“Leave it to midgaardians to find endless alternatives to fish on top of bread approaches, there's more creative uses to cereals than there are to thigh bones”, leave it to Tahenohan to make analogies that certainly everyone will perfectly understand with zero guesswork and no room for misunderstandings.
“Well actually pasta isn't just from Midgaard... Don't you have it too in the West?”, Bryld wonders. You're not really sure about the actual origins of this dish, or pasta in general, you just know you're familiar with it.
“It's overcooked”, your father grumbles. Not that that stops him from eating.
“We're more about rice”, Tahenohan answers, “And flatbread, and pies, and piadines, or tortillas depends on how far West you go. We sometimes put cheese and fish on top of it and let them cook along with the bread”.
“Isn't that just pizza?”, Bryld wonders, confused, “And it's not overcooked, this is how pasta should be”.
“It's overcooked”, your father insists with a frown, “It should be soft but still feel solid under your teeth, this is almost glue”.
“It's how it's supposed to be”, Bryld insists, “Besides pasta is just a side dish”.
“You what? Are you serious?”.
“I don't think anyone outside of Verdenia eats pasta as a main dish”, Bryld sounds quite sure of herself.
“That's not true. For example, Aldebaran has a long tradition of proper linguine and-”.
“Now now, don't be too rough on my familiar”, Astreya intervenes with a smile, patting your hand, “The beauty of cooking is that it's different from one hearth to another, and I wouldn't have it any other way”.
That shuts your father up. Well, he keeps grumbling but you have no idea what he's saying under his breath. Meztli, of course, has not spoken a single word, but she does eat.
>”What are the creative uses of thigh bones?”.
>”Is everything to your liking?”.
>”What's so special about fish on top of bread?”.
Character and setting info: http://pastebin.com/u/MagicalPrincess
Collection of character descriptions (WIP, courtesy of anon): http://pastebin.com/pzYffs0R
"What are the creative uses of thigh bones?", you ask.
"I don't think that's-", Astreya tries to begin, but you know you can't stop the half-elven train once it's started. It literally has no brakes you can think of. You doubt even pulling her pointy ears would help. Actually, from what you've experienced with her, it might be even worse.
"Well thigh bones are tough, solid, of appreciable length and can support a lot of weight", she begins explaining, the glint of passion burning deeply in her eyes.
"I... Am not sure I want to know why we're talking about this", Bryld tries, but she too knows how half-elven trains have no drivers.
"And they're also easy to fuse with various joints, as their connector with the hip can be easily modeled to fit other sockets, although if you use them for upper limbs you need to be careful to properly reinforce the rest of the skeletal structure. There's some necromancers that just love top-heavy designs... Until one crumbles under its own weight. Hahaha. The rookiest of mistakes".
You blink once. "But... Why would you attach a thigh bone to a... Shoulder, I presume?", you ask, perhaps enraptured by this partially elven mood that you helped create.
“Ah”, she flashes that manic smile of hers, “ Well sometimes you do want or need stronger specimen, or have to compensate for missing parts with those of other people. You know, sometimes a short person's thigh bone is good for a large one's arm, and even if it's not it adapts so well to rituals and alchemical processes that ripping out thigh bones from a corpse is just too tempting to pass up”.
Bryld freezes, then puts her fork down and looks at her meal with the look of someone who lost her appetite. Your father is just facepalming. Meztli is as unfazed as she has ever been.
>”I'm sorry I asked”.
>”That's good to know, I guess”.
>”Do you actually rip corpses apart just like that?”.
>”Uh... Anyone else want something to eat?”.
>"So, how about these marshes? Lots of cool things here, no?"
Just to be absolutely sure: who is this question for?
"That is good to know. I guess". At least you sated your curiosity. Sometimes you forget you're in the sort of company where not everyone is used to going dungeon crawling with demonologists, flying around at hyper speeds at night and being in touch with a goddess of monsters and fertility. It happens, after all Bryld is the only "normal" of the bunch: Tahenohan clearly isn't, you can't really say you are either, and both your father and his partner look quite jaded to this kind of topic. Astreya, being a demonologist herself, must have seen quite her fair share of odd stuff too, you're sure of it.
"So, how do you find yourselves here?", you decide to go for a subject change, "I heard the Shadow Marches turn into veritable marshlands after the season change, is it true?".
"No one's been there long enough to be sure... Yet", Astreya notes, immediately grabbing the lifesaver you hand to the conversation, "But according to my knowledge of tropical climates and the reports we have from the past colonies, yes, when the rain season comes around all the water will make you sick".
"Yeah I guess you won't want to see much of it any more", your father agrees.
"No I mean literally sick", Astreya notes, "Diseases spread very quickly in humid climates, and everyone is more likely to catch them too. This is especially true if rainwater gets contaminated, which is easy when everything gets muddy and all sorts of bugs linger about".
Although she keeps silent, Meztli does nod sagely, expressing her quite visible agreement.
“That sounds bad. I haven't seen a temple of Jure either”, Bryld notes.
“Well, there's not many buildings in general, what with the supply problems, but there's one in Maner and I'm sure there's clerics even here. Or maybe a layman or two”, she pauses, “... Well I know we aren't without a healer”.
>”How do you know that?”.
>”Have you been to Maner?”.
>”Won't even just a layman do?”.
>”What about the temple of Gaia?”.
"What about the temple of Gaia? Can't they help?", you ask.
"Well, when invoking divine powers, it's preferrable to go for the divine entity whose portfolio is closer to the type of intervention you need", Astreya explains, "The goddess of healing would be more appropriate to the goddess of nature, although I believe the clergy of the latter as been working to prevent the spreading of diseases and culling bugs since the dawn of agriculture".
"That is to say", Tahenohan smiles, "Better put some padding than break your shin".
"Won't even just a layman do?", you wonder, not quite sure how ordained clerics work. Divine powers have always been both natural and mysterious to you, even though yours are quite specific, "Or can plagues not be prevented without divine intervention?".
"Well you don't strictly need divine intervention for everything", your father answers, "It's just more handy, but it also falls under specific conditions. Unlike magic users, priests do not have power on their own, they just channel that of their gods, which means it's up to them to decide what to do".
"But let's just say that mundane medicine alone is more than enough", Astreya smiles, "Especially considering the population".
"Well, New Royo isn't big", Bryld agrees, although you have seen even smaller thorps: in your experience New Royo is just devoid of buildings, especially the very old variety. As far as population goes, it's not a small village, though not a large one either. Admittedly you do come from a quite sparsely populated and somewhat sad area all considered, while Bryld is more of a city girl, so you're both biased albeit in different ways.
Meanwhile, you think you hear some rapping at a window, but no one else seems to have noticed. Besides, the windows in Astreya's house are relatively high...
>”What about Maner?”.
>”Astreya, can you do anything against diseases?”.
>”Tahenohan, can you cure diseases?”.
>Go check that window.
>”Astreya, can you do anything against diseases?”.
>”Tahenohan, can you cure diseases?”.
>Go check that window.
We should mention this to our friends, tell them to try to find a house secured against insects and on high ground.
I should note that going to check the window takes precedence over asking more questions.
Just saying because if I get more "go check the window" votes that's the first thing you're going to do. It may be important.
That rapping does sound strange. You decide it's better to excuse yourself and go check. It's what a proper familair would do. Well, it also makes sense so it's not really a matter of servitude if you really think about it.
You enter Astreya's room and find it just like you left it. Outside her window is a large, black raven with three eyes and practically pressed against the glass since there's not really room for him to comfortably poise himself. You notice it has something tied to its leg, it looks like a tiny scroll.
Carefully opening the window, you come face to face with the animal, that almost seems to frown as it readjusts its own position, staring at you with all three of its eyes as if expecting some kind of reaction. You've found yourself on the other end of a mean, sometimes disturbing stare, but it has always been by people or animals who had only two eyes. Being so ocularily outnumbered only makes everything weirder.
You carefully work on untying the message from its leg, since he's practically offering it to you, but it's not easy considering even the string is tiny, and so is the knot, and you don't really want to hurt or anger this strange bird specimen.
"CAW!", it protests since you're taking a while, and you have to make an effort not to jolt. It was loud and sudden, in just the perfect mix to give someone a jumpscare. Although birds are usually considered to be dumb, and so are harpies by proxy, you know that some of them, predators and carrion eaters in particular, are considered to be actually quite smart. Funny how you never heard of this stereotype going over to harpies. Not that your experiences with them redeem them in any fashion.
The scroll is tiny, but seems to be quite thick. It can probably be rolled out quite a bit and seems less fragile than it should be, for a piece of thin paper of this size. It must have been rolled a thousand times by a master.
>Bring it back to Astreya.
You look at the three-eyed raven. It goes "CAW!" and takes off, flying away, almost as if it was annoyed about something.
The tiny scroll in your hand is just waiting to be brought over to your temporary mistress, and since you're her temporary familiar, it falls under your duty to do so. Since you decided to behave properly and be a good familiar, you hurry back to hand it over to her.
"What's this?", she wonders, and you suppose the cawing alone did draw some attention as everyone was pretty much waiting for you to come back only to stare curiously, wondering what just happened back in that room.
"I presume it's for you", you guess.
She takes it, quite curious, and rolls it open to read it. As you presumed, it's quite long once unfolded, and when she flips it horizontally you can see it is, in fact, quite stretched and relatively long. The writing is also quite small and hard to read.
"I see", she smiles, "There's something we have to do, dear. Might I ask you to accompany me this afternoon? I'd like to be done with it before nightfall", she then turns to her other guests, "I'm glad to have met all of you, I will be delighted to have you here again".
"Thank you again, Astreya", Bryld is definitely getting used to her, and was clearly glad to not have Yomi around for once.
"Well we always know where to find you", Tahenohan and her bright, manic smile, as expected.
"Pleasure's ours", your father answers, though he almost seems to be forcing himself a bit. Meztli just nods.
Once they all leave, you're left alone with Astreya, and she just sighs, stretching visibly and thoroughly on the sofa.
"Aaaaah...", she goes, flopping a little as if she just exerted herself a lot, "Lillith, dear, may I ask for some coffee? I feel my eyelids dropping...".
>Actually wash the dishes and everything first.
>”Where are we going?”.
>”What did the message say?”.
>”Who sent that?”.
>”What was that three-eyed raven?”.
Since she seems to really need some help getting up, you decide to give precedence to making Astreya some coffee. This doesn't prevent you from talking, however.
"What did the message say?", you wonder, since you have given up your opportunity to read it by being a good familiar.
"Oh, it's a request from Maner", she answers, like it's a boring thing, "I guess that no matter where you go and how much effort you put into anything, magic users are always a scarce commodity".
That didn't really answer your question, though, "So... What do we need to do?", you try again.
"Well they want me to go over but I don't want to, mostly because I only have you for today and don't want to get you involved with parts of the magical world you wouldn't be able to contribute to", she doesn't seem annoyed in the slightest, and actually almost pleased by the fact you have no magical proficiency at all, "I'll just do the next best thing and prepare a batch of stuff they will be able to use. Hopefully".
"What are we going to prepare?", you wonder.
Well that went weird fast. Though really, you had to expect nobody would bother a wizard for ordinary pineapples. Judging from what she said, she wasn't asked to deliver pineapples at all, but that's beyond the point.
“Don't worry, I just need you for the ordinary fruity part”, she suppresses a yawn, but quite poorly so, “I know you can't infuse anything with explosions, that's where I come in. I'll need you to mix something though, but one step at a time”.
As always, never trust a magic user to give proper explanations. “What was that three-eyed raven?”, you decide to ask while you're at it.
“An empowered animal. Not quite a familiar, but acts like one. It's handy because just about any normal animal can be turned into a useful, if sometimes unpredictable, servant”.
>”Why don't you have one?”.
>”Who sent it?”.
>”Why pineapple bombs?”.
"Why pineapple bombs?", you can't help but ask as you bring Astreya her much-needed coffee.
"Because coconut bombs just don't work, and I can't think of any other shelled fruit that grows around these parts. Besides, they're easy to make and I presume they want to use them soon, so I won't have to worry about them expiring", she answers. Of course she also expects such explanation to make sense.
"Bombs can expire?", you wonder.
"Fruit bombs can", she shrugs, sipping her coffee and sighing, "Truth is... I really don't want to bother, but I have to make a token effort because I don't want to look bad in the whole Reconquista effort".
"So it's the Royal Army that's asking you this?".
"No. They have a trained harpy", you can't help but be surprised at the notion of trained harpy. It does sound like an oxymoron, "Which means it can only come from a magic user, and as far as I know there's only two there. Well, two of note at least".
With but a glance, she understands that you're still quite in the dark, which does make her smile reassuringly at least, "Balamor. His name's Balamor. He's a... Let's just say he's a Solaire follower and quite the militant type, too. The fact some like-minded individuals are joining Maner is only going to make his attempts to recruit me into front-line service even more pestering".
“The front lines?”, you begin to see where this is going.
“Yes. They have plenty of very capable and stalwart warriors, but sometimes you really, really need a magic user. The stronger, the better, even if fighting is not his forte. As a matter of fact I don't know of a single magic user that grew in power without learning how to fight hard”, she pauses, “Curious, isn't it?”.
>”You don't want to fight?”.
>”Why not join them?”.
>”Why does he want you to fight?”.
>”Has the Royal Army ever asked you directly?”.
>”Do you think they can make it without you?”.
>”Yeah, why do magic users invariably learn to fight?”.
"Has the Royal Army ever asked you directly?", you wonder. If they really put this much effort behind the Reconquista, they probably should have.
"They did", she nods, "They were very kind about it, and graciously accepted when I declined. Never bothered me once ever since. I am an autarch, I explained that to them, and have been clear on what I do. Colonel Stanley's a good man, smarter than he looks, he understands that even the crown's interests find me more useful if left alone rather than dragged to the front lines".
"So why is this... Balamor fellow not giving up?".
"Because he's eccentric, hyperactive and always looking for trouble. Well, that kind of description fits just about any magic user, really", she chuckles, "And most adventurers, too".
"Is that why magic users invariably learn to fight?", you ask.
"Ah... That, is a debate", and she places the now empty coffee cup on the table, still littered with dirty glasses and plates, "Every accomplished magic user, or any one of appreciable power, eventually finds himself to be capable of fighting, mostly because they've been in scraps with... Well, there's a plethora of individuals, groups and other creatures you can get hostile with when you're a magic user".
"Even when you make an effort to not get into one?", you arch an eyebrow. It almost sounds like magic is a beacon for trouble.
"Well, if you never get into trouble and never challenge anything or anyone... You never grow to have much power", she answers with a smile, "It all begins with learning some basic attack spells just for self-defense, you know, in case anything happens, and before you know it you're raining fireballs down a hill or calling lightning from the sky”.
>”Can't you just say no?”.
>”Do you think these pineapple bombs will really help?”.
>”Do you think they can make it without you?”.
>”What other magic users of note are there in Maner?”.
>”If he insists so much it means you must be a good fighter...”.
"Do you think they can make it without you?", you realize it's mostly a rhetorical question, as she doesn't seem to be the sort of fellow that would really abandon people in need.
"I don't think I alone would be able to make a difference if they couldn't make it without me", she smiles as she gets up and stretches, "I don't have such a high opinion of myself. Frankly, I don't think they need the pineapple bombs either, nor I believe they expect them to make a difference, I just need to do something to get Balamor off my back for a while", she points to her room, "My staff is somewhere there, be a darling and fetch it for me, we're going out".
It doesn't take much for you to find the staff, as you've seen where it was already and it's not exactly easy to hide. Not in a room of that size. You grab it and find that it's heavier than you first thought; it almost feels like it's full metal inside, and you almost feel some kind of vibration through your hand when you lift it. Not that you need to make a particularly difficult guess to say it's magical, but it feels strange to be reminded so suddenly.
When you give it to her, you voice another doubt you have, "Can't you just say no?".
"I could", she smiles, taking the staff. You stop feeling the vibration the very second she touches it, even before it leaves your grasp, "But it wouldn't be kind, and you know, we magic users are a small crowd, you quickly get to know everyone else and it pays to uphold a good neighbourhood relationship with everyone".
You follow her outside and she begins to walk away Westwards. Since it's still early in the afternoon you're not going to fly, which is a good thing for your crotch all considered. Besides, you're likely not going far anyways. There don't seem to be thick jungles nearby. There are, just not very thick.
>”What other magic users of note are there in Maner?”.
>”Maybe it's better if you just refuse”.
>”Is every day with Yomi just like this?”.
"What other magic users of note are there in Maner?", you ask, since you will have to drop by if you are to meet the marquise.
"Other than Balamor there's Cassilda, which is Stanley's second in command and strategist extraordinaire. She... Is a fun fellow, if you like games", she chuckles, "I don't actually know much about her I've only met her a couple times, I heard she's from Amatsu but you probably shouldn't ask her about that, I don't think it's a topic she likes".
You have to wonder what she meant when she said she likes games, a part of your by now quite developed intuition tells you it's someone you have to be quite careful with. "By the way your staff was vibrating when I picked it up", you inform her.
"Of course", she curtly answers, "You did grab it". You feel like she's giving for granted that you know the rest, or maybe she's actually focused in scanning the ground for pineapples. You do remember that there were a few not far from New Royo, which leads you to pay a little more attention to your own surroundings as well.
Fortunately, said surroundings haven't changed much. You remember sending Bryld and Tahenohan on a trip around the village so they could bond a little, and it did work quite well if your memory isn't playing tricks on you. Hopefully it will do the same with the two of you.
“Is every day with Yomi just like this?”, you suddenly ask.
She looks surprised, then just laughs, “No, no! He would be whining all the time, calling me names all the way from home and then back, and reprimand me for agreeing to do this much, insisting I should use these bombs to blow his house up”, she chuckles again.
“Maybe it's better if you actually refuse”, you suggest.
She stops abruptly, pausing for a moment before turning to look at you. She has a strangely neutral but quite quizzical expression as she rubs her chin, never breaking eye contact with you. “Mh. You really think so?”.
"No", you admit, figuring it might not be a good idea to give her colleagues reasons to bear grudges, or to sour her relationships in general, "But I could call you names too, if you want", you then add with a smirk.
She just laughs it off, giving you a push to the chest, "Oh come on! And I was taking you seriously, too!".
"On what? Refusing the request entirely or me calling you names?".
She pauses and stares at you with a weird smile on her face, "Mh. I don't know, you don't quite have the skill for that".
"The skill for what?", you blink.
"Calling people names all the time, every day, at any time of the day, in every moment, and to be able to improvise, and being new and creative to break the mold so you never really get used to it", she chuckles, "Well I have, but he does his darndest to keep it as fresh as possible".
"You don't think I can do that?".
"Don't take it personally", she smiles, "He's a demon, you're only half of one, there are some competitions you can't expect to win. You can only be as graceful as you can in your defeat".
The thought of being utterly defeated by Yomi in a challenge about insulting people can't really, by any means, considered to be a mar on your career as a familiar. Not that Astreya is even letting you have a chance to prove yourself, but from what you know of Yomi he's really quite a tough opponent, and you most likely haven't seen but mere hints of what he's capable of.
“Are you saying you miss him?”, you suddenly wonder, struck by a thought.
“No, no way”, she chuckles, then stops, “Well okay, not for a day, but he's my familiar, we've been together for... Gosh it's been almost a century”, she smiles, fidgeting with her staff, “He's part of me by now. Closer than family. To be a demonologist is to be in symbiosis, in a way, with an alien being not from this world”.
She stares at you for a while, then pats your shoulder, “Come, let's gather some pineapples”.
And this is it for Episode 49!
Sorry but I'm running really late. Gosh! Even though it feels like we haven't accomplished much.
As usual, follow me on twitter to know when next episode is going to hit 4chan. For now, stay fresh and thank you for following me.