Past And Present, Imperfect

It's a quiet night; most of the building's residents are likely already asleep, or else out clubbing. Either way, the rooftop gardens are all but abandoned, save for a young redhaired woman dressed all in white wandering among the lilies.

Armando slides out of the Palatine summit, a cigarette on a long filter-holder between his fingers. He has a lady on his arm that he quickly disentangles from, as he himself moves off in to the flowers, looking over the downtown area.

Janie does not immediately respond to Armando's presence, continuing her slow wandering. Between the moonlight illuminating her white clothes and her nearly noiseless steps, you might almost assume she's a ghost…

You might assume that, I couldn't possibly comment. Armando sluces his way through the rows of flowers, pausing here and there to admire a particular bloom, so high above the rest of the city, but slowly, studiously, making his way to where Janie is.

"Evenin'," Janie murmurs as Armando approaches. "Nice night, isn't it?"

Armando crushes out the cigarette, tossing it off the side of the building. "Good evening, Ms. Blaire." Says he then. "I trust your evening is proceeding well?"

Janie nods. "I've no complaints so far," she replies.

Armando nods slowly. "I wished to speak to you about your research, the project you showed me the other night." He pauses, opening a cigarette case and pulling out one for himself, then offering the case to the woman despite knowing she will refuse.

Janie does indeed shake her head politely. "I don't smoke, thanks," she replies, then tilts her head. "Oh?"

Armando nods as he snaps the case closed, sliding it away with adroit and deft movements. "You've hit your dead end. The post-egyptian age. Anything sooner than that has been… meticulously destroyed."

Janie frowns, but nods. "I was afraid o'somethin' like that," she comments. "What little I did find from that far back was significantly more fragmented than even slightly more recent stuff. Suspiciously so."

Armando nods. "The great elves did not wish the era to be remembered. Not at all. The devils greatest trick, it is said… is convincing you he does not exist."

Janie nods. "On th'other hand, th'lengths they went to t'conceal it in an'of itself suggests I was on th'right track…" There's a certain determined set to her face.

Armando nods. "On the other hand." A pause. "THey are still concealing it. Push at your own risk, Ms. blaire." A puff of smoke blows out from his lips, dissapating in the high wind. "It's dangeorus to walk in the shoes of the immortals."

Janie nods, then shrugs. "If that's what it takes," she replies.

Armando glances to Janie. "You still don't quite grasp the nature of the game, do you, Ms. Blaire? Still full of fire and brimstone, the folly of youth, to think you can tilt at a windmill, and it will bow because of your cause?"

Janie shakes her head. "I know what I'm gettin' into," she replies. "I know I'd probably stand a better chance goin' toe t'toe with a pair o'great dragons or tryin' t'shoot my way through Damien Knight's personal security detail."

She turns to face Armando, meeting his eyes. "It doesn't matter. If this is th'only chance May has, then that what I'll have t'do. I'll find a way t'do it - or die in th'tryin'."

Armando nods slowly. "Why don't you start.." he exhales more smoke now… "At the beginning."

"Which beginnin'?" Janie asks, lips quirking in a small smile. "There's quite a few t'choose from."
Armando nods slowly, looking back over city. "From the mouth of babes." He says with a chuckle. "Start with why this is important."

Janie nods, pondering where to start. "I think th'first clue that it might be was back th'first time I had t'rescue May from th'Seductress' Metaplane," she says eventually. "I'm still not sure as to th'why, but whenever May went Questin', She'd attempt t'entice her t'stay permanently… An' one day about eight months ago, She succeeded." Her face clouds over. That wasn't exactly her happiest experience ever. "She'd gone in deep in search o'knowledge, an' when she got caught I had t'go after her. I'd made preparations, but… It was a close thing, even so…"

Armando listens, moving over to a small bench at the side of the building, taking a seat. "Join me, and continue."

"She was… Possessive," Janie continues. "As if it was somethin' more than merely personal. Which didn't make /sense/ once I finally stopped havin'th'shakes long enough t'think about it — May already served Her, right? What else would She want from her? There had t'be somethin' else goin' on…"

Armando listens, not challenging or offering feedback; just collating data.

She sighs. "My own Totem was… Less than forthcomin'," she admits. "Although I'd half expected that. Free rides an'easy help with what we should be able t'find on our own aren't realy Her style. So that's about when I started doin' research in earnest…"

Armando nods. "What have you found? The metaphysical construct of our world, in terms of totems vs… what came before… is very different than the last world."

"My initial petition to th'Foundation wasn't much more helpful either," she continues. "Just a cryptic response tellin' me t' 'know myself first'." She snorts. "I wasn't exactly in th'best o'moods f'r a while after that…"

She nods. "f'r one, what remainin' records there are on th'topic o'Fourth World magic most likely describe how it was at either th'height o'its power or near th'end. Right now we're at th'beginnin' o' th'cycle, so it really shouldn't come as a surprise that things don't quite work th'way they did back then… o'Course, back then I didn't have access t'any Fourth World info at all so it didn't factor much into my research yet…"

"What I theorized was that there's a degree o'mutual feedback between th'Totem Spirits an' th'public perception o'th'concepts they embody in th'collective consciousness o'metahumanity."

Armando nods, not stopping her as she explains, but storing away conversation points for later.

Janie continues. "Basically, a Totem spirit starts out embodyin' a concept or group o'concepts, an' th'shaman's society gives th'spirit a name. Or maybe th'other way around, th'Totem Spirit comes into existence because th'collective subconscious gives a name to th'concepts it embodies. How exactly th'cycle starts isn't as relevant as how it perpetuates…"

"Societies evolve. Social mores change. Societies meet other societies, an'either compare notes or engage in conquest, an'th'victorious society writes th'official history. Look at what happened t'th'greek an'roman pantheons, f'r example — most o'th'deities were almost direct name swaps already with minor differences in basic concept at best, but where by all original Greek accounts Ares was a bullyin' brute with a streak o'personal cowardice when th'odds weren't in his favor, th'Romans felt Mars was all that an' a bag o'soy crackers, an'th' city's founders were his direct descendants, while Athena went from a cool-headed strategic thinker to a pompous overbearin' bitch who'd throw a homicidal fit because some mortal could weave better than she did. Th'Arachne legend gets a /lot/ nastier when ye read th'roman version."

Armando nods slowly. "I am aware. While others were written out entirely. This is the flow and scope of history; new myths get made."

Janie nods. "Exactly. Which made f'r interestin' academia up but not much else… Until about fiftysomethin' years ago."
Armando nods to Janie. "And yet, magic has been oddly non-religious; with no god nor demigods present; the closest we have are simply powerful spirits. No Totem has manifested or concluslively directly communicated, and many feel that totems are simply manifestations of subconscious traits of humanity, an instinctual grasp of magic as opposed to the more regimented hermeticism."

Janie nods. "Which is a polite way o'sayin' that a lot o'Hermetics - who tend t'be more academically inclined by nature - feel that Shamans cling to imaginary friends because we can't handle th'proper rational understandin' o'th'way magic works…" She shakes her head. "Anyway, I think th'religion angle's missin' at least in part because o'th'major world religions, th'ones who made their strongest mark on society tended t'frown on th'very concept o'magic back durin' th'Fifth World, callin' it a tool o'th'Devil…"

"Th'Catholic Church an'th'Holy Roman Empire spent several centuries carefully stampin' out anythin' resemblin' 'witchcraft', if ye'll recall."

Armando shrugs quietly. "I think you put more prejidicual spin on it than nessessary. There are two kinds of people int he world. Thinkers, and feelers. May is a feeler. I am a thinker. Magic is a highly instinctual thing and draws people to paths of thought most suited to them."

Janie nods. "Ye're a thinker, but ye're also perforce a /practical/ thinker. If ye think that was prejudiced, ye should read some o'th'academic debates between shamanic an' hermetic researchers sometime…" She chuckles. "An' I thought street gangs could be vicious."

Armando chuckles quietly. "Theres a reason I run the shadows, Ms. Blaire, and not the halls of Academia."

"Anyway, digressin' from th'point. Where was I… Oh, right. Concepts. One o'th'few things both sides /do/ agree on is that magic responds to th'will o'th'wielder, an' as such is almost always shaped by th'wielder's perceptions an'subconscious notions - shamanic often even more so than hermetic. Even if two Hermetic mages both were t'summon a fire elemental o'similar power, they'd look similar but not identical, dependin' on how much they anthropomorphise them… But if two Shamans o'different totems both summon a hearth spirit in th'same location with th'same approximate power level… Mine tend t'resemble guards o'some sort, usually at least symbolically armed; May's tend t'be very attractive an'underdressed regardless o'gender; a more traditionally native american shaman might call up th'shape o'his totem… And each o'those would have a distinctly different personality as well."

Janie pauses, then continues. "I think somethin' like that could happen at th'top level as well - th'totem spirit's basic nature bein' affected by how its followers think o'it."

Armando says "It's been shown that the psyche of the summoning mage has a large portion to do with the appearence of summoned spirits; this is reinforced by the lack of understood free will or sentience in most spirits, making them little more than temporary constructs unless imbued somehow with the spark of consciousness."

Janie nods. "o'course, how sentient a spirit is c'n also depend on how sentient its summoner thinks it ought t'be. All o'them are generally sentient enough t'understand basic instructions, but again even at similar power levels there c'n be huge differences. I've fought Earth Elementals that were little more'n hulkin' brutes, an' I've held meaningful conversations with a hearth spirit on th'state of its home… An' then there's th'Great Form spirits, which have abilities that suggest that th'world itself has some kind o'memory… But I'm digressin' again."

She chuckles. "Sentience, free will… F'r all th'importance we attach to those concepts, we have an astoundin'ly poor understandin' o' how they're actually defined, let alone how they'd apply t'creatures that don't share th'same plane o'existence as we do."

Armando nods.

"F'r example, let's assume I've 'free will'. What does that mean?" She shrugs. "I don't have th'free will t'stop breathin' - I could try holdin' my breath f'r a long time, but my body's reflexes will /force/ me t'take a breath before I suffocate. I could jump off th'side o'this buildin', an' be free t'splatter on th'ground twenty stories below… On th'other hand, I can't back down from a fight if I think th'cause is worth dying for, or turn my back on May - not because I'm under compulsion, but because if I did, I wouldn't be me anymore…"

Armando nods. "You surrender some of your will, to the totem you idenitify with. We can debate freewill for eons. We already have, no less."

"Did I?" Janie asks. "Or was I already that way, an' did th'totem choose me because o'it?"

Armando says "I don't think thats a debate we are prepared to have until we can establish the veracity and existance of totems as we understand them; This metaplane you existed could just be a powerful extra planar being that is manipulating her."

Janie nods. "I think my totem exists; I even believe She does. Unfortunately, I can't academically prove She isn't just a figment o'my imagination given shape in my perceptions by th'unimaginable power o'th'Metaplanes… An'again, digression that isn't precisely relevant."

Armando nods to Janie. "I belive that Jehovah exists… but I have no proof, and quite a bit of compelling evidence that he may not."

Janie nods. "Back on topic, Seductress shamans aren't exactly th'most common type, an'most o'th'known cases are toxic or corrupted - an even th'ones that aren't tend not t'be very nice people. Th'Seductress, as a concept, is about corruption through vices, self-indulgence leadin' to self-destruction… But even at her worst May wasn't remotely like that."

"I don't believe that." Says he. "I think the Seductress embodies desire; but we as a people embody desire as vice, and so it is vice."

Janie nods and points at Armando. "Bingo."

"We didn't always think o'desire as a vice; th'hippie movements in th'last century, f'r example, embraced th'concept o' 'love as thou wilt'… But f'r nearly two thousand years, two o'th'most influential an' aggressively expansive religions in th'western hemisphere have denounced desire, especially sexual desire, as an evil corruptin' influence, used by th'devil t'lure good men away from God."

Armando shrugs. "Now you're getting in to questions of patriarchy. Desire is denounced because of birth lines. A woman knows what children are hers, a man only has the womans word, until the advent of genetics."

Janie nods. "Like I said, society evolved, society's mores changed, an' so did their perception o'th'representatives o' certain concepts. I wasn't judgin' at that point; I was too busy realizin' I'd found th'clue I was lookin' for an'followin' where it led me…"

Armando nods.. "It's important to remember something. Science, technology, magic and philosophy drift. What was true once, is not any longer and -never will be-. We must seek our own path going forward. The question becomes, can May's path be… smoothed, or does her path lead in to the briar bushes?"

Janie nods. "I think it's possible," she replies. "But t'do that, I need t'understand th'nature o'th'path she's on, an' why she's on it even though it's such a poor match… An' I feel th'answer t'that lies in th'past. In th'time o'Ishtar th'sacred temple dancer, before Lilith th'child-killer, before Delilah th'conniver, before Jezebel th'schemin' harlot…"

"Astendar." He says simply. A name.

«Auto-Judge[]» Janie (#4136) rolls Magic Background vs TN 10 for "… Who?":
1 2 2 3 3 = 0 Successes

Janie just blinks. The name evidently means nothing to her.

"That…" He says quietly.. "Is as close to a totem as you would find in the fourth world. Called passions, they were universal; with each metahuman race seeing them as one of their own, and had their own names for them… but they were universally accepted to be the same; the cult if Mera-a-a-arg…" He rolls that in the back of his throat, making sounds better suited to someone with tusks… "Did not wage holy war against another cult of Astendar from the Elves of the Bloodwood."

Janie just nods, stomping very firmly on the first six dozen immediate questions that crop up as she reminds herself how this discussion started, and merely replies "… I'll keep it in mind."

Armando nods. "It is the end result of your research, Ms. Blaire. Where your trail will stop, like it or no. I would end your research now, for it has gone, as far as it an possibly go, without drawing the attention of those Greatelves that live, and whatever reasons they have for destroying memory of the past."

Janie nods. "I probably should," she agrees, smiling wrily. "Keepin' my head down before I'm noticed would be th'smart thing t'do…"

She takes a deep breath, then sighs. It's not even a hard decision to make; in truth, it was never a decision at all, really. "… But if I gave up on May now, I wouldn't be me."

"No, I mean, really." He looks at her. "If you trace back as far as you can, this is -all- you will find. This name. What will you do with it now?"

"… I don't know, yet," Janie replies honestly. "I'll need t'think about th'implications. I've tried t'make projections but so far I've been too busy researchin' t'put much thought into how t'use what I'd find - especially since I wasn't sure I'd be able t'find anythin' in th'first place…"

She frowns, pondering. "I suppose one possibility would be t'look f'r traces o'her in th'Metaplanes, but I think I'll hold off on that unless I'm positive I'm completely out o'other options…" Besides, she does have one other clue. But this isn't a secure location and even admitting that she knows about it is a possible security breach.

Armando quirks a brow. "I cannot help you there. I have never been to the metaplanes."

Janie nods. "Neither have most mages," she agrees. "There's knowledge an'power t'be had, there, but they're starkly dangerous. Th'rules o'reality don't need t'apply; literally anythin' is possible an' there's no rule that things have t' make any kind o'sense…" She shrugs. "I'm not equipped t'do much deckin', but from how I've heard them described, heavily sculpted host systems might be somewhat similar… Except that th'people who did th' 'sculptin'' may not have had a mortal human's view o'th'world…"

Armando shrugs. "I have decked… quite a bit. But I have never been to the astral nor seen the astral. I don't know." He stands up then. "You have what I can give you, and I can give you no more until you have questions."

Janie nods. "Thank ye f'r th'answers; I'll consider them until I manage t'turn them into new questions," she replies, grinning slightly at the latter part.

Armando smiles slightly, then moves off in to the night, between the rows of lillies

Janie stays a while longer, cherishing the scent of the delicate flowers.

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