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Apr 08, 2020 11:26 AM
Leareth in Cascadia
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Lev is in his study looking for a confidential file.

You are not, in general, supposed to lose confidential documents. But the floor of Lev's study is covered with layers of books he bought, books he accidentally stole from the library, papers, files, dissertations, forms signed and unsigned, pens, batteries, broken laptops, and similar detritus. If an archaeologist wished to do an excavation, he could come up with a pretty good reconstruction of Lev's career from his floor. 

And so there is a file that contains the personal information of the last dozen traitors the Eyes caught in a sting off Closet; it was supposed to be on Lev's desk, with the other things he is working on; it is not on Lev's desk; he has no idea where it is. He is pretty sure it is somewhere on his floor and was not walked off with by a Canadian spy or a member of one of the dozens of half-hearted resistance groups. He is not sure at all, however, that the Eyes will agree, and he does not at all want to be subject to his own work. 

You are commanded to pray without ceasing. For once in his life, Lev is following a commandment. He is praying without ceasing that he finds this file.

He thinks darn, considers the situation, and then escalates to damn

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The Gate feels wrong from the beginning, but Leareth remains calm and finishes the casting. A modified Gate-spell that routes through several other planes, in order to avoid detection and cross shields, is bound to feel odd – and will be a powerful tool in his arsenal, if he can sort out the problems. 

This time, it works. He can't actually see the destination, though, only a shimmering curtain. Intriguing, but not alarming. Checking his personal shielding a final time, he steps across. 

...Definitely not his personal cache in the South. Leareth staggers, about ten times as drained as he ought to be from a five-hundred-mile Gate. The light from the threshold behind him winks out. 

The room isn't completely dissimilar from his record-keep; it has more than enough paper, though without any of the organization. The decor is unfamiliar, and the man currently bent over searching the floor is wearing clothing that doesn't look right for any nation on Velgarth. Even stranger, his Othersight finds no hint of ambient magic – no set-spells, no artifacts, not even natural flows.

Still, Leareth is an immortal 2000-year-old mage, with all the attendant experience, and his poise isn't easily shattered. He clears his throat, even as he Reaches out with a mental probe, checking the stranger's mind for shields. 

"My apologies," he says, in the common trade-tongue. "I appear to have come here by accident. I did not mean to intrude." 

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Lev yelps. 

His mind is completely unshielded. He's thinking oh Jesus oh Jesus oh Jesus, halfway between an expression of surprise and a prayer, and then he thinks it's probably just a LARPer who's lost. (The word "LARPer" is linked to a concept of people who enjoy dressing up in clothes like Leareth's and hitting each other with pretend swords made of some material Leareth finds unfamiliar.)

"You need to get out of here, I work with the Eyes," he says. "I'm not going to report you, I know it's an accident, but you could get in real trouble being here." ("Real trouble" comes along with a half-visualized image of a face contorted in pain and blood dripping down someone's side.) 

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Leareth...is very confused. Based on the man's utter shock, though, stealth is a lost cause. He might as well be upfront, without revealing any more than he needs to. 

"I will leave as promptly as I can," he says, exerting significant effort to stay upright. "I think that my Gate may have traveled further than I intended, and I require a moment's rest." He's starting to worry that he might need a lot more than that, given that he still can't find a node or ley-line anywhere nearby to replenish his reserves of mage-energy. "If you know of somewhere with stronger ambient magic, I can depart sooner. Also, what kingdom is this, and who or what are the Eyes?"

He keeps his probe resting on the unshielded mind, hoping to pick up answers to his questions even if the man – Lev? – isn't willing to speak them.

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Lev briefly considers then discards the hypothesis that the LARPer is staying in character and concludes that this person is probably schizophrenic and (the sound of screams and sobbing) definitely does not need to be found by the Eyes particularly those of the Eyes who believe in spiritual warfare against demons. He then notes the man's relatively organized speech and expressive face, which is unlikely although not impossible in a schizophrenic or other psychotic. The man also doesn't know where he is or what the Eyes are-- some weird form of brain damage, maybe? Lev considers how stupid he would feel if God dropped someone who could actually do magic in the world and he assumed they were psychotic right away and didn't check. 

"...I was not previously aware that there was magic in the world. Is there a way you can do magic for me right now-- preferably something very obvious, like levitating something-- so I can confirm it with my own eyes?" 

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Leareth blinks. He seems to have landed in a place where a clearly well-educated man hasn't heard of magic. He knows of kingdoms where magic is banned, considered taboo, but none where a person would consider insanity and extreme dedication to some sort of game-play as hypotheses before thinking to run the obvious test – and not actually expect him to pass it. 

Well, if he has to be accidentally stranded somewhere incredibly distant, at least he's been lucky enough to stumble into someone smart

"Will this do?" he says, summoning a tiny mage-light in his palm, then sending it to hover in the air between them. "I can demonstrate a shield or an illusion if you wish."

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He hears himself say "no, that's fine, I don't want you to use up more of whatever resource you use to do magic before you know whether we can replenish it here" but mostly he's thinking magic! magic magic! magic magic magic magic magic!!!!!!!

...Or alternately he's gone terribly insane but if that's the case presumably it will be sorted out soon enough.

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...That was easy. Leareth doesn't expect most people to so readily change their minds in response to new information. A pleasing surprise. 

"That is considerate of you," Leareth says. "The energy I use for small magics such as this, my body will replenish naturally with food and sleep, so you need not worry." Finding enough power to Gate home – in what he's starting to expect is an entirely different world that, as far as he can tell, lacks magic entirely – is another story, but he can figure that out later. Secure the immediate situation first.

"I gather these 'Eyes' are some sort of local authority," he says, "that will not respond well to my presence? I would prefer to avoid any conflict, and I do not wish to jeopardize your safety either. Is there a different place I should be?" 

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"...okay, so, the first thing we need to figure out is whether your magic comes some neutral feature of your dimension-- I assume you're from a different dimension entirely, we know enough about physics to know our universe doesn't have magic -- or from God or from" (a woman's voice crying please please please I'll say anything just let me go) "demons."

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Leareth is increasingly concerned about the local governance situation, which he puts aside for now. If it proves necessary, he suspects that blood-power would still work here, and he is skilled in mundane hand-to-hand combat. He would prefer not to have to kill Lev in order to fuel his defensive spells. 

"A sensible question," he says, looking around for a place to sit. "In my world, magic is a natural force, fueled by energy that is produced by living things and other phenomena – it does not come from the gods, though they make use of it for their own purposes. Demons can be summoned with magic from the Abyssal Plane, but are not its source. I can directly perceive mage-energy, as can anyone in my world who is mage-gifted. It appears that my magic has the usual effects here, at least for small spells. However, I cannot see that there is any ambient power, aside from what I have in my reserves." 

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All right, so he's probably not going to be in danger from the Eyes just because he does magic, although when he meets the Eyes Lev is not going to introduce him to Christine, just to be on the safe side. 

Lev tries to think of a good reason to get out of his office. There's a camera, and almost certainly no one's watching, but almost certainly is not certainly and he doesn't want this man to be introduced to whatever bored Eye happens to be on duty and watching a random psychologist's office today. And if they decide to lie about something he does not want taped evidence that they lied. Leaving now is suspicious, but a transcript of everything he's saying is worse.  

"We should get you some food to help you replenish your magic," he says, and hopes like hell that either this guy's magic includes telepathy or he's used to working with the secret police. 

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Leareth is not at all happy to pick up from Lev's thoughts that records are being made of their discussion. He is also increasingly curious about the apparent capabilities of this civilization. Given the lack of magic, how are they implementing watchers and listeners at a distance?

Lev's surface thoughts do not contain enough context to figure out what a 'psychologist' is, or why Christine is especially concerning. He is, however, pleased by Lev's situational awareness. 

"Food would be appreciated," he says, for the benefit of the watchers and listeners. He tries to catch Lev's gaze. "I am going to try a different spell, to see if it works here." 

This time, instead of merely brushing Lev's mind with his probe, he Reaches deeper. Mindspeech with the un-Gifted isn't easy, but back in Velgarth, it is possible for someone with his skill. 

:Can you hear me?: he sends. 

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He briefly grins but manages to turn away from the camera before it catches any of it and put on a neutral face before looking away is suspicious.

:Yes. If the Eyes think you're making deals with demons they're going to torture you and then kill you. It'll be safe to talk at the restaurant.:

 

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"Did it happen?"

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Leareth keeps his own face neutral. "I am afraid not." 

:I am glad to have that information: he sends. :Again, I apologize for any danger I may be causing you. I will of course use my full capabilities to defend both of us if any befalls you as a result of my presence: 

Not a particularly costly promise to make – he has no intention of giving up his one source of information, and given the lack of power, his prospects for Gating back without a local's active cooperation seem poor.

Although, he is starting to consider whether he wants to Gate home at the first opportunity. His plans are at a stage where they will keep in his absence, and each new fact he learns is more alarming. It is possible this world requires his intervention more than his homeland, right now.

:Is this way of speaking tiring for you?: he sends. :I would like to better understand these 'Eyes' and their role in your society – and your position here – but I will wait until we reach a safe location if you prefer: 

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:Doesn't seem tiring right now but I'm not a great actor so we should probably wait until we're at the restaurant anyway, I'll make suspicious facial expressions. Glad it's not limited, I was trying to send you the most important thing.:

"I'd ask what you want to eat but I am pretty sure you have no idea what the kinds of food here are. Uh, spicy or not spicy, meat or vegetarian-- probably we don't have the same sets of spices at all--"

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"Are there many vegetarians in your world?" If so, it's among his first positive impressions of this place, aside from Lev himself. "I am not particular. My main preference is not to walk far, unless there is another kind of transport available – do you have horses here?" Gates aren't normally this draining, but he supposes it makes sense that Gating to another world would take a lot out of a person. 

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"...oh man, medieval guy, you are going to love cars. --Do you have a name? I'm Lev Aarons."

Lev walks out of his office, quietly pleased that they made enough small talk that leaving was not obviously suspicious.

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"You can call me Leareth." He follows Lev out of the room, into a hallway that also looks like nowhere he's ever seen. "What is a 'car'? Or is it simpler to wait and see for myself?" 

He is busy wondering how to tactfully bring up 'does your civilization need to be conquered by someone who will run it better'? Lev Aarons so far appears to be a surprisingly open-minded specimen of the human species, but this is still a potentially awkward subject for a first meeting. 

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He bounces. 

"I get to explain cars to someone! This is so cool!" (They get a weird look from a passing undergraduate.) "Let me think what you know-- so you know how wood stores energy that becomes fire? All animals and humans do. In the past, in our world, there was a worldwide flood, and a lot of animals were crushed under the rock so intensely that their bodies turned into this very very energy-dense substance called oil. We put it in machines called cars. Uh, this is wrong but it's close enough to right to give you an idea-- we light it on fire and this makes a cylinder of metal rise, the same way that fire sometimes makes a piece of ash float in the air, and then we put it out really quickly and the cylinder drops, and that turns the wheel, and so you can have transportation that goes very very fast without any horses. Incredibly fast. I can go as far as a person can walk in a day in-- uh, our time system probably isn't the same-- in less than the time it takes you to have a meal, and that's not even going particularly fast."

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"--Sorry, I used to be a teacher and I miss it."

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Leareth, to his own surprise, finds himself smiling. “No, no, please, you need not apologize at all. It was an excellent explanation. Very clear.” And flavored by the obvious delight in Lev’s eyes and surface thoughts. “You were a teacher? I am sorry to hear this is no longer your profession, then. You would be skilled, I think.”
He pauses - no reason not to say it, really. “I wrote a treatise on systems of education, once. A long time ago.” In another lifetime. Many lifetimes ago, in fact.

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"In this culture, people who study academic subjects to a high level also teach less experienced people. But I graduated and now I'm a psychologist-- that's a person who studies brains-- for the Eyes. I'm blessed to get a chance to serve God in such an important way."

He thinks loudly and very deliberately, I torture people for a living. Or, not directly. I look at their files and figure out the best way to torture them. 

"I'd be interested to talk about your treatise! Psychology is, unfortunately, one of the areas where our society has not advanced much since your technology level."

Same loud deliberate thought, with a touch of longing: Since you can read minds, I'd expect you'd be more advanced than us. 

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Leareth takes a long moment to gather his thoughts. He has a feeling that pressing Lev on exactly what kind of being his 'God' is and why he feels obliged to 'serve' Them isn't a safe conversation to have in public. He's known plenty of priests, of course, but this isn't – he can't figure out how Lev thinks or feels about it. The disconnect between his spoken words and his deliberately projected surface thoughts...

"The difficulty with my world," he said, "is that our institutions of scholarship are limited. I have my personal research programs, of course," and for now he could elide over exactly how many centuries those had been running for, "and some nations, at various times, have had their own organizations. However, we do not exactly have a comparable field to your 'psychology'. The total number of people who have the powers that I do is small, and most are occupied in other roles, most often military."

He smiles slightly. "If I had a reliable method of travel between my world and yours, I would lend you a Mindhealer whom I have worked with. She is very skilled, and this is much more her field of interest. I can perhaps answer some of your questions, though." 

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"...yes, that'd probably happen. About one percent of our population is engaged in growing food, so there are a lot of people who can just study. --Although that doesn't actually mean we know more than you, for complicated reasons."

:I don't know what a Mindhealer does but it's probably a good idea to keep you reading minds secret for now, though.:

They are now approaching Lev's car.

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...Leareth stops walking, because he really, really should have thought of that, just because they're no longer in Lev's workplace with known listeners-at-a-distance doesn't mean no one is listening now. He's being sloppy

Stopping dead in the middle of the path is going to look suspicious too. Leareth struggles for a cover. "One percent? How? That is – I think there is no kingdom in my entire world with less than three-quarters of the population engaged in farming."

He forces his legs to keep moving, and Reaches again, which takes substantially more effort than it should. :You are correct. I was not thinking: 

Which is uncharacteristic, he generally isn't prone to sloppiness, not once he's used to a new body. Maybe he's more fatigued by the Gate than he realized. Does his mind feel sluggish? Hard to tell, but then again, his mind is exactly what he would use to notice. 

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