Bane Seventeen – Smile, Nod, and Refuse
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Stray Cat Strut (A cyberpunk system apocalypse!) - Ongoing
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Lever Action (A fantasy western with mecha!) - Volume One Complete!
Heart of Dorkness (A wholesome progression fantasy) - Ongoing
Dead Tired (A comedy about a Lich in a Wuxia world doing Science!) - Hiatus
Sporemageddon (A fantasy story about a mushroom lover exploding the industrial revolution!) - Ongoing

Bane Seventeen - Smile, Nod, and Refuse

Semper’s carriage landed with nary a bump, the pegasi pulling it through the air far too well-trained to allow for such a disturbance.

Luciana was grateful. While she did have her own means of travelling about, they tended to be... somewhat less than practical at times. Certainly, arriving somewhere on dragon-back was an excellent means of intimidating lesser foes, but it didn’t prevent one’s thighs from chafing. Her flesh was too well cultivated for such things to truly bother her, but she had ruined a few favourite dresses over the years.

The finest silks tended to be ephemeral and thin, which also meant that they tended towards the fragile.

She put those thoughts out of her mind. She could acquire a carriage in Semper’s style at a later date. Perhaps the goddess of contempt would even assist her in purchasing one.

The pegasi clopped along, pulling the carriage along a road whose pavement left much to be desired.

On the seats ahead of her, Valeria and Esme were both pressing closer to the windows to peek out at the approaching city.

She imagined that there would be some level of inspection involved in entering the city, though nobles and select merchants were able to bypass such frivolities in the more corrupt cities. That would likely be the case here.

Luciana had worked... well, perhaps not hard, but some small amount of effort had been expended to ensure that Santafaria remained a perfectly corrupt little settlement. Not so much that crime ran rampant, but enough that guards would look the other way at the flash of gold and the city government was lax and careless. The kingdom of course received their tithe of taxes and such, enough that they didn’t bother Santafaria too much.

They slowed by the gates, but were soon the next to pass. A guard, likely noticing the lack of driver, knocked on the carriage’s door.

Semper gestured and the window slid down--an interesting feature, that. The goddess looked into the face of a young man with utter disinterest. “So, will you let us pass?” Semper asked. She flared her core’s power, loosening her hold on her own contempt so that it flooded out of the carriage.

The magic never reached the children sitting across from them. A complex bit of control for a mortal to achieve, but the bare minimum of what Luciana would expect from someone of Semper’s calibre.

The guard whimpered and backed off and they soon trundled through the gate.

“So,” Semper said as the window was raised once more. Neither of them wanted to deal with the stench of a city. “What great destinations did you have in mind, Luciana, dear?” Semper asked.

“I believe a simple stroll through the markets would be a nice start,” Luciana said. “There are a few small shops which sell some books, and the walk would allow us to unlimber our legs.”

“That sounds nice!” Valeria said.

“Indeed. The walking would also give you an opportunity to talk with the person with whom you’re dating. A moment of public intimacy that risks little and allows you to probe the mind of the person you are with.”

“Oh, right,” Valeria said. She glanced at Esme, who blinked, then rushed to pull out pen and notebook.

Luciana resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Such expressions were beneath her. Esme and Valeria... got along well. As expected of two friends. And she hoped that that was all they were.

She had tried to push things along between Valeria and Felix, but while Luciana was quite certain that Felix at least loved her daughter (though she was uncertain about the quality of that love), Valeria was proving... exceptionally thick.

Luciana didn’t know if she should feel like a failure of a mother or not. Her daughter, brilliant with all things magical, with a creative and terrifying mind for many things, was absolutely useless when it came to reading her own friend’s affections.

At the rate things were going, Valeria would be well into her adulthood before she started to notice all the signals she missed years prior, and while the post-hoc embarrassment would amuse Luciana to no end, the goddess didn’t know if she could endure seeing her daughter bumble around so foolishly for so long.

How could someone be so blind?

Luciana was distracted as Semper placed her hand on her knee. “Shall we disembark, dear?” Semper asked.

“Yes, it would be a waste to spend any more time cooped up in here,” Luciana agreed easily. She climbed out of the carriage with the simple grace of long centuries of practised motion. Her daughter and friend clambered out with the graceless exuberance of young women at the height of their growing period.

“Oh, look!” Valeria said as she pointed across the street. They had disembarked in a market street. There were a few stalls along the sides of the road and more shops with great big windows from which various wares were displayed. Valeria reached a hand back, grabbed Esme, then dragged the bookish girl after her towards a blacksmith’s shop where sharp and pointy things had caught her eye.

Luciana picked an umbrella out from under the seat of the carriage and snapped it open above her head. It was an old habit, her skin would hardly sunburn now, but nonetheless she would rather not have to deal with the sun’s glare.

She shifted as Semper slipped her right arm around Luciana’s left.

“You’re being rather close,” Luciana said.

“We are supposed to be dating, are we not?” Semper asked, her tone teasing.

“I suppose we are meant to put on a show for the children,” Luciana admitted. “Though I wonder how successful your plan will be?” Luciana gestured towards where Valeria and Esme were talking in front of the weapons display. A confused smith was watching the two as they compared weapons. He seemed to want them to not be handling bare steel, but the children were being careful and were handling the weapons with due respect.

Besides, Esme and Valeria were both clearly cultivators.

“My plan? Oh, I think it’s working out just fine,” Semper said. They both watched as the girls replaced the weapons they’d taken, then it was Esme’s turn to pull Valeria along, this time towards a small outdoor stall manned by an older woman asleep on a chair. She was selling books, used and beaten things that had seen several hands.

Luciana harrumphed and started walking, Semper kept pace, of course, clinging onto Luciana as she did. “I will concede that Esme isn’t the worst choice for a spouse for my Valeria.”

“Oh? Are you giving up so easily?” Semper asked. “I did hope you’d put up a bit more of a fight. It makes it so much more fun to imagine dominating you when we’ve had a good back and forth.”

“I haven’t given up yet,” Luciana said. “You’ve merely misconstrued my partial statement for a full one. Esme is a fine young woman. I’m certain she will make you quite proud as an Archivist. But Felix is a greater candidate still.”

“Really?” Semper asked. She glanced up to Luciana for a moment, as if trying to read her face. That wouldn’t be so easy. Luciana didn’t leak her emotions, certainly not physically. The only one who could read her was Valeria, and that had to be some sort of fluke. “Tell me, Luciana, were you in Valeria’s place, and you are quite similar to your daughter, what sort of spouse would you be looking for?”

“I don’t know whether or not I should be insulted that you think that I’m so similar to Valeria.”

“An older, more mature and womanly Valeria, perhaps,” Semper recanted.

Luciana hummed as she set that particular topic aside. Semper’s flattery was enjoyable, but the question deserved her full consideration. “A spouse... it has been some millenia since I’ve considered the idea. I believe that much of the advice I would give to Valeria would apply to myself as well. I’m no hypocrite.”

“Of course,” Semper agreed.

“It would have to be someone who has gained my confidence and perhaps my friendship. I am not one for spontaneous flings, and I’m hardly ruled by my libido.”

Semper tittered. “Are you certain, Luciana, dear? We read the same books.”

Luciana refused to rise to the bait. “There are, of course, the usual requirements. Someone whose intelligence is near to my own, who has some wit, and who is at least moderately attractive.”

“How very vain,” Semper said.

“Attractiveness is important,” Luciana said. “Though I won’t deny that it can also be vain and petty. It nonetheless plays an important role.”

“I understand,” Semper said. “Fortunately for any spouse you might find, you are quite attractive yourself.”

Luciana chuckled, low and dark. “Yes, I’m certain I would be quite the catch.”

“Perhaps I ought to learn how to fish then,” Semper murmured. “Oh, look, the girls are having quite a bit of fun over there. Let’s go see what they’re up to, shall we?”

“Yes, of course,” Luciana said. Her mind was on Semper’s previous words though. What had the goddess meant by that?

She set it aside. First, she needed to get her thick-skulled daughter to learn how to pick up clues.

***

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