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A/N: All references to the Liege belong to Koi Lungfish and are used with permission.
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"How do you create such exquisite baubles?" Rubeus asked languidly.
Arbiter modified the paldrons on the schematics for his latest commission. Dancers, they always wanted dancers. Didn't any of his patrons understand that he could never again match Flexagon for finesse? "Could you perhaps be more specific?"
The red hovercar gestured, artfully conveying his inability to speak the exact words of his thoughts. "You make the finest baubles I have ever seen... Not only are they beautiful to look upon, but they can match for skill that of any fully-trained artist. They are courteous and fine-voiced, knowledgeable in many topics of conversation, and every one of them is unique."
"All baubles fit those criteria. They would not be baubles, otherwise." He occupied his hands with bending wires into a design that incorporated the symbols of storms and eternity. That would go with one of his personal sculptures.
His guest cycled air, evoked weariness in the flicker of his fingertips. "An example then, so that you might see the question. You have made many dancers, all of them fine and skilled. None of them is less artful than a journeyman dancer, many of them as fine as masters. Flexagon, your masterpiece, rivals Starfall and the Liege Fabulo. How do you create such?"
"You wish to know how I imbue them with such skill."
"Why didn't you simply ask that?"
Rubeus smirked, his fingers fluttering in amusement. "Would you have answered?"
"I am unsure I will answer now." With a particular vicious twist, the brindled sculptor wrapped two copper wires together and set the design aside. He reached for one of the other projects near at hand, one of the principal circuitboards of the half-completed bauble in his workshop.
His guest gestured softly, offering propitiation to Arbiter's pride and inviting the sculptor to share his wisdom with this unworthy one.
Rubeus used to wear rings, Arbiter recalled in a side corner of his mind, gaudy things that obstructed the view of his fingers in motion. Softly expressed displeasure from the sculptor resulted in him never seeing those rings again. Now Rubeus had scrollwork painted on his fingers, fine work that looked like Lacquer's style. "A trade, I think. A print of your mind for the answer to your question."
The hovercar trilled a laugh, his fingers fluttering with amusement and a secret learned. "I think you have answered me already."
"Have I now?" Arbiter flicked his fingers, switching out the standard digits for the delicate tools needed for minute work such as this.
Uncertainy seeped into his guest's posture, slowed his hands and led them into new gestures. "Certainly, certainly. You are not yourself a dancer, and while you are familiar with the art, knowledge alone isn't enough to evoke such beauty as your dancers do. You cheat - you use mindprints."
"I am an artist of considerable skill. Could I not merely transfer skill from myself?" He inlaid circuits of conductive metals on the board, mindful of the intended purpose of this bauble: a musician. He did not so much as glance at Rubeus.
"Sculpture is not dance. The high arts are not the performing arts."
Now Arbiter raised his head towards Rubeus, smirking. "Well, if you are so certain that is the answer, then I need neither confirm or deny it."
"Oh, don't be angry. Your baubles are still more magnificant than any of your competitors'."
"I have no competitors-" The sculptor refocussed his optics for detail work and added nine tails to his plans for the dance-bauble. He enjoyed building unusual limb structures - they demanded more of his skill than the standard design.
"-You have imitators." Rubeus finished. He'd heard that statement numerous times, and it did seem half-justified. "However, you would have to be a Vector-class computer to do all that you do alone."
"A very specialized one," Arbiter agreed.
Rubeus's optics flashed a blink, and he stared at Arbiter as if he had never seen the mech before. His vocalizer crackled-
Then Etude came in with a pitcher of refined petroleum, two fine goblets, and one of Arbiter's enamel sets in his four hands. Silently, the servant placed the enamels on one of the endtables, then poured them both a measure of petroleum. He left with the completed wirework, never having said a word.
Arbiter smiled softly and clinked his goblet against Rubeus's. "I am told Starfall will dance in Iacon tonight. Would you like to jet over and see him?"