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A note from Alexander Wales

  

This is part of a seven-chapter release. Read the first one here.

I sat in the domain of the locus, with it beside me, trying to think about how I wanted to approach the plan. Eventually, I got up and clapped my hands together, then drew them apart, wiggling my fingers.

“Layman, I summon thee!”

Nothing happened.

“Welp,” I said, frowning. “That was worth a shot.” I looked around at the trees and wildlife, birds chirping in the trees, butterflies enjoying what was, for Poran, an unseasonably warm day (at least some of that thanks to my command of water magic). “The text of the virtue is that I’m able to sweet talk the Layman while I’m here, and you’d think that would mean actually talking to him.” I sighed again, trying not to be too annoyed.

“What you need,” I said to the locus, “Is power, ideally some kind of enormous battery of some kind. We could take you to Blue Fields and detonate a nuclear device that would be captured by something that used rune magic, maybe, but I don’t know if that’s the right kind of power, because you can already violate energy laws and produce matter seemingly from nothing. Aside from that, there’s the giant laser thing that the lunatics on Celestar are apparently building, but who knows what that actually is, and when they’ll be done, and whether it would even be the right kind of thing.”

The locus was grazing, eating grass and not appearing to pay much attention to me.

“So then the last thing that comes to mind, when I think about enormous sources of power, is the game system that’s attached to me,” I said. “Some of the feats — the virtues, sorry — give explicit violations of the normal way the world works, allowing infinite energy of their own. I’m pretty sure that the Proportional Halting virtue let me slow down Mome Rath, which would be a huge exception to how still magic is normally supposed to work, and would take enormous amounts of power to do, unless it’s manipulating reality at such a basic level that the concept of power doesn’t even apply. That would still work for our purposes. So … it’s just a matter of how to take that power source and get it to interface with you, if only for long enough that you can acquire another druid or two, to get the ball rolling on acquisition.”

The locus looked up from the grass and gave me a single raised eyebrow from among her six eyes.

“For my next trick, I shall turn into a locus,” I said. “One sec, I need to get undressed.”

The Amulet of Five Spirits was one of those magic items that had some incidental nudity involved, which happened a lot with magic if you didn’t want to just say “oh, well I guess clothes are affected too”, a lazy solution that admittedly fixed a lot of logistical issues. It was the kind of thing that made me wince in movies, books, or things like that, a concession to practical necessity that robbed the magic of some of its magic. The Amulet of Five Spirits didn’t mess around with that, and if I wanted to become a locus, especially the kind that the Six-Eyed Doe saw me as, I would need to put my pile of entads someplace safe.

The acquisition process was easy enough, requiring only a hand on the doe’s flank. Transformation was easy as well, as easy at it had always been in test runs with the amulet, and as always, accompanied by the unsettling feeling of my body doing things that my brain had absolutely no way of handling. My fingers and toes merged together and elongated, the nails thickening, my skin thickened and sprouted hair all over the place, and my face underwent a total rearrangement that included four extra eyes and an enormous set of antlers.

I had seen through the eyes of the locus via the Crown of Eyes, but hadn’t counted on how different it would be for me when I was the locus. For the Six-Eyed Doe, I got a sense of an art style that reminded me of Salvador Dali or Hieronymous Bosch, maybe in the way that things would appear ‘flat’, or maybe just arranged. For the locus instance of myself, the style was different, and the perception was much more focused, each individual thing I was ‘looking’ at a sole focus of my attention, reminding me of a still life or portrait, the kinds of things that struck me as very classical, but were probably confined to a relatively small time and place, one I might have pinpointed if I knew anything about art history, which I did not.

When I focused my attention on the locus, it was like looking at a painting of her, one designed to cast her in the best possible light, posed and well-lit in ways that I knew were, if not completely false, then at least cheats. Most likely the locus did look like that, or at least could given the right conditions, but there was something in the presentation that felt even more unreal than it was.

I was still hopped up on all my various sensory enhancements, minus the Crown of Eyes, which meant that there was a lot that I could focus on. It was an odd filter to have put on the world, where everything became framed as though it was the focal point of artistic study. I had to wonder why it was that my own view of things was so dramatically different than what the locus experienced. It might have been because I was a human, or it might have been something unique to me, not written on my soul, but somewhere more ineffable. As a metaphor for how I thought, I didn’t think that it was particularly apt, since it was what you’d expect of someone who routinely missed the forest for the trees, and while I missed things pretty regularly, I felt myself pretty aware of the interconnectedness of all things. Maybe the view was trying to say something different though, and I tried to be open to the possibilities.

As you might expect, turning into a locus, even a fake one, was only step one of the plan. There was no second step though. I had hoped that there would be something obvious, some lever to press or course of action that flowed naturally from the new form, but I felt like this had to be a piece of the puzzle. The only reason that I was able to turn into a locus at all was because of the degrees of reasonableness granted to me by the locus. The entad itself wasn’t even all that important of an ingredient, because there had to be half a dozen different paths to the same end.

The locus moved over to me and stood beside me, touching her fur to my own, then leaning over to touch her neck to my own.

It wasn’t unexpected. The locus had always been physically affectionate. I had ridden her around her domain, and even a bit outside of it once we had that link. I had napped while leaning up against her, feeling the warmth of her body. Whenever I was in the domain, I was a part of her, suffused by her being in some way, my body under her aegis.

That most hated of achievements, “A Key for Seven Locks”, had seemed stupid and cruel, and still did, but it made me think about what circumstances would have to look like for it to actually be fulfilled. Of late, things with Amaryllis being what they were, I had been thinking about sex as it must have looked from her perspective, something done as a method of helping someone else, or as being platonic. If it was a requirement that I have sex with someone in order to save their life through some kind of contrived sex magic or idiotic plot thing, then I would do it. I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I’d do it.

The context for a lot of these thoughts was what I’d talked about with the locus some time ago, how maybe there was no solution, maybe it was a winding path toward eventual death. If you looked at the locus from that perspective, as a creature that had faced its own certain demise, then birth or rebirth seemed like one of the viable endpoints, as though she might be a phoenix rising from the ashes, or a message about how the mark we make on the world will always outlast us, or something like that.

It was while I was thinking about this seeming invitation, and what, if anything, it might mean, that the man showed up.

He was wearing a white t-shirt and loose-fitting jeans, with nothing much to identify him. If I had to describe him to a police officer, I would probably have said that he was 5’10”, average build, plain face, nothing too much to look at, the kind of guy that got put into a lineup in order to fill out the ranks, or who got pulled onto a basketball team because they needed another. Back on Earth, my friends had joked about me looking generic, but if they had ever seen this guy, they wouldn’t have been able to make that joke again. The only two things that were really distinct about him were his haircut, which was cut so close it must have been a buzz, and the can of soda he held, which was ‘Mountain Rush’.

“Did someone summon me?” he asked, looking between me and the locus.

I bellowed at him, forgetting for a moment that I wasn’t human, then made the switch over to my normal form as quickly as I could, leaving me standing there, naked, with just an amulet on. (I had been naked before, but definitely felt more naked as a human.)

“Are you,” I said. “Are you the Layman?”

“Pretty sure I am, yeah,” he said, looking down at himself. “You had a,” he made a twirling motion with his fingers. “A thing?”

“Sorry,” I said. “Where did you come from?”

“I mean, I don’t really think that’s much of your business, is it?” he asked, furrowing his brow. “Was that the question? Because you should know that I’m not really about the meta stuff.”

“You showed up late,” I said, glancing at the locus.

“I’ve got other things going on in my life,” he replied. “Someone gives you a phone call and says that they’re summoning you, do you drop everything to go right away? Nah man, I’m not turning on a dime for you, that’s not part of the deal.”

“A dime?” I asked. “You’re from Earth?”

“Hey look, if you don’t have a real, you know,” he gestured again, “thing, then I’m gonna bounce.”

“The question is about power interface,” I said, speaking quickly, because if he left, I wasn’t confident that I would be able to get him back. It was fucking bizarre that he was, apparently, a real person, but I was doing my best to roll with it. “The locus is low on power, has only one druid, and a limited domain. Through the mechanism of the game interface, which exists above and beyond the level of the soul, I have an immense amount of power or pseudopower available to me, and as we can see from the ‘floating’ domain around me and a few other things, the locus is already directly connected to that power source, and already capable of drawing on it to some limited degree.”

“Alright,” he said. “Sure. But what do you need to talk to me about it for?”

“I mean, you agree with all that?” I asked. “No questions asked, no arguments needed?”

“Sure,” he said with a shrug. “That's it?”

“So how do I, you know, transfer some of that reserve of power to the locus?” I asked.

“Not sure how that’s my department,” he said. “You know who I am, right? I’m the Layman. If you’ve got some definitions, stuff that’s not covered by p-space, or you want a, you know, change of jurisdiction because of prejudice or something, I’m your guy. If it’s more about what should or shouldn’t happen if you try something that’s way off the map, yeah, talk to me. If you want to have someone to knock together a plan with, that’s why you’ve got a party. But that’s meta stuff, which I don’t really do, so I’m out of here.”

“Wait,” I said. “I have a plan, I just need to run it by you.”

“Alright,” he said with a sigh. He took a long drink from his can of soda then raised an eyebrow. “I’m listening, but I swear if this is just you saying a bunch of stuff that doesn’t need my input, I’m complaining to the Big Guy.”

I wanted to ask who that was, and how many other entities there might be, because it was all very exciting, but I also felt like I was right on the verge of losing his attention, and I wasn’t sure that summoning him a second time would be as easy or fruitful.

“Having children is a viable method of transferring some or all of the game layer, which most importantly means all the attendant power,” I said.

“Is it?” he asked, giving me a very skeptical look.

“A child is a product of their parents,” I said. “At least until you start getting nurture stuff involved. And I know that the soul tracks parentage, which it must get from somewhere, which means that there’s a connection between souls. Data transfer, at the very least.”

“Okay,” he said. “But you’re saying that with you and the locus, you’re doing some kind of power transfer?”

I nodded. “The rules are clearly in flux, they’d have to be in order to interface with the locus, all the definitions are loose, the descriptions are images. It’s entirely possible to pass on the game system, or a fraction of its limitless power, enough to expand the domain, or induct a druid, or … or make a new locus.”

“Eh,” he said.

“With the virtues from the companion passives, yes,” I said. “The locus can bend or break rules, that’s in her nature. Hells, I’d argue that she’s outside the rules entirely. If, at that particular moment, she pulls on the connection between us, and I freely give it, she should be able to grab a fraction.”

“Eh,” he said again. “I might need to talk to some people. Give me a second.”

“Sure,” I replied. “What people?”

He disappeared without answering the question, and I was left standing there naked, feeling awkward. I turned to the locus, who had a characteristically serene look. I felt the urge to talk, to explain, to ask questions that I knew wouldn’t get answers, but I swallowed that urge and stayed silent, waiting for the return of the Layman.

I occupied my mind wondering who the people he might be talking to were. The Big Guy was pretty obviously the Dungeon Master, or maybe the Dungeon Master’s boss, if there was a distinction. No one else had been mentioned in the rules text we’d been given, nor implied through conversation with the Dungeon Master or conversations with Reimer about what the game had been like. I had long theorized a Dungeon Master’s Assistant type of role, the kind of entity responsible for making a billion entads, or doing other work that would be too tedious to comfortably fit in with the Dungeon Master’s persona. At least, that's what I would do if I was making a pantheon for this world.

It was interesting that the Layman had talked about issues of jurisdiction, which was another thing that I’d noticed a few times before. Magics needed definitions, because they weren’t actually running on local physics, and there were lots of different ways of handling those definitions. The Layman was one, p-space was another, and some magics or entads seemed to have their own separate definitions about what things were or weren’t. Valencia now had a number of ‘cursed’ entads which were exploited mostly through finding chinks in their definitions, places where certain parts would apply to her while others wouldn’t. One of the things I adored about Aerb was that it was willing to do that sometimes, to have four or five things that were, on the surface, the same, but with different rules to get to that point, which had different knock-on effects, different exploits, and different applications.

I was taking my mind off the matter at hand, naturally.

The Layman returned, still holding the same can of soda.

“We really don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.

“Necessary?” I asked. “Sorry, you — I don’t know what that word means in this context. Or what you mean by ‘we’.”

“Your souls are already linked,” he said. “The thread between souls, and the stuff on the character sheet? So like, sure, maybe I could say that you could link with each other through the magic of having sex — gross, by the way — but how does it change anything? That’s kind of what we settled on.”

“So what are you saying?” I asked. “That if I want to transfer an enormous amount of power over to the locus in order to expand its domain, I just need to …?”

“Problem is, the power isn’t yours to distribute,” he said.

I frowned. “Meaning that all that needs to happen is for the locus to take it,” I said. “Right?”

He thought about that for a moment. “The way I’ve been imagining the system is, it’s got limitless power, right? It allows all kinds of ridiculous crap on top of the regular ridiculous crap, and yeah, and the upper limits just don’t matter. Level doesn’t really matter either, because some of the shit in there is broken right off the bat. But it’s like, I dunno, a house with only a few exits. You can go out the front door or the back, but — you get it? Or it’s like a balloon that has a few holes poked into it, and you’re trying to rip the whole thing apart, but what it wants to do is to make that little annoying sound as the air slowly blows out of it.”

I did get it, kind of, but it was clear that the Layman didn’t get where he was by having great explanations. “And we both know that the locus doesn’t play by rules,” I said.

To my surprise, he seemed to consider that. “Okay,” he said.

“Meaning, what?” I asked.

“I agree,” he said. “So, problem solved, from your perspective?”

“Wait,” I said.

“Nah,” he said. “You made your argument, I agreed, that’s all this needs to be.”

He vanished, without so much as a snap of his fingers.

“Welp,” I said, turning to the locus. “I guess you just … grip onto the business end of the game system and take in the power?”

The locus gave me a blank look, as though she’d just let the words wash over her.

“Aw come on,” I said. “I know that you know at least a little bit of Anglish, or can read emotional or mental states well enough that you can contribute to a conversation. You can’t pretend that you didn’t have some understanding of what was going on there.”

The locus looked away, and I imagined that she was embarrassed at trying such an obvious lie.

“Okay,” I said. “There’s power there to grab a hold of, but you just don’t want to do it. And I guess if you’re not just going to transform yourself into a person and talk to me,” I waited, in case that was what she wanted to do. “Then I need a totally separate conversation with you in order to convince you, without actually knowing what your objection is, or getting much in the way of feedback. I’m going to get dressed first though.”

The locus turned back to me and gave a slight shake of her head, and I felt a jolt of embarrassment at that, then got dressed anyhow, nothing but pants, keeping my bare feet touching the grass.

“Alright,” I said. “Because I don’t know why you’re not just doing the thing, we’ll go through one by one until I hit the right track.” I let out a breath. Amaryllis was better at argument, but she had a much worse understanding of the locus, even if it was mixed with that particular reverence that people of this age had for the loci.

“Option one is that you want to die, or if not die, then fade away, or whatever it is would actually happen, given enough time,” I said. “You don’t strike me as suicidal, but you do strike me as the kind of creature that thinks an end to things is normal and natural. Look at Uther, the way that the narrative just wouldn’t end for him, the adventures that could never truly be brought to a close. It could be that’s how you see your own life, especially in the wake of the Second Empire being shitbags, and being constrained to the bottle, and … I don’t know, the prospect of expansion, which we’ve been taking Solace’s word on, probably seems daunting, or tiring, or just not at all fun. There’s a way that suicidal people sometimes are, where they get peaceful or euphoric, because they’ve made up their mind, and maybe that’s you. Or maybe that’s the wrong frame, and it’s just acceptance that this is the end, with no particular desire to keep going for another thirty thousand years or however long you’re been alive.”

I was watching for some sign that I was on the right track, but saw nothing one way or another. The locus was eating some grass, seemingly ignoring me, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything.

“Let’s set that aside for a moment,” I said. “Option two is that death isn’t really on the table for you, however that would work. When you were in the bottle, you couldn’t maintain the system on your own, probably because everything was so contained, so dependent on itself. It was like … well, I imagine it like running the same tabletop game for twenty years, where every single person has a bio, every single nation has an org chart, every magic is completely explored, and you’re not allowed to introduce anything new, not allowed to just go wild, and all your efforts are put toward hammering everything into shape. I can see how it would rankle. But now that you’re out of the bottle, you don’t have to do that management anymore, it’s not all going to fall apart into death and decay. Even if the biome you have shifts to something a little more appropriate to Poran it’ll still be life, still have plants and animals, still be a natural environment. So maybe you see that, an endless life on Poran, and you think, well, you’re right where you want to be.”

I got no response from that.

“Option three is that it’s the wrong kind of power. The game system … to take it back to tabletop games, you’re pure flavor, you’re that raw, wonderful, inspired creativity and expression that I love in my games.”

Loyalty Increased: Six-Eyed Doe lvl 23!

“Oh come on, you already knew I thought that,” I replied. “Anyway. The term-of-art is fluff, but you’re not quite that, because fluff implies the stuff that’s not important to actually playing the game, and you’re more fundamental than that. But the game system? That’s almost exactly the opposite. It’s the crunch. It’s the numbers, the mechanics, maybe with a little bit of mediation by the Layman, or interpretation by the Dungeon Master, but if it’s power, it’s power that is primarily rigid and structured, at least in terms of how it expresses itself.”

I was watching the locus, looking for tells, some kind of sign that I was on the right track. She was at least looking back at me, six eyes meeting my two, but it was impossible to tell what she was thinking, if anything. Maybe she just liked hearing the sounds coming from my mouth.

“You need both those parts, at least for the kinds of things I love most,” I said. “Strip the fluff out and you get board games, or card games, or … I don’t know, even most of those make some token effort at having nice artwork and flavor text. If you go the other way and strip out all the rules, all the mechanics, you freeform improv, or abstract art, or … there’s something I find unfulfilling about being unmoored, ungrounded. No offense.”

The locus laid down, front legs tucked under her, and stretched out so that her neck was pressed against the ground.

“Reading that back in my head, I know it probably seems, uh, a little bit insensitive, like I don’t value you, or like I think your whole essence could do with some fundamental restructuring, but it’s really not that. I can appreciate the freeform stuff. I’m just trying to say that there’s a particular kind of beauty that you can see in a marriage of imagination and simple mechanics, and if your hesitance is that taking some of this power that comes from a very mechanical source would pollute you somehow, make you less purely the thing you are right now … I don’t know. I wish that we could actually talk to each other.”

On a whim, I took off my pants and transformed back into a locus, hoping that I could put my thoughts in a form that would be more easily transferred. I was convinced that the locus understood Anglish, but I wasn’t convinced that it was entirely the same kind of understanding as how I understood Anglish.

Expressing myself as a locus was, to put it lightly, difficult. I didn’t seem to have much in the way of powers, which made sense, because I had no domain, nor druids, nor any of the other minimal trappings that a locus was supposed to have. Beyond what I’d seen from Solace, the locus had all kinds of magic of its own, and the various effects that it had produced, while generally nature-themed, ran the gamut. This was usually small magic, like having a trail of flowers that sprouted up behind her as she walked, or butterflies that would dance around her, but it was still the kind of thing which, if you showed it to Reimer, would raise a bunch of questions about what the breadth of powers was.

I decided to try showing her something.

Striding with four hooves, I began to circle the domain, moving faster until I was going at a canter, feeling the rhythm of the movement. I wasn’t terribly surprised to find that the locus was following me, but I ignored her for a moment, trying to concentrate on what I was trying to do.

We passed an Amaryllis near the stream, moving quickly as we did, and I had only a moment to take in her stunned face. I had told her that I was going to do something like this, but I supposed that the information hadn’t made its way to all of the clones.

I began to play with the canter. It was a natural three-beat, ba ba bump , and I did my best to hold it there, feeling the way I could naturally speed up into a four-beat gallop or slow into a two-beat trot. I imagined the canter as two sets of three, and began adding things to the timing of my gait. I was limited by being in the body I was in, but I had sounds at my disposal, and after a bit of experimentation, I was able to add them in, something like a grunt or a bellow to go with every third beat.

As music went, it was both crude and basic, and I apparently still had something like physical stamina, because by the time I had made a complete lap around the domain of the locus, I was starting to get quite warm and a little out of breath. For all that, the locus was running steadily with me, and by the time we’d gone halfway through our second lap, she had joined in, making much more musical sounds than I was. The forest around us began to join in, with animals conscripted to our cause, matching the three-beat of our canter, and with a little bit of effort, I was able to amplify it all with vibration magic.

I had never been terribly musical, but it felt like it was working. We were building off a scaffolding, the three-beat gait, putting everything within that framework, adding more to it as we went until it was a forest symphony, chirps from birds, croaks from the frogs in the stream, buzzing of insects.

I hoped that it would help the locus understand where I was coming from, whatever her issue was with not pulling on the thread that had been left dangling in front of her. When I looked over though, I was surprised to see that she seemed to be enjoying herself, throwing her head back to add her own noise to the music we were making. There was a frenetic energy to her, and a kind of beauty that I hadn’t seen before, complemented by my vision, which was showing me things as though they were the sole focus of my attention.

I was, at the very least, happy that I could bring her joy, and on a whim, I let our path circling her domain straighten out. With our path changed, it wasn’t long before we reached the edge of the domain, and the steep grade down to the natural land of Poran. I didn’t have any grand plan for this, especially since so much of my focus was already being soaked up with the improvised music, cantering along uneven terrain, and watching the locus.

When we passed the boundary, the locus continued on, and I felt a tug, one that reached down deep inside me, to a part of myself I had never known I could feel. The domain was yanked with us, like pulling on a tablecloth, and in the wake of the locus, the gray rocks and poor soil of Poran were washed with nature magic. Plants grew in the space of a heartbeat, trees shot into the sky, and there was something more elemental happening to the ground beneath us. It was a massive display of power, terraforming in an instant, and as we moved toward what passed for a beach on Poran, the effect spread. The island was rising up, displacing water in a way that I hoped wasn’t going to end up with the equivalent of a tidal wave some miles away.

The locus herself changed as she ran, rearing up onto her back legs and then staying there as her front legs became arms. The fur fell off in scraps, leaving her naked and pink, and hair grew out all at once from her head, a golden blonde mass of curls. She had to have been nearly nine feet tall, a giant of a woman, close to human, but with six eyes. She was thick, with strong calves and large thighs, and when she launched herself toward me, I was momentarily worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle her, momentarily forgetting that I was a giant buck myself.

We rode around the edge of the Isle of Poran, with her on my back, and I kept up the canter, though I was getting properly exhausted by how far I’d gone, especially with a passenger on my back. It wasn’t long before we returned to the original part of the domain, and after she’d leapt down from my back, I collapsed to the side, almost completely spent.

The locus seemed happy, and for a time, that seemed like the important part.


Amaryllis woke me up some hours later.

“Doing okay?” she asked, once I’d had a moment to drink some water and get my bearings.

“Sure,” I said. “Good.”

“Game system intact?” she asked.

“So far as I can tell,” I replied. “Looks the same from behind my eyelids, HUD is in place, and I would have plenty of warning if I was losing power. The locus didn’t actually need to leech any, to my understanding, it was more like a car needing a jumpstart. If there was a deficit, she could have paid it back, I think. And unless I misread her, the domain is large enough now that there can be more druids, more growth, if that’s what she wants.”

“Good,” said Amaryllis. She let out a breath. “I retract my earlier skepticism and concern.”

“It was reasonable,” I said.

“Did you,” she started, then faltered for a moment, looking at me. “Is there anything that I need to know about it?”

“Uh,” I said. “I met the Layman, as a real, physical person. He kind of hinted at a larger meta-pantheon, so you’ll have to change your religious beliefs.”

“Time stopped again?” she asked.

“Nope,” I replied. “But it was just me and the locus, there was no need to stop time, I don’t think.”

“Huh,” she said. “I would have liked to see it. Him.”

“I’ll try again some time, if we need to argue,” I said. “I got the feeling that he didn’t like being bothered, and he stonewalled me about a bunch of stuff I’d asked about the meta layer. Which makes sense, I guess, if he’s got the personality of an abstracted layman.”

“You caused a stir around Poran,” said Amaryllis. “I know you probably guessed that already. People saw you, took pictures of you … it’s a bit of a mess, but one that I can handle.”

“Is everything alright?” I asked. “So far as I could tell, the locus was blanketing the rest of the island. All the buildings that we had put up for the tuung, the village for all the hangers-on —”

“All fine,” said Amaryllis. “Most with a bit more greenery, and we’re making plans to move somewhere, but that was always a risk with removing the locus from the bottle, it’s just a consequence that’s been realized later than we thought it would.”

“Sorry,” I said. “But not really that sorry, because it’s something that’s been hanging over me for the last however long.”

“And did you … make a connection?” asked Amaryllis.

“Yes,” I said.

“You’re being deliberately obtuse because you don’t want to have this conversation,” said Amaryllis. “And that’s fine, but if it’s something that you wanted to talk about and dissect, or have me, I don’t know, forgive you, as if that’s necessary, we can’t do that with silence. So, did you have sex with the locus?”

“I did,” I said, feeling a little bit of weight lift with the admission. “Sorry, if that’s —”

“It’s fine,” said Amaryllis, waving a hand. “Weird, but if that’s what was necessary for the locus to expand, I’m glad for it.”

“Er,” I said. “It was after that.”

She stared at me for a moment. “Huh,” she said. “Is it valid for me to ask why?”

“Uh,” I said. “Valid, I guess, sure. We were just … happy, I guess, in a moment of understanding each other. There was an energy there. That’s it. Maybe it just happened because that’s the kind of space I try to put my head in when I’m with the locus.” I was trying not to feel flushed.

“Ah,” she said.

“Are you upset?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “Just … confused, I guess.” She shook her head. “It doesn’t really matter, in the scheme of things, I just — it seems casual, in a way that sex isn’t for you.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know.”

She was watching me. I had been worried, after it had happened, that she would see me differently, but her face showed only curiosity and concern.

“Well, so long as you don’t have misgivings,” she said, leaning back somewhat. “Can I ask … what forms were you in, at the time?”

“Mmm,” I said.

“I just mean that there were reports of two loci, and a giant six-eyed woman on an enormous buck, and … if the locus was switching back and forth, and you were as well, I just — don’t need to know,” she finished.

“Okay,” I said. “Sorry, if it’s, I don’t know. Weird.”

“It probably won’t go into the chronicles of our adventures,” she said. “But you should know by now that even if it’s not something that I fully understand, I won’t judge you for it. Maybe a fact that it would be better to keep from getting into circulation though?”

“Probably, yeah,” I replied. “I’m sure the press would have a field day.”

“And I hate to ask this, because I have no doubt about the answer, but,” she took in a breath. “Juniper, did you use protection?”

“Ah,” I said. “No. Didn’t even cross my mind.”

“Well,” she said, swallowing slightly. “I’m sure nothing will come of it.”

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Alexander Wales

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