Phoenix had begun a night with Casanova, who eagerly insisted she join in watching an episode of The Magicians. Phoenix acquiesced, laughing, since she had already watched the first season as well as the first episode of season two. She helped dismantle the house's Christmas tree and then the couple shared YouTube videos as they waited for the file to download. The two are just about to get up and go to the entertainment room to watch the show.
The Luminaries mingle on the balcony. Only Eosphoros' constant attention is needed since she is responsible for everyday interactions with friends, but out of nowhere, sizzling purple energy shoots out of Casanova's Cloud, triggering Solanaceae. She whips her head around to the sky and meets the energy with a confused smile. "Oh-kay," she says. She throws out a one-liner in response, but nothing more occurs.
The night continues as planned until the late hours of the night when it is time for sleep. The Luminaries, not used to going to bed at such a time, remain in the meeting chamber for some time, and Phoenix lies awake. A soft physical connection ties Solan to the Cloud.
Again, unexpectedly, an odd purple-gray energy filters through the Cloud. Solan is unsure how to respond, so she keeps her connection constant, but adds slightly more energy until she thinks enough time has gone by that marks this event too as an anomaly.
Just as the Luminaries rise to retire and attempt to drift off to sleep, a bold stream of purple energy comes from the Cloud. Solan's eyes widen and she glances around warily at the Luminaries. Their expressions are equally baffled, but Aura speaks slowly. "Go ahead, I suppose."
Solan smiles fully and bangles of electricity course around her wrists. She starts sending out lightning toward the Cloud and it reciprocates with more energy. The two meet and tangle together until the flow simply stops. Solan wrinkles her brow and shoots a fainter, probing light. This meets the Cloud but seemingly splashes up against it as though a hasty wall has been built. Solan puts her hands on her hips and sighs heavily.
"There's no harm in asking questions or trying to do a little convincing, but take care," Aura cautions, now monitoring the situation carefully.
Solan tosses her glossy waves and attempts to get answers from Casanova. The answer she receives is hardly satisfying: he initiated in a fit of sleepiness and as he awoke, decided against the idea. Her lip curls in annoyance, but she continues to engage, hoping that the night can be salvaged.
Aura's face falls throughout their exchange. She wants the encounter as well, for Solan's sake, but also for the world as a whole. It had been four months since Solan had interacted with anyone in that way, and it was making her restless. Her mood of dissatisfaction and longing pervaded the air, making them all more easily distracted and irritable.
When it becomes apparent Solan cannot mend this, and she catches a glance at Aura's crestfallen face, Ignis casually flicks her wrist, producing a fireball sailing toward the Cloud.
Aura doesn't reprimand her, but when Casanova's response comes, Solan's eyes flash. "Lecture me about consent, will he? I think I know what it is." She hurls a lightning bolt into the sky.
A heated exchange continues between the two, but eventually Esoterra walks up and puts a hand on Solan's shoulder. Solan is of a mood to throw it off, but pauses when she sees warning on Terra's face. They both look to Aura, who seems grim and upset. "Let her handle this," Esoterra says softly, stepping back.
Solan steps away with resignation and allows Aura to interact with the Cloud. Aura attempts to express vulnerability and explain how difficult things have been for the world recently, but by the time she's done talking, they realize Casanova has fallen asleep again.
Aura sighs heavily and faces the others. "We should try to sleep now. We can work out what to do about this tomorrow morning."
The vibe between Phoenix and Casanova is tense the following morning. Neither of them particularly know what to say to one another, but they put on brave smiling faces before they both leave the house.
"Let's discuss what course to take." Aura sits in her place at the head of the table and addresses the Luminaries. They are all calmer today and able to think straight.
"Do we not simply do what was suggested?" Eos asks. "Apparently his mind is set on this matter, but the altered state of consciousness got to him, so we call him out whenever he leads us on."
"That's fine in theory, but is it worth it? Every time we come over we get stuck doing something that doesn't interest us at all, whether it's watching something we don't like or interacting with people we aren't connected to. We arrange the meetings, we travel to see him, the least we should do is engage in mutual hobbies and not be forced to do things that make us uncomfortable," Esoterra notes.
"I would hate to lose another friend right now though," Eosphoros says glumly.
"We all would, but we have to weigh the emotional capital invested versus what we receive in return," Aura replies judiciously. "Think about it. He never has and never will initiate conversation—sometimes he doesn't even respond to texts or return phone calls—we aren't engaged in activities we find fun when we hang out, and although we could make friends with the people that are nigh perpetually there, we never have an opportunity to speak to them one-on-one. What do we gain?"
"He is a good source of advice," concedes Nymphaea. "He tends to straddle the line between the logical and the emotional, so he can make sense of certain things that are lost on us and explain them."
"Is that worth it though?"
"But now on top of the against pile," Ignis objects, "he's playing fast and loose with Solanaceae, saying he exhausts all his willpower not having sex with us. And every time we discussed it in the past, he had a new reason not to, until it came down to something about it makes him uncomfortable."
"That's all the reason needed with things like this," comments Aura.
"I didn't say otherwise, but that's the easy way out in emotional matters. It allows people to extricate themselves from a situation without figuring out or confronting the underlying reasons."
"If I may," Solan speaks finally, "I know I'm not the most unbiased party here, but I think at the very least a break is necessary. And if we ever do decide to engage in the friendship again, we set ground rules. If he can't oblige, then we can't be friends."
Aura nods. "What do you suggest?"
"No sleeping over. No cuddling. No coming onto Phoenix because if he really is spending all his willpower, then he isn't doing a very good job. I say that because I believe I know what willpower is more than some. And we only do things that interest both of us. We come over to see him, not to be ignored while spends time with housemates or other friends. If he can't set aside time, then we're obviously not worth all that much. His other friends may play the game—vying for his time and attention, getting penciled in and rescheduled because, oops, he realized he already made other plans, but we won't anymore."
"Perhaps a bit harsh…" Aura tilts her head from side to side, "But not uncalled for by any means. What do you all think?"
"He's an adult. None of these requests are unreasonable," Esoterra says simply.
"He can buck up or get out, as far as I'm concerned. And if at any point we decided it's not worth keeping friends who don't contact us, we can get out of dodge," Ignis agrees in her no-nonsense manner.
Aura nods. "If you would then, Nymphaea?"
Nymphaea strides over the window and weaves her hands in intricate patterns, pushing an invisible something away and rearranging other things. The clouds shift at her command. Casanova's Cloud drifts smoothly out of sight and others come closer to the horizon visible over the Palace.
Eosphoros frowns. "How did the sky get so empty?" she frets.
"I don't know, sister. But it's something we'll have to work on rectifying," Aura concludes.