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All things must pass in time, and Calibration is one of them. Keris heads home after a little diversion with Sasi, back to her waiting children - who have been joined by Zanara. It turns out that in human form, Zanara’s male form is a little reddish-blond boy who looks quite a bit like Rathan - though less pretty - while their female form is even more notably of the Realm, with mid-length red hair and bright green eyes.

She knows the exact moment of midnight in Creation. With a silent sigh, Echo’s human form decoheres, skin peeling away to reveal only ribbons and light underneath.

With a shrug, Echo indicates that it was fun while it lasted.

The changes with the other children are less dramatic, but no less present. Haneyl’s hair shifts, becoming more gnarled and the embers igniting in it, while her teeth become slightly more prominent and her eyes glow from within. Rathan’s eyes gain their pearly shine and his horns grow slightly, coating over with ice. Zanara, who is currently female, lets out an extravagant sigh and gleefully watches her hair turn back into a splattered orange and pink.

“I was so bored like that,” she drawls.

But Keris enjoyed these past few days of Calibration. They were... productive. With Sasi’s words in mind, she’s made sure to talk to the other two Unquestionable positively inclined to her; quietly reminding Jacinct and the Shashalme of the things she’s done for them in polite and respectful conversation. She’s not sure she can count on them to back her against the Blue Glass Maiden should her secret come out, but she can certainly make sure they consider her trustworthy and entertaining. Every little helps.

There aren’t many of her fellow Green Sun Princes that Keris knows well - and with her pregnancy as far along as it is she can’t really risk sparring or drinking with Naan, who rivals her in deadliness and constitution - but she trades nods with the ones she recognises and has a short conversation with Geasa that largely consists of ranting about Dead Exalts and how they should stay in the grave where they belong.

She also mingles with lesser demons. Berengiere accepts some stockpiled and hoarded silverwork in return for another batch of voice-ribbons and a rewoven set of gloves - though Keris is careful not to have Echo model for them in person. She spends more time with Asarin as well; and by the end of Calibration she thinks they’re approaching a real friendship. The demoness’s acerbic temper and sharp wit make Keris laugh, and Asarin seems to value her opinion and taste - as well as a sympathetic ear to tales of her love life, and the demon prince Balanodo who Keris has yet to meet.

Lelabet comes back for another visit, too. Either by chance or design, she picks the next night that Sasi spends with Testolagh. It’s a less cerebral connection than with Asarin, but Keris is just as pleased to make it. Up close and without her veiling half-mask, Keris sees the disfiguring burn scars that cover the left side of Lelabet’s face - and down her left arm and as far as her hip. She flinches slightly as Keris takes in the pink scars against her dark skin.

“What happened?” Keris murmurs; soft and soothing, ready to back off if the demon doesn’t want to talk about it. “Can they not be healed?”

“It was an Immaculate monk, wielding one of their legendary spears,” Lelabet says tersely. “And nothing has worked so far. The fire just burns me again.”

Keris hums sympathetically, listening closely and curiously to the sound of the scars. She wonders if anyone has put the powers of a Green Sun Prince to the task, or if offering would only offend her further. Deep within the scars, she can hear the sound of glowing, hidden embers. No wonder they can’t be fixed by anything Lelabet has tried so far. Whatever the Dragonblood did to her, her flesh still burns from within - and more than her flesh, her demonic essence too. Keris kisses the scars and allows the subject to change back to a more enjoyable one, though her mind lingers thoughtfully on the wound until thought flees entirely.

((Hmm. That would probably be, like... a complex Working to heal? Possibly one involving the spear in question? Not Countermagicable, or it would already be gone. You’d have to, heh, draw the embers out. Ouch.))
((Yes, it’s not a sorcerous thing.))

Calesco gives Keris a very judging look that night when she visits her daughter in her dreams.

“What?” Keris protests, taking the opportunity to turn her daughter this way and that, examining her new height closely. She is, Keris is extremely satisfied to see, still shorter than her mother. “What have I done this time to anger you?”

Calesco continues to judge her in the gloom of the Meadows. “So you went and found someone else because Sasimana is with Testolagh tonight,” she says critically.

“... I’d actually say she found me,” says Keris, refusing to rise to the barb. “And yes; she’s friendly and I wanted company. Who does that hurt?”

“You did it because you were bitter that Sasimana has two lovers,” Calesco says sharply.

“I did it because she’s flirty and hot and interested,” Keris argues back. “I’m not- okay, I am a little bitter. But I don’t love her like I do Sasi, and I don’t see why I should just passively wait for her to come back to me and never touch anyone else.” She sighs. “Must we argue about this? I would have thought you’d be sympathetic to that wound of hers.”

“She’s a demon lord. I don’t assume that she deserves my sympathy,” Calesco says, folding her arms. “You slept with her because you want to make Sasi jealous, at least in part.”

“Well, maybe I shouldn’t tell Sasi about it. Then she won’t be jealous and all is fine; happy?” Keris retorts, beginning to scowl.

“You did it just for pleasure,” Calesco says softly. “There should be love.”

Keris considers that, stops scowling, and sighs.

“Love... love is rare, and precious, and painful,” she says sadly. “I think it’s okay just to do things that don’t mean very much but which make you happy. Love is special, and it makes things better, and a life without it is awful. But not everything need spring from it.”

She pulls Calesco into a hug. “I really need to have a talk with the... well, with four of you. Not Vali or Zanara. But I don’t want Rathan and Haneyl deciding to try resolving fights the way Ululaya and Ligier used to.”

“You don’t question why I know these things already and I know everything you did with Lelabet, even though you’ve been very careful to run around after Rathan and keep him away from neomah,” Calesco says, voice soft. “Why? Do you care more about him?”

“No,” says Keris, equally quiet. “But I’m worried about him abusing his looks and taking advantage of lesser beings. I know you wouldn’t do that. And I know it’s in your nature to know things about me, because you’re truth, more than any of your siblings. You know things ab-”

She stops abruptly. “Wait, hold on. Everything I did with Lelabet? Not just that I did things in general, not just how I listened to her scar, but... details?” Her cheeks feel hotter than usual for the Meadows, and she realises with a wince that she’s blushing; her previous poise lost in the face of sudden awkwardness.

((o keris))
((u were thinking this was just neutral information to critique you on plucked out of your brain - a synopsis, rather than a play-by-play))

Under her veil, Calesco has a faint blush on her cheeks. She covers it up with cruelty. “Yes, mother,” she says sharply. “You were the one who made me associated with such things, so I know about them. Even when I don’t want to? Does that make you happy? Does it make you feel excited?

“No! Argh! Stop talking about it!” Keris covers her ears, which is still habit despite the fact that her hearing makes it next to useless in actually blocking out sound. “I didn’t exactly carve you out of silver; it wasn’t my choice to make that knowledge part of you!” Another thought occurs to her, and she cringes further. “Wait, does that mean that my time with Sasi... no, no, don’t answer that. Do not answer that. Do not answer anything near that. Argh.”

((Calesco used AWKWARDNESS.))
((It was super-effective.))

“You love Sasi,” Calesco says, more gently. “Everything you do is just an expression of love. I don’t mind that. It’s sweet. And Sasimana was so gentle with Haneyl. I think she loves her already. She reminds her of the family she lost. But you didn’t love Lelabet - and you were doing it because you were angry at Sasi. And I don’t understand why you... you’d do something you normally do because of love because you were angry at the person you love.” She hunches in on herself. “It made me feel bad.”

Keris cringes more at the implied confirmation, and decides to have an in-depth talk with Sasi before sleeping with her again. Dulmea is one thing, and she tends to turn her attention away to other things. Calesco getting a front-row seat is another.

“I’ll...” she starts to promise, and then considers that an absolute promise of this nature would make things very frustrating during the months that she’ll be apart from Sasi for work. “I’m sorry I upset you,” she says instead. “And I’ll try not to do the... the angry and jealous part again. I won’t say that I won’t take lovers I’m not deeply in love with, but... I’ll try to be sure that there’s actual affection and friendship there. Something more than just physical. And... yeah, and now I’m going to, uh, run away, because this conversation is awkward to the point of torture.”

She stops again, then grabs Calesco’s hand and meets her eyes through the veil. “Also, Echo must never know,” she says firmly and with muted horror at the visions of teasing and satire dancing silently through her mind. “Ever.”

“She’ll listen. She’s always behind you,” Calesco says, hugging back. “I’m sorry. I... I don’t understand what I know. And I don’t get all your feelings.” She pauses. “Also, I don’t see everything normally,” she admits. “I snuck into the tower because I wanted to understand more about what you were doing, and Dulmea is still distracted.”

“She’s always annoying, more like,” Keris mutters at a tone that Calesco is technically not meant to hear, but does anyway. “Please don’t do that again, then. But thank you for telling me that. Are you well? I saw your wings were bigger during Calibration - a lot bigger. Your light is under control now? You’re not hurt from what happened?” There’s a mixture of relief and concern in her voice - the former for moving away from the topic, the latter for Calesco’s wellbeing.

“My body changed,” Calesco says, cloth rustling as she shifts. “A lot. It hurt. At... at least I used to look more human before, but now I can’t even pretend to be a bird-woman. Growing up just means pain and misery.”

“Oh, Calesco...” Keris hugs her again. “Do you want to show me?” She covers her eyes in demonstration, motioning at cave and the boulder.

“It’s ugly,” her daughter says miserably. “I’m uglier. More painful. I’ve tried to help the people who saw me and I just hurt them even more.”

“You’re not ugly,” Keris insists fiercely. “Show me, and I’ll show that to you. You’re not ugly, Calesco, and you never have been. You just... you see the truth. A truth that would break other people, and you’re the only one who can stand its glare. It doesn’t make you ugly, that it reflects off you. It makes you strong - and brave, to protect them from it.”

“If you want to suffer, then you’re just going to insist,” Calesco says, leading her to her cave and sealing the rock behind her.

Standing on one side, Calesco exhales, peeling away her veil. But instead of the light shining through before, her shadow-garb simply is destroyed by the light escaping.

Agony smashes into Keris, hitting her like ten thousand knives.

She doesn’t scream - less because of fortitude and more because the breath is smashed out of her. The fact that she falls over backwards actually helps - it means that Calesco is out of her sightline, which reduces the pain just long enough for her to shut her eyes.

Which... doesn’t actually make the pain go away.

That’s new. And not very promising. But it reduces it to bearable levels, even though it somehow penetrates easily past skin that could turn back a knifeblade to flense at something ephemeral within. Gathering herself, Keris listens to the renewed and bolstered song of Calesco’s power.

Calesco is bigger. Much bigger. She’s still smaller than dragon-Haneyl or Vali, but each of her wings is now larger than her entire body. Moreover, Keris can hear the hundreds of eyes on her wings and body blinking.

It’s hard to tell through the pain, but Calesco is... it’s hard to tell how old she is, actually. She’s certainly smaller than the others, but that’s just because she’s built more like Keris. In among her giant wings, Calesco is slender and petite and her limbs - including her bird-like legs - are now covered in feathers.

“Even you’re screaming,” she says sadly.

Keris grits her teeth, and stands. Keeping her eyes shut, she walks determinedly forward, ducking under a wing as Calesco tries to shield herself to avoid the silk-soft, razor-edged feathers, and sets her hands on Calesco’s shoulders.

“A fire can warm you when you’re cold, cook your food, forge your tools, light your way,” she says hoarsely. “It will burn you if you touch it, but it’s good. A river can water your plants, feed you with fish, carry your boats, power your mills. It’ll drown you if you fall in, but it’s good. A knife can keep you safe, cut your meat, whittle pretty things, cut your bonds. It’ll cut you if you touch it, but it’s good, Calesco; you are good. Things that hurt aren’t always bad. Things that don’t aren’t always good. Fire and rivers and knives are beautiful, and so are you. It’s only when they’re misused that they turn ugly, and you would never do that. You’re too careful - too caring - to let that happen.”

Gently; carefully, she draws this Calesco - this unveiled Calesco whose wings half-curl around them, filling the cave’s space; whose eyes watch her from a hundred different angles, who flinches and curls away from her approach as though she’s scared to be touched - into a hug, and kisses her forehead fondly. The pain is a deep, sharp thing that doesn’t build but doesn’t fade, and Keris isn’t sure how long she can force it away for, but she forces herself to hold on at least until Calesco starts to soften in her arms.

“You made me like this,” Calesco whispers, almost kindly. “I don’t get to run around like they do. I can’t touch the world. I have to keep lies between me and everything. Echo exists to kill people, but I hurt people more despite that. I hate you sometimes.”

Keris flinches. Hard. A few tears trickle down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, choking a little. “I’m... I’m so...”

“I told you you’d be hurt,” Calesco says, with that same kind cruelty in her voice. “Haneyl is my sister, remember? When she goes to one extreme, she doesn’t just change form. You made me let go of my lies, and that means I like hurting you. It’s not just my light that pains you.”

“Enough,” Keris whispers. “Enough. Put it back. I just...”

She feels the cutting pain fade, and sighs in relief, sagging a little as the body in her arms becomes small and fragile again.

“... I hate you thinking yourself ugly,” she admits. “I hate you sitting here and hating yourself. I want you to be happy. And you are beautiful, Calesco. I promise you that. Even if your light hurts, it’s reflecting a world that’s ugly. Not you.”

Calesco sighs. “When we’re back in Creation, I want to spend some time outside,” she says. “Not here. Not in Hell. But... maybe there’s things I can see away from everyone else. Including you.”

Keris nods tiredly. She still has a lot to do - checking on Vali, her Sorcery work now that Calibration is over, and perhaps introducing her souls to Ligier. Surprisingly, Calesco accompanies Keris to look for Vali. “There’s only the two of us here right now,” she says. “It’s quiet. And this way I can spend time with him without Rathan showing up,” she adds with disgust.

“He probably wouldn’t be so paranoid that if you hadn’t forced him to wear a dress so many times, you know,” Keris chuckles, but happily lets Calesco come along. “Last I saw, Vali was in a mountain-statue. Let’s see if it’s exploded yet.” It has, and Vali is easy to find. He’s working on one of his spires, carving things out of basalt magma. It looks like he’s making a giant dragon statue.

“Well,” Keris says approvingly, “this looks a lot better than turning everything into lava. Vali! Down here!” She has a call a couple of times for him to hear, and the metal beads in his dreadlocks glint in the light of a flash from the clouds as he spots them. Vali shrugs. He’s grown up, but he’s still younger than ten. His hair is filled with sparks, which fade as he stops working. His features aren’t too similar to Haneyl’s, but he’s somewhat her in how he glares. With a flash and a boom, he sprints down to meet Keris and his sister.

Ears,” groans Keris. “Argh. Hello, sweetheart. Dragons, then?”

Vali nods, the top of his head at about chin height for Keris. He’s going to be big, she can already tell, much like his sister. “Dragons are the best,” he says firmly.

“Okay,” she concedes, “but I bet you crashed hard when you ran out of energy, didn’t you? You can’t be a dragon all the time.”

“Not yet,” Vali insists. “But I’m still littler than both of you! I’ll get to be a dragon all the time and everything will be amazing.”

“... maybe,” Keris says, meaning ‘I hope not’. “But until then, how about we try to find things you have just as much fun doing in a human form, so that you’re not bored while you wait? If she wanted...” she adds with a quick glance sideways, “you could maybe ask Calesco to take you flying, say.”

Vali beams. “Flying as a dragon was brilliant! I like it! Oh! Oh! Maybe I can make my dragon flying work when I’m stuck as a human!”

“Well, at the moment Calesco is the only one who can fly properly,” Keris says firmly. “So you should ask her nicely, because it’s her choice whether to help you with it, right?”

“... well, I guess,” Vali says. He beams at Calesco. “Once I’ve finished making dragon statues to stare back at Echo’s skulls, the land should have finished making more towers! And then we can go explore them! And build things on them! And make better houses for people ‘cause I make better houses than the land!”

Calesco smiles faintly, but with some warmth to it. “I’d like that,” she say.

Vali grabs her by the hand, ignoring her attempt to flinch away. “And! You fly with wings! Well, I saw a bird box through mama’s eyes! It’s like a house for birds to land in when they’re tired! So I’ll make you one on top of a spire, near one of my places where I sit so the lightning can hit me which is great!

With a crack and a boom, he dashes off, dragging Calesco in his wake as she’s tossed around by the wind. Wincing and covering her ears again - she really wishes Vali would stop doing that from right next to her - Keris blinks after them in bewilderment. Well, she thinks, that will... probably end positively? If not, Calesco can get away easily enough just by taking to the air. Good enough, she decides, and leaves them to it.

Keris has seen to her inner children, so now returns to the complicated process of presenting the children - including Zanara - to Lilunu now that she has more time. She’s mentioned wanting to talk to all of them. And after that, then comes coaxing Ligier. In their demonic guises, it’s harder to explain them away as once-angyalkae, but Lilunu’s knowledge and cooperation allows for covered palanquins and secret passages through the Conventicle. Listening with half an ear to little boy-Zanara earnestly asking if Lilunu knows how to paint beaches - and Keris gets the feeling that he means using beaches as a canvas, not depicting them on one - she gathers up her three eldest and reiterates her pleas, demands and mild threats to ensure good behaviour. The Crown Prince of Hell is not someone she can afford to offend, and much depends on a good first impression.

She does note that Haneyl is prominently wearing the bracelet he gave Keris for her, a year or more ago. Her Seventh Soul seems even more nervous than Keris herself.

“It’s a good thing that Vali and Calesco aren’t here,” Rathan whispers. “I hope she’s not being super-mean to him.”

“Last I saw of him, he was talking about making giant dragon statues to stare at Echo’s skulls,” she tells him truthfully. “And I don’t think she was planning on being mean. Now remember, Ligier is fiery, but he won’t hurt you as long as you’re polite - and you’re always polite. And he’s still at war with Ululaya, so he doesn’t like her very much either - though don’t insult her too badly; be respectful...”

“I know, mama,” he says patiently, patting her hand. “You don’t need to worry so much.”

Ligier is here in lavish style, dripping with emeralds and fine-scaled armour. He waits on a throne, Lilunu as his empress at his side. There’s an amused look on his face as Keris approaches, trailed by four ducklings.

Keris approaches, stops and bows. Her ducklings; three of them taller than she is, follow suit - though admittedly one of them has to get pulled down by the hair, and the smallest is distracted by the decorations in the room and thus a beat behind the others.

“Lord Ligier,” Keris begins. “Some time ago, I told you of my souls and their development. I tell you now of a new growth they have undergone; that has let them step beyond me. These are Echo, Rathan and Haneyl; my three eldest, and Zanara, my youngest. I hope that in your wisdom and magnanimity you will look kindly on them; young and inexperienced as they are.”

Behind her, she hears Haneyl and Rathan curtsey and bow in obviously-rehearsed union, with a chorused “greetings, Unquestionable Ones.” Out of the corner of her eye, she notes with some surprise that Echo also curtseyed, albeit silently.

((Per + Expression))
((Hahahaha plz dice fairies be kind plz. 3+5+1 Spirit-Charming Supplicant+2 stunt+3 I Love My Family+8 Kimmy ExD {beauty, charm}=22. Hah hah! 11 sux! Not bad!))
((Literally average.))

Ligier adjusts how he is sitting, leaning forwards. “Ah,” he says, a wide magnanimous smile on his face. “And this would be young Haneyl, would it not?” he says. There’s a faint squeak from Haneyl. “And I notice you are wearing the gift I gave you. It looks fetching on you, young lady - as does my flame. You’re quite the little court beauty, aren’t you?”

((And those twelve successes punch waaaaaaaaaay through Haneyl’s MDV.))
((Haha wow. Hmm. I’m guessing that was a paternal air, since Lilunu is literally sitting next to him?))

Haneyl squeaks, and wobbles, her pale cheeks flaming and her eyes wide. It’s only Keris’ sneaky hair that manages to catch her daughter’s sagging knees. She supports her daughter with a rueful smile, though her eyes narrow a little as she runs over the inflections on Ligier’s words. There’s certainly an admiring air there that might not be entirely innocent - but Keris can hear some vanity in there too. He’s certainly admiring her looks, but Keris also suspects that he’s mostly appreciating how his fire looks on her.

“Please, my lord,” she says with a disarming grin. “Too charming, and I fear my daughter might ignite.”

Haneyl makes a mortified little sound, and Keris can certainly see that the embers and fireblossoms in her hair are glowing brighter. She coughs quietly and shifts the topic to safer waters. “My lady, this is Zanara, my youngest - he greatly admires your artwork and had some questions about the finer points.” Zanara’s hand slips into hers and he nods, still looking around with wide, awed eyes.

Ligier’s eyes take in the mutated form of Zanara’s male body without any surprise or shock. “And how do you fare, young man?” he asks. Zanara tries to ask questions, but Rathan nudges him.

“I’m sorry for my brother’s presumption, Unquestionable One,” Ratha says very smoothly. “I am very honoured to meet you, and I wish to make it entirely clear that I share your dislike for the Blood-Red Moon. She is cruel, presumptuous, and not half as pretty as she thinks she is.”

((9 successes, and very well-done by Rathan there))

Ligier laughs, a cultured, elegant noise. “Quite the little charmer, isn’t he?” he says to Keris.

Keris smiles fondly. “Very,” she says proudly. “And this is Echo, my fifth soul. Please forgive her irreverence.” Conscious of Haneyl, she doesn’t explicitly mention Ligier’s past meeting of sorts with her eldest, though Echo waves at him in a cheerful way that Keris doesn’t quite catch, but which she suspects carries a glowing review of Wyldeater in its subtleties.

Ligier nods, slightly bemused. “I see,” he says, which only sparks Keris’ interest more.


“My lord...” Keris says hesitantly, “Honoured Lilunu may already have spoken to you of this, but I have concerns about the status of my souls in Hell - and those of any other Green Sun,” - she applies the slightest of stresses to the words - “Princes or Princesses who develop them, should they become public knowledge. Peer Sasimana has suggested that as aspects of us they be ranked as peers - as we are - but I fear the Blue Glass Maiden might argue otherwise, and wish to chain them under her laws.” She takes a breath, nervousness bubbling in her stomach. “I fear that to bind them might cripple us as servants of the Reclamation - and more, I fear that to bind them would cause them great pain and suffering, for they are my children and I love them dearly, and not all Unquestionable are so kind as you and your lady.”

Ligier leans forwards, settling his chin on his hands. “Speak clearly, little Keris,” he says, interest and amusement in his bright green eyes. “Why do you presume that your own souls should be elevated to a status above my own?” She gets the feeling he’s playing with her - but it doesn’t feel like that’s a good thing.

“N-not above,” she stutters, wishing that Sasi had been able to attend this meeting. “Your... your souls are of course older and stronger and more experienced; and you are Unquestionable besides. But I...” She wracks her brain for the points that Sasi made. What had they been? “I fear that if the Unquestionable were all able to bind the souls of the Princes - your Princes and Princesses of the Green Sun - that the negotiations of the Althing would break down as Unquestionable simply compelled our souls in whatever way suited their interests. To bind them would make our selves beholden even to those outside the Reclamation...”

She sneaks a glance at Ligier’s expression. He knows there’s more.

“... and I want them safe,” she admits, shrinking a little. “I know there are Unquestionable who hold little fondness for me. I do not fear for myself, but I would live in dread of what they might do to my souls and children. I couldn’t bear it if they were hurt, or suffered. It is not status I seek for them - merely a measure of protection while they are young.”

((Hmm. Okay, so appealing his pride in them being Green Sun Princes whose souls shouldn’t be able to be yanked around by other Unquestionable, a practical point about how the Althing works wrt Third Circle bickering - the setup suits him at the moment because he can offer the most for personal missions - and an emotional appeal that touches on both “Ululaya doesn’t like me ‘cause I sided with you” and “your ill girl waifu’s souls suffer and she’s really sad about that; I don’t want the same for mine”. Keris is of course being very honest, because she is not stupid enough to lie to fucking Ligier.))

Ligier smiles humorlessly. “But little Keris, are you ignoring that there are duties of a peer that are not asked of a citizen? Surely if your souls are to be peers, they would have duties and obligations to the Althing just as you yourself have?”

“As aspects of myself, they have already aided me in my work,” she offers. “Echo helps me when the time comes to kill, and the others have similar ways of support. I’m sure they will be eager to take part in my duties now that can step out into the world - for as parts of me, my duties are surely theirs also.” Keris is putting on a pretty good composure, but underneath she can feel herself trembling minutely, and her hair is knotting in painfully tight clumps here and there. If her souls have missions in Creation - missions of their own, without oversight, where she can’t protect them properly... the image of Lelabet’s terrible burns swims into her mind, and she has to forcibly stop her hands from shaking and compel her hair to straighten.

((Per + Pres to try to negotiate “my souls should be assigned as my assets”))
((This I can do better. 3+5+2 stunt+4 Never Be Chained Again+8 Kimmy ExD {thinks she is fair, brokering deals, elegant practicality}x2 HDT=22. 9x2=18 sux.))

Ligier looks over at Keris’ souls - Haneyl, blushing but with a fire in her eyes, Rathan in his most innocent and pleasing, Echo hard to see because of her lack of motion, and Zanara watching him with wide eyes.

“You push a hard bargain, little Keris,” Ligier says, shaking his head. “Suppose I would say that yes, I would support acknowledgement of the souls of you and your kind as... shall we say, ‘lesser peers’ while you remain ‘greater peers’, who are not entitled to some of the greater benefits of your rank but who are treated the same in the eyes of Hell. Well, this would no doubt take me great effort to push through against some of the more obstinate of my equals and lesser Third Circles. I am fond of you, little Keris, and your souls are charming, but this would be a major undertaking.” He leaves the sentence hanging for a moment.

“Well,” he says as Keris’s tension threatens to snap, “I do believe you’ve persuaded me. I will be exerting myself for you, so ill-gratitude would not be fitting.” That sentence, in contrast, slams down like a lead weight.

“Safeguarding my children, my lord,” Keris says with absolute sincerity, “is worth more to me than...” She gropes for a comparison and clearly comes up short, shaking her head helplessly. “I will be grateful until the end of my days, and loyal until the last.”

She lets herself, for a moment, cradle the idea of her souls being safe - or as safe as anything can be in Hell - with proper, genuine protection. Her eyes go misty with tears. “Thank you,” she whispers; the words clear in the perfect acoustics of the hall. “Thank you so much.”

((Well someone is getting a bunch of raksha as presents from Shuu Mua. : P))
((So basically now I have an excuse for her to go off all over the place doing things for Ligier without any major rewards for her. : p ))
((Yes, sigh. Oh, Keris. She’s just going to start a policy of grabbing most of the raksha she comes across and funnelling them to him. He will be very smug.))

Calibration has passed, and now the green sun princes are drifting off back to Creation. Sasi is already packing to depart - she’s heading back straight to An Teng after her holiday in the north, taking Aiko with her. Keris slips into her townhouse quietly; making enough noise as she approaches that Sasi can hear her coming. She holds up a lacquered box as her lover turns, giving it a gentle shake. The clinking of metal comes from within.

“Toys for Aiko,” she explains. “Her first birthday’s coming up, and I probably won’t be there, so... some simple vitriol-silver rattles and things that can survive her teeth, plus some clothes in the Tengese style.”

Sasi smiles at Keris. “That’s so thoughtful,” she says. “I only hope she only teethes once - the last thing I need is for to have multiple sets of teeth coming in.”

Keris chuckles, then reconsiders and winces. “Speaking of multiple sets of teeth...” she says, “With Calibration over, I need to get back to my sorcery project - and Orabilis will be watching me more closely. I need to decide what to do with my souls. Echo is basically going to have to go back into the Domain; she’s too energetic and impulsive to stay hidden for long, but you said that Haneyl would be welcome with you. She needs to learn about subtlety and how to work in Creation, and, well... with the Realm still in An Teng and Aiko coming up on a year old, it would be a good time for that sabbatical you mentioned a while ago.”

Sasi nods. “If she can stay at least a little subtle, I can look after her. On the other hand, if she can’t... well, I can always banish her back to you if things don’t work out or I get the Immaculates poking into my affairs too closely.” She smiles. “Are you going try to hand any of the others off to me? Or maybe Rathan to Testolagh?”

Keris grins. “Rathan, I think, can stay with me - at least until I finish my work. He’s lazy enough to stay in the townhouse where Orabilis won’t see him, and he’s getting interested in sorcerous theory. He’ll probably be happy to set up in my townhouse library and read everything there. And I may keep Zanara out long enough for them to talk to Lilunu a few times. She’ll like them. They can do art together.”

“Isn’t Lilunu working with you, though?” Sasi asks.

Keris shrugs. “We can probably find time for one afternoon of art before we dive back into the sorcery. And it means a lot to her that my souls are so happy and healthy - we Princesses might be able to use powers from different Yozis, but demons trying to do the same rarely ends well.”

Sasi squeezes Keris’ hand. “Just take care,” she says meaningfully. “Orabilis has eyes in many places.”

“I’ll treat only my townhouse as really safe, and I’ll take them back in if I get worried,” Keris promises. “You be safe - and take care of Haneyl. You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but your opinion means a lot to her. She’s fiery and confident when she feels safe, but she’s shy and fragile with you at the moment.” She smiles encouragingly. “That’ll pass once she gets used to you, I think.”

“We’ll see,” she says. “Well, I intend to leave in four scream’s time. Make sure she’s packed and ready to go - we’ll be going by agata-back over the Desert, so there’s limited luggage space. You’ll need to bind an agata for her and her possessions.” Keris gives her a hug and a lingering kiss before returning to her townhouse to tell Haneyl.

Haneyl’s expression shifts repeatedly in a short span after receiving the news, finally settling in a nervous cast. The fire in her eyes are dim. “I... I don’t know if I can do this,” she whispers softly to Keris, clinging to her. “H-how long will I be away? I won’t see you for weeks. M-maybe months. And I... I don’t know how to... I’ll be leaving my lands and they’re all burned and what if Rathan starts stealing them and...”

“Your lands are regrowing, and Elly and Saji are trustworthy,” Keris says firmly. “I will make a law that nobody can steal someone’s lands if that person is out of the Domain at the time. And... come here.” She gathers Haneyl into a proper hug - which is rather more awkward now that her daughter is taller than she is, but six hair-limbs make up for it. “It’s going to be okay. I promise. You’ll miss home and you’ll miss me, that’s normal - and I’ll miss you too, so much. But you’ll be with Sasi, and you’ll be learning so many things - things about the Realm and Dynasts and governing and being clever and sneaky and elegant.” She blinks back a few tears and lets Haneyl nuzzle into her shoulder, the floral-smoke scent of her hair surrounding them both. “You’ll... you’ll be so busy, and you’ll learn so much, and you’ll get to have time with Sasi like you’ve had with me. We can write - you can ask Sasi to send messages to Rounen, and I can send them back to you. And if it gets too bad, you can ask her to send you back all the way. Just give it a chance, okay? Because if you’re big and brave and brilliant, you use what you’ll learn with her to help me out in Creation, claiming islands and seizing land and all the other things you like.”

She plants a tender kiss on Haneyl’s forehead, then shifts to rest her own against it. “I will miss you so much,” she says again. “But Sasi deserves to spend time with you too - and you deserve to spend time with her. I know that she’ll love you. Be brilliant, and make me proud.”

Haneyl bursts into tears, shaking like a leaf. “I’ll... I’ll try my best, mama,” she whispers. “B-but... but I want... I want Elly with me, but she’s my best friend and I trust her to handle things.” She pauses. “And I can’t take Saji with me or else Elly will think I like her more than me. M-maybe I should make someone new, j-just so I have someone with me.”

Keris lets her cry, holding her close and whispering soothing things to her - compliments, reassurances, endearments. “Maybe you should,” she says. “Or make friends with Aiko, perhaps. You’ve been a very good big sister for Zanara. And yes, I’ll make sure Rathan doesn’t steal them either. Just remember, you can always come home if you really want to. If you do, we’ll both understand - I wanted to go home the first time I left mine. That’s normal.”

“Don’t you dare tell anyone I cried like this,” Haneyl mutters, wiping her eyes on her sleeves. “And... and what do I even take? I don’t know what to do. I’ll need to take everything with me because... because I can’t make things here in the same way as back home and I bet Creation’s the same.” Keris doesn’t mention that in her distress, Haneyl’s accent is slipping back to Nexan.

“Well, remember that Sasi will give you things to use,” Keris points out. Bribery always makes Haneyl happier. “So I suppose you should think of the things you use a lot and which you can’t really get replacements for, and pack those.”

“I s’pose,” Haneyl says, hugging. She swallows. “This... this is just like being a Dragonblood and going to secondary school,” she says more to herself than Keris. “I read about that in books. So it’s like finishing school. And the books say that if you drop out, you’re a failure who’s worthless. So I won’t drop out, even if I really want to.”

“It’s not quite...” Keris says, wishing that she had read some of those books and had a better idea what Haneyl was talking about. “... like I said, we’ll understand if you want to come back home. That won’t make you a failure. The important thing is that you learn a lot and enjoy yourself, okay?”

“Okay,” Haneyl says, untangling herself. “I’ll... I’ll go make a list and write down everything that I think I’ll need. Like my sword.”

“Good plan,” says Keris, and goes off to hunt down Echo.

((Roll 1 dice))
((Gulp. Fail.))

It turns out that Echo might have forgotten exactly what she promised to do vis a vis “not leaving the house”. Rathan says she was talking about finding sweets when Keris checks in on him and Zanara’s girl form is paying no attention to anything because she has her hands on some obsidian and is cutting away at it with her tongue sticking out, but they haven’t seen Echo in the kitchens.

((Oh goddammit.))

Swearing quietly, Keris makes a break for the door and hares off in search of her. Hopefully she’ll have remembered to have worn her mask, at least, and be taken as an eccentric sublimati. Taking a risk, she pauses before she leaves the ground and shouts to the surroundings in general.

“Echo! If you can hear me, get back here right now!”

Echo doesn’t come back when called, but Keris can hear a pattern of erosion leading out over the wall. Cursing further, she follows it at high speed. Echo’s path leads her out of Keris’ lands, and into one of the markets that serve the green sun princes. Keris remembers what Rathan said about how she was looking for sweets, and groans.

“Echo,” she mutters low enough to not be overheard by those nearby, “if I don’t see you within five seconds you are in so much trouble.” Closing her eyes, she listens for the aura of silence that Echo carries about herself; a hole in the soundscape of the market.

The pool of silence is audible - or, rather, the hole in the noise. Keris tracks Echo down to a street of merchants and sweet-sellers, and she watches her daughter, swaddled in ribbons that cover her wind-form entirely as she walks down the street.

And then Keris notices that Echo is filching things from all the tables, hiding them in a ribbon-bag on her back.

“Echo,” she says quietly, “you have enough. Back here, now. Follow me.”

Echo whirls, and waves at Keris happily. Just a little longer, she seems to indicate.

“No, now,” Keris growls. “Or you’ll draw attention here. Bad attention. Follow me.” Shadowing her steps is one of Echo’s favourite activities. Hopefully it’s enough to pull her away from the crowded marketplace. Echo trails after her sadly. Her sullen motions clearly indicate that mama is being a hypocrite ‘cause she takes things she wants all the time.

“Yes, and if you want them that badly I’ll take them for you,” Keris mutters, leading her away from the market, “and in Creation I wouldn’t complain, but here you can’t go out like this while we’re keeping you secret. Come on; back to the townhouse. And then I’ll send you - and your sweets - back to your friends in the Ruin, where you can run around as much as you like and not be bored by hiding anymore.”

Echo pulls a face under her ribbons. This is so unfair, her shoulders seem to indicate. No one suspects a demon wrapped in ribbons ‘cause ribbons are the best.

“Uh...” Keris says, “I... don’t think that’s quite right. But yes, Hell isn’t fair. That’s why I’m sending you home.”

But she likes being outside, Echo indicates with spread wide hands which still have stolen goods held in her ribbon gloves. Mama is taking all the fun out of everything, she indicates with a waggle of her head.

“You like being out here because there are things to steal,” Keris says flatly as they reach the edge of her lands and cross onto the grounds of the townhouse. She remembers what Testolagh said about being firm and setting limits. “You are literally holding stolen things right now, and maybe I am a spoilsport, but... come here...”

It takes a few grabs to get a hand on Echo so that she can drag the girl back to the townhouse, but with contact comes an instinct that Keris follows automatically. The ribbons and shawls Echo has draped herself in, as well as the ribbons and wind of her body, unwind and flow into her, and after a moment’s confusion Keris hears an annoyed footstomp from within her.

Hopefully, she thinks, nobody saw that.

“Stop complaining,” she says. “You have your sweets, and now you can run around as much as you like. If you’d been good and followed the rules, I would have let you stay out longer, but this is your punishment for breaking them.”

There is the sound of something breaking, possibly because someone silently cut away at its base. Echo is apparently having a tantrum.

“Echo...” Keris groans, pinching the bridge of her nose and going back inside. “Look, I will let you out in Malfeas when it’s safe and won’t get us all in trouble. Next Calibration, okay? And you can kill things in Creation with me. But if you’re going to sulk about this, then...”

Be firm, she repeats to herself. Be firm be firm be firm. Set limits.

“... then... then have it,” Keris manages. “It won’t change things. You broke the rules, so if you can’t be out here without being noticed, you can’t be out here at all.”

Ultimatum made, she tunes out of her inner world and goes to find Rathan and Zanara. Hopefully they, at least, will be easy to deal with. Maybe it worked. Keris hopes it did, at least. If there’s one thing that her interactions with Sasi and Testolagh have shown, it’s that Echo doesn’t respect her at all.

Rathan, at least, isn’t his sister. He’s just sitting quietly and happily, reading a book.

“Rathan,” she sighs, dropping into a seat next to him. “Echo is back in the Domain, and Haneyl is going with Sasi in four screams or so. Would you like to go back to the Sea, or stay in Malfeas while I work on Sorcery? If you stay out here, remember that you have to be secret and not leave the townhouse so Orabilis doesn’t notice you.”

Rathan frowns. “Is Testolagh going to be going soon?” he asks. “Because if Haneyl gets to go with someone, why shouldn’t I get to do something too? And he’s, like, the only man you know. And if I’m there, I’ll be sure to make him see that everything you do is fine and there’s no problems with anything you do. He doesn’t get to steal Sasi from you, I’ll make sure of it!”

“... I could ask him, if you wanted,” says Keris, blinking in mild surprise. “I sort of thought you might like to stay and learn things here; seeing how you’ve started reading your way through my library.” She grins.

Rathan shrugs. “It was just an idea I had. And Testolagh needs to be persuaded to be less Calesco-like.”

Do you want me to ask him?” Keris asks, honestly curious. She rather doubts Testolagh would agree, but...

Rathan shrugs. “It was just an idea.”

Deciding that this probably constitutes a ‘no’ - or at least an ‘I don’t care very much’ - Keris gives him a hug. “Well, I think I’d miss you a lot if you went off to the Northeast. Will you stay here with the books, or would you like to go back to the Sea and your friends there?”

Rathan considers his options. “The books, I guess,” he says. “It’s easier to stay out since I can ask you to go back any time, but I’m fine here. Plus, it gives me time for everyone else to clean up the mess made by the storm in the Sea.”

Keris mouth twitches up into a wry smile, contrasting the differences to Haneyl. “Yes, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be involved in that,” she murmurs. “It sounds like much too much hard work. Alright. I’m off to find Zanara, then.”

Her Tenth Soul, she knows, will probably need to go back into her soul - and probably stay in the City with Dulmea, now that Haneyl won’t be there. But she does want them to spend at least an afternoon with Lilunu before then; to introduce the two properly. They deserve to meet in a setting where Lilunu isn’t being an empress of Hell.

Zanara is working on the obsidian, making it into a tiny glass statue. She’s working away at it with what looks like some of Keris’ diamonds from an earring.

“Zanara, sweetie?” she says. “Did you like Lilunu, when we met her?”

Zanara tilts her head, looking away from the obsidian. “Uh huh,” she says, huffing her green-and-red hair out of her eyes. “She’s pretty and her art is gorgeous.”

“Well, would you like to meet her in her personal art rooms and talk some more?”

Her eyes gleam at that. “Yes! Yes! Did you see her dress? All those little things hooked together? That mantle! It was gorgeous!”

“I know, right?” Keris bounces eagerly. “You keep working on that statue - and maybe some other stuff to show her - and I’ll get us a meeting as soon as I can. And then you can go back to the Isles, or maybe the City. Haneyl is going off with Sasi to learn things, so Dulmea might be looking after you for a while.”

Zanara pulls a face. “But Dulmea has so many rules and gets so mad,” she whines. “I want Hanny back!”

“She’ll be back sooner than you think,” Keris soothes. “And I’ll be around more once my project is over. Think of some things to ask Lilunu, okay? And make sure you have pretty things to show her!”


Now that Calibration is over, it’s not much more than a scream before Lilunu’s schedule opens up and Keris can bring Zanara along to meet her properly. “I introduced you to my three eldest in person,” she says after she’s been welcomed in and they’ve retired to a private room, “but you only met my youngest at a distance, and I thought you might like to get to know them more. This is Zanara.”

Zanara shows absolutely no regard for protocol in a rather Ekoan way. “Hiya!” Zanara says happily to her. “Your art is super-pretty! How do you do it?”

Lilunu looks down at the little girl who’s staring up at her without a trace of shame. “It is,” she says, smiling. “What do you want to know?”

Zanara has lots and lots of questions.

“I think Zanara is the part of me that loves art,” Keris says quietly, after answers have been dispensed to most, if not all, of the babbled interrogation and Zanara is carefully working with a piercing kit that Lilunu has shown her. “Her human form at Calibration looks a little like you - I guess you inspire me.” She looks down with a faint blush, remembering a conversation similar to this with Sasi. While the other Green Sun Princess has Keris’s heart and Lilunu is more a mentor nowadays, she shares the Realm features, and sometimes Keris can’t help but be a bit distracted by her beauty.

“I, uh, thought you’d like to meet her. Or him, when they’re a him, but she seems to like doing art better.”

“It’s him-me is the art while me-me is the artist,” Zanara says brightly. “He-me is while I-me do.”

“Yes,” Keris nods after a moment sorting through the sentence. “That.”

“And Keris is both art and the artist,” she adds. “Like us-me. Keris has made herself into art from being worse stuff originally.” She tilts her head. “Except I think she’s also your art and not just ‘cause you have done stuff to her and made the best painting ever of her.”

“Yes, someone got ideas from that painting,” Keris smiles. “They keep one of their bodies as art while they use the other one.” She listens to Lilunu carefully, trying to judge her feelings. Her mentor seems captivated by Zanara. She’s just been staring at her after answering that flurry of questions, and she seems just on the edge of coming close enough to hug the little girl.

“So, Zanara got to ask you a lot of questions,” Keris says brightly. “Do you want to ask her any? I’m sure she’d be happy to answer them.”

“I have a few,” Lilunu says softly. “But-”

Zanara sidles up close and takes Lilunu’s hand, and Lilunu gasps. “You can ask me whatever,” she says. “But only if you give me ear piercings like you have! They’re amazing! What stone is that?”

Lilunu directs a glance at Keris, perhaps asking for permission.

Keris spreads her hands. “She gives himself horns, tattoos and eyes all down his arms on a daily basis. Ear piercings are pretty minor; feel free.”

“Well, then we can do that,” Lilunu says. “But I’ll have a lot of questions for you...”

Keris does keep an ear on the two of them as they work - and listens to the questions that Lilunu asks. She trusts her mentor with her child, give or take a few quirks of the demonic mindset, but she’s still quite willing to learn a few more things about her in doing so. It quickly becomes apparent that Lilunu adores Zanara. There’s no other term for it. She’s like how she is with Keris when they’re working together, except there’s more than that there. She’s gentle with her too. It’s nice to have that knowledge - and a few other sessions - when, three screams later, Haneyl sets off across the Desert with Sasi and Zanara returns to the Domain. The goodbyes are long and tearful, and even Rathan seems to be unsettled at the thought of Haneyl being gone. The two even share a hug, with mutual promises to stay safe and not declare war on each other while they’re gone.

Keris is doubtful about how long those will last, but she supposes anything is possible.

And then it’s back to work. Lilunu’s spirits seem buoyed, and Keris is grateful for the extensive note-taking she (well, Rounen) took before Calibration, because it means she can quite easily slip back into the flow now. Soon, she’s pretty sure, she’ll have a solid spell down - her test cases are getting more and more stable and successful.

It takes Keris a bit of time to get her head back in the game. She’s busy re-reading her notes and re-familiarising herself with things, but the workshops and assets and demonic aids that Orabilis leant her didn’t take a break and that means everything’s ready for her to resume when she feels like it.

Early Rising Air fades into the middle of the month, and by the last week Keris is mostly just tweaking and streamlining. She wants to be able to demonstrate this before the Althing, and so she needs to condense the long, finicky, delicate ritual down to something quicker and more portable, which doesn’t need as much equipment. Lilunu can’t help as much with this part, what with how she lacks knowledge of Sorcery, but the libraries of Orabilis have reams on the subject of spell efficiency. It’s boring and fiddly, but not as stressful as live testing. Rathan proves surprisingly interested in the details, and she lets him read the scrolls on theory as she puts them to use in her study.

Not everything goes right. Of course it doesn’t. Keris is left staring as one of her cultists volunteers dies horribly, the demon tearing out out of their body, where it then messily expires.

But things do indeed refine their way to mostly being safe. Keris thinks that whenever something goes wrong, it may well kill the subject. This won’t ever be a safe spell. Alas, she thinks, that probably won’t motivate the demon princes to be careful with it. But she can at least emphasise the risk factors on the basis of lessening waste. And it will mean that her Gales can live without the horrible emptiness inside.

((Roll Compassion))
((... Compassion 4. 1 sux. Dangit.))

Keris is feeling stressed and worried by this on top of everything else when she comes for the final presentation, showing the new spell to Orabilis - and a few other Unquestionable guests, including Lilunu. Orabilis is acting with a very ownerly manner, his adder-tongue licking the air - and before the demonstration, he’s very clear to Keris that everything needs to go right or he might take it personally.

((Okay, the casting roll is Cog + Occult. With this spell, failure kills the subject unless the occultist manages a reflexive Reaction + Occult roll so it just fails instead. It’s equal to the Enlightenment of the demon being used, +2. Roll it, and if you succeed, stunt the successful demonstration as you wish. Note that these mechanics are provisional and subject to change when I do a proper write-up of it))
((Gotcha. 3+5+2 stunt+3 Empyreal Alchemist+1 bonus Style sux+4 Kimmy ExSux {disturbing art, impossibly high standards}=13. 8+1+4=13 sux.))

Burying the stress and worry as best she can, Keris puts on her most professional face. Focusing on the alchemy helps, she finds - she can sink into the frame of mind she uses when working on brews and potions; not quite passionless but disconnected from the emotion a little, leaving her head clear to think.

Everything in this demonstration has to go right - and not just right, but perfectly; above and beyond what Orabilis expects. To that end, she’s picked a cultist personally; a woman who cast off her old name when she entered the service of the Yozis and who is strong in body and mind. Keris is exacting and careful as she boils down the perronele into a demonic brew and feeds it to her subject. As the jerks and spasms begin, she launches into a practiced speech to the onlookers, going through the genesis, construction, casting ritual and risks of the spell as her attention and ears stay locked on the woman’s body.

The transformation seems to be taking well - quicker and better than usual under Keris’s personal care, too. Keris is able to slow down a little when stressing the failure states of the spell and how best it should be used, and is just wrapping up with public thanks to Orabilis and Lilunu for providing backing and support when the demon finishes settling.

“If you will notice,” Keris says confidently, “the woman is now an akuma fused in symbiosis with the peronelle. Her akuma breed is a three-souled kind, with the two human souls now existing in harmony with the demon. Notice the way she is reflexively opening eyes on her skin. Notice the way that her skin is changing colour as it shifts from the armoured mode to something which emulates the human form. Respected unquestionable ones, the spell can take a human and turn them into an akuma who retains their capacity to pass as human and places the demon in their head as an aide and mentor - and means your servants will no longer be two-souled humans.”

There is polite applause.

“Ladies, gentlemen,” Orabilis says, “I sponsored this research because I saw a way to provide us with expendable akuma assets that - with sufficient numbers - may be able to counter the Immaculate dogs who harass our cults. The subject must desire it or will die - so this will allow us to enforce loyalty on mortal or once mortal servants within Creation, and once they are transformed, they are our creatures. I therefore offer knowledge of this as a gift to my allies and friends - and only them. All others fall under my domain if they learn it.”

And he smirks.

Keris grits her teeth, but makes no word of protest. If Orabilis wants to use this in his Unquestionable power games... well, it probably won’t make him any more likely to back her on her souls’ independence, but it should, hopefully, stop him forming a grudge when Ligier rules it so. It’ll associate her with him, but he’s one of the more powerful Unquestionable in Hell; having him think of her as smart and useful is no poor thing. And if he plans to use it to send akuma-servants to fight the Immaculates...

... well, she justifies, he was probably going to send those cultists to fight them anyway, and at least now they’re a little more able to fight back when the Wyld Hunt comes to kill them all. The justification rings a little hollow, but she has what she really needed out of the whole affair, and she’s ready to leave Malfeas and be shot of Unquestionable politics.

After the presentation, Orabilis invites her to one of his glass libraries. Sitting on a cold blue throne, he leans down towards her. “You have pleased me, Keris Dulmeadohkt,” he says. He folds his hands on his lap. “I believe you may count me as a friendly ear now. As my gift to you, you may take what you like from this library - but take only what you can carry.”