2.5: The End of a Beginning
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ATUHOR'S NOSE: eheheheh this fucked up our outline so bad oh well discovery writing 5evr means sometimes the story goes somewhere unexpected

Pandora was the last one to wake up the next morning — or would be, anyway, when she woke up, which she hadn't yet.

This didn't immediately bother Eiri, since it was how nearly every morning had gone that she could recall. It seemed like Pandora just worked like that.

This meant she had some time to try reading some things, now that she actually kind of had that skill.

She idly flipped through some random pages of some kind of law reference book Pandora had borrowed from the library, quickly decided it was too complicated and boring, and moved on to a paper she grabbed off the table.

"The Snowfall Up... Updates," Eiri muttered, reading the big fancy-printed title at the top. She skimmed through the smaller titles all over the page, which appeared to be describing events that had happened in the area in the past few days. Most of them didn't seem particularly interesting, though she figured maybe they would have if she'd had a better understanding of what any of them were.

Near the bottom of the page was a little side section, and one word immediately popped out to her. "Forecast. Pandora said that word... 'Sunny sky. Average temp...er...ature... High umbra.'" Below that description were some numbers going into more detail. "... Is that a big number?" she wondered, looking at what it said for umbra.

"In this context, yeah," Yui mumbled, still lying on the bed. "I snuck a peek at the lab men's newspapers whenever they brought one in, and back there the number rarely even got half as big as that one."

"Huh." Eiri pondered this. "The paper says the temperature is average, though, even though it's so much colder here..."

"Hmm," Yui hmm'd. "The papers there usually said things were average too. Maybe those were unusually warm days?" he offered, not sounding all that confident. "After all, we only got outside for those two days... they used a completely different system for measuring temperature, so I can't compare those numbers."

Eiri didn't find this explanation satisfying, but then again Yui clearly didn't much like it himself so she figured she wasn't going to get anything better right now and went back to reading the paper.

"That's yesterday's paper, by the way," Yui said after a few minutes, "so all the forecast numbers are out of date now." He paused for a moment, head tilted as he looked at something. "Today's numbers are similar, but the umbra's way lower so we won't have to deal with that again."

"No, just whoever was shooting at us," Eiri said bitterly. "The beast thing didn't look like it could use a gun like the lab men — so that was a person doing that."

"Yeah, that's..." Yui finally sat up so he could look properly vexed about this. "... I can't find anything that explains that, but then I'm not sure what I'd even be looking for." He sighed. "Ask Pandora about it. Hopefully she can figure things out."

Eiri looked over at Pandora, still asleep. She vaguely recalled that sometimes she'd gotten hurt in the experiments, and Yui had mentioned she tended to sleep later when that happened. 1Which had led to a whole thing when Eiri asked how he could even tell in the featureless, windowless lab cells. Answer: the lab men had clocks in basically every other room of the complex. Presumably Pandora was the same in that way — she'd certainly looked tired after bandaging up her wound the previous night — but Eiri was still a bit nervous about the whole thing. 

She'd ask Yui how much longer they could expect Pandora to sleep, but as she still didn't know how to tell time, she wouldn't actually know what the answer meant.


After... well, eventually, Pandora finally stirred. She sat up, stretching. "... morning, kiddos," she muttered blearily, reaching into a pocket and pulling out an oblong black thing Eiri recalled seeing once before. "Damn, I was asleep that long...?" she muttered after poking at it a few times, as she put the thing back and stretchyawned.

Yui frowned at that, but said nothing. Eiri, wondering what her brother was bothered by, decided to investigate. "I... also don't know how to tell time," she said. "How long were you asleep?"

"Eleven hours ish," Pandora said. (Yui raised his eyebrows.) "Which is about four more than I normally sleep. But I suspect that wouldn't mean much to anyone around here, since that's not how they tell time." (Eyebrow raising intensifies.)

"W- well how do they tell time around here‽" Eiri exclaimed.

Pandora shrugged. "Haven't seen anything yet in Clauton — I know Araceli said she had her store's hours, er, times up, but I didn't actually see those... Back in Ebraria people used sandglasses to measure time, and those seemed to be custom fit to whatever task they needed timing for. Er, such as how long it takes to bake a loaf of bread," she added at Eiri's quizzical expression. "But if Araceli has posted times, that implies some kind of standardized system around here, otherwise how would a sign even work?" Pandora pondered this deeply. "I guess we could go look at her sign..."

"And ask her what it means?" Eiri guessed.

Pandora blinked. "That would make much more sense than what I was thinking." Despite that statement, she still looked a bit conflicted, until Yui put his hand up. "Er, yes, Yui, do you have anything to add?"

He looked startled for a moment. "Um, I, was just voting for that plan," he mumbled.

"Ah, I see," Pandora said, nodding. "Well, it seems the consensus is overwhelmingly in favor of talking to Araceli some more, so let's all get ready and do that then."

They managed to make it back to Araceli's without incident, whereupon Pandora started scanning the store's facade for the claimed times of operation. "There's like a forty percent chance they're gonna be formatted in some ridiculous way — ah, there we go, that looks about right." She approached what looked like a flat piece of wood with a bunch of elaborate patterns carved into it, including several numbers.

"Huh. These numbers are kinda... big. Is this the local equivalent of military time? ... I guess they'd still call that 'military time'." She scrutinized the text for a few more moments. "... and was anyone gonNA TELL ME THERE WERE EIGHT DAYS IN A WEEK AROUND HERE OR WAS I GONNA HAVE TO FIND THAT OUT FROM — meep‽" Pandora's nascent rant was cut short as the tailor's door opened and she was yanked in by her arm.

Eiri stared at Yui in confusion, who in turn looked unsure himself, until the door opened again and Araceli hissed "You two get in here too, c'mon c'mon quick!"

The twins hustled inside to see the shop unusually dark, with the only visible light coming from the windows and the front lobby, where Araceli was scrutinizing Pandora with a severe expression. "You," she said, "are a wanted criminal."

Pandora raised an eyebrow at the statement while Araceli grabbed two pieces of paper from a drawer and started scribbling on one. "I did mention the break-in, right?"

"You mentioned crimes in Peflein!" Araceli said, sticking the scribbled-on paper2"Closed for the day, probably" to the shop's front door and thrusting the other into Pandora's hands. "The institute was Pefleinian, right?"

"I guess‽" Pandora said, sounding confused. "The tech level was way higher than Brooktown, so it'd make sense to be another nation, but borders are fake, you know! I couldn't tell if I was crossing one without an outside force telling me..." She trailed off as she read the paper in her hands. 3Eiri glanced at it to see reasonably recognizable drawings of the three of them, though Pandora looked uncharacteristically vicious while she and Yui looked frightened and pathetic.

To Eiri's great surprise, Pandora burst out laughing.

Araceli sighed. "Yes, yes, it's quite the knee-slapper, Bophades."

"I cannot believe he's actually calling me that!" Pandora sputtered between giggles. "Did he miss the joke, or was he just required to give them something and he didn't know my real name?"

"It's not in scare quotes," Araceli said, "so they're not treating it as an alias. You wanna explain the rest of this?"

"Right, right," Pandora said, wiping a tear from her eye and looking back to the paper. "Let's see, breaking and entering, grand larceny, kidnapping?" She glanced at the twins. "I guess if the state recognized them as wards of the institute, then yeah that's technically legally kidnapping, but they'd rather be with me than the institute any day and you can confirm that however you like."

"I gathered that much, yes," Araceli said, "but that's an Ebrarian poster. It's up in accordance with their extradition treaty, and that's only allowed if you committed crimes there."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you about that, all this stuff seems to be about..." Pandora trailed off. "Assault and battery of nobility. Nobility," she repeated with a scoff. "Lebrook was a noble, according to the innkeeper, what's his name — Massoulon, that was it — and I'm just now realizing he must've been grilled for my name, so good on him for somehow keeping his mouth shut — but yeah, I did beat the absolute crap out of Lebrook and a bunch of his lackeys trying to ambush us, who I imagine would've also been nobility. And/or servants thereof," she added, "seeing as I'm apparently being charged with assault on noble servants too."

"When exactly were you planning to mention beating up a bunch of nobles‽" Araceli exclaimed.

"Lebrook's the axe-swinging racist jerkoff! Did I seriously not mention his name or the fact that he's a noble‽"

"You didn't, actually," Araceli said with a sigh, "but that explains enough. This is serious trouble, you realize? People around here may not respect Peflein, but they do respect Ebraria, and this poster frames it like all your crimes were there. If I hadn't been nosy and gotten your story before seeing this I'd never have worked it out. Most people are gonna think you're a dangerous criminal!"

"I am a dangerous criminal," Pandora said. "I've committed crimes, I intend to commit more, and I've got a bigass hammer with which I can harm people who stand in my way. That I've got only good intentions about it all doesn't make me safe or law-abiding."

"You know what I mean, Pandora," Araceli said. "People are gonna call the watch on you!"

"Sh- should we leave?" Eiri asked.

"Where would you go?" Araceli countered. "Ebraria and Peflein are obviously out of the question. Ashana?" She didn't seem completely serious about that suggestion, but -

"Maybe!" Pandora retorted. "I don't know, I didn't memorize the atlas!"

"There is an entire ocean between here and there," Araceli said, "you are not going to Ashana."

"No, that's perfect!" Eiri exclaimed.

Araceli boggled for a moment before speaking. "Did I mention that Clauton is landlocked? You'd have to go through Peflein or Ebraria to get to a ship anyway —"

"No, we wouldn't," Eiri said firmly. "I don't know what the map looks like, but we don't have to follow the map! I can just rift us there!"

Araceli blinked. "... Rift?"

"Wait wait wait," Pandora said, "I know we never explained rifts to you, but you know damn well we were in Ebraria just one day before we met — how did you think we got here?"

"I dunno, walked?"

... There was an awkward silence for several seconds. "Okay. Okay. I have some major questions about the geography of this world and the capabilities of the average Solea if walking seemed reasonable to you —"

"You wanna look at the atlas again?" Araceli offered.

"That would probably answer one of the questions at least," Pandora said, "and more to the point if we're going with Eiri's rift idea we'll probably want an approximation of where we're going at least — but unless you've got one lying around" (Araceli shook her head.) "the one we got is still back in our inn room, and I don't know how we managed to get here without anyone taking notice but I'm not sure I wanna risk drawing attention now."

"Could your 'rifts' do it?" Araceli asked. "Seriously, what are those, anyway?"

"Ehh, maybe, but..." Pandora turned to Eiri. "You wanna explain or should I?"

"... I, uh..." Eiri took a deep breath and held her hands in front of her, palms up. "I can open... holes in the world."  With a slight push of her will, two tiny swirling black things appeared, one above each of her hands. "They're always connected, so anything that goes in one comes out the other." She demonstrated by pulling a stone out of a pocket and dropping it in one rift, showing that it fell out of the other one into her outstretched hand.

"So, during that ambush, she opened up a big rift and sent us here," Pandora said, as Eiri let the tiny rifts collapse. "So, yes, in principle she could pop over and grab that atlas, in practice..." Eiri staggered back just a bit, and Yui quickly caught her. "... just that tiny little demonstration rift put her seriously out of breath. I don't want her wearing herself out using that for little things."

"I'm — " fine, Eiri almost said, before thinking better of it. After all, she was going to have to open another rift soon anyway, and they'd be in big trouble if she didn't have the energy to do it. "... she's right, I should save my strength."

"Also, even if she could do it easily?" Pandora continued. "I still don't want to treat her like a tool, y'know? The whole damn point of this exercise is that she's a kid and she deserves to just be a kid and not a... superpower dispenser."

"So that's why the institute wanted you, huh..." Araceli muttered darkly. "Well, in that case, I can just grab it for you if you give me your key."

"You don't think that'll be suspicious, you going into the room of a wanted criminal?" Pandora asked.

"Nah, not this early," Araceli responded. "These posters only went up this morning, so most of the inn staff won't see 'em until their lunch break, and that's in nearly two hundred degrees."

"Oh, time is measured in degrees around here?" Pandora said. "Sure, sure, that makes loads of sense. Shot in the dark, two hundred of them isn't slightly over half a day?"

"What‽ No, it's just like a circle, there's three thousand degrees in a day. In places with clearer skies it actually directly tracks the sun's position."

"Right, right, three thousand, why would it be any other number." Pandora sighed. "Whatever, it is what it is, and getting myself worked up about it is ridiculous." 4"Utterly ridiculous," she added in an undertone for no apparent reason. She rifled through her pockets and retrieved the inn room key. "Should be right on the table with all the other books... man, we left so much stuff there we're never gonna be able to retrieve, aren't we? At least we're in the habit of keeping most of it in our backpacks..."

Eiri figured, now that she knew what a degree was, that about ten of them had passed waiting for Araceli's return when she decided that continued silence would be more awkward than speaking up, and asked Pandora: "What's the watch?"

Pandora, looking at her glowing oblong rectangle again, took a moment to notice that the question had been directed at her. "Well... strictly speaking I don't know what the watch is, but from context I can infer that they're probably the local variant of... law enforcement." She grimaced at that last phrase for some reason. "They seek out people who've broken the law — such as me — and they... extract restitution."

Eiri noticed that Pandora was speaking slower than usual, more carefully. "What do you mean, 'extract restitution'?"

"... depends. In theory, they should work out who was harmed by the crime, what the criminal can do to mend that harm, and then obligate them to do that. At least, that's what I think they should do. But what they actually did back home wasn't much like that at all." She sighed. "But it's unfair of me to judge everything by standards of my home world. Maybe they're more reasonable here."

She didn't sound optimistic about that.

"So... you don't think we should tell them what the whatever institute did," Eiri said.

"Based on what I know so far, and acknowledging that what I know is weak and incomplete?" Pandora responded. "... Back home, I'd have expected the law to take the side of the corporation over the people. Maybe my world just went down an usually bad path there. Or maybe that's how it always happens. Until I know which way things went here, I can't recommend going to the authorities." She tilted her head in thought. "That, and we don't have much in the way of evidence. Even if they're good, that'll limit how much action they even can take. Especially if they're good, actually — violating people's freedoms shouldn't be done lightly, no matter how severe the accusation."

Pandora sighed. "I'm sorry, I'm getting political. These stances are actually a matter of some... debate, in my home world. I'd imagine that people around here are similarly divided, if perhaps lacking the communication technology5She waggled the glowing rectangle at this phrase. to make their disagreements known at great length and volume."

"I see," Eiri said, not sure whether she did in fact see. "... you can use that thing to communicate with people?"

"Ostensibly, communication is the primary purpose of a phone," Pandora said. "Though in my case, no. All its communication functions rely on a whole network of infrastructure that doesn't exist in this world. Mostly what I do with it here is read books."

Pandora held the "phone" out, showing Eiri the glowing part of the rectangle for the first time. Disappointingly, despite her recent effort in learning to read, the squiggles on the screen were completely incomprehensible to her. "Why does it look all weird?" Eiri asked.

"Oh, that's the writing system they used in my home country," Pandora said. "I know, it's totally different. It's what I'm used to, though — and it's what most of these were written in originally anyway."

Eiri considered this information thoughtfully. "... you think I could learn it?"

"Given how fast you learned the local script, I'd say so," Pandora said. "Not much you could do with it, though — read whichever of my stories are appropriate for your age and make sense without a lot of context, communicate with me... and Yui, if he wants to learn too. Or anyone else I decided to teach, I guess, though I can't imagine this script will be in high demand." She shrugged. "Up to you. I've got enough explicit knowledge of the local language to at least try teaching."

Eiri considered this, but had only gotten a few seconds into thought when Araceli returned.

"Ding-dong, special delivery," Araceli said, as though the bell above her shop's front door wasn't ringing audibly enough already. "Good news — I managed to grab most of your stuff while I was there, though I left most of the library books behind other than the atlas, since they'd just be going back anyway." She handed the atlas over to Pandora and set the rest of the stuff in front of the twins to sort out. "I also left the identity forms behind since if you're seriously gonna be 'rifting' all the way to Ashana it's likely they won't be of much use to you."

Pandora nodded. "Thank you, that was thoughtful," she said, flipping through the atlas. "What's the bad news?"

"Huh?" Araceli put on an unconvincing show of befuddlement.

"You're doing the good-news-bad-news bit," Pandora said. "I know this bit, Araceli, they had it in my world too. What's the bad news?"

Araceli inhaled through her teeth, producing a noise that gave Eiri distinctly apprehensive vibes. "Well, uh... the watch did, in fact, have eyes on your room — they thought they were being incognito about it, and well, I only just managed to spot them before making myself suspicious, so I had to sneak around through the window, and, uh, I'm not 100% sure whether I was spotted or not?"

"And you just came in here through the front door‽" Pandora exclaimed.

"It's my own shop!" Araceli shot back. "Sneaking in would've just been more suspicious!"

Pandora looked like she had a response to that, but thought better of it. "Whatever, you already did it, no point arguing about it now. Are you gonna have trouble later, being associated with a dangerous criminal?"

"I'll be fine," Araceli said. "If you take all your stuff, plus the wanted poster, I'll be able to claim I didn't know and/or you had me fooled and there'll be no evidence to contradict that."

"And they won't catch you with like, a lie detector spell or something?"

Araceli took a moment to consider that. "Privacy laws require strong possible cause to use those on someone who isn't, themself, a suspect of a crime. I think I'll be fine." Eiri thought Araceli only seemed pretty sure about that, rather than absolutely sure, but Pandora didn't seem bothered so she didn't mention it.

"All right," Pandora said. "Still, just in case — what kind of long-distance communication does this world have? I'm guessing just texting you is gonna be out of the question."

"From Ashana to here?" Araceli considered it. "For that distance, your best bet if you don't wanna wait two months for a round-trip letter would be to pay a pigeonmage. But I don't know whether Ashana actually has any pigeonmages, and if they do it'll probably be pretty expensive. It's not seriously gonna be worth spending that amount of money just to check whether I've dodged the watch on this..."

"I think I'll be able to make that call myself," Pandora said. "Is a pigeonmage exactly what it sounds like?"

"If what it sounds like is 'a mage that imprints your message onto a pigeon which they send to magically locate your recipient', then yes, a pigeonmage is exactly what it sounds like. And again, they're expensive," Araceli said, "not least because the magic also has to ensure the pigeon actually gets all the way to the recipient without getting lost or eaten or captured. It's not an easy spell to learn or to cast."

"Oh yeah, about magic, can anyone learn it or is this one of those worlds where it's genetic?"

Araceli boggled at Pandora. "Is this really the time — most people can learn magic, some people can't, I don't think anyone's worked out what the difference is yet but it doesn't seem to run in families, if you want more details maybe look them up in Ashana when you don't have the watch after you!"

"Right, right..." Pandora looked sheepish and turned away from Araceli to peek out the window. "Ah, hell, they're actively out looking now." She quickly pulled back from the window. "I don't think they saw me, but... we'd better get a move on. Kiddos?"

Eiri frowned loudly. "Um... where is Ashana?"

"Right." Having now found the correct page towards the back of the book, Pandora laid the atlas flat on a table.

An artless rendition of a political map displaying four regions; three on one side of the map, the fourth on the other, a sea in between.
Next, she pulled a disc out of her pocket with a spinning needle in it and watched to see which way it pointed, and rotated the atlas to line up with... something, presumably. She then grabbed two little colorful... carved stones? out of her pocket and set one on the atlas.

"Ooh, what kind of game needs dice with eight and twelve sides?" Araceli asked.

Pandora raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure any dice-based game could be adjusted to work with dice of arbitrary size, but I'll tell you more about the games I got these for when I find a pigeonmage, what with now being not exactly the time."

"Right, right, right," Araceli said, looking suitably abashed. "So the eight-sided one is where we are now, and you've got the map rotated to align directionally. Ashana is this nation," she placed her finger on a light brown area on approximately the other side of the page from the dice representing their current location, "and... well, I don't know enough about it to aim you more precisely than that. I'm sure there'll be a town nearby enough no matter where you land. You've got water, right?"

"Plenty of it," Pandora said, inspecting something in the corner of the map. "I don't actually know either of these units. Can you convert this into a straight numeric ratio?"

"Um... it's around four hundred thousand to one. Just short of four hundred thousand."

Pandora nodded. "So we're going this distance, in this direction — but four hundred thousand times. That's four times, ten times, ten times, ten times, ten times, ten times. Can you wrap your head around that well enough?"

Eiri imagined the little distance on the map getting longer and longer with Pandora's words. "I... think so..." She took a deep breath and carefully focused her will on a spot she imagined far in the unseen distance.

Yui took Eiri's hand. "The people there won't like us; go a little bit further."

Pandora tilted her head. "Y'know, I never did ask you why the whatever institute was holding you... I just took it for granted that it was to keep your sister in line."

"It was still mostly that," he mumbled. "They can't use my power like they can use Eiri's."

Sparks slowly gathered in front of Eiri. "I've never opened a rift this far on purpose before..." (Pandora looked like she had a question about that, but thought better of asking it right now.) Agonizingly, over several seconds, the sparks coalesced into a tiny rift. "Is it good, Yui?"

"It's perfect. Just —"

Alarms started blaring outside.

"What the fuck‽" Pandora exclaimed, and dashed to the window to look outside. "They're closing in — why are they marching on what for all they know is just some random tailor — and why right this second — can they detect Eiri's magic now‽"

"We're running out of time," Yui said with a curious calm. "But you can do this, Eiri. Just widen the rift until we can all make it through."

Eiri pushed all her will into the rift, pulling the opening wider.

Pandora pulled out her hammer. "Yui, be prepared to pull Eiri through. If you have to leave us behind, do it."

Yui nodded determinedly. "We won't need to, I'm sure —"

The door shook as someone on the other side bashed it.

"— though we're gonna cut it close."

Eiri gritted her teeth and pushed as hard as she could. The rift was large enough for her and Yui, but Pandora wouldn't fit through yet.

"Araceli, you're going to need to come with us," Yui said.

Wasn't big enough for her yet either. The door shook with another strike.

"You are awfully talkative all of a sudden," Araceli remarked. "I get it, though, this looks like it's gone way beyond just the watch —"

The door shattered.

In a blink, Araceli had scooped up Yui and leapt into the rift —

— it still wouldn't fit Pandora

— Eiri pushed with all her might and then some —

— Pandora was doing her best to hold off the invaders, all dressed in some kind of full-body armor with face-concealing helmets — 

— the rift still wasn't big enough

— Eiri stifled a cry as one of their bullets grazed her leg —

— Pandora knocked down a wall of the shop to slow the soldiers down —

"Now!" Eiri cried. "Now now now!!"

Pandora grabbed Eiri and dove into the rift.

Something was wrong.

Something was wrong.

They fell out of the other end of the rift and it immediately dissipated as Eiri landed with a splash.

"What —" this isn't perfect, this isn't where Yui aimed me! she couldn't say because she was busy spitting out gross salty water.

Pandora sputtered. "Blech — this is ocean water — why are we in the ocean? ... Where are Yui and Araceli?"

Eiri looked around and couldn't see them anywhere.

Pandora took a deep breath and dove down.


... and surfaced. "Ow, fuck, ow, seawater burns the eyes so bad... didn't see any sign of them... but you're swimming without assistance so I gotta imagine they'd be fine too... I think they just didn't land here, but why did we get separated...? I heard you take a hit. Did that... jolt the rift or something?"

Eiri tried to think about this, but the water was stinging her leg and it was hard to focus. "Maybe. I think the institute might've tested something like that."

"All right. I see land over there, let's get to shore and work out how to regroup. ... how in the hell ass balls are we gonna regroup? I don't even know how far off we landed..."

  • !!!!!!!!!! Votes: 2 66.7%
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  • I don't understand these punctuation marks. Votes: 0 0.0%
Total voters: 3