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Generated: Dec 17, 2017 2:58 PM
Post last updated: Dec 17, 2017 3:03 PM
White Wishes
Rockeye's new character meets Gem
Permalink Eye

With a thunderous crash and a flash of light-

A magical girl themed on white and a vague figure seemingly made of dust appear in the forest. 

"-Where are we? Where did you put us?"

The dusty figure speaks with a raspy-sounding voice. "Don't know. Far away."

"That's not what I meant. 'Get me out of here' meant 'get me out of imminent danger' not 'send me to the middle of nowhere'..." She pulls out a satellite phone. No signal. "You put me here, you need to get me back where I'm needed."

"No."

"Yes. Or you'll be breaking the rules."

"Can't."

"You can't? Why not?"

"Don't know where I am."

"Then figure that out."

"I'm trying."

"Ugh."

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Someone appears about a hundred feet away, peering at them through the trees.

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"What do you need to know to get me back?"

"Where we are now."

"Yes, but specifically."

"Where we are."

"Latitude and longitude? An address?"

"No. No."

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Person approaches slowly.

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"Someone's coming. Please don't do anything sudden, Kaff. You owe me a trip back."

"I will stay."

"Right... Right." And louder, "Hello?"

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"Hi! You look lost!"

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"Hi! That's because I am lost! Do you happen to know where we are relative to Idaho?"

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"The nearest city is Winnipeg!"

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"Winnipeg. Canada. Does that help, Kaff?"

"No."

"Of course not. Ahem." To their visitor, "Are you with the Canadians, then? I'm Tara, by the way."

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"Bella. What do you mean with the Canadians?"

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"Nice to meet you, barring the circumstances, anyway. The Canadian branch of the Spirit Association?"

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"I don't know what the Spirit Association is."

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"They're a big organization for magic users, probably the biggest in the world?"

The - dust figure - shifts slightly.

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"You're really lost and you need to get out of here in the next two weeks."

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"Kaff. You put is in - in another universe?"

"Yes. It was a mistake."

"Can you put us back?"

"Don't know."

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"How did you get here?"

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"Kaff is a genie, genies can do just about anything if they're strong enough and owe you favors. It's just that you need to be very specific and apparently 'get me out of here before the building collapses' is not specific enough."

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"I see. Is there a catch besides that?"

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"Only if you make a deal, but Kaff already owed me. Kaff, will you know if you can get me home in - in half an hour you think?"

"No. I will know in a day."

"Fantastic. No point rushing then. The battle will be long over."

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"Battle?"

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"Monsters. I'm a medic, there are casualties. But a day is far too late to help, everything will be cleaned up by then."

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"I'm sorry."

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"These things happen. You have to learn to accept them when you can't do anything about it. Uh. So, I'm in a different universe. Not sure where to start with that."

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"Perhaps more importantly this universe is in a time loop and resets when the world ends and I don't think you're usually in the time loop, although I guess I can't be sure because I'm not usually near Winnipeg around now."

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"Kaff, can you get us both out of this universe, if not back home?"

"Yes. It's difficult."

"You owe me my safety for sending us here."

"Yes."

"So there's that. The world ends? Do you want me to try to help with that?"

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"I would love help with that! I'm trying to solo it and it's really hard!"

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"Saving the world tends to be, I hear. So should I tell you what I can do, or you tell me about the end of the world first?"

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"...short version is that there are evil aliens using human emotions as a power source and their preferred way of doing that is an artificial ecology of despair monsters kept in check by magical girls who are recruited with selective truth and one wish apiece. A very big despair monster eats the world in a couple weeks. I'm trying to track it back to where it is at the start of the loop so I can kill it smaller."

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"These aliens sound like a big problem even outside the more urgent end-of-the-world problem. Which needs solving first. I'm quite powerful by our standards but I have no idea how they measure up to yours. I can stabilize people, prevent them from dying. It's not the same as actually healing them, but it buys time. I can fly and create barriers and beams of destructive light. I can create servant constructs, I can provide a power boost to other Spirit Bearers, I can purify things of pollution factors and pathogens, I can convince electronics to work without electricity for a while, I can boost my senses, particularly as regards living things..."

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"The flying and servants aren't achievable with the standard powerset of locals. You might have better efficiency on the other stuff."

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"And Kaff - You still owe me a little bit even outside of your obligation to get me home."

"Only a little."

"Right. But it's a little. And you know I'm good for my word if I promise you a favor."

"Yes."

"So Bella, what's the most limiting restriction you have, that a wish might get around?"

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"What do your kind of wishes usually cover?"

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"Common themes are magic items of various kinds from eternal waterspouts to necklaces with defensive magic to singing statues, items that give magic powers, de-aging and resurrections - resurrection is expensive - 'good luck' which is a sort of proto-magic that has subtle and vague effects, empowering one as a Spirit Bearer which is probably not an advisable experiment to make with you having your own magic, assassinations, gold if you're feeling lazy. Ensuring that all your children were healthy males was popular a few hundred years ago. I've never heard of a genie causing or interacting with a time loop but it wouldn't astound me. Though it sounds expensive."

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"What governs expense, how do you pay for it?"

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"Broadly, how big an effect is, plus how permanent it is. It's hard to generalize. Kaff can tell you how 'expensive' something is if you ask. Uh, I helped arrange permission for him to observe a hospital when he was curious, and I called in the favor to help at the monster attack. So you pay for it with favors, either in advance or by making a deal for later."

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"...favors like 'opportunity to observe hopsitals'? Is that typical?"

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"Genies are insatiably curious. Sometimes it's - rare South African frogs. Sometimes it's ocean currents. Or what a nurse does. Or how to drive a car. Or the layout of the San Andreas fault line. Or any number of other things. Helping them out with their curiosity is the number one way to get a genie's debt. What are you curious about now, Kaff?"

"Steel alloys."

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"...huh. And they need help with this even though they have wish-granting power?"

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The genie speaks, "I can not wish for information. I must investigate and think or find someone who has investigated and thought. Humans are good at finding information. It is usually faster to ask humans."

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"Huh. Well, what do you want to know about steel alloys and how much do you want to know it?"

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"I already have a meeting with workers at a foundry. I will be late."

"Ha. Late. You're going to miss it by at least a day, you'll have to reschedule. I can't even call them from here."

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"Does that mean you can't be traded with at this time?"

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"I do not think you can help me learn what I want to learn at this time."

"You still owe me a bit, and I can owe you a favor not exceeding forty hours of work or needing me to do illegal things."

"Yes."

"I might ask you to do something for Bella. Please answer her questions with what you still owe me, besides the obligation to return me home, and the favor I may promise in exchange in mind."

"Very well."

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"Why can't you wish for information?"

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"I don't know."

Tara turns around and starts summoning up a figure like the genie's, but made of light.

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"What are you doing?"

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"Making a light construct. It will probably come in handy sooner or later and if I do it now I'll have more strength later."

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"What do they get used for? You recharge over time?"

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"Eyes and ears, fetching things, I can use some of my other magic through them. They're very handy little things, I like 'em! And, yes, we recharge over a few days."

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"Lucky."

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"You have some kind of finite supply? Kaff might be able to help with that."

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"It's rechargable but only using despair monster byproducts."

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"Hm. So you - defeat monsters to recharge? Fighting monsters helps raise your power level, for us, but it's not strictly necessary. What are your aliens getting out of this?"

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"Magical girls turn into the witches - that's the monsters - and the aliens are getting something out of the process of turning into a witch and the process by which we recharge."

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"And causing many deaths in the process, it sounds like. How efficient of them."

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"Well, it is, by their standards, just set your value of human quality and continuation of life to zero and you get this apparently."

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"Right, why should aliens care about human life. Perhaps Kaff can make monster byproducts for you."

"I would need an example."

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"I have a couple but they can hatch into witches again, so you shouldn't go making them willy-nilly."

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"I will keep this in mind."

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"...and witches, unchecked by magical girl predation, can and do get big enough to destroy the planet, so don't just keep it in mind, actually don't make them at home."

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"Kaff, they will kill you if you create monsters."

A sudden gust of wind that dies down in a moment. "Very well. I will not create these things except when asked to."

"When asked to by her."

"Yes. Fine."

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She displays two grief seeds. "This one is fresh, this one has had some gem taint offloaded onto it."

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"These are strange things. I could make these things. For the amount of favor the white one promises, I could make eight of these things."

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"In either form?"

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"Yes."

(On the other side of the genie, Tara finishes her light-construct and takes a deep breath. It's as vague as the genie's form is, and stands about three feet tall.)

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"Is that a power constraint or a willingness constraint?"

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"Yes."

"Kaff, you know she wants more detail than that. You need to pay attention when talking. We've been over this."

"That is the amount of power I am willing to spend."

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"...does anything other than trading in information about things you are currently curious about affect your willingness to spend power?"

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"If a human can credibly promise favors I can call upon or resources that may be useful, that affects my willingness to spend power."

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"I have time-stopping powers and other freeform magic with different constraints than the kind available where you're from, may be able to extract wishes made in the local magic system from potential local magical girls to spec, and can infinitely duplicate small material objects."

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"I do not know with certainty if I will be able to do anything useful with your magic. I do not trust local magic very much. Gold is valuable to many humans. I can carry some immaterially. I would be willing to do magic equivalent to thirty additional Grief Seeds in exchange for as much gold as I can carry."

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"Can you give some examples of things you could do that are equivalent to various numbers of grief seeds?"

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"I'm not sure of the ethics of manipulating people into wishing certain things," Tara speaks up. "Compared to saving the world, it's an obvious choice, and twisting time adds wrinkles to that too... But we do only have your word for its imminent destruction and the existence of the time loop."

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Uncaring, the genie recites, "Transforming an elderly person to a youthful one is one half of a grief seed. Creating a magic item that will somewhat protect against bullets and swords is three grief seeds. Empowering a person as a Spirit Bearer is approximately sixty grief seeds. Creating a ring that allows the user to teleport short distances is six grief seeds. Transforming a person to the opposite gender is one half of a grief seed. Resurrection is approximately fifty grief seeds."

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"...I mean, I know I'm in a time loop and have satisfied myself about the ethical quandaries therein but if you're saying you don't want me to go do things that I could do if I felt like it anyway to trade with this genie who is not you because you don't trust me on whether it's even happening, I'm not sure what you want me to do with that. Anyway the gold thing does not require me to manipulate anyone."

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"I agree that you could probably go do whatever you want anyway, modulo Kaff's willingness to do things for you. I also agree that saving the world is an important goal and that you could really really use the help! And that 'what if this person I'm helping is actually evil' is not a useful argument! But I don't know you, don't know this world, am most likely entirely without the bureaucratic structure I'm used to for approval and backup, it's doing wonders for my self-doubt, sarcasm, and snippiness."

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"Do you want to see my index of loops and quiz me on their contents or something?"

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 "...You know what, it's probably faster to do this. Kaff? Can you do non-invasive lie detection? No peeking at anyone's thoughts, just, magically judging whether an utterance is true."

"No. No wishing for information."

"Right. What about - Don't do this yet, not until I'm sure I want it, but could you give me the ability to do lie detection like that? Add it to the magic I can do."

"...I can do that. I never thought of that. I can give Spirit Bearers new spells. I would want forty hours of work equivalent as a favor."

Tara gives a nervous little chuckle. "It's been done before with other genies.. Uh, I should specify how it should work. Deliberate activation on things currently being spoken or signed. Ends when I stop focusing on activating it on a single person. I should get the feedback the same way as my other sensory powers. Can you give me degrees of truthfulness? 'This is mostly true' if something is left out, or 'this is mostly false but based on something true'. So it's not a binary total truth or total lie."

"No. Only true or false. I would need to understand humans very well to do what you ask."

"How much of my own magic would it require?"

"I don't know. Not excessive amounts."

"Would it work on writing? Through phones?"

"Only if you watch things being written. No."

"Hmm. Bella, uh, I would be well satisfied by getting this lie detection and asking you to verify what you've told me. So, do you see any flaws in this idea?"

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"If it just does true or false that seems sufficiently noninvasive to me. You're betting that if I were malicious I couldn't beat it with my own magic, though."

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"If there's anything interfering with or blocking the scan, I get no result. And I find that an acceptably low risk."

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"Okay. If you want to work forty hours for a cut rate lie detecting power."

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"Well, it's going to be very, very useful for trust and cooperation in the short term and probably reasonably useful in the long term besides. And it's not like I don't have the time once I get home - we only age if we want to."

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"Us too. Okay."

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"And it's not that I dislike you, or that I'm particularly mistrustful. More like, when the phrase 'the end of the world' starts getting said, you have to be sure of things if it's at all practical. Kaff, do it as specified, please."

The dusty figure reaches toward Tara and touches her outstretched hand. There's a rushing sound.

Tara looks at Bella, eyes slightly glowing, and asks, "Say something true and something false?"

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"My name is Bella. - er, that's a nickname, I dunno how sensitive your spell is -"

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"That parsed as false. So I'll have to be very literal using this."

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"My name is Isabella? My name is Isabella Marie Swan?"

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"True and true. Kaff, what's your name?"

"I do not have a name. Humans call me Kaff or Kaffvarpir."

"False, true. Interesting. Though what my new spell thinks about names is probably best saved for another time."

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"Just don't freak out if something I say parses as false till I have a chance to try to clarify."

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"Of course not. Oh, is there anything I can do for you to trust me more?"

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"Nothing leaps to mind but I don't currently have a strong need to trust you."

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"Fair enough. What a day."

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"I've had worse. Do you need any infinitely replicable small objects?"

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"I don't doubt it... Nothing springs to mind. Food and water in a couple of hours."

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"Can do."

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"...So. Saving the world." Her eyes start glowing slightly again. "You have been experiencing time loops? To the best of the knowledge the world will end as you have described? The aliens and magic system are as described?"

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"I was summarizing but did so without intent to deceive."

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Eyes unglow. "True. Good enough for me. Perhaps Kaff can create some kind of locator tool. Genies are frequently better at making tools that other people can then use, than direct tasks."

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"Magic stuff won't go in my storage space - at least locally magic stuff. Do you have anything I could try that won't cost me bargaining power? If it'll go at all I can almost certainly get it out again infinity times."

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"I don't have anything magical on me other than my raiment, sorry."

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"Raiment's a technical term?"

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"For the costumes, yes."

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Bella asks the genie, "What are examples of magical things you could make and how many grief seed equivalents they'd cost?"

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"I don't like providing lists of examples. I'm thinking about how to go home."

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"...am I correct in assuming you don't actually care if I save this here world, at all?"

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"Unless it will kill me I don't care. I want to learn."

"Yeah, that's a genie for you."

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"Does it matter that if I fail to save the world, if you are ever curious about it later on you will be forever unsatisfied, since you can't wish for information and there will be nobody here to ask?"

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"I'm not interested in anything in this world right now. After I learn about steel alloys, I might be interested."

"I know genies aren't big fans of long-term planning, Kaff, but - trust me when I say this world is very interesting. Have you ever wanted to study something and then it was lost forever?"

"...Yes. Extinct species. I could not find anything."

"Do you want that to happen again?"

"...No. But I do not know if I will find things here interesting and I do not know how much power saving the world will require."

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"Don't you have a way to reason under uncertainty? What if someone owes you a favor, then dies?"

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"I weigh the risk of death when calculating the favor and deciding to call upon the favor. If they die, then I do not get the favor. I am too uncertain about the potential value and potential costs of saving this world right now to do the same. I will still fulfill wishes for gold."

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"But only as much as you can carry."

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"Yes. For thirty Grief Seeds or equivalent magic."

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"What would you need to know to make more risky outlays of power?"

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"It is unlikely you have prepared extensive notes and histories to deceive a genie. You didn't know genies existed. Reading the notes you mentioned and finding them consistent would reduce my uncertainty. Observing a witch would reduce my uncertainty. When I know how to get home the maximum risk I undertake will be significantly lessened. I will know how to get home in approximately a day."

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"Are you going to leave immediately then?"

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"Perhaps."

"We probably shouldn't go as soon as you're able to if it cuts off a future resource," Tara insists. The genie makes no comment.

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"She's right. Do you disagree?"

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"I don't disagree. Very well. I will stay even after I know how to get home. I will leave if I seem to be in danger. I will strand you here if I am forced to leave without you, Tara."

"I understand. It probably won't come to that."

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"We should probably all three stick together. If I die, the time loop resets, incidentally. I have no idea what happens if I witch but it's probably worse."

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"Probably best to stick together, yes. Where to, then?"

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"Well, I was tracking the big witch but I shouldn't take any particular risks this loop since it contains a presumably unique opportunity, so I guess we can just get hotels in Winnipeg if genies and light constructs can be made suitably unobtrusive. - Magic's not common knowledge here."

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"Kaff can spread out enough to be plausibly deniable. The light constructs can go invisible. More talking and planning and testing, see if we think of something clever, is the idea?"

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"Pretty much. If nothing else you can take back a complete account of the situation to your world and see if you can get me some kind of help."

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"We have our own giant monsters. None are of the world-eating variety, but they occasionally destroy cities. It's not impossible to arrange aid. Maybe a coalition of genies tempted with a new world to explore? I wonder if we'd find you on a subsequent loop or what..."

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"Good question, I have no idea. And if you timed it wrong and it worked in certain ways you might land on an eaten world."

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"I would risk it. I'm sure there are others who would. Fighters, teleporters, investigators. There are a few precogs here and there. I don't know any personally but they exist."

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"Oooooh, precogs."

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"Yeah. Precogs! I figure they must be limited by something or precogs would have taken over the world by now."

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"Any guesses what it is? - Winnipeg's that way, it's about a mile to where I dropped off my rental car."

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"First guess is power limit - they can only do so much magic per day like all the rest of us. Or a range or scope limit on what they actually see."

Tara starts walking.

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"I assume they see contingent futures they can affect?"

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"That's what I've heard anyway. They help at monster fights sometimes. Calling important shots or saying when to retreat."

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"Good for them. I think precognition is not available for local magical girls but I could be wrong, it's the sort of thing that can be hard to get for sure out of the aliens."

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"I think I need to hear more about the aliens. They're getting something out of the whole process - wouldn't destroying the world ruin their production line? Do they not know about it?"

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"They know about it, I think they could stop it, and they won't. I think they can extract enough from the witch in question getting that big to solve their energy budget for the foreseeable future."

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"If they could stop it, finding a button to push that they care about enough might work. Sounds like it needs to be a very very big button. I'm not sure what you've tried, how many loops you've had so far."

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"...they don't have emotions. They don't care about things. They just want to power their civilization. I think if I had a way to do that I could trade them, but I don't, currently."

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"And - nuclear power, or fusion, or solar panels won't cut it?" And, a little more quietly, glancing at Kaff, "...I wonder if genies could make something for them."

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"Maybe. It'd have to be executed very carefully, I'm not sure how to do it through a... not super deft... third party. Also this loop is half over and I didn't optimize it, there's people I know how to save that I skipped..."

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"...I almost said 'you can't save everyone' just now, but that's- I have to help you save everyone. Doing anything else would be like walking right out of the hospital during an emergency. This might be a one-time opportunity? What if it wasn't? Genies can do just about anything. I could ask Kaff if he could join me to your time loop."

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"I could also have you wished into it locally since that's known to work, although it might take a wish apiece and that's dicey because the evil aliens know when wishes are made and I might want to reset immediately after one tipped them off."

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"...Honestly that's probably a better plan, if you can swing it. Kaff might suspect he'll never get my forty hours' work and refuse to do it no matter what else I promise."

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"This loop I convinced Raine not to be a magical girl, so presumably she is not a witch now and I can go back and do a 'well actually' and probably get her to wish for something custom, possibly if I perform unspecified sexual favors. I'm less confident in all other custom wish angles."

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This is not a time to be squeamish about manipulation, it's going to get erased if it happens anyway, Tara tells herself.

"Well. It can probably wait at least a day? We should talk over the other options some more. But it's a possibility, I don't mind signing up for an indefinite task when it's this important. I'm just much less sure about Kaff. Genies are... Hard to predict."

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"I can see that. Yeah, a day probably doesn't make a difference to Raine, although I might email her to make sure."

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"You know her and I don't of course... So the broad options I see are, bribe the aliens to stop the witch, kill the witch - which is better than letting the world end but not ideal, or find her before she turns into one and help her not do that, or maybe subvert the aliens' system in some other way."

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"She might already be a witch as of the start of the loop."

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"Maybe. Setting your - loop - back another month or two doesn't seem possible?"

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"I haven't tried applying wishes to it, because of the alerting the evil aliens thing. It's not possible with the powerset I currently have."

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"...How observant are the aliens? Or rather, how sneaky do we have to be? Would they try to kill us both at the first sign of anything off or would we need to do something that's obviously dangerous to them before they react?"

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"Local magical girls have a telepathy power using them as relays, I don't use that for anything sensitive. They keep tabs on most magical girls. They wait-and-see if I am merely slightly suspicious, which I am by existing when they don't remember granting me a wish, but they can turn on a dime if I ask too many of the wrong questions."

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"If we're going to try and join Kaff and I to the loop, or have me try to grab more help from home, we need to do that before any confrontations."

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"Yes."

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"Kaff is my way between worlds. I'll need to quiz him on how likely it is to go wrong if I try and fetch help, if I can come back here on the same loop afterwards... If he can even tell."

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"Seems dicey. I don't know for sure you guys don't show up every loop, even, if you'd normally be unobtrusive. What would you have done without me?"

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"I probably would have flown around, gone to the first city I could find, and been very thoroughly confused. Not sure what I'd do after that, but probably not 'hide in a hotel room and not make the news'. Try to find people who my magic could help while Kaff worked on going home, probably. I would certainly have intervened in any car crashes, fires, or similar things."

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"Okay, so you probably would have shown up on the news. I haven't been paying attention this loop but I have in the past and it seems likelier than not that I would've noticed you."

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"Right. You would have known about us if we are in every loop. Therefore this is probably the first instance of the loop Kaff and I are in. It seems possible that if I leave and try to return, I might show up again thousands of loops later or not at all. Not acceptable. And we can't know for sure since this is new."

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"Yep. And one does get accustomed to high certainty in a time loop. Is that rubbing off on you?"

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"I'm a cautious person by nature. And I'm constantly reminding myself how much is at stake... You could probably manage it eventually if I fuck off back home, but then maybe the endgame sucks more than it has to. Being careful and certain on this scale is just common sense. At least to me."

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"I can probably kill the witch myself - or save her if she isn't one on the start date. The alien bribery I don't have an angle on."

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"Spirit Bearers gain more magic as they use it. There's other factors and I don't actually know if that keeps going forever, but there are some immensely powerful Spirit Bearers. So I should keep getting stronger and learning new spells if I stay - psychologically stable and feel like I'm making progress on something. With enough loops I could get strong enough to be the bribe. Or to hack their computers and learn more about them, or take over some spaceships, or something."

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"How does your version of psychological stability work? We have that but it's probably different."

Permalink Eye

"From one or two bad days there's not much risk, especially if you have a support structure. If you're stressed consistently or depressed and not improving for a few months you can turn into a ghost-like thing, or sometimes an emotionless being that just goes through the motions of life. If you have anger issues and you get hurt badly but not quite enough to die, you might turn into a wraith and try to get revenge on everything in sight. Elementals are... When someone very powerful is under enough sudden stress to snap. They're extremely rare. Triggered by things like friends and family dying horribly, or the worst sort of breakups plus getting fired and vilified by the media in the same day."

Permalink Eye

"Yeesh."

Permalink Eye

"They do aftermath investigations whenever an elemental happens. It's always some kind of horrible. But they're very, very rare, and we can go through horrible things and not go elemental too. There were statistics about who's predisposed but I can't call the details to mind."

Permalink Eye

"Ours is pretty simple. Gem brightness," she displays hers, on her hand, "is a ceiling on mood, and if we get too sad, or just use too much magic, and don't offload taint onto grief seeds, we witch."

Permalink Eye

"...That seems like it's probably designed and closely linked to the result they want. Going from happy to sad gives them energy? Does it interact with other things like anger?"

Permalink Eye

"Not directly, unless you're the sort of person where your anger is tied up with sadness. The filled-up grief seeds are disposed of by giving them to aliens; I think sometimes they hatch them on purpose if there aren't as many witches as they want somewhere, but mostly they seem to take them away to use as fuel."

Permalink Eye

"I think we should research the grief seeds as much as Kaff and I are able to once we're in Winnipeg. I have a hard-to-describe sensory power, and asking him about it might let us learn something."

Permalink Eye

"Sure."

Permalink Eye

"Perhaps I should look at a witch, too, but that's probably unwise and risky. How do you find them?"

Permalink Eye

"We can use our gems to dowse for them. You might not be able to see them at all, regular people can't."

Permalink Eye

"You have time-themed powers, so I'm guessing you speed yourself up immensely or outright stop time to kill them? Following along and seeing if I can feel them should be relatively low risk, if so. Still a risk."

Permalink Eye

"If you count as a normal person they will kill you by inducing acute mental crisis usually resulting in psychosis and suicidal or violent tendencies."

Permalink Eye

"...And I don't have an immunity to mind-affecting magic up my sleeve."

Permalink Eye

"Sucks."

Permalink Eye

"Can't have everything. I'll stay away from witches."

Permalink Eye

"Yep, good plan. You're safe if you count as a potential magical girl but you'd have to get an alien to check that - how old are you -"

Permalink Eye

"About forty. I turned into a Spirit Bearer when I was eighteen, though."

Permalink Eye

"Eighteen's nearly too old anyway, they like the twelve to seventeen range mostly."

Permalink Eye

"It may be worth checking when we're out of other things to check. They might be able to tell something's odd about me, though."

Permalink Eye

"They don't have sensory powers that I know of or anything except what they use to tell how emotionally volatile potential magical girls are."

Permalink Eye

"Ah. I wouldn't describe myself as volatile. Though I do have strong feelings about things." Shrug. "I probably don't count. Even if I did, it may well interfere with my own magic. And even if it didn't, I wouldn't want to make a wish until we have a way to generate grief seeds without witches."

Permalink Eye

"Well, you do, but genies seem expensive and you'd need to get rid of the grief seed somehow."

Permalink Eye

"Yes and yes. And genies aren't reliable on that scale. I could never get one to promise to make me seeds forever, I'd need to keep doing favors and risk not having any around when I need one. Are fresh grief seeds safe? So I could store them."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not sure. But if it hatches the witch would probably starve if you put it somewhere without any people."

Permalink Eye

"And it doesn't get around the problem of removing used ones."

"...Kaff!" She shouts to the genie following about a hundred feet behind them, "Could you destroy or dispose of used grief seeds without releasing a witch?"

"I could destroy them. I do not know if this would release a witch."

Permalink Eye

"And I don't know either so that doesn't help."

Permalink Eye

"Well, it's testable if you had one to spare and I clear off a nice big safety radius. Again, risky. Seems like everything is risky."

Permalink Eye

"Yep. There's the car." She points at a car.

Permalink Eye

"Kaff! Time to be sneaky. Please follow us and try not to be obvious to other people?"

"Very well." The figure disappears. The breeze plays around strangely and carries a lot more dust than usual. "Good enough, you think?"

Permalink Eye

"Probably, yeah. You'll keep up with the car no problem?"

Permalink Eye

"I will tell you if you are too fast."

Permalink Eye

So Bella lets Tara in and drives to Winnipeg.

Permalink Eye

"Do you have any notes you would be willing to share that might give me more of a sense of things work here? Background info? You mentioned them just before I got the lie detection from Kaff."

Permalink Eye

"I have notes but most of them aren't designed for sharing and I should stay out of costume in public."

Permalink Eye

Nod. "I'll drop my raiment too. It makes light, so, when we're stopped. Drive safely and all."

Permalink Eye

"Good call."

Permalink Eye

"Common sense is one of my best features."

Permalink Eye

"It's good stuff. So how did you start, uh, bearing spirit -?"

Permalink Eye

"That's a bit of an unpleasant story. You want to hear it anyway?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, I guess you can save it if you don't want to share and it's not strategically relevant somehow."

Permalink Eye

"No, I'll tell you. There are four ways to become a Spirit Bearer. Get the power from a genie, from a nature spirit - I haven't explained those yet - from a monster that thinks you'll do harm with it... Or from the ghost of another Spirit Bearer. A ghost giving you the last of their essence kills the ghost, empowers you, and shapes your initial powerset like theirs. I met a ghost. Freddy. We actually became almost friends, but he was so, so sad. He wanted to give me magic. 'Someone who would actually make a difference to the world,' he said. I tried to get the government to help, tried to get a genie's attention so it could save him."

Sigh.

"I ran out of time. So. I let him empower me. I let my friend kill himself to get magic, even if he was going to fade away anyway... I probably nearly turned myself into a ghost thinking about it like that, but I've come to accept it."

Permalink Eye

"Ran out of time to -?"

Permalink Eye

"Ghosts fade away eventually. They don't get better. Or even stay the same. He started not recognizing me most days and that was when I decided."

Permalink Eye

Bella nods.

Permalink Eye

 

"...If you get magic from a nature spirit or a genie you usually make a deal to work for them, or some sponsor makes a deal for you. It's not magically binding, but there's a background expectation that you will be murdered by the genie or nature spirit if you renege. Monsters don't ask permission or make deals for power. You just suddenly find yourself transforming. Monster-created bearers are... Prejudiced against. Not entirely without reason, they tend to be violent criminals."

Permalink Eye

"That does sound like the sort of thing that would be worrying, yes."

Permalink Eye

"Yes. There's a social justice movement about it, but they are, on average, dangerous. And you got magic... Two weeks from now?"

Permalink Eye

"Ish. Fortysomething loops ago though. Not all the full month, I can reset early, but it's been a while."

Permalink Eye

"Only forty? Huh."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe it's fiftysomething now? It's not usually useful to memorize which one I'm on."

Permalink Eye

"Not keeping track, fair enough. But I was imagining thousands and thousands at least. Infinity is such a big possibility space."

Permalink Eye

"I think I would probably have some noticeable personality effects after that long!"

Permalink Eye

"Probably. I wasn't assuming anything either way on that. All the better that I found you so 'soon', so to speak."

Permalink Eye

"I appreciate it."

Permalink Eye

"Could you tell me a little more about how witches work?"

Permalink Eye

"They're like hostile pocket dimensions. With themes. There's little creatures in them, familiars, which sometimes leave and kill enough people to grow into full witches. If you go far enough in, there's a thing that's the core of the witch and you fight that - conventional damage applied with magic boosts is typical and most efficient, shoot it or stab it or whatever, although we can also zap things with magic damage. Then the pocket dimension disappears and you're back in the regular world. While a witch is active, there's an effect on people near it that messes with their heads in a way that causes deaths; suicide's common, murder's not uncommon, sometimes you get medical errors or plausibly nonsuicidal accident spikes or something like that. If you kill a full witch you get a grief seed; if you kill a familiar, even one that's out on its own, you don't - some magical girls basically farm witches, letting them kill till they're big enough to drop seeds. I think the witch themes aren't random - have something to do with the girl or her wish or how she witched."

Permalink Eye

"Is magic damage its own thing? It's a - category, for us. Magical damage only hurts magical things and just goes right through walls or whatever. It doesn't destroy things, doesn't even physically injure monsters or bearers, just makes us... Directly harmed, sort of."

Permalink Eye

"Magical damage is, I can shoot little jolts of purple light at stuff. Purple is my color, it varies. It damages physical things just fine and is somewhat more customizable than a bullet but not nearly as efficient on my gem charge. There is not a separate thing that is magic damage, there's just damage done with magic. Most girls get a signature weapon; I just get my shield and stuff guns in it."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Magical damage for us is all light and flash, like special effects. Still hurts though. We all get spears to start out with and can customize them to signature weapons later. I have a decorated staff, mostly just for looks. Kind of interesting how there's - similarities but differences."

Permalink Eye

"To an extent the local system was designed, both by the aliens when they set it all up and by each individual girl when she makes wishes that theme her magic and then uses it in ways that suit her. Is yours supposedly organic?"

Permalink Eye

"Supposedly. We don't know about the origins of it because spirits contradict each other and monsters really really like eating books and hard drives and such."

Permalink Eye

"They do? Why?"

Permalink Eye

"So many theories. They go for other things, just, it's information storage very noticeably often. Theories are - It's damaging to long-term growth. They hate civilization and the written word is the purest representation of that. Humans care about books and things and they want to destroy things humans care about. They just do because they're monsters. People expect them to and they conform to expectations."

Permalink Eye

"Yikes."

Permalink Eye

"Doing science at monsters and genies and spirits and bearers is usually only useful in a statistical sort of way."

Permalink Eye

"Individual personalities or just a lot of noise?"

Permalink Eye

"Lots of noise. And uncooperative experimental subjects. There are kinds of monsters - except for the big ones, only one each of those - and every one of a kind acts more or less the same. Genies and nature spirits all seem to have the same basic drive. Spirit Bearers are a lot more individualistic."

Permalink Eye

"- are genies and nature spirits technically monsters?"

Permalink Eye

"Possibly, but nobody defines them that way. If they are, they're very distant cousins."

Permalink Eye

"What kinds of monsters are there?"

Permalink Eye

"Too many to list but the most common... Goblins are dog-sized with sharp claws, very stupid. Moglins are big goblins with a modicum of tactical sense - they'll actually dodge. Ogres are the size of a car and don't attack people unless attacked, they eat everything in sight instead. Including, say, parking meters and trees. Trolls are the size of a house and tend to go for infrastructure. Bridges and tunnels. Gasballs are kind of insubstantial - sort of like Kaff - but eat away at everything like a cloud of acid. Stalkers watch a particular person for a while and then lure them into somewhere alone and kill them. Devil Hornets are foul little buggers, insect-like things that multiply rapidly when they have any chance to eat paper, sting causes necrosis. Harpies do hit and run, slashing at people from the air. Sandworms live underground and will pop out and eat things whole... That's all the kinds I can think of off the top of my head."

Permalink Eye

"How do the luring ones lure?"

Permalink Eye

"Mimicry. Pretend to be someone shouting for help in the woods, or the 'swamp gas' trick with a bobbing light, sometimes other things. They can scramble things like phones and radios too."

Permalink Eye

"Delightful."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, monsters really are. I think we do a fairly good job of keeping them out. Government-funded monster exterminators on a big scale. Monsters only sometimes beat car accidents for death rate. At least in the US."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. It's hard to figure out witch statistics - people do ever commit suicide and murder and so on without a witch prompting them, see."

Permalink Eye

"That'd sure confound it. Sometimes people say we attribute too much to wild animals instead of monsters. Also there's probably not a government program dedicated to witch statistics."

Permalink Eye

"It'd be hard, since we're secret, see."

Permalink Eye

"Yes. Maybe I'm biased but I think our way is better. Of course we don't have evil aliens watching, or need to hunt monsters to survive."

Permalink Eye

"In theory, the problems associated with my magic system could be destroyed at the source, which seems less accessible for you."

Permalink Eye

"It really isn't accessible to us. Science marches onward, though. We're only mostly immune to it, for example there are magic detectors that are becoming increasingly less like expensive, delicate lab instruments."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, nifty. I'm not sure if ours is detectable in principle or not."

Permalink Eye

"Very nifty... Whether your kind of magic is detectable by regular old physics in principle, you mean?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. It runs on emotion, which is not so far as I'm aware a subatomic particle."

Permalink Eye

"Could be some other secondary-effect indicator. We can deduce the presence of underwater things without directly observing them with sonar. That sort of thing."

Permalink Eye

"I feel like that's conceptually different but maybe."

Permalink Eye

"There are thousands of highly motivated and educated people whose whole job is attempting to combine science and magic and it took decades for us."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe one day we'll get somewhere with it. Maybe the aliens already have and will hand it over if I can find anything to bargain with."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe. Maybe maybe maybe." Sigh. "I wonder if my being here will cause more genies to appear, more spirits... It'd be on the scale of years even if it did, though."

Permalink Eye

"Uh, good to know that might happen, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"This has never happened before. There was a successful petition to keep all magic off the moon over contamination fears... Not that it'd stop a determined genie, but nobody has deliberately put a magical being on any other celestial body, this is a first."

Permalink Eye

"Is there some theoretical basis for thinking that might happen?"

Permalink Eye

"A lot of coincidences and trends of monster incidence, genie and spirit and bearer populations, immigration, and other factors that are not particularly convincing by themselves but together add up to a 'maybe there's something going on here'."

Permalink Eye

"Well, thanks for the warning."

Permalink Eye

"Once it becomes important to check, I can maybe remember enough about the magic detectors to build one."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds like a 'you should'. Can I have a blank notebook and a pen at the first chance we get?"

Permalink Eye

"Glove compartment."

Permalink Eye

"Aha. Very good."

She finds the named items and starts writing and sketching with occasional 'hmm' noises.

Permalink Eye

Bella drives the rest of the way to Winnipeg.

Permalink Eye

Tara finds a time to decostume at a stoplight along the way.

"...Hotel and finding a place for Kaff to hide. A parking garage would be a good candidate."

Permalink Eye

"Does it have to be unused? I don't know if I can get you unused."

Permalink Eye

"Kaff, you know how important it is to us to be sneaky here, right? If the aliens find us we might die and we will certainly lose a valuable opportunity."

"I understand. I am only thinking and talking to you and your friend."

"...I think an occupied one will be fine."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. I can find one of those. - Incidentally, if I come under attack by evil aliens who know too much I will reset without accounting for you to get away, I can't afford to dither."

Permalink Eye

Kaff gives an agitated gusting. "Will you warn us?"

Permalink Eye

"I probably won't be able to. I have had to do this on less than two seconds' notice before."

Permalink Eye

"I think it is too risky to stay. I do not want to risk death. Tara, I think we should leave as soon as I am able."

Permalink Eye

Tara looks vaguely terrified. "...The risk is small and can be made smaller by us being careful."

Permalink Eye

"It won't happen if you don't talk to the aliens. And I'm not going to, not this loop. But you really, really shouldn't talk to the aliens."

Permalink Eye

"I will not talk to aliens. There is still a potential for death. I do not need information from here. I do not like this risk."

Permalink Eye

"...Ideas?" she asks Tara.

Permalink Eye

"...Lean on my pristine reputation with genies? Kaff, genies can sort of be two places at once, right? Could you put a backup of yourself in a - an adjacent universe or something?"

"My trust in you is not the important factor. I may be able to do that. I would have to attempt it."

"And you don't want to try it because it would be expensive?"

"No. I will try it now."

Kaff's voice fades. And doesn't come back.

"...Kaff?"

"I am here."

"Did it work?"

There's hesitation in the genie's usually toneless voice. "...Yes."

"So you're not in danger if this universe suddenly deletes you."

"I would still be harmed. I would not die. This is acceptable and I will stay and make deals with you."

Permalink Eye

"Oh good. Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"You are welcome," Kaff says. "Humans are very creative. I am safer than I ever have been like this. But more limited in other ways. I am grateful."

"Very good. How grateful, exactly?"

"I will waive the work you owe me and consider myself significantly indebted beyond that."

Permalink Eye

"How much is significantly?"

Permalink Eye

"You seem to want debts of favor quantified every time. Very well. I owe Tara fifteen grief seeds for her insightful idea. I am willing to provide thirty grief seeds worth of magic to Bella in exchange for as much gold as I can carry. If Tara waives her right to have me return her home I will grant three grief seeds equivalent. I will listen to further proposals but offer less for them. Excessive magic usage in a short period of time will cause long-term damage to me."

Permalink Eye

"I have no domain experience and am compensating with quantities."

Permalink Eye

Kaff has no response to this. "Operating in quantities is probably a good idea even for me, for something this delicate and urgent. Kaff, what other things would you want from us for additional favor?"

"Promises of favors in the case that you save the world and I successfully return to collect them."

Permalink Eye

"Favors which would generally be in the form of getting information?"

Permalink Eye

"Gathering information or mundane resources or magical assistance. I expect you to have great power if you succeed. I would expect a correspondingly large amount of mundane resources or magical assistance if I wished to recall favors in this way."

"I don't think that's unreasonable, but if we save the world and meet again and we do not have large amounts of mundane resources or magical power you are not allowed to be upset when we cannot provide them."

"Very well."

Permalink Eye

"Does 'not being upset' cover here the same range of technically-non-emotional side effects that would be implied with a human?"

Permalink Eye

"Genies get something like angry if you're a particularly inconsistent sort sometimes, but they generally don't do jealousy, revenge solely for revenge's sake, that sort of thing. If they try to hurt you it's because you're in the way or might decide to hurt them or maybe they're curious about pain. I meant it as - accept that there is a possibility of this happening and adjust your expectations of the favors we will be able to provide in that case. Does all that sound accurate?"

"Yes," Kaff answers.

Permalink Eye

"Okay cool."

Permalink Eye

"And now we can start to think about things we want from our grateful genie. Would you be able to bring me into Bella's time loop?"

"No. I have not observed it happening. There is no example to draw upon."

Permalink Eye

"In the vanishingly unlikely event that I was able to warn you but not her about an imminent reset would you be able to do it?"

Permalink Eye

"Extremely unlikely. Not impossible."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"Genies are okay at stealthing things. They can do measures against direct detection like invisibility, but they can also do a sort of 'don't notice me' aura. How sure are you that the aliens only have relatively mundane ways of finding people?"

Permalink Eye

"They have magical ways but they're geared towards magical girls and witches. I don't think they have the imagination to have anything looking for you."

Permalink Eye

"Good. But what about you, do you think Kaff might be able to totally hide you if that seems useful?"

Permalink Eye

"Depends a lot on details of how the magic works. The aliens are a hive mind, for one thing."

Permalink Eye

"I do not expect magics intended to distract humans to work," opines Kaff. "Preventing detection entirely may be possible but I think it is unlikely."

"Ah well. You have less need of it anyway."

Permalink Eye

"Shouldn't be a problem if we play it conservatively."

Permalink Eye

"Perhaps not. I'm not used to stealth being a requirement, anyway, I think I would be likely to screw up somehow."

Permalink Eye

"Stealth isn't precisely complicated but it does require an unusual amount of attention."

Permalink Eye

"And, I would imagine, practice."

Permalink Eye

"Doesn't hurt."

Permalink Eye

"Mm. At any rate, we want things that we can keep between loops - information, which cannot be directly wished for but could possibly be found with magic item assistance. New abilities for me the same way Kaff gave me truth-detecting..."

Permalink Eye

“My magic persists between loops but we shouldn't lean too hard on that till you know if yours does, even if we phrase a wish to account for it. Up to you how strongly you want to assume it generalizes."

Permalink Eye

"...Good point. It's not precisely something I know how to do, it's something I can do and that might not persist. Do you ever get new abilities?"

Permalink Eye

"No, the thing that's preserved for me is gem charge."

Permalink Eye

"To clarify, your sort of magical people never develop new abilities? Or do they, generally, but you lose them when you reset, or what?"

Permalink Eye

"We keep the same basic capacities given enough charge to use them, but can learn shortcuts. Those are know-how-to-do things though."

Permalink Eye

"My magic is sufficiently part of me, part of my identity, that it feels like I would keep all improvement I manage in a time loop situation. I will keep in mind that I can't necessarily trust that feeling, though."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. The wording of my wish is not strongly suggestive either way."

Permalink Eye

"We'll see when we manage it. If we manage it. Makes things easier if I don't lose progress though."

Permalink Eye

"Yes. I really appreciate your interest in helping, incidentally."

Permalink Eye

"I appreciate you appreciating it. But it's just the neighborly thing to do. On a magical, inter-dimensional scale of 'neighborly'."

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

Permalink Eye

"I'm not entirely happy to be missing things I had lined up back home. But at the risk of repeating myself I'm definitely not walking away, not only do you need help, this is an opportunity to make a bigger difference than as an emergency responder. Even if my skills are not an ideal match for the role I am excited for a more dynamic and risky work environment with potentially great benefits." The last part is said sarcastically.

Permalink Eye

"The benefits are not nothing! But may be redundant with what you were already doing."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not going to demand equal shares of all proceeds, or whatever, but I do suspect that there will be benefits from saving the world. If we overthrow the aliens we will probably gain access to a lot of tech and possibly to whatever mechanism they use to produce the wishes, for example."

Permalink Eye

"I want the wish mechanism real bad."

Permalink Eye

"How are you planning to use it if you get it?"

Permalink Eye

"Depends on how it works. They're throttling how much of our own oomph we get to keep, wishes could definitely go farther per if we weren't powering an alien civilization, and the teenage girls thing is also an artificial limit, but I don't know how many restrictions I could dispense with that way."

Permalink Eye

"They picked teenage girls based on the level of emotion. Seems likely the wish mechanism depends on strong emotion."