Lessons, Part 1
Summary:In which my goal is more than a thought, I'll be there when I teach what I've been taught.
Timeline:November 2017; the day after "The Company of Thorin Oakenshield with Future Giants."
Published:December 10, 2018.
Rating:PG/K+ - No, you didn't listen again, you didn't listen again.
Betas:Irish Samurai and Quincy Jones.

Thoth arrived at RC 2112r early. He had decided it would be inadvisable to leave his initiate waiting, especially given the temperament of the initiate in question. Indeed, much of his thought had gone into that temperament, and into what he could do to relax it. That was part of the reason he had forsaken his armor in exchange for a simple blue robe for the duration of the lesson. That, and the fact that it was far easier to move around in. He deemed it worth the risk to his person. Should things go as intended, there would be many more challenges beyond the physical soon.

The RC itself was barren and slightly dusty. The only remnant of the previous occupants was a small figure of a star inside a circle carved into the floor, likely made by a bored assassin with a knife. No matter: space and silence were the most crucial commodities for this task, and those were present here in quantities difficult to find within the walls of HQ.

Thoth sat down and prepared himself to wait, but after mere moments, a rap came at the door. It swung open, and Derik entered. On the surface, he looked much the same as he had the previous day. Despite the temperature in Headquarters being perfectly adequate for average mortal comfort, he wore a heavy, fur-lined jacket of some unidentifiable animal leather over his regular clothes. Dark hair that hadn't seen the attention of a blade in months hung around his ears.

As always, Thoth observed the other's weaknesses: his frame, barely worth comparing to the Astartes' own; his blind right eye, which left him vulnerable to attack on that side; the disfiguring scars that stiffened the right side of his face. His physical imperfections highlighted his mortal failings. The paranoid part of Thoth's brain, which centuries of use had stimulated into constant function, noted that Derik would fall easily, should he ever be a threat. A variety of physical strikes would be effective, although a psychic attack would likely be quickest at present. The turmoil in his mind made him an easy target for manipulation in the hands of a telepath, or even someone with skills outside the psychic realm.

"Good afternoon," the man said. "How are you?" The left corner of his mouth picked up in a smile and just as quickly fell again. His functional eye searched Thoth's face warily. His aura, that part of a man that reflected his presence in the immaterial realm, shimmered just below the surface of his skin with colors and patterns that told the tale of his physical and emotional state: at present a mixture of blue-green curiosity and nascent kinship riddled with doubt and the black, lurking grief that seemed near-omnipresent within him.

"A fine afternoon to you, as well." Thoth kept his expression neutral, allowing just a hint of a smile to present itself. This was carefully calculated: he intended to appear formal, not off-putting. The avoidance of the question was equally calculated; there was no need to reveal too much of himself.

In truth, Thoth wasn't quite sure what to make of Derik. Although the former dragonrider's emotions were clear as day to a Thousand Sons empath such as himself, he was prohibited from examining the man's thoughts, which bothered him: it meant he had no idea what Derik's ulterior motive might be-and no doubt he had one. Simple curiosity, or even a sense of sympathetic relation, could not be the only reason he had agreed to this training. There was always more.

Thoth certainly hadn't expected to meet him that Halloween night. Nor had he expected the drinking contest he had begun in jest to lead to anything meaningful. But they had developed a rapport soon enough, and it became clear that each of them saw an element of themselves in the other. Thoth had, in his slightly impaired state, used the honorific of "brother" to address the man. That was a decision he still wasn't sure if he regretted. It implied the sort of trust that was all too easy to betray at a crucial moment, and while he had no motivation to do so, he couldn't guarantee the same of the other man.

Yet, over the course of their shared mission the previous day, the bond between them had developed further and faster than any relationship Thoth had forged with anyone in millenia. Not that there had been much opportunity, but that made it all the stranger. And with Derik's sense of fellow-feeling toward him shining hesitantly but clearly in his aura, "stranger" wasn't something Thoth was certain this could get. It seemed as if, in time, it could even approach . . . friendship, perhaps?

Friendship . . . in abstract, he knew the meaning of the word, but he couldn't remember the last time he felt like he could understand it. Friendship meant more trust. And that word so often went hand in hand with treachery.

Nonetheless, this kinship was something he appreciated greatly, and the more time he spent with Derik, the more he appreciated it. Gods and daemons knew why.

Centuries, and Thoth still had difficulty getting the measure of his own feelings. But feelings could come later. Right now, he needed to focus on analyzing and instructing his student, whose expression suggested he was beginning to wonder at Thoth's hesitation.

He put his musings and his feelings (whatever they were) aside and gave the student a nod. "Your aura informs me that you still have your doubts, but . . . no matter. Have a seat, if you wish. Shall we begin?"

Derik blinked in surprise and glanced skeptically around the response center. Apparently unsatisfied with what he saw, he nonetheless shrugged in acceptance. "All right." He dropped into a stiff cross-legged position.

Thoth waited in silence for him to get comfortable. However, as the seconds ticked by, he showed no signs of comfort, physical or otherwise.

After a moment, the encircled star on the floor caught Derik's eye, and he rubbed a fingertip over it before looking up again, one eyebrow raised. "So . . . occult sigils already? And here I thought theory always came before practice." If it was an attempt at humor, it was a poor one.

"That one is not mine. I do not know its purpose, but it seems to have neither effect nor power of any real sort." Thoth shook his head slowly. "No, we will begin with neither theory nor practice as such."

Derik's skepticism was writ large, but he nodded. "What did you have in mind?"

"To start, some exploration. I will endeavor to give you some practice at both relaxing your mind and controlling your thoughts."

The man shook his head with a self-deprecating chuckle. "I don't think I remember how to relax. Nothing good comes of it around here."

His evasive attempt to make light of the matter couldn't hide his real apprehension. Perhaps it came from a fear of failure, of exposing his weakness. That was understandable.

The approach he had to go for then, Thoth decided, was gentle, but firm. Enforcing his authority without appearing overbearing. "Nonetheless. It is something that is required here."

"Tell that to Legal." Derik cocked a thumb at the dormant console to his left. "If that doesn't go off within ten minutes, I'll be amazed."

More evasion.

"There is a reason we are not doing this in our own response centers. Beyond our respective partners, that is." Thoth shook his head slightly. "We shall begin now. Do your best to relax and to let your thoughts drift. I wish to see how effective this will be for you at present."

Derik stared at him a moment while an impulse to argue simmered in his aura. He had a tendency to turn his head slightly to the right to give his good eye the best possible field of view, which added to the picture of belligerence. However, he said nothing. He rolled his head and shoulders, and a little of his tension drained away with the motion.

He glanced at the console, as though daring it to beep, and his eye roamed the response center again. There was, of course, nothing to see that had not been there before. His gaze returned to Thoth.

Thoth remained impassive, steady as a rock, making little movement of any sort. His job for the moment was not to aid, but merely to observe.

Derik gave a soft nasal sigh and resettled his posture. He bowed his head to frown at the floor.

The minutes ticked by. Five . . . ten . . . twenty. The patterns of the man's aura were indicative of someone in active thought rather than passive acceptance, but these things took time to learn. Thoth recalled his own difficulties in mastering the technique.

Then again, he had been a child at the time. Maybe there was reason for concern after all.

The ebb and flow of the initiate's emotions only grew more tumultuous, not less, and he showed increasing signs of restlessness: subtle shifts in place, frequent heavy breaths, and darting movements of his eyes as they tracked the invisible paths of his thoughts.

Though he tried to hide it, he kept coming back to Thoth. Ultimately, with a pronounced stab of resentment, the former dragonrider's face drew into a scowl and he looked up sharply.

"You're just going to sit and stare at me, are you?" Derik said. "That's how this is going to be?"

"For a time," Thoth said. "Understanding one's pupil is important. You seem to have issues with sitting still. And with self-reflection. This could make things . . . difficult."

Derik's frame arched forward as if to form the shape of a question. For a moment, he was caught between dueling impulses of anger, dejection, and something less easily identified. The latter won out, and though it wasn't quite humor, he laughed. "I could have told you that. What exactly did you expect?"

Thoth bowed his head. "To expect was pointless. Better to see for myself." He returned his focus to the pupil. "Yes . . . this will not be easy. But should you put your ample determination to use . . . it will be far from impossible."

"I don't know." Derik got to his feet and stretched with tightly contained motions, turning himself sidelong away from Thoth in the process. "As you've pointed out," he said with a subtle curl to his lip, "inaction doesn't sit well with me these days. I thought . . ." He canceled the statement with a shake of his head and looked toward the door. "No, I don't know what I thought."

"That does not mean you cannot learn." Thoth paused briefly, considering what to do. He didn't like the idea of a student skipping out early . . . but on the other hand, he didn't want to break Derik. Coming to a decision, he spoke. "Go, if you wish. Return tomorrow and we will continue to see what you may achieve. You have potential. More than most mortals, in any case."

Derik stood with his head down and arms folded, trying not to show his conflicted feelings. Without knowing his thoughts, Thoth didn't understand it all, particularly the fresh irritation prickling under his skin, but he did recognize the yen to know what was possible even beset by deep doubt. Finally, the man nodded. "All right. If you're still convinced. . . . Maybe tomorrow will be a better day."

"Indeed. And I will be more prepared." Thoth stood and bowed to Derik. "Until then."

Peering up at him, Derik inclined himself awkwardly in return. After another moment's hesitation, he gave a final nod and left.

Thoth returned the next day, physically unchanged but mentally active, having considered how to proceed with his less-than-responsive student.

He couldn't push this pupil as hard as he might an Astartes, but mortal limitations aside, he clearly had to be firmer with the man than he had been. He wasn't, as Thoth had previously suspected, going to push himself forward on his own determination. At least not initially.

At the same time, he was obviously struggling. Thoth doubted that the techniques he had been using would bear fruit without some additional support. That balance-between supporting the student and pushing him onward-was the most delicate one he'd have to strike.

And the former dragonrider, out of balance as he was, wasn't likely to make it easy.

He arrived less promptly than yesterday and greeted Thoth with a raised hand and a reserved "Hello." He didn't hesitate to seat himself on the floor. There was something of forlorn hope in his aura, strangely entwined with his old grief, but also fresh resolve. Thoth deemed that good. Perhaps he was ready to work now.

The Astartes nodded in response. "Greetings, Derik. Are you prepared to begin?"

Derik hesitated, as though trying to catch some half-heard sound, then shook his head. "As much as I'll ever be, I suppose, if we must get right down to it."

"Then we shall." Thoth didn't bother to wait. No sense in settling the student in again. It hadn't helped the first time. "The exercise is similar to yesterday's: Relax. Breathe slowly and deeply. Listen to your own body and mind. Do not judge, merely observe. See what you find inside yourself. I will be observing, and assisting if I find it necessary."

"I know what I'll find." Derik frowned at the floor. "Nothing pleasant. Nothing relaxing."

"I don't doubt your judgement regarding that," said Thoth, trying hard to keep his voice soothing. Should he concede and move on, or try and provide his pupil with encouragement? He decided on the latter. "However, it is crucial that you attempt it, even if you know what you will see. You cannot master what you will not even look in the eye."

Derik looked up sharply, but Thoth was neither goading nor taunting him. The flare of suspicion in his aura faded, and he nodded. "Well, at the very least, I remember how to breathe properly." With a wry half-smile and a warm wash of nostalgia, he drew himself up, squared his shoulders, and drew a full singer's breath down into his lungs. For a moment he looked as though he might open up and use it, which would have been interesting if not ideal, but a fork of anxiety shot through him, and he let the air out slowly, as intended.

That spike drew Thoth's attention. "Ease yourself, as you are able. There is little threat here." After a moment's thought he spoke again. "You are doing fine," he said, in the hope that it might help settle any tensions he had accidentally awakened. It was his goal to aid and develop the man, after all. Not damage his psyche any more than was necessary.

To the contrary, however, Derik's mood darkened. "I didn't take you for one to dole out false praise."

"I am not." Thoth spoke plainly, leaving no room for argument. Mortals . . . that sort of manipulation was beneath an Astartes such as he. "Now, continue with your exercise."

Unmollified, the man gave a throat-rattling sigh and looked down again.

The act of focusing on one's breathing naturally calmed the mind and brought the body to a lower state of energy. At least, that was the intent. But this student seemed to fight the process. Any time signs of stillness appeared in his aura, they would be disturbed by upwellings of doubt, frustration, and his ever-present grief. He fought those, too, and his aura took on sharp edges of resolve, but that in itself defeated the purpose of the exercise. His will was hard, but brittle, like flint. A blow in the wrong place would fracture it easily, from without or within.

Abruptly, without apparent cause, his aura flashed to molten anger. His will shattered, and he was on his feet with a snarl of bitten-off words. "I'm sorry, this is not going to work." He paced to the wall and leaned up on one arm with both hands clenched into fists. His breaths came ragged and shallow as he wrestled with a raw animal urge to fight or fly, as though beset by some attacker.

Thoth rose to his feet, more slowly and gracefully than his pupil, but quick enough nonetheless. He spoke quietly: "If you resist so strongly, it will, indeed, not."

Derik kept his head down, his hair screening his face, and didn't respond. Perhaps he hadn't even heard. But the flow of adrenaline through his veins slowly ebbed, and his systems began to return to relative normalcy. Eventually, he said, "You suggested an exchange of canon knowledge as part of this arrangement. Why don't we move on to that?"

Thoth considered for a moment. Again, it wouldn't do to allow his student to distract from his work forever. But he could tell that Derik was dangerously near his breaking point. "Very well," he said. "Tell me about your world, as you are able."

He gave a soft snort and a shake of his head. "I'm quite able, in fact. A Harper journeyman ought to be. What do you want to know?"

"Some generalities may be of use." Aside from giving the man an outlet, Thoth was genuinely interested. Derik's home continuum was radically different from the Marine's own, and worth expanding his knowledge of.

"Right." Derik nodded and pushed off the wall. He walked about his side of the room with his eyes raised and one hand pressed to the back of his neck, composing his thoughts. "I suppose it would be best to begin at the beginning. The history may sound familiar to you: Pern was originally a colony of Terrans. It was off the beaten path-appealing to those who wanted to escape the crowded, high-tech Federation of Sentient Planets and the memory of their recent war with a race called the Nathi."

As he spoke, his aura began to settle into a cooler, less broken palette, but here the emerging pattern was interrupted. "I can't tell you about that," he said with a glance at Thoth, "because I don't know anything. A great deal of information about our past was lost to us for centuries and only rediscovered recently in my time."

"Irritating," Thoth noted. "I myself have only recently begun to learn more of what was lost regarding the ancient history of Terra, with HQ's considerable resources." And what a history it was: for one, he was finally able to learn many lost details about the ancient god whose name he had taken long ago.

Derik nodded. "The context of the past is important. But the point is," he went on, "the colonists wanted a simpler, more independent lifestyle. They got it, in a way. But the planetary surveyors had arrived during an Interval, and they didn't know about Thread."

He paused in both speech and motion, frowning. His next words were stilted, unfamiliar. "Thread is, we're now told, a mycorrhyzoid organism-if that means anything to you-carried into Pern's orbit in the wake of the eccentric planetoid we call the Red Star." His flow resumed: "Roughly every two hundred Turns, for a period of fifty, Thread drops through Pern's atmosphere and consumes any organic material it touches. It nearly killed the colony, and their isolation meant they could expect no help from Terra. They had to solve the problem themselves, with the limited resources available.

"The solution they devised was to genetically engineer an aerial defense force from the native fire-lizards. They had unique abilities: to fly, to breathe Thread-destroying fire, to teleport between in a blink to evade danger, and to form an empathic bond with a human when Impressed at hatching. They just needed to be bigger and smarter." Thoth noticed a shudder of pain in Derik's aura, but he pressed on quickly, and it subsided. "So, that's what the colonists did, and that's how Pern survived for the next eight passes-approximately twenty-five hundred Turns from first to ninth, if memory serves." He waved one hand and came to a stand-still with the other on his hip. "That's the short of it. There are enough stories of heroism and bravery from the time of the First Fall to fill a herd's worth of hides." The hint of a smile tugged at his mouth, and his aura showed a yearning for the reverie of tales. A tempting escape for them both.

"That is to be expected," said Thoth. "Such circumstances bring out the extraordinary. As they did on my own world." If his aura were visible to Derik, the other man might have been able to pick out a hint of the longing he'd kept from his voice.

"You had something like Thread?" Now avid with curiosity, Derik took a step toward him.

After a brief hesitation, Thoth nodded. This was, after all, a knowledge exchange. Fair was fair. History for history. He didn't like owing favors. And he believed his own world's history might have something to teach Derik. "You had the Thread, we had the psychneuein, an insectoid creature preying upon those with psychic abilities. It would plant its eggs within the skull of a psyker, the brain providing nutrients to its young when they hatched . . . a horrible way to die."

Derik was properly disgusted. "Very. To be eaten from within . . . how can you fight that?"

Thoth saw his opportunity to revert their focus back to the training at hand, and hopefully gain a bit more control over the situation. He moved closer and took his pupil gently by the arm. Derik gave him a sharp look of surprise, but allowed himself to be guided back to his place. They both resumed their seats facing one another.

"We fought through knowledge, and through force of will," said Thoth. "We learned to shield ourselves, and to shield our city. I can show you, if you wish, once you have developed sufficiently." Perhaps an idea of something he might achieve would motivate the man. Knowledge or power . . . something had to make him want to carry on.

But he shook his head, prickling with that puzzling annoyance. "I hope such defenses are not necessary here."

"A fair point. No, there are other skills that are more worthwhile here. It's more of academic interest than anything else." Thoth abruptly slashed his hand through the air, disregarding that line of thought. It had failed to serve its purpose in encouraging his student, so it was time to force the issue. "But at the moment, that's none of my concern. My goal is to aid you in acquiring elementary skills of control. The only question that remains is how best to do so."

Derik sighed heavily and scrubbed at his face with one hand. "Look . . . I appreciate it, but I really don't know that it's possible for me to do what you want me to do."

"And you will not, not until you try." Thoth's voice was firm. If hunger for knowledge or power wasn't what had drawn the man here, perhaps authority was what he responded to.

But all that comment did was sting Derik's pride. He glowered from under his eyebrows. "You don't understand what you're asking me to-"

"Before you can know your power, you must know yourself," Thoth cut in. He couldn't back down. Not now. "And control of yourself is the first thing you must learn. There will be pain, yes, but it will not be eternal. Focus on the present, and you can live with it."

Red-hot anger flooded Derik's aura; his eye gleamed with it. "What I'm living with can't be erased. Only borne. I bear it by thinking about it as little as possible, and you want me to sit here and allow everything I try not to dwell on free rein of my head while you watch." He shook his head, and his tone was harsh with disappointment as he went on. "Tell me something: How is this supposed to play out, exactly? I endure this until, what? A miracle occurs?"

"Miracles are the providence of the damned, Derik." Thoth spoke the phrase with the ease that came with practice. "No. I don't expect your pain to vanish." A scatter of images flashed through his head at the words, pulling him back, back to his brothers as they suffered death and fates far worse, back to the burning city, every failure and mistake, a tsunami of rage and sorrow threatening to overwhelm him-but he pushed it back, held it away. Now was not the time. "No, the pain does not go away," Thoth said, speaking softer, the words as much for his own benefit as for Derik's. "But you can make yourself its master, rather than the other way around. Know your pain, and control becomes possible. And control is what you need: if you truly wish to be my student, allowing your emotions to rage on unchecked is no longer a luxury you can afford." That, he had seen far too often-and occasionally provoked. What came next was never pleasant.

For a few tense moments, Derik didn't answer. Conflicting feelings vied for dominance over his aura: anger, sorrow and loneliness, regret bordering on sympathy. He held Thoth's eyes as though searching for something that evaded his view. Had he, perhaps, sensed something of the Astartes' brief lapse?

Either way, the feelings engendered by their tenuous bond of kinship won out, with help from a further inflamed sense of pride.

"All right," he said, the irritation telling in his voice. "I accept that there are things you know that I don't, and even, perhaps, that I could learn some of them. I'm prepared to try if you're prepared to be disappointed."

But Thoth wasn't letting up. "I am prepared for no such thing. The powers I deal in are no child's play. If you panic, if you allow yourself to become distracted, if you lose sight of your aim, the consequences could well be lethal." He smiled, the expression no doubt looking as forced as it actually was. "I know that you are capable of success, and I expect no less in the long term. In the short term, I will ensure you are competently practiced before introducing that element of risk."

Apparently thrown for a loop, Derik looked to be winding up to another angry outburst-but in one of his abrupt reversals of humor, he ducked his head to cover a snort of laughter. "You sound exactly like my old weyrlingmaster," he said. "Relax! I have no intention of jumping between without a reference point! My feet will remain firmly on the ground until I have your permission to fly!" The words may have been meant honestly, but soul-pain twisted his expression into a mocking grimace.

"Good." Thoth nodded slowly. Hopefully the similarities to Derik's previous training would make this easier. "It seems you have some experience with the skills required, then. That will be useful. Let us try that initial exercise once more."

Derik stared at him as though he hadn't heard properly, or suspected Thoth was not being serious.

Thoth was quite serious. Perhaps the man was hoping for another reprieve.

When it didn't come, he gave a brief sigh. "Fine. Once more." Still clearly feeling his pride, he squared his shoulders again, more like a man going into battle than one settling down to meditation.

His aura again became flint-edged with determination, and under its veneer of control, it seethed with negative emotions, too jumbled to interpret. Rather than letting them pass freely, he hardened his will further against them. The pressure he imposed on his psyche mounted higher and expressed itself physically in the steel-cable tension of his frame.

"Breathe," Thoth murmured, endeavoring to disturb the stillness but minimally.

Derik's eyelids fluttered. He forced them shut and took one shuddering breath, then another. This time, as tightly wound as he was, the act of focusing on his lungs could not fail to loosen his mind's grip on the rest of him. For one brief moment, there was peace in his aura.

Yet into the stillness poured a riptide of the near-bottomless sorrow that afflicted him. Before it overtook him, Derik was on his feet again with a snarl that was half a whimper, pacing the room and practically vibrating with frustration and unhappy vindication.

"Congratulations," Thoth said, a trace of humor in his voice. "Your performance was far from ideal, but it shows a modest improvement."

Derik whipped around to pin him with an injured glare. "Performance? Is that what this is? Do I entertain you?"

"Not particularly. The fact remains, however, that you did rather well for your first attempt. Especially under the circumstances."

"Fine." He folded his arms tightly, a physical manifestation of his efforts to contain his building resentment. "Are we done, then?"

"We can end the session, yes." There didn't seem to be much point in pushing Derik any further: the man was quite clearly at his limit. Another thing to stretch, yes, but now wasn't the time. Perhaps when he was more receptive. "With today's moderate success, expect future sessions to be longer, and more taxing. But we will move slowly. I wish to temper you, not break you."

"I am broken, Thoth," Derik growled, shooting him a look that was part warning, part plea for understanding. He turned for the door.

"No more than I," said Thoth, speaking to the former dragonrider's back.

Derik hesitated, his aura showing a sharp twinge of regret, but pulled the door shut firmly behind him and was gone.

Thoth just sat there, taking a moment to reflect. The session had gone . . . worse than he expected. He had tried his best to be a teacher. To help the man. But Derik, a difficult pupil, didn't seem to want to accept what he offered. Even attempted to change the subject, trying to get to know Thoth. Why? What did he want?

Not that Thoth cared. This whole arrangement was purely for his own benefit. He was ingratiating himself with Derik to gain allies and increase his social standing, much as he had done many times before, to many people. Of course, unlike those times, he didn't intend this to lead toward a betrayal-as far as he could figure, that would only make his situation worse. It changed nothing.

But that rationalization rang hollow. He knew full well that he liked Derik, no matter how hard he tried to deny it. His presence was, in a sense, a comfort. That was rather the problem.

He rose, banishing the thoughts from his mind. This was going nowhere. And there was plenty of time for empty reflection in the grave. He had other matters to attend to.

"New book?" Tom grinned over at his partner.

Thoth nodded, his eyes fixed to the page, but made no motion to expose the title. Not that Tom had been expecting him to: the technician was used to craning his neck around to get a glimpse.

"Hrmm . . . Drr . . . Dragonflight!" Tom frowned. "That's . . . Pern, I think. Having fun?"

No response.

"Well . . . uh. Let me know how it is?"


"All right, then." Tom wandered off. Thoth was just like this sometimes. In this case, the lack of response made sense: he knew what it was like to be lost in a book.

Thoth, for his part, kept reading. He had demanded a lot from his student. It was only fair that he gave some effort in return.

Neshomeh's Notes

Here we get our first good look inside Thoth's head. Interesting place, innit? As for what Derik thinks about all this, we'll find out in Part 2, which will hopefully be done a lot quicker than this was.

Big thanks to our betas, who thoroughly kicked our butts and made us do what needed doing to polish this up even though we really hoped we were done already. 10/10, will almost certainly request again. {= )

Thoth's Notes: This has been a long time coming. It's probably the longest cycle I've had on any piece I've ever written. I have quite likely invested more time into it than my college applications.

. . . Actually, that's terrifying. Moving on!

I feel like this is where Thoth really comes into his own. Sure, I'd understood him before now, but this interlude forced me to put a hell of a lot more thought into him, and really suss out how he thinks, what motivates him, and just how and why he fails in this sort of social setting.

And . . . well, if you thought this was fun, hang on tight, because there's more coming down the line. Eventually. When we get to it.