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The Family of Things (IC)


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The fairy ring situation was getting out of control. Stesha kind of hated to admit it, especially when the rest of her pregnancy had gone so well, but it was definitely a problem that wasn't getting any smaller. With Amaryllis it had been mostly the funny kind of annoying, a couple months of extra mushrooms in the yard and the flower crowns she wore becoming lush cascades by the end of a day. She'd never started growing mushrooms in pile carpeting or made exposed wood surfaces start sprouting that time. This kiddo was apparently of a different temperament than her sweet and stable Ammy, even before birth. The good part was that the one surefire cure for excessive plant growth was tiring herself out, and that got easier and easier the bigger Stesha got.


Today, for instance, she'd planned on puttering in the Claremont greenhouse until her new mentee arrived, but a morning full of harvest season activities on Sanctuary meant that all she wanted to do now was take fifteen minutes with her feet up and relax. A chaise made of plants gave her the best of both worlds, a chance to lay down and a chance to let the hungry greenhouse foliage absorb some extra energy. It was nice. She didn't really mean to doze off, but it wasn't exactly surprising when she did.

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Tori had been eager to get to her mentor appointment - she even had a small pad of notes - but then she'd all but stumbled across a hare frightened half out of its wits by all the chaos. By the time she'd coaxed the creature into her arms, she was running more than a few minutes late. At first, she thought the Freedom Leaguer had gotten impatient and left, but only because Stesha was halfway hidden from view by the over abundance of new-growth that had sprung up happily around her sleeping form. Tori tilted her head, her senses reading the tang of plant magic other than her own for the first time. It was a little odd to her magic senses, echoes of a second weaker but almost more... jubilant... or perhaps whimsical energy under the first. 


She slowed to a stop, letting the hare down to go find some of the new formed leafy greens to munch on before she extended her fingertips to the rapidly growing plant-life. 


"Hey... Hey, now. You're going to block out your own light if you keep that up, you silly things," Tori murmured to the plants themselves as she reached out with both hands and her own magic to begin to make some order of the chaos, keeping her voice low so as not to disturb Stesha. The dark blue tattoos across her visible skin lit up with the soft blue light of her magic as she sent her power into the plants to gently coax the uncontrolled growth into something that wouldn't utterly overwhelm the greenhouse in short order. 

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The touch of new magic sent a shiver of interest through the plants, some of which acquiesced to the new influence while others remained under the growfastergetbiggogogo impulse of the overarcing magical aura. The conflict was enough to nudge Stesha awake, which both curbed the errant growth slightly and substantially increased the ambient magic level in the room. Even when she wasn't really doing anything, the plant controller was startlingly powerful. "Ugh," Tori could hear from behind the curtain of plants. "I can't take you anywhere, I swear. Why don't you ever sleep?" The verdant growth, already calming to Tori's influence, began to subside all over the greenhouse until it was lush and green, but not quite so overwhelming as before. 


With the green curtain pulled aside, Stesha became visible on her impromptu couch of leaves. The first look was not exactly heroic, a small and enormously pregnant woman in leggings and a green maternity smock with a half-dozen leaves caught up in her green hair. She sat up and rubbed her face, then gave Tori her best "real adult person prepared for a scheduled appointment" smile. "Oh hello! Sorry about that, I was just taking a quick rest. You must be Kid Celtic?" 

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"Oh, just Tori is fine, if you prefer," Tori replied politely. "Kid Celtic is my code name."


She smiled, the expression lopsided as she tucked her hands into her jean shorts. Despite the cool weather, Tori was still wearing shorts and sandals although she'd tossed a colorful hoodie from the Ocean Blue Cleanup efforts with 'Save the Whales' written bold across the front. It was oversized and hung down past her hips. She was of a height with Stesha almost exactly although her red curls were pulled up high on the crown of her head giving her a few more inches. Wherever there was exposed skin, it was decorated in dark blue markings that stopped glowing as soon as she pulled her magic back in. "I don't have to ask who you are. You're Fleur de Joie; Freedom League member. I've seen you on the telly enough times."


As soon as Stesha woke and reached out with her magic, Tori cut her connection to the plants as that seemed only polite. "I'm sorry I'm late. I... Oh, hello. It's alright," she paused then as the hare emerged from its snacking to bump into her calves for additional reassurance. Tori bent at the waist, scooping the wild hare up in her arms once more. "He was calling for help. I think the noise of everyone scared him. I am sorry to be late, though. I even left early. And prepared notes!"


Juggling the hare in the crook of one arm, Tori fished about in her pockets for the crumpled notes in question.

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"Don't even worry about it," Stesha assured her with a wave of her hand, pushing herself to her feet with a discreet assist from the plants. "And please, call me Stesha. It's so nice to meet you, I've heard a little bit about you from Headmaster Summers, but I'm looking forward to working with you. I don't get to meet many people on the fauna side of nature heroes!" She took a few steps forward to get a better look at the hare. "Poor little guy, I bet there's a lot more going on here today than usual. Is he going to be all right?" 

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"Oh, yeah. He's just high strung but once everything goes back to normal, he'll forget about all the stress. Until then, all he really needs is a quiet place to go hide out. My magic tells animals that I'm a safe-place for them and coz' I live at Claremont, the animals that make their home on the grounds have all felt me enough to call for me when they get really freaked out. It, uh, sometimes makes me late to class though. Most of my teachers are understanding but some of them get annoyed because they don't think that animal fears are the same as a person crying out for help."


There was frustration in Tori's voice for a moment before she shook it off and forced her expression towards calm again before she upset the hare in her arms. Absently, she smoothed fingers over the soft fur, seeming to settle them both with the gesture. "I can hear plants, too, but they're more phlegmatic. Animals have a lot more flight/fight and angst going on while plants seem to be chill and take a lot more things in stride, by and large. There are exceptions, though. I'm really glad to work with you too. I haven't been able to find anyone who really understands here. I mean, they're nice and all, but they don't seem to get it, if you know what I mean?"


Ah, the teen angst of no one understanding, compounded by magical senses that many of the adults really didn't understand.

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"It's hard to explain an extra sense to people," Stesha agreed. "You can really only give them an approximate idea of what it's like, and they may never really understand." She made her way to the propagation bench and its shallow tables of dirt and fertilizer, trailing her fingers through the mix as though testing it. "I don't typically talk to plants, though I can sort of look through them and get impressions from them if I need to, but I do feel all the plants around me. It can get a little overwhelming if I don't shut it out most of the time," she admitted. "Do you get many calls for help in a typical day?" 


Where Stesha's fingers had been in the dirt, there were now a row of small lettuces growing,  visibly getting larger by the second. When the largest was the size of her fist, she plucked it and offered it to Tori. "Maybe some food will help? The rabbits where I live can't get enough of this stuff." 

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Tori knelt down next to Stesha, setting the hare next to the proffered lettuce. There were a couple of hesitant sniffs before it started to much away quite happily between the two nature-aspected heroes. Tori dropped down gracelessly before crossing her legs loosely under herself. She laced her fingers together, watching the plants grow with clear interest. The markings on her skin flickered with light as she watched both the visible effect as well as the ebb and flow of Stesha's abilities with her other senses. 


"Hmm.. sometimes? Cities are great for people but not so much for animals that haven't adapted entirely. My range isn't so huge yet, so I have to be pretty close by but there's this... uhm... aura, I guess? It sort of goes, 'I'm here. It's safe. You're okay!' so if an animal can sense that, they'll come close and then I hear them when they're in, you know, normal talking range. Or shouting range. I can't borrow anyone, or anything's, senses. That sounds neat, though kind of intense. When I take on the wolf aspect, for example, I get really keen senses of my own and that's pretty fantastic. It took a bit to get used to at first. But that's just day to day. I think if there was a disaster, I could get overwhelmed. Like, I worry about that - what happens when there's a fire and I can hear everything crying out for help? I could lock up and then I'd be useless, right?"


Tori's fingertips played with the edges of the lettuce absently. "Which isn't even, like, the day to day stuff that I worry about. Like, how do I ethically eat when I can understand everything? I was vegetarian for a while - and vegan - but I have friends who are obligate carnivores so, like, I don't think that meat is necessarily bad and I have plants that are friends, too. To say nothing of the ethics involved. Soy farming alone..." Tori trailed off and sighed, the sound full of frustration. "My mum says I'm just being difficult because I'm a teenager but I care. I really do care!"

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"It's a tough problem," Stesha agreed, sympathetic and a little rueful. "I think almost everybody like us has to answer that question for themselves, and it's always a little different. Sometimes the answer changes at different times and different circumstances. For me, I try to eat food that's ethically sourced and minimally wasteful, which isn't too hard because I live on a farm-to-table planet where everything is valuable. Humans have a right to take part in the food web, but we have an obligation to do what we can to eliminate suffering and waste. That's the answer I can live with, anyway. You might find a different answer, and it's not weird or difficult to care about it."


By now the other lettuces were reaching their full growth, even in the tiny trays that should not have supported them at all. Stesha began harvesting them simply by plucking them from the soil; it was easy because the plants appeared to have almost no root. "As for the other part, has anyone started teaching you mental shielding yet?" 

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Tori shook her head a little. "I mean, just the basics, you know. Magic 101 and like, don't accidentally summon eldritch monsters but I think it's taken a bunch of last year to figure out that my magic is more druidic than reports of my great-grandmother's powers. We watched a lot of the old news reels only to realize that it wasn't super helpful for me in managing my powers. She didn't leave behind any notebooks and my grandad was just a baby, so it's not like anyone has any memories of what it was like."


It wasn't exactly sorrow - Tori's great grandmother was far enough removed that she was more of an idea than a real person - but there was a moment of wistfulness. It would have been nice to have someone that understood.


Tori leaned forward to help with the sort of ease that meant she was used to getting her hands dirty in a garden even without her magic. "I dunno. I wrestle a lot with privilege. I mean, there's this talk of taking on the mantle and what it means to Queen and Country but it seems a big dodgy to declare yourself the soul of Britain when my family's all posh, you know? We have a country manor and a proper house in London - not exactly the salt of the earth. I've heard a little bit about Sanctuary though and it sounded amazing. I mean, a thriving life web that's not completely gorked by climate change must be something to see."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Stesha passed Tori an armload of lettuces. "Could you arrange these in that milk crate? I'm going to drop them off at the cafeteria for the salad bar later." She took a handful of seeds from her jacket pocket and sprinkled the tray as she thought. "It's hard to be anybody's symbol," she said after a few moments. "People are going to have a lot of expectations for you, based more on what they think of the symbol than on who you really are. People like my friend Beth, the old Lady Liberty," she added, "she struggled with the same problem. You can't be the soul of a whole country, even if your face is its symbol. Some people are always going to disagree with you or dislike you just for what you represent. That would be the same whatever background you come from."


The green shoots in Stesha's tray were already growing quickly, sending little tendrils of vine around her fingers as she played idly with the soil. "Beth didn't talk about it a lot, but I know she chose her battles very carefully when it came to her image. Lady Liberty's voice was a tool she could use to help shape peoples' opinions on important things, but only if she picked the right time and place for it. I think that's why she was very careful, before she retired, to keep her private life separate from her public persona. You can do a lot as a private individual that you maybe can't when you're a symbol." 


She shook the little vines from her hands, letting them spill over the edge of the tray as they began to form yellow trumpet-shaped blossoms. "I'd love to show you around Sanctuary anytime you wanted," she told Tori, "I just don't want you to be disappointed if you're looking for an, um, ungorked ecosystem. Sanctuary is a salvage project that I started mostly because I was teaching myself how to undo ecological destruction. The whole planet is a wasteland except for the parts that we've reclaimed. I think it's gorgeous, but I'm probably kind of biased about it," she admitted with a laugh. "Do you think the students would eat squash blossoms, or should I let these keep growing?" 

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"Sure," Tori agreed amicably, taking the veggies and starting to sort them in a way that wouldn't crush anything. "I'd like to see it. I think a recovered ecosystem is just as neat. Neater, maybe. There's a lot of places that have been totally thrashed by people and getting a feel for what works and what doesn't in rehabbing it for modern use. Part of me feels like I should just rip it down and let things grow wild but I know that isn't necessarily the right answer even if it might feel good in the moment."


Once the veggies were stacked, Tori sat back on the soil, letting the greenery twine around her fingers while she watched Stesha work with open curiosity. Tori knew just how rare it was to see someone as powerful in a very particular brand of magic and she wasn't going to waste a moment. Part of her was taking mental notes to add to her journal later. "D'you think I could maybe help? I dunno if I'll get weaker further from England. I don't really notice it other than 'home' and 'not home' but I've never gone to another planet before. I'd be happy to help work on rehab or whatever, if I can help at all? I used to be super active in a bunch of charities but, uh, it gets a little weird now. I can't really keep my private and public life separate though I totally get why someone would. When you have the power to - you know - free the whales from Sea World, it's hard not to feel like you should do just that. You know?"


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"Yeah, absolutely," Stesha agreed with a laugh. "'Powers don't solve everything' is one of the first and hardest lessons, I think. The only worse one is "even if your powers could maybe fix something, you yourself are only human." She straightened from the tray and put her hands to the small of her back, grimacing as her center of balance shifted drastically and popped a couple vertebrae. "We can only do so much."


She turned to Tori, letting the squash vines slide over and around one another like a nest of snakes, blossoms banging against one another. "Would you like to come to Sanctuary now?" she asked. "I'm pretty sure it's allowed, so long as you have your blanket permission forms filled out and such. There's not a lot of excitement going on today, but we're sowing some cover crops and doing a ton of canning, and you can meet the dairy cows and our horses and dogs, if you like." After running a quick mental inventory, Stesha was pretty sure there wouldn't be any meat harvesting happening that could upset the young heroine. Tori seemed to have a good head on her shoulders, but some aspects of working farms would probably not be great for her. 

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"Doesn't there come a point where you have to question that, though? I mean, at some level, don't we end up not quite human anymore? I guess that depends how you define humanity, though, hunh?" Of course, someone who heard the anima in all living things would start to have questions about sentience and what it meant to be human. Tori watched with some concern as Stesha shifted and stretched but relaxed when it didn't seem to be anything more than aches and pains. Discarding her questions with the rapidity of youth, Tori brightened, "Oh, yes, please. I'm allowed to go on any field trips as long as it's not on British soil which, I mean, given the kinda nasty history of colonization is a whole 'nother topic of debate but I am absolutely certain that Sanctuary is definitely a-okay by any definition anyone could think of. Especially since you're there. I'm one hundred percent positive that you could stop anything wonky from happening with my powers."


That seemed more relief than anything else to Tori. She had clearly internalized some of the adult worries about the ramifications of her powers. She paused to turn slightly and weave some of the newly grown blossoms into a small bower for her rabbit friend. "Just stay here for now, when it's quiet, you can hop home without any worries, okay? Just don't eat yourself sick."


Dusting her hands off on her pants, Tori bounced to her feet with the ease of someone who had not yet learned to appreciate her knees and smiled brightly. "Ready!"

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"Great!" With a wave of her arm, Stesha gestured to a vine trellis growing nearby. Leaves rustled and shifted, thickening into a solid doorway that suddenly shimmered with green light. Stesha offered a hand in case Tori needed the reassurance, then led the way into the portal. There was a moment of dislocation, a flash of brilliant green light and the smell of crackling autumn leaves, and then suddenly they were... elsewhere. Very elsewhere, if Tori's senses could be believed. 


To the eyes, Stesha had brought her to a beautiful deciduous forest in autumn, right at the height of leaf-peeping season. The trees were a riot of colors and the ground crackled under them with crispy dried leaves. A clearing behind them revealed a tidy two-story home that would've looked like a normal house if it didn't appear to be made almost entirely of living plants. An expansive child-size wooden tree fort system ran through several of the nearby trees, complete with swings and a long plastic slide that was the most obviously artificial thing in the whole place. In front of them, a broad flat path led off into the woods. "Welcome to Sanctuary," Stesha told her, sounding proud. "Are you okay? Everything settling right, powerswise?" 

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