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Apr 11, 2021 4:02 AM
Runecaster Margaret in Velgarth
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"The short version is 'my own carelessness'; the longer version is that I got dropped nearby by an artifact that didn't come along with me."

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"You poor thing, how inconvenient. Hmm, let me think what we'd better get you to borrow - you must not have a nightie to sleep in, we can get you one. I'll have a think, in the meantime you can learn the language some..." The woman is leading her back down the hallway in a different direction, and then down some marble stairs.

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"Thank you." She memorizes the route so she can get back to her room later, and also get a sense of how the building is laid out.

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Based on the angles of corridors and stairs, and the places they pass with windows onto courtyards and gardens, the building is a complicated arrangement of linked wings; the part they're in is vaguely shaped like a letter 'H' but the overall structure could be more complicated. It seems like she was initially on the second floor, on the upper right limb of the 'H', and the hall is downstairs and in the crossbar. 

...The hall, when she's led into it, proves to probably take up at least two storeys worth of height, actually, with its tall arched ceiling painted and decorated with bas-relief carvings and frescoes. There's a large decorative fireplace, not currently lit, and more crystal glowing globes hanging from long chains, and some varnished wooden tables - some long, some little and round. It's not heavily occupied right now but there are a cluster of people, dressed in clothing that's probably fancy for the era and tech level, sitting at one of the long tables and talking over drinks. 

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She takes a seat at the next table over, on the far side of it so she's facing the talking people, and tries to hang around picking up vocabulary in a way that does not look like the totally different activity of loitering and eavesdropping.

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They notice her and there are a lot of sideways glances but no one interrupts, it seems like sitting alone at a table is taken as a signal that this would be intruding. 

They're talking in a slightly different accent and dialect of the Predain tongue from the one in the other city's inn, but she can still catch a lot of the words. They seem to be mostly arguing about whether an upcoming marriage between two acquaintances known to the group is one they approve of. 

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She soaks up grammar and also incidentally cultural context on what things people approve and disapprove of and suchlike, and smiles shyly at the people who give her sideways looks.

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Eventually a pretty serving-girl in an apron comes by and asks - in the Predain language, but she can half understand the phrase by now - if she would like anything to drink, or lunch? 

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"Lunch--" ah bother, conditionals, "is good, thank you."

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The servant bobs her head, and shortly later Margaret is brought some lunch! There's fish stew with interesting foreign spices, and mushrooms in cream sauce in a separate dish, and a salad, and a tall glass of slightly-fizzy-fermented cider. 

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Excellent. She can tell she's going to miss dessert if it isn't a common thing here, but unfamiliar food is exciting and fun. She eats and thinks about what things are likely to be good inventions on this tech base and how to go about getting paper. Maybe there's a library somewhere nearby where she can learn more context without anyone having to spend time explaining things; if not maybe it's because she can invent the printing press. 

When she's finished, she looks around at whether there's somewhere people are bringing their dishes or if you're just supposed to leave them on the table like at a restaurant, and once she's done whatever the customary thing is she goes off to explore the building a little. She doesn't go anywhere that looks like it might not be a public area, and if it's not clear which areas are the non-public ones she'll just go back to her rooms.

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Most of the doors in the hallways are locked or otherwise look non-public, but most of the gardens and courtyards are easily accessible! The flowers here are less sad and straggly; there are some interestingly foreign-looking trees, and also ones that look exactly like the pine trees and apple trees she knows on Earth. 

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Margaret has not traveled widely enough to have confident guesses whether any of the plants have no Earth equivalent, but it gets her thinking about the nature of multiple worlds. The biology suggests that this world diverged from hers at some point, but the telepath didn't recognize Earth's continents. That's not really proof, though; maybe they just don't have accurate maps of the whole planet or that person hadn't seen one. Or maybe this is alternate Australia and they draw their maps the other way up. She has no idea whether any of this speculation will help with designing a way home, but it's interesting to think about.

Eventually she goes back to her room just because it's somewhere she's definitely allowed to be and also if anyone is looking for her that's probably where they'll look.

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No one is waiting for her there, but someone has supplied her writing desk with a generous stack of paper - in various sizes including very big - and an array of pens and different-coloured inks. 

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Awesome! She starts writing (very small, to save paper) notes on ideas for interdimensional travel and rune math and incantation drafts for the communications items and a list of things to invent (indoor plumbing, the telegraph if it seems likely to be better than mass-producing magic comms items, the printing press if they don't have it, various appliances backed up by her infinite electricity artifacts . . . )

It's well past a sensible dinnertime when she realizes that she needs to eat; after some hesitation she pulls the bell anyway. Hopefully whoever answers won't be annoyed.

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They do not seem annoyed at all, and bring her a meal promptly! Dinner is - pig feet in sauce? And some vegetable that looks vaguely like asparagus, with cheese sauce on it, and bread, and it comes with watered-down wine in a jug. 

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Pig feet? Really? She supposed it's not objectively any grosser than eating any other part of a dead pig. And it tastes alright. Also the fact that both drinks have been alcoholic suggests that one of the other things she should invent is the concept of boiling your drinking water.

She works a bit more and sleeps and works some more and gets breakfast and finishes a first draft of a diagram for communication items, and an incantation that could be refined further with more information on what UI Ma'ar wants but should, if it works at all, be pretty serviceable as is. Now she just needs a work room and two relatively durable objects to enchant. For this first try she'll just get a pair of uninteresting rocks from one of the gardens; she plans to make them turn on and off at a tap and a word so they don't need any moving parts.

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In the morning shortly after breakfast, the older woman who first set her up with a guest-room is back. "I have a Work Room set aside for your use only, if you're ready to come see it now?" 

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"I am!" She picks up her rocks and her diagram (which unfortunately has to take up a whole sheet of paper or it won't work) and follows along.

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The Work Room is two floors down, in the basement, but otherwise not too far away. The woman unlocks a heavy oak door and then hands Margaret the key, "hang onto this." 

The room itself looks a lot like the Work Room in the guard-house - bare stone, windowless, with an oddly sound-dampened feel. No furnishings at all. 

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Key goes in another cargo pants pocket. (She has finally gotten secure enough in her room to let the rune dictionary out of her sight; it's currently under her bed.) "Thanks!"

No furnishings and stone everything is perfect, because it means fewer things to prevent bad things from happening to. She sets the paper and the rocks down on the floor and chants, in French because she hasn't had a chance to test Tantaran incantations yet and she's used to thinking about French with the right kind of precision anyway.

And now she has magic rocks! She checks that they work the way she was envisioning and have decent sound quality; she can't tell from in here if they have sufficient range, but if they don't that should just be a matter of a bigger diagram.

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The servant woman left her alone to do her magic work and no one is there to react particularly to her success. 

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That's eminently reasonable of her! Hmm, how to get a lower bound on the range without a second person . . . is there a courtyard with a nice long open space around here?

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The long one is the length of the crossbar in the 'H' of the building wings, about a hundred yards, though there are some raised flowerbeds in the way rather than it being totally open. 

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That's more than long enough for her purposes! She sets one down and walks away talking to the other; she gets out of earshot of the first one before it cuts out. Then she tries putting it near a bigger rock and chucking pebbles at said bigger rock from increasingly long distances, but her aim isn't good enough for this to be much improvement on the first thing. Ironically, if she hadn't specifically exempted sounds that come out of the rock from being transmitted by the rock she could test the range trivially by listening for the feedback, but feedback is really annoying. Eventually she concludes that she's definitely not going to be able to test whether the range is long enough to reach wherever Urtho is so it doesn't matter much, and goes looking for someone who might know the appropriate way to schedule a meeting with Ma'ar or send him inter-office mail or whatever.

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