There is fog all around, thick and white, swirling. The ground is dark, hard stone, rough and uneven, with a gradual but perceptible slope; the fog is thinnest upslope, and in that direction a faint shadow is visible in the distance, the only landmark available in an otherwise featureless world.
".....if I were alone I would be thoroughly inclined to stay here for the next few hundred years. I'm not sure Jean would take so well to that, though."
"...ooh. Jean, love..."
"I don't mind."
"Well, then. If you're willing to put up with me for a few hundred years. ... But for now tell me about the magic!"
"That would be lovely."
There is the sound of Morning taking a deep breath.
"Akaima's aspects are Embers, Bonfire, Hearth, and Ashes. Embers is her Child aspect, with the element of Light; Bonfire is Youth and Fire; Hearth is Adult and Fire; Ashes is Elder and Death. Iserith's aspects are Blood, Rivers, Rain, and Depths. Blood is Child and Life; Rivers is Youth and Water; Rain is Adult and Water; Depths is Elder and Shadow. Nidare's aspects are Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Spring is Child and Life; Summer is Youth and Earth; Autumn is Adult and Earth; Winter is Elder and Death. Tikiri's aspects are Dawn, Morning, Day, and Night. Dawn is Child and Light; I'm Youth and Air; Day is Adult and Air; Night is Elder and Shadow."
"To go through the gate, you have to have all the rings turned so there are four aspects at the top," Embers contributes. "Right now it's all Iserith."
"And those four aspects determine what powers you take with you," Morning continues. "You'll have power over whichever four elements are represented among them - and having two of an element gives you more than twice the power of one - and besides that, each goddess and each life phase has its own implications. Child is Creation, Youth is Change, Adult is Preservation, Elder is Destruction - if you have two or more of the same one, your other powers will be easier to use in the appropriate area, and if you take all four of a single phase, you become immortal in a thematically relevant way. The goddesses' powers are respectively minds, magic, movement, and the senses; if you take more than one aspect of Nidare you'll be telekinetic, more than one aspect of Akaima and you'll be telepathic, more than one aspect of Iserith and you can manipulate magic, and with more than one aspect of me you can see and hear things far away. If you take all of my aspects you can teleport!"
It's a minute before she's taken it all in.
"So each ring is -- not a goddess -- are they organized in any way?"
"They're organized so you can have all four of each thing you might want to have all four of," says Morning. "Every ring has one of each age and one of each goddess. And my Child is opposite Nidare's Elder, and my Youth is opposite her Adult, and the same for Iserith and Akaima, because we're opposed elements - Fire against Water, Earth against Air."
Nod. "Is -- for instance -- 'blood' just a shorthand for 'child and life', or does it actually have relevant bloodlike properties?"
"As it happens, 'Arachné' means that I weave, and also that I have a spiderlike habit of sitting in the middle of a web of contacts and waiting for the threads to twitch."
"Fair enough. .... What happens to people when they die, do you know?"
"What are some typical outcomes?"
"I don't suppose you can tell about us by looking, or something? Or know if we'll follow the rules of where we're from or where we go?"
"Not by looking. I think people mostly follow the rules of the place where they end up, unless the place they came from has - stronger opinions? Universes generally don't have opinions but it can be a useful shorthand. And of course, if you take an immortality, that overrides everything else."
"Unless it's one of the ones where you can still die if someone's really stubborn about it," Embers puts in.
"Well, yes. Regeneration and invulnerability won't necessarily help if someone decides to delete you from reality - but reincarnation and renewal will."
"Can you expand on all of those?"
"The Child's immortality is renewal; if you die, you reappear somewhere else as good as new. The Youth's immortality is regeneration; you can start to get injured or sick or old, but you return to full health almost immediately. The Adult's immortality is invulnerability; you can't get injured or sick or old in the first place. The Elder's immortality is reincarnation; if you die, you start again in a new life, and regain all your memories as you grow. The new life will be in the same world if possible but if that doesn't work for some reason you'll go to a different world. The Elder's immortality is usually considered the most complete one, because it still works even if the universe you're currently in is destroyed before you find another one. Renewal will try to handle that case but it might not succeed."
"Hmm ... how else is somewhere else, for the Child? Same world?"
"Do you look like yourself, when you're reincarnated, or is it a new body?"