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Anywhere and Else *Me (Thestarjar) and That Guy*

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"It's--It's like he c-completely forgot the mint, o-or..." Spindle threw his arms up in the air, frustrated, as he paced up and down the length of one wall. He hadn't been still since before their arrival. "I don't know, i-it's not like the Censor to m-mess up like that with a potion." He shook his head. When he reached the corner again, he spun around, but didn't continue pacing. "Hey, you--you two, you didn't, right? I-I mean, I know you didn't, b-but it's--I'm--just for my own peace of mind?"

"Didn't what?" Theida asked, squinting. She was only just starting to return to her senses, herself. She wasn't sure of anything about the past hour (or perhaps longer; her dazed state hadn't done anything to help her keep track of the passage of time), though she had the strong feeling of having failed at some sort of test.

"Didn't take it. Th-The book, I mean," Spindle said, and then shuddered, "o-or... destroy it."
 
thea ante hominēs
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"No..?" Hother chewed on the word for a moment as he let it out. "...Unless something happened this morning that I don't remember..."

"Can't've done, then. You were both with us all day today so far. If you had gone and done something like that, you'd remember doing it. It's not just something you could do by accident." The alligator cast his eyes down, as if peering at some intangible entity beyond the floor. "Then what in the name of nature's bounty is going on here..?"
 
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Spindle licked his lips and resumed pacing, those worries assuaged for the moment. "Censor Larch m-must have been absolutely--just, devastated about this, I-I'm sure, but he wouldn't..."

"Devastated," Theida repeated skeptically.

"O-Of course. Life's work, that. Two lives' work, a-and his predecessor is ill, you know, of course he'd be stressed," Spindle added, the pitch and speed of his voice escalating as he went. He took a deep breath. "S-Stress! You know, it's a v-very perception-warping thing, stress. Maybe he's just--m-maybe it's not even gone! W-What if the book was just, just misplaced? Wouldn't that be a story!" The following laugh lacked any proper confidence in his own proposal.
 
thea ante hominēs
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"If that's the case, to say he owes us all an apology would be the greatest understatement of all time..." Bristlecone opened his arms towards Spindle, offering his embrace to him in the hopes that it might keep them both grounded. "In a way, though, I do get it. Two travellers, the likes of which we've never seen before, turn up out of nowhere, and then our most valuable treasure vanishes. I see the reasoning behind suspecting you two. But that doesn't justify leaping all the way to a conclusion like this."

"...Sorry, anyway." Hother felt compelled to say it, the whites of his eyes showing as he cast his gaze to the floor, feeling a sense of guilt he knew he didn't deserve. "If we hadn't come here, that... that... Larch... would've left you alone..."

"Hey, y'don't gotta apologise. Y'all didn't do anything wrong. It was just... bad timing; that's all. Why shouldn't you be within your rights to go travelling, if the fancy takes you?"
 
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Spindle sprang into Bristlecone's arms and clung easily to him, seemingly out of words for the moment.

Theida aimed an appreciative look at Bristlecone before addressing Hother. "Yeah, exactly. Don't be sorry for getting framed. Would you want me to apologize for... like, for putting the idea to travel in your head in the first place? Just 'cause it ended up going south? As long as they don't mess up this truth-potion-thing twice, I think we're good."
 
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"...Okay, point taken." Theida's words brought him some semblance of ease, the rest of which being filled in simply by watching the tenderness with which Bristlecone-- mighty and imposing in stature-- held Spindle, an idle hand lightly stroking the frog's head. He found his own hindpaws inclined towards scratching at the ground a little, with no other outlet for his restlessness-- at which point a thought occurred.

"I, uh, haven't given this all that much thought, so this might not really go anywhere, but, uh..." Just to toy with his own idea, he stretched one leg, dragging a disinterested line through the earthen floor. "I don't know if it would help at all, but... would, uh, griffin-magic work on this kind of floor?"
 
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"Oh, uh..." Theida kneaded a few claws into the earth. "Yeah, I do dirt runes all the time. What, you want me to set the place on fire or something?"

"Um," Spindle said, but the objection was interrupted by a short double knock on the door. It swung open with no further warning, and there was Sweetgum, holding a tray with four bowls. They each contained salad--a different sort from last night, though Theida had not the discerning eye to know exactly how.

"Just got lunch in for you," Sweetgum said, with her ever-present, businesslike seriousness. She held out the tray in offering, crouching low enough that the smaller species in the room could reach it.
 
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"Well, thank you kindly, Verignoev..." Bristlecone reached for his own without breaking form, only his tone indicating that he was respecting his better judgement in withholding a more caustic greeting; though it was clear that he had only said as much as he had as a formality.

With some hesitation, Hother followed suit. That was a familiar sensation, at least, he found himself observing; falling obediently into step as long as there was an example by which to be led. His eyes wandered aimlessly over the contents of his bowl, as if trying to attach his self-perception to some part of the meal, his feelings to another, and what will for change he could muster to a third; so that the food might somehow divine his state of mind. ...To that, he blinked hard. The serum had long worn off, he scolded himself; now was most certainly not the time to let his mind wander of his own volition...

"...Oh! V..? Veri... Vari... Vegg...nog..? --Uh... Sorry, I don't know the word..." His ears sagged. His enthusiasm had been replaced with a feeling of defeat before he could even get the question out. Still, he figured, how much more defeated could he be? Get that question out anyway. "...What happened to my belongings..?"
 
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Spindle simply nodded his thanks to Sweetgum, took his bowl, and leaned into Bristlecone again. Theida stared at the tray, trying to figure out how to get a bowl off of it without flipping something over, until Sweetgum noticed and set the last bowl on the ground in front of her. Then, the gator put the tray to her side and stood up to address Hother.

"Verignoev," she supplied, pronouncing the title slowly, "though you needn't concern yourself about it. Your confiscated possessions are in this building. Do you have need of something?"
 
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"Confiscated..?!" His ears drooped at the confirmation, even though he had entirely expected as much, in hindsight. "Well... if I can only request one thing, there's a... a stick. It might sound stupid, but it's rather special to me. I need to know it's safe... and if I can hold it myself, so much the better..."
 
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Theida didn't know what that was about, until she did, and she stared intently at her plate to avoid showing anything about that realization on her face.

"A stick," Sweetgum repeated, considering. "Yes, that should be fine. Wait here."

As soon as Sweetgum was out the door again, Theida looked up at Hother, amazed. "Whaaat're you doing?" she whispered excitedly.
 
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His tail flicked a little. Without that reaction, it wouldn't have occurred to him that the move was, in fact, clever.
"I... don't really have any plans," he replied, echoing her hushed voice. "Just, I can't afford to lose my wand anyway... and if I get it back, maybe we could do something about all of this."
 
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"I-I have to advise against, um, shenaniganry," Spindle added his voice to the mix, "Really, i-if we're just patient..."

The door opened again, and Sweetgum held out the requested 'stick' out to Hother. "Is this it?"
 
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He reached for it eagerly, nodding.
"Ah, yes... Thank you." He hoped the relief in his voice sounded genuine; and, truly, it was-- just, not purely so. "And, uh... sorry if this was... inconvenient..?"
 
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Sweetgum nodded to him, though whether the movement indicated forgiveness or just obligatory respect was unclear. Then, addressing the whole room, she said, "Give a shout if something else is wrong; I'll be nearby. And--" her eyes passed to Bristlecone and Spindle, and she took a moment to find the right wording. "I hope this all gets cleared up soon."

Then she left again. Theida stared at her bowl with a frown. She was hungry, but the only other thing she'd consumed today had left her woozy all morning, and it wasn't helping her appetite. She turned to Hother again instead. "So what can you do with that? Break a door? Make the Ver... Verignoev forget she saw us?" With a glance at the other pair in the room, she added, "Uh, hypothetically. I still don't get how that thing--wand?--does magic if you're not using it to write."
 
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"There's... a lot of things I could do with it..." Beyond his conscious notice, his tail set to wagging just a little, feeling a faint surge of pride in himself for being in a position to give a lecture like this, "...but I'm not well-practised in a lot of spells. I was only ever taught things that I'd need to stand guard back home; anything else is either guesswork, or more powerful than I can handle... I think." He held the wand delicately, admiring its craftsmanship as though he had never had the opportunity to until now. "And as for the how... It's like a focal point for willpower and magic energies and stuff."

"As fascinating as that is," Bristlecone half-pouted, keeping any semblance of condescension out of his inflection, despite the exact words he had chosen, "I agree with Spindle; it'd be better not to make a scene unless absolutely necessary."
 
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"Mm-hmm," Spindle mumbled absently at the invocation of his name. He was squinting at a dark green leaf he'd picked out of his salad--or about half of one, really, that appeared to have eluded the thorough dicing that its companions had endured. Then he grabbed Bristlecone's forearm, wide-eyed. "Spit--Spit out--if you've eaten an-anythi--spit it out," he said urgently, looking at all of them. He raised the leaf up in front of his companion's face. "B-Bristlecone--this--c-can you confirm--i-identify this for me please," he squeaked.
 
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The alligator froze, eyes locking onto the apparent cause of his partner's alarm, scanning it, then held his own bowl up for similar scrutiny, seeking some kind of second opinion from it.
"...Dawnspite," he said at last, wearing evident disapproval, not to mention a sense of total affrontation. "But how..?"

That was indication enough, to Hother, that he was more than at ease to set his own bowl down. He had only reached as far as sniffing at its contents thus far, anyway, but now, it had earned a wary glare from him. Whatever this 'dawnspite' was, it seemed like no lighthearted matter...
 
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"I-I thought it was--we uprooted all the--I h-haven't seen this in years," Spindle said. He fidgeted, like he wanted to pace again, but was reluctant to get up. He clung instead to the cloth of Bristlecone's robe and fiddled with it. "How would s-someone even have it--wh-who made this?"

"Gonna assume it's poisonous?" Theida said, with a discreet, wry look at Hother. Not one night ago had they thought they were being poisoned by these two, and now here they were being rescued from it by the same pair.
 
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"That seems, uh... rational," the dog nodded. In a way, seeing their hosts so uncomfortable was a kind of comfort to him-- not out of schadenfreude, but rather, because it gave him leave to feel that same uneasiness without the doubt of whether, as usual, he might be acting out-of-turn.

"I can think of two possibilities." Bristlecone paid no mind to Spindle's fidgeting. If anything, he shifted his stance ever so slightly, to offer the section of robe more freely; and all of this, seeming like a passive, absent-minded action. "Either we've fallen on the wrong side of some huge, dank conspiracy, or our dear ol' Censor has something nasty brewing-- figuratively and literally."
 
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