[Ivory Tower] Lifelines

The Kowlani Territories, or the Solarity of Kowloon, is a small suzerain to the galactic south of the Tai Pan empire. Home to dozens of species, it is ruled as a monarchy, and underneath the Lord Empress, Bhelith tu Andes Arleigh, it nevertheless prospers in opposition to its democratic neighbors. Fortunes are made or broken in the wild edges of the Solarity, and the names of those who made or lost them rise and fall with equal severity.
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[Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by CadetNewb » Wed Feb 20, 2019 7:18 pm

Piyapon Orbit,
Tsunami


"Hey Princess," the brawny, business suited man greeted the young woman, her title spoken more like an affectionate nickname than an honorific. "I'm guessing things didn't go according to plan huh?" the human sympathetically smiled towards her. The two had never met, but the ever friendly Johnathan had a reputation that she instantly knew of. A scoundrel, a womanizer, the Premier of Piyapon, and father of Bhelith's child. "I know you're probably feeling down right now, but I got an offer, and I guess it's now or never, you know?" Johnathan casually sat down on a chair's armrest. It didn't threaten to topple over or creek under his weight however, and it wasn't due to superior engineering either. No, the man was talking to her in a way that only other Taianese could, and it wasn't often that someone other than a fellow Taianese was able speak fluently on the VR channel. However, in those rare instances, they were usually someone that stuck up and out from the crowd.

Her mother would tell her it was someone to be hammered down or be used a useful step up of course. Meanwhile, her father would have told her such a person could be a useful ally and a bridge to another people. But what did she think?

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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by Fred » Wed Feb 20, 2019 8:15 pm

Like many other Taianese, virtual reality was a refuge for Xiulan. One where she could be given to anykind of fancy, satisfy her every whim or craving without much fear of censure.

The invitation to a virtual chatroom had struck her as odd, but given it had come from the Solarity's chancellor, it was not one she could dismiss out of hand. But now that they faced each other, she realized how awkward this would be. Restraint was not something she was used to having in that realm; she'd been thoroughly schooled at doing so in the real, but here, it felt too much like stiffling herself. Stiffling her passion, her light, her fire. On equal grounds, time was simply not on her side.

She pondered his words, and made her decision. The Taianese princess would be herself, without any gentler veneer. Kowloon's Duchess had erred, and many at court would have had been comfortable with the term 'transgressed' if Xiulan related her interview with them. She wasn't in trouble, they were. So, she would be a dragon - burning, fierce and proud.

"Yes, let us talk," Within this space, her avatar was not entirely fleshed out beyond and abstract silhouette of herself, her head being where she was the most defined. As she moved to a self-conjured chair that was the mirror to Johnathan's, she rendered herself more sharply, donned a simple cheongsam in surreal gradient shades flowing from white to fuschia. "Let us discuss why the meeting I scheduled through you happened to intrude on Her Grace. Let us discuss this strange ambivalent attempt to have me join a cult-like following that would somehow turn me against my family. Let us discuss Her Grace's utter lack of apparent deference to Her Liege, the Immortal Emperor, whom I have come to represent."

Her voice crackled with domineering authority she had not chosen to wield before. "Understand that my purpose here was to serve as liaison, in order to allow the Empire of Tai Pan to better support what had been considered a successful administration of this Suzerainty." She barked out a humorless laugh. "My disappointment at this first interview is outweighted by the responsability I now feel weighting on me: to notify the Taianese imperial court as to how inadequate your leadership appears to be. As a royal princess, trust that my standing - even landless - has the clout sufficient to have the court arrange for a replacement. Drawing such a conclusion so soon during my tenure will not earn me any favors, and may even saddle me with the unenviable task of taking over in the Duchess' stead as well as cope with any subsequent upheaval..." she narrowed her slitted eyes. "but you may trust that I will perform as my duty demands."

Xiulan crossed one bare leg over the other, reclining comfortably in her virtual chair. "But before that, I will allow you to do yours: the unglamorous task of cleaning after your Duchess, giving me a reasonable explanation for my reception and the attitudes I was witness to, and then change my mind in regards to how successful my tenure here can be."
Last edited by Fred on Thu Feb 21, 2019 4:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by CadetNewb » Wed Feb 20, 2019 9:31 pm

"I hate to say this princess, but she just wasn't looking forward to taking care of another kid," Johnathan admitted, his warmth remaining in the face of the Taianese Dragon's barely contained fury. Like a knight who knew he could 'slay' her, he let the verbal blows roll off his armor. "The idea she's got a little baby girl was a boss fight in and of itself for Bhelith, and I don't think she's excited about round two with the thought of having a teenager around," he explained to her with a shrug that seemed to say 'What can you do?'. Uninvited and unwanted, it made a sort of sense that the irreverent elf would just cram the young woman in anywhere she would fit. "And I'd love to be your outlet and help you relax, but now's not the time." It was honestly hard to tell if there was a bit more meaning to that, but that somehow made the words all the more lively. "Also, I really suggest holding off on trying to oust her now since you're at level one. You gotta get some XP and level up first princess, or else your dad will just look at you funny, which is where I come in," he pointed a thumb at himself.

"Interested? You might even get to make her apologize in that roundabout way of hers later," Johnathan playfully offered to the Taianese Princess.
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by Fred » Thu Feb 21, 2019 8:48 am

Xiulan draped her tail over one armrest, allowing it to lazily dangle as she pondered on his words.

What struck her was how the chancellor had inspired urgency twice. It brought her back to her previous musing; if the vagaries of her interview with the Duchess had been a result of flawed whims, or calculated design. How someone supposedly as competent would have bungled such an encounter to lead Xiulan to suspect disloyalty. How, either way, the leaders of the Solarity would probably deduce she had suspicions.

The Taianese princess then considered the Tsunami's current location in the star system, well within the gravity well of Piyapon. The suzerainty's capital had its defending vessels; if it came to hostilities, Tsunami would be far outmatched and her odds of escape slim. She'd made the possibility of ousting Bhelith obvious, but then, wouldn't that naturally make her loyalists want to solve that problem by nipping it in the bud? Her death wouldn't be inconspicuous, but it would likely be far less trouble than Xiulan returning news that she considered the elven sovereign potentially disloyal. Especially if the Duchess was actually bankrupt of dutiful reverence towards the Immortal Emperor.

Johnathan Izgimmer is here for damage control, she decided. Virtual reality suits him, because if negociations fail, he can easily escalate.

The Taianese princess wondered if she should confront him on the threat she'd perceived, but then decided not to. The Chancellor had likely intervened in the hopes of diffusing a situation before it got out of hand. Killing her was not desired, but it would be done if it was necessary. Appearances would matter... and in case she was overthinking the matter, it was preferable not to give him ideas!

"Chancellor, if my presence here had been for the sole exercise of having the Duchess kiss my feet, I would have brought more warships and more soldiers." Xiulan's gestured offhand to dismiss that possibility and move on with a more patient-sounding: "I will hear out your proposal."
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by CadetNewb » Thu Feb 21, 2019 11:32 pm

"Yeaaaaah...we kinda figured you were here to cut your teeth and get some experience, not do anything super serious," the man admitted, rubbing the back of his head out of embarrassment. If the both of them really did think she was just here to be taught, or worse, babysat, there was no wonder behind Bhelith's actions. "She's just not enthusiastic Princess, so what I'm suggesting is that you hang out with me to learn the ropes instead," Johnathan offered, pointing a thumb at himself with a smile. "But seriously, time's running out - I gotta figure out if you're coming or not! Otherwise, it'll just be one of the spare spots and not one just for you at the head."

The man clearly had something in mind, but what?
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by Fred » Fri Feb 22, 2019 10:14 am

Xiulan returned a half-lidded look to the Chancellor. It was going to be sanctimonious of her, but it looked like she needed to set some expectations straight. That she had to accept to guarantee the survival of the Tsunami's crew was a given, if things were truly as bad as she believed. But she had appearances to keep.

"I believe you misunderstand," the Taianese Dragon said. "I am weaned since birth to perform in a diplomatic liaison role. Originally, it was for the Wangdaio colonies; I was repurposed for their spiritual successor, the Solarity of Kowloon. My function here is not trivial, and it should not be judged by the actions of a father seeking boons for his youngest daughter. It should be judged by the imperial sentiment that first and second-class Taianese do not want third-class citizen underfoot; therefore we promote havens such as your province to look after their needs. It is important to the court that this suzerainty succeeds; if you end up like the Wangdaio colonies it will largely be to the detriment of our third-class."

"I am here to walk the line between helping you succeed and also to be the voice of the Empire you are part of," the purple-haired princess stressed. "If you look at me and see inexperience, I say look at me and see the dragon caste at your doorstep offering you her cooperation. After all, inexperience is temporary and the Emperor does not have so many heirs that it would be a small matter that one stand in your presence."

"Besides, the way you frame it, your entourage does not seem to have the whole picture: sending a seasoned liaison could very likely have been framed as insulting... is your territory rife with such unrest and incompetent leadership that it requires a master in the craft?" She arched an eyebrow, letting him chew on that rhetorical challenge a beat before continuing. "No, you do not. You send your best diplomats to deal with precarious international matters; and you cut the teeth of your greener official within the territory because everyone has to start somewhere, as you once have. Eventually, the favor must be passed forward."

"In which case, I will grant you the honor of accepting your offer." She didn't smile, but something like delighted glee flared in her slitted pupils. "You may rejoice, Chancellor! You will now have the priviledge of sharing your wisdom as to how to run your territory. As I rise within the Imperial court, what you will have imparted will positively reflect the pedigree of your own province." She purposely made it hard for him to tell if she claimed that in jest, or if she was actually serious.

Xiulan was actually being sincere, though she derived some amusement from thinking he might not see the boon quite in the same way.
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by CadetNewb » Wed Feb 27, 2019 7:13 pm

Johnathan Izgimmer didn't seem to be a particularly difficult person to read. Though he definitely came off as concerned about something, the man wasn't giving any sign that this was a life or death situation. Rather, this seemed to be more a small concern than something so daunting like trying to assassinate royalty. Then again, when it came to killing, many could be stone cold and indifferent, and Johnathan could have just not cared about putting an end to the young Taianese Dragoness. There was no point in speculating too much, really. However, there was something peculiar about the friendly, familiar way he kept talking to Xiulan - if the word 'Princess' were traded out for 'Kiddo', the effect wouldn't have been too different.

"Well Princess, if you being here is supposed to be something serious, then we've got work to do," he clasped his hands together, rubbing them in anticipation. When Xiulan had mentioned potential rewards, she saw a faint glimmer in his eyes. But, was it greed, amusement, or something else altogether? "Though, honestly? Don't hold all this against Bhelith. The relationship between your pops and her is, well...complicated," Johnathan briefly looked away in thought before smiling again. "After all, she didn't get offed along with the rest of the rebels!" the man pointed out to her with an award winning grin. "Anyways, here's the landing pad," he said, handing over a slip of paper. It wasn't necessary, considering the fact that they were in her virtual reality, but the act had a certain appeal to it with the way the data transferred once she took it from his hand. "I'll meet you there!"

The man didn't bother exiting out the door though, but he didn't just log off and vanish either. Opening a window, he sat on the window sill, shooting the Taianese princess a thumbs up and a smile before leaning back like a diver, his feet the last thing she saw as the man fell from view.

Not too far off, several Shield vessels patrolled space. It was difficult to tell if they were doing so as they always did, or were there specifically because of the ploy the young princess suspected, but one thing was certain. If she attempted to flee now in the Tsunami, there was a reasonable chance of getting away. At these ranges, they'd have to resort to using torpedoes, and those could be fooled. On the other hand, they could have just been patrolling as they were supposed to.

Still. Would the Princess turn and flee, or stay and fight?
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by Fred » Thu Feb 28, 2019 2:05 pm

Xiulan watched the chancellor make his fanciful exit and then had her eyes turn on to the slip of paper in hand. After making sure she'd recorded the relevant data the virtual object represented the princess made her own exit.

Her perceptions returned to the real, where she had lounged, absentmindedly looking out at the stars. Xiulan's slitted pupils narrowed within bruised purple irises, focusing on her reflection as she considered Johnathan Izgimmer and mentally ticking off what she'd made of him: uncomfortably familiar, disarmingly affable, a tad crude and quite definitely shrewd. The dragon princess' notion of being imperilled did not lessen - she still couldn't excuse a lot of what Bhelith had done on incompetency so it seemed therefore by design - but he'd made it hard for her to not doubt in her own alarmism.

Not that it couldn't still be done, but the scenarios she could envision seemed unlikely if on simple account of their lack of efficiency. While her situation had certainly become convoluted, going downplanet seemed more likely to further her agenda rather than hinder it.

She straightened on the couch. "Mina, arrange for a shuttle to ferry me back to shore," she commanded, transfering the landing coordinates to her handmaiden. "I have business with Kowloon's chancellor."

Her rat-form servant inconspicuously approached. "Will you be donning the same garments?"

Xiulan considered the black formal dress she'd worn to meet Bhelith and shook her head in the negative. "This feels business casual. Let's go with something that matches my hair along with some sharper contrasts."

"At once, Your Highness," Mina bowed.
* * *
The turbulence of atmospheric entry lessened, and once the heat shielding retracted from the shuttle's viewport, Xiulan hazarded a glance out at the planet's cloudscape.With her arrival imminent, she made a last minute check on her fingertails and the flame-like frill at the end of her tail.

She was the Emperor's youngest daughter, and one lesson her mother taught her early was that the Taianese Court did not lack for intrigue. The Taianese left their pacifism behind, the outcome was keenly reflected in the ruling class once the nation's existencial struggles was behind it. When it came to knowing better how the Taianese people ought to prosper, the imperial court at large had little shortage of cutthroat powerplays - some fatal between those that competed the most adamantly. Xiulan was hardly one of those major players, but her mother had played favorites with her, making sure that her youngest baby would have a better chance than most to be the last one standing. Training to survive assassination was suspiciously alike to training to be an assassin. Chief amongst the skills Xiulan learned was an expertise with poisons.

She came unarmed to Piyapon, but only in the way that she did not carry a weapon. Meaning that she needed to be the weapon if it came to that. To bolster that, her fingernail varnish and the wax she'd applied to the sharper edges of her tail's frill was a concoction made from the venom of an Iwoyan hookfish: it was benign enough on skin contact, when ingested or smelled, but if the poison reached the victim's bloodstream it would quickly induce numbing paralysis. A rake of her fingernail, of a rending tailslap would prove more than sufficient to make a proper delivery if matters came to it within the next couple of hours. As for the possibility of misshap, Xiulan had already imbibed the antidote and carried some on her; it wouldn't do to inadvertantly overdose someone by accident and being unable to avert a potential heart attack.

The shuttle made landfall, and once the pilot announced they were secure, she stepped out the open hatch and down the ramp.
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by CadetNewb » Thu Feb 28, 2019 9:26 pm

Piyapon
Soran Nast


Descending from high above, the sprawling city below looked like a blight upon the land, a cancer that slowly spread out into the pristine world, and this wouldn't have been entirely incorrect. The hastily fabricated buildings' drab and utilitarian contours were lit with neon ads who's light seemed to bloom within the rising steam that rose from below. Ground level traffic was congested, while sky-car lanes were relatively clear, a sign of the nation's state in and of itself. Of course, every city had its origins, its reason for being. While many were made to be close to water or the like, Soran Nast was simply the landing point for the battleship that had been gifted to Kowloon. As it originated from the pilot program for battleships, Tai Pan would have scrapped this experimental test bed, but it was deemed more appropriate to gift this to the fledgling nation. And now, here it sat near the mines, foundries and factories that had cropped up to assist with its maintenance as well as the military's, the Shield of Kowloon.

From time to time, ash slowly drifted down on the city like snow, but not on the landing pad nearby the massive ship's side. The field it emanated saw to that.

"Princess! Good to see you!" the tall, brawny man beamed, proudly marching out to meet the princess. A gust of wind briefly buffeted them both though, as the light protective field wasn't perfect, prompting Johnathan to run a hand through his brown hair to brush aside a few strands that had strayed. "There's a lot on the table, but just humor me real quick while we walk!" the man began, holding up both his index fingers for emphasis. "Politically, what do you see here?" he asked, gesturing to the kilometer long battleship. Though they were far enough so that there was ample room for the shuttle to land comfortably, their proximity to the huge vessel made it look more like an armored wall that rose high into the sky than anything else. "Oh, and for maybe a bit more challenge, from Kowloon's and Tai Pan's perspective when it was first gifted," he smiled, waving for her to follow him in.
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by Fred » Tue Mar 05, 2019 8:31 am

Xiulan brushed her hair away from her face as the wind stirred her purple hair and then walked along with the Chancellor, the faint clicks of her sandals being faster than his own footfalls as she matched her speed of his longer strides.

Her reptilian eyes studied the large expanse of armored hull and she reflected on the question. What struck her the most about the scenery was the contrast between the squalor of Soran Nast next to the large warship the city had grown around. Even as a hands-me-down, having a singular Taianese battleship was a huge priviledge... one that was not usually granted outside the Imperial Military, which was only first-class citizens. Kowloon was mostly third-class citizen, lead by an elf that had formerly been an enemy general. Even if the large warship had design flaws, they could be compensated for, enough so to make the vessel a cornerstone of any defensive effort. At its starting point, as long as its upkeep was maintained, it assured the Solarity of Kowloon would not fall prey to banditry.

But if Izgimmer asked, it was because there was a catch. She just couldn't put her finger on why. Bhelith's disdain for her mother cropped in her mind.

"I see a powerful symbol of Taianese might," she answered glibly. One that is a little too good for you. "It is an amazing gift, perhaps even too generous. It would be a priviledge for a first-class citizen to even serve on one; and yet here, a third-class can captain it. It is a lot of power to put in the hands of a former enemy general; a great demonstration of trust."

"Your question implies there is a contrasting view between Tai Pan's and Kowloon's points of view." the return look she gave him under her bangs was cunning. "Of course, I have my first impression with your Duchess to guide me. Have your citizens somehow twisted the symbolism of this gift into a way to demonize Tai Pan at large? What priviledge would they have appreciated instead?"
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by CadetNewb » Wed Mar 13, 2019 1:12 am

"Weeeeelll..." Johnathan's voice trailed off as the man rubbed the stubble on his chin. His hesitancy implied plenty already.

"The relationship between the Emperor and Bhelith is complicated, and I'd say this ship is actually a kinda decent representation of it," he began, leading the way into the vessel. As the armored doors opened, the two entered, and passing the airlock, the scenery changed quickly. The nearby cargo areas had been stripped of munitions, weapons, reactor fuel and rations, instead housing a vast forest of cubicles between which numerous office workers buzzed. "You see, this ship is a good ship. Very high performance. Lots of energy output, very powerful weapons, even more powerful shields. All the bells and whistles," the Premier praised the ship. Walking deeper in, the civilian support personnel diminished as the numbers of Shield members rose. "Naturally, that comes as a cost - high maintenance. Operational costs per hour are pretty high, since it's tricked out with all sorts of prototype systems that never quiiiiite panned out." Stepping into the lift, he admitted, "Plus, they won't tell us what precisely is in this ship, so we're still finding something new every day. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns into a giant mecha or something at this point," Johnathan then laughed.

Stepping into what looked like his office room, he suddenly stopped and turned around to look Xiulan in the eye.

"It doesn't turn into a giant mecha, does it?" the man asked with complete seriousness.
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by Fred » Wed Mar 13, 2019 6:48 am

Xiulan paused for a moment - just long enough to give herself a VR rehearsal of how she wanted to deliver the answer - before she humored Johnathan's question.

"Many of our smallcraft have transformative properties that help them adapt to multitude of environments," Xiulan soberly informed the Chancellor. "Our Monkey-caste have indeed contemplated the idea of applying the same versatility on a grander scale. Your vessel could possibly be the discontinued Sakamoto-class, a totem battleship exclusively for the use of our Rooster-caste. One of its intended properties was rumored to be a landing mode that transformed the warship's posture into something akin to the rooster bird; its proud skyscraper-tall gilded silhouette meant to inspire imperial pride and prosperity from miles away. From your suspicions, perhaps you have heard of the heated debacle that went on over its head? As I understand it, it was about wether it should remain a sensor tower, or ought to integrate laser cannons for eyes."

She looked up at him indulgently, and brought the narrative she was spinning to a conclusion: "Naturally, the Imperial Court ruled that glaring things to death was an affectation unique to the Dragon-caste. Alas, the design was discontinued before it reached mass production. The Roosters must have been very disappointed."
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by CadetNewb » Tue Mar 19, 2019 9:23 pm

For a long moment, the man simply stared at Xiulan before turning away.

"That....that would explain a lot actually," he admitted. As he strode over to his office desk, the man pulled out a seat for the Dragoness before reaching up to his neck, loosening his collar and tie before sitting down himself. "A certain Rooster by the same name occasionally sets up shop here periodically. I thought she was an intermediate rank in Taianese society at best, but this suggests something else entirely." Running a hand through his brown hair, Johnathan let out a sigh. "Well, thank you for informing us. I've went ahead and made sure to tell the appropriate individuals involved and - "

"The ship does what?" The doorway had suddenly slid open again to reveal the unmistakable, towering form of an Angel. Halo glowing as her chest heaved, it was obvious that she had sprinted over as quickly as possible, beating her fully sized wings to boost her speed. Stepping into the room, she dispelled her wings in a burst of black feathers which promptly scattered and vanished as they shrunk to a small, vestigial pair on her back. Xiulan knew this woman despite only having met in passing of course. Fate of House Exousia had once served her mother and father as Shaojiàng - or Vice Admiral - of the Auxiliary forces, and due to that, she bowed to the young Dragoness before turning her stoic fire back to Johnathan. "Is this true? It transforms?" Fate asked.
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Re: [Ivory Tower] Lifelines

Post by Fred » Wed Mar 20, 2019 11:53 am

Xiulan was about to supply something along the line of an exasperated 'Of course not!', but she held her tongue.

Even if you weren't entirely familiar with a ship, Xiulan's statement was an evident falsehood to anyone whom had bothered to even map out the ship; something mechanics would have likely already done, considering how the city first grew around the idea of supporting that ship. Maybe her tease had the chancellor going until the transformation bit, but after a mental double-take he definitely hadn't believed it, only opting to humor her. The Angel could have been the butt of some joke, if Xiulan truly believed someone of her pedigee was that gullible. She didn't.

Therefore, a form of levity and an excuse to introduce someone, Xiulan concluded, returning Fate's bow with an acknowledging nod before she sunk into the chair offered to her. A passing thought had her wonder if Izgimmer was calling her bluff and testing her over it, perhaps to see how she would handle a tease that threatened to go too far. She decided she would not bite, figuring it was better to remain silent and have him figure that one out.

So, instead, she devoted more attention to the burst of feathers as not-so-compact wings shrunk into a more indoor-friendly formfactor. Now that was an interesting trick, especially the part where the props - the drifting feathers - faded away as they sunk to the floor. Replaying the event several times in VR didn't really reveal any particular trick or artifice to it, which means it was likely purely magical.
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