Orbiting a planet, there is a moon. On that moon, there is a castle. In that castle, there is - well, a lot of things, many of which will become relevant shortly. But for the moment, let's focus on a particular cell: it's stone, with one wall in metal bars and a door hanging slightly open, and it has a wood bench big enough to lie down on in one corner. In that cell, there is - no one, for the moment.
"Well, if you act on a vague intention to walk away from the village, you generally decide to come back at some point. If you're determined to get as far away as possible, you might get lost and find yourself back in somebody's orchard on the outskirts. If you've got a really good sense of direction, you'll probably run into some beasts that'll non-obviously but consistently herd you back. And if you're very determined to go exploring, and you're paying very careful attention to what direction you're going, and you got a couple of your friends to go attack the beasts in the other direction so they can't spare any to send after you, or if you've got the firepower to take them down yourself, you wake up at home in your bed with memories that get increasingly fuzzy from when you set out."
“This really sounds less like ‘you only have one town, and don’t have any children’ and more like ‘someone is luring people of a particular age in, wiping their memories, and preventing them from leaving’.”
"Yes. I mean, I'm not entirely sold on baby people, but we've figured something along those lines for a while. I always thought it was Lady Arteinal behind it but she was monologuing at me about how she was going to 'break our chains' and 'free us from our edenic prison' while she strapped me down. Great concept; can't say I'm a particular fan of her methods. But I'm glad most places aren't so isolated."
“For reference, I currently consider it likely that the people being trapped in your town are being exposed to a very particular set of plants, such that you’re not actually running on a different magic system. It also seems likely that I’m still in my own world. Any chance that the portal leading out of here doesn’t lead to the one town?”
"Well. It leads to the forest outside the one town."
“Are there any portals that don’t lead to quote unquote edenic prisons. That’s mostly a rhetorical question. Do we have any other options.”
"If there are I don't know about them; I've never been to the moon before."
"If you really wanted, we could in fact stay here. - We've been waiting for long enough that I think I can write off the possibility of my magic refilling all the way ever again, so I'm going to be rather handicapped in the combat department, but you seem to've got some skills there yourself and the fact that there's two of us is a literally unprecedented advantage. - On the other hand. Possibly I should be worrying about - other side effects."
“You did accidentally stab me. With your hand. And react to a salamander like it was Barbara the Destroyer in a fancy hat.”
"Not actually what I was referring to. The claws are new; so's the hearing - about conversational level is the same, but I can catch things that would've been too quiet before - I've been able to hear your heartbeat this whole time, for example, it's very distracting - and loud things are much moreso, and worse when they're startling. And I expect there's probably some tendency to panic on top of that just from, you know, the general experience here.
"But - when girls go to the moon, it's with the intention of disabling some of the queen's power source and buying the rest of us planetside a bit of a reprieve in the frequency and power of beast attacks. Sometimes this works, and she comes back triumphant, and sometimes it works and she doesn't. And sometimes, it doesn't work at all, and in a few weeks we get attacked by an unusually powerful, vaguely humanoid beast that usually manages to severely injure at least one witch or a couple farmers before everyone's collective efforts can take him down.
"Without the context I've now got, it was plausible that the queen made those from the power she harvested from captured witches. Now it's pretty clear she makes them directly from the witches themselves, and I'm not sure where in the process the bit where I decide to start serving her ends and attack everyone I've ever loved happens, or whether it already has. I don't know if it's safe for me to go home but on some thought I'm pretty certain I don't want to give her any more of a chance to deliver me orders than I have to."
“- could you give me a more detailed portrait of this person’s motivations.”
"Insofar as I know them - she probably has the capability to destroy us all, but hasn't. She controls the beasts, possibly imperfectly. She stays on the moon almost always; I hadn't seen her before I came here and we - collectively, this was before my time - didn't know she existed until the first witch came through the portal and back. She's been around longer than anyone still in the village except a few farmers. She frequently sends small attacks of beasts to destroy crops or agitate livestock or harass people, and less frequently sends larger ones that do more harm. She seemed - fond, in a very condescending way, of me, in a way that didn't seem unique to my specifics - I think she viewed me and the rest of the witches she's got ahold of as a pitiable but necessary sacrifice. If she becomes aware I'm missing, I'd expect her to attempt to recapture me, and if she learns of your presence here I'd expect her to want to get you too, and would probably use me to do it if she has the ability. I don't know what she'd do with you if she managed it.
"- Those were more descriptions of her actions than her motivations, but I think any conjectures on the latter I'd make would be at best shaky."
If this person is self-admittedly likely to be compromised, and the enemy is capable of memory manipulation, his reaction to the thought ‘this whole situation doesn’t make any sense’ should probably be ‘then maybe it isn’t true’.
He probably shouldn’t let on to this.
“Did she strike you as behaving basically rationally in pursuit of her unknown goals, insofar as rationality can include... that, or did she seem outright unhinged.”
"The former, I suppose. She has been doing basically the same sorts of things for - you keep using decimal - almost a century now, in a way that to me suggests she can stick to a plan and isn't just messing with us on her whimsy. - Also, can you grow just plain food; I left home more than a day ago - maybe two - and haven't exactly eaten regularly while I've been here."
“Would you settle for something supernaturally nutritious.”
Thirty seconds pass.
Chocolate glazed strawberries in the shape of donuts are apparently delicious. Om nom.
Om nom indeed.
"Thanks much. I know what chocolate is but haven't encountered whatever's underneath it; don't know which side you'd count that for on the question of whether this is a different universe. It's quite good, though. - And that reminds me, I think I figured out why you were making my magic act flaky earlier."
“I’m named after it; it’s a strawberry. Oh?”
(They mouth 'straw berry' as separate words under their breath somewhat confusedly.)
"Well, all the things that've worked have been things I did directly and by myself, and the things that didn't were the ones where I would've been nudging your soul into doing it for me. So you must just not have a soul, I think, or if you do it's not made of lyss or something lyss can interface with."
“I do in fact have a soul.”
"What's it like?"
“- heartfruit trees live for sixty six years. They steadily produce baby people during that time. After sixty six years pass, they die. Inside their stump, there’s a witch, with the soul of that heartfruit tree in them. It’s ambiguous whether non-witches have souls, but witches do in fact have a separate metaphysical organ that does magic and persists after death, or with the removal of a heart, and it’s also clear that we run at least some of our cognition on it.
It sounds like you have an unrelated metaphysical organ situation that may or may not have most of those traits and may or may not be the result of magical kumquats or something.”
"I'm aware that I'm not exactly well-positioned to evaluate whether we're from different universes, but I'd like to register that it feels like if we were from the same one the things you keep saying would seem at all sane. What are hearts for you guys; I'm betting those are also unrelated."