimage by the direct command of her sworn lady.

But she does not feel cleansed by the east. She does not feel inspired by the temples of Jerusalem. She did not succeed in safeguarding her lady. What then was her journey for? If not holy revelation and if not knighty guardianship, then what? It was a journey for journey's sake, interwoven with vice and horror, in the end consumed in draconic metamorphosis. Can she truly claim pilgrimage as her defense? Would her answer be different if her journey had at least been holy?

It had not passed her mind that Constance had denied her a knightly calling. To take up arms for the wronged and achieve vengeance - that would have been a great duty, a great quest. Without glance it had been ruled out, the oath denied her - why? Did Constance think she would be incapable, unwilling? If she had courage to speak before the dead she might have given in to their oath anyway instead of picking gnawed bones from the grass and thinking not of how they used to be.

She wishes she were a surgeon who could know one bone from another and lay them out as precisely as in Imperial apothecaries. She is not, and has seen too many battlefields to believe that such things are always possible. So she stacks them high and begins to dig, sweat shining upon her brow in place of tears.
Chen!

The air changes, the pressure and the flow. Qiu's presence isn't crushing down on you now that you're swimming with it. You haven't challenged her and so this cannot be a duel, you haven't defied her so this cannot be a contest, you haven't questioned her so this cannot be a debate. There isn't just nowhere for her to strike at you, she definitively can't. By accepting her demand without complaint or reservation you have rendered yourself a part of her - and now all that fierce might isn't pushing at you but at your problems. She notices and acknowledges the awkwardness of your things and moves to accommodate them. She does not assert control when you change your positions and the nature of the half-dance; it is enough that she could.

"Yue - just Yue. A villager out on the edge of the Terraced Lake, and apparently the most valuable thing in all of my realms," said Qiu, relaxing into the moment. "There are wanted posters out for her already, so you'll have plenty of competition in finding her. You'll have to move fast..."

Her orange-red eyes blinked and glanced aside, at your sketchbook and canvas. "... but not too fast. I have a painting of my own to do, so I won't be getting up to any trouble."

Rose!

Ferocious, dissatisfied, rebellious - all feelings already present within the Scales of Meaning and unlikely to change if her mistress changes from her own ascendant self to you. You see within the divine naga a creature that can be conquered and bound, but one who will resist and resent and seek independence ever more.

You see too a creature that is doomed, at least if she stays within her own embrace. She can never defeat the Pyre of Meaning for all that she is exists within the Pyre's totality. No matter what plans, what armaments, what wealth and what allies she has when she approaches her greater soul she could no more overthrow herself than a wave could become the ocean. They are already one and the resistance and denial of this fact causes the Scales nothing but suffering.

This is a teaching of the Way - the suffering of all things stems from failure to embrace their universality. Demons are not beings to be feared, not eternal entities of darkness, they are merely souls so torn they cannot even accept that they themselves are one whole thing. It is a pitiable state, one to be healed as the sick are to be healed - but also a dangerous state, as the sick are dangerous. If she loses she will hate, but she is already imprisoned by hate, and so this feeling should not be given special consideration.

Her blade crosses yours.

"Of course I know," she purrs as your swords clash, as a twist of her elbow tries to pull your blade away and down. Combat exists so much in footwork and hers is impossible - her serpentine lower body allows her to advance and retreat in unreadable patterns and her long and lashing tail is always seeking your ankles. Her sword is long and thrusting, a distance and precision weapon, but this is an illusion. Her real weapons are the rippling muscles of her tail and shoulders, and if she can lure you in close she'll be around you as swiftly as swallowing. "But I want to hear you say it. I want to hear you accept your collar with your own lips. I want you to know how exactly unworthy and shameful those lips are before I claim them and gag them."

Be wary of daring the Scales of Meaning, for with her voice she charms the truth from unsuspecting lips.

Her question, in turn: What do you love most?

Yue!

Down and down Hyra goes. Down and down she is driven. Patiently, patiently she holds her arrow.

The demons swarm like ants, like acrobats. They leap and cavort and form chains of bodies that reach out like fingers or nets. They block, they condense, they imprison and enchain that ray of shining silver moonlight in tighter and tighter. Hyra moves in flashes and twists, a dance but a desperate one. Several shining silver hairs are sent scattering as she slips away from grasping claws, the edges of her clothes gather rents and tears from lance-strikes dodged by animal instinct. Down and down she goes until her feet touch the ground.

A flash of broken magic. One toe on the soft grass of the hilltop and her spell is broken and gravity is returned to her. She falls to her knees as the demon army raises above and around her, a dozen lances and a hundred blades and a wall of shields, exalting in triumph as the jaws of the trap swing shut around her.

And from a distance, through shadows and spirals and silver hair fallen across her face like a veil, you see the smile of a wolf.

For Hyra of the Wolves does not need magic to fly.

She leaps like you've never seen. It is an entirely different thing than air-walking, as different a motion as swimming. To walk in the sky down remains down, but not for Hyra here. She rotates in the air, legs coming up high over her head, arm extended straight down and holding the bow at full extension. Even now the demons are too confident in their victory to realize their vulnerability and they lash out rather than defend themselves - rather than defend that single critical bowl of water that rests upon the head of their master.

The arrow comes down and the clay pot shatters.

The demons lunge all at once for the spilled water, trying to catch the droplets with their fingers, to snatch the mist from the air. Then they scrabble at the ground like dogs, seeking to dig the water from the mud. Finally, howling in fright, they turn and race back towards the distant river in their full hundred like creatures dying of thirst.

And Hyra slumps against her longbow, tired and bleeding and shaking with cursed magical energy that pours off her in veins of black, red and violet.
Redana!

You have a Duty, daughter of Nero. Your Duty begineth thus: all who look upon you must know the contents of your heart. When the Empress is sad then the palace is to be remade in black and courtiers are expected to weep and gnash their teeth. When the Empress is joyful then miles of steel and glass are rearranged to bring the light of suns to fill every room and music plays day and night. You have received instruction on how to communicate your emotions to those around you in as spectacular and flashy form as possible. It is positively an act of teenage rebellion to only change your hair and get a tattoo.

You do have another Duty too, but this is by standard accounting somewhat more distant than the overwhelming importance of imposing your aesthetic upon the galaxy: you need to figure out what the hell is up with Alexa. She must be seriously broken to defy an Imperial order. Perhaps the machine-madness of Baradissar got to her? Whatever it is, you must guide her, redeem her, and set her on the path to penance, just as Nero set Molech on the path to redemption when she left him imprisoned in his former palace.

(and besides the thought that if you can fix Alexa then maybe you can fix Bella)

Alexa!

You have done well. You have kept them safe. That justifies everything: if they are safe then it was worth it. A problem arises from this logic: they must now always be safe. This end justifies your actions, so the importance of the end has come to eclipse all your thinking.

(you have still not read the letter. It has not felt like the right moment)

Right now, safety means dealing with an infestation of battlecrabs in the lower depths. Though Redana and Iskarot previously drained the ship of water with their insane cut-the-ship-in-half technique a particularly durable strain of crustacean has somehow survived and is moving around militantly and with eerie co-ordination. This is a straightforwards a peril as you are likely to encounter in the depths of space: armed, armoured, fearless opponents. Perfect - if the Princess hadn't decided to come with you.

Vasilia and Dolce!

"Captain, we have obtained breathing room," buzzed Iskarot, somehow folding his three meter bulk into a standard-issue chair. "We have a semifunctional navigation system and so therefore have a number of choices. However, I must emphasize that this ship remains in critical condition and must be fundamentally overhauled in order to even dream of a journey as perilous as you have proposed."

He lays out a hand-drawn map in front of you. It's almost endearingly blocky and simply drawn, as are his pages of supplementary material.

"Our first priority is to take inventory of the ship," said the Hermetician. "We still have entire decks that have been unexplored and accordingly have no idea what assets, resources and weaponry this ship possesses. Fortunately the construct volunteered for this duty already. Secondly, the major problem is a shortage of components - we need a massive intake of raw material in order to perform basic maintenance and start restoring systems damaged by water and age. A major spaceport would be an ideal location to obtain this, should we have sufficient wealth to barter. But herein lies the dilemma,"

He produces two maps, detailing two planets. "Jorel Kell Station is nearby here, a spaceport of exceptional resources - but we lack the funds to truly take advantage of what it possesses, unless you have some buried stash of pirate treasure I don't know about. Alternately, the Yakanov is a Hermetic Exploration Ship conducting a survey of this isolated star system. I know the magi responsible for this expedition and believe that we can - negotiate lucrative employment."

He glitched there a bit, and you're pretty sure from your knowledge of Hermetics he actually means 'steal from my hated academic rival'. You've been around the stars long enough to know how dangerous and how profitable those missions are.

"But in either case," he muses, "what we really need is a crew."

Bella!

It's too bright. Why is it so bright on this ship? It's the sun after a night of drinking, it's the far-too chipper palace greeter after a night of crying, if you thought you could count on the Kaeri for one fucking thing it would be to keep the lights off.

Evidently they couldn't keep the ship from being shot either. You feel the impacts running through the spine of the Anemoi like your own bones. You're on the bridge and it's disorganized chaos, deer-in-headlights looks from pilots used to being invisible predators, and without the fierceness of their captain to bring it to order. Someone is rambling a status report at you in the tone of voice that says that this is their very first real space battle - but you really don't need it. You can see what the problem is more clearly than they can.

The Anemoi has decelerated to avoid a void wreck which was concealing a pirate craft. It emerged from behind the wreckage and managed to flank the Anemoi, huge optic lenses designed for tracking evasive merchants and smugglers piercing Imperial concealment just as easily. It's twice the size of the Anemoi, a full cruiser, and is opening up with a barrage of solid projectiles to blind and terrify your ship as they move in position to board. They're steady and smooth, closing in on you with the rehearsed precision of a ship that has done this exact ambush dozens of times before.
"Coleman!" Ailee squeaks in shock, racing over to the Kobold, almost accidentally letting a Holy word roll through her mouth - a perilous act indeed so close to the source of all power. "What the hell is going on!? Why does everything keep being clowns!?"

Just help her get her feet under her. She wants to throw all of this everything at something but there's too much happening and she's too spooked and disoriented to know what. Advice, and quickly, or else she'll start picking areas to blow up at random and hopes she solves the problem with collateral damage.
Bright light was not welcome in the Anemoi, and yet here it was.

The main walkway through the ship opens up briefly into a large room with heavy industrial spotlights, perpetually shuttered. Ordinary menials scurry though it, eyes downcast and nervous even though of all the rooms on the ship this was potentially the safest for them. The Kaeri did not venture here unless they had to, taking high and circular routes through the ship to avoid it. They were here now.

Each of them sat still upon the ground in the radiant glare of the spotlights. In front of each of them was a nameplate. Here, shorn of motion, weapons, ferocity the Kaeri seemed small and helpless - slender creatures, fragile, perhaps even cute in their way. This was punishment and penance. They had failed to secure the princess and as a consequence they were to be shorn of their strength and made vulnerable before lowly creatures that had previously feared them. All of their instincts ached against this, against being here, but they remained.

Crew moved through the room hurriedly, eyes downcast, fearing their masters even in their vulnerability. Some still were curious enough to steal glances, and each act of courage hit the Kaeri like axe blows. Their instincts wielded the whip as they silently committed themselves again and again to not failing next time.

*

The corpse of the former Emperor was laid out in state by Ivory Smile, high priest of Hades. He had carved a stone head to replace the one that had been lost, beard braided in marble, lip containing a twist of savagery that no thoughtful brow could erase. Good work.

He'd done his best to conceal the surgical scars. The Kaeri had been overwhelmed in their shame and self-fallegation so they had not been able to keep the White Surgeon away from the body. An Imperial corpse was a treasure-trove of raw material - exactly what was needed to rebuild a weapon like Captain Lorventi - and the Surgeon was ever foolish enough to brave the displeasure of the gods and Empress for her craft.

It fell to Ivory Smile to clean the wounds, say the prayers, and restore dignity to the fallen. But even so, his discretion advised him against giving the Emperor a military funeral or Imperial burial. This wretched, broken, lice-ridden body did not tell the tale of a man who had died as either warrior or emperor, and there were no weeping crowds or bereaved soldiers mourning his passage. Although a quiet ceremony over a mangled corpse should have felt like an affront to a creature that ruled the galaxy, something in the priest made him feel like this was more than anything an act of charity.

*

What was he supposed to do with this? He sent them to find him a navigation computer and they came back with a severed head! Urgh! Warriors!

One might think that the Evokers of the Order of Hermes would be at least sympathetic to those who engaged in conflict professionally. Nothing could be further than the truth. His job was to destroy things. Distance, formations, ships, planets if necessary. The craft and science of unmaking, deconstructing things in controlled ways that yielded necessary resources and outputs. Warriors were amateurs, idiots tromping around in his laboratory and this severed head was the proof. Cut three inches lower and he would have had a major cyanronode to work with! Now he had to improvise a solution from scrap he had on hand!

"And you were the most incompetent of all of them!" snapped the Hermetician Iskarot at the severed head of Molech. "You replicated the oldest mistake in the galaxy! You created a daughter who rose up and struck you down! This is the foolishness of a man who creates an implement of destruction for its own sake."

The head blinked at him miserably and Iskarot buzzed at it irritably. This was fine, it'd keep. There was enough star-lane data in that skull to keep them moving for now. The support apparatus was crude and ungainly but that was all it needed to be. Over-engineering was what had caused all of these problems to begin with.
Chen!

Though the mood has changed this is no less a place of swords. The blade itself is gone from Princess Qiu's hand but that is because everything has become blades in its place. It's a thrust as she hands you her wine glass, the angle facing towards you the one with just a faint impression of her lipstick on the cup's edge, inviting an indirect kiss. It's a clash as she puts one arm around your shoulder and you can feel its strength, holding you down as firmly as in your fantasy even though it's but resting atop your skin and scarf. Your parry is too slow and her tail is around your waist just as you said and she's leaning you back with it as support and all the world is on the brink of dancing.

"Good," said Princess Qiu, and oh, doesn't Princess Chen Tian have a ring to it?. "Because I've set a competition, see? A dance with me in exchange for some girl that the demon thinks would make a worthy handmaiden," she's leading, and she's leading with just enough pauses and breaks in the rhythm to stop it being a proper dance. Just enough to make your whole body hang on waiting for that moment when the music starts. "And I would be very disappointed if I wound up having to dance with just anybody. Having to let Princess Yin, or the Pyre put her hands," she moved your hands, "here," she said, "and here. Wouldn't you rather it be you? I know I would..."

A dance was a valuable prize in a princess conflict; you could bring another leader into your aesthetics, move them to your beat, have them glorify you with their music. It was a way to win prestige and acclaim, and that was valuable coin indeed... if you could avoid from being swept up by your partner's skill and aesthetics. Perhaps that was why Princess Qiu had offered such a valuable prize for such a minor errand? Because she was confident that she would out-shine any partner who danced with her, despite them setting the beat.

Perhaps she might. If that was true she truly would be unstoppable, and that would be a pleasant enough way to find out. But maybe if it was you... maybe you could make her show her softer side, the part of her that was sunset text messages rather than blades and conquest.

Rose!

She would take your heart in an instant. That you know. Those titanium white fingernails flicker, itching for it, for this is the nature of the Scales of Meaning. She would reach between your breasts, part your ribs, pull forth your still-glowing heart and weigh it against a feather on the scales that hang from her horns. Though she came to you as a broken thing now she stands as clean as this evil river, dark judge of the underworld.

Ah, it is a crime indeed that she is here, in the moonlit world. Just as it was a crime then when she sat amidst a vast grid of thunder and told the masked lords exactly how much each empire was worth. As her long black epee comes up to aim perfectly at that heart she craves the full precision of the sentient heart of the stock exchange is on display.

Its emotion and turbulence, too. For as long as the Scales of Meaning has stood on the threshold of twilight to terrify and judge human souls in unchanging calm, she has spent as long riding highs and lows, fears and frenzies. The empires she judged might lose their worth in instants or regain it with a speech. Though the scales on her head are rickety and medieval things, the circuitry inlaid in her horns flickers with high frequency emotions, making decisions and betrayals as fast as optics allow.

"I would purchase your services," said the Scales of Meaning. "My mistress has demanded a captive and I will return it to her. As you are bound by electronic laws, as you are of the river, as I am empowered by glorious digits I demand you tell me the price that I might buy you for my own."

She is offering what she thinks you want - money and purpose, like all beings of the ancient world.

Yue!

There's just a flick of a smirk that crosses Hyra's lips - that impossibly fine moment when someone realizes that if anyone even slightly less cool delivered a line like this they'd fall on their face. "I already have my dinner right here," she said, letting her voice roll the word with just the right timing to cause your heart to skip a beat.

Dangerous.

The lightning connecting that gaze to yours snaps and she pulls you aside as a lance slashes by you by a hair. The demons are here in the sky! Only... no, they're not flying. They've swarmed in their dozens, maybe hundreds, forming a black carpet on the ground below that is raising up into the sky like a ladder. They stand atop each other like a chain of ants, raising up in the perfect co-ordination of mindless to join you in the sky. The one sitting atop the chain of its kin has a helmet and shield and lance like a knight atop a thousand horses, and from all over the lands below more of the demons rush to join the swarm.

"Hold this for me," said Hyra, her predatory eyes narrowing in focus as she pushes her sword into your arms. Some princesses are said to fight with unique weapons - enchanted swords, swords that enchant, swords that are as intelligent and wise as their wielders. It is almost a relief that in this perilous situation this sword seems uncomplicated - straight, steel and set with sapphires. She's handed it aside to you as she draws a bow and arrow from her back and starts to line up her shot.

The ladder of demons realign themselves and rush at her again, and she rolls aside in the sky, evading the blow and pulling the danger from you. Again and again they clash and with each engagement Hyra loses a little more altitude, being driven down towards the ground and never quite finding the moment she needs to release her arrow. In this moment you're flying on your own and it's unsteady; you can descend easily, but to gain altitude it is like climbing stairs.
There were all sorts of rules about knights not running away. Robena was of the opinion that they applied mostly in military contexts and that applying them to supernatural issues was why manticore lairs tended to be surrounded by skeletons in full plate. Nevertheless it is still deeply, deeply difficult to bring yourself to withdraw when your trained reaction to danger is to set your feet and raise your shield. It's pointless, she knows it's pointless, but she is far too scared to do anything as brave or complicated as running away.

"Constance? Constance!?" she calls, trying to back up so she's got a wall behind her. "Help! Please!"

She's honestly too scared to really take the accusations to heart right now. She will likely brood over them later, but the frightening thing here is being approached by a group of ghosts and not having to litigate the honour or lack thereof of following her sworn liege on pilgrimage.
"Well," said Hades, Zeus Katachthonios, looking down at the scene with the faint surprise of someone who has lost a ninety-percent gamble. "I suppose you don't need all of him."

Princess Epistia, face grimly lit by the fires of broken machines, stepped in with her blade. The headless body hit the floor and the trophy was raised up high. A hundred Kaeri froze in place, shocked to their foundations by this act of regicide, unable to rouse themselves to give pursuit.

There are more wires and sparks than there is blood. This was only a man in the vaguest of senses, body crammed so full of miracles that even reduced to this he lives. And the blade of Princess Epistia is now firmly and constantly between Alexa and the severed head. She does not understand your relationship with this monster, she knows only that the Princess gave him his life and you disobeyed - she only knows you struck to kill in defiance of the decree to preserve life. It is not anger or coldness that animates the Ceronian, this is not a judgement of morals, it is simply a fact that you are now outside the pack and therefore cannot be trusted.

*

Bella!

The operation itself was trivial, painless, almost instant. Mastery of living matter was an ancient art and the days of bloody surgeries were millennia in the past. This too was technology designed to serve an Emperor who might switch augmentations as readily as switching coats. The optic nerves set perfectly, the blood vessels align, not a single cell out of place. This is not why the machines strapped you down.

Your eye opens and you see the cosmos with the vision of a god.

All things. All places. All people. Every star and every road that binds them. Every city and every river that feeds it. Every brick and every mountain that birthed it. You met the Ikarani Adept, the data-assassin who can, for a while, absorb this information and wield it in its fullest extent. You understand why they go mad. You envy that they can go mad. You cannot. The eye is still asking you questions.

With each cycle, the Auspex dumbs itself down. Piece by piece it cuts back on the flow of data, abstracts more and more of it into symbols and interface, learns through condescension how to stop hurting this tiny, unprepared mind. You are infinity and piece by piece infinity is taken away from you like a disappointed parent packs away unloved and messily strewn toys. You are reduced to a galaxy, to a sector, to a system, to a planet and each time it feels like a failure that you could not handle the enormity of that information. How did Nero? Who did she design these for? What possible creature could handle the flow of data they were capable of? Were these secret weapons to assassinate Molech through data overload? Where does all this information come from? How did Redana bear it?

It draws itself down, learning through trial and error to speak your language. Learning that instead of attempting to fit all of creation through your eye it needs to be condescending in its approach. It reduces itself until you can start perceiving colours again, can start perceiving the room again. Finally it stops, barely an augment, restraining itself from providing information that you do not specifically ask for.

But as you look at your reflection in the painstakingly polished carapace of Omn, it answers the question that drove you to this. You are a guardian, only able to access your full abilities when your mistress is in peril. This input can be fabricated by the Auspex at will. With power driven by terror and love you might, for a time, fight the gods themselves - or the demigod that shares a form with Redana.
Chen!

You have stepped into a world of blades.

One Sunshard can rearrange cities and alter the aesthetics of a kingdom. With three reality is frighteningly malleable. Three focusing crystals - the mystic link to the car-sized immense crystal shards hidden in distant vaults - blaze atop Princess Qiu's tiara and you feel their pressure for a moment, like moving through water rather than air. Your coat and scarf burn away into lighter and less concealing silks - the garb you wear when you're at your mother's southern desert palace. You feel lighter, stronger, invigorated, like you've spent time stretching and gently bringing yourself up to optimal physical performance rather than sitting and painting.

And of course your blade is in your hand. Where else could it be? What else could your mind think about other than the press and clash, the subtleties of stance and form? What more relevant data could there be to process other than your opponent and her own blade? You can almost see the equations, the fencing manual diagrams, the years of practice buzzing around you in montages as you consider your opponent.

She wears a tight fitting dress of red, interwoven with elaborate golden Lung dragons twisting and weaving all about her, shining golden heads resting just above her waist like obedient dogs with their heads in her lap. Her arms are bare to reveal a slightly sunburned right and a cascading waterfall tattoo in spectacular blacks and blues cascading down her left, pale skin making a perfect canvas. Her hair is done up in an intricate bun with three long golden needles holding it firmly in place. Her wealth and taste imposes, but this is not her - her true nature can only be seen in the serpentine eyes, the narrow smile with just a hint of fangs, and the elegantly coiled dragon tail that cups a wine glass just slightly in front of her.

She stands alone. No guards, no demons, no court or handmaidens or countesses. She is, too, surrounded - the people of the Terraced Lake, the barons of art and the common people to be won over, but these are not loyalists. They're the audience and their eyes is locked on the space between you as it crackles.

"You want a favour?" said Princess Qiu. She holds out her hand absently and the world puts a blade in it. "How dare you?" she's smiling a little wider. "Asking me for a trade as though you were an equal? So disrespectful. Wouldn't it feel so much better to do it just because you wanted to do what I say?"

[Offering a generic string: Take an XP if you do what she wants]

Rose!

Water like this is an ancient element, the lifeblood of subterranean empires. Here in the depths dark things move, darker than mere demons. In this moment you are in harmony with the world, which means that you are not in harmony with what was made of the world. Ancient things stir, drawn to the Way like bees swarm a hornet.

Your vision lights up in the depths with ancient overlays. Corporate brands and autoplaying advertisements for the weapon systems that are being deployed here clutter your mind and ears. Mumbai Light and Magic, those ancient cinematographers who even in death can't resist rising to snatch a demon or a monster to add to their collection. And here are both.

The Autohalagian Binding Circle Mechanism is a huge underwater construct, a bulky cube the size of a house. Its front surface is a flat cube displaying a full alchemical binding circle and from the sides protrude dozens of thick, snapping robotic crab claws. It has a simple process - to grasp a magical entity in its claws and place it within the binding circle so that it may not escape. This prison might even hold you, if you are unlucky.

With a flash of water and scales above you, the Scales of Meaning moves rapidly towards the shoreline. Is this a trap laid for you, or an unhappy accident for her? A question to confront her with, if you are not pulled below to be returned to your box.

Yue!

Magic has a settled place in this world, cozy and familiar. Magic spells sometimes appear next to recipes for strawberry cake or get traded between children in playgrounds. They're fiendishly tricky to get right, like mastering a really complicated yo-yo trick, and so if you want to learn how to make sheep turn pink or make a glass of water freeze to ice you've got to sacrifice a good many summer afternoons to practice. Some people learn a lot, some people don't bother to learn any, but neither kind of person is a magician. In fact, there's not really a firm definition for when someone stops being kind of ordinary and starts being a magician - but if there was a line, perhaps it would be knowing how to fly.

Black nails touch your forehead, tracing lines along to your temples, across your nose, to your neck - and then in a motion so sudden you almost feel like you've been thrown to the floor they run all the way down your body to the tips of your feet. Hyra has dropped to her knees in front of you leaving invisible hot lines of fire all down your body, and then finishes it off with swift circles of your ankles. There's a moment of a pink glow and you feel light in addition to light-headed. And then your feet lift off the ground.

Before you have time to wonder, Hyra throws the window open and pulls the two of you out through it. Her blade flashes twice, causing spiral demons to turn into mist in perfect time with an inaudible music, and then you're out through it together. And the hill below you starts falling away.

And just like that you're flying.

Not far or fast - it's more like walking on the air, or taking a jump in a dream, the kind of jump that just seems to go on forever without landing. And then Hyra comes up behind you, snatching you up into her arms and pulling you against her. Even as your heart goes wild and every sensation and instinct says that you're falling, falling, falling, you're held safe and steady in the jaws of the wolf.

Behind you, spiral demons are in pursuit, blackening the hillside as they run after you. Power begins to build in Hyra's legs and you lower an irrelevant inch towards the ground as she crouches to begin sprinting through the sky.
Chen!

Qiu: look at the lake

The lake is vast and the colours either muted by the shadows of mountains or radiantly reflective in the colours of sunset. The ships are jagged shapes on the smooth glass of the surface, triangles to catch the wind. But this timeless vista is broken by a single firework arising from a single boat, one that bursts into a heart shape on detonation. It hangs in the air, glittering and vibrant red that fades into purple and then into blue before vanishing together.

Qiu: there <3
Qiu: where are you? i want to come see this painting/defeat you in glorious single combat
Qiu: but failing that, i've got a problem and i'd love your help with it <3

With that last heart-emoji, another heart-shaped firework launches from the Threeshard Princess' boat, establishing firmly that she was in fact that extra.

Rose!

The Scales of Meaning, the Demon of Appraisal, the Weigher of Hearts. As the Pyre of Inspiration is knowledge of all things, the Scales of Meaning is the aspect that holds the knowledge of value. She knows both individual desire and objective worth and can separate wheat from chaff. She is perilous to pursue for you would stand out to her from your surroundings like a bonfire. This itself is a sin against the Way, an act of violence against the unity of all things.

But it is not for you her assessing eyes seek. Instead her path takes her directly to a moonlit stream where she washes away the mud and sweat granted to her by the Pyre. She splashes through the water like a mermaid, serpentine body letting her cut through the water like a curved knife.

This is duty at war with temptation, Rose. Do you watch the demon in the water, that she cannot escape you? Do you avert your eyes so that you might continue your hunt with a clear head and heart? If the former, give the Scales a string. If the latter, your eyes will open to find that she has snuck up behind you and placed her crystalline sword at your throat, blade and hair still wet with river-water.

Yue!

"Oh? Just a little bit?" murmured the wolf, leaning in closer, closer. "I would not be much of a wolf if I didn't want to..."

Sharpness - the faintest flick of pain. Teeth on your jawline, just hard enough to leave a mark. Not quite a first kiss. Too base for that, and at once too respectful for that. Just enough control to resist stealing a kiss but not enough to resist taking a bite. You see teeth flash again in the moonlight, and this time they're teeth that know your taste, teeth that are being licked because they liked it.

There's a moment to consider, and then a scraping at the door. Those fluffy ears twitch in irritation, shifting of their own accord to focus on the interruption.

"But you're in danger from more than just wolves," she said. "I need to get you out from here. You can either run..." she turns her head and lowers her gaze, shamelessly glancing at your legs in an appraising way, "...or I could carry you."
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