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a thousand points of no return

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Since wizard's daemons often settle as birds and urban legend says that elves are separated from their daemons, no one looks too closely at the fact that Taako and Lup are both single entities, missing the other halves of their hearts. They walk like people, they talk like people, and if they're hard to read because their daemons aren't fluffing up their feathers or swatting playfully with their paws, well, elves are notoriously enigmatic anyway.

This lasts until their first death.

All deaths on the Starblaster are strange. When Magnus first died on the animal planet, I'morko followed right after, both of their bodies dissipating into golden sparks, a strange inversion of the natural order. The pattern holds. Year after year, person and daemon alike dissipate into a fine mist of dust, knit together by the bond engine in the new plane.

During their fifteenth year, Taako is shot through the heart with a well-aimed magic missile. Lup screams and casts one last firebolt, spell-sculpting around their bodies, before unspooling into a fine golden sand.

#

Neither of them touch skin. Both of them talk to person and daemon alike. They have a radius of approximately ninety feet — dreadfully large for a person-daemon pair, dreadfully small for siblings. The fact that one of them is a daemon explains all their odd habits.

"I thought you guys were just clingy," Merle says. Marguerite swivels her delicate head to watch the conversation from Merle's beard. The movement is the only indication that she's not one of the light pink flowers braided into his hair.

"Nah," Taako shakes his head. He doesn't look away from the frying pan. He's making dinner, and it's just him tonight, Lup on the other end of the ship going over some interesting data. He can feel her calm concentration. "We're pretty independent."

"Pretty large radius," Merle agrees. "Me and Margie are 'bout ten feet tops."

"Nine and a half," Marguerite corrects, before tilting her face toward Taako. "Why're you guys pretending to be twins?" Marguerite’s voice is louder than her slender form belies.

Taako shrugs. "You know, twins makes more sense than, uh, hey, my daemon settled as, just a guy — just a walkin' talkin' elf. Yep, not an animal, just a dude . Kinda freaky for the average joe! You ever hear of anything happening like that? Yeah. Didn't think so."

"Sure," Merle says. "I mean, not personally, but it happens ."

Taako pauses. He stops stirring. "Wait. Really?"

"Yeah," Merle says. "Couple decades back, one of my cousins married a lady who had a human for a daemon, which was kinda funny, cause she was a gnome, so she always got her daemon to reach all the high shelves for her."

"Huh," Taako says, and he looks about to say something else, except he turns, and a moment later, Lup walks into the kitchen.

#

“So, uh,” Lup says, knocking sheepishly on the door to Davenport’s office. They call it an office , but it’s really a library — a storeroom of weird souvenirs, a couple of desks and a conference table along a bank of open windows for Zephyra to fly through. And they call the office Davenport’s , but it’s really Lucretia who spends the most time in here. Lup hesitates. “Can I come in? Or you busy?”

“No,” Selene says in her soft voice, without looking up. “But just give us a moment to finish.” Lucretia is flipping intently through a large leather-bound tome, her other hand scribbling notes on a notepad. In front of her and Selene, a beautiful golden device vaguely resembling a clock sits in its velvet-lined case. The arms on its face twirl rapidly. Selene watches them move, still as stone.

The reason Lucretia spends the most time in the office is because she’s the only one with the training to read an alethiometer. Lup watches without walking forward. This is delicate work.

The dials spin to a stop. Selene flaps her soft green wings and flies close to Lup, nearly brushing her face as she arcs around and back to Lucretia’s shoulder.

“Okay, we’re done for now,” Lucretia says, looking up. Lup walks around to her side of the desk to squint at the enigmatic device.

“What’d you ask?”

Lucretia smiles wry. “Same question I always ask first. How do we defeat the Hunger?

“Thunderbolt, griffin, hourglass?” The alethiometer’s answer hasn’t changed in a dozen cycles.

Lucretia nods. “Looks like we’re still waiting on fate. Inspiration ,” she says, almost bitter.

It must be frustrating, Lup thinks, to always receive the same response and never know how to interpret it. She gives Lucretia a pat on her clothed shoulder. “Sorry, babe. Better luck next cycle, I guess.”

“I suppose,” Lucretia says, leaning back in her chair. “Now I just have to ask it what we should be doing in the short term.”

“I’m glad this is your job and not mine,” Lup says, only a little tongue in cheek. Her and Taako never took alethiomancy. It seemed a little too much like courting danger, taking courses on truth-reading, and besides, there were only six alethiometers in the world.

One, now.

“Thanks,” Lucretia says, acerbic — but Selene is laughing, her feathery antennae vibrating, so Lucretia’s not actually annoyed. “Did you need anything specific, or are you just here to dunk on me?”

“Actually, yeah,” Lup says, and sits down in the other chair at the desk. “Listen. Cha’girl’s got a favor to ask you.”

Lucretia frowns. Selene flutters. “What do you need?”

“Can you keep the thing about me and Taako, you know, the daemon thing, out of your records? Like completely. Just no mention of it, zip.” Lup doesn’t look at Lucretia while she asks. She’s not used to anyone knowing. She looks at the alethiometer instead. She’s often wanted to ask Why did we settle like this? but Lup knows she wouldn’t understand the answer anyway.

“Of course, Lup,” Lucretia says. “As long as Captain Davenport says it’s alright.”

“Right, yeah, of course,” Lup agrees. “Shit, we should probably talk to him about this, huh?”

“Probably,” Lucretia says, wry. “You know, kind of a big secret to be keeping from him and all.”

Lup grins, the briefest baring of teeth. “If it makes you feel any better, Luce, this is the first time we’ve told anyone .”

#

Like the majority of spacefaring ships, the Starblaster's crew mostly has daemons that are well suited to the confines of a ship, the freedom of the sky. Captain Davenport has an albatross larger than his armspan, who spends most of her time in the air above him. Right now, Zephyra stands next to Davenport as he stares the twins down, arms crossed.

Lup and Taako exchange a glance. They feel it unfair that a man one-third their height can intimidate them.

“Uh,” Taako says. “Sorry?”

“We didn’t think it was relevant?” Lup tries.

“Not relevant ?” Davenport asks.

“Well, okay maybe a little relevant,” Taako says. “But, you know, it just never came up!”

Davenport pinches the bridge of his nose. “ Guys ,” he says. “Guys, this is kind of a big secret. Definitely something you should have told me, put on your application, whatever. What if I had sent you on separate missions? What if someone tried to touch whichever one of you is the daemon?”

“Which one of you is the daemon?” Zephyra adds.

Taako and Lup exchange a glance.

“Er,” Taako says.

“Well,” Lup says.

One of us definitely is,” Taako finishes.

Davenport sighs. “ Guys ,” he says again, longsuffering. His crew is full of surprises. Too full of surprises.

Lup sits down so she’s eye level with him, tugging Taako down as well. She looks at Zeph and Davenport, all earnest.

“We don’t want to be treated... differently,” Lup says. “This, you know, the being two people thing, this is what we’re used to. It’s what we like, and if we tell, then — no offense Cap — but social norms are a hell of a thing.”

“Besides,” Taako adds. “It’s not like this part matters. You know the important bits now — that we’re not separated, and if one us dies, so does the other.”

Davenport frowns. “We — the rest of the crew — wouldn’t treat you differently, Taako, Lup. It wouldn’t matter.”

Their planet had rigid social codes — there was no communication between person and daemon in polite society, in formal or business events; daemons were to be silent; there was a distinct divide between the soul and the body. These standards have relaxed extensively over the course of the mission. Daemon talks to person, person to daemon. All equal partners. It was strange at first, that Lup and Taako talked to everyone. Now the whole crew does it.

“It’s just weird for us,” Lup says. “Can we at least ease into it? Tell everyone later?”

“...Alright,” Davenport allows, and Zeph nods her head. The twins — not twins, though — look so forlorn . He knows this is a ploy on their parts, but, well, its working. Taako leans forward.

“So it’s cool if Lucretia doesn’t write this down, right?”

#

Hallwinter slithers out from under Barry’s collar. “Not twins, then,” she says, curling around his neck. Barry reaches an absent hand up to stroke her scales. “Nope.”

“This doesn’t change anything, I suppose,” she says, quietly into his ear. He shrugs and makes an affirmative hum.

“Except,” she says, the word lingering wistful.

“Yeah, well,” Barry says ruefully. “Hall, It’s not like we were ever going to do anything about —”

“Do anything about what?” Lup asks cheerfully.

Barry yelps and jumps in his seat. Hall tumbles off of his shoulder and bounces onto the floor.

Lup laughs, and leans down. “Shit, sorry Hall, didn’t mean to startle you.” She offers a clothed sleeve for Hall to slither onto. Hall readily accepts, sliding onto Lup’s sleeve and letting Lup deposit her in Barry’s cupped hands.

“It’s alright,” Hall says. “It’s really Barry’s fault for flinching.”

Hall ,” Barry says.

“Just be glad I didn’t bite you,” Hall says, and flicks her tongue playfully before wiggling back into Barry’s sleeve. Barry looks up from his daemon. Lup is smiling at him.

“She’s cute,” Lup says.

“Thanks for calling my soul cute,” Barry says. “She did just threaten to murder you.”

Hall is small slip of a snake who likes hiding under Barry’s clothes. She has bright blue scales and a face like a puppy, and is highly, deeply venomous. Lup shrugs theatrically and sits down at the lab bench. “My other half isn’t cute and he threatens to murder me all the time. This is an upgrade.”

“You’re identical,” Barry says.

Lup shakes her head. “ I’m the pretty one.”

“Sure, Lup,” Barry says, and he means it, but tilts the words toward teasing. Lup sticks her tongue out at him. He laughs, and then his brow furrows. “Wait, does this mean—”

Lup shakes her head. “Don’t read too much into it, Bluejeans.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Barry says. Barry’s had three months to get used to the potential of this idea. He’s had about two days of confirmation, that Lup and Taako are two sides of the same entity. They’re both his friends — Taako more than Lup, maybe by a little. Lup is — well. Like he told Hall, it doesn’t quite matter.

“Is it too weird for you?” Lup asks, and she sounds genuinely concerned. She leans toward him.

“No!” Barry protests. “No, I mean, it’s weird, but I mean, not too weird, I like weird, I mean…” He peters out. Lup laughs at him again.

“Yeah, I gotcha.” She punches him lightly in the arm, over his sleeve. “You dork .” 

#

Lup opens the door to their berth. It’s dark, and Taako is lying in his bed, reading a book by the light of flickering prestidigitation. He glances up. “Hey,” Taako says.

“Shove over,” Lup says. He scoots over obligingly. Lup squishes in next to him. The bunks on the Starblaster are a little too small to fit two fully grown elves. Although, Lup thinks, technically they’re only one fully grown elf here, along with an oversized daemon.

“I was reading ” Taako says, no heat to his voice.

“Gonna ruin your eyes,” Lup says.

“Gonna ruin your eyes,” he minces back. She kicks him. He kicks back. This devolves into a full-on slap fight that only ends when they both fall off the bunk and onto the floor. Taako snorts. Lup giggles. She gets up and offers Taako a hand which he accepts, letting Lup pull him to his feet.

“They’re taking it pretty well,” Lup says, sitting back on the bed.

“Of course they are,” Taako says, picking up a pillow from the floor. “We’re us. Cha’boy wasn’t worried at all.”

“Su-ure,” Lup says, taking the pillow from him and lying down.

Taako picks up the blanket and remaining pillow and throws both on the bunk. “You think we shoulda told them?” Lup makes a noncommittal noise. Taako lies down next to her. She passes him his side of the blanket. He presses his face into the pillow. “Yeah, I dunno either.”

“We can always decide later,” Lup says. She closes her eyes. Taako’s breathing evens out.

For the first time in fifteen years, they sleep in the same bed.

#

Once upon a time there was a little elf who felt like they were alone in the world, which was true. The little elf and the little elf's daemon had no parents and too many relatives and none of them wanted the little elf and the daemon. Too loud, too strange, too smart.

The little elf was lonely. The little elf's daemon was a bird, a smallish dragon, a soft kitten when the little elf needed comforting. They went from caravan to house to farm — they walked down long roads and busy streets, slept in strange attics and beds. They left friends behind. They made new friends. They left those as well. They never knew any sort of permanence except the shape of their own reflected soul.

One day, the little elf woke up, and there were two elves in the bed, and they were not so little anymore.