Basal 80th, 1042

They had taken over a small study room of the Lacus Marian royal library, two tables shoved together and every single book regarding the Gods stacked high. He and River were pouring themselves into it entirely: Kuiper loved this sort of thing, cataloging details, nothing too insignificant to take notes on.

Clover and Alouette on the other hand looked like they were actively being tortured, sitting on beanbags to the side. Clover had been going over the same book for an hour. Alouette was looking at a comic book entirely unrelated to what they were supposed to be going through. As long as they were being quiet, he figured it was fine. When they had first started, Alouette had been humming, and he’d very quickly shut that down. The buzzing of the lights overhead were already getting on his nerves, too bright; and every rustle of paper, too, was more akin to nails on a chalkboard. He knew he probably needed a break.

But he felt close to finding something by the time Aspen and Azaleon finally showed up and thought it might be rude if he left as soon as they arrived. Aspen looked like he hadn’t slept, bags under his eyes and wearing two mismatched coats. Kuiper was under the impression Aspen valued his appearance and tended to it almost religiously, so that was concerning. He dropped unceremoniously in the chair beside Kuiper, resting a hand on his cheek.

“Well?” Aspen asked, and Kuiper exchanged a glance with Azaleon, who nodded, before he tapped the book in front of him. If Azaleon thought Aspen was fine, he wasn’t going to prod too much.

“You remember that book I mentioned in Glassview? Rosemary’s oddities?”

“Yes? I want to hear where you’re going with this, since we already established that book as useful. It was the one with the strange locations, right?” Whatever else could be said about him, Aspen was studious, and Kuiper appreciated how fast he shifted into academic mode, even when he was seemingly dead-tired.

“I think Rosemary was one of the Quasars a hundred years ago. Or– an alias she used to document things and write books. River thinks so, too.”

“She has three books we’ve found. One called ‘Rosemary’s oddities’, which you know about. Every single one of the God’s locations we’ve found were written down, along with other ‘strange’ places– though if she really traveled to those places, by all accounts, the God’s curses should have killed her,” River said, looking up from the book she was looking over.

“You think she was Magnolia of Shivelight,” Aspen said, less of a question and more of a statement. “I guess publishing her books under a pen-name would give her more freedom; as a Quasar she would have had a lot of eyes on her works. She was a renowned traveler as it stands, so it’s not unlikely that you’re right. What of the other two books from ‘Rosemary’? Do they have anything useful?”

“One of them was published posthumously by an anonymous friend of hers, a year and a half after the last Quasar Ceremony. It was a series of interviews and biographies about the Quasars, Lewel of Whitburg, and Magnolia of Shivelight– an autobiography in a sense, I suppose, but written in such a way you can’t tell,” Kuiper said.

“Magnolia had a pet bird, River told me that!” Alouette added in, far too excited. “...Er, that’s probably not important, but it makes me happy.”

“And surely that’s all that matters,” Aspen said with a roll of his eyes.

“That’s all publicly available information about her; I think I’ve actually read that book in school, even if I didn’t know it was written by her,” Clover sighed. “Right? Like, I don’t know how learning about the past Quasar’s pets or families or what Thauma hues they favored working with is going to help us. If there was some huge revelation or something in them, wouldn’t people have found it by now? These books are over a hundred years old. But we still don’t know why two of us from Fern Helion were picked this time, or why the Gods were even sealed. I’d like to know what they want us to be dying for, personally.”

“The Lunar God told me it wasn’t important. Why two of us from Fern Helion were picked, at least,” Aspen said, and Kuiper stopped what he was doing, looking up at Aspen. Everyone else was too. “...They contacted me last night. Before I let you all know what they told me, and the conclusions Seiche and I already came to, I want to hear where you’re going with this.”

“No, I think that’s actually kinda important! Why didn’t you start with that, Aspen?” Alouette demanded. “They spoke with you?! Tell us everything they said!”

“Are you alright?” River asked, a bit softer.

Aspen exchanged a look with Azaleon, and Kuiper knew immediately that Azaleon would tell him in full detail later if he knew more than he was letting on from the conversation Aspen had had with Seiche. But he looked reluctant right now, with everyone watching.

Aspen took a breath. “Yes, thank you for the concern, but I just woke up a bit chilly. I didn’t get any real substantial answers, just very vague statements. I’ll give an abridged version. They claimed to have sealed the Gods away because they were ‘refusing’ something, and strongly implied there should only be two Gods. They said the sealing was a temporary measure–”

“The permanent measure being to actually kill us,” Alouette filled in, folding in on themself from the beanbag they were sitting on. Clover scooted closer, pulling them into a side hug. They wrapped their wing around her.

“We don’t really know that,” Azaleon tried. “It could be any number of things…”

“Like what? Seems pretty clear to me, we did something wrong, they locked us up ‘cause they can’t actually affect us otherwise with their powers. But they want to.”

“...You wanna go get some fresh air?” Clover offered. “I’ve been meaning to ask, but can you hold another person when you’re flying? It’s fine if you can’t, but–”

“Clover! You want to fly with me? We absolutely can! We’re escaping this horrible and boring place!” they sprung to their feet, practically dragging Clover, who looked thrilled to be getting out of studying through the guise of cheering Alouette up, and possibly actually thrilled to get to fly. Kuiper sighed. It’d be easier with them gone, not making self-pitying comments every two seconds. Not like he didn’t feel bad for them, but it made it hard to focus.

As soon as they were out of the room, Seiche stood up. Kuiper immediately knew it was Seiche and not Azaleon without needing to look into his eyes; it was the energy he commanded everyone’s attention with, the blue gaze just confirmed it.

“If you’re going to tell them, Your Highness, do it now. This is a rare opportunity now that Alouette isn’t around.”

“Tell us what?” River asked, her eyes narrowing at Seiche.

“Something you should know about Alouette. Something I want to tell them, but wanted to ask your opinion on, first,” Aspen said, clearing his throat. “Seiche says they don’t have many memories of the Upper Realm because of something called the Phoenix Cycle. That because they’re the God of Transformation, they are in a loop of unraveling then remaking themself, and have been for a long time. We think– I should say I think– that if we could access their memories, rejog them somehow, that they could give us more information. Since they were the last to leave the Upper Realm.”

“And I disagree. Telling them will only stress them out and trigger them to restart the cycle. There’s no guarantee they could even recall former lives, it’s an unnecessary gamble; It’s better to not tell them,” Seiche said.

Kuiper mulled it over. He didn’t think it was an impossible thing for a God to do. Then again, maybe he wasn’t surprised since he didn’t have a frame of reference for the God’s abilities to be shocked from. River was quiet, her gaze unfocused on the paper in front of her.

“There have always been…inconsistencies, in their existence, in the things they’ve told me. They were a child when I found them. They said they left willingly from the Upper Realm after you all got sealed, to come save you, and I always…I always wondered about that; it seems an awfully brave thing, for a child. And an awfully scary thing,” River said. Kuiper didn’t disagree. Then her eyebrows drew together. “But I always wondered…how were they so young, when their temple is hundreds of years old, when we’ve got documentation that gold Thauma’s use stretches back so far? I never asked. I didn’t…I didn’t want to doubt them, and it’s not as if I had a frame of reference for how long it takes Gods to age; I wasn’t even sure if they would, at first. There are things I never had the heart to pry about. Once, when they were still so small, they woke up hysterical from a nightmare, begging not to be ‘pushed’...”

An uncomfortable silence stretched across the room; Kuiper was very glad they’d prepared a private section of the library now.

“Whether they left willingly or got shoved down here like the rest of us is irrelevant. They’re not the type to lie on purpose, they never have been, no matter what form they take. They’re more or less a new person each time. If you found them and they were young, they’d just restarted the cycle before leaving the Upper Realm, which would mean the previous cycle probably would’ve seen us all get sealed. As a child they may have even seen the last of us go and have gotten scared, it could have been what caused them to leave,” Seiche explained. His voice was uncharacteristically soft when he spoke to River, and Kuiper expected a lot of that was because of Azaleon: maybe their hosts influenced the Gods; Clover had said she’d been able to feel Remedy’s anger, so why wouldn’t it work both ways?

“This might not be the time, but may I ask how Refuge is doing? Does she have anything she wants to add?” Seiche asked. River sighed, shaking her head.

“She’s having a hard time articulating herself. I think whatever happened when he got sealed damaged her ability to speak coherently, she’s still– it’s all feelings, and those feelings are tremendously heavy; since you’ve started speaking she’s calmed down. I do wonder if Remedy perhaps would be able to do something to help her?”

“We can’t use our gifts on each other; only in the service of mortals, except maybe–” Kuiper was startled when Seiche very abruptly stopped talking. Azaleon’s face was reddening, Seiche’s eyes darkening quickly.

“Please don’t suffocate my partner,” Kuiper requested.

“What’s the problem? Besides everything,” Aspen muttered.

“It’s ultimately up to you all whether you tell them or not, but I’d really advise against it; and possibly do it in a well-ventilated, fire-proof area,” Seiche said very quickly, then Azaleon was practically collapsing in his chair. Kuiper was quick to get up and go kneel beside him.

“Twice in one day; he could at least have asked me first this time, regardless of how much of a hurry he was in,” Azaleon groaned.

“Can I get you anything?” Kuiper offered. He really wanted to throttle Seiche; but he couldn’t, not without hurting Azaleon. He showed up when it was convenient for him, and gave them just enough information to leave them with another dozen unanswered questions.

“Absolutely not, don’t go bringing food or drinks in the library, you animals,” Aspen snapped. “Go to the dining hall if you must, but don’t expect us to catch you up.”

“I’m fine. It feels bad sometimes and fine other times– don’t really understand that,” Azaleon mumbled. “River, I think you know them best, I think it would be best if we deferred this decision to you,” he said.

“I think it’d be best to let me think on this–” she started.

I don’t want to withhold information from them,” Aspen interrupted her. Kuiper wondered when Aspen became so friendly with Alouette that he’d care that much.

“I understand that. I don’t, either, but as their guardian I have to consider their well-being, and the consequences of being careless. Did any of you notice the early sunrise a few days ago?”

“How could we not? It was all over the newspapers, it was all people could talk about. They still don’t have a good explanation,” Aspen said.

“River,” Kuiper said, hoping she wasn’t implying what he thought she was. She gave a tight smile.

“You think that was– that Alouette did that-? But only the Sol and Lunar Gods have domain over the cosmos, don’t they? The minor six only have domain over this realm,” Aspen said.

“I don’t think they even realized it was happening, I think–” before she could finish that thought, Clover and Alouette were coming back in, Clover clearly breathless and cheeks flushed, her hair disheveled. Alouette was beaming.

“Okay, anyone who hasn’t tried flying has got to, like right now!” she declared between giggles. “Oh– sorry, library, I’ll be quiet,” she lowered her volume. “So, we ran into the princesses on the way back, and guess what!”

“Cassiopia asked her sisters about it, and as far as ‘super dangerous or supposedly cursed’ places go, there’s a cave system not even twenty minutes out from the castle. It’s blocked off so no one gets hurt, but they said we could go, since they know River’s an expert and all!” Alouette explained. “...Why is no one excited? It’s probably where Fillip is!”

“I don’t know, probably because you prefaced it with ‘super dangerous’?” Aspen asked dryly. “And we’re in the middle of a discussion?”

“How are you not done talking about that book by now?” Alouette groaned. Actually, they hadn’t even really gotten to discuss it yet– they’d all been talking about them. He wasn’t going to be the one to offer that information though. Rosemary’s other book was arguably the most important clue they’d found, despite it being her only fiction book, it was loaded with clues, almost as if she’d expected the future Quasars to stumble across it; it was probably for the best that they'd waited for Alouette and Clover to return to talk about it.

Though Alouette seemed restless here. And Kuiper honestly did need a break, his nerves frayed by now. When he was reading at home it was just him and Azaleon. There were no other people, and the lights were dimmer, warm and cozy. So much stimulation was making it hard to focus and hard not to get snappish…

“Besides, this is so tedious. Finding Fillip would be a good idea, because she’d be a huuuge help with this research stuff,” Alouette added, practically begging for an excuse to get out of this.

“You only find it tedious because you’re probably illiterate,” Aspen scolded. “The rest of us are putting in actual work–”

“No, Alouette has a point, we could be splitting up and getting more done between us. I’ll go with them,” Kuiper offered. Alouette whooped, pumping their fist in the air.

“I knew you were my favorite!”

“I thought I was your favorite! My heart’s breaking!” Clover cried melodramatically, putting her face in her hands.

“You’re all my favorite!” Alouette backpedaled quickly, thinking Clover was serious. She grinned behind her fingers, and Kuiper rolled his eyes. “And you can come with us, obviously!”

“If you’re sure, I think between the rest of us, we’ll have a lot to discuss. Just be careful,” River said. He’d always been miserable at reading between the lines, but he hoped that meant she was going to talk to the others about Alouette; about the fact that their little amnesia spell might be actively dangerous. Changing the time of day wasn’t supposed to be something they could do, from what Kuiper understood.

He could hardly believe it would’ve been Alouette. They walked beside him, hopping and skipping more than actually walking, talking a mile a minute to Clover about how excited they were to see Fillip Arabella, and how happy they were Kuiper was willing to be her vessel, and his heart sank.

He’d been trying so hard to stay professional and not get involved beyond following Azaleon, who was his home more than any one place. But against his best efforts not to, he’d gotten attached to these dumb kids.


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