Changing Currents: A Question of Genders (The Stream)he stream is always a pleasant place to be on fine days, so it's no surprise to see so many people around today. Some impromtu minicorn races have started on the nearby path, and on the far side several people are trying to coax an aselis away from a flower-covered mound that looks suspiciously like a hiding ariessa. And just ahead, a flock of osath hatchlings have drawn an appreciative crowd around their owner. "Big fan of geese?" you ask as you join the group.
The owner grins weakly in return. "Not really. Well, yes, I do like geese, but I hadn't intended to get so many. Well, not from the stream at least. I really want to breed them." Despite this claim, he is immediately distracted as an osath egg comes floating down the stream. A deft snag, and he tucks the egg in a basket where two others are already waiting.
"But you're still catching more."
The young man sighs. "Yeah, I am. See all these goslings? Male. Every single one is male. I can't find anyone with extra females willing to trade. Or maybe no one has any because I've been monopolizing all the osath eggs for the past week."
You wince in sympathy, as does the rest of the audience. Anyone with an interest in the magical creatures of the Keep has, at one point or another, dealt with not being able to find a breeding partner for one of their companions. You've even heard rumors of a magi who's been looking for a rare creature for two years! "Tough luck. If I hear of anyone with some to trade, I'll point them your way."
"Thanks. Too bad they aren't donecs, huh? At least a few of them would turn female then."
"Maybe not," another student interjects. "Wild donecs are known to change gender, but for some reason we don't see it with magi-raised donecs. Either they switch to female within a few minutes of hatching, or they don't change at all, even when the whole school is male. The senior magi in the Society of the Trident have been trying to figure out why," she adds, just a little proud - not surprising when you notice the trident pin on her robe. "I hear Lady Alua's close to a solution."
You recognize that name: a water-creature specialist whose parents fled Alveus when they realized their daughter was a magi. Her sanctum is supposed to be at Lake Lakira. Perhaps you could pay her a visit, find out more about why the gender-changing fish don't change gender?
Changing Currents: Lady of the Lake (Lake Lakira)You've spent the better part of the afternoon searching, but you can't find any sign of Alua's sanctum. Well, no, you did find one sign, literally: a stone post near the shoreline with "Alua" painted on it in bright blue. But no building or tunnel or cave nearby. For a while you thought maybe the post itself was the access, but you couldn't find any hidden trigger or teleport spell. You even considered the possibility that the sign was a purposeful misdirection, but searching further away has been just as fruitless. So back to the sign you go; one more search, and then you're done for the evening.
As you approach, you notice someone coming out of the water, and decide to ask for help. "Excuse me? I'm looking for Lady Alua. Do you know where her sanctum is?"
"Oh sure!" the young man replies as he wrings out his shirt. "I was just there. Straight out and down, just follow the posts and you can't miss it."
For a second you're completely flabbergasted. Half-suspecting some kind of practical joke, you take off your shoes and walk a few feet into the water. Sure enough, when you look under the surface you see another stone post just ahead, the blue letters glowing in the dim light. A third can be seen a bit further, and beyond that a faint illumination that might be a fourth.
A tap on your back startles you, and you're saved from falling entirely by the helpful young man. "It's a pretty long swim," he tells you. "She's in the deepest part of the lake. Better take a koi along."
You try to make the dive on your own, but it's far too deep! When you nearly black out on one attempt, you give up and go looking for an adult koi.
With a koi at your side the swim to the lake bottom is pleasant; if a little eerie. The water grows dark quickly as you dive, and soon the glow of the posts is the only steady light you can see. That also means other creatures in the lake can come quite close before you see them, which is extremely startling when a leviathan fin flicks in and out of view a few feet away!
Eventually a larger glow appears ahead of you, revealing what appears to be a collection of glass bubbles on the lakebed, connected by equally transparent tubes. The posts you've been following lead to one of the smallest, which turns out to be a half-dome suspended above the silt, with an opening at the bottom through which you can enter. With a fond thanks to your fishy companion, you climb through the opening into the dry bubble above.
The only thing of note within, besides the presence of air, is a door to one side with writing in the same blue paint as the posts. "Welcome to my sanctum. Please knock twice. When dry, proceed into the central chamber. - Alua"
That's going to be a long wait. Still, her place, her rules. You knock twice as the door says, and are immediately buffetted by warm wind! There's barely enough time to note the vent from which the air blows before it closes again, and you find you are completely dry. Pleasantly surprised, you proceed down the tunnel beyond.
The view from the central chamber is awe-inspiring. Water surrounds you in a huge dome, and there must be some kind of clarifying spell on the glass, because you can see much further from here than you could while you were in the water. Work tables and bookcases make islands of furniture in the central area, and spaced around the edge of the dome are huge water tanks hosting various creatures, including three with bright orange donec fish.
"Not another one!"
The voice startles you, and you realize that while you were looking around you completely missed the short, blonde woman at one of the work stations. "I'm sorry?" you offer uncertainly. "Are you Lady Alua? If this is a bad time I can come back later."
"I'm Alua, yes," and her response is clearly annoyed. "Let me guess, you're here about the donecs?" When you nod slowly, the lady sighs. "Of course. You're the fourth one today, you know that?" You try to stammer another apology, but she waves you off. "No, I'm sorry, it's not your fault and I shouldn't have snapped at you. I'd just hoped I could actually publish my research before every magi for miles around came to ask me about it. Come on, I'll give you the breakdown."
She leads you towards the donec tanks, explaining as you go. "I'll spare you the lengthy details, but suffice it to say I've been working on this for a long, long time. As it turns out, while all donecs have the ability to change gender, not all of them have enough power to change themselves - and those fish usually change shortly after hatching. When a large male donec changes gender, it actually steals the magic from smaller males until it accumulates enough to change itself."
"Donecs have the ability to steal magic?" you ask in alarm. "Isn't that dangerous? Can they steal from other creatures, or magi?
"No, not like that," Alua quickly reassures you. "I'm not even sure they do it on purpose, really. Here, look around the anemones in this tank. What else do you see?"
You walk slowly around the tank, trying to see past the ring of giant anemones which donecs call home. "Rocks. And something purple. Seaweed?"
"Seaweed," she confirms. "A pretty rare seaweed, almost always found among giant anemones. The donecs love it, but only the largest fish in the school actually gets it; she'll chase off smaller fish that try. And of course, the largest donec is almost always female. But take the females out, and the largest male gets to eat it instead. And shortly after he starts eating it, he starts drawing the gender-changing power out of the other donec fish."
Alua lightly taps the glass, and a huge donec swims out of an anemone towards her. "Like calls to like, it seems. A male will pull the magic from other males, but it seems they burn through it all to actually make the change. The females don't have a trace of it, and they don't draw magic off the other fish even if they eat the seaweed. When we grew anemones here for the Keep donecs, we didn't bring over the seaweed. So our males can't change. Couldn't change. This is one of mine. And two weeks ago she was male."
"So you did fix it; that's great!"
"That," she responds, "is just the begining. Over here." Alua leads you to a smaller tank; when you're close you realize it actually opens to the lake outside. Another tap on glass, and this time a samean swims up, the green and orange coloration marking it as a female cymatil. "She's also mine. And two weeks ago she was also male."
For a moment you're sure you didn't hear her right. "You... but... I mean... did... how?!" You look back and forth from the samaen to the magi beside you. "How did you use the donec's magic on another creature?"
"It was actually pretty easy, once I realized they were drawing the magic from each other. Because while they're doing it, the magic is free-floating, not really attatched to either fish. So it's pretty easy to siphon some of it off during the transfer. It takes a while to distill the magic without harming the fish - I had to get four donecs to shift before I had enough to change Keli. And it doesn't always work; something about having offspring seems to lock a creature's gender, and of course a delroch female would immediately break with its former magi and run off. But if you have enough donecs to trigger several changes, and enough of the seaweed to take them through it, I believe you can change the gender of most creatures."
Your mind is whirling with possibilities; creatures you've never found a suitable mate for, the endless ads posted in the grand hall by students looking for gender trades, that poor student at the stream and his flock of male osaths. "That's... really incredible. You know, if you've got some extra of that magic distillation, I'd be glad to help you test it."
Alua laughs. "Yes, everyone who's been by today has also volunteered. And I do have more of the potion. So I'll offer you the same deal I offered them. To make a steady supply of the distillation, I need enough donecs to establish multiple small schools, and enough of the seaweed to have a self-sustaining bed in each school. Bring me four donec eggs and a good supply of that seaweed, and I'll give you a sample from the distillations I've already made. Do we have a deal?"
As you eagerly nod in agreement she smiles and continues.
"Great! The seaweed is easiest to find around the Callisto Islands. But remember, we don't want to hurt the ecology there. Harvest only from large, mature plants, and make sure to leave enough that the bed can recover. If you've got a friend among the mermaids there, they can sometimes help you find it."
"You also may want to recruit additional help. Demand for this potion is going to be huge; much larger than could be supplied with only a handful of people contributing. Send any interested parties to me. And... you might want to warn them I'm a bit snappish when I'm busy."
Changing Currents: Weeding the Sea (Callisto Islands)The clear waters of the Callisto Islands are always enticing, but today you hope they'll also make your task easier. Purple seaweed doesn't sound difficult to find, but purple seaweed growing among giant, stinging anemones is another matter entirely. Add Lady Alua's warnings about careful harvesting, and this promises to be a challenging trip.
You figure you have two real choices to start - search throughout the whole island chain to find schools of donec fish, or ask someone who might know where to find them. You don't want to waste any time, so you go looking for local advice.
The local populace is very helpful. Not only do they tell you where to find several donec schools, they also inform you that you're not the first one to ask. No surprise there, really, but it does mean you need to find areas that haven't already been harvested. Here, too, the people are helpful, able to at least tell you the areas some of the other magi went.
Even armed with that knowledge, your search does not start well. Many of the beds you find have been harvested already, and those that haven't are either too small to harvest or too crowded by the anemones to risk.
But as you get to more obscure areas, your luck begins to improve. Schools are smaller but more plentiful, and as the sun begins to set you've collected a decent sample of the seaweed. It's tempting to stay longer, but you have responsibilities back at the Keep, and Alua will need to replant these as soon as possible. You carefully pack your harvest, and prepare to travel back to the mainland.
Changing Currents: Lady of the Lake II (Lake Lakira)The dive down to the bottom of Lake Lakira is just as lovely and eerie as the first time you came this way. The sanctum, however, is very different. Word has definitely spread, because the place is bustling with people preparing tanks and tending donations. Lady Alua is in the middle of it all, briskly directing people while carefully planting seaweed samples in a huge tank only partially filled with water. Somehow she notices you come in despite the chaos, and her smile is warm and bright when you show her your harvest.
"I don't think you should go back to Callisto again," she warns. "There are so many people harvesting, I'm afraid we could do real damage to the ecology if we start making repeat trips. But we've got a nice amount plants so far, well on our way to having a steady, sustainable distillation process.
"Of course, the seaweed is only half of it. Do you have the eggs too?"
You're embarassed to have not brought everything, but Alua only gives you a mildly exasperated look. "Well, I'm grateful for the help you've given, and if you want to lend a hand here you're more than welcome. But that was the deal - seaweed samples and four donec eggs in exchange for one potion."
"I understand. I'll get you those eggs as soon as possible," you mumble.
Lady Alua's sanctum is busier than ever, though you're not really sure how that's possible. And the Lady herself is in the thick of it, a small dynamo of blond hair and blue robe. You're less surprised when she spots you this time; she seems to see everything, leaving you a little awed.
"Welcome back! Come to help out some more, or do you have something for me?"
Alua is just as pleased by the eggs as she was by the seaweed; they are gently placed in another huge tank where an adult donec takes over their care.
"Wonderful! With these eggs and your haul of XX plants here, that'll be a big help." She climbs out of the tank and takes you to another one, this one shallow and broad, where your harvest is settled with others awaiting their permanent home.
Satisfied, the Lady leads you to one of her workstations and takes a small flask from it, which she offers to you. "As promised, one sample of the gender-changing potion. And my deepest thanks."
You take the flask gladly, then look around at all the activity around you. "So you really think you can make a steady supply of this?"
"I'm sure of it," she replies proudly. "With all this help, it's almost impossible not to. There are herbalists here helping to settle the seaweed, and I think the entire Society of the Trident has pitched in setting up the tanks. Archmage Thane even had some suggestions to refine the process; I think with his suggestions I'll need half the gender changes I did previously to get a potion."
You've all sorts of questions about when it might be ready, and how much it'll cost, but from Alua's sly grin, she's way ahead of you. "Of course, I'll need a steady influx of male donecs to keep this going. Say, two hatchlings for one potion?"
"Lady Alua, it would be my pleasure."
Changing Currents: Lady Alua's Sanctum (Lake Lakira)You've completed your personal contribution to the potion, but you'd still like to see how the whole thing is progressing, so you dive down to Lady Alua's sanctum once more. People are still busy, but you can see that many of the tanks are ready to go, several of them already seeded with hatchling donecs and a few adults to watch over them.
The Lady herself is pleased to see you, and happy to relate the current progress. "So far we have XX plants. I estimate we'll need at least YY to keep everything stable. We'll get there."