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Growing Pains

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The walls of Malfeas are tall in the distance. Even from here, Keris can see that they’re broken and shattered for once, but there are already new basalt ribs forcing their way out of the ground to take the place of the old ones. The light of Ligier is bright greenness on the horizon.

“Green,” she hears Kuha say behind her in her terribly accented and broken sort-of-Old-Realm. She’s learned a bit from Keris, but it’s not enough to really converse in. “Green! Green... green sun!”

Keris shakes her head, trying to rid herself of the fuzziness. She feels... all loose and liberated and free. And warm. Very, very warm inside. There’s a fire burning within her.

For a moment, she wants to snap at the child-like woman. She’s just gone and ruined the really fun dream Keris was having as she meditated-ran across the desert. The moment passes, though, and her hair ripples as she leaves the last remnants of sleep-fogginess behind - though not the memories of it.

“I will,” she whispers quietly. “I promise.”

Belatedly processing Kuha’s comment, she blinks. Huh. They’re at Malfeas. That... is honestly a little alarming. She hadn’t thought she’d sleep that long. If that dream had been sleep at all. Tilting her head and bringing the veil of hair that Kuha is nestled in around beside her, she glances over.

“Are you alright?” she calls, over the distant but already audible clamour of the Demon City. “Sorry; I was... meditating.”

Kuha pauses as she listens to her peronelle. She seems to want to learn Keris’ language though, bless her, so at least she’s trying to speak it. ‘Meditating’, however, is quite a bit beyond her. “Ah. I see,” she says. “How do it when you run?”

“Gift of gods,” Keris tells her - not quite true, but close enough. “Like how I run so fast, and Testolagh’s fires.”

“Ah.” There is a pause. “Are we there yet, Kerishyra?”

“Nearly!” Keris replies. “We go to the green light. Should be a few hours. Try and sleep; I’ll wake you when we’re there.” Honestly, Keris thinks. ‘Are we there yet’ comments are more the sort of thing she’d expect from the child Kuha looks like than a grown woman. More like...

“Mama!”

... ah. Whoops.

“Mama! Mama mama mama!” Rathan babbles. “You said you were going to play with us, mama! And you didn’t come! And then you weren’t there for ages and ages, like...”

“Like when you weren’t there when the mean man made you go away!” Haneyl interrupts, and yelps as Rathan - from the sound of it - splashes her for interrupting.

Echo shakes her head as they descend into bickering, and gestures that it wasn’t exactly like that, because they could hear Keris was still there, they just couldn’t find her! It was like she was hiding! Which was really mean!

“It was somewhat alarming, child,” Dulmea puts in, as Keris groans and lets her head fall forwards to knock into the hilt of Wyldeater. Which, she notices, still hasn’t stopped burning with multicoloured fire, even after five days.

“It was a... a weird dream,” she explains. “I think. I’m not sure, exactly. It was important, though.”

Dulmea sighs. “Keris, child,” she says. “I felt the chaos in your souls. The world shook.”

“No it didn’t!” Haneyl protests.

“It did. And the fire within you burns brighter.”

“Brighter?” Keris frowns, closing her eyes and listening to the hum of her own essence. It does feel... different, maybe? It’s hard to tell without a point of comparison - and she’s usually comparing other things to herself, not the other way around. She glances at Kuha again, measuring the owlrider with green-glinting eyes. She feels even weaker and more pathetic than usual.

“... like in Matasque,” Keris murmurs. “Do you remember, Dulmea? When I... uh. Well. When the winds grew stronger within me.”

She’s coming up on the edge of the city now, she realises - not the populated bits yet, but she’s starting to pass sand-drowned brass walls and broken chunks of basalt arch.

“I remember,” Dulmea says, and sighs. “So we must take your acquaintance back to your apartment in the City, and then make our delivery to the Lord Ligier.”

That’s easy enough, and Keris speeds into the City with a casual lope, seeking out a Ligerian bridge as she mulls over her dream. Is this what Yamal had meant? This growth in power?

It takes a while to find a way across the layers, but the lightbridge attendants recognise her when she does. The burning pyre that is Wyldeater further convinces them to speed her on her way, and soon the layers are whipping past as Kuha gasps in awe and terror.

Keris stops at the Conventicle just long enough to deposit her at her townhouse. Ligier’s attendants have probably already informed him of her return, so she gives only the briefest of instructions to make her comfortable before heading on to the innermost layer. Ligier appears to have stationed his servants to await her, and the snake-neomah she saw before escorts her directly to the light bridge across the layer.

“How goes it with you?” the strange demon asks.

Keris swings the tetsubo off her back and gestures at it. She can hear the wails of the raksha trapped within, and taste the mix of Pyrian and Wyld essence in the light it gives off; bathing the area in a maddened rainbow.

“Fairly well,” she says dryly. “My trip was a success, that’s for sure.”

The demon smiles widely, golden venom sparkling on her fangs. “Lord Ligier will be pleased. Thank you, peer Dulmeadohkt. He has been... ill at ease due to the war with the Blood Red Moon. Some good news like this may cheer him up.”

“... here’s hoping,” Keris mutters, wincing at the memory of Ligier’s dour glare a month prior. She’s definitely in favour of him being cheerful, rather than the alternative. Plus, it means she’s more likely to get her ship. And oh, does she want her ship.

Lord Ligier is busy and not to be disturbed when she arrives. On the plus side, however, his house staff show her to an apartment within one of the shining towers - the ones which make Nexus’ apartments look like dross.

“The Lord Ligier has put this apartment aside for you,” the jade-skinned automaton says mechanically. “I am here to serve you in any way whatsoever.”

“Nngh,” Keris contributes helpfully, staring around at the apartment. After a few moments of drinking it in, she shakes herself out of the daze and takes stock.

“Okay, um... food? Food first, and then...”

She ponders for a moment. She’s not really tired; not after a five-day nap. And while continuing some of the activities from her dream sounds appealing... well, she’d been mostly sated when Kuha had woken her. And she’s not sure she wants to carry on with anyone she doesn’t have feelings for. Not while the memories are still fresh and her skin is still tingling.

“... can you show me to my ship, after I’ve eaten?” she asks instead. “Just to see how it’s doing.”

“I am afraid I cannot,” the automaton says. “It is within Lord Ligier’s personal workshops, and none are allowed there without his personal permission.”

She pouts. “Food first, then. And afterward, I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the lesser workshops on the layer. I’ve been meaning to pick up some children’s toys to give as gifts.”

“Of course, my lady,” the jade-skinned automaton says. “What would you wish to eat?”

Here, Keris is on much firmer ground. “Apples, meat, sweet things and delicacies,” she says confidently. ‘And yes, Haneyl, I’ll pass some to you,’ she adds inwardly.

The food is, of course, excellent. Keris dines at a crystal table, looking out across the shining expanse of Ligier’s level. The light of the green sun up here is warm and soft and delicate, more like leaves than the burning brightness in the wastes.

Haneyl is delighted, and only more delighted when she is shown to one of the lesser factory-workshops of the Green Sun. Keris marvels at the genius which has gone into it. This is not like Nexus. Instead, within a vast hollow space lenses focus the light of the sun overhead into great smelters. There are thousands of demons in here, and they have been cunningly fused with the machinery. There is one that hammers away, its massively overdeveloped arm in contrast to the atrophied arm. There is one that reaches in with glass hands and stirs molten metal. This place, her guide says, makes fripperies which are traded to other lords or gifted freely to the masses in some of Ligier’s celebrations of his own self.

Mass production isn’t quite the kind of craftsmanship Keris prefers, but she’s still entranced as she tours the place, taking notes on the cleverest of innovations and selecting a number of small products - games, toys and little ornaments - to take back with her. Rathan and Haneyl are both delighted, though Echo seems to lose interest in her whirling, chiming ball after chasing it around the Ruin for ten minutes or so; leaving it to the mob of excited szelkeruby. Haneyl seems split between running to take Echo’s abandoned toy and the fear that Rathan might take hers. Even Dulmea seems pleased with her little ticking globe-thing.

Overall, Keris is very happy with her outing, and returns to her rooms feeling pleased with herself. She occupies herself with some stretching for a while, and - when a summons from Ligier fails to materialise in the ten minutes or so that takes - falls into her reliable standby of melee forms.

Working on alchemy for a month and then using Wyldeater has put her a little out of practice, and moving through the forms and stances of Friagem Serpent and Snake Style is a pleasant and mostly mindless task that allows her mind to drift a little as she varies her speed - sometimes across the room with bone-cracking force, other times drifting through a spear form at glacial speed; muscles burning to make every tiny movement perfect. Ligier’s invite arrives after she’s had time to get nice and limber, and she’s swiftly shown through to his personal chambers.

Ligier himself is... almost entirely unclad, and is currently being oiled up and then scraped clean by servants. And he has worked up an elegant lather which just manages to make him look even more dashing. And from the smudges of soot on his face that just accentuate his cheekbones, he’s been working at his forge.

He is totally doing it just so he can show off how dashingly handsome he is, Keris vaguely considers in the parts of her brain that are not more occupied contemplating his physique.

“Ah, little Keris,” he says idly. “I see you have returned. And with such a bountiful harvest, too.”

Her cheeks flush as the double-meaning occurs to her... but no. No, he can’t know about that. And even if he can tell she’s stronger now, he wouldn’t know about the dream. He’s just talking about Wyldeater. It’s fine.

“Y-yes, my lord,” she stutters, and okay, she needs to look elsewhere or... or close her eyes, or something, because his physique is not doing her thoughts any favours.

... well, not any favours that are helpful for... talking, or thinking in straight lines that don’t loop back to oil and muscle and okay, perhaps she isn’t quite as sated from the dream as she had thought.

She compromises - with effort - on bowing her head to look at the floor instead of Ligier, and holding Wyldeater out with her hair. “The Wyld zone is destroyed, and all but a few of the raksha fell to your Wyldeater, my lord. She is a magnificent weapon.”

((S-stupid sexy Ligier))

He makes a vague harrumph, as if offended by her bad taste. “She is adequate, nothing more.” Still, he steps closer to take Wyldeater from her. This close, she can feel the heat radiating off him, and smell the scented oils that are evaporating from his skin.

Surprisingly, Rathan is also making admiring noises about how cool Ligier is and how everyone loves him and how his hair is also red and that’s great. Some of those noises even outweigh Haneyl’s gleeful keening. Keris herself makes a concerted effort not to swoon, and searches for a topic of conversation that won’t anger him like the war most likely would. “Do, ah... do you have any plans for what you will make with them, my lord?” she tries.

“Many, many plans,” he says effusively. “This... will not be enough for all of them.” She shrinks slightly, half-ashamed and half-afraid. “There will never be enough,” he says, sadly. “Not without my freedom.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, and means it. Despite her conclusions about the Unquestionable... it’s difficult - if not impossible - not to be drawn in by their charisma and presence when she’s so close to them.

“But still, this is a source that I have not had for thousands of years,” Ligier says, suddenly gleeful again. He whirls, his servants scattering around him and sweeps Keris up, planting a kiss on her forehead right on the caste mark. “With this, I shall work wonders!” he announces, as he spins her around and deposits her back down, striding to one of the great crystal windows. “Yes! Truly magnificent wonders!”

Sitting stunned for a moment, Keris takes a moment to settle trembling limbs, and finds herself grinning. “I’m glad it pleases you, lord. If you mean to begin at once, could I ask to see my ship while you work? I’m eager to see her rebuilt.”

Ligier clasps his hands together and turns back to Keris. “Indeed, that is one of the wonders I shall use some of that bounty on!” he declares, caught up in his mad glee. “Let us go inspect it together!”

((Awww yeah~))
((He will listen to Keris’ ideas, consider them, and then probably do something which at least takes them as a starting off point, so detailing that is all up to you.))

Keris doesn’t so much follow him as much as she’s dragged along in his wake. En-route, she manages to explain the few ideas she’s had - turning the large ballroom to serve double-duty as a cargo hold, adding a spike or ram to the front that she can use to take advantage of the First Age hull when fighting other ships, and a rather shamefaced reiteration of her naive idea to aspect the elemental fuels to her souls. He hums and nods along, though she can’t tell if he approves or if his mind is more on other things.

Her eyes widen when she sees where he has her ship stored. It’s inside a giant... a giant brass egg, that’s the only word she has for it. A giant brass egg that’s shined to a mirror sheen, inside and out. It hurts a little bit to see her vessel floating in the middle, partially gutted and with large sections of hull peeled away, but Ligier says that it’s all necessary due to the long neglect and the internal conflict within it. According to him, there’s wyld-scarring all along the hull from where the Balorian Crusade swept through Creation.

All too soon, though, she feels that he wants to do other things and she’d rather not risk annoying him. With an honour guard, she heads back to the Conventicle.

“Bring this as a gift to my lady,” Ligier says, with a graceful inclination of his head to Keris. He passes her a little brass box inset with emeralds. “One of your little faeries, trapped within a box of my design. Tell her I am delighted to see what she makes of it.”

“I will,” she promises - though she does cock an ear to the thing on the way back, listening for the power of the raksha trapped within it. She can hear the weak little wyld creature screaming within. A minor one then, she thinks. Apparently Ligier wants to keep the giants for his own use.

((Wyld aspected, Enlightenment 3))

Finding Lilunu in the Conventicle is both harder and easier than it sounds. In the very unhelpful sense, it’s easy. If you’re in the Conventicle, you’ve found her! Unfortunately, this is not helpful if you want to actually give her something, and her avatar has a tendency to wander the streets of her city-neighbourhood. Thankfully, Keris can follow her honour guard this time, who seem to know where they’re going. It is within the great gardens of the Conventicle, filled with plants from across the Demon Realm and Creation that Keris finds her. Dressed in a simple white robe, Lilunu sits in front of an emerald pagoda, where demons pose in a dramatic fight scene. She’s painting the scene on a great slab made of Malfean porcelain with paint she’s mixing herself. Every shade she’s using is either red or green, but there’s a thousand subtle nuances in the fractionally different tones.

Keris considers herself a good artist - a very, very good one, at times. She’s... not this good, though. The way Lilunu is using colour and stroke to bring the scene to life in front of her is every bit as beautiful as the wondrous works of craft in Ligier’s workshops. She recognises the style. Or, rather, she’s seen things which are not... dissimilar. It reminds her of some of the painted china workpieces she stole when she also stole the entire Dragonblooded summerhome. It’s not identical, but the same style of painting onto china using a very limited range of colours is something that the Realm’s artists seem to like doing.

“Honoured Lilunu?” she asks tentatively, waiting until the Unquestionable is between mixing and painting so as not to disturb her work. She’s fairly sure Lilunu knows she’s there, but she’d rather stab herself in the foot than risk spoiling the painting. It would probably be easier to fix.

Lilunu turns, and smiles widely at Keris. There’s a little bit of Keris that is quite glad that it isn’t that wide and Metagaos isn’t wearing her. “Oh, Keris,” she says. “It is so nice to see you.” She gestures for Keris to approach her.

“It’s good to see you too,” says Keris, blushing faintly as she approaches. Lilunu’s beauty isn’t the almost hammer-like force of Ligier’s, but in some ways it’s the more compelling of the two; inviting and with the fine features that remind her of Sasi.

... she should really ask about that, someday. But not right now.

“Lord Ligier asked me to give you this gift,” she starts, offering the emerald-studded box. “One of the raksha I collected for him on my latest mission to Creation. He’s eager to see what you make of it.”

Lilunu inclines her head, and accepts the gift. “I see you managed to satisfactorily carry a small box,” she says teasingly. “I shall praise you to Ligier for your skills in carrying boxes.”

Keris pouts. “I carried hundreds of fae across the Desert,” she objects. “Well, sort of. Ligier let me use a tetsubo that devoured them - but I was still the one who fought them all with it!”

She stops herself before she can start a full recounting of her mission and nods at the painting. “It’s beautiful,” she adds. “I still need to practice my painting - I’m best with music or silverwork, really. Can I stay and watch you work?”

“Of course,” Lilunu says warmly. She tilts her head, as her hair reshapes itself and twists, becoming momentarily black and oily before the oil sheds. “I would be pleased if you were to play, if your music is as good as you say.”

Shyly, Keris considers the scene, sorts through her mental library and puts her all into playing. She can see the structure of the fight from the way it’s been set up. Neither side is close to victory yet, and she weaves a treble melody of uncertainty and tension around a bass battle-hymn.

((So, roll it. Make sure you impress her))
((3+5+3 Time-Strung Harpist+2 stunt+8 Adorjan ExD {crucible of tragedy, catastrophe and calamity, bad things happen, inspire heroes, greatness}=21. 9 sux. Pretty damn good, then.))

Lilunu hums happily to herself as she paints to the sound of Keris picking out music from the strands of time. Keris gets to watch the flux in her features and the way that for all her power and her demonic nature, she seems to be genuinely happy to just sit here and paint. Perhaps even the demon princes have their hobbies.

She talks with Keris, too. It’s no great portentous discussion, and there’s not the edge of danger that every word with Ligier or the Shashalme has. She seems genuinely interested in Creation, and soon has Keris talking about the sights she’s seen in An Teng and the Tengese manner of silverworking.

After a few hours as best Keris can tell it, Lilunu is finished. Her white robe is splattered with paint and her fingers are messy, but the artwork itself is done.

((It is a 12 success artwork. It is indeed, incredibly beautiful.))

“Do you like it?” Lilunu asks.

“It’s gorgeous.” The only work of art Keris can think of that she’s made to match it is the silver relief of Pekhijira she made on the floor of Sasi’s cellar... Makers, was that really more than two seasons ago? “I think I’ve seen the style before, but nowhere near as well-done as this.” She grins up at the taller woman. “Do you think I could learn?”

“No doubt,” Lilunu says casually. “All arts are similar.” There’s something else on her mind, though. “Do you think it would look good within your townhouse?” she asks idly.

Eyes widening, Keris nods. “I can think of... at least three places it would go wonderfully!” she enthuses. Her armoury, for a start. Or... ooo, one of the practice rooms! It would suit her favourite training hall... or perhaps even one of the buildings within her soul!

... of course, that last one might be a little tricky to explain. Keris bites her lip, wondering if she can risk letting Lilunu in on that particular secret. She’s not as intimidating as the other Unquestionable, and she knows something about how Keris is budding souls already... but on the other hand, might she tell Ligier?

“Then please - it’s yours,” Lilunu says. “Find a place within your townhouse for it that does not break the existing aesthetics.” She stares for a moment across the beauty of the Conventricle - its fine arches, its graceful curves, the towering spires at the centre and the sprawling estaes around it. “I love such things,” she says. “I can at least make my own flesh into something beautiful. Would that I could make the whole Demon Realm like this - and Creation too.”

Choosing discretion as the better part of valour - she hasn’t let the secret of her inner world slip yet, and things seem to be working that way - Keris bows deeply. “I’m grateful. Um... if you’d like, you could visit at some point and I could show you? And we could talk some more?”

((Heh. The funny thing about the Enlightenment system is that the Third Circles are only marginally more powerful than the Infernals at this point, so it sort of fits that the relationship is almost more like elder DB to young DB in some ways))

Lilunu smiles. “I can’t be too long, but I can certainly take some tea with you, if you wish,” she says. She reaches out and brushes away a lock of stray hair from Keris’ face. “I notice you have come into more of your power,” she says, her ever-changing eyes alien and hard to read. Naturally, this brings up a flood of memories of how, exactly, she came into it. Keris turns crimson. “I... um... yes,” she manages. “While I was crossing the Desert. After I...”

The blush fades as she tilts her head, considering. “... moved on, I suppose,” she says after a moment’s thought. “Found some answers that I needed.”

“How interesting,” Lilunu says affably. “So many of you find your own paths to growth. Some wander out into the Endless Desert to get away from all distractions. Some stoke the light of your souls to full and fight for days on end in the abattoir-arenas. Some dance in the rain of Hegra and open your minds to remove human limits. And you seem to have found your own way.”

“It’s going to take some getting used to,” Keris admits. “Dulmea was the first one who realised what... oh!” She snaps her fingers. “Something else happened - on my way to Creation a month ago.”

She fingers the scar along her jawline ruefully. “I learned one of the gifts of the Silent Wind - the way she splits off lesser Gales. But when I created one, it... well, she mostly just screamed. I had to reabsorb her - she didn’t have Dulmea within her. She was just... empty inside, and couldn’t handle it. Are we... meant to have coadjutors? Do we not work without them? The memories from my Gale... it was horrible hearing her gone.”

Lilunu frowns. “You are not the first to learn such a thing from the Silent Wind,” she says, thoughtfully as the two of them walk back to Keris’ townhouse, servants carrying the painted china behind them. “None of the others had that problem. How strange.”

“Dulmea and I are close,” Keris muses. “Closer than Sasi is with hers. Far closer than Testolagh and his. Maybe that’s why.”

“Interesting. I wouldn’t mind seeing that,” Lilunu says. “Perhaps how you feel is how one of us - the Unquestionable - feel should one of our souls die. There is a gaping void within us, the feeling of being utterly unable to express that which it is. It is a dreadful feeling, made worse by the memory of being able to do such a thing and no longer being able to express that which you miss.”

Keris tries to picture Echo or Rathan or Haneyl dying; no longer being there. She... well, she can. That’s what’s terrifying. She can, because for a few moments, her Gale had experienced exactly that. She shudders. “I’d rather not feel that again,” she says with feeling. “Ever. I’ll have to find... some way around it. Somehow. A way for them to carry Dulmea with them, at least.”

Lilunu nods. “That would seem wise,” she says, and then only seems to notice that she’s still splattered with paint. “Oh, bother,” she says. “I am sorry, but I will have to pass on the tea. I need to wash and dress before a visitor of mine arrives. I am dreadfully sorry, Keris.”

Her shoulder droop a little, but Keris musters a smile and a shrug. “Another time, maybe?” she offers. “I have a project that will keep me occupied on the sixteenth layer until it suits you.”

“I would be more than pleased to,” Lilunu says, smiling. “I enjoyed our talk today, and you play well. The times when my princes and princesses tell me of Creation and the things they see keep me entertained for many screams.”

“I’m always happy to regale you, my lady,” Keris smiles as they part ways. “Until next time!”

Bouncing into her townhouse in a very good mood, it’s not long before she finds Mehuni. She’s still not sure how her adjutant always contrives to be nearby when she arrives home, but she’s not complaining about it.

“Mehuni! Good to see you!” she chirps. “I have some free time between missions, and I want to spend it at the Nests on a project. See if I can get the birds to help me instead of just obeying. Can you arrange transport for me and Kuha?”

“As you wish, my lady,” the shadowy butler says, bowing sinuously. “I should be able to arrange this some time past the next scream, if you would be fine to fly by agata-canopy.”

She winces. “Something quieter than agatae?” she asks. “Actually, never mind. I can summon a quiet steed for myself at the next sunset-scream... hmm. No real shelter there, though. Okay, Kuha and I will be there for a while. So instead of transport; send the agatae with supplies for a month or so. They can follow us - we’ll be fine for a few screams - but she at least will need food and sleep and so on.” She waves a hand vaguely. “You know the sort of thing.”

“As you wish, my lady, so it shall be done.” He coughs into one shadow hand. “I have put her in one of the guest bedrooms. She is slightly more civilised than your other guests were when they first arrived, and seems more tolerant of non-humans. Shall I prepare long term residence for her?”

“Probably not. You noticed the way she’s ill? I’m working on a treatment as part of a deal with Testolagh - I need the Nests to get the alchemy right. Once I’ve perfected it, I’ll take her back home. If she does stay with me, she’ll come back to Creation and An Teng.”

“Very well, milady. I will have two months of supplies sent to you, should it last longer.”

“Thank you, Mehuni. Efficient as ever.” She grins at him happily. “Oh! And have my lovely new painting set up in my favourite training hall. It was painted by Unquestionable Lilunu herself,” she confides proudly.

“Then I will be very careful to ensure that it is well placed,” he says.

Kuha is looking at the clothes that have been provided to her with a mix of disdain, confusion and contempt when Keris finds her. She doesn’t really seem to understand silk. Or anything that isn’t made of animal or feathers. She’s keeping her blanket wrapped around her since the servants have taken her furs.

“Hold on...” Keris tells her. “Let me... here.” She has an impressive wardrobe in her Domain - partly due to her habit of taking the empty clothes left behind by her kills - and it’s not too difficult to find something that’s both higher-quality than Kuha’s original crude furs while also being warm enough to suit her tastes. The coat is a little big on her, but that mostly just means that she has more to wrap herself up in.

“Thank you,” Kuha says with relief. “This place. Big strange than Testolaghsyra’s black stone caves.”

Keris nods. “We are princes here,” she explains; picking her words carefully. “We bring... many gifts to Creation. Rule there. Two screams from now, we go to a place of mine and start work on helping you again. Yes?”

Kuha purses her lips, clearly trying to put things together in her mind. “Kerishyra,” she says hesitantly. “I... I want owl. It... I am owl girl fly. It not right to be on ground so long when not hurt.”

Keris purses her lips. “Does it need to be owl?” she asks. “Pretty wasp? Or my ribbon horse? Do you need to ride owls, or just to fly?”

She clearly thinks about it. “If ground, then hurt or sick or soon dead,” she concludes. “If air, then not hurt. So owl not as big for this as air.”

“Then yes, you can fly,” Keris smiles. “Once we get there. It’ll help me test some of the things I’ll be trying, anyway. I need to be sure not to make you too heavy.”

Carefully, gingerly, as if she was as breakable as Lilunu’s artwork, she reaches out and hugs Keris with tears in her eyes. She’s saying soft, quiet intense things in her own language, and there’s tears in her eyes that can only be happiness. Eventually, she gasps out, “If no Kerishyra, then Kuha dead many days ago. If no Kerishyra in not yet days, then Kuha be dead in not yet many days. Dead is no Kerishyra.”

While Keris doesn’t quite understand the broken sentences, she gets the general idea. She hugs back - gently, so as not to hurt the fragile woman - and enjoys being, for once, the larger partner in an embrace.

((Oh, Kuha. Much cute.))
((Oh, Keris. The feeling of being the Sasi-height one in the hug))
((it is a strange and intoxicating power))

They set out for the Nests the next day on anyaglo-back - the same white and pink female Keris summoned in the Northwest, who seems happy enough to see her again. Sixteen layers is quite a distance, even for a ribbon-horse, and Kuha dozes off about halfway there, after even the spectacle of the Demon City beneath them becomes a tad repetitive. Keris uses her own nap as a chance to try and resolve a dispute between Haneyl and Rathan by getting them to sit down together and talk it out reasonably. She’s not entirely sure it worked, but at least they’ve stopped being so loud.

The depression and the strange black and white lake of her manse is down below when she wakes. Keris momentarily wonders whether the essence fuel from this manse might be useful for something. What if she tried using it as tattoo-ink, for example? Or painted using it as the solvent? Keris lands them gently on the shores of the island, and slides off her mount as the birds settle around her.

“Hello, Paricehet,” she says. “I’m back. To stay for a while, this time. I have a project.”

YOU ARE BACK, its wings spell out. WHAT DO YOU WANT, DEBTOR OF THE SHALSHAME?

“Two things,” Keris tells them. “Firstly, a place of vitriol-alchemy that can be used for fleshcrafting. And secondly, to talk to you.”