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Undivided Queens     Seilatiya (and sort of Isahane, albeit less enthusiastically) had promised people an opportunity to finally see what her 'perfect empire' looks like, after very much interest in the topic. Besides the general precociousness of using big words like 'perfect' and not showing, the Holy Empress has been *enthusiastic* to challenge cynical Elite eyes with her life's work (even however not very long that's been yet), especially understandable when it comes to anything called an empire to those with any sense of pattern recognition.

    Yet, for what is ostensibly supposed to be an introduction to what is no less than the capital city, originally a state unto itself, the venture has shockingly humble beginnings.

    The Warpgate of choice is a very small one, sized appropriately for what appears to be a minor transit terminal, because that's what it is. It's something like one of those tiny train stations one finds out in the sticks of countries with real infrastructure, like a very large bus stop with benches and a sheltered roof and light posts for when it gets dark, though for its ostensibly rural posting, the very vaguely oriental style of it is both fancifully designed and immaculately well kept. There are even schedules behind glass, written in *some* kind of character-based language.

    There's no need for the slanted roof at all. It's the kind of sunny day that would go on a postcard, with dappled shade from wispy white clouds and a perfect breeze. It's just right for a wide open view like this, made of rolling fields of emerald growth and rows of multi-coloured blossoming trees following a broad, slow river and its many forking creeks, constantly rolling downhill to the west in steps of tiny whitewater falls, towards distant snow-capped mountains. Thickets of what appears to be bamboo are even in bloom at the same time as everything else, raised atop stony bluffs.

    The scenery is only split down the middle, east to west, by a long trail of packed white and black gravel, and a single, translucent, wedge-shaped rail, about as thick as a person, that runs endlessly down its exact center. Indeed, the resemblance to a train station is clearly accidental, but a purposeful form of convergent sensible design. Perhaps showing people around a 'perfect empire' must include its transportation. Rome and roads and all.

    The carriage waiting at the stop is roughly recognizable as train-like, but perhaps might be compared to a tram instead, being a single, isolated car with two floors, many tall, framed windows, a boat-shaped roof, and no clear front or back. A split down its bottom allows it to 'fit' to the rail, but it floats a couple of inches away from it, the length of crystal glowing faintly beneath it like a reverse shadow. The inside is perfectly cushy and pleasant, predominantly artistic lacquered wood, with sliding doors more like shoji than train compartments dividing it into three, and spiral steps leading up to the upper level.

    There is no driver. Clearly, it moves on an automatic schedule, and begins accelerating eastward only announced by a series of chimes in increasing number. There's no characteristic lurch to it, accelerating very smoothly and slowly, but the amount of speed it picks up renders the immediate sides of the tracks a blurry white ribbon, leaving the scenery scrolling in speedy parallax.

    Seilatiya has advised the trip will take only fifteen minutes or so, but must have *some* plan for it to go all this way before meeting up.
Brooklynn Bailey There was one thing Brooklynn was slowly learning in her time preparing to become a leader.  One of those things would be seeing other nations and learning how they govern to bring those ideas back to her home.  Seilatiya was very excited about her life's work, very proud of it and Brooklynn was very curious to see it.  

It also means that Brooklynn herself had to make sure to make an impression.  Brooklynn herself goes for a modest dark blue dress, more modern in appearance with a belt around the waist.  It draws attention to her thighs and long legs which are properly covered with stockings.  Her shoes are dress-like shoes, but not high heels.  

She can not walk in them.

Her hair is done well, tied into a ponytail in the back.  Long bangs are left on either side of her head, giving her silver hair some freedom and movement in the front.  Without the helmet, she normally wears it's the first time most people have seen that she wears her hair long.  

She gets onto the tram and sits down to look out a window.  She is most curious to see the city and the trip into it.  
Flamel Parsons     Flamel Parsons is here! And for his part, the look he's brought is... Hazardous environment? He was told that the empire is literally perfect! That means, of course, that there's a small chance -- very reasonable -- that the claim is a reasonably propagandistic lie, and a smaller chance -- very unlikely -- that it's a frighteningly dangerous bed of psychohazards forming an ecosystem in the shape of a perfect empire. That doesn't explain why the full-coverage biosafety suit and scanning devices are needed for someone with so much natural defense, nor why his scanning devices seem to be making squealy radiation-detected noises regardless of the presence or absence of any psychic energies.

    He does not behave like this is weird at all. In fact, he's positively chipper once they climb aboard the carriage. He occasionally waves those 80s-era-looking detectors over the environment, and even fellow travellers he came here with. It's just, it seems, what Flamel Parsons is like. He's gotta be at least a little vaguely suspicious when he comes here, but he can't poach the local aesthetic of the CIA if it's a perfect empire and thus has no CIA.
Cantio When the opportunity arises for Cantio to see what a great empire might look like, she's eager to join the trip. She's still working on hers even if it's less of an empire and more of a city-state at best, but there's nothing to be lost and plenty to be gained from seeing how other rulers might do it.

The fact that she comes in through a less-than-extravagant Warpgate doesn't even strike her as odd, although she does certainly notice that it's nowhere near as flashy as Seilatiya's general demeanor might have made her expect. It's practical, even, and she takes a moment to gawk at the glass-shielded schedules to get a quick hit of neatly organized commuter conveniences.

The carriage/tram, too, is easy enough to get accustomed to, although she does take a few moments to take notes on its construction. Its shape. The lack of a driver. That last part has her looking for whatever might be working in place of one, although her unfamiliarity with the technology (or magic) here might leave her somewhat clueless unless there's something obviously moving the whole thing.

Cantio's dressed for work instead of pleasure today, and her attire reflects this. Instead of her usual white and purple sailor-y outfit, she's wearing a neatly pressed suit and skirt combination, both an incredibly dark shade of purple that might be mistaken for plain black at first glance. Like Brooklynn, she's got her hair tied up in a ponytail to keep her hair out of her face should a sudden anime-esque wind suddenly start blowing it in alternating directions, and she even has a set of smart-looking rectangular specs on to really sell the smart girl look.
Candy      Candy is assuredly one of the cynical Elites, and also, assuredly, one possessed of the pattern recognition necessary to grasp why 'perfect empire' is a concerning combination of words.

     He does like trams, though.

     Candy's wearing a white tank top, and his usual suspenders. It'd give him a 'tough guy' appearance if it weren't for the red kerchief tied around his neck, or literally anything else about his appearance. He's got his newsie on, too, and settles into the tram without much fuss.

     When Flamel waves that detector over him, he gently bats it away. "Look with your eyes, not your toys," he grinningly teases. "You look like you're ready to fly a spaceship in that getup. Mind if I catch a ride when you lift off?"

     He's evidently decided to pregame, as there is suddenly an open beer in his hand. It might make one of Flamel's detectors register an uptick. The label displays a jovial, portly man riding through town on a bicycle and reads EL BASTARDO.

     After a sip, he waggles his fingers amiably at Cantio.
Persephone Kore      Flamel's detector squeals as a new arrival steps through the warpgate.

     I'm here! And "here" is really, really beautiful. Tia has done an amazing job, hasn't she? When Sapient Heuristics' dream comes true, I hope I can make a world as pretty as this one.

     Persephone casts her comforting pall over the train-stop, the same way she tinges everything. It's a subtle gravitational tug, a warmth and gentleness so vast it overflows to color the world around her, a familiar and cozy feeling that's just pleasantly a little like falling (into what? or for who?). It's so hard to stay tense under that effect, even if you're wearing shoes you can barely walk in! Brook, you're too much.

     She's wearing her usual, of course, which is both utterly comfy and vaguely formal enough (on me, at least!) to be worthy of a visiting dignitary. It's entirely too warm for the weather, but Phony doesn't seem to mind that in the slightest.

     Almost unnoticeable telekinetic forces correct Brook's posture, still her wobbling, and catch her if she happens to stumble. Phony gives her a sweet little wink. You get used to it!

     "I've never really been on a train before," she muses as the unusual vehicle glides to a stop. "They've always sounded so cute. Little moving rooms, all full of people! So much less lonely than a car, don't you think?"

     She sits next to Candy without asking.

     "I didn't think you'd be here," she says to him with a gentle smile. "A little lamb in the lions' den, aren't you? Ahaha, you really are too brave. But you're right to trust, you know. I won't let anything bad happen." Though, that does make me curious...

     Candelario's mind is inaccessible to her. But her psychometry works even on a doorknob; 'the mind' and 'the past' are two different things. Persephone attunes herself to the wavelength of his narrative residue, seeing if she can glean anything. If her analysis were framed as a question, it would be: "Why are you the way that you are?"

     Flamel waves the detector over her. Something inside of it instantly breaks with a noise like a miniature car crash, shedding sparks and cracking the display. She turns away from Candy to smile at him. "Take off the suit, Flamel," she says, resting her cheek in her hand. "Don't you trust me to keep you safe~?"
Hiromi     Hiromi has, for both obvious reasons and secret ones, arrived at roughly the appointed time. Close enough that she does not miss the train-tram. She is not dressed any differently than usual, but that shouldn't be surprising. Or even knowable, in the case of the one figure here who's not been in the same physical locality as her, previously. She tolerates the noisy psychic detection apparatus without overt acknowledgement.

    Trams, however, are not within her knowledge. She was once (inadvertently) challenged by a train, but the similarity there fails to trigger any relevant memories. Instead, Hiromi judges the vehicle, aloud, to be, "A boat."

    So saying, she places one hand on its side, then vaults up to the top, sitting cross-legged and facing forward. She's in no particular danger of falling off while it moves, and having the wind in her hair is pleasant. No salt breeze, here, either. Freshwater rivers were ever her preference, in any case.

    "Some like suits," she says (presumably) to Persephone, adding, "Tens of thousands," accurately remembering something Flamel explained, previously, albeit in the wrong context.
Flamel Parsons     "Huh?" Flamel briefly takes the headpiece off his sealed safety suit, wipes his forehead, and then replaces and re-seals it. Then he tosses the scanner aside, reaches into a bag at his side, and pulls out an entire replacement. The old one smokes and sizzles terribly. He doesn't wave the new one near her again. "Oh, I know! Mostly, I mean. A lot of perfect societies can wind up being very hazardous! I'm sure it's safe, but I also don't really have a..."

    He gestures vaguely, in Hiromi's direction. "That was super wise! Yeah. I'm an agent of a vague yet menacing government agency and that means wearing a certain type of suit. And if this place is perfect, then they don't have vague yet menacing government agencies and suits that indicate being one of them. I have to adapt, you know?"
Staren     A perfect empire... Seilatiya has certainly made it sound like a wonderful place, and of course seeing it has been on Staren's to-do list for awhile!

    So, a formal visit. Staren hasn't done that sort of thing in awhile. Does she just... show up in the labcoat and scarf? It's iconic, but... maybe not? Her old fashion sense has been discussed at length, and there are new options, but she just hasn't gotten around to settling on a new option. No time now!

    Staren steps out of the warpgate in what is recognizeably Staren Clothes, but she mixed it up a little, at least: Her hair is tamed for the moment, a subtle alice band helping hold it in place so that the front and part of the sides form a pair of long locks in front while the rest falls down her back. Her goggles are pushed up on her forehead, and in place of the usual scarf is a short, sea-green cape with three golden stripes at shoulder-level and a design on the back that looks like a staff of aesclepius inside the outline of a gear, with both eaten aaway at from one edge by circuit-trace designs in the negative space. (The stripes and design are repeated underneath on the labcoat, in Concord Orange.)

    The coat is worn closed, and the pants are better-fitted and pressed, with nice black boots.

    She looks Brooklyn and Cantio up and down, comparing the difference in formal clothes and wondering if she herself measures up. Everyone she knows gets a smile and a wave, and Flamel gets an "Uhhhhh, what are you wearing a hazmat suit for?"

    Once it's clear they've a tram ride ahead of them, Staren takes a seat on Persephone's other side and relaxes her clothing slightly for the trip, pushing the goggles down around her neck and unbuttoning her coat.
Flamel Parsons     Flamel's long, drawn-out explanation isn't repeated to Staren, for whom Flamel simply says, in a bright tone, "Same reason you're wearing a labcoat!"
Brooklynn Bailey Brook is trying and appreciates the support from Persephone.  Even if it's sudden, but not unwelcome.  Brooklynn gives her a warm smile when she is winked at, managing to steady herself.  It's going to take practice with these.  

"I don't know why perfect societies would be hazardous though.." she says, thoughtfully.  "Is that implying that they are not actually perfect?"  This is a bit above Brooklynn's grasping, but it also isn't in her field of expertise.  She relies on asking questions and getting explanations to help her out.  

Despite the potential conflict, Brooklynn does at least greet Hiromi.  "Hello, Hiromi!" She says with a bit of excitement.  She is excited to be here and see a new place.  She also gives Staren a smile, taking a moment to stop Staren and look the cape over.  "I like it.  It's a good color on you!"
Persephone Kore      Persephone mutely drapes an arm around Staren's shoulders, giving her a short side-hug before relaxing into lazy closeness.

     "I know I had fun wearing a space suit," she calls up to Hiromi, "but this is different, isn't it? That was romantic and new! I know for sure Flamel's worn one of those before, and they're not really romantic at all." A short pause. "Unless they're acknowledging me as the hazard~"

     Absentmindedly, her hand comes up to ruffle Staren's hair. Consciously or not, she shares a brief vision of her suggestions for a 'casual yet classy science girl' look: the cape removed (orange and green don't mix!), the labcoat tied around her waist by the sleeves in that cute and sporty way, and the goggles replaced with large, round glasses to give her a bookish aesthetic. A thin black turtleneck is revealed now that the labcoat's shed.
Undivided Queens     Five minutes into the lovely little ride, it turns out the carriage has speakers. Of a sort. like a silver goat horn. It's surprisingly well-hidden, but announces itself by Seilatiya's voice piping through it when the photogenic 'wild' scenery trails off, and is replaced with cultivated fields. She has the exact sound of someone who is immensely pleased to have scored the communications seat off of some supervisor she'd sent on break by royal decree, and is enjoying the novelty of using it; possibly spinning on a chair.

    "Hello, wonderful people~ I hope you're enjoying the ride~!" Even when it comes to banal small talk, even through a speaker, listening to her voice is still like mashing repeat on a brand new favourite song. "Other than wanting to show you the natural beauty of the midlands around this time of year, there *is* a good reason I didn't just welcome you riiiight into the heart of the capital, you know! A thorough presentation should show everything! Which means starting from the beginning!"

    "First, I invented the automatic carriage you're riding~ You're welcome! After the civil war --no, after the previous Emperor, and the one before him, and the Empress before him, did a lot of damage to the empire, with the fighting, but also with taxes, conscription, mismanagement, and over-production, there was a *big*, pressing need to link the many cities and towns and vassal states back together again, and better than before."

    "To keep a close and important presence, instead of leaving them cut off, isolated, and maybe harbouring secession ideas! To be able to quickly and efficient redistribute the resources necessary to rebuild, and those that were misallocated. And to give people a sense of unity and togetherness, by letting them *see* the rest of the empire they're supposed to be a part of! Getting to go to those other places, meet your countrymen, understand how they live, how they're different and the same as you, and how you depend on each other; isn't that the essence of a national identity? It took two years to finish it!"

    "But now by following the dragon veins that run through the earth, someone can cross one end of the empire to the other in days! At no cost but the snacks you bring along the way! Something that used to take weeks, and cost an arm and a leg, if you found someone trustworthy! Roads ended up saving the cohesion of the empire, and making everything that came after happen ten times as fast!"

    During the second leg of the trip now, there's a length of those time where those fields just seem to go on forever. Lush, terraced rice fields spread in overlapping radials from quaintly ornate farmsteads at their higher points, dotting the horizon as innumerable artificial hills, river water split in miles long rings that demarcate the geometric center as the general direction the 'train' is headed. Even where most of the dwellings should probably be wooden cabins or shacks, care has gone into expanding, painting, and renovating them into almost itty bitty manor houses. Dense orchards practically glow pink and red and green and gold in the valleys between, thriving on the artificial creeks, along with rows of scaffolded vineyards.

    The people outside are very hard to see at this distance, largely only identifiable as bright clothes and straw hats, but the fact that fat woven hampers follow alongside them with their own volition can't be missed, nor especially what look like flat wooden rafts with big wedge-shaped blades of glowing --presumably magic-- energy that glide through rows of crops with singular riders steering them by manual crank wheels.
Undivided Queens     "You know, despite all this farmland, there used to be shortages everywhere. Only for the lower classes in the capital, as the levies went up, but further away, not a lot of these crops made it to other places, especially closer to the west, where it's harder to grow anything. The Ilenjeh people that used to live on this land centuries ago spent a hundred generations carefully looking after it. When the precursors to the modern Algwyll people found it, they were astonished by how amazingly fertile and full of plants and animals and clear water it was! They made the mistake of thinking that it was just naturally like this, ignoring the knowledge of the people they eventually drove out. They thought it'd last forever, you know.

    "But it really didn't. It got used up, in time. I'm really glad Isa was able to bring her people back to their homeland. With their special knowledge and land-cultivation magic, and the industrialization brought on by the Runecipher renaissance, we get three harvests a year~ The people here own the land they work on, and get to keep however much of their crop they want! Since there's more than they could do with, there is naturally so much surplus that there's no longer a need to go around with accountants to administrate how much each family is keeping and taxing. Instead, those administrators work on dividing it up. A certain percentage is guaranteed to every citizen every year, a certain amount is sent along the dragon veins to other parts of the empire based on monthly needs, and the rest is traded outside the borders! Or, if citizens want more than what we guarantee them, they can buy some of it themselves!"

    Despite this being the boring nitty gritty of farming and trade economics, coming from someone who acts like a famous idol diva at all times, Seilatiya sounds and feels infectiously enthusiastic for something someone would normally glaze over in a history book.

    "Ah, you'll notice the lack of outdoor pastures though! Those are coming up! You'll see!"

    What she seems to mean by that, where the land becomes higher, drier, clearer, and brighter, is land given over to rows of glittering glass domes, *almost* invisible in the day, save for where the light catches in the seams of their tessellating hexagonal panes. The insides all either contain elaborate gardens dedicated to bright and exotic plants that probably don't grow well in the warm semi-wetland area outside, or large open ranges of animals, shockingly few in number.

    "Something we looked at was that there was a huge demand for meat, especially red meat, but that it mainly went to a small percentage of people. And it turns out, it's actually really inefficient to raise animals just for slaughtering them! You can feed two dozen families for a year in exchange for the meat you get from a single ox, you know. Isn't that just crazy? It used up a lot of land very fast, and was very expensive and wasteful."

    "So, nowadays, we imported cheesemaking and certain medicines from the east, to make gentle use of our animals all year round, and then only a small fraction of them, once they're old, are culled at the beginning of winter, and the many products butchered from them are preserved in cold storage, and professional Runesmiths spend the whole winter using those facilities to duplicate them over and over with our --oh, I'll have to explain Runeciphers in a moment won't I?-- industrial magic, so that there's meat and leathers and medicine all year. So much, we can make it part of the guaranteed allotment too~ So many people had never got the chance prior to seven years ago, you know."
Undivided Queens     "Ah, plus, one thing. I really don't like harming animals, and I think constantly raising and slaughtering them over and over is bad for people mentally. Even if it's their job, it eventually wears on you emotionally. You even have to teach your children to care less about animals, and that's just sad, you know? How we treat animals is a reflection of how we learn tot treat each other. Of course, that doesn't really mesh with the Ilenjeh culture --they have their own sense of respect for animals-- so as a kind of religious freedom thing, they get to keep their own flocks further to the south, though not many of them were farmers to begin with. Mostly hunters! And good ones~! Like, *really* good~"

    Beyond that, one can see where those river channels gather together, and disappear into the narrow silver ribbon of an ocean shore on the tip of the horizon, visible from some miles due to the gently sloping elevation, and great fleet of vividly coloured eastern-style sloops and quasi-galleons, some ostensibly fishing, but some seemingly equipped with cranes. Beyond that, the tallest spires of a city begin to show up to the east, bright white, cherry red and pink, slate grey, and glittering gold. "You're almost here! Don't be surprised if there's a welcoming party~"
Cantio Throughout the ride, Cantio takes notes not unlike how Flamel does. Rather than using funky detectors, though, she just lets a little boxy drone out and has it floating by her head, feeding her vague info to tap into her tablet that is definitely useful and not just about aesthetics in this area.

For now, anyway.

Candy gets a light wave in return, although it takes her a moment to get his name right. "It's been a bit, hasn't it? Are you doing alright? Have you... Er." She wracks her brain for a few moments, trying to recall the name of that place. "Were you for or against the Mexican President?"

Still trying to stave off her scatterbrainyness, she lets out a brief sigh of relief when Persephone arrives. "Ah, hi! Yes, trains have that little bonus to them. They're usually intended more for mass transit at a low cost rather than that, but... Eh?" She glances from Persephone to Candy again. "He seems trustworthy enough, right? I mean... W-wait, are we the lions in this situation?"

Although she sounds startled, Cantio can't quite hide the slightest of smiles crossing her face. It actually feels good to be compared to something strong for once.

Hiromi's climb to the top of the carriage/tram grabs her attention before long, and she looks over that-a-way. "Is that... Are you comfortable up there?" Cantio asks the obvious, taking note of the generally comfortable ride and contemplating trying it herself.

Maybe on the way back.

Staren asks Flamel about the hazmat suit, and the only thing stopping Cantio from mirroring that question is Flamel actually answering it in the only way that makes sense. She does mouth a quick 'thank you' to Staren, though.

Seilatiya's comes through the sort-of-speakers, and Cantio listens closely as she goes over the history of this place and the carriage they're in. "That explains the details, then..." She strokes her chin lightly as she settles into a seat finally, going right back to taking notes while looking at the side every now and then.

The talk of civil wars and secession in particular, though, has Cantio inhaling awkwardly through her teeth. She's taking plenty of notes from that part, too, and it takes her a while to snap out of that particular funk. Thankfully, it happens once Seilatiya starts going into the region's food production history, and...

Nope, Cantio's still looking awkward as hell when the topic shifts to food woes. It's definitely not because she's had a hand in screwing things up somewhere else with that, too. She's still getting plenty of good notes on that, at least, even if she's cringing extra hard at herself.

Meat duplication, though, catches her attention in the good 'oh, this could be super useful' way instead of the 'how much have I been screwing things up' way for once. Once that part of the tour ends, Cantio focuses more on looking out at the sights rather than tapping away at her tablet and occasionally looking up like she had earlier. "Amazing... There's so many colors in this place, but it all looks... Consistent? Perhaps it's the style, or the way everything goes together."
Candy >Why is Candy the way that he is?

    It comes to Phony in fits and starts. The strongest and most clear is the first. A young boy peers from what he imagines to be the safety of a small window, from the inside of a simple, humble adobe house in the boonies of what was once called Morelos. His parents had told him to go inside, in a tone he'd never heard before. Men in beige uniforms with rifles, one in a suit with papers. Discussion turns into an argument. His mother and father grow increasingly more agitated, but the man in the suit remains calm--and this seems to irritate the boy's parent's all the more, until his father takes a step forward. That was when the shooting started. When he hid under his bed until things were quiet. This, the boy came to understand, was the natural state of empires--to take by force what they can't by edict, and to consume the people whose labor makes their existence possible.

     Persephone already knows how Candy came to be 'special,' as she calls it. An argument with his aunt, his temper flaring at the suggestion that this state of existence was fixed; that there will always be empires and that those empires will always have enforcers who steal from those they claim to protect.

     Years later, the boy is a young man, huddled in the dining room of a famed revolutionary of the south, along with easily a dozen of her most trusted people. Two months ago, this young man thought that change might finally come, as did many of his fellows, as did many across Mexico, as did Ana Sofia Zamorano herself. Mendoza, the so-called man of the people who would replace president-for-life Ibanez, had proven just as corrupt as his predecessor, just as unwilling to help the farmers of the north and south, and just as willing to use the Federales as his bludgeon. Barely a month into office, Ibanez's loyalists had him killed, and the young man huddled in that dining room came to realize that there is no fixing something which was working as intended all along.

     "Oh, I trust, alright," says Candy, here in the present. "I trust that there's always a catch." With a glance towards Brook, he nods. "Always, there is a catch, when someone says how great some empire is. Or some kingdom."

     He does, however, gently take her hand. "And I trust you to know some bullshit when you see it, ah? You're smart."

     When the speaker chimes in and Tia's explanation is given, he slips his free arm over the back of his seat and leans back. With a thumb towards the window, he points out the rice fields. "She invented the tram, but who keeps it running? Who keeps the station clean? Maybe for once it's not them farmers," he admits--it is unusual that they're treated so equitably, in his experience--"but somewhere, someone is getting the shit end of the stick, ah? It is never those people that you see on the pretty tours." He shrugs his shoulders.

     "The glowy floaty raft thingies are neat, though. The domes, too."

     Cantio's question draws a laugh from him. "Miss, I'm against most presidents. You ask me, it's a way for somebody to get a cushy job far, far away from anybody that'd force 'em to actually do it. And, you know... they can't even be honest about that--not even Ibanez. Always with the speeches telling everyone how great everything is--like people are supposed to believe that when Mexico City is lousy with the soldiers and the bullet holes. His gaggle of shitheads he calls 'scientists' so that anybody who doesn't like them seems stupid." He sips his beer and giggles.

     "So I guess I'm against him," he concludes.
Brooklynn Bailey Brooklynn considers the colors used and isn't so sure orange and green don't work together.  Let it be said that Brooklynn probably has a very strange sense of taste.  Probably.  It's just as likely she just doesn't understand it very well, and instead just likes the two colors, and thinks they're just fine together.  

Her attention is caught by Candy, who indicates his lack of trust in the kingdom.  She also notices Cantio's expressions and offers her a smile to try and comfort her.  She does reach out with Phony's gifted powers, she wants to understand her better.  She wants to know what is making her awkward and cringing at herself.

Though her attention is caught by the beauty of the kingdom.  The fields of rice...of pure food was just something out of a storybook for Brook, who has had to deal with hunger and famine as a way of life almost all of her life.  The explanation of how meat is handled, for someone who has had to deal with eating rats found in buildings, or barely cooked fish more recently.  

She listens intently to how it is explained to her and has an idea of what to do with parts of the island they were on.  Perhaps it is reasonable to start recovering land...but that would present challenges in and of themselves.  Including needing equipment and training.  It could be years before a crop could be cultivated that could feed them.  It would also be worth it.  

Brooklynn's head turns up at Candy though, "Not all heads of state are self-interested in their own power to the detriment of their people.  I have seen the passion in Seilatiya's work first hand, and seeing it like it is spread out now is very much putting her cards on the table, is it not?  Most sovereigns would not show you how the sausage is made, so to speak."

"I could not go through life not being able to trust others like that.  I can't say if it's a virtue or a vice to be able to.  My nature compels me to accept words at face value until proven otherwise because to shut others out would be counter to the love I represent."
Staren     Staren leans into the side-hug. Persephone's mental back-and-forth picks up a few notes -- Staren's certainly aware of that aesthetic, it reminds her of someone, and ohhh, wait, is that me though? And doesn't it convey more of a cute harmlessness/helplessness than being someone worth listening to? Or are you saying I should learn into that and there's a way to make that work?

    Seilatiya's voice comes over speakers. Ley line trains? How nice it would be if RIFTS Earth could have those, but monsterts and anti-magic groups are an issue, although Penelope gets mental images of hovertrains and magic flying steam trains.

    Staren makes sure to record the economic explanations for later. Also, what are runeciphers? She's sure she'll find out.

    Meat duplication? Intriguing.
Hiromi     Hiromi is not very disposed toward the usual greetings, but does acknowledge those given her in her near-silent fashion. There's no more animosity for Brooklynn than, for example, she has for Staren. It is somehow impossible to misunderstand this neutral intent, even if the sound is unintelligible and the look is, by the usual expectations, unexpressive. Some might see the pattern in her communicative ability.

    It's wholly possible to hide a conversation, or at least give the impression of having hidden one, in the car below her, while she sits on top. On the other hand, the horn with Seilatiya's voice isn't at all intended to be such, and she responds in several ways, noticeable to different senses. A psychic-detectable reaction of positive surface thoughts shouldn't really be surprising, given the kind of effect Seilatiya usually has on people. Largely meaningless, in fact, unless one checked it against the fact that simiilar auras from other figures have never even registered on Hiromi's mind. There may be something there.

    But that positive feeling doesn't remove this place from her judgment. It's not quite so benign as an intent to learn what can be learned of a perfect empire. There isn't a notion of believing or disbelieving in the claim of perfection. It is wholly coincidental that her reasoning here follows, unbeknown to her, a parallel with the revelations of Candy's past. For a thing to be perfect means that it cannot be fixed. For a thing to be perfect does not mean that it is good.

    Hello, wonderful people~
    "Seilatiya," Hiromi says, responding without consideration for the possibility of it being a one-way P.A. system. After that, despite the shape of her thoughts, there's little on which she feels the need to directly comment, but some catch her attention.

    "On dragon veins, only?" She looks out over the network of rivers, while considering the possible shape of the transit network.

    I really don't like harming animals...
    "Softness. Raised to slaughter, or avoiding slaughter, neither is to hunt."

    How we treat animals is a reflection of how we learn to treat each other.
    "Are you not animals?"

    Mostly hunters! And good ones~! Like, *really* good~
    "How good?" She'd rather see that than closed pastures.

    "Is that... Are you comfortable up there?"
    "Yes," Hiromi answers Cantio. "Travel is easy, wind is comfort."
Flamel Parsons     "A lot of this *does* encourage the kind of mental health you need, I suppose! Relieving the survival-stress and expanding the sense of community could definitely help take a society from average to pretty good, as far as 'perfection' goes!" Flamel chatters as if the PA is going to transmit it back. "I suppose I need to find out more about how people are living *where they live* though. I'll look forward to the welcoming party!"

    As for Candy's commentary about this look being spaceman-esque -- and this is terribly belated -- Flamel does explain his look. "This is actually safety equipment! Not space equipment. You see, I'm part of a *terrestrial* vague yet menacing government agency, you're thinking of the Greys and Lizardpeople -- that is, you know, Majestic types! We're very distinct, though I like to keep tabs on them!"
Undivided Queens     Keeping up the chatter along the way, before the carriage can pull in to its final destination, Seilatiya somewhat obnoxiously responds. "Hi~ro~mi~" Then, "I guess it is soft, but, what's so good about being hard? If there's no need for most people to kill to live, then why force them to kill anyways? Even animals? I don't believe that getting used to hacking up living things makes you a better person. It doesn't make you any stronger, or any more good at anything except hacking up animals. Some people are okay with it, so they can choose to do it, but most people don't have any interest. People naturally want to be kind to the animals they live with, you know?"

    There's a pause where she is probably emphatically nodding and not realizing nobody can see her. "It depends on which tribe, but it's very important to them! They lived in the west for centuries, where it's very hard to make anything grow, so you *have* to live off the other animals. And they're big and nasty there; not like cute little cows. When I was living with the Ilenjeh, I tagged along with hunting parties a lot. You'll be able to see in a little while~"

    She replies to Candy almost blithely, seemingly lacking the finesse to feel hurt at his suspicion. "Catches are for tricking people. And you trick people when you have something to hide, or something you want that they won't give. That everything a human being gives to another human being automatically has some kind of price or consequence, and if you can't see one, it must be cleverly disguised; that's an awful idea that people perpetuated. It's so they wouldn't feel bad about always having to pay prices they shouldn't have to." There's a thoughtful break for a moment. "The people who take care of them are technicians. Of course? There are those kinds of people who really like working with complicated tools. They like fiddling with parts and things that go. And you know, keeping things clean isn't very hard when everyone is proud of them! Mostly, the people who live close and use them a lot just take it in turns. It reflects badly on your area if someone comes along and finds your station all run down, you know? And people want to feel and look good~!"
Persephone Kore      Persephone's expression bends into a thoughtful little frown. It really doesn't suit her face at all, so much more used to smiling.

     Poor boy. When it comes down to it, anyone who wants to be in charge that badly will hurt people to hold onto it. Nobody ought to grow up in a world that cruel! Of course he'd think that nobody should be in charge at all.

     Tia and Hana, I know they're really not like that. I know Sapient Heuristics isn't, either- we're trying to invent a new kind of power just so we can give it to everybody. But does Candy? Can I expect him to see that, too?

     "Where I grew up," Persephone says to Candy slowly, "everything was as perfect as it could be, but there still had to be people to make the food or sweep the floors. They were staff, just like the researchers. And we looked up to them, just like the researchers." I shouldn't say 'scientists', even if it's true!

     "We ate the same food. We lived in the same kinds of rooms. It takes a village to raise a child, and they raised us just the same. Even if a job is simple like that, does that always mean getting the short end of the stick? Or do you think that sweeping floors makes someone worth less, by itself?"

     Her response to Staren is less verbal, more felt. You've still got the glasses and the labcoat, don't you? If you say 'I have a plan', I think those will make people will listen to you no matter what.

     And the harmlessness can help! Dumb boys will listen to you better if they don't feel threatened. Or if they feel very, very threatened! Ahaha. But I don't think that's something you want to go for, somehow.

     Aside from that, she just stares out the window with a dreamily peaceful expression, soaking up Seilatiya's explanations in satisfied silence. But I am curious about one thing!

     Those bright-clad farmers scrolling by in the distance... they're not so far away that she can't feel their hears. What are they thinking about in their daily lives? How happy are they, and where does that happiness come from? What often-felt feelings have worn grooves in their souls?
Cantio Candy's broad sweeping response has Cantio chuckling, but in that slightly awkward way. "Really? Ah, it's a good thing I'm not a president, then." She even laughs at that, but it's pretty clear from her tone that she's not sure how safe she really is still being (basically) royalty. "I'm trying not to be like that, anyway. I've got my own duties to my people, and being a leader means actually fixing problems like that instead of lying all the time."

Only sometimes.

Brooklynn probes into Cantio's mind through Persephone's powers, and she gets quite a good look into the root of that awkwardness even with that brief moment.

Thankfully, Cantio's mind is allowed to wander past that as she focuses on other things outside of her own situation. Hiromi's reply has Cantio weighing her options. She glances at her tablet full of notes, at the interior of the train and everyone inside it, at her suit and skirt that aren't really great for climbing or doing much else beyond looking professional...

"... Heck with it." Setting her tablet aside (by which she really just shrinks it and shoves it in her pocket), Cantio moves towards the side of the tram before starting to climb up the thing. Sure, she could have used the stairs to go up higher, but she's trying to get up there the same way Hiromi did!

She's just kind of bad at it. Without cheating with flight or stairs, Cantio's revealing herself to not be all that great at action hero mobility outside of life or death situations. She does make it up there eventually, though, even if she's clinging onto the roof out of fear of falling right off the carriage.
Undivided Queens     Though 'imperial capital' pretty typically brings to mind something relatively large, impressive, and densely populated, evoking images like the Grand Colosseum of ancient Rome, one may be slightly underprepared for the scale of what rapidly crests the horizon as the rail ascends winding terraces at progressively steeper intervals.

    Once you're close enough, you can begin to see parallel tracks forming up with your current rail, merging and crossing and forking off towards their sisters further away. The density grows and grows, and soon becomes an intricate spirograph of transit lines, painted in glittering ribbons rather than dark asphalt highways. Though you'd been pleasantly left alone for the length of your ride, there are now hundreds of other carriages visible in the area, passing by you and crossing intersections around each other at high speed with flawless timing. Most of them have many stacked up in length, and some have much larger cars, as well other, larger, 'engine cars' pulling linked flatbeds loaded with goods.

    It all wraps around the edges of a wavy ocean of architecture that combines bright oriental colours and styles with what seems like white Roman concrete was in it's prime, beautiful facades and fluted stones and all. Though one could call the miles of outer buildings 'rambling', even their original disorganization has clearly been broken up into a grid of rail and road-defined sectors, and stacks of crammed together dwellings have since been replaced with solidified arrangements like inns, or 'feudal apartments'.

    Beyond that, the average height of everything built continues to scale on a geometric curve, growing taller and denser until there is a veritable 'downtown skyscraper region' of pagoda-tiered would-be palaces and spires. Despite that though, a weird detail that takes a little while to pin down is that the outermost parts of the region aren't all that much less decorated than the interior. Rather than hovels to gilded frescos as a gradient, it goes from 'nice' to 'very nice'. Simple mosaics to big ones. Narrow roads to broad ones. Buildings with a banner and a little statue of some guardian animal to buildings with gates and walls. The visual unity makes it feel like it was all built in the same generation.

    The outermost portion is clearly a mercantile and working area. It makes sense that the bulk of commonfolk trade would happen closest to new visitors and easy departures, and the bulk of workshops would be closest to where the resources flow in. The place is thick with foot traffic, all the way from where you disembark to deep into where the districts begin meeting those given over to pure habitation and mix into spacious open plazas. You're lightly mobbed as you step off, as clearly a special kind of visitor(s), but people make way once Seilatiya switches over to directing you through the radio.

    It's surprisingly easy to navigate. Despite mostly being a place of work, it feels like the lively kind one finds in an upscale mall or park on a three day weekend. Every shop has an open front, without windows or doors guarding the majority of its merchandise. Every workshop is simple to navigate in and out of. Construction lots are barely even marked off with braided rope. There are places where some old buildings were clearly demolished, and replaced instead with pretty little parks which have become festooned with stall goods. You can smell steel and oil, brick and clay, leather and dye, and fresh produce from outside and hear the clang of hammers, the creak of bowed wood, and the chattering of sewing women. Colourful clothes hang out on drying lines across upper levels where people live at their small places of sale and craft. Children are playing with balls and adults with game boards under parasol shades in the less frequented corners.
Undivided Queens     Even here, there are other things that stand out. One is that the average person here is obnoxiously good-looking, and almost nobody looks 'old'. Though there are clear cultural styles and mores, there doesn't seem to be any especially universal style of dress, even some manual workers deciding on something outlandish. Whether it be some trick of makeup, shapewear, accessorization, or something else, frankly, for those who are familiar with such a concept, it doesn't feel like a work quarter, but like you've stumbled into a themed VR Chat room. Roughly one in five people seem to average taller, bigger, darker-skinned, favouring geometric patterns on spun clothes and with inked tattoos here and there, and most every adult appears to have some slightly non-human physical quirk, without rhyme or reason.

    The second is that almost everyone is followed around by a floating stone of some kind, roughly baseball-sized, held mysteriously aloft by little ornate ring fixtures of metal, each crystal face hosting glowing characters. Even children have tiny, three-sided pyramids, while most adults seem to have cubic, or eight-sided versions of gradually increasing size. Those who've seen Seilatiya's Holy Runecipher should generally get the idea of what these are, but it takes seeing a couple sit down and casually voxel-conjure up sun hats and drinks at a table to really get the idea of how used to these ostensibly mass-produced versions people are. Though there is obviously need for 'real' work, children carry their balls in holographic runes, and simply make a new one when they manage to lose it, where their parents are more concerned with fans and refilling bottles.

    Third is that there is a strangely low ratio of people visibly working to people faffing about. There are plenty of places 'to be doing work', but many aren't even in active use at all, despite having people around. Nobody seems to be in much of a hurry. It's difficult to even locate a supervisor, given the lack of pushy yelling. Fourth is that it is, in fact, perplexingly hard to find a single person who looks like a guard or police officer, even around the open stalls.

    What trade there is, seems to come down to bronze, silver, and gold coins, which seem fairly standard, but each have a matching green, blue, and red stone in their center, some of which are dark, and some of which are bright.

    "Okay okay! So!" Seilatiya begins, now through people's personal communicators. "The Holy Runecipher is a big deal! A real gift from the Goddess herself! But nobody but me has been able to use it for a really long time. So a lot of smart people who could *almost* *kiiiind of* get close to using it studied it for a long time, and make replicas! The Imperial Runeciphers! And over time, we made those better and better, and basically they got to be the backbone of the Empire, which everyone is totally jealous of."

    Because you can make anything you want out of pure magic, as long as you have the design-script encoded in your Runecipher somewhere, it becomes very easy to have an automatically self-sufficient way of living. The number of sides indicates what grade of Runecipher it is, and how much it can store and how complicated it is to use. It used to be that it was a symbol of status, but now even common people have at least a simple one, so it's more like you 'graduate' to the best one you can use? Even kids learn to use their first one in school."
Undivided Queens     "Since most people don't have a lot of magic, it's not convenient to make everything you need every day like that, so people still have to make things! Furthermore, you can't write infinite script into an Imperial Runecipher. And people have to come up with them themselves! Carefully designing them is a lot of work! It's a bit of an intensive process, in time and labour and magic, to transcribe one to another, but having more scripts is really nice, so there's a big market for it! But people also like having unique things, made just for them. Plus, a skilled runescripter probably isn't as good at making furniture as a really skilled carpenter, for instance; though they might commission one as reference."

    "Since people don't have to make every single thing they need every day for themselves, there's not much need to tell people who has to do what either. There was originally a lot of grumbling and fearmongering that if people could get the essentials for themselves without working, nobody would work. But, you know, I can tell how people's hearts work, and I knew that wasn't true. Nobody wants to do nothing with their lives. Even idle hedonism wears off. People mostly do what they like, even if it's only something they really like because it's a family tradition or craft. Sometimes we have to encourage people into trying new vocations for a while, if there's a big need for it, but otherwise, people make the best things when they really care about it, not when they're forced to make lots to feed themselves. And when someone makes a nice thing, eventually, they can share it with everyone through script~!"

    "Obviously there's a currency for buying nice things, whether extra fresh food, nice tools, new art, things to grow or read or play with, or a pleasant time listening to music or at a teahouse. It's backed by . . . me~! I spent a while learning how finance works, and you know what? I really hated it! It was awful and just made no sense! I mean, it did, but only as math on paper. And math isn't real, you know? Why do people not get to have things because numbers on paper say that wealth does or doesn't exist?"

    "So, money you can hold in your hand only. The coins store little bits of magic. Big coins for large amounts. And because you can use that magic with your Runecipher for whatever, it's valuable to everyone! Depleted coins are worth less than full ones, but you can exchange them naturally, because later you can fill them on your own. So really, you're giving each other, like, 'a piece of' a thing they want, even though you don't know what they want; they get to decide.

    She adds, like an afterthought, "I don't really like banks, but I kept a few around for storing money. I cancelled all the debts when I took power though. Loaning money is okay, and you can charge a fee, but it's strictly illegal to charge interest you know. And I got rid of trading contracts, futures, options, because people don't get them and it just makes most of them broke. At the end of every season, a percentage of how much people have stockpiled up goes to the state, so we can use all that aggregate magic to build new public works really really fast! Like the rails! Otherwise, if you're doing work, you get paid a set amount, and are free to spend it around like you want. Why? Because I think it'd be impossible for me to know *everything* that *everyone* wants all the time, and I think it's important for people to be able to have things they enjoy as well; not just things they need. Four hours a day is plenty. Even if you're not very inclined to anything, there's always room for a little community service~"
Brooklynn Bailey Brooklynn's face has a few expressions on it after a moment, however, before she could say or do anything Cantio is trying to scramble up to the roof.  Mmm!  Well, she will certainly appreciate the show, though she turns her head to look out and over the countryside.

Though it was a curiosity to her, she tried to extend out what Persephone had given her.  To who she could feel to try and suss out how they felt about their lives.  Also why they felt that way...the hearts of her people were going to be a big part of pushing forward in her own world.

However, things come towards the main city itself, this was ALSO a sight.  The gradual growth from small buildings to medium buildings to skyscrapers.  Brooklynn has been to metropolises since coming to the multiverse.  This one was very impressive, the styles and how things flow.  The transit system was simple and easy to follow.  

The people were different, but she too tries to get a feel for people around her.  How they feel about their daily lives, why they feel that way, what they don't like.  That sort of thing, still trying to use the borrowed gifts, and get used to controlling it.  The strange objects floating are interesting to her, making time to look at different ones, as long as it doesn't offend anyone.

The lack of people working was very interesting, and no officer's keeping the peace was something Seilatiya had mentioned before.  Though she is finding the system here would not easily work in her own world.  This would be a challenge unique to Seilatiya's world.  With a sigh, she starts to wonder if things would always seem murky.  

Though she does continue to listen to what is being used.  Even if it was for a world that had access to a commodity like magic and magic coins, it might still have some use in the world she would build.  Though the idea of learning finances makes her head hurt a little.  That stuff never made any sense.  

"I wonder how things would have played out if the runeciphers or magical coins would not work.  It sounds similar to a barter system, though I'm still learning how economies work.  Math is very fake," She agrees with her guide.
Undivided Queens     Being on their feet, Flamel and Persephone get to poke around at plenty of people. Specifically, in their hearts and in their heads.

    What's in their hearts is actually very familiar to Persephone. There is a pervasive sense of being 'at ease' all around her. Despite everyone having hundreds of immediate neighbours, and seeing thousands of people across the year, it has a similar-ish atmosphere to the Sapient Heuristics station; that of kids who all know each other, adults who all work together, people who share a common belief and a positive outlook on it.

    Though it isn't too hard to find a small frustration or a daily challenge in just about anyone, the most well-worn and familiar feeling is one of self-assurance. Not just a comfy blanket of 'things are better now', but 'what I do matters', and a sense of looking forward and expecting everyone's efforts will turn out right. Many people spend some time thinking about new things they've still yet to do, or planning out what they want to do in a year, or five years, or ten, like most people don't get to, though most are more focused on how they plan to spend their time, thinking about family or lovers or friends, or the latest thing that's caught their fancy.

    More than anything, there is an immense *lack of antipathy* in them. Barely a suspicious or fearful bone in anyone's body. Not of their neighbours, or strangers. Unusual to even Sapient Heuristics, there is a pervasive sense of patience too. Like everyone has all the time in the world.

    There are, however, everywhere, traces of past trauma. Less healthy feelings worn into deep ruts in their hearts, gradually eroded in recent years, but not gone. It takes a long time to fully detach from the quiet desperation of worrying about tomorrow's next meal, the blunt and numb disgust of pointless busywork, the despair of feeling stuck, or the loneliness of being unable to find someone. Everyone values what they have now, and to an extent, common thoughts, little invasive bits of paranoid fear that they might lose it now, are unavoidable.

    Flamel scanning around for these same things gets to establish his pattern. He does, in fact, find something almost like a cognitohazard. Or rather, it's exactly like a cognitohazard, but in reverse. An adaptive, living thing, or rather, more like an evolutionary tree of things, grown throughout the collective consciousness, which spreads and multiplies and self-reinforces.

    However, rather than being parasitic or predatory in nature, it'd be easier to compare it to 'a forest'. Like the empty spaces in people's brains being gradually colonized by flowers. They're largely perfectly mundane, but there are many ideas and feelings that are occasionally alien to the dumb monkey architecture of human brains, optimized for running from jaguars and seeking tribal status, yet seemingly wholly positive.

    It's doubtful he'd be 'infected' just by walking around, but the living culture here is like sinking his brain into a warm bath of 'things are okay now'. 'Things can be alright'. 'Life doesn't have to be hard and bad'. Rather than numbing, it's faintly invigorating, perhaps better compared to a hot morning shower. The lack of urgency doesn't feel like something that would compel someone to stop moving and relax, but the kind of thing that compels people to travel and try new things on paid vacations they want to make the most of.
Staren     Staren doesn't wear glasses, but. It's not hard to have Persephone's proposed outfit fabricated and warped to her (the labcoat she's wearing is too long to wear that way, and she wants a softer material inside the neck of the sweater, but that's easy enough.) She stuffs her old coat and cape and goggles into the bag, puts the turtleneck on over her shirt, ties the new coat around her waist, puts on the glasses, and also conjures an opal pendant with a *cartoonishly* large gem in a silver setting with artistic patterns engraved around it, hanging from a wire and leather thong, and wordlessly asks Persephone whether it's appropriate to wear or not. As for ~boys~ being affected by adorkable charm, that is a confusing thought. Moving on...

    Staren suddenly realizes something when the lines start running parallel. "Wait, were the dragon lines originally layed out like this, or did they move them somehow?" She looks impressed as she sees the sheer scale of this transport network, how in use it is.

    Staren gives good-natured smiles and waves and nods to the mob of people, introducing herself, but she doesn't have much to say before being guided along by radio. She warps in a couple of camera drones to record the tour.

    Staren is absolutely comparing this to place to Yu-Shan, Lazlo, and what she knows of online spaces elsewhere in the Multiverse. That everyone is pretty is noted.

    MASS-PRODUCED CONJURATION MAGITECH?! Staren's jaw drops at that, how the hell do they manage that?!

    Although, is it really any different from everyone having access to nanofabrication? Just some slight comparative advantages/disadvantages...

    More notes to take on economics.
Candy The Tram

<J-IC-Scene> Brooklynn Bailey to Candy, "I trust my allies, but I can understand being cautious."

     He nods, smiling warmly at Brook. "I trust Ms. Sunshine," Candy says to Brook, "She's got a good heart. And my friends Chase, and Hibiki, and Rita, and Limey, Mr. Blacksmith... And C! I trust a lot of people. Me and Cantio ain't worked together much, but she seems like she's got her head on straight from what I seen," he continues, after a swig of beer. It's the last bit in the bottle, and the bottle is simply Gone. Like someone deleted it. "-People- I got no problem with. I love people!" He beams. "I love meeting them, love making friends with them. It's, ah..." His arm comes off the back of the seat, and he gestures vaguely, searching for a word as his hand rolls in a slow circle.

     "When someone comes along and says one person, or a few people, oughta decide how things go for a whole lotta people, -that- you cannot trust. It's dodgy even when it's something small, like, ah, the town elder, you know? Even then, it works on that person's brain." He releases Phony's hand so that he can make a gesture conveying 'small,' then widen the space between his hands to convey it getting bigger. "The more complex it gets, the harder it is to undo when someone fucks the pooch. And that, that is assuming the person means well, like Cantio and our host, you know?"

     "Somebody who -doesn't- mean well can fuck up a lot of shit--and then they can turn around and say, 'me, I won, this is the way it was always supposed to be. This is the natural way.' People get born into that, and think it's true. -Then,- ooh, you're in trouble." He shakes his head sadly, but after a moment's thought, his frown is replaced by a wan smile. At the very least, it ought to be enough for Cantio to assume she's not in his sights this very moment.

     "I think we would all be a lot happier if we weren't obsessed with convincing ourselves there ought to be somebody in charge, besides 'us.'" He does, however, smile at Persephone. "What Ms. Sunshine's people are doing, I dunno if that's -the- answer, but it's -an- answer. A way forward, without no crowns or sashes. A way for 'us' to live without worrying about who's in charge, 'cause we'd have a way to knock over any son of a bitch who tried to live the high life off our hard work."

Does Candy think simple work is demeaning?

     "No way, Ms. Sunshine. I'd sweep floors and scoop shit with the best of 'em, if I knew it was fair, you know?" He cants his head, his brow furrowing. "Like... if I knew it'd get me three squares, a roof, and didn't, ah..." He makes thar grasping-for-words gesture again. "Totally control me, to where I couldn't think about nothing else, or make time for nothing else. But it's not about whether me or you think that kinda work makes someone worth less. We know it don't," he says firmly. "But outside of Sapient Heuristics, a lot of people that write the checks for work like that say it isn't. And they get the final say, 'cause they write the checks, and that, to me, is bullshit."

     There's a perplexed, thoughtful pause, as he considers what Flamel said--namely, his introduction.

     "Menacing, too, ah? I never met nobody that came right out and said it. You're an odd duck, G-man." The 'but I'll be watching you' is pretty much implied.

>What's so good about being hard?

     Do sharks grin when they smell blood? Do goblins, in whatever flavor one cares to imagine, rub their hands excitedly at the prospect of a shiny, golden find? "Ask my friend C, the next time that lady friend of his is around."

     After his little gremlin laugh at another ribald cheap shot, he does actually engage with Tia's response. "You're right, though. I've had to pay a lot of stupid prices to live where I do. And there are a lot of people out there stuck with shitty bills, too. For what it's worth, Ms. Queen Lady, I'd like it a lot if your place was different." The melancholy in his voice conveys a
Candy The Capital

     Candy does like trams, and trains, it must be said. He is, despite himself, practically glued to the window as the tram pulls into the capital, and the complexity of the tram network becomes apparent, his brown eyes darting across the criss-crossing lines as a small smile spreads.

     Some of that convincing is being done by what he can see. The least well-to-do of this city don't appear to be doing badly. There's still other cities to see on future visits (authorized or otherwise) but this place beats the hell out of his Mexico City as capital cities go.

     Candy handles light mobbing very well. He has presents for everyone who wants one, usually some kind of food from home, but there are ponchos and serapes for the fashionably inclined, sturdy boots and gloves for the well traveled, and cute little tin figures for the kids. He is, unsurprisingly, stealthily getting a read on the general well-being, physical and emotional, of those who arrive to do the aforementioned mobbing, though his powers of perception begin and end at 'normal human being.'

     What he finds seems to pleasantly surprise him, at least outwardly speaking--especially once he realizes what those floating polyhedrons are for, and especially especially when he notices the blessed absence of his least favorite occupations.

>Why do numbers decide who has or deserves something?

     Candy snorts. "From your lips to His ears. Tell me a little about them parks," he says conversationally over a very bulky, antiquated walkie. "That is, what was there before it was parks?"
Undivided Queens     Seilatiya replies to Brooklynn quite emphatically. "I'd find a way to make it work. The point of trade isn't to tell people why they don't deserve to have the things they want. The point of it is a means for people to exchange things so everyone *has* what they want, spread evenly around."

    "Even if I had to do everything myself, I would. The bank is backed by *my personal* ability to fill up as many coins as needed you know. It's important because . . ."

    There's a little pause, and then Seilatiya comes back sounding the most serious she has all day. Just for a bit. "I think nobody deserves to be poor. Not even as a punishment. Being poor doesn't teach anyone anything. It doesn't give them valuable experience. It doesn't force them to be stronger. It's just suffering. Not having the things you need only causes damage; it doesn't toughen people up, it wears them down. If someone has done something bad, you fix the problem and mend their ways, not take everything away from them. If someone doesn't want to help others and stops trying, you help them find their reason to try again, not scowl and disapprove and deprive them."

    "It's easy to believe that poor people deserve being poor, because it makes you feel better about where you are, even though it's not where you want to be. And it's good for whoever profits the most from their work, because it keeps people scared of being poor. But not being able to have what you need, or what makes you happy, has never been good for anyone. Ever.

    People don't become stronger because they suffer. It's a form of confirmation bias. You notice the ones who got stronger because the ones who didn't, didn't make it. People grow and thrive when they have what they *need* to grow and thrive, not when they're forced to take risks because they're desperate."

    Then, to Candy, Seilatiya is back to her usual sweetly flippant tone. "Oh. Guard barracks. Police headquarters. You know. Roving the markets, looking out for thieves and swindlers and breaking up fights. But, funny thing, after I broke open the treasury and multiplied the distribution of Runeciphers and did all this civil rearranging, those things basically went away. It turns out that people stop stealing and fighting in the markets when they don't have to~ Who knew~? So since the police quarters were useless, I just made them into gathering places~ I much prefer flowers, you know."
Hiromi     "Hacking is not to hunt," Hiromi says. That's some form of partial agreement. "You know hardness, already, don't you? Hers. That's why. You're together." She doesn't specify who she's referring to, considering that an obvious observation.

    When the gradient gets steep enough, Hiromi leans into it, places one hand in front of her to grip the roof edge, and reaches behind her, without looking, to grab Cantio's arm, ensuring that neither one falls off. She can, fortunately, control her strength, though it's inadvisable to try too hard at once to break free once she has a grip, in the same way that it's inadvisable to try too hard to leap through a closed vault door.

    Once they come to a stop, Hiromi doesn't immediately leave, instead returning to her upright sitting posture on the roof, arms crossed, listening, breathing, perhaps waiting.

    Finances make exactly as much sense to her as the architecture. She can't take anything from that. The system described as old and defunct is no different, to her senses, than the one that replaces it. 'Trading in magic' she can understand, in the same way that she understands 'trading in favors' or 'trading in blood.' Often, this would be the part of a trip at which she demands answers from somewhere nearby, but she already has the ear of the one in charge, so that can be skipped over. Instead, she focuses her attention on those same ones as focus on her, as the odd, touring visitor that she is, in this context. She could still question them, but her authority gives her no more quick answers as to a person's nature than they understand of themselves. Her senses tell her only their immediate history, the lingering traces of where they've been, even when she jumps down and weaves her way around the crowd, uncannily smooth in motion for a figure of her size, and quite unafraid to stick her (literal) nose against one person or another to acquire their physical history in greater fidelity than humans tend to suspect they leave.

    But again, that's only an investgation of the surface. Answers to deeper natures require time. Claims to the nature of humanity pass her by not because she has no opinion on these subjects, but because neither voicing her position nor arguing it is useful to her purposes, on its own.

    Hiromi follows the sounds of craftsmanship. Those are matters she can understand and appreciate: The work of those who create.
Flamel Parsons     Flamel has a hard time evoking any sense of Government Menace from what seems to be an entirely benevolent state. The light mobbing is handled in such an upbeat, chipper way! "Hi there! I'm Agent Parsons, Psychonaut. I'm really interested in how you all have been!" He doesn't have to dig deep as he sweeps his scanner over the people here, and as it squeals and chirps softly, he pulls it back. Several astral flowers are growing in-between the plastics that form its surface.

    "Hey, Seilatiya! I'm curious about where this culture comes from." He says, continuing to wave a chirping wand over someone. In exchange for their help, he's been giving them personality test results, which are sort of a mental currency you can give to anyone with a lot of time on their hands. "Initial tests say it's not psychohazardous, but it seems like it might be deliberately designed and somewhat psychosymbiotic, as well as capable of spreading. I'd like to know where it comes from, and maybe get it registered with the Psychonauts! Even with something nice like this, there are a couple risks."
Cantio Candy's explanation of who is and isn't trusted, of his assessment of Cantio specifically, and of who can or can't be trusted draws a conflicted noise from Cantio. Being named someone with a good head on a her shoulders feels great! It's a massive ego boost, albeit a short lived one when she's also mentioned as someone that can't be trusted. But then... She's also identified as someone that actually means well, so is it really that bad?

It's getting more complicated in her head by the second. Climbing is easier to focus on, even if it's a really short one. By the time Cantio catches her breath, she can finally get a clearer view of the capital as it comes into view without the interior of the carriage breaking things up at least a little bit. The size of the capital and the complexity of its rail system tempts her, but she resists the urge to grab her tablet and take some pictures. She settles for just looking at things, enjoying the sights and just letting the view be what it is.

She can always take notes on the structure of it all on the way back.

"So that's why you came out here... Is this how you usually-" Before Cantio can finish her question, Hiromi's grabbed her arm, and just in time! She had gotten so wrapped up in enjoying the view that she doesn't quite notice the angle the carriage is moving at. Luckily, she has enough sense not to try breaking free, and she doesn't even make a move to do so even when the carriage stops.

"Th.. Thanks! That's something else I'll need to work on, too." Cantio says without elaborating on what 'that' is, although her glances back at her distinctly unsuited-for-tram-climbing shoes is probably a good indication.

The fact that so many people look generally good doesn't even get a second thought, meanwhile, nor does the fact that there's no visible workers. Maybe late, but certainly not now. She's too busy being distracted by the floating stones, after all, and that's definitely worth making a mental note to herself to check out when she gets a chance. "So many of them have such easy access to useful technology... What must they have to do to afford this?"

Luckily, Seilatiya's voice comes through to explain exactly that! She alternates between listening to the explanation of the work involved in creating these Runeciphers and actually looking at what types people have around here with the context of the different shapes starting to click in her head.

There's also the whole matter of how currency works here. "A more practical currency... Huh. That's something I might have to copy myself." She comments to Seilatiya, once again resisting the urge to take copious notes in favor of just listening more. "So this explains why everything looks so great here, but... How did you get the power to use the Holy Runecipher in the first place? Was it something you learned how to do that nobody else was able to for a long time?"
Staren     Staren takes note of Seilatiya's philosophy. Well-spoken! Lazlo is founded on ideals that put people first, but, compared to here, no doubt limited by a capitalist framework of thinking (why was that? Was the government planned by someone who studied the old world? Staren never thought about it. Time to go to the library next time she visits...) There is no doubt something for them to learn, people from there need to see here...

<X-Concord-Chatter> 4 Persephone Kore says, "Hey, Staren."
<X-Concord-Chatter> 4 Persephone Kore says, "First, you look *precious*! I love it a lot actually!"

    Staren blushes and fidgets with her fake glasses and mumbles a wordless syllable or two that maybe were supposed to be 'thank you' but didn't get formed fully into words.

<X-Concord-Chatter> 4 Persephone Kore says, "Second, would you rather feel safe and secure all the time? Or would you rather understand people's hearts? If you had to pick."

    Both things, really, have been dismissed as pipe dreams in the past. But while Staren wants safety and security to never have to be afraid of someone like Lilian again, not UNDERSTANDING people has caused deep pain again and again and again and again... the response is nigh-immediate: "I'd rather understand people."
Brooklynn Bailey "People, unfortunately, are not all capable of governing themselves," Brooklynn says, "It is a sad and simple truth.  Some people should not have power, because they would put themselves in front of others at the expense of the system they run.  Laws have to be administered evenly and fairly, to everyone equally.  Law has to be tempered with empathy, not the other way around."

She pauses, having had taken some time to consider the words of the man who really had set her on this path.  "I think what Persephone wants to do is a good goal, but would take a very long time and many generations to develop that kind of desire into a group.  Until then a person willing to guide them is important."

Though she does put her nose into the simple work part, "It wouldn't be fair.  It is obvious your skills put you above others, and they would be better served to do something only you could do, isn't that right?  Those tasks are below you not because of your station or who you are, but rather what you can do."

Seilatiya speaks words to the heart of Brooklynn.  It was easy, at first, to miss the point of the systems because of the systems.  Perhaps not seeing the forest for the trees.  Not wanting others to suffer, and that they shouldn't suffer because of systems.  To make your people happy not to keep them from rebelling, but because she really /truly/ does want them to be happy.  It makes the difficulty of the task less daunting because it speaks to her.

"I will need your consul in the future then, but...that's a later thought.  Thank you for answering my question Empress Seilatiya."  She does take this time to move next to Cantio and waits a moment, "Something on your mind?" She asks the woman, taking it at a slower pace so she might start lagging behind Cantio before too long if she keeps walking at normal speed.

Brook is about this close to breaking the heels off her shoes.
Cantio Brooklyn's question has Cantio slowing down a bit as well to keep pace with her. "Eh? O-oh, uh... A couple of things, yeah. It's..." She rubs her forehead lightly, then lowers her voice. "I'm trying to figure out the logistics of doing something like this. Generating enough stuff that nobody ever has to worry about anything, keeping all of it connected, and somehow keeping everything defended without spreading it all too thin and opening the region to secession..."

She sighs lightly, and she can't even manage an awkward smile. "... A-also, there might be a little problem involving that at home. So trying figure that out has been... Something."
Brooklynn Bailey Brooklynn lowers her voice too, nodding to Cantio.  "I understand.  I think I am here seeking the same thing you are..." she admits.  "Maybe we should compare notes later...unless you too have a magical system that provides items for people too," Brooklynn says with a wink towards Cantio.  

"Don't let it overwhelm you, we can only do the best that we can...and try to get better."
Candy      Brook's answer draws a rebuttal uttered in a teasing tone. "Now who doesn't trust people, ah?" More seriously, "I think you'd be surprised what people are capable of, if you give them the chance, Brook. The problem isn't that they can't govern themselves. It's that every time they try, somebody comes in and knocks it over so other people don't get the same idea. Then, they say, 'ho ho! look, see? never would have worked,' and all the while, they are washing their hands and hiding their tools."

     "If everything went the way I thought it was gonna, 'my skills' would be farming and raising chickens, and that wouldn't put me above or beneath nobody else. Really..." He pauses thoughtfully, index finger upon his lower lip, before he nods towards some of the citizens about their work rather than leisure. "Something like that. I do my part, everybody else does theirs, and we do it as equals and friends keeping a good thing going. We do it because we wanna, because we chose to, because it... because it satisfies the soul to do something that calls to you--not because someone's gonna use institutional bullshit to starve us if we don't work jobs we hate."

     *Gotta admit, Queenie's covering a lot of the usual. No cops. No made-up imaginary bullshit busy work. Nobody going without, at least here in the capital, no dumbass excuses for why someone -oughta.- People look healthy. Happy. The ones that work do it 'cause they wanna, not 'cause somebody's gonna snatch the food from their mouths if they don't. So what's missing?*

     "Sure, sure," says Candy, into the walkie, gesticulating with his free hand in time with the stresses of his speech. "I wish more of these sons of bitches at the polished tables had the brains you do. But, say that things other places are as good as they are here in the capital. How far out does it go? You have neighbors?"

*Maybe that's the catch, ah? Maybe all the nice things they have, they have 'cause they knocked on somebody else's door and took it. I hope not... but I gotta ask, just to see how she reacts.*
Undivided Queens     "That's kiiiiind of a complicated question?" Seilatiya replies, with excessive casualness, to Flamel. "You'll probably understand better if you head further up the road! I promise I'll do my best to explain~" To Cantio, she replies before getting to that, because it seems both important and related. "Well, for part of it, it just made sense to me? But there's a lot of myth and mystery surrounding it. A popular opinion is that I was chosen for it. Like, there weren't previous Emperors or Empresses worthy of touching that artifact again, or there wasn't a need for it, so the Goddess didn't appoint another. And I don't necessarily disagree with that idea. I know I was always special. It was supposed to be obvious that I'd be the one out of all my brothers and sisters to take the throne. But I don't think that's just . . . being born powerful. Special, sure! But I think the kind of specialness the Goddess always wanted was. . . ."

    "If you gave human beings an artifact that can mimic the act of divine creation, wouldn't you want it to be wielded by someone who will use it to give freely? The Goddess doesn't charge people tax for living on earth. No culture's gods do. If you have that kind of power, and that kind of 'wealth', it's only obvious that you should use it and spread it as much as possible. But most people didn't seem to get that. They didn't really 'get' that other people needed and wanted and didn't have, and they didn't 'get' why they should help. So maybe they didn't get a holy thing written in the language of giving?"

    She even extends it a little further to Candy. "People are made to look for people they can depend on! That's why it's so easy for bad people to get control of them! It's a natural instinct they take advantage of. And I think that's a problem. Like, it's wicked but necessary to take leadership, and noble and good to leave everyone up to their own devices. That's an awful thing. Bad people make everyone believe it, so their bad leadership is normal, and good people who want good things don't want to replace them, because that'd make them bad too. If you're a good person, and you can do good things, you should be that person people seek out and look up to and follow. I think it's your obligation."

    Going further uptown eventually departs from the busy sounds and smells of daily essentials, and into the more sedate bustle of personal life. Even to Hiromi's nose, she can tell that most people she meets in the outer quarter all travel back and forth between there and this deep middle band. Here seems to be where most people live, provided they aren't live-in dedicated to their craft, or have traditionally owned a family business property. Much of rise seems to be attributable to dense, soaring community buildings, rather than low and sprawling 'suburbs', like city blocks turned into large feudal mansions of several storeys, with central gardens, works, water, and commons belonging to each blob of people, accidentally imitating the idea of upscale apartment complexes, seemingly the only sane way to fit this many people into this much city.
Brooklynn Bailey "Is it distrust?  I suppose I can see why you may think it is, but I have seen both inability to lead, and those who would use it wickedly lead.  Not everyone is capable of it.  Is it that it's because people come and knock down what is built up, or were the foundations shakey, to begin with, and people weren't willing to acknowledge that.  I admit history is often written by the victors, but there are reasons that things happen."

"It's different in my world, Candy.  We do what we do to survive because we want to.  Everyone in my settlement has lost someone close to them, rather by disease, or by hunger, or by rival groups wanting what we have.  I want to turn that world into...into something like this," She says, waving her hand around.  

"Maybe then, over time, my people can become the kinds of people that would be able to accept what Persphone and you want," She says, with a sigh.  "I suppose it comes down to our experiences, Candy.  I am sorry that you did not get to live a quiet life.  I am happy with what I am, but I sometimes consider what it'd be like if the towers in my world were not built."

She smiles at Candy, she is trying to talk to him and realizing that maybe it's not the best way to coordinate ideas across.
Cantio "Really? Huh...  N-not that it's a good thing, but it's... Reassuring?" Cantio doesn't sound convinced of her own words being the right to use for that moment. She shrugs after a bit, then actually chuckles after a little longer. "Comparing notes? Yeah... That's not a bad idea. If I had something that convenient, I'd have come up with it by now. And... Yeah, we'll figure something out eventually. It just might take a while to do it, especially if..."

She doesn't finish that thought, instead letting her mind wander again. How long could she really go trying to find a solution instead of just doing something about these problems? With more time to gather her thoughts (and not worrying about tumbling off the tram), she can finally try and get Candy's attention again.

"Do you think people would be better off with a few strong leaders that might not always make everyone happy, or everyone being a small part of the whole leadership that might not always make well-informed decisions?" She asks him while rubbing the back of her neck lightly, then tugging on it to get a crack out of it. "I mean, I want them to have a say, but there's certain things I really don't think they'd be equipped to make decisions about no matter how strongly they feel about them."

Seilatiya explains how she's able to use the Holy Runecipher (sort of), and Cantio actually smiles widely at what she hears. "You sounds just like my sister when she's being reliable f-Uh." She was totally going to say 'for once'. "For... My sake. Having the power to improve things is one thing but what's more important is being able to do it."

What Seilatiya says also starts to click with what Candy's said in the back of Cantio's mind. "No... It's not good enough to just be able to make things better. Right, a good leader should want to do it and actually do that. Just wanting to do it and being able to do it don't mean much if they just sit there with that power, and part of being a good leader means setting a good example for everyone else to follow with whatever limited power they might have themselves."

That bit about bad leaders has Cantio holding back another wince at something internal, and it's still easy enough to see it on her face.
Persephone Kore      Persephone disembarks the fantastical tram, still holding Candy's hand (as long as he'll let her) and with Staren close by (almost certainly). Though eye--opening sights are all around them, her own eyes stay restfully closed, just for the moment.

     It's a sense of the strange-familiar. If I really look around, I know it'll all seem foreign again. But like this, with my eyes shut, focusing on the way their hearts feel... it's like Sapient Heuristics, almost, but bigger. Right down to how the grown-ups can't quite believe it, and still carry old fading scars.

     She says out loud, without even really meaning to: "When Dr. Carpathia and Seilatiya both thought about 'perfect', did they really glimpse the same thing? Or is this just how people always turn out, if you try very hard to treat them right? ... When the children here grow up, I wonder if any of them will be like me."

     Phony thinks very hard, in that restful sort of way, about how to respond to Candy. She finally settles on an indirect answer. "The point of having a society," she says, "is so you can take care of everybody. These structures, these systems, humans made them to benefit other humans. Isn't that right?"

     "But some people have it backwards," she continues slowly. Her voice isn't as sparklingly addictive as Seilatiya's, but it is soothing, and confident, and just a little tranquilizing. "Some people think that humans exist to benefit the structure. That the point of a society is to build as much as possible- for the people in charge, even if they don't say that part out loud."

     Persephone finds a nice little park bench to ease herself down onto for just a moment, crossing her legs and tilting her head back to look up at the sky with a little smile. "You know which kind of person built this place, don't you, Candy? You can feel it in your bones."

     "You're welcome!", she says to Staren with a radiantly knowing smile. ("Knowing" really is a key word: the fact that she doesn't tease further about the blushing embarrassment, and instead just warmly acknowledges it, almost makes it worse.) She taps her chin while assessing the opal, then nods.

     "The eye doesn't linger on plain black, you know. We're drawn to brighter things! Just having that plain black turtleneck draws the eye down to your labcoat, or up to your bright little face," she teases gently. "And both of those are good things to focus on! But if you want to add jewelry, that's not a bad idea either- as long as it means something to you."

     That's why my keyhole sweater is black, too! It's not the *fabric* they should be looking at, ahaha.

     As the topic shifts to 'safety' versus 'understanding', Persephone's tone grows a little more serious, though still soft and understanding. "I thought you'd say so," she replies, "but I had to hear you say it. You can't always tell what someone's going to say just from what's in their head, you know."

     "If you want to understand people better, I could teach you. Thoughts, feelings, and hearts- they're real, too, like light and sound. It's easy to feel them, once you know how. Would you like that, Staren?"
Undivided Queens     The paths are many and ornately paved. There are hanging lights, resembling paper lanterns, but powered by magic, for when it gets dark. There are clear waters that run through narrow channels, and small arched bridges over deep canals that split up residential districts, all but choked with beautiful old trees and flowering water plants. Furthermore, this also appears to be a cultural and entertainment center. Music wafts from every other block along with the smells of spices and tea. Laughter sounds from play houses, and with the clatter of dice from game parlours. Galleries and libraries admit anyone at the door, and the odd race track or amphitheatre comes up after every few public parks and orchards. There are new buildings under construction too, here and there, which Seilatiya says are going to be dedicated to 'new ideas' she got from the Multiverse, describing, amongst other things, movies.

    Various sculptures of fabulous beasts, natural icons, and mythical and spiritual scenes, are common embellishments, and every home seems to have some kind of personal 'guardian', as well as greatly individual decor. But what every single home block also has, is recognizable as a very firmly eastern shrine, and nowhere is all too far from a ubiquitous temple, all tall stairs, broad balconies, tall red pillars, spacious inner halls, polished wood, and immense statues.

    Each one is vaguely like the 'national treasure' grade of Buddhist temple, replete with braziers and scrolls and mats and even sand gardens, but where idols of more familiar deities would be, the central place is always occupied by various permutations of a female figure, always painstakingly sculpted to be as beautiful as possible, with the obvious accompaniment of the Holy Runecipher, and some item of aspect related to that particular temple's focus of worship. What stands out is that even the smallest shrines render her face like a mask of glass, and the largest cover her visage in a fine layer of glittering diamonds, such that any ambient light causes it to glow in a way that obscures where facial features would be. A sort of 'indescribable radiant beauty'. Perhaps even blasphemous to try and depict it.

    Frequently, in the figures that accompany the central Goddess, devoted renditions of Seilatiya herself are the very closest in proximity. There are places where some other figures have been obviously taken down, but there's such a great degree of adoring care put into the newest Holy Empress that neither Persephone nor Flamel even has to focus to read it psychometrically; the sense that nobody would put anything less than their absolute best into rendering a living bodhisattva, a messiah, next to the metaphorical Buddha.

    They're busy too. Not just people praying, or doing symbolic 'ritual sacrifices', but people talking to red and white-clad priests, seeking audience with disciples, picking up various charms or reading copies of important tomes of wisdom for advice, some bringing their sick, and some bringing infants for some kind of 'baptism'. Even before Seilatiya answers, this is where Flamel feels that 'cognitohazard' at its strongest.
Undivided Queens     Persephone prompts immense, gushing, sincerity from Seilatiya, even if it sounds immensely serious. "People are basically good. Even if we have a lot of problems, not many of them are 'fundamentally human'. That's something we say to cope. We don't understand each other, we hurt one another, we're afraid of one another, so we tell ourselves it's inevitable, and don't try as hard as we should. There are lots of things that we didn't just accept, but even romanticized. Death and heartbreak become our poetic allies because we can't escape them, and it's either that, or go crazy trying to reconcile with them! And because we accept things we shouldn't to cope with the hard things, and because it's hard to understand one another while we're so busy with ourselves, it's easy for people to become bad, and for nobody nobody to notice, or worse, nobody to care."

    "People can be this way on their own! I really, truly believe that! I didn't make all of this! It'd be impossible without the honest efforts of everyone working together! When people are happy, safe, comfortable, and live stable lives, when they're not focusing all their attention on keeping a roof over their head and food on their tables, they grow! People naturally *want* to be more! To know more! To be closer to one another, and closer to their ideal selves! You don't need to bully people and make their lives hard; you mostly need to know how to encourage them, give them everything they need, and push them on their path just a little!"

    "But it's true that something like this normally couldn't be done so fast. A cultural shift like that would take generations somewhere else. We're so fortunate to have been given the gifts and blessings we were. Even if they were squandered for so long, used to benefit only a few people and hurt everyone else, we still had them! And using them restores people's faith! And faith --Faith-- is so very important! Faith in each other, faith in tomorrow, faith in something bigger than ourselves, and faith that things are *supposed* to be good; that the divines made a world we were supposed to be happy in, not that things are just supposed to be 'the way they are'."

    "I'm overflowing with that faith all the time! I can't even turn it off! But for most people, it's not that easy. So my way of pushing them along is this way. Isa has her own way, and it works really well! But that's that, and this is this. I want people to feel a little of my faith, and I want them to have faith in me, and the Goddess that's behind me. So people *have* to be closer to her, and to me. Because if they're not close to me, how can I hear their hearts?"
Undivided Queens     Flamel's theories can come roughly around as she explains extra. "The holy places are where I can put a little bit of 'me'. It's where I can sort of feel the shape of people even far away, and where they can 'be around me' a little, and be at ease. A temple is a place where you show your devotion, and in return, you become more like your ideal self. Ah, you could say, the presence of the Goddess is where it's easiest to work my magic~ Other than right in front of me, of course~"

    "I don't want people to be really sick. I don't want them to grow old and be in pain. I don't want them to die for no reason. I don't want them even fall ill in the mind or the heart. That's the promise of being a devotee. If your heart is hurt, I'll heal it. If your shape is wrong, I'll fix it. If your home is empty, I'll fill it. I have my very most trusted and adorable priestesses to help too! And the most important helpers! The kinds of people who can reach enough enlightenment to feel people's hearts, like me, just a little!"

    "That's how I can trust my people are safe with so few police, and no spies, you know? The community can watch out for problems, and come together to solve them themselves! They're much faster, much gentler, and they know the people much better and can meet their needs. Then, there's the Confessors, and the Reconciliators. People who've done things they regret, or who can't get rid of negative thoughts; those 'sensitive' people can hear the turmoil in their hearts, and they've learned to talk, and to listen, and to help and heal and guide. And when some problem arises and people can't agree, a different kind of 'sensitive' person can feel what each side feels, and make the *other* side feel it too; then real, true compromises can be made, that help people get back to their lives, and move on."

    "Human beings don't want to hurt each other. They want to be approved of. Humans hurt each other when they're backed into a corner, and feel like there's nowhere they can go. So there *always* has to be somewhere they can go. Always."

    That is to say, the gut feeling of being near a holy place, or a public monument to the Empress, has a little bit of her 'presence' to it. Like a radio antenna picking up a broadcast-- no, it's almost like a natural feature, in the sense that it's only natural that a hot spring would be relaxing to soak in, and thus become 'places of health'. The services available at the temples are most definitely 'actual magic', and it's an *old* kind of magic, rather than the industrialized, convenient magic; it has an entirely different feeling of grandiose, and yet unbearably soft, ancient precedence; something Candy can intuitively sense. It really is like Seilatiya is a little bit like an incarnate, and the cult that worships not just her, but her *ideals*, has a mental and emotional, even physical power in of itself.
Undivided Queens     "It's a little sad, but I can't show you where the Ilenjeh still practice their ways. Lots of them come to the holy temples! Lots and lots! But there's no reason to give up what they did before, right? The kameiy and the world-spirit and the tower pilgrimages; those aren't just things to respect, but things that are really important. But it's not really appropriate to send visitors gawking around those, you know?"

    "So if you're satisfied, please spend as much time as you want here~ I'd like to invite you to the palace, but that might have to be another time. And . . . The way the capital is laid out makes sense now, because of how I've changed it, but it was originally because of what the Imperial family thought was the most important. The low farmers far away, outside and unprotected. The menial workers and traders a little closer. The well to do families in the middle. The holy temples and works close by. So, the center is mostly monuments, and administration, and, well, there's a lot of military things there. Which aren't as fun to see. Right now, we're still figuring it out. A coalition force and all. It's also where the great hunts come back to, at the end of each week, so I think Isa would be better for that focus episode~" There is an audible, spoken heart.
Flamel Parsons     Follow up the road? What, like to uptown? Sure thing, Flamel will head wherever Seilatiya suggests. "Oh, good! Appreciate it. It seems pretty effective as far as boosting healing on the psychic damage goes, though, so it definitely needs to stay around. But I'm seeing a lot of similarity and spread. Since it's mostly non-interfering, it's gotta be partially autonomous, which means it could actually get infected itself."

    This religious area... this is where it's strongest, isn't it? Ah, wait! It's from Seilatiya herself? "Persisting astral semiprojection?" He mutters, eyebrows shooting up. "Huh! That's a heck of an effect. So it's mostly spreading from you specifically. You're the one... *cultivating* the culture directly, in gaps where it normally wouldn't be. Wow, you found a lot of ethical middlegrounds, huh?" He sloooowly shakes his head, thinking something through...

    "This is closer to a kind of mass-scale psychonautry than I expected! I kinda wanna learn more." Examining the open, highly-used spaces here fills him with a little excitement! And a little awkwardness too. "I *also* should get you registered about this sometime, if you're alright with that -- Lesser Head Forsythe gets anxious about mass psychic work done without review. Maybe you and Isa would be up for a dive at some point? Just to check that all the psychic defenses and all that are in place to keep the fountain you've got flowing in a healthy way."
Candy Candy squeezes Phony's hand. There were a few times he broke free, to gesticulate in his animated way--but he always finds his way back. It's very likely, even on the final stretch of their little tour, that he still is holding hands.

     "It does come down to experiences, yeah," Candy agrees with Brook. "Who knows, maybe one day we end up going a few rounds over this or that. But you know," he warmly offers, "...even if we do, I think the disagreement you and me have, I can live with. It's hard for me to trust people who are in charge. Even people like Cantio or Seilatiya," he says, waggling his ancient walkie.

     "But I would trust people like them a -lot- lot more than the usual suspects. Well intentioned is a lot easier to work with than stupid, asshole, or stupid asshole, ah?" He jovially, gently elbow-nudges Brook, grinning wide.

     Evidently, it worked better than she might have guessed. She isn't going to change his mind, but neither is he going to be at her throat. What seems most important to Candy is that people lead happy, free lives--he certainly thinks it's more difficult for them to do that under an authority, but he's not going to go burning them down if one actually manages to provide that standard of living, however scrutinizing he may be in his appraisal. To wit:

>You know which kind of person built this place, don't you, Candy? You can feel it in your bones.

    "I feel a tingle, sure," he admits."Lots of people have promised this, but I'm seeing the real deal here--just hope I'm not getting blue-balled, you know?" With an impish smile, "Politicians, crown people, sash people, polished table people, they are good at the blue-balling. Better than nuns!"

     Faith is very important. Candy has very little faith in those with stations as lofty and influential, as powerful as Seilatiya. But she's making a very good argument for herself--bumping her empire further and further down his list of immediate concerns.

     There -is- the matter of those Ilenjeh that still keep their own traditions. He'll have to make contact with them, somehow--and if he can be sure that they're happy with this arrangement, then for once, it's likely that he will be, too.

     "I'm mostly satisfied," he cheerily admits. But there are those Ilenjeh that keep their own ways. One way or another, he should find a way to speak to one of them, and get their opinion on this arrangement. He does trust that Seilatiya means well... but there are two sides to every story, and that's one perspective he'd feel a lot better knowing. The question, as always is how. How, in the first place, to ask around without Seilatiya knowing, and in the second, how to make contact without being disrespectful. It'll take some thinking, and despite how he presents himself, Candy is good at that.
Brooklynn Bailey Brooklynn gives Candy a warm smile, even at the gentle (literal) ribbing.  "Maybe we will, and I feel the same.  It's an idea clash over what would be best for others, to help them become better people than simply how to rule or exploit them."

Seilatiya reveals just how the unity of these people is forged.  It is not that Brooklynn is against it, in fact, she had reached out to Persephone.  She had rejected the feeling in her soul to instead trust Persephone.  She knows the distrust's source.  She remembers that day, burned into her mind.  The day that her world tried to touch divinity, and instead...

She takes a steadying breath.  Unity through offering one's self to her people, to give them the opportunity to achieve.  It's almost, if not exactly, what Persephone is.  Mixed in with the feeling is a touch of inadequacy.  Would she ever be able to inspire or heal her people like this?  

Her own world's problems seem daunting again.  She takes time and even breathes to put things into focus for herself.  These are things that only Seilatiya could do...she would need to find what she could do.  To find what Brooklynn could do to unite a people.  

"Thank you for showing us your home, Empress Seilatiya.  It has been a learning experience."
Cantio When the tour reaches the cultural center, Cantio's focus naturally veers towards the sound of music. It's not quite what she knows, but there's a familiarity in just hearing music in general that puts her mind at ease, at least for a little while. The smell of food has her taking some mental notes on what she's seeing, too, since she'll have to come back here later to pick up some snacks for home.

Seilatiya answers Persephone, and that answer actually seems to get Cantio fired up. "You understand, too, then! It's not just good enough to make our homes livable, but to make things better. To keep improving them. To make a place that's perfect not just for our own, but for everyone someday, right? I mean, I've still got a ways to go before managing that for my own people, but..."

That's definitely not going to create some inadequacy issues. She'll have to remember to compare notes with Brooklynn later at this rate. And also remember to take more notes on the way back.
Staren     Staren initially couldn't help but mentally compare the Imperial Runeciphers to the techno-wizard constructs that serve as tour guides, personal assistants to the wealthy, and probation officers in Lazlo (drones that project a solid illusory body of some intelligent species), but to see EVERYONE having one...

    At Phony's out-loud comments, Staren turns her head to look at her. "Hm?" She looks at the distant crowds. "...They feel like the people at Sapient Heuristics? Interesting. I wonder. It seems like a good vision. Do you think Dr. Carpathia would like a recording of our visit today?"

    "...It's even nicer than Lazlo. Lazlo tries, but... I bet the system of government was envisioned by a historical scholar, who couldn't think beyond 'the old world but better'..." Wasn't Erin Tarn a key player in devising Lazlo's government? I think I read that in one of her books, long ago. I wonder if studying the old world for too long makes it hard to dream bigger?

    She basically agrees with Phony's comments on society. At commentary on the opal, Staren holds it in her hand and looks at its, well, opalescent surface. Softly, she explains, "It was a gift. From someone who had big dreams for herself, but beneath her prissy facade, her first instinct was to use her talents to help others. I asked for a gem to use in a device to give myself telekinesis, but she made this fine setting for it, and I couldn't bring myself to take apart a gift, even for that... It's the only piece of jewelry I have, so I thought it might be something to wear on formal occasions..."

    Staren looks out at the city and its people, stretching out into the distance. "But..." she rubs her thumb over the engravings on the setting, "...To me, it makes me think of her charity and generosity, which seems particularly apropos here." Staren puts it around her neck.

    Gods don't ask for taxes, huh? It seems like a better-said way of what always irked Staren about some religions, which *did* demand gifts and service...

    ...Anyway, this city really seems to be Utopia. Although, as Seilatiya comments on the new construction, Staren realizes that it all depends on the Queen, doesn't it? It would never have happened without Seilatiya, and how quickly would all this collapse without her, a benevolent dictator to tell people how to do things?

    Is there really no way to escape that...?

    Death inescapable? Staren already knows that's wrong. Heartbreak too, though?

    Seilatiya was necessary, but not sufficient. People had to be good, to want to be good. It's the only thing that keeps Lazlo from becoming like so many other societies Staren has learned about, but it's better-supported here. Memories of refugee unrest from Staren's teens bubble up. Lazlo tried, but it still failed some of them.

    You become

    your ideal


    Staren wonders about that. Years of daring not to let anyone manipulate him willingly come to mind. It was so important, but for what? What did it ever get her?

    It would be so much easier. Easy is bad. Don't trust it. That doesn't make sense! We look for easy ways to do things all the time! It was kinda my thing! Giving up control is bad. Agency is all that anyone is. It's what seperates people from animals, or from atoms and molecules following physics, 'rocks flying in curves.'
Staren     Staren's eyes water a bit.

    And did clinging to that ever do anything for me? I was so tired, and unhappy. It kept you safe! Kept you from becoming nothing! If I was safe, why was I always scared that I'd lose my friends, my allies, everything that allowed me to do anything in the Multiverse, at any moment? That's not safety! ...There was... a good reason... something very important, I'm sure... I know I always hoped I'd contribute to fixing the Multiverse, but what if someone else has already found how? It doesn't have to be me. I should help spread it. ...That's right. But remember, I can spread it without altering myself. That's true. I guess I'm not exactly unhappy now, anyway.

    And then



    the impossible.

    Staren stares up at her in open-mouthed disbelief. This can't be real. It's what she's wished for her all her life, sought, been frustrated again and again and again and again and again and again and again... and finally given up on.

    Can she... can she allow herself to believe she could really have it?

    It's Persephone. Her motive is earnest and pure. Persephone wants everyone to have what she has. If she's offering, she believes she can do it.

    But what if she's mistaken? What if something goes wrong? Would it hurt again, if Staren allowed herself to hope once more, and then...?

    But, if I allow fear and pain to stop me from believing things can be better, even if they can get better, they'll never get better...

    Brooklyn speaks positively of the experience, too.

    Even with the decision hesitantly made, she struggles to get the words out. Eyes watering behind those big round fake lenses. "..." Her mouth moves a bit. "I......." sound comes out, more like a little croak at first. "I.........." You have to say it! This is important! "I......!" For the future! What you've always wanted! "...would like that, y-yes."

    There. It's out. Now what happens, happens. Staren takes a deep breath and lets it out again.
Persephone Kore      "Hey. Hey," Persephone says softly, her face a portrait of gentle concern. A little telekinetic pull removes Staren's glasses; she reaches up with her soft scarf and wipes the tears away before relinquishing Candy's hand to pull Staren into a proper hug.

     "Thank you for being brave," she says. It's hard to imagine anywhere feeling safer than my arms, isn't it? Her chin rests atop Staren's head, the crook of her neck and hollow of her shoulder are there to soak up any lingering tears, and her eyes shut above a sweet little smile. "It's scary, isn't it? But this is the strongest you've ever been. I mean it."

     "Thank you so, so much for letting me help."

     Close your eyes for me. ... Well, I guess you can't see much right now anyway, ahaha!

     This is the truth you're going to know: the difference between 'real' things like matter, energy, or magic, and 'fake' things like hopes, stories, or feelings... it's quantitative, not qualitative. They aren't absolutes.

     I can sculpt the world because my heart is more real than matter is. That's why you can feel my warmth and what I'm thinking, too! But even an ordinary person's heart has just a tiny spark of realness. And when you learn how to feel things that are less real than reality, you can trust and understand other people, just like you trust and understand me.

     And this is the mental tool you'll need to do it, like language or math. An arithmetic that humans could never have invented, a thought they've never had. This is how:

     <Something else pours across the open connection between Persephone and Staren. It's one fragment of a truly alien idea; Staren can *understand* it with difficulty, it can be held in her mind, but it's not an idea that could ever be encapsulated in human words. It is beautiful, but it's not a human thing; it's like an asteroid from deep space, a bacterium that evolved separate from all other life on Earth. How did anyone ever conceive of this? It bristles with subtleties that point to a broader context, but everything it points to is as inhuman as the thing itself, embedded in a logic whose axioms themselves can't be described.>

     <And it works, somehow. It's impossible to say why, but it works, as surely as counting on your fingers.>
Persephone Kore      We are floating in deep space together. We are standing at the bottom of a nameless sea. But there is no pressure or lack of pressure; there is no ground or lack of ground. This is an imaginary place, inside your mind. Or maybe it's a parallel dimension, and you're only now glimpsing it. Or maybe it's just the real world stripped of all distractions.

     I like to call it the Underworld, but that's just a little joke, ahaha. It's really not scary or anything like that!

     And besides, I'm right here holding your hand. So don't worry at all!

     Look at me, actually. Do you see how I glow, like a piece of the Sun? Do you feel my tug on your skin? Written in the brightness of that glow is everything I am. And written in the shape of that pull is everything I want, everything I think. If you focused- really focused- you might even see bits of what made me that way, the story of Persephone.

     Now look around you, instead. There are other pinpricks of light, aren't there, like stars in the night sky? And if you open yourself up, you can feel their gravity too- adorably smaller than mine, but still there. How does it pull on you? What are they feeling?

     ... They're happy, aren't they? They're secure under Seilatiya's care. They have faith that what they're doing is building- bit by bit- towards a brighter future. See, now you've got the hang of it! That lady over there- what is she thinking about buying? That man, can you read his story for me?

     Whenever you want to see the world like this again, just close your eyes and focus on that idea I gave you. Maybe you'll even get good enough at it to do it with your eyes open! I believe in you, Staren.

     "There," she says firmly, as the 'lesson' ends. She still hasn't relinquished the hug. "How are you feeling?" Of course I can tell! But people like it when you ask, too. Don't forget that, haha!