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World of Darkness: The Academy - Chapter 12: Words of the Devi

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It had been a long, long night for the students of Dalton. First theyd split up, with Sean and Swan heading to Denver and the rest sneaking around to one of the empty staff cottages. It was a tight fit; the cottages were designed to hold one comfortably by 1950s reckonings, and it forced the kids to be a little more comfortable than they liked. But they had running water, indoor plumbing and heat sources you didnt have to poke with sticks to keep working.

When darkness had fallen, they had snuck out of their hiding cottage and gotten supplies. Sneaking in and out of places was easy for several of them, and by working with those that didnt, they were able to navigate the entire school. It was somewhat unnerving to be wary in a place that had once been completely safe for them.

By the time the group at school had gotten their supplies back to their hiding place, Sean had gotten back from Denver. He was tired from the drive, and the other kids could tell he had been through the ringer emotionally as well. He also had a bag of his sisters clothing which he was trying to carry casually but it clearly bothered him.

We have an early start. Ms. Dorns voice cut through the room and silenced the kids. Not because she was a teacher, but because she was making sense. Lets sleep tonight and ask twenty questions in the morning.

The morning came too quickly; most of them had less than eight hours of sleep or poor sleep, and Ms. Dorn had woken them early. The group slipped back into Lancaster, up to the attic, avoiding the few students or staff up at this hour. Then, back in the attic, the crew relaxed and had breakfast, and time to talk before they left their world again.

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Ray had been used to the rough conditions and privations of the Chiderans for some time now - this was like a good hotel for him, that cottage. On the other hand his body shifted and turned, the cots were of all things too soft and his body felt like it was sinking into mud.

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Also, as they sat in the Lancaster attic, the teen found his food to be bland. There had been something healthy and filling about the food they hunted, and a wonderful feeling about the preparation. Rice Krispies and Pop-Tarts didn't cut it at all. Ray definitely was ready to head out again.

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Sitting in the attic, Swan at his side and the bag of Cassandra's clothes shoved surreptitiously behind him, Sean munched on a Cold Cut Trio from Subway. His eyes were still a bit grainy from the rough night and talking with his dad. That had been difficult, in some ways because Swan was there, though she had made it easier for him in others. He pulled out the leather-bound diary he his dad have given him and slid it into the center of the circle of students for all of them to see.

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"So, Dad can't actually come with us right away," Sean admitted, finishing his sub and balling up the wrapping into the take-out bag. "He's just comin' back from his honeymoon and hast'arrange stuff with work so they don't question his absence." He nodded at the book. "But he did give me that. It's a diary written by one of the original members of the Adventurer's Club, Shelby, a first hand account of their adventurers, from what Dad told me and from skimming through it."

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The handsome, raven-haired jock frowned, his blue-grey eyes serious as he panned his gaze around the circle of students. "She died."

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Sean leaned towards Lucia, meaning his words for her, though everyone could still hear him. "I asked Dad about the Devi. He didn't know much, didn't have much interaction with them, if any. Said they weren't a big or expansive, uh, race, I guess, so they didn't really consider them powerful to help them fight the Caramines. Sorry I couldn't find out more."

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Unsurprisingly, Autumn was a difficult riser when Ms. Dorn came to get them. She'd never really been a "morning person," and sleep the previous night had been hard-won. When she had managed to get comfortable enough to rest, she'd dreamed about her parents. Her dad was yelling, her mom was crying, both of them red-faced and angry. They'd just kept telling her she didn't belong with these people, didn't really know them, had no business being there. When she'd finally mustered the will to shout a reply, they were washed away by vague wakefulness and the discomfort of a spring prodding her hip. It left her with a feeling of creeping unease as she changed and cleaned her face, joining the others in the attic.

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"Morning," she mumbled blearily as she sat cross-legged on the floor. It wasn't until then that a thought occurred to her: had her dream-parents been talking about the students here at Dalton, or was she remembering an argument from before her transfer?

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Renata was the last one to trudge up into the attic, and kind of kept to herself, off towards the little window with the spiderly wooden panes that was just about big enough for one person's face, and let a beam of light in. She sat on the spot of light it made on the floor, like a cat might do, and ate her sandwich in moody silence. When it was done, she lay down on her back and stared up at the rafters. Maybe she hadn't slept well either. Maybe Mari's absence from the group was affecting her.

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"Lucia," she said in a quiet moment, "How come your mom went to look for you with these Devi? Might give us a better chance of finding her if we figure out what her game plan is."

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Lucia blinked slowly at Renata, the dark circles under her eyes clearly giving away that if she'd slept, it certainly hadn't been restful. Aviah and Rosa were tucked on either side of her, both looking more rested but still worried. Lucia shook her head, "My mother didn't go to the Devi, at least I don't know if she did. Ravi's uncle said that they were a good place to look for word of her. Like...information brokers or something." She rubbed her hands across her face, trying to scrub away some of the tired. "A people that know a lot. If she was looking for me and knew about the Devi, then she might have gone to them. I'm going to them to see if they know about her."

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She ate her breakfast restlessly, ready to go through the Door and be on their way.

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Renata groaned.

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"Sorry. I can't keep up with all this shit. I'm actually starting to wish it was as simple as calculus."

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Not, of course, that she had any idea how simple calculus was. She just figured it had to be worse than algebra.

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It had been a miserable night, and sleep didn't come. Sylvia had nothing to do but watch the sleeping students and think. In the first light of the false dawn, she'd carefully extracted herself from the small cabin, returning just as the students were starting to wake. Uncharacteristically, she didn't say very much; just proceeded with the first wave to Lancaster, the attic, and the door. She had a well-assembled backpack at the ready and a good walking stick. "Who has the key for the Devi," she asked in a quiet tone.

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“I do.” Lucia stood up, ate the last bite of her sandwich and opened the drawer on the Door. The dusky-skinned woman wasn’t going to let another second go by without her looking for her mother. She dropped in the ingredients and closed the drawer before opening the Door to show blackness beyond. Snatching up her bag, the class president was the first through the opening.

Ahvia and Rosa were right behind her, their loyalty overwhelming their caution. The three young women found themselves on a balcony, overlooking a wide canyon. “Oh, my god,” Rosa breathed as she stared at the vista. The landscape brought to mind images of the Grand Canyon, only this canyon was made of white and gold-flecked stone. And no one had ever built a city into the walls of the Grand Canyon. Shapes darted around the canyon, flying on wings of flashing white light.

A creature spoke; the words were utterly alien. Lucia and the others turned to see a tall creature gliding toward them. It seemed to be all length and height; long legs flowed up to a long body and neck, which ended in a flat, beaked face. The skin was pale green and vaguely leathery. The arms and fingers were long, too, ending in black claws. Despite its animalistic appearance, it wore a tunic and pants of a soft pink color.

“We do not understand,” Ahvia said, turning to face the creature.

The creature mumbled to itself and a shiver passed over the three girls. Then the creature spoke again, and the words were English. “Greetings and welcome, travelers. I am here to direct you to your destination. What are you seeking?”

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Ray took a moment to check over his gear to make sure his knife was in place, and he was ready to go. Satisfied, he strode through the Door after the girls. He arrived in time to see the avian being, and he blinked in surprise as he heard it speak in English. "We seek the Devi. Please be aware, there are more of us coming through, we aren't going anywhere until everyone is assembled."

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Sean grunted as Lucia went through the Door without waiting for everyone else, then hurriedly got ready. This mostly entailed loosening his shoelaces and untucking his shirt, preparing to change clothes once he was on the other side of the Door and the other side of the gender divide. Red faced, he got a few articles of Cassandra's plainest clothes ready too, in case his (her) leather armour was unnecessary. He dithered over putting on his Dragon Claws or not, until Swan pointedly told him to put them on.

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"But I'm just gonna hafta take 'em off again so I can change," Sean protested.

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"Better to have them when you are not needing them, than not having them when you do," Swan retorted, a hand brushing the hilt of her short sword.

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Nodding, suitably chastised and agreeing with Swan, Sean put on the spiked, fingerless gloves, he edges of the blades gleaming wickedly. Then with Swan at his side, gripping her blade with casual poise, he stepped through the Door...

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... feeling the sudden weight of breasts bouncing on her chest as she stepped onto the sunwashed balcony, her jeans pinching wider hips that swayed with each stride. With no immediate threat in sight, Sean was already reaching for the bottom of her shirt while looking for someplace she could change without flashing her naughty bits when she really saw what Lucia was talking to and where they were.

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The lizard-bird man was freaky looking, if hardly radiating menace - wearing pink might have had something to do with that. The great valley of white and gold-flecked stone was so bright it almost made her squint, with... beings flying around on wings of white light. It was hardly what she was expecting when looking for Lucia's mother, considering the shadows that tended to writhe around her on this side of the Door.

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"Uh, is this the right place?" Sean asked in her higher, smoother female voice.

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“Of course we will wait until all are assembled.” The creature dipped its head in a bobbing nod. “You have found the Devi. This is the city we built around the Door.” Bright green eyes blinked at the growing group. “Welcome to The High Falls.”

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“Thanks.” Lucia had perked up at the admission that they had found the Devi. “We’re looking for information, so how does that work? Is the information for sale, or free? I don’t want to offend, but we’re new to this.”

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“Your words are taken in the manner which you intended, I assure you.” The creature’s head bobbed again. “Information is sold, if only because that it is of great value. We will trade for other information. As a minor example, if I were to tell you that I am called Vaineri, you would tell me your name was…”

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“Lucia.”

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“Yes.” Vaineri dipped his/her head again. “That is one way in which you would get your information. May I enquire to the topic or topics that bring all of you here?”

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"Oh, wow," Autumn breathed, her expression one of rapt wonder as she stepped out into the light of the balcony. "This is... Wow." Fascinated, she watched the reptilian/avian creature and gazed out at the indescribably beautiful vista that opened up before them. She'd always been amazed by the wonders nature could create, and how man could shape those wonders, but she'd never seen anything like this- even having visited the cliff-dwellings in Mesa Verde.

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"Well," she began, reluctantly tearing her eyes away from the view of the city and its airborne inhabitants, "we're here to help Lucia look for her mother. Someone told her you might be able to point us in the right direction."

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“Indeed.” That weird head bob happened again; it seemed to be taking the place of a polite smile. As the last of the students exited the Door, Vaineri extended its neck to do a head count. After determining how many were there, the Devi turned and leaned over the balcony. It emitted a fluting whistle that carried well through the air. A moment later, another Devi flew into view from below. It’s wings were a snapping purple field of energy rather than physical wings, and it carried a ladder. Vaineri helped it secure the thick fiber and wood device to the stone railing.

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It turned to the waiting travelers and violet-blue wings crackled into existence. A low hum accompanied the wings’ arrival. “Please descend to our guest area. We will talk more there.”

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“Do you segregate all of your areas?” Rosa peered over the edge as she spoke; Ahvia reached for her, her face pale with fear.

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“Yes. Our flying guests have no such restrictions, but we find it avoids unpleasantries.” Green eyes flickered nervously to Swan and away sharply. “I will be on hand to assist if you start to fall.”

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Ray shrugged and was the first to swing around and start descending the ladder. In his mind, there were plenty enough peaks and heights white and snow-capped in the Chideran lands to obviate any fear of heights from a purely visual perspective, and as long as he was facing the rocky cliff... well it was an impressive view.

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Honestly, this was why he preferred the other worlds. Something out of a fantasy novel, but even better because it was truly authentic.

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"Clever," Renata observed. "Hard to invade through a door that's on a cliffside. Cle...ver..."

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She looked around and held up her cellphone to get a snapshot of the plataeu and the distant mountains against an alien sky. She snapped one of the Devi too before putting it away.

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Then, fascinated by the strange glowing 'wings' of light, Renata approached to get a closer look. "What would happen if I touched one of these?" she asked curiously as she took in the little details; the tiny arcs and puffs and whorls that constantly seethed in those indigo fields. She didn't reach out yet, but she kept opening and closing her fingers, and it was easy to see she was dying to try it.

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As impressive as the Valley of the Devi was, to one who grew up in a mountain town and enjoyed hiking and climbing the cliffs, the heights weren't much of a concern. The glance their host shot Swan did. She really didn't think he (she?) would do anything, but all the same, Sean stayed next and slightly ahead of Swan, ready to catch her just in case of an 'accidental' bump.

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"Got that right!" Sean agreed with Renata about the possibilities of invasion, as she gave a hand to anyone going down the ladder who wanted it. "Guess now we know why - or 'least how - the Devi managed to stay out of the last war. My turn."

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Then Sean started down the ladder, followed by Swan. Her time at HeartStone had helped greatly with helping her grow accustomed to her female form, but this was still the first time she'd used ladder with a hefty pair of breasts to take into account. In addition to the ladder being a rope-and-wood affair, swaying and jerking with the movements of those below and above her. And a heavy pack on her back and a bag of clothes hanging from a wrist - clothes to replace the ones that no longer fit right. With a fall that would be final. It made every extraneous movement Sean felt feel magnified a hundred fold.

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Hopefully there wouldn't be much more up-and-down to get to the Devi guest quarters, Sean mused, picking up a shoe that had slipped of her foot during the climb and retying the laces As oddly okay she was with switching genders with each step through the Door, Sean was really starting to get aggravated with having to deal with the secondary effects, like having clothes that don't fit.

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It wasn't like she could prepare first and get dressed in her girl clothes before stepping through the door... Well, she could, but it would be an even worse fit at first and she'd feel like a colossal fool. And that wasn't even considering what her friends would say or wouldn't say.

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For her part, Sylvia had been quiet since stepping through the Door. With a trained eye, she was taking in every detail of the largely vertical cliff-city. Indeed, she'd pulled a journal from the side pocket of her pack and begun sketching aspects of it while introductions were made and diplomacy established.

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Only when she was the last on the ledge did she reluctantly put the small book away and begin her own climb down the rope ladder that would have surprised anyone unfamiliar with her true nature; cat-like eyes betrayed that reality to any who looked, however.

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Vaineri bobbed its head and took a step closer to Renata. “You may touch,” it told her softly, spreading the wings wider. Renata didn’t hesitate. At first there was nothing there, only a strange tingle. Renata could feel the hair on her body rise as her fingers brushing against something hard and unyielding. It wasn’t hot or cold, maybe slightly warmer than room temperature.

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The ladder ended at another cubby in the cliff face. This one was furnished with low cushioned platforms. The cushions were brightly woven and made of some fine material. The platform seats were arrayed in a rough circle with small tables between them. There was a soft floral scent in the air, coming from the moss hanging from the ceiling. A door of stiff reeds was centered on the curve of the back wall.

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As Ray, Sean, Swan, and Sylvia started to get settled in the guest room, the door curved open. Given the friendliness of the Devi so far and the hospitality they’d gotten in the past from others, the Daltonites were prepared to see someone bearing food. Instead, Lal, Ravi’s cousin entered, followed by the Beastskinned himself. The two groups stopped, blinking at one another in surprise.

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Ravi, welcome back!

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"Ravi?!" Sean was the first to speak, her blue eyes widening at the sight of the Dalton manther. Ravi, typically, recovered his aplomb with remarkable speed and plopped down onto some cushions, Lal alongside him as the younger werepanther glanced around the room with a critical eye.

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"I like the decor." he said at length. "Tastefully understated."

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"What are you doing here, Mister FitzCoventry?" Sylvia asked calmly.

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"Answering your prayers, of course." Ravi shrugged, gesturing towards himself. "I know you missed me, Sylvia. And I could hardly let my friends go dashing off into danger once I had thought a little about it." He examined his nails with studied insouciance, then grinned his razor grin. "So lets dispense with the awkwardness - I know you're as happy to see me here as I am to have found you so quickly."

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"You were coming to the Devi." Swan stated rather than asked, a faint smile on her pale face. Ravi winked at her, and nodded.

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"I wanted to find you." he explained.

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"And we, that is, our people, also have things we wish to know more of." Lal added, smiling a little at Ravi's manner. "Ravi has persuaded our patriarch to at least consider the possibility of... engagement."

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"I'm very persuasive." Ravi shrugged again, then smiled at the other Daltonites. "You can thank me later, I'm sure. In the meantime, I believe we have a meeting?"

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Ray smiled and leaned back, amused at their luck - although being surprised by this was something he should hit himself for, Ray had learned a thing or two about controlling fate and luck - but he was glad to see that the were-panther was around and not out of the team yet. He leaned back, trying to get maximum ergonomic comfort from the cushions.

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"Soon enough. We just got in a few moments ago, literally."

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"Speakin' 'a which, I need a minute or two ta change," Sean explained, hitching up her pants, after she got over her surprise at finding Ravi here. "These clothes fit like ass now." Sean arched a brow at Vaineri, tilting her head questioningly at the reed door. "I can get a little privacy back there?"

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Vaineri nodded graciously, though there was something in his manner that he didn't understand why. Swan didn't really see the problem either. Ravi smirked, giving the feminine-looking Sean a mischievous once-over.

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"Why the privacy, Sean? We're all friends here, and you're hardly shy in the locker room."

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Sean's dark blue eyes narrowed in warning, lips turning down in an annoyed frown - which looked more like a pout with her cover-girl features. Ravi's grin widened. "Well, we ain't in the locker now, are we? And 'sides, I ain't wearing a bra and I ain't givin' you guys a free show."

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Ravi put a look of mock shock. "My word! A modest woman like you, Sean. Why ever would you be without proper lady undergarments?"

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Sean gritted her teeth, well aware that Ravi was just nettling her just because, and still unable to let it go. "'Cause I ain't gonna wear a damn bra when I'm a du-" Sean's eyes cut to Vaineri for an instant, amending what she was going to say. "- when I don't need it. Shut up!"

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With that brilliant retort, Sean stalked beyond the reed door in what she wouldn't have called a huff, though most others would. Off of the hall0way, she found a room that she thought was the bathroom. Quickly striping out of her own now-ill-fitting clothing, she pulled out some of Cassandra's. Fortunately, despite being a model, Cassandra was still an athlete and had a fair bit of active- and outdoors-wear. Sean slipped on the boy-short panties and racerback sportsbra after only a minute of hesitation, glad to have had practice taking off bras so she had an idea of how to put them on.

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Then she pulled on convertible, catch- and water resistant cargo-pants, a running shirt, a half-zip hoodie, and finally a pair of Cassandra's hiking shoes. If the pants were snugger across the ass than she was used to and the close-fitting hoodie a teal colour she'd never choose, they at least all fit comfortably and chesticle bounce was highly reduced.

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In fact, Cassandra's clothes fit disturbingly well, maybe slightly snugger across the shoulders and upper arms. They really were nearly perfect twins. The scary part was, Sean could really see herself getting tired of having to duck out every time to change right after walking through the Door and finally starting to just being blasé about stripping in front of everyone.

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A few minutes after disappearing behind the reed door, Sean stepped back into the meeting room, her spiked gloves somehow not looking out of place with her hiking outfit. "Don't say a word," Sean commanded when Ravi's mouth opened to say something about the tall, leggy young woman who looked more like she was modeling clothes rather than just wearing them. She took a sprawling seat next to Swan, dispelling some of her feminine image, legs stretched out before her. "This ain't 'bout me, this is 'bout Lucia and helpin' her find her mother."

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Sean looked towards Vaineri. "How are the Devi gonna go about that? And what do we gotta do to get your help?"

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"Hey Sean," Renata said with a perfectly straight face. "If you ever need help changing or whatever, just let me know." She grinned now. "Us girls have to stick together, right?"

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Vaineri bobbed its head again; Ravi had already been told by Lal that the Devi meant the gesture as a smile. He also knew from his cousin that their greeter was an egg-layer, making her nominally female by their culture’s reckoning. But she didn’t nurture or raise the young, before or after hatching. “It is good you ask the price. But for those who once defeated the Caramine, for those whom bring the Caramine in peace now and for those who wield such power, the Devi would ask much of you.”

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Sylvia stiffened protectively. “What do you want of the children?” she asked, emphasizing the last word.

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“We want those with the strength to fight the war. To defeat the Caramine, once and for all.” The bird-like host nodded again. “For that, we will help you, to find weapons and solutions. We have been collecting information in secret for a long time. We do not have the strength to use the information, but you will.” Their host spread her hands, her claws gleaming in the light. “We wish to become your allies.”

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Renata blinked. Wasn't every day things just fell in your lap like that.

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"Well...sounds good to me. Do you know how to defeat them? And we're...hey, how do you know about our powers?"

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Vaineri made a burbling noise that sounded happy as she clasped one hand over the other. “The worlds sing with news of Daltonites returned, the humans who can do more than the humans did last time. The Aloshen leave their world for the first time in memory, while the Lhesk are seen to move in Doors again. A son is born of daughters, and tames the Caramine. The Beast-skinned show themselves to be alive. It is a time of war and legends, and in those times, anything is possible.”

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“Okay,” Renata said, looking less than impressed with the monologue. “So… do you know how to defeat the Caramine?”

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“Dean of Dalton was right in one thing. The council that leads the Caramine is the key. But he wasn’t able to stop them, only hurt them.” The host shifted slightly. “We do not know yet how to hurt them. But our knowledge about them is laid open to you, and we will give you all the information you desire.”

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Sean shifted awkwardly on her seat, trying to conceal the self-conscious movement by crossing her legs at the ankle. It was one thing that her friends knew about her... gender issues, it was another that complete strangers seemed to too, even if they were supposed to know things. And he hadn't tamed Swan, just helped look after a girl that seemed in a spot of trouble, however weird she looked. As for her father and what he had done to hurt the Caramine council, it was just plain odd to hear others speak of it - she still wasn't sure if she was proud or ashamed of what her dad had done.

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Sean gave Renata a hooded look and a tight smile, crossing her arms beneath her breasts. "Not that I don't 'preciate th'offer, but I think I got it figured out and I ain't plannin' on wearin' a dress and heels and whatnot. 'Sides, I think Swan might have something to say 'bout that."

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Swan arched a brow up at Sean, gave Renate a considering glance, then shrugged nonchalantly. "I am not familiar with all the garments of the Daltonites. Receiving the help of one who has more experience with such is reasonable."

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Rolling her eyes, nonplussed, Sean turned her sapphire eyes back on their host.

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"Do you know where we should start lookin' to figure out how to deal with the Caramine Council? And Lucia's mom?"

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Renata grins and gives Swan a thumbs up, then looks back at the Devi to see what they had to say. She had more to ask, but didn't want to pile on and smother them.

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Ray was cracking his knuckles and hiding down his grin. This was a very good opportunity. Very good, not just to have the resources of the Devi's information compiling, but the spreading reputation and potential support of various peoples who opposed the aggression of the Caramine. But Ray had to remind himself not to start visualizing the Last Alliance from Lord of the Rings just yet - they also were here for Lucia, discovering the whereabouts of her mother... and his parents too.

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Lucia had been listening, quietly, while the others talked. The black coils had returned and brought with them a comfort she found disquieting. She leaned her cheek on her fist and mused aloud to herself, "Do you think he knew? That he planned for this - for us? Thirty years and the war would start again. What, really, are the odds that so many Dalton students would be....different? More powerful than regular humans, or just not human? Sean is easy enough, but the rest of us?" Her eyes flicked up to the moss and then back down to the stone floor, her voice still soft. "How much of this did Dalton plan?"

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She shook her head, clearing that line of thought for the moment. Dark eyes studied their Devi host. "So, like the Lhesk, you would give us knowledge and we are expected to do the actual fighting in return? That is the price for your knowledge of Caramine?"

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"Yes," Vaineri watched the dark-enshrouded girl with the same steady gaze; there was no bobbing of the head this time.

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"I came here looking for my mother," she explained. "She found me when I was a baby, on some world beyond our Door, some place where she and others from Earth have been kidnapped to and escaped. The people that rule their, Yasu called them the 'Keepers' and the 'Masters'. He wouldn't give me the Key to their world, but he said that that's where my mother would go looking for me. That she believed I'd been kidnapped. Again, I guess."

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She took a breath and stood up, nervous energy making her pace. "You want us to pledge our lives, and there's a good chance our deaths, for knowledge about the Caramine, and knowing the people here, we'll probably agree." She spread out her arms, trying to keep her tone from sounding helpless and defeated. "I don't really have anything more I can give for what you might know on where to find my mother."

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Vaineri paused, her brilliant eyes on Lucia. “There will be no charge for this information, for the Keepers are dangerous. Charging for this knowledge would be like charging to give someone poison. They are called the Keepers because they keep all that enter their world, be they wanderers or hostages. Getting free requires a force of will that most do not possess.”

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Lucia looked pale but said, “Please, whatever you know.”

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“There are three known Doors for the Keepers, behind which are the three kingdoms of the Keepers. The first is an underwater kingdom, the second is nothing but sky and the third is a dense forest. Given that you are neither avian or aquatic, Lucia, I believe you are looking for the forest Door. The Keepers are the Masters of their realms, and can change them at their whim. The way to outsmart them is to distract a Keeper or make a deal with one.”

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“How do we distract them?” Rosa asked nervously.

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“How do we kill them?” Lal asked, smiling.

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“They are immortal.” Vaineri talons tapped her beak for a moment. “But there is one interesting thing in their lore – they do not claim the Beast-Skinned. It’s not due to rarity. Nor do they take Chiderans. I suspect that they can be hurt. And that if you hurt them badly enough, they will let you go.” Her talons tapped again as she admitted, “But this is speculation based on the lore, not lore itself.”

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Her gaze shifted to Sean again. “We will continue to research the Council and their weaknesses. By the time you return from the Keepers, we should know more.”

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Last week for questions.

:) Get them in now. And if anyone asks about the Key to the Forest door, it will be given as drawings on a piece of parchment.

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"So what ARE the Keepers?" Renata asks, giving Sean and Ravi annoyed looks. "And if Sean or Ravi can kill them, what distracts them? Oh hey, also...I have to ask. This thing I can do..."

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She levitated a few rocks off the ground into the air and twirled them in a ring over her hand.

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"Is this because I'm from some other world too?"

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"Speaking of other worlds," Sean added, folding her arms under her breasts and giving Renata a quick glance and a self-conscious half-smile, "I... uh, look... different, this side of the Door. Something 'bout more, er, magic or whatever in the air than on our side. Is there some way or something that I can use to carry that magical radiation with me, so I can change from b- change between my two appearances when I want, instead of only when I walk though the Door? If there's somebody waitin' for us when we step through and I'm in a bind, could be trouble."

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Ray crossed his fingers with a frown as he heard Vaineri's warnings and advice. Well, they did have Ravi, Sean and maybe Ravi's Fitz-Coventry were-panther clan, whoever did accompany them as potential aces in the holes... but beings that could change the worlds they ruled on whims could still probably obliterate them in a straight attempt at a fight.

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Distraction was a better idea, but if worst came to worst... Ray felt he had to ask. "If - if it was necessary to make a deal - what do they desire beyond those they claim?"

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Also, Ray took out the photo copy of the blankets and other mysterious accouterments of how he'd arrived on the Venkman doorstep and gave it to Vaineri. "By the way, I'm curious to know what these are - and before we leave, I'm more than willing to arrange the proper exchange you'd like."

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Vaineri watched Renata’s display of power for a moment. “Who is to say? I do not know your people well enough to know if this is a power they can manifest.”

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“Their world is bereft of any knowledge that isn’t of their world,” Ahvia offered helpfully.

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“Then I would guess that the world you grew up in is not your own.” Vaineri said it easily, simply, as if she hadn’t just turned Renata into an alien in her own world.

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Their host’s response to Sean’s query was more helpful. “There is perhaps something like that. Magic typically doesn’t work particularly reliably across Thresholds, but it works on those crossing. But research would be needed. None of us have heard of that.”

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Ray’s question was next and Vaineri bobbed her head. “These patterns are familiar… yes, the Cobasi. You should start there to find those who made this weaving. They are fate-twisters, rather pleasant people until you cross them.

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“For the Keepers; it varies from creature to creature. Lucia, perhaps you could tell us about your mother? Keepers sometimes reshape their captives to please them, and knowing what you and your mother are like will provide clues to what kind of Keeper you’ll be dealing with.”

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Even though half-expecting the answer...and the answer was far from a certain one...Renata felt a little drop in her belly, and had to sit down for a second. She couldn't tell if she was just in denial, or if the objections in her head had any rationale to them, but it just didn't seem to fit. Unless her dad was an immigrant from another world, which seemed unlikely given his political career...it'd be hard to fake all those records and then have them stand up to oppo research...how could she be an alien? Ren was fairly sure her mom wouldn't have put up with any crap like bringing home an illegitimate daughter.

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Then again, what would she have done? Renata tried to think. Catholics didn't really hold with divorce, at least not the hardcore ones. She counted her mom among those numbers. But no, still didn't work. Her parents had emotional distance between each other, but it hadn't ALWAYS been that way that she remembered. Before he started running for national office, things had been...better. And the problems between herself and her mom had started back when she was causing trouble and...coming out to them had only made things worse. But back when she'd been quiet, mousy little Fatima, her mom had liked her just fine.

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Adopted maybe? That COULD be. She'd been told she took after her dad in the eyes, her mom in the hair, but she'd never seen much similarity.

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Well. Now she had something extra to add onto the already-huge pile of awkward topics to talk to her dad about when they got back.

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With effort, Renata pushed that aside and looked over at where Vaineri was talking about Keepers. That was probably more important to the situation at hand than untangling her tragic backstory.

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"Maybe Lucia's powers plug into that too," she offered. "It might not come directly from them, but maybe whatever they did to her mom got passed on."

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Lucia held up an arm, one of the dark tendrils languidly slipping off of her arm lapping at the floor. "Well, for starters, that didn't start up until after the Caramine showed up. Actually, the tendril things only show up on when I'm not on Earth. Like Sean's boobs..." Her eyes flicked over to her classmate, just a hint of a smile at the corner of her lips. "Other than that, though, my mother....she's always kinda afraid of things. Of people. She can sing, like really sing, but instead of getting a contract and a career, she just tutors kids."

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She frowned, thinking over the little oddities of her childhood she'd just taken for granted before. "She did odd jobs sometimes, for stuff we'd need. She didn't like to let me out of her sight. We never went out at night and there were always lights on in the house. She wouldn't let me go to sleepovers at other kids' houses and she'd go through periods where she'd yank me out of school and homeschool me for a couple of weeks or the rest of the year. No camp in the summer..." she shifted uncomfortably and shrugged. "You get the idea. She refused to talk about who my dad was and Yasu said something about her having kept me a secret, or something about me..."

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"She never did anything....y'know, weird. Like this," she motioned to the tendrils around her, "or the darkness stuff I can make. Um....I-I can't think of anything else. Do you have any questions or something that could help? Oh, uh, I don't know if I have any other family. Mom always just said she and her family didn't get along anymore. I couldn't ever find anyone that even might be her - our family."

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Sean sighed at the hint of amusement from Lucia. She didn't think being a part-time girl with a fairly sizable chest was going to get old among her friends anytime soon. She tried to look at it objectively - pretty hard since she was dealing with it - trying to see if she would have been better if say.... Ryan was suddenly running around with a pair of tits and honestly, she didn't think would have been.

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Shrugging it off and resolving for the hundredth time to take any ribbing in stride, Sean reached over and gave Renata a commiserate pat on the back, the look in her dark blue eyes saying she really understood what Renata was going through. She'd had her life turned upside down, finding out, if her parents were her parents, she still wasn't entirely... human, but something other. She knew what it felt like to suddenly have that revelation. Renata for her part seemed to be taking it easier than she had, or maybe she was in shock. Or maybe it was because her mother hadn't called her an abomination to her face.

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Regardless, if seemed the first step in stopping the Caramine was finding themselves. Sean snorted. God that sounds trite, but it's true. I've done it, and so has Ravi and Ms. Dorn, or at least we've made a good start. The others have to too, so they don't end up fighting themselves when we've got to fight the Caramine.

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Sean gave Vaineri a nod. "Well, that's somethin' I guess. Thanks, I'd really 'preciate if you looked inta that. I'm startin' to worry that I'll get jumped when we come through a Door and I'm still tryin' .. uh, tryin' to get my clothes in order."

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"Thank you," Ray told the Devi, with sincerity dotting his face, sinking back down into his seat with noticeable relief. The pieces started to fit now. His luck manipulation, that subtle, yet superhuman power - it came from the fact that he wasn't actually human. He was Cobasi. Or partially anyway.

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The question still was not fully answered, if so many of them were not human, Lucia, and he and Renata, maybe others - why did they retain the normal appearance of humankind, at least on Earth? Heck, even he did not visibly change passing through doors. Ravi, Ms. Dorn, Sean, they were all at least half-human, and were-panthers weren't that different from the average person anyway. The Chiderans themselves looked exactly like attractive human women, even with their preternatural physicality.

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The Devi hosting them was evidence plentiful that even close similarity to the human form was probably very uncommon.

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Ray realized that he'd spent too much time when obsessing over his parentage last night thinking about this. Lucia was the one who had dibs of first parent-rescue/finding. So they'd go, outmaneuver the Keepers... and when they got back...

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Next stop would be the Cobasi.

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Vaineri tilted her head in thought. “Singing and shadows? There are three Keepers I can think of who relate in some way. The Master of Night, who shrouds his realm in darkness. He is fond of entertainment and keeps some creatures he calls ‘pets’ for that purpose. There is the SongLord, who controls all song in and around his kingdom. And there is the Shadows, a creature without form or gender who keeps prizes for the pleasure of terrorizing them.”

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Lucia looked slightly ill at the last description and that revultion may have gone a long way toward her saying, “The first or the second. In fact, unless SongLord has something to do with shadows, we should start with the first.”

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“Very well,” Vaineri replied bobbing her head. She drew a piece of leather out of her pocket and used her claw to make marks on the skin. When she handed it to Lucia, it had pictures of three items: a flower, a tuft of fur and a small statue. “All of these must be black in color, but the statue can be made from anything and painted, and it doesn’t have to be of anything in particular—just a three dimensional representation of something.” Her head bobbed again. “I’d have written it down, but the spell allowing communication doesn’t work for the written word.”

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“Thank you.” Lucia managed a smile before adding, “we might need some help with the materials.”

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“Of course. Why don’t you relax here. Give me an hour, and I will bring it to the Door Room. When you are ready to leave, please just climb up the ladder to the room, and you may leave. There are rooms behind the door, which have beds, food and drink, if you need them.”

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With that Vaineri’s wings flicked back to life and she took flight.

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I’m closing this chapter. Feel free to RP here for a bit if you want. Otherwise, you can pop over to the next chapter.

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5 xp

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