The Baisha sinks beneath the waves. From the bridge, Keris can see the giant basalt archway that forms the gateway to the hidden channel that runs below Cecelyne and into the Demon City.
Sasi has come with her, carrying Aiko in her arms. “Come on, Aiko,” she says calmly. “Time for your first view of the Endless Desert.”
“Mama,” Aiko says, pulling her mother’s hair.
“No,” Sasi says firmly. “No. No hair pulling.”
“Yes, that’s right. No. Now, watch as Aunty Keris gives the orders to head back to our home.”
Keris grins, pleased at the attention. “Captain Neride, Helmsman,” she says, pacing forward to the window of the bridge. “Take us home. With all speed, please.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Captain Neride whirls, and gives a short flurry of orders in rapid hissed Old Realm. Keris feels the engine throb below her as the vessel makes the offering of essence to the old gateway.
The basalt seems to rotate while remaining in place. Suddenly the Old Realm characters on the gate light up in bright green, and it corkscrews open. Keris can see the lethally salty water that emerges from the tunnel from how it’s laden with silver silt.
And the Baisha enters the Demon Realm. Keris feels the change in her gut and in her ears.
Aiko jumps, and then bursts into peals of laughter. Twisting in on herself, her shadowy flesh flows away and her dragon-self unfolds, brassily coiling around her mother. She’s still laughing.
“Does it tickle?” Sasi asks. “Does it tickle? Tickle wickle?” Hugging her scaled daughter closely, she turns to Keris. “Well, she seemed to like that,” she says pleasantly.
“It’s good to be out of Creation,” Keris agrees. “Neride, the bridge is yours. Princess Sasimana and I are not to be disturbed.” She offers her hand to Sasi, plucking a few lilting notes from the air for Aiko’s benefit. “Shall we talk?”
Sasi offers her her child-free hand. “I suppose so,” she says. “Are we going to argue? Because if we are, I want to put Aiko to bed first.”
Keris considers it as they leave the bridge. “We’re going to talk,” she says. “There might be some, uh... disagreeing. But I hope it won’t get heated this time.”
“Well, lead the way,” Sasi says. “Though I’m walking out if Aiko gets upset before she can set the bed on fire.” She’s smiling when she says it.
Keris nods, and leads them to her quarters. “Rounen?” she asks, and turquoise petals fountain out of the air beside her to form her aide. “Sasi and I have a few things to discuss. Could you read Aiko some of your stories to keep her entertained while we talk? I’ll play, too - that should keep her happy.”
It’ll also give Keris something to do with her hands, which she thinks might be a good idea given the kind of things they have to talk about.
“Right you are, mum,” Rounen nods. “Ooh! I bet she’d just love The Story Of How The Paricehet Ate All The Eyes Of the Blood Ape Lord of the Vela Towers.” He nods. “They told me it themselves and I wrote it down.”
This seems like fairly average fare as far as Malfean stories go, Keris thinks. She glances at Sasi for approval as she settles into one of the chairs.
“I might mind more if she actually would understand him,” Sasi says mildly. “Though no swearing,” she instructs Rounen severely.
Rounen’s flame pales. “Yes, princess-mum,” he says quickly.
Keris nods happily and starts to play, unconsciously shifting to bring her knees under her on the comfy chair as she caresses the strands of Time. She purses her lips thoughtfully and regards Sasi.
“... I’m not sure where to start,” she admits. “We should talk about the fight, but other things have happened that you should know.” She sighs. “Sit down and make yourself comfy, at least. I’m over the wanting-to-hit-something anger, and I still love you.”
Carefully Sasi places Aiko down on the bed, who coos in happiness at the softness and twists back to her human form. Then there’s the customary hassle as Sasi has to get her dressed again. It becomes rather more clear why Sasi just dresses her daughter in a simple smock.
“Babies should not be allowed to change their shape,” Sasi says wearily. “She’s decided it’s funny to make me dress her repeatedly when she wants attention. Now, how about a story, Aiko? Story?”
“Yes, a story.”
“Good, good. Now, listen to Rounen while Mama talks to Aunty Keris, like a good girl.”
Green eyes wide, Aiko reaches out to poke at Rounen’s petal-skin with a chubby finger. She feels it, and bursts into laughter. She doesn’t seem to be at all scared of a little boy made of petals who has a fire-filled bud for a head.
... honestly, given how she likes fire, perhaps that’s why she likes him.
Dusting herself down, Sasi rises and wraps her arms around Keris, leaning down to give her a kiss. “I have missed you,” she says, when she comes up for air. “Let’s not fight again.”
Keris sighs happily, kissing back. “Mmm. Me too,” she agrees. “I was jittery and on-edge the whole time I was fixing things at Agenete. Next time something like that happens, we can try to talk things out instead of getting mad and yelling.”
((Per + Pres, 14 successes to play off Keris’ feelings and fortify her Love principle.))
((Keris happily accepts the warm glow of affection, but does use some Kimmy logic to point out that she actively went out and fixed it after Sasi insulted her. Per+Pres=3+5+2 stunt=10. 7 sux; x2 boosting with Hidden Depths Temptress to encourage “don’t get mad or panic and start yelling next time a nasty surprise crops up unexpectedly”.))
Sasi sighs. “I suppose so,” she admits awkwardly. “I don’t like surprises.” She squeaks at Keris’ fairly predictable next action. “Most kinds of surprises,” she corrects herself.
This earns her a half-amused, half-nervous chuckle. “Yeah,” Keris says. “About that. Um... hmm.” She bites her lip. “So, you remember when you went to Buk Moi. And when you came back, I’d had Haneyl. And maybe part of the reason she would up as your daughter was because I was missing you so badly.”
“... should I be sitting down?” Sasi says uneasily.
Keris brightens. “That would be a good idea, yes!” she says. “Yes. And possibly drinking some tea. I can get Dulmea to make some of her calming blend.”
Sasi plays with her daughter while Dulmea prepares the tea. She takes the tea, sips it, and then carefully places the tea floating in mid air before her, held by a flare of pyrian force. “Go on,” she says.
“Right,” says Keris. “Yes.”
She chews a hair tendril thoughtfully.
“... it might be easier to just show you,” she decides, and leans over to reach the cord for the painting-curtain. It slides aside, showing Keris standing in front of a dark sea on a silver shore, with a black sky above her lit by dying stars.
More relevantly, it also shows the full glory of her anima banner as it flares totemic around her, complete with its newest addition.
“Uh,” says Sasi elegantly. “What am I meant to be looking for. You’re showing me your other body.”
Keris recalls that Sasi doesn’t view the world like her - or most people.
Following Sasi’s eyes to the portrait, Keris can see that she’s focusing on the picture as a whole; missing the changes.
... in fairness, it has been a while since she’s seen Keris flare.
“There,” Keris points out, her hair gesturing to the spoke currently on the upper left of the wheel. It’s bronze-brown and gleaming, and blue sparks form Vali’s name at its tip, opposite the slightly duller than usual grey-wood-and-green-fire spoke of his sister. “See?”
“Va Li?” she asks. “So... you birthed another soul who... uh, I am the mother or... or father of?”
Keris nods. “He’s Haneyl’s full brother. More my colouring, but you can see the Dynast in him - he’s got your jaw and his skin shines like basalt or brass. He’s mostly Malfean, I think, but he’s more of a mix than Echo or Rathan - or even Haneyl. I think his lightning is Adorjani, and his stormclouds are all black and dark like the Dragon.” She takes a quick breath, aware she’s babbling a bit, but... she’s nervous. At how Sasi will take this.
“He, uh... he was under the coast between the Ruin and the Sea. There’s been metal deposits growing there for a while, and Echo was cutting them back to make them grow faster, and he sort of... exploded a hill at me to get out. Rathan loves him; they’ve been doing ‘boy stuff’, whatever that’s meant to mean, and he doesn’t like things being chained up but he’s a natural blacksmith and either really stubborn or just not that talkative yet...”
She peters out, fidgeting, and pays very close attention to her playing for a moment before glancing up to gauge Sasi’s reaction.
“I don’t know what to say,” Sasi says simply. Her hands are folded on her lap. Behind her, Aiko laughs hysterically as she discovers she can play with Rounen’s fire. “Well... fine. So you have another soul who... who takes on some of my appearance.” She swallows. “Will he be wanting to communicate with me, as Haneyl does?”
Keris breathes out slowly, relieved at the fairly calm response. “He... hasn’t shown any interest in it yet,” she says. “I’ll ask, but he seems a lot less needy than she is. And... that sort leads into the other thing we need to talk about. Haneyl.” She tugs the curtain back across her painting again, and curls up morosely.
“... she was already fairly upset with me when we fought,” she admits. “It doesn’t matter much why. I was originally going to use a different approach in Agenete - one that she supported - and when I changed my mind she got angry. Very angry. More than I’ve ever seen her get before.”
She gulps, remembering how scary Haneyl’s tantrum had been. “She, uh. She caught fire. I mean, she turned into fire. Like how some demons can wear more than one shape. She was pure flame; no flowers or wood at all, and I think it was making her feel things more strongly. So once she was like that and angry she couldn’t stop. And then...”
Keris hangs her head and sighs. “And then you called me an irresponsible child, and she heard. She really looks up to you, you know. She loves those books you got her. I’m not sure exactly what happened next - she was deep in the Swamp, and I was busy handling the situation. But... end of story, she burned herself out. She’s not gone back to her dryad form, she’s just... ash-pale and tired and lying around without any energy. Dulmea tried to snap her out of it, but even that didn’t work. I’m worried.”
“So... she is fire and wood,” Sasi says, after some thought. “And from what you say, Malfean fire overtook her - she was imbalanced due to anger. So that suggests you need to bring her Metagaoiyn nature back to strength.”
“Feed her?” Keris thinks it over. “If I can get her to eat - and if she doesn’t flare up again when I try - then yeah. But I’d also like to ask you to write a letter for me to read to her, just to reassure her and... well, cheer her up enough for me to get her rooted again.”
“Mmm,” Sasi says. “No, more than that, she can have one of my notebooks as well. I’ve been preparing something on those of her demons I’ve been summoning.” Sasi smiles. “It might help inspire her to make things that’ll help me,” she says quietly.
Keris laughs. “Oh, she’ll love that. You paying attention to the things she’s been doing?” Her smile dims a little. “I just wish I could summon her to meet you in person. But this will do a lot to raise her spirits. Thank you.” She rises to brush a grateful kiss over Sasi’s lips, and settles back to playing.
“Those were the two most important things I wanted to let you know about,” she adds. “So... your turn, I suppose.”
Sasi smooths down her robes. “I suppose I have a question. What happened in Agenete? I’m not angry - I just need to know what I’ll be dealing with when I get back. Things were rather confused, and the Realm sent an urgent communique back about a demonic akuma Lintha.”
“Ah. Yes.” Keris winces. “I ran into a couple of... problems. But it reinforced what I wanted them to think, so...”
She can tell Sasi is giving her the ‘get on with it’ Look without even checking, and clears her throat.
“I spread rumours through the town that it had been the Lintha - planted a couple of dead washed-up demons as evidence, spread the rumours all over, that sort of thing. They took really well, and the magistrate bought them. But, uh... I got grabbed by a couple of soldiers just as I was finishing up.”
She hastily waves her hands, forestalling Sasi’s panic. “Not... I mean, they didn’t know, they just wanted to question me. And I had my essence disguised, and beating the crap out of them or killing them would have been noticed and given the magistrate something else to chase, so I thought I’d just go along with them. Spin out a packet of boring lies that didn’t have anything worth following up on, and get out okay.”
She wrinkles her nose. “Except that bitch of a Fire Aspect from the Mercy of Hesiesh was there with her friends. And they had all these... they were saying stuff about permits and papers and stuff, and... in hindsight I should have just legged it first thing, but as it was they caught me in a lie. But! But but but! My essence was still disguised, so all they got out of it was that I knew the Lintha, and that I was an infernalist working against the Realm and An Teng. So they jumped straight to ‘Lintha spy’, which is exactly what I wanted them to think. And then I legged it.”
The part about being locked in a small room with four angry Dragonblooded, she decides, is probably not vital information. And it would only make Sasi worry over nothing.
Sasi’s lips are thin. “You got overconfident,” she says. “You’re so used to not having meaningful opposition that you didn’t think to watch for Dragonblooded.”
Keris grunts in annoyance. “I don’t know enough about what they can do, either. I mean, besides the obvious stuff. I was worried they might notice if I used Rathan’s light to look innocent, but...” She screws up her nose and scowls.
“And that,” Sasi says pleasantly, “is why I’m so intent on maintaining an identity that holds up on its own.” She sighs. “Perhaps that’s enough, though. My cults are going quiet for now, so when the Realm cracks down in advance of Calibration, they won’t get my people.”
“I’ve moved my misbegotten out completely,” Keris offers. “They won’t find anything there either. And they’ll be looking out to sea more than they are inland.”
“Mmm. It will be interesting to see how that develops,” Sasi says. “I have sometimes considered taking a sabbatical from our efforts just so I could claim some minor area north or south of An Teng as my own ‘satrapy’, so to speak.”
“Do tell me if you do,” Keris grins, and the topic shifts to lighter matters. Aiko eventually gets bored of Rounen; the novelty of his fire and his petals wearing off, and climbs into her mother’s lap for some more familiar stories. Rounen seems eager to hear them as well, and the night passes smoothly to the sound of traded tales.
((Heh. Keris FLG’d the hurt and anger at Sasi’s comments along with her fear and panic over the close call, so she doesn’t actually need to ask for an apology for her own sake - just Haneyl’s.))
After Aiko is put to bed - after seemingly deciding that Rounen is her chosen night light and hugging up to him - Sasi and Keris have a very enjoyable and friendly night. But after that, Keris sleeps and dreams her way into her inner world.
Calesco is waiting for her at the edge of the City. For all her demands that Keris do right by the misbegotten, her eighth soul made herself scarce for most of the time Keris spent settling them. Given her pessimistic comments when she’d been waiting with the ferry, Keris suspects a little of that might have been fear of it going wrong. Or maybe guilt at the state Haneyl is in. For all that Calesco is mature for her age, she’s still just a little girl, and if Keris is worried...
“It’s nice to see your face again,” Keris greets her with a smile, offering her hair for a hug. “Were you camping out here to ambush me, or are you following me into the Swamp?”
Calesco looks uncertain. “I’m not sure,” she says softly.
Keris hesitates for a moment, then moves in for a hug. “They’re set up and safe,” she reassures her daughter. “They’ve got plenty of food and fresh water and shelter, and a couple of medics in case they get hurt or sick. And now they won’t get the rough edge of Tengese prejudice. They’ll be fine.”
“I don’t know how well humans will survive there. And what happens if the Realm finds them? Or the Lintha?” Calesco asks quietly.
“They’re used to surviving,” Keris reminds her. “And scraping a living out of the beach. If they’d thought they would have trouble there, they’d have said something, and we’ll only be gone a few months. The isle’s away from any trade routes, and it’s not easy to see it’s inhabited even if you find it - and it’s not really big enough to look interesting, either. And even if someone did try to sail up and hurt them; the sargasso would snare their ship.”
She sighs. “I think it’s as safe as we can make it. Well, I mean, I could have bound a bunch of... I dunno, tomescu or something around the beach with orders to wait there immaterially and attack anything that tried to hurt the inhabitants, but that seems like the kind of thing Darling Yellow might spot. At some point we’re gonna have to trust them to stay safe with what help we’ve given them.”
Calesco pouts at her under her veil. “Well, you need to promise to go check on them frequently,” she says seriously. “This matters, mama.”
“I know. And I’ll need to be checking up on them anyway. I want to get some more islands like that one set up, maybe put my ships to use running some trade between them. That’ll make them more secure as far as food goes.” Keris kisses her on the forehead. “They’ll be okay. Really. I won’t let them down.”
She straightens up and lets go, recognising the signs of Calesco starting to get a little uncomfortable in the hug. “Now, I need to go and talk Haneyl out of her... her ash mood. Do you want to come? Or...” She bites her lip. “Well, maybe that wouldn’t be such a good idea. In case she goes fiery again.”
Calesco looks directly at Keris. “What do you think would happen if I’m there?”
Keris looks right back at her, though she lowers her voice. “She got angry in the first place because I gave up on my plan for the Netara’s Mercy. Which was... well.” She doesn’t voice that part out loud, merely nods between them. “She’s burnt herself out now, and I’m hoping that means she’s run out of angry. But I’m pretty sure she hasn’t found that part out, because I’ve not heard anything about a war. And I’d prefer you not have one that’s avoidable.
“So I’m not sure what would happen, but I’ve never seen her like this before, and I know she flared up at Echo when she went in. I don’t want you to get burned if she gets angry at you - or more likely, at me.”
Calesco sighs. “That was the sort of question that isn’t meant to be answered, mama,” she says wearily. “Haneyl gets angry at me. She’s a parasite at heart, a sickness of the flesh and hates having that pointed out.”
“And when you talked me out of splitting up families, you said that your people would die if a war broke out,” Keris points out. “Are you willing to have that happen just to get a few insults in at your sister?” She sighs. “Look, the two of you fight normally, and that’s fine. Mostly you just pull each other’s hair and scuffle and wind up with black eyes and bite marks. But this is something new, and I don’t know how this ash-fire Haneyl will react. She seems a lot more emotional than normal. So until she’s back to normal - or at least until you know how she’ll respond to being insulted - tread carefully. Please?”
“What I was saying is that, no, I won’t be coming with you,” Calesco says. She looks distant. “When I try to hurt her normally, they’re just shallow cuts to try to teach her to be less terrible. But,” she leans in, “you hurt her more than I could manage.”
Calesco bites her lip with Keris’ shocked gasp. “I didn’t mean to say that,” she says quickly. “I just had to. I didn’t have a choice.”
Keris holds herself very still, breathing carefully as if cradling broken ribs. “I-” she starts, and breaks off to blink rapidly and swallow. “I’m... I’m going to forget you said that,” she says after a long moment. “The rest of what you said I’ll remember, but... not that part. I don’t...”
Another careful breath. “I don’t want... you didn’t mean to say it, and I didn’t want to hear it, and I don’t want it to poison whatever we say next, and... and I’m glad you’re trying not to hurt her at the moment. That’s good. That’s very good. Thank you.”
Her hair rustles as she stands hastily. “I should... get going. To talk to her.” She hesitates just before setting off. “Have you spent any more time with Vali? I know Rathan has, but you both have something of the Dragon in you.”
Calesco huffs. “Rathan is spending all the time near him,” she almost whines. She sighs. “Please get Haneyl better,” she says softly. “Echo is Echo, and it isn’t the same talking with Dulmea. I’ve been going over to Haneyl’s court trying to make sure her people don’t get lonely. I don’t understand why they like her. She’s cruel and whimsical. And grasping. And makes them fight each other for her amusement. But they miss her.”
“I’ll do my best,” Keris promises.
She breathes out the pain of Calesco’s cutting words as they part. But something deep and instinctive stops her from letting go of the memory with them, despite what she told her daughter. She could forget, but...
... well. Maybe it’s more important to remember that Calesco doesn’t always mean the horrible things she says. The horrified look on her face is proof she regrets their impact. And as long as Keris doesn’t bring it up, they can put it behind them.
Stopping off at Haneyl’s Swampland court, Keris gets a rough bearing on where the ash-circle is from Ellyssivera, who seems to be rather stressed over keeping the court running in Haneyl’s absence. Leaving her with a similar promise to Calesco, Keris sets off.
It doesn’t take her long to find the ash field, and she lets herself blend into the background before she gets close, then edges slowly but surely from cover to cover, staying still and silent at each stopping point until she’s sure she’s unobserved before edging closer. It takes longer to traverse the last fifty metres or so than it did to find the place, but eventually Keris has a spot at the base of a tree that gives her an unobstructed view of the clearing.
The ash is knee deep, even at its shallowest. Sometimes it’s so deep that Keris has to swim in it. The water has dug canyons through it. Haneyl has burned a lot of things. The air is hot and dry and smoky, and there’s ash on the breeze. There are leafless trees growing up through the ash, but they’re burned and dead.
Haneyl is sitting up now, but she’s just listlessly letting her hand trail in the water. She’s sitting beneath a smouldering, dead grey tree. Her long grey hair blends in with the ash, until Keris can’t tell where one starts and the other ends. Maybe her root-hair is burning too, constantly trailing ash. Maybe there is no divide.
And she’s painfully thin. Keris knows what it’s like to be like that. Oh gods, does she. She knew it on the streets. She knows the feeling of being so listless she can barely sum up the energy to go out and eat. Her heart wrenches as she realises that without her fat. Haneyl looks a lot more like a younger Keris than she’d ever known before.
Thankfully, Elly has been planning for this. A greyish manta-ray-river-dragon demon from the kitchens of Haneyl’s court provided her with a number of meat dishes, though looking at her daughter now, Keris worries that maybe the largeish box won’t be enough. Though if it can get her appetite going, Keris can get her back to her court and she can gorge herself back to a proper weight.
Letting the trick of the eye that conceals her fade, Keris stands up carefully and begins to slowly and delicately pick her way over to where Haneyl is sitting.
Haneyl doesn’t respond. She just sits there, hand trailing in the water. Ash is building up there, falling from her hair. She barely looks in Keris’ direction with lifeless, faded green eyes.
“Haneyl?” Keris tricks. “I have food. And a letter from Sasi - and a present. And an apology from me. I’m worried about you. Will you eat something?”
Haneyl looks back at her. “She doesn’t think we’re worth anything,” she says in a husky voice. “What’s the point?”
“She does,” Keris says forcefully. “She absolutely does, Haneyl. Sasi was scared and panicky and upset, and she said things she didn’t mean; things she wouldn’t have ever said otherwise. She’s your mother, sweetheart. The way you get so upset and your fire comes out and you can’t stop it? That’s as much from her as from me. It doesn’t mean she really meant it. Please, eat something and I’ll read you her letter and tell you about her present, and then when you’re feeling a bit better we can have a talk and I can say sorry properly.”
((Sigh. Offering Haneyl presents is playing dirty.))
Haneyl looks at Keris for a long time. Then she holds out her hands for the food. “Feed me,” she says, with a trace of tattered imperiousness. “I... I only have human teeth like this. I can’t eat so easily.”
Keris shuffles closer, cracking the box open and letting some of the spiced meaty smell emerge. She starts with the skewers; braised meat and some sort of blue thing that looks a bit like a tomato but smells closer to egg. Small chunks that will be easy for Haneyl to chew and swallow; unused as she is to a human mouth.
It reminds Keris of nothing more than that time that her and Rat found a baby bird. They’d been doing well at the time, so Rat’d had the idea of feeding it up on scraps so they could either train it to fly at people’s faces so they’d be distracted and that’d mean they could pick their pockets, or, failing that, they could cook and eat it. Haneyl eats like the baby bird did - tiny little gulping bites.
And it does do her good swiftly. The first sign is her eyes brightening. In fact, once they’re brighter and there are faint embers glowing in her hair, she basically all-but knocks the food out of Keris’ hands and starts stuffing it in her mouth as handfuls. It seems to be burning even as she swallows it, because Keris can see smoke coming out of her mouth and nose.
“Dearest Haneyl,” Keris reads quietly from Sasi’s letter, which gets her Haneyl’s undivided attention. Well, her undivided conscious attention, at least. Her hair takes the opportunity to lunge into the box of food and start funnelling food to her mouth even faster than her hands could, without her seeming to notice.
Keris clears her throat. “Dearest Haneyl,” she reads again from the letter, and tries not to worry about what will happen when the box runs dry, which will not take long at the rate Haneyl is eating through it.
Haneyl slows down eating slightly. She’s clearly not back to normal, though. Her eyes are bright - too bright - and her hair is longer than it usually is, a grey core surrounded by green flames. The food is feeding her inner fires, rather than making her like she is usually.
“‘mmm mlismtenmm,” she says through her full mouth.
“Dearest Haneyl,” Sasi’s letter reads. It’s written in beautifully calligraphed flowing handwriting, to the extent that it’s sometimes a little hard for Keris to read because it’s had so much effort into looking pretty.
“I must apologise fully and wholeheartedly for any distress that my argument with Keris may have caused you. Know and understand that nothing I said was meant to hurt you. I was angry and upset at the time, and caught off balance, so I said things out of rage rather than true, genuine feeling. Yes, Keris can be thoughtless and impetuous, but she can also be sweet, caring, and sharply intelligent. We are all complicated people with many different aspects and many different sides, and I can be frustrated by the side of her that doesn’t think things through and which doesn’t plan ahead without viewing her entirely as a child.”
This isn’t the end, of course. It carries on in this vein for some time. But the opening really does set the tone for it.
Keris blushes a little as she reads some of it - it’s very flattering in some respects, and she sort of suspects Sasi put some serious thought into how to encourage Haneyl’s Metagaoiyn side and bank her fires down. She reads the whole letter faithfully, waiting until the end to add her own commentary.
“We’re both very sorry, sweetheart - and I’m sorry for upsetting you in the first place by breaking my promise. I know I was wrong to do that. Sasi’s given you one of her own notebooks about all the clever demons you’ve been making. She seemed very impressed with them, and she’s been studying them on her own because she’s so interested. And when I gift the Shashalme with the raksha I caught for them, I’ll ask them for a little present that I can give to you, like how Ligier gave you your bracelet.”
((Keris is promising to ask the Shashalme for at least a Res 4-5 “trinket” that Haneyl can wear along with Ligier’s bracelet.))
Haneyl takes a shuddering breath, and rises. Turning her back on Keris, she wanders into the shallow ash-choked stream. Her fire-hair trails behind her, as long as Rathan’s. She’s not wearing her tiara or robe, but instead an ashen gown and that’s burning now, burning without crumbling. She leaves fire in her footprints.
“What’s wrong with me, mama?” she asks softly. “Why am I burning up? I... I just feel everything so, so strongly. And then... then everything went limp and... and I couldn’t do anything. Even eat. And only when Echo showed up or... or Dulmea did I feel anything and then I just got angry.”
“I’m doing it now,” she whispers. “Right now, it’s the most important thing in the world to apologise to grandmother. It... I just feel everything. What’s wrong with me? Why do I have this burning form?”
((Cog 3+Occult 4+2 stunt+3 I Love My Family=12. 7 sux. Heh. A portentous number, given the circumstances.))
Keris cautiously takes her hand, her lips thinning at the heat. It’s not comfortable, but it’s bearable, though... well, she probably wouldn’t want to try this when Haneyl was outright fire. She squeezes encouragingly.
“When you first caught fire, out on the island, I was terrified for a moment,” she says. “I thought... I don’t know, I thought that maybe you were being hurt. That your powers were hurting yourself, and that it was my fault, and I don’t know what I would have done if...” She shivers, and hastily moves on. “But I listened to your essence, and you’re still you, sweetheart. This is a natural part of you, whatever it is - it’s meant to be something you can do. There’s nothing wrong with you. Nothing.”
She hums thoughtfully to herself as a flash of insight hits. “I think... you know, ever since the very first time I ever saw you, back before you could even talk, you’ve always been fire and plants. Well, fire and plants and person, since you’re part Sasi as well. The first thing you did where I could see - before you even showed yourself in person - was make some pretty fireblossoms to show me. I think... your normal body is balanced between all three parts of you. But this form isn’t. It’s got the fire and the person bits dominant, and the plant stuff has gone... somewhere else. Into your Tree, maybe?”
Shrugging, Keris moves on. “And that means you’re more fiery and emotional and passionate at the moment, and you get tired more easily, and I’d bet there are other things you’ll be better at like this. But Haneyl, sweetie, it’s not a bad thing to feel strongly, as long as you know about it.” Another thought strikes her, and she smiles. “I might be able to prove it, too.”
A quick flurry of emotions flashes across Haneyl’s face, and then her lips starts to wobble and she starts crying fiery tears of relief. “I was so sc-scared,” she whispers.
“Here now,” Keris whispers, drawing her in for a cuddle. Shifting around to whisper in Haneyl’s ear, she grins. “See, if you feel things so strongly? It’s not nice that you’ll get so angry or upset. But it does mean that you’ll be able to feel really, really happy. And you know what?”
Sniffing, Haneyl makes a tiny inquisitive noise. Mindful of the growing heat, Keris squeezes her reassuringly again and carefully adjusts the way her hair is hanging.
“We’ll probably argue again, and fight, and all of that,” she murmurs. “But Haneyl, you are my daughter, and I will always make up with you after we’ve calmed down. Always. And no matter what we’re fighting over - even when we’re still fighting, even when we’re angry at each other - I will never, ever, ever stop loving you, and being proud of you, and being so, so happy I have you and your brothers and sisters.”
She draws back to look Haneyl in the eye. “You understand? I’ll always love you. Whether we’re agreeing or arguing or playing together or working on things. You are always,” Keris punctuates the word with a light tap to Haneyl’s nose and a kiss to the forehead, “my beloved daughter. And I’ll always be here if you need me.”
“Mmm.” Haneyl snuggles up to her. “Even when Rathan tries to make you believe everything is my fault? My brother does that, you know.”
“I know, I know,” Keris pets her hair. “Maybe he’ll get better about that as he gets older. He’s trying to be more mature now, you know. You have a new baby brother.”
Haneyl suddenly surges hotter. “You did what?”
Keris blinks at her. “I... gained another soul? Or, well. I think he’s been there for a while, but Echo was Echo and didn’t tell anyone.” She scowls, reminding herself to give her fifth soul a stern talking-to about that at some point. “Is something wrong? You weren’t upset when Calesco appeared.”
“Exactly! I was the youngest and I didn’t want to be. But now you had another one and you didn’t ask me!” Haneyl whines.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I don’t really choose to do it,” Keris points out. “It just sort of happens.” She pauses. “If it makes you feel any better... you have a baby brother now. He’s your full brother, the same way Calesco is to Echo, so you’re a full big sister.” She punctuates this with a tickle.
It is a rather hot tickle. “So he’s my brother,” Haneyl says, clearly sounding it out to herself.
“That’s right,” Keris nods. “His name is Vali. He and Rathan are spending some time doing boy things, but he uses metal like you use plants - and he likes food - so I bet you could make things with him.”
Haneyl holds out her arms, coming to a decision. “Carry me,” she commands. “I’m going back to my tree to sleep.” She brushes herself down with disgust. “To have a bath and then nap,” she corrects herself. “I don’t want to get ash in my bed. It itches! Also! Also, also!” she adds. “You need to carry Saji too!”
“Saji?” Keris asks.
“She’s my new best friend,” Haneyl nods, jaw firm. “She’s as best as Elly.” She takes a deep breath. “She found me and she read stories to me and she pulled back bits of animals she pounced on back to me and she was the one who propped me up against the tree.”
“Uh huh,” Keris says.
“She’s really tiny,” Haneyl continues.
Keris can indeed hear very tiny footprints. She turns, to see a absolutely tiny petal-cherub approaching slowly. She only reaches Keris’ waist. Her petals are the bright yellow of a sunflower, and her flames burn white. Keris smiles. She does look a bit like a sunflower. Or maybe a daisy.
“Hello Saji,” she says softly, shifting Haneyl’s weight and crouching down to get closer to the little girl’s level. “So you’ve been helping Haneyl?”
The tiny petal-cherub stares up at Keris with flame-filled eyes. “Uh huh,” she says brightly. She’s carrying a partly cooked and somewhat nibbled on swamp-creature. “Are you gonna want food too, Haneyl’s mama? Because I’m gonna need to make another trip if you do.”
She sounds very Nexan indeed.
“I’m not, no.” Keris smiles. Apparently this friend is less shy than Ellyssivera. “But I’m taking Haneyl back to her Tree. Are you coming with her?”
“I dunno,” Saji says. “I got my tree right here.” She skips over to pat the burned leafless one she propped Haneyl against. “But Hanny is nice so I ‘pose I should come with her.” She puts her hands on her hips, such as they are. “She doesn’t eat ‘less I make her,” she says solidly.
Keris’s smile expands into a full-on grin, and with a little chuckle she plucks the tiny cherub up with her hair and brings her in to rest on the hip not occupied by Haneyl. As Saji begins feeding Haneyl bites of swamp-beast, Keris turns them around and starts back towards the City, leaving the ash-filled wasteland behind. New growth, she knows, will not take long to replace it.
Haneyl falls asleep in one of the bathing pools that surrounds her tree, still hugging onto Keris with her hair. Well, she says “bath”, but the steam from Haneyl’s superheated body really makes it more of a sauna. It’s comfortable nonetheless, sitting there in very warm water with her daughter asleep leaning against her. Keris takes the chance to relax.
A relaxation which swiftly ends when a deafeningly loud thunderclap sounds out, followed by a flash of lightning. Keris yelps and winces, hands coming up to cover her ears as she squints around to find the source of the sound. On the other side of the pool, still crackling with bright lightning, is Vali. He’s squatting by the pool, one hand in the water. All the steam’s been blown away by his arrival. Keris judiciously covers herself and her daughter with her hair.
Haneyl jolts awake, a sudden wave of heat radiating from her as her hair re-ignites from the shock.
“Ow ow ow ow hold it!” Keris yells, in a tone of maternal ire that actually serves to give her five or six seconds of obedience, albeit mostly from surprise. Keris spends them renewing her own clothing, shifting her hair away from Haneyl’s and bunching up a pair of protective ear-covers in case things get loud. “Okay,” she says once as Haneyl begins to scowl. “Now you can start.”
“Are you the new one?” Haneyl says, burning bright as she pulls a mat of woven roots out of the ground, using it as a towel. “You’re very rude! This is my place and you didn’t ask!”
Vali focusses on his big sister. “You can’t tell me where to go,” he says flatly.
“I most certainly can! This is my place and my bath and my tree and my land and this place is mine,” Haneyl snaps, her towel charring and blackening. She advances into the water, quenching it before she can ignite it, but only adding to the steam in the area.
“I go where I want,” Vali counters.
“Well... you can’t! Especially when I’m having a bath with mama!” Haneyl straightens up. “It’s girl stuff,” she says, deploying the mystical words of Rathan-banishing.
“Haneyl, Vali...” Keris groans, dropping her face into her hands. “First meeting and they’re already fighting,” she mutters to herself. Then raises her voice to address them again. “Is it so hard to ask before visiting, Vali? That’s not telling you where to go, it’s just asking you to be nice. And Haneyl...” She eyes the way Haneyl’s hair is flaring. “... please don’t set your brother on fire. Especially when you’ve only just met him.”
“And another thing!” Haneyl says, raising her voice. “Sasimana is my mother! She’s mine. You might be my full brother just like Echo and Calesco are full sisters, but that doesn’t mean you can take her! She’s mine, not yours!”
Vali looks to Keris, confused.
Keris sits down on the edge of the bath. “In the world outside this place,” she explains, “I do a lot of things. And some of them I do with a very clever and very pretty lady called Sasimana, who I love very much. I love her so much that when you - and Haneyl before you - formed as my souls and my children, a little bit of her went into you as well. The way you look, and how you look like Haneyl more than you do Rathan or Echo or Calesco? That’s because both of you are born from me and Sasimana. I’m your mother, but so is she, sort of.”
She eyes Haneyl, who is fuming. “Haneyl likes her a lot, and sometimes she writes letters to Sasi and Sasi writes letters back. Would you be interested in doing that?”
“Mama!” Haneyl flares, in utter betrayal.
Vali shrugs. “As long as I don’t have to, sure,” he says simply. “How do you write?”
Keris squeezes Haneyl’s hand, hoping that her daughter will hold off exploding until Keris can talk to her in private. She does give her a quiet wink and a smile to reassure her. “You can learn from me or Dulmea or one of your siblings,” she answers Vali, “or you can ask Haneyl nicely if she or one of her sziromkeruby would like to write down what you say. But if you want her help, it might be better to ask later.” She looks down meaningfully. “Like when she’s not having a bath.”
“Okay.” And then there’s a boom and a flash, and Keris can barely hear the patter of Vali’s feet running off as she blinks away tears.
Haneyl rubs her eyes. “He’s so rude!” she declares, blinking at Keris. “And he ruined my bath! And he left and he didn’t even say goodbye! What... what a little brat! I... I don’t accept we’re related! I refuse!”
Keris smiles a cunning smile. “Well,” she says. “Actually, I think you are. But you take after Sasi a lot. You’re very like her side of the family, you know that? Telling her some stories about you was what convinced her you were her daughter, way back when you first appeared. She said she recognised the way you think.” Haneyl beams, and Keris drops a kiss on her forehead and lowers her voice to a murmur.
“But,” she goes on, “I think Vali might take more after me when I was little, on the streets of Nexus. And that means that he probably mostly wants to talk to Sasi because you didn’t want him to, and after a few conversations he’ll go back to building basalt castles and doing boy things with Rathan. You don’t have to worry about him stealing her from you.” Keris throws in a grin. “Though maybe I have to worry about you stealing her from me, hmm? Do I have to challenge you to a tickle contest over her?”
Haneyl giggles and wars valiantly, but in the end is out-tickled by Keris and snuggles up to her.
She’s back down to smouldering again, her grey hair filled with embers. In fact, Keris thinks apart from the flare-up of anger at Vali and the shock of being woken up, Haneyl is looking less ash-y and more wood-y. Maybe being close to her tree is bringing her back more into balance. If so, she’ll probably be back to normal by the time she wakes up.
Although, Keris smiles, wearing embers in her hair like that is quite pretty. Keris will need to see if she can do that herself some day.
Five days across the Desert gives Keris plenty of time to split her time between her souls, Sasi - along with Aiko, who seems to consider her to be useful only as Pretty-Music Lady - and some light planning. A few sketches of the Isle of Gulls are joined Rounen’s notes when Sasi is handling her child, as Keris roughs out some ideas for expanding and defending the island, as well as some thoughts on where to start looking for more islands to make a coastal chain of harbours.
Such work doesn’t take up much of the week-long trip, though. For the most part, Keris plays with her souls and spends as much time with Sasi as she can, enjoying the well-deserved break from her duties.
Aiko has taken a great liking to Rounen on the trip, Keris notices with amusement. He combines three of her favourite things - flowers, fire and stories. Haneyl loudly proclaims that this indicates her half-sister has excellent taste. Rounen for his part would prefer if she stopped trying to nibble on his petals, but there’s usually someone there to distract her and Keris can patch him up when she gets a solid bite in.
But fortunately for him, five days end and they surface under the light of a mad green sun.
“Ooooh,” Aiko says, getting her first look at Ligier. She exhales a green jet of fire at the sky, to the surprise of everyone else on deck.
“Where to now, my lady?” the captain asks Keris.
Keris looks at Sasi sadly. “Will you be heading straight back out?” she asks.
Sasi frowns. “It depends on where you’re going,” she admits. “If you’re heading straight to the Conventicle, I’ll go with you just so I can check in with Unquestionable Lilunu and,” she sighs, “file some of the reports that have been building up.”
Keris nods. “I was planning to. I have a gift for the Shashalme, but I need to know where they are.” She turns. “Take us to our berth in the Conventicle, Neride. I’ll need to make a few enquiries there before heading out.”
“Well, then you can help me get changed and suitably relaxed for a meeting with respected Lilunu,” Sasi says, with a quiet smile. “We may not see much of each other after that, so we might as well say our goodbyes.”
Keris nods, rather more happily, and they retire as the Baisha sinks down under caustic waves again; this time for a rather shorter trip. The goodbyes are first enthusiastic, then heartfelt, then tender. By the time Sasi is dressing, they’re back to sad again.
“I’ll miss you,” Keris admits, sniffing. “I mean... I know I wasn’t around for most of Air and Water this year, so I can’t really talk. But I’ll miss you still.” She produces a few sealed envelopes with a watery smile; one rather thicker than the other. “Vali finally got Rathan to help him write a letter to you, so Haneyl wrote a longer one. Save them for the trip - I didn’t want to give them to you earlier in case they distracted us.”
Sasi makes a funny little choked noise. “I won’t be away that long,” she says, sounding awkward. She leans in, and gives Keris a full kiss, hugging her tight. “I’ll see you at Calibration, I promise. And... and thank you.” Her voice cracks. “I never thought I’d end up in a life with... with a shapeshifting dragon-daughter and two demons who say I’m their mother, but I think it’s a life I’m happy with. Even if it - and you - keep on surprising me.”
Keris... well, alright, Keris clings a little. It’s different when it’s Sasi being away from her, and not her being away from Sasi. And not a good different, either.
“You’d be bored with anyone who didn’t,” she manages, half-giggling and half-sniffing. “I’m the... I keep you interested.” She takes a deep breath. “Check up on my owlriders while you’re up there, okay? Make sure they’re doing alright. And... and tell Testolagh he still owes me for my help with them! I haven’t forgotten our deal, and neither should he.” She grimaces, trying to think of something else to say, but nothing comes. It is - much as she hates to admit it - time for Sasi to go.
Lilunu is waiting for them at the docks. She knows they’re coming. She favours a darker hue at the moment, hair jet black and oily.
“Princess Sasimana, Princess Keris,” she says, voice ringing like a bell. “Welcome to your home. How was Creation?”
Seeing her always captivates Keris just a little, and her spirits lift. “Creation was well, my lady,” she answers. “Our work progresses, and,” she grins proudly, “I have certain arts to share with you.”
Lilunu claps her hands together happily. “Oh, wonderful,” she says. “Please, do call upon me when you’re free. And Sasimana, you don’t visit enough. I normally only see you at Calibration. And who is this little one?”
Sasi nods. “Greetings, unquestionable one,” she says, inclining her head. “Respected Lilunu, this is Aiko, my daughter and the child of Prince Testolagh.”
“What a precious little thing,” Lilunu observes. “When you call on me, I may have a gift for her.”
“You are too kind,” Sasi says quietly. “With your permission, I will return to my townhouse and settle her in, and we can get my yearly reports on the status of the South West - and the conduct of Prince Deveh - seen to.”
Lilunu sighs. “I suppose we must. Keris, dear, please don’t delay. I’ll need some light-hearted art after this.”
“I won’t, my lady,” Keris promises. “I do have a small gift for the Shashalme first, though, to thank them for some aid that has helped me in the Southwest. Do you know where their garden is at the moment?”
Lilunu purses her lips. “Not off the top of my head,” she confesses. “I shall have a message sent to your townhouse as soon as possible, though. Before the next scream, certainly.”
Keris heads back to her townhouse, reviews the reports from her aide, and not too long later she gets a message reporting that at present, the garden of the Shashalme is within their greater self three levels outward from here.
She elects to take the Baisha there, at least in part because it’s a short trip and will keep the nature of her gift more secret if she doesn’t have to escort it across three layers of the Demon City. Kimbery’s tributaries run all through Malfeas; there should be one fairly close by.
((Okay, Cog + Travel to navigate your way there.))
((... can I have Neride do it? Does she have a bigger pool? Wait, no. Hah. I still have a Principle towards the Shashalme - they’re Beloved. Mwaa haa!
3+0+2 stunt+5 MBD autosux=5. And holy shit, 5 sux on 5 dice wtf. 5+5=10 sux, yeesh. Keris proving she can captain like a boss when she chooses to, I suppose.))
Keris, for once, takes the metaphorical wheel as they sail. Not the literal wheel, because she employs her Helmsman for a reason and the reason is that he’s damn good at his job, but in the darkness between layers where Kimbery’s waters lie, Keris lets the thread of appreciation and gratitude guide her way to the Unquestionable.
Keris is glad she took charge this. This is no normal river. The first thing she finds is the current, which grows stronger and stronger as she closes in. Then there’s the grey roots sticking down, which thin the passage - and snap at her ship, scraping against the outside of the hull.
It’s like Haneyl’s swamp, Keris realises. Only much worse. Much, much worse. Haneyl’s swamp is the tiny baby version of this, and is moderated by the fire and the burns that stop it getting too gnarled and old and hungry.
But down here, in the darkness below the All-Hunger Blossom, her ship and its contents are the only thing that isn’t Metagaos.
And down here, the currents are because Metagaos is drinking Kimbery up.
Keris casts the runes as an augury for where she will surface. She frowns. Perhaps a few miles from her destination, she thinks. She’s going to need to go cross-country to find her destination.
She nods casually at a rather impressed-looking Neride and orders the Baisha to wait at a safe distance from the swamp. And also that no crew whatsoever is to follow her or even venture up on deck this close to the maw of Metagaos.
That done, she sends a Messenger to the Shashalme asking permission to visit with a gift for them, and goes to find the raksha. If she’s lucky, it will be too drugged or drunk to really ask questions about where she’s taking it. If she’s unlucky... well, she’ll have to do some tedious explaining about where they’re going. And possibly stop it screaming and running away, if it recognises where they are.
It turns out to be so utterly sloshed on chalcanth that it wouldn’t know Firesday from the Second Great Contagion. Keris rolls her eyes, hoists it up in a bridal carry behind her, and hops off the side of the Baisha to make her way in. She keeps her Lance humming in potential between her fingers. She may be visiting the Shashalme with a gift for it, but she’s still wary around a place of Metagaos such as this.
Wariness, in this case, includes “not being stupid enough to go through the Swamp itself”. No, Keris takes the high road, donning her armour and running up as far as possible. With her feet safely enclosed in demon-silver, she dances on tiptoe across the highest parts of the foliage, keeping the raksha at head-height and well away from the jungle below.
Keris darts across toothed leaves and avoids the fungal spore clouds. She’s never been into the All-Hunger Blossom again. In some ways, it’s a lot like Haneyl’s swamp. In other ways, it isn’t. There isn’t green fire. There isn’t open water, not in the same way. The trees are fleshier and toothier and altogether more powerful. The light of Ligier overhead is pale, and almost grey when it’s passed through the canopy.
And then there’s the silence. The silence is scary, because her own noise is muted. Metagaos doesn’t seem to care about the Silent Wind. Perhaps he just eats the sound here. She’s very glad when she finds the place of gold and bright fruit and song and music in amidst this terrifying grey jungle that wants to eat her up and which tries to snap at her as she passes.
Shaking a little - and asking Dulmea to play louder in her mind to make up for the silence around her - Keris waits until she’s some way into the garden before descending to ground level, and then spends a little more time leaning against a tree and shivering. Adorjan, she thinks, is not the only frightening All-Maker.
She’d really rather not meet this one in person.
Once she’s finished shaking - and after summoning her Lance to hold as a security blanket for a little while - she peels her armour off, puts her weapons away and proceeds to the centre of the garden.
Upon a great tower of gold and gems and jewels and other valuable things sits the Shashalme. She’s wearing her female form at the moment, and her scarlet skin is cherry-red at the moment. In one of her many hands, she holds a haunch of raw meat, which she idly tears into.
And all around her, her cultists sing adoring praises, even as the hunger of the forest consumes them and they transform into trees and flies and other such things.
Keris winces, and considers that perhaps this might not have been the best time to approach. Still...
“My lady?” she ventures, tentatively.
The demon princess focusses on her, rising and shedding bones and gems and jewelry from her rough tower as she descends. “Ah. Keris,” she breathes. “So you come to see me in the heart of my greater self.” She smiles so widely, showing blood-smeared palewood teeth. “Very few do that. Do you wonder why, Keris Dulmeadokht?”
“I...” Keris gulps, wondering if the reason is maybe because most people are rather smarter than she is. “Fear, my lady? A-and a lack of... of gratitude?”
“Fear is a form of worship in its own way,” the Shashalme breathes, its scent bloody. “I like its taste. So, Keris. What makes you willing to brave my heart and interrupt my gifting of cultists to my dear brothers and sisters - and my greater self, that exists so that I may live.” She leans in, and Keris feels an awkward frisson of arousal at the smell of the blood “What do you want? Or perhaps, what are you going to give me?”
No, Keris decides, stomach churning. It’s not exactly arousal. It’s more like... a hunger. A hunger for everything, so vast that things around her feel her hunger. But Keris ate before she went here and is already missing Sasi, so the hunger of Metagaos is trying to make her think of certain things.
“I have a gift for you, my lady,” she breathes. She can feel her cheeks flushing and her pupils blowing wide. “A... a gift from Creation to... to thank you for all you’ve given me.” Her hair comes around, bringing the raksha out from behind her, and she feels a pang of uncertainty. All of a sudden it looks very weak and pathetic next to the Shashalme. Hardly a worthy gift at all. “I hope it satisfies you,” she whispers.
The Shashalme beams at her. “A little prince of chaos?” she exhales. “How wonderfully delicious. And one as powerful as a demon lord, in its own way? What a - aha - princely gift, Keris.” The demon princess looks almost coquettish, looking at Keris over her eyelashes. “I remember when there were so many chaos princes that we could just ignore them,” she says, reaching out to brush the drunken, drugged fae with her finger. “Now, there are such... scarce pickings.”
Keris sees the maggots spill from the Shashalme’s fingers, worming their way into the raksha’s face and closing the entry holes behind them.
“You must adore me greatly,” the Shashalme breathes, voice hot and wet and bloody. “Such a good little princess.”
“... my lady,” Keris whispers. It seems the safest option, and is honestly all she can bring to mind at the moment. “I... I’m glad you’re pleased.”
“Would you like servants, little Keris?” the red-skinned woman breathes, her long fingernails kicking together. “Perhaps a thousand men and demons, loyal only to you. Such loyalty from you well-behoves you, so I should give you loyalty.”
((Offering Followers 4))
((Yikes, going straight for a 5-dot Principle. Hmm. Okay, asking for high Resources art supplies and so on that sum to Artifact 1, since I think Resources is an exception to the 1:1 Background exchange of the Shashalme’s deals because of how it just creates money all the time.))
“I have servants enough at the moment, my lady,” Keris says hastily. She knows what a gift of that magnitude would plant within her. “But not finery like the things that grace your your garden. I’ve learned new arts since we last spoke, and I want to practice them. Perhaps cloth and gems for me to make wonders from?” She looks up from under her lashes, shyly. “I would be very grateful.”
“But that’s so dull,” the Shashalme says, pouting, with a tone that sounds remarkably like Haneyl being offered a present she considers inadequate. “No, no.” She snaps two pairs of fingers together. “I know! There is just a darling fortress-manse on the edge of the City, beside the wall and right next to Cecelyne. It’s even one of my self’s manses. Surely if you are frequently going to transit between Malfeas and the world of the rebels, a fortified citadel for you to hold right at the edge of Cecelyne would be the perfect thing for you!”
((Offering a Manse 3 Fortress Manse))
((Argh, walking the thin line between not offending her and not getting too deep, argh, argh. Remind me to send them gifts by mail in future. Though, urgh. That’ll probably just result in Keris getting summoned for a meeting.))
“Truly, my lady, the means to make beauty is all I want for the moment,” Keris says, trying to think of what might distract Haneyl in a hungry mood from... well, the best analogy is probably ‘a really tasty meal’, which is not a very reassuring concept.
Is it too much to hope for another Unquestionable declaring war, she wonders?
“Oh, of course! Why didn’t you say, little Keris?” the red-skinned demon-woman says, suddenly happy. “I would be just heart-broken to give them away, but to one so adoring and wonderful as you, I can make an exception. I have a set of brushes which belonged to a Chosen of the Sun before they were all murdered. There is one for each metal of the traitor gods and one for the elements of vile Gaia. I’ve never used them, but I have heard they’re quite fine. One can use them to paint in the substances or concepts linked to the brush.”
((Offering a set of twelve fine High First Age Brushes, rated at Artifact 2 for the collection))
That, Keris perks up at. “Those... those sound wonderful,” she says eagerly. “May I see them?”
The Shashalme spreads her arms wide. “Of course,” she says, all smiles. “Care for some food while I hunt them down?”
“I’m afraid I ate after entering the City,” Keris says with regret that’s actually fairly genuine. The food on the Shashalme’s table may contain seeds of obligation, but it also smells divine.
... well, maybe not ‘divine’. But really good, for certain.
“Perhaps I should try to learn more secrets of the All-Hunger Blossom,” she adds, smiling. “Then I wouldn’t miss out on feasts from being so full.”
“Entirely advisable,” smiles the sharp-toothed demon princess, who vanishes off somewhere into her horde.
They’re wearing their male face when he returns, a dark-skinned man dripping with gold jewels and bearing a finely crafted orichalcum box. “I apologise sincerely for the delay,” the Shashalme says. “I had not thought of these brushes in so very long, since a Dragonblooded offered them to me... oh, well over a thousand years ago.”
Keris whistles, low and awed, as she accepts the box. “A thousand years,” she whispers, running reverent fingers over the golden surface, and her face takes on a hungry cast as she opens it.
The next twenty seconds or so are filled with happy, gleeful whimpering as she examines each brush in turn. They are exquisite. Keris can’t wait to put them to a canvas.
“My lord,” she beams. “You are generous beyond measure. I thank you for your gift, and I’ll be sure to paint you something with them.”
“I look forward to it,” the demon says, smiling. He kneels down beside the raksha. “Now,” he sings to it, “tell me what you want and I’ll give you everything. Everything, little chaos prince. I’ll give you everything indeed.”
Keris decides now is the time to leave.