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Nov 28, 2020 1:07 AM
Thorn in the Silent World
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"Even if we could do it, who's going to pay for it? The trolls are a menace and they don't have any money. The economics are not on the side of a reversal there."

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"They used to be people. Billions of them."

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"I understand that. But now they aren't meaningfully people any more. Whether you save them or not, wether it can be reversed or not, is up to you and not them."

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She lets her head thump against the glass wall. "Well. I'm sure a few groups would want to help a few - historians, if nothing else. I... I don't know. Maybe not. The idea that trolls can be anything other than hateful monsters is one I have only come to because the spiritually sensitive can hear them, and I know the history."

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"Well... I wouldn't give up hope just yet. If you can do it for a few, it'll snowball. The ones you save will want to save more, and so on. At least, at my guess. The issue is the first attempt."

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"Should I try to tell you what we might be able to offer?"

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"If you do, I can tell you what we might be interested in buying."

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"Well, there's the usual trappings of civilization, food and timber and handcrafts and boats and the like. Some of the more boisterous hunter clans would probably be happy to go to otherworlds and exterminate interesting new monsters there. Mages like me work magic through runes and seals painted onto things. Paper seals to ward off wild animals, or keep livestock from wandering too far, sell well in farm villages. The ones that work for trolls might work on other nasties, perhaps. We can give minor blessings that last for a few weeks - diligence, craft, love, health, crops, herds."

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"There are worlds that could use the anti-troll charms, and blessings of the kind you name are rare enough to be worth selling. There are definitely worlds with dangers not unlike yours. I'd like to meet one of your hunter clans; they seem likely to be the same kind of people as me."

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"Good thing there are a fair amount of mages, by the grace of the old gods. Makes us more able to afford things, at least on a population level, if we have useful skills. I can introduce you to the Eide clan when we get out of here. It's getting to autumn, and summer's the busy season for them, so convenient timing. They hunt trolls and beasts on land only, unlike others who hunt sea-beasts, and they're some of the best. Perhaps four hundred of them all told, all a grand family, with two hundred active hunters and scouts who form an independent military company. I hunted with them for six years, oh, must have been three or four decades ago. Norwegians like me make the best troll-hunters. Now Swedes, they're more about technology and fire. Just look at that train you followed in. Danes are obsessed with the Old World, if anyone wants to cure a troll and ask it questions it'd be a Dane. Icelanders are the best off out of all of us, if a bit soft. They managed to keep that island of theirs totally troll-free, and kept up more technology than anyone but the Swedes. As for Finns, I don't know. They've got a reputation for being insular, isolationist, and having a lot of mages of a strange type. I'm not sure what-all Finnish mages can do."

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"In one of my past lives I was an adventuring mage, one of the best. Reckless, jaunty, powerful enough that I survived the first two. Had more spells than the ones I'm carrying now in the tattoos. I was affiliated with a guild, I can barely remember their name now. But I had good comrades to fight with me, and the life was as exciting as it was dangerous. It suited me well. Scouting's not so bad after that. If it weren't for quarantine."

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"You get particular 'spells'? Ours is more freeform. Quarantine is a fact of life. Keeps everyone alive, just like grade-B cats hunting vermin-beasts. You won't have to sit through nearly as many if you get paperwork that says 'immune', though. Just to enter Iceland or if you go back into the Silent World, I think."

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"I understand the neccessity, I just hope you can be brought to a place where it's no longer necessary. Perhaps with transfers of immunity, or simply by wiping out all the trolls anywhere near the border. If that would be enough. This body is probably immune; it's built to exacting specifications. I do get individualized spells; I have exactly five right now, of which you know three. The fourth is this -" she holds up her palms and makes a spark dance across them - "and the fifth takes an hourlong ritual." 

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"There's not really much of a border, just a few isolated spots of safety. Slowly expanding over the years with the Cleansers' hard work. They burn and demolish everything, let the winter kill, and then come for another thorough pass in the spring, and it's still not considered 'safe'. Maybe eventually. -Oh! The cats! If you don't have trolls you wouldn't need them, but our cats are a little bit blessed. They're immune, and almost all very good at sniffing out the infection, with a natural drive to exterminate vermin-beasts like rats that could sneak past a wall and spread it otherwise. Grade-B cats are trained to patrol for rat-beasts and alert humans to the presence of trolls and beasts, and grade-A cats are bred and trained for military jobs - lookouts for hunters and scouts, looking for buried trolls with the cleansers. Sometimes they seem almost prescient. They recognize military insignia and report to the highest ranking person first, too."

"Hey!" She asks the guard. "Can you fetch a map for us to look at? Tape it to the wall or something?"

"A map?"

"Of the known world."

"Probably, sure. I'll ask when my shift's up." The guard shrugs.

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"My first reaction is to wonder if your cats are people. My second reaction is - I absolutely know people who'd want one, especially a Grade-A one."

"I'm familiar with what your world might have looked like before the collapse, but a map of what it looks like now would be helpful, thank you."

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"I don't think the cats are people. They don't have fylgja and they still act... Catty. Worth checking, I suppose. Mind talking about what kind of magic you used to have? And I'm wondering how you lost it. I can imagine that happening to one of us but I don't know anyone it's happened to."

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"I used to have real combat magic. Now the best I can do is fling heavy things using Levitate. Or use my pistol, of course. It's enchanted, so it's a decent second-best, but..." She frowns. 

"As for how I lost it... It's more like I refined it and stripped it down to reach something that was entirely part of me and would work anywhere."

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"Our magic comes from the gods. Freyja and Odin most of all. If yours is innate to your own soul, that is impressive."

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"There were gods where I came from too. They gave power to their chosen followers, when they prayed to them and lead their lives in their service. Then there were the people like me, with sorcery inborn, and the ones who earned it the hard way, also me. I had an edge, but I drove it as far as I could. One of my great-grandparents is a dragon. Still drops in sometimes at family gatherings, human-shaped of course. She is so pleased with my particular bit of the family tree."

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"I think I'd like to meet a dragon. Maybe once I have a few more of those Ka and sharpen myself up troll-hunting a bit again."

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"I hear the words 'I'd like to hunt a dragon' going carefully unsaid there. Some are decent people. Others are right bastards. I ended up hunting one once. Seasoned team of seven, three died, one had their soul trapped and lost. I was lucky. And skilled, I guess. But mostly lucky. We did kill him, though."

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She glares, but it's a light thing. "If they're not corrupting and hateful things, that's not actually what I mean. I end trolls' suffering. And giants are the worst sort of trolls. A dragon would definitely qualify. Smart giants are even rarer, thank the gods. I'd rather not fight one. I really did mean meet."

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"Some of them deserve 'corrupting and hateful', but I hear you on meaning meet. I could maybe arrange that with my great-grandmother sometime once all the formalities are dealt with."  

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"Seems like there's a lot to see out there. Folks here will want to see new places. Are ordinary products of civilization liable to be worth much? Books, tools, clothes, trains, incendiary devices? Unskilled labor? Or skilled in low-tech sorts of things, at any rate. I suppose if you buy grade-A cats for kroner instead of negotiating something else with the academy, you'd have to get the kroner from someone."

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"Most unskilled labour is of little interest to the OTC, but it's always seeking more volunteers to bear the costs of sacrificial magics. Pain, most commonly. As for material goods - most things that aren't highly exotic are extremely cheap for the OTC to make."

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