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Generated: Mar 09, 2021 6:08 PM
Post last updated: Mar 09, 2021 6:07 PM
protecting what they want to take
Runecaster Margaret in Velgarth
Permalink Mark Unread

Margaret doesn't usually have magic accidents. But this time she was holding her whole rune dictionary and also an unlabeled thing she found in the magic shop, and she really wanted to see what the thing did as long as it wasn't fatal, and now she is somewhere unexpected. If it turns out that the thrift shop thing was a teleporter that'll be kind of disappointingly redundant but not actually a problem. 

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She's standing in a field of what looks like unripe barley, a bit scraggly. Over thataways is a farmhouse; visible further off in the other direction is - some sort of stone aqueduct, maybe? It keeps going on and on until it vanishes into the distance. 

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This could be any of six different continents, which is pretty exciting. Well, no, it can't be Australia; it's nighttime in Australia right now. But the easiest way to narrow it down from there is to pull out her phone and . . . okay, she's somewhere with no signal, which she probably could have guessed from the architecture.

She stores her current location in one of the empty slots on her teleportation ring. Theoretically she could teleport home and investigate this later, but that sounds less fun than doing it now. She walks over to the farmhouse and knocks on the door.

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A swarthy-skinned farmwife with her dark hair in braids answers. Her eyes go up and down Margaret's face and body, and she blinks and looks surprised and puzzled.

"May I help you, ma'am?" she says, in a language that doesn't match any that Margaret knows. 

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"Do you speak English? Parlez-vous Français?" She's going to look like the most clueless tourist of all time but she kind of is the most clueless tourist of all time so that's alright.

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Both attempts get only baffled headshakes. The woman is looking so curious, though. Eventually she gestures that Margaret is invited to sit down in the rocking chair on the patio, and attempts to mime asking her if she would like something to drink. 

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How hospitable! Margaret attempts to mime that that would be very nice, thank you.

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The farmwife bobs her head and smiles, nudges Margaret to sit down, and then ducks inside and emerges with a tall glass of milk for her. She stands there hopefully for a moment, awaiting some sign of approval, and then heads back in presumably to get something else. 

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She takes the milk and smiles and says "Thank you" in the hope that tone of voice will be understandable where meaning isn't.

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The farmwife seems to understand this; she smiles brightly and bobs her head again and pats Margaret fondly on the hand, then goes in. 

The fields are quiet and peaceful. Off in the distance, somewhere, a donkey brays. 

- the door creaks open again, and then there's a loud crash as the woman drops the tea-tray with a teapot and biscuits that she was carrying out, hot tea splattering and china cups breaking. 

A glowing threshold has just appeared from nowhere, and men in uniforms are streaming through. 

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Oh crapThat's enough blatant magic that it almost has to have something to do with her. Time to get out of here. She tries to teleport back to the saved point in her garage.

Nothing.

Oh crap.

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The first quartet of men spread out and form a perimeter; then another two men in uniforms with a lot more gold braid on them follow, and approach. One of them takes the lead, his body language indicating strongly that he's in charge. 

He stops five yards from the patio; his eyes play over the cowering housewife and stop on Margaret. He barks something to her in the same unfamiliar language, his expression cold and demanding. 

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Margaret considers turning invisible and running away, but they're blocking her teleport (and how is anyone on earth other than her capable of that?!) and invisibility isn't likely to do much better. She holds up her hands in the universal gesture of those who are out of options.

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His expression softens slightly, and he turns and calls back something to the glowing threshold which is still there. 

Another man steps through. Looks around, then focuses on Margaret.

:Can you understand me?: he says. The voice is definitely in her head and not her ears. 

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She tries to think :yes: back at him and also nods in case that doesn't work. She's still uncertain whether this is something to do with her being a dragon or whether she's being very hypocritically arrested for teleporting where a human might see but being able to communicate at all will probably help.

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Some looks and some more mutters in the foreign language are exchanged. 

:How did you travel here?: the man with telepathy-or-something asks her. :And - from where...?: Pause, while he glances at the leader. :You set off an alarm: he adds. 

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:I teleported here. From--the United States.: Better not to give them enough information to find her family if they can't do it without her help. :I didn't mean to trouble anyone.:

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:The "United States"?: (Bemused and also slightly pitying look.) :What country, um, or what sector of the continent is that found in -?:

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Whaaaaat okay time to re-evaluate everything since she got here. Possibly she is in the extreme middle of nowhere. Possibly she is on a secret critter island that hasn't interacted with the human world for hundreds of years. Possibly she has gone back in time or into an alternate history or something.

:It's in North America, it's west of the Atlantic Ocean and east of the Pacific--does this telepathy do pictures?: She tries composing a mental image of a slowly spinning globe with the United States highlighted and trying to put it where the telepathy can see it.

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It seems like the telepathy does do pictures, but this doesn't help at all! It just gets her an even more nonplussed look, and some foreign mutters, and then the leader among the uniformed guards reaches for her arm. 

:I think you had better come with us: the telepath-guard explains. 

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:Okay. . . . Where am I?: 

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:Northwestern Predain?: the guard says to her, confusedly. :Where were you expecting to be?:

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Well, at least that isn't 'the secret kingdom of Atlantis, where dragons are illegal' or something. :I knew I was lost but I was expecting to be lost somewhere that was publicly known to exist on Earth in the year 2005.:

It occurs to Margaret that her teleport failed not because these people were blocking it but because she has gone too far for it to know the way home. Now she's a little less scared of them and a lot more scared in general.

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The man seems to recognize neither 'Earth' not the year. He doesn't ask, though, just ushers her across the glowing doorway; there's a moment of disorientation and then they're somewhere else, in a room with walls of unfinished wood.

The initial leader among the Guards lingers for a moment, exchanging some foreign words with the farmwife and patting her shoulder reassuringly, before slipping across, and then the doorway-to-somewhere-else vanishes and there's sudden, uncertain silence. 

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It's good that they don't seem to have decided the farmwife was her accomplice or whatever. She isn't sure how to ask whether she's under arrest without giving the impression of a guilty conscience, so she just sort of stares around awkwardly for a bit and asks, : What's going on? Why did you want me to come here?:

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:Well, it sounds like you're, er, pretty lost, and you don't speak the language. And we need to put in a report on the alarm we responded to, it's protocol, so I have to ask you about what kind of magic that was, and all that. Do you need anything first, though - food, water, to sit down for a minute...?:

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:I'm alright, thanks. I can tell you most of what happened on my end, but I don't understand all of it myself. Also I don't recognize the kind of magic I saw you doing at all, so you might not know anything about my kind.:

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That gets her a bemused look. :Really. Well, if you can tell me your side of things, I suppose we'll see what our mages can make of it: 

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:I bought a magic artifact in a store, and the shopkeeper didn't know what it was and I didn't either, so I pushed the button on it to find out what it did, and suddenly I was outside near the farmhouse where you found me. I thought I had teleported to somewhere else on my own planet, because that's a thing I know is possible. I haven't heard of anything like the way we're communicating now or like the portal thing you did, but I don't know everything that's been invented.:

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The guard frowns intently as he takes notes. :I...see. So you just - used a magic artifact without knowing what it'd do, that sounds - unsafe: He looks pretty unimpressed! :Do you still have the artifact with you?:

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:I was aware of the risk but I was expecting the effect to be very small-scale; most artifacts are. Unfortunately it didn't come with me.: She's not especially impressed with herself either, honestly; if she's actually stuck here that's going to be unpleasant and she should have been more willing to suppress the thing.

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:I've certainly never heard of one that did that! You - think you're on another planet now?: His expression is that of a man who has just run into something far, far above his pay grade and is kind of wishing it would go away. 

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:Well you didn't recognize my planet, and I've never heard of Predain. I guess I might be in the past or the future or something.:

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The guard nods. He has no idea how to assess which of those bizarre implausible scenarios is more likely! Or which would be more concerning for Predain! 

:I - think I need to bump this up to my superiors: he says, apologetically. :I could get you some tea or something while you wait? And then I expect they'll want to send a mage with the right training to ask you questions about the magic: 

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Anyone who knows anything about runecasting is going to take one look at her level of recklessness and peg her as hiding something immediately, but if this is another planet maybe they have different magic or probably they didn't have exactly the same war. :Okay. Sorry for being complicated.:

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The guard takes her to a different room, a sort of waiting area with some armchairs and a window overlooking a scraggly lawn. He offers her a seat and brings her a teapot and cup plus milk and sugar on a tray. :There you go: 

People come and go, most in uniform and looking kind of harried. 

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This is kind of a lot of police officers or possibly soldiers for the middle of nowhere. Margaret sits and drinks a little bit of the tea and tries to look like the harmless kind of bizzare magic accident.

She doesn't want to try teleporting out again because she wants to look nice and cooperative and not like she's trying to run away, but she really hopes she can get back to Seattle somehow. Her parents and Bella are going to think she got herself killed. (Bella would know what to do in this situation. Bella is empirically better at escaping magic police than she is. Bella is the coolest and smartest person and Margaret already misses her.)

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It seems like it might be a shift-change rush; the movement slows down after a few minutes.

A man sticks his head out of an office, calling out in the same foreign language. "Oy, Travers, you can read Tantaran right?" 

     "- Yes, why?" The answering voice sounds suddenly more stressed. 

"Don't worry, not an emergency, just, we got the original bill of sale for the new inventory, and it must be from down there. I can't read it." 

     Gusty sigh. "Coming, I'll be right there." 

The man in the office, who's older with greying hair around a bald spot, shoves a yellowed piece of paper at the new arrival, a tall younger man with a mop of curly hair, who unfolds and squints at it. 

    "One bale boot leather, two bales broadcloth - blue - two bales canvas..." he reads off, slowly and haltingly but otherwise perfectly understandable to Margaret. 

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What? That's not English and it's not French and she didn't speak it yesterday but she does now. Now that she knows where in her mind to look for it there's a whole new vocabulary in here, wow. What was that artifact? And should she tell someone? She doesn't want to interrupt but it might be relevant to how she got here and also she doesn't want to eavesdrop on people who think she can't understand them and might be mad when they find out. She compromises on raising her hand like she's in class at home and hoping it's a comprehensible enough gesture.

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The older man notices. "Yes, miss, can I help you...?" he says. Unfortunately, he says it in the previous unfamiliar language.

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"The magic accident that brought me here seems to have also taught me Tantaran," she says in Tantaran. "Um, I don't know if that's relevant to anything."

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This earns her looks of bafflement and alarm! The two men exchange some rapid-fire foreign words and then the older guard-officer leaves and the tall young man approaches her, fidgeting. "Miss, you were - waiting to talk to a mage about an accident you said happened, yes?" he says, in halting Tantaran. 

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"Yes. I was--somewhere very far away, and couldn't speak Tantaran, and then I had a magic accident and appeared near here and I just realized I speak it now. It's not an emergency, I don't think, I just thought someone might want to know."

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He tugs at his tunic sleeve. "No, not emergency," he agrees, but he's not quite meeting her eyes. 

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"Sorry to bother you." She can't tell if the side-eye means he thinks she's six kinds of idiot or if he's thought of some implication of her new fluency or what. She'll just sit here and try to come up with Tantaran/French puns until she hits the top of someone's priority queue.

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After this point it doesn't take long! 

A new person arrives, a woman, somewhat out of breath and in a different uniform - not fancier, exactly, but he's wearing robes instead of a tunic and pants - and darts into the office with the older officer. They lock the door and, one assumes, confer briefly. 

The woman slips back out. She looks about forty, her dark hair showing a few streaks of grey and pulled back in a tight bun. "You speak Tantaran, yes?" she says, less haltingly than the other young man. 

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"Yes."

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There's another rapid exchange in the local language. 

"Did someone from Tantara send you," the woman says, flatly. "Don't lie. We can tell." 

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"As far as I know I have never interacted with anyone from Tantara. I'm from a planet named Earth." 

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(The mage who is also a Thoughtsenser cannot, in fact, tell if she's lying; the stranger was apparently able to think back answers to the Mindspeaker before, but right now she's shielding almost perfectly.) 

"I see," she says. "Tell me about 'Earth.'" 

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"That's a big question. Um, we have six billion or so people. There's not a lot of magic and what there is is secret from most people. We have electricity and airplanes and a tiny bit of space travel. Is that the sort of thing you want to know?"

It occurs to her belatedly that "Don't lie. We can tell." might mean she has magic lie detection. If all it's doing is detecting lies, that's fine; she wants to leave things out but not actually say any falsehoods. (This train of thought does not make her any less opaque to the Thoughtsenser.)

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That gets her a startled dubious look. Then another one, and a double-take. "- Six billion? ...Also how do you keep magic a secret from most people?"

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"It's gone up a lot in the past century, yeah. And magic is kept secret by being careful not to do any in front of someone who doesn't already know. There are magically hidden towns where people who want to do a bunch of it live."

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"How odd. What kind of magic hides a whole town, exactly?"

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Margaret wonders if it's in some sense illegal to explain that, but this person clearly knows about magic and Margaret is legitimately uncertain as to her species, and also if they don't swap magic explanations how are they ever going to get to the bottom of this.

"Some people used to be able to make the inside of a building or a cave or whatever bigger than the outside, so you could fit a whole town in one building. Nobody has made a new one in a while; the knowledge got lost."

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That gets her a boggle-eyed stare, and some mutters with the others. "That - is not possible given what we know of magic," the mage says. "Even in principle, I think, it is not just that we do not know how - unless it is a somehow Gate to another plane, I suppose, does that sound right...?" She seems very doubtful that this would make sense. 

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"I don't think so? I don't know enough about Gates to say, but I think if there was an earthquake near an Avalon they'd still feel the shaking. Also we don't have any other way of interacting with other planes except I guess the thing that sent me here."

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"Can you tell me more about the artifact that sent you here?" 

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She can describe it's physical appearance, egg-shaped with a pushable button, and that she got it from a magic shop and the owner of the shop didn't remember where he had gotten it from, and that most magic items that turn up abandoned and unlabeled in shops do either nothing or something pretty trivial.

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"Hmm. Did using it require you to have magic of your own?" 

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"Not as a magical matter; most of them have rules about who's allowed in but anyone can physically go through the door."

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"- Oh, you mean the magic store had that rule?" The woman frowns. "Do you have magic of your own - is there magic you can do here as well -?"

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"The magic store was in one of the towns that had that rule. I have some magic but I don't know if it works here." Probably any of it does or she would have appeared in fullform, and wow is she glad that didn't happen. "Um, side question, does this planet have the concept of people who can talk and stuff but aren't human?"

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Blink. "Oh, yes, of course! There are hertasi, though few in Predain, the climate is too cold for them. And the Mage of Silence has his gryphons." She grimaces about that, for some reason. "And some other species, including ones who're probably native instead of created by mages." 

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"Okay. My world has more species than that but only humans are common knowledge."

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"Mmmhmm." The woman seems less interested in this part. "Er, can I get you to try checking if some of your magic does work here? ...Not if it's dangerous, of course, although if it's fireballs or something we have shielded Work Rooms you can do it in." 

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"I can do that, but doing anything new would be potentially dangerous and also require hours of prep work. I can try testing the artifacts I have on me; I have a ring for invisibility and one for teleportation. I could turn invisible for a few seconds and then turn back?"

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The woman nods. "I'll watch you doing that. I - mainly want to see what your magic looks like, to us, and how different it is." (This seems like a good way of checking the strange woman's story about being from another world somehow, as well as getting more information about whether she's a threat.) 

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"Okay, trying it now." She says an unfamiliar word and disappears (to ordinary vision; it's clearly visible to Mage-sight as a brief flash of magic from one of her rings), then reappears with a different word and another flash of magic a few seconds later.

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"That certainly doesn't look like anything I've seen!" The woman is staring at her, now impressed and curious as well as worried and tense. "What's the power source for it?" 

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"Turning something into a magic artifact requires drawing a really precise diagram and speaking a precisely-worded incantation and then it works from there. For a bigger effect you need a bigger diagram so I think the power comes from the runes somehow. Spell effects that aren't attached to an artifact wear out but ones on artifacts last a long time."

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"Runes? Can you explain what those are? I'm - not sure that's part of how our magic works." 

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"Yeah, I think we just have completely different stuff going on. I actually have a book with a bunch of runes in it; I was holding it when the artifact sent me here." She pulls the book out of her biggest cargo-pants pocket and opens it to a random page. Each rune has a shape, with the lengths of lines and the angles between them labeled, and a list of meanings like "fire" and "border" and "life" that the runes have different amounts of. "Also, actually doing anything with runes is really dangerous, like lots of people have died trying it dangerous, so please don't go experimenting."

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"I'll keep that in mind," the woman says dryly. "Huh. They don't look magic at all to me." 

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"That doesn't surprise me; they only do anything when written in the right kind of arrangement and spoken at with the intent to do magic."

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"Hmm. I - do think I need to watch you cast one of them, then, in the Work Room. Which would be fastest and least dangerous?" 

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"I could do one that just makes something glow? The reason it takes so long is that all the runes have a bunch of different meanings, and you need to set them up to cancel each other out so you're left with only the meanings you want, and then draw the diagram really precisely. I'll need a sheet of paper about this big," hand gesture of about ten inches, "and something to write on it with, and some more paper for working out the math, and ideally a ruler and a protractor if you have any."

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Nod. "Yes, of course, I'll work on getting you all that." 

It takes the guards a while to rustle up all the requested supplies, but they do eventually hunt down a protractor and ruler as well as pen and ink, and then the mage leads her down some stairs to a stone-walled windowless room, with an oddly dampened feel. She lights it with a mage-light hovering at ceiling-height. 

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She wonders if the protective magic on this room would actually help at all if someone other than her failed at runecasting in here, but there's no good way to find out. She braces the paper against the most convenient flat surface and does algebra and then geometry. It's not very interesting to watch.

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It's in fact very boring to watch! But the mage is very dedicated to her job here, and she leans against the wall and watches, Othersenses on alert, checking when any of the paper and math on it starts to become magical. 

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The runes start being magical when they're written in the actual diagram structure instead of on the scratch paper, but very--quietly, like they're dormant. 

Eventually Margaret says, "I'm done. I can try making the pencil glow now."

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"Sure. I'm watching." The mage leans forward, quietly hoping to herself that the payoff is worth it for all this standing here, her feet hurt. 

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Margaret sets her pencil down on the diagram and says some incomprehensible stuff and the pencil starts glowing, all over with a uniform green light. To mage-sight, it looks like the runes stop being dormant, dump a bunch of magic into the pencil (where it remains), and then become as utterly inert as a child's drawing.

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"....Whoa," the mage breathes. "I'm - I don't know where that energy came from -" She would ask Margaret to do it again but she's not sure that would actually help. "How long will it keep glowing for?" 

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"I did one of these over a year ago and it's still going."

She'd mention the infinite electricity artifacts, but one, she doesn't know that they even have electricity here, and two, she's still nervous about explaining how much she can do and why.

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"Hmm. May I borrow that pencil for a bit to, er, show some people? I can return it to you after if you want." 

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"Sure, go ahead." It's not even Margaret's pencil in the first place.

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"Could you give me a really quick overview of what sorts of things the other runes in your book could do?" 

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"Hm, it's pretty freeform and there are definitely things that I don't know are possible--manipulation of heat and light and sound, including seeing things far away, and teleporting and making spaces bigger, and healing and other biology things, and," yup no Tantara word for electricity per se--"uh, controllable small amounts of lightning, and detecting other magic, and at least one person could walk through walls but I've never tried it."

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The mage scribbles down some notes. 

"All right, I'm going to take you back to - hmm, somewhere you can make yourself comfortable, we might be asking you to wait a bit. Have you eaten recently?" The mage leads her out of the Work Room and back up the stairs. 

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"No, I haven't." She went from breakfast to a while of being busy in her workroom to being too confused and scared to consider food, but now that she considers it it's subjectively a long time past lunch. Also she's probably going to turn out to be interdimensionally jetlagged. "By the way, what time it is here?"

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"Late afternoon. We'll get you settled somewhere and bring you lunch, all right?" 

She takes Margaret back up to the waiting area, and then has a long conversation with the older Guard on shift, in the foreign language. It sounds as though finding Margaret somewhere comfortable to stay is complicated.

Eventually the mage comes back out and walks with her, out of the Guard-station into the middle of a bustling but visibly very very low-tech city - the road is cobbled with ditches for sewage along the edges, the people are on foot or occasionally riding horses, there's no sign of electric lighting - and leads Margaret across the street to what seems to be an inn.

(Another of the Guards follows, keeping a discreet distance but obviously intending to supervise Margaret.) 

"I'm sorry, no one here is likely to speak Tantaran," the mage says to her, after talking to the innkeeper and bringing Margaret up to a room. "I'll have them bring you food, and if you need anything else you can - mime, I guess, or I can tell you how to ask in the Predain tongue for food or water and things...?" 

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Oh no, sewage ditches. They probably aren't going to have toilets and showers like she's used to, either. Ugh. (She tries not to let any of this show on her face; it's not their fault. Maybe she can invent indoor plumbing.)

"Learning a few words of the local language would be good; I'll need to learn it eventually and I'm good at languages."

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Then the mage will stick around for a few more minutes, even though she seems to be quite impatient at this point, to give her a list of basic phrases and let her repeat them back a few times to correct pronunciation. 

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"Thank you! Sorry for taking up so much of your time; I'm sure you didn't have 'help extremely lost person' on your schedule today."

 

Once the mage is gone, Margaret saves this location over the earlier one and tries teleporting home again. Still nothing. She eats her dinner and flops on the bed and misses home and wishes she felt sure enough she wasn't being watched to transform.

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The guard stays outside her door, though he doesn't watch her directly. No one else bothers her that night, except a chambermaid coming in to empty her chamber-pot and ask if she wants a bath (miming it, but also the mage taught her the word for 'bathing' so she can recognize that.) 

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She wants a shower and to go home "Yes, bath, thank you."

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The bathing-room is unimpressive but the copper tub is clean and the maid does all the work of toting buckets of hot water for her, and gives her a fluffy towel and soap that smells reasonably like normal soap, and then mimes to ask if she wants help scrubbing her back. 

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She can scrub her own back, thank you. Being nude in front of a stranger and not having any money to tip her with are new and exciting vistas of embarrassing but at least she's clean. She goes down to the common room to get some language immersion. Hopefully "selling magic items" is a reasonable way to get by in this society and she'll be able to find her feet while she works on a spell to get home.

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It's a big enough city that people are fairly friendly and curious about the exotic-looking stranger, rather than mistrustful, and when she manages to get across the concept of 'selling magic items' they seem to recognize this as a known thing, and smile and bob their heads. She gets some language immersion. The guard watches her from across the room, but isn't very intrusive and seems apologetic rather than hostile about the whole thing. 

After that she can go to bed. 

...Rather early the next morning, there's a loud knock on her door. 

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Probably the mage again, or someone from the same police department/army/she should really figure out who is detaining her and under what conditions they would stop. She opens the door.

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"Margaret, right?" a different man says, in Tantaran. "I need you to come with me. Do you have anything to pack." 

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"I don't," she says and follows him. 

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He doesn't even lead her out of the inn, just takes her arm and raises his hand and another of the glowing doorways forms on the door to her room, and while the young Guard who's watched outside her door all night watches, he leads her through into somewhere entirely different. 

There's a long hallway panelled in nice wood, lit by - glowing crystal globes set into the ceiling? There are some tapestries on the walls. It doesn't look higher-tech exactly but it's certainly a lot fancier and cleaner. 

"Follow me," the man says, not unkindly, though his grip is still firm on her arm. 

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Yup she's going. The glowing doorways are pretty neat and she wonders if the local magic is learnable.

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He leads her down the hall and opens a door into what turns out to be a rather nicely appointed meeting room, with a round mahogany table and padded chairs and a window with flowers in a vase on the windowsill. "Have a seat. Could I get you anything to eat or drink while we wait?" 

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She's kind of too nervous to eat again and some of the nervousness is specifically about not knowing what the attitude of this person is towards her and how it would be affected by asking for things. "I'm okay, thanks."

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"If you say so." He gives her a 'suit yourself' sort of shrug, and sits down to wait.

After a little while he gets up again and rings a bell, which summons a servant in a neat red-and-gold uniform, and he asks her for tea. 

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And shortly later a man knocks on the doorframe before coming in. "I apologize for the wait. Margaret, right?" He nods to her and extends his arm. "A pleasure to meet you." 

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The mage who brought her here looks very intimidated. 

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She shakes his hand and reflexively says "Nice to meet you too," which definitely goes against her decision from a couple days ago not to lie but whatever.

Also, Ma'ar's mage-sight is good enough that he can see the subtle ongoing effect of some sort of magic on her body, centered on something tucked into her shirt.

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He doesn't say anything about this to her, just smiles, brief and tight. "Well, do have a seat. I am Adept Kiyamvir Ma'ar, advisor to King Arrak of Predain. I wanted to speak with you personally, since, well, it is hardly every day that a person with powerful magic arrives from another world."

He sits, layering his hands in front of him, and waits to observe her response to this. Also tries to read her mind, though per the report he got they weren't having any luck with that yesterday. 

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Nope. It's like her mind isn't anywhere he can point his thoughtsensing at.

"That makes sense. I don't know how much other people have told you; do you have specific questions?" Margaret has lots of questions but isn't asking any of them because on top of all the existing reasons to be anxious there's now a king peripherally involved.

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"My understanding is that you came here by accident via a magic artifact of which you did not know the purpose." (If he thinks this makes her very stupid, he's not showing it.) "Your world has some magic, including very powerful magic, but it is kept a secret from most people. Your world's population numbers in the billions and they have advanced non-magical technology including the ability to travel to space." He is faintly but visibly awed by this. "You for some reason speak the Tantaran tongue but deny having been there first or sent by them for any reason. You do not know a way to return to your world, currently. Am I missing anything." 

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If she doesn't bring up critters at this point it's going to be really conspicuous when it eventually comes out. "That's most of the important things. The other big difference is that most of the people who know about magic have the ability to turn into a different shape--one per person, what kind runs in families. It doesn't sound like this world has that." At least not publicly or commonly; she's seen enough people now that if this were an Avalon someone would have been going around in midform.

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"Really! Fascinating. We have other species but none who can shapeshift forms at will - the closest would be elementals of other planes, who can be summoned into construct-bodies." 

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"Are the other planes like the difference between here and my world? Places with different magic that you can only get to with magic?"

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"Sort of, but - more different, I would say. For example, the Elemental Plane of Fire is an extremely dense, high-energy, 'hot' place - it is not really full of the kind of fire our world has, but it is extremely hostile to human life, the kind of being that can live there is extremely different. Whereas you - look to my eyes just like humans here." 

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"Yeah, I haven't noticed anything--fundamental about this world being different other than the magic."

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Ma'ar nods. His expression is serious again. "Do you have any explanation for why Tantaran is the language you arrived here with, presumably by some kind of magic, and not our local tongue which would have been of far greater use to you." 

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"I have no idea! I didn't even know giving someone a language was a thing anyone knew how to do with my kind of magic." Note to self, figure out if magically-acquired Tantaran counts as a non-native language for magic purposes.

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Ma'ar nods. Looks into the distance for a long time. 

"I believe you are telling me the truth," he says. "In part because your magic is very obviously foreign, and I do not see what you have to gain by lying about any of the rest. So I am going to fill you in on some of the context, here, for - why your arrival attracted the level of attention it did, here in Predain." 

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"That would be--good. Thanks."

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"Tantara is a neighbouring kingdom. Led, currently, by one of the most powerful mages in the known world, Urtho. He was Archmage and led the greatest academy of magic in the world, before. I - studied there, in his Tower, once, before returning to help my homeland. About a year ago, he - unexpectedly invaded. We are now at war." 

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"Ah. I can see why that would make--my showing up--frightening. I apologize for scaring people. I don't think this Urtho was involved." Maybe he had some kind of hand in making her show up in the specific place with the specific language she did but she doesn't see how that would benefit him except maybe as a distraction, and if he could interact with her universe that easily he would be doing something more useful.

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Ma'ar sighs. "I am sorry for frightening you with our reaction, if in fact you were frightened. It...is a very stupid and pointless war, honestly, and I would prefer we were not fighting, but Urtho has been uninterested in negotiation so far." He rubs his chin; in that moment he looks very tired. "I - cannot force you to do anything, of course, but if you are trapped here, then - perhaps we can discuss if I can help you research ways back to your own world, in exchange for your aid with our war." 

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Oh boy, what is a diplomatic way to tell an extremely intimidating person that she has no way to tell which side of the war is the right one or if there even is a right one and also that she has about as much interest in joining an army as she does in eating a pint of expired mayonnaise, and also she might not in fact have a choice.

"I'm--not trained to fight, at all. I. If there was a way I could help make peace I would try, but. I'm no soldier."

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"Oh, I would not ask you to be a soldier. That is highly unlikely to be the best use of your magic. My greatest hope is that you might have some way of sending messages, or otherwise allowing secure communication with Urtho, so that I can try again to sort this out. Or -" he frowns, taps the table for a moment, "...or perhaps that I could - tell Urtho of your existence as a peace offering, he adores the study of magic and might be very tempted by the chance to talk to you... Though I am not sure he would allow himself to give in to temptation even then." He looks her in the eye. "And, of course, I understand that you have only my word for all of this and, if you are a smart person which I hope you are, you would not want to participate unless you had verified some things for yourself." 

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Oh, thank goodness, that's more understanding of her perspective than she was worried he'd be. "I want to do--things that would be good things to do no matter which side of the war I landed on. Passing messages sounds like the sort of thing that's a lot more likely to help than hurt."

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"Yes, I think so, and also - I want peace, I want us to no longer be at war with Urtho, and at this point I think that almost certainly requires winning it first, but I would prefer if it did not cause any more death and property damage, since both of those are bad." 

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Nod. "Wars are awful. I think I can figure out a way to send and receive messages. If I did it as a pair of objects where any sounds made near one came out of the other, would it be possible to get one end to Urtho? And would that be the sort of thing that would help?"

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"I am not sure it would resolve everything that is causing our communications blockage, but - I think it is at least worth a try." He smiles, or at least attempts it; mostly he looks stressed and exhausted. 

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"Is there anything else you want to know? I'm sure you're very busy." Margaret wants to know where she's expected to stay long-term and how she should go about exchanging labor for money and/or food and paper and how free to wander off she hypothetically is, but there's sure to be someone less simultaneously busy and intimidating she can pester about it later.

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"I want to at some point know everything that you, personally, can do with your world's magic using resources you have here or that we could provide for you. And of course whether you need special setup so we can arrange that. I have upcoming commitments, though, so it could make the most sense to have someone set you up with a guest-room and you can write it up for me? I read Tantaran well; I am not sure if the magic gave you the ability to read and write it too? We ought test that." 

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"That all makes sense. I can visualize what Tantaran words should look like written down but I suppose it's possible I've got a completely wrong version."

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He gets her a piece of paper and a pen from a nearby cabinet. "Show me?" 

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She writes "This is a sentence in Tantaran." and then the alphabet. Her handwriting is a little slow and ugly because she isn't used to the letter shapes but it's definitely readable.

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Nod. "- Yes, I can read that, though I cannot claim to understand at all how the magic works such that I can." He stands up, tugs the bell-rope again. "Do you have any particular requests for your accommodations here?" 

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She has no idea what her options are and what's reasonable to ask for at this tech level, and really what she mostly wants is to not be under surveillance all the time but if she's going to get that it won't be by asking. "Not especially? Somewhere with a window would be nice."

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"Very reasonable. Yes, of course, and you ought feel free to ask for anything more if you think of it." 

A servant in uniform arrives at the door, and Ma'ar exchanges some back-and-forth with them in the Predain tongue, at which point they leave and come back with an older woman who speaks some Tantaran. 

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"So I'm to find you a guest room, yes, dear?" the woman says to Margaret. "Follow me, we can have a look at a few of them so you can pick your favourite. 

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Margaret will examine guest rooms with relative cheerfulness. In addition to a window she's hoping for one with a writing desk, but maybe they don't go in for desks in bedrooms here.

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The guest suites she's being shown have multiple rooms, actually! They're small and cramped and old by modern Earth standards, but she can have one with a window in the bedroom or one with a window in the parlor sitting-area; the one with a window in the bedroom has a writing-desk in the second room. Both of them also have a third littler room with a bathtub in it.  

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Her point of comparison is a bedroom in her parents' house, so in terms of space that's primarily hers it's not much of a step down except in terms of bathroom quality. She picks the one with the writing desk, thanks the woman, and asks if she knows how Margaret should go about getting meals, expecting the answer to be some variant on a shared kitchen or a cafeteria.

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"Dear, you just ring the bell here and ask! - I'm afraid most of our staff won't speak Tantaran, but you can request someone who does if you've a hankering for something in particular instead of just 'breakfast', I suppose." 

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"Oh! Thank you. Um, are there places I can go where there are people around talking, so I can listen to the local language and try to learn it? Also is there a room I should go to to do magic experiments?"

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"Ooh, you're a mage! Goodness. I - will need to get permission to unlock one of the Work Rooms for you, but I'll do that right away. For the language... Hmm. We don't have a lot of diplomatic guests right now, there's the war you see, but if you want to join the Court for dinner in the hall, I can show you over there." 

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Oh no, a court. Probably less scary than being ignorant of the language indefinitely. "Only if it wouldn't be impolite. And thanks for helping with the work room."

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"You're very welcome! Did you want to go over there now or have some time to get settled in here first?"

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"Now is fine; I haven't really got anything to unpack," she adds with a wry smile. The lack of a second set of clothes and a toothbrush has not stopped being unpleasant, but she knows how much fabric cost before the mechanical loom and she wants to be of some benefit to someone here before she asks about clothes.

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"- Goodness, dear, how did you end up here without any of your things?" 

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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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The servant she finds in the hall can take a message for Ma'ar, and let him know that she wants to schedule a meeting! She'll probably get a note in a few candlemarks with the time for it. 

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Cool. She brings the rocks to the meeting, and also her tech notes, though who knows whether he'll have the time or interest to look at them.

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He wants to look at them first, actually, after a very quick initial glance at her rocks. He's visibly fascinated and has lots of questions about how it works. 

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That's about how Margaret would feel if someone showed up from a place with higher tech than hers! She can explain sewage systems and internal combustion engines and the telegraph and some of the things electricity is good for. She doesn't have the procedural knowledge of how to build most of the stuff, especially on this tech base, but she knows what general materials and capabilities are needed. Also this is how the germ theory of infectious disease works; is that consistent with local knowledge and observation?

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Ma'ar thinks that it is! He suggests that she talk to some of the Healers, though, it's not his area.

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She would be happy to talk to the Healers! Is he interested enough in any of the other things to provide materials for them? Also does he have any problems that look amenable to engineering solutions, there might be something she hasn't thought of where she can combine technology and magic for useful results.

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He's especially interested in the telegraph and would happily provide materials for it, and electricity sounds very broadly useful. He'll need to sit down and think about which of Predain's current problems are engineering-solution-amenable. 

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She'll happily work on inventing the telegraph in the meantime. (And on making the case for better sanitation to the Healers, though she doesn't mention that.)

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Ma'ar thanks her for her time and dismisses her to go back to his other work; he asks her to make a list of all the materials she'll need for that project, someone will be by later that day to collect it and schedule a time for her to talk to the Healers. 

Someone is, in fact, by a few hours later. One of the palace Healers will meet with her tomorrow morning, if that's all right? 

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She writes up an equipment list. Mostly she needs wire; a few meters for a prototype but eventually kilometers and kilometers of it to make a network between everywhere that will use it.* Also something to make and break a connection between two wires repeatedly very fast, which can be like this or like this or like that depending on what's easiest to make.

Tomorrow morning would be an excellent time to talk to a Healer.

*She gives this in Predain units but also starts outlining a paper on the metric system, because that's good too and doesn't require any materials.

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Getting her a prototype length of wire is easy, they can do that by tomorrow; lots of it will be harder but they have time to figure out a system for making it more efficiently. For making-and-breaking connections, they'll send over one of the mages who specializes in fine-detail metalwork and have them work on it with her? 

The next morning, a woman of about forty arrives and knocks on her door. "I'm Healer Norma," she says in fluent Tantaran. "You wanted to consult with the Healers on something from your world?" 

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"Yes, hello! People in my world have figured out a lot of stuff about the causes of disease and how to prevent and cure it without magic, and I thought you might find some of it useful."

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Norma smiles. "Oh! Fascinating! Does your world have Healers too, then, or something like it?" 

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"We have doctors. They don't have magic, but they have lots of different devices for seeing tiny things and the insides of people's bodies, and they've tried a lot of things and learned what works and what doesn't. How to tell similar diseases apart, what treatments work and their side effects, stuff like that. I might be able to reinvent some of the devices and I can tell you what I remember of the rest."

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"- Wow. That's - really quite something. How did they even think to invent the devices in the first place, though, if they didn't have Healers?" 

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"Just really wanting to know what was going on, I guess. And I think microscopes were originally used for looking at far-away things, but you can use them to see really small things, too. Like the tiny living things that cause some diseases."

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"Faraway things... Like what astronomers use, you mean, those eyepiece lens things?" 

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"Yes, exactly!" Sounds like she won't have to rederive a bunch of lens math, which is awesome.

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"I wonder if Healers could learn to see the same things just with our Othersenses?" The woman looks very thoughtful. "We can train our Sight to some degree - some Healers can go in close and see the tiny blood vessels and such, I just don't think anyone's tried going in even closer than that." 

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"Yeah, I think even bacteria--the biggest disease-causing organisms--are smaller than the smallest blood vessels." Inconvenient how AP biology was going to be next year. "But even without being able to see them you can do things to get rid of them. Soap and water kills a lot of them, and so does alcohol, and I think also certain kinds of light. And if you keep as many as possible out of your food and drink you get sick less."

 

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"Right, Healers do know about clean water and cooking food right being important. ...And that if you don't have clean water then alcohol in it makes it safer." 

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"Yup. Also the insides of people are full of them at the best of times, so it's important to wash your hands before and after surgery, though I guess maybe with Gifts you don't need to do surgery. And isolating sick people from each other, that's important too. And there's a kind of bread mold, of all things, that makes a substance that kills bacteria; I would need to do a bunch of experiments to figure out what kind of mold and how to get the chemical out of it and that's if it even grows here, but the general point is that there are things people can eat that will cure diseases and some of them have probably been discovered already but there might be more. Oh, and do you have, uh, the thing where you can give a person a version of a disease so mild they don't get sick and then they can never catch it for real?"

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The Healer looks puzzled. "I - hmm. We know that happens sometimes - there's a lot of common illnesses that tend to be milder in kids, and if they catch it then they're immune, but people moving here from different regions can get very sick. There's sometimes discussion of whether children should be exposed on purposes, but - we don't know how to ensure it's mild, even in little ones they sometimes end up with a serious case." 

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"There are ways to get a sample of the thing causing the disease--viruses, they're usually called, when it's the kind you can do this with--and boil it or something to make it weaker or even totally dead, and expose someone to that. You would need to experiment with mice or something first."

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"...Whoa. And that works? That's incredible! What an idea - who in your world thought of it, it's brilliant..." 

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"A man named Edward Jenner; he got really famous for it. We should try to invent it here--and I should also try a spell to replicate the effect; it will scale better if we do it without my kind of magic but might as well work on both. What are the names of some diseases here that you can only get once?"

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"Hmm. Measles, pox, spotted fever - that's different from pox, sorry..." The Healer lists half a dozen illnesses that people seem to only catch once in a lifetime. 

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"Is doing medical experiments on animals a common thing here? Also what are the procedures for taking a medical thing you've invented and telling people about it and proving it works so people will be willing to try it?" This time she is going to do everything in the right order and not get any more kinds of arrested.

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"It's not as common as it should be, in my opinion! Here in the capital we have a Healing centre and we study mice and sometimes pigs, they're more similar to humans. ...Some history here is that until a few decades ago, Predain didn't actually have anything in the way of infrastructure for training Gifted Healers. There was - still is - a big medical college, the Predain College of Chirurgeons, but they thought Healing Gifts were just superstition." She snorts. "Which is kind of an impressive thing to overlook! I guess it's easier when no one has any training and we couldn't reliably distinguish Healing from, say, Empathy." 

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"Wow. I'm glad they figured it out eventually! Do you think it would be possible for me to do some experiments in the Healing center? For non-magic stuff I can just tell the existing experts what I know but it would be really helpful to have access to mice and a way to safely expose them to diseases and similar for the magic side."

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"I'm sure we can arrange that!" 

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"Awesome!" This world has its downsides, but being able to do magic research in public and get treated like an adult about it is really good.

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The Healer is quiet for a minute, noting down some things. "- All right, anything else for right now? That's - a lot to absorb. I can send someone over once we've got an arrangement for you to work with the Healers here?" 

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"Sounds good! Thanks for meeting with me; I hope it turns out to be helpful."

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"I'm sure it will be - I'm the one who should be thanking you, really!" And the Healer heads out. 

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Two days pass before she hears anything back from the Healers, though she does get an apologetic note saying they're discussing it; in fact, before she gets a time to visit their station, she instead receives a note from Ma'ar asking if this afternoon would be a good time to meet. 

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The one convenient thing about how her kind of spell design works is that she can basically always put it down on short notice. She meets him at whatever time and place he suggests, nervous but also excited because he might have been able to talk to Urtho with the magic phone.

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And Ma'ar confirms her suspicion within the first ten seconds. "I sent the artifact over to Tantara, with an envoy. Urtho was willing to speak with me." 

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"Oh good. What did he say? If it's okay for you to tell me."

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"Nothing very conclusive or helpful." Ma'ar pauses for a moment. "He - may be willing to meet with you. He is very curious, it seems." 

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"I am pretty surprising. I'm--willing to meet with him if you think it would help? And if you don't think he would--try to make me make magic weapons or something."

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"No, I do not think he would," Ma'ar says, sort of absently. "His greatest weakness has always been that he flinches from ruthlessness, most of the time, even when it would be correct." He turns to look at her. "Also I will send you well-protected, and with a way to contact me if you need rescuing." 

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She swallows hard and says, "I'll do it. What do you think he wants, just to ask me questions about Earth?"

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"And about your magic, I imagine. - I do not mind if you tell him, it will put him in a more generous mood, but - I would appreciate it if you kept it to the peacetime applications only, and did not make anything for him." 

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"Of course." The last thing she wants is for the war to escalate, and she knows what a war with her kind of magic can become. Besides, Ma'ar has been, well, an extremely good foreign government person to be debatably imprisoned by, and she has no interest in double-crossing him.

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Ma'ar nods, briskly, and then gets up and paces while he explains what to expect. Urtho's Tower is like so. This is what he remembers about Urtho's most trusted staff, though with the caveat that it was decades ago. The plan right now is for some of Ma'ar's people to Gate her to the border, there's a stretch with a sort of no-man's-land neutral region in between the two garrisoned borders. And then she'll cross to Tantara, be met by an escort, and transported to the Tower from there. 

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She nods along. Any important cultural differences from here she should make sure not to step on? And what's the method for contacting him in an emergency going to be?

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He'll send her with an artifact of the kind he can make, which won't let her contact him with a message per se, but which she can trigger to send an emergency signal. Also, if it's not too much inconvenience, maybe she could make another set of the paired rock artifacts? Just for redundancy, and also it would let them actually exchange messages, though not ones they can trust to be especially secure. 

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She can definitely make another pair of telephone rocks, and it won't take as long as the first one did since most of the hard part is out of the way. If he wants a bunch more for his other staffpeople she can keep making them as long as she has rocks and paper, at least until it's time for her to leave.

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She definitely shouldn't worry about a limited supply of rocks and paper! Ma'ar would greatly appreciate as many artifacts as she can make before her departure; he's still talking to Urtho about the when, but he would estimate in about three days? 

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That's too soon for anything to be set up with the Healing, so she has nothing competing for her time except thinking about vaccine incantations and applications of electricity, and she can do that from anywhere. She turns out nearly a dozen pairs in the next three days, counting the one she keeps one end of.

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Ma'ar sends over a note two days later, letting her know that the departure has been arranged for the next morning just after breakfast, and that one of his mages will come meet her at her room. 

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She eats a swift but hearty breakfast and is ready to go when the mage arrives.

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He brings her over to a room that seems to be set up for Gating from; it has a large stone archway standing ready. 

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And Ma'ar meets them there, his expression very serious. 

He hands her an opaque crystal hung from a bit of cord, with a slim pointed bit of metal hung next to it, like a dull-tipped pin. "Probably you should hide this under your clothes somewhere, or in a pocket? It is not magically detectable but it recognizably looks like an artifact, just visually speaking - and probably they will not try to take it away, I made Urtho promise not to have you searched or remove your possessions, but still. Caution." 

He shows her a little hollow spot in it, a hole bored halfway into the stone. "If you put pressure on the surface in there, with the metal piece or with anything really, it will trigger an alarm and I will come pull you out of there. Understood?" 

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"Understood." She puts the artifact in a buttonable pocket, because she doesn't want it in the same place as her medallion and unlike the medallion it doesn't need to be looped around part of her.

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"I wish you the best of luck. I...really, very badly, hope that this helps." 

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And the mage raises a Gate to somewhere else - it looks like the inside of some sort of barracks - and gestures for her to step through. 

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"I hope so too," she says, and walks through the gate.

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There are soldiers in uniform waiting for her. One of them opens a door, out into grey morning light and a very muddy-looking field. 

"This way," the mage says.

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Off she goes.

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The neutral ground between the two army-guarded hostile borders is ugly and trampled and doesn't appear to contain anything alive, even grass. 

There are enemy soldiers watching them from maybe a quarter-mile away, some on the ground, others standing on top of some wooden fortress-y structures.

Shouts are exchanged. In the Predain language, initially, and it's loud and windy so Margaret can only make out about half of the conversation - they're discussing the arrangements for sending a Predain guard to accompany her, or maybe reminding each other of something already agreed upon but still somewhat contentious. 

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Well, hopefully they're going to reach or affirm their agreement and not start fighting or tell her to go contradictory places or anything.

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They seem to eventually come to a mutually satisfactory or at least tolerable agreement, and the mage who brought her steps back, while one guard - armed only with a dagger, it seems - is available to usher her across the open space. 

The Tantaran troops are all staring at her. 

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Understandable of them; whatever rumors they have or haven't heard she's blatantly an ethnicity they don't generally see. She lets herself be ushered and gives everyone friendly smiles.

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They do not return the smiles, but they don't seem overtly hostile either. 

Another set of guards, in the Tantaran uniform, come out to meet her and escort her past the fortress-thing and into a large tent. 

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Anyone in this tent other than guards?

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Not yet! But one of the guards has a magic-y looking crystal and is talking to it. 

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Oh cool, someone else independently invented the magic telephone rock. Makes hers feel a bit redundant but that's how the economy goes.

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Based on their expression, the magic telephone rock is having problems and being frustrating! 

One of the guards comes over and explains to her, politely and nervously, that they're arranging for a Gate to somewhere else. He does not specify to where. 

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"Oh, where to?" She asks as casually as possible, more to see if he'll tell her than because she expects to recognize wherever it is.

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"- I'm sorry, ma'am, that's - we're not saying, for operational security." 

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Security from who? This whole thing was organized by both sides, which as far as she knows is all the sides there are. But she can tell she's not going to get much more in the way of answers, so she stands around and tries to get what she can from the soldiers talking to each other.

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They make her wait around for a while, some muttered conversations happening in the corner, but eventually, there is another Gate! 

This one brings her through into a pleasant courtyard, screened by trees and surrounded by gardens; it's probably in a city but the trees mean she can't see much of the surroundings. 

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Having a military Gate location where people can't see who's coming and going is sensible. The important thing it that it doesn't look like somewhere they'd go if things were going haywire. Is it clear where she's supposed to go from here?

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There's an escort waiting for her! They seem slightly tense. A man greets her and welcomes her to Tantara, introducing himself as Adept Snowstar; he isn't smiling but he doesn't seem actively hostile. 

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"Margaret Peregrine. Pleased to meet you." It's not a lie, or if it is it's in the "meet" part not the "pleased" part; every handoff is one step closer to being done being handed off and getting to someone who actively wants her around.

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He relaxes very slightly, maybe thanks to her friendly demeanour, and beckons for her to follow him under an ivy-draped archway. "This way." 

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She follows, pushing the ivy out of the way of her face. For a military base this place is very Harvard-aesthetic.

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The very Harvard-aesthetic archway leads her into a sort of tunnel screened by trees above and on both sides. 

A lizard-like creature about the size of a human eight-year-old is trimming the branches of one tree. It jumps a bit, and then says "hello!" to them, brightly, in a slightly whistling voice. 

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Oh wow totally nonsecret lizard-people, how cool is that. "Hello!"

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The creature waves with one stubby arm and then goes back to pruning. 

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Snowstar ushers her past, and then they reach a set of doors in a stone wall, and he leads her inside and down the hall and to a room with a nice oak table in it, and comfortably upholstered chairs. 

"You may have a seat," he says. "Do you need anything to eat or drink, right now?" 

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"Water would be nice if it's not any trouble. I had a big breakfast."

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He nods and calls out to someone in the hall. 

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And shortly later another of the little lizard-people brings her a tray with a jug and water glass on it. 

"It will be a little bit of a wait!" it - he, she? the gender is impossible to discern from appearance or voice - says to her, apologetically. "Master Urtho is running behind." 

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"Thanks. My name's Margaret; what's yours?"

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"Heshen! It's lovely to meet you, Margaret! You're new to Tantara, yes?" 

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She still has no idea what gender they are from that name but she can get away with not knowing. "I am, yeah. It's all very exciting."

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"Good, good! Well, you take care!" The lizard creature pats her shoulder. "I will be back in a little while to check on you!" The mysterious-gendered lizard person leaves her jug and cup, and darts off. 

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Margaret sits and thinks about magic system interactions and printing press designs and what a cool story she'll have to tell Bella if she ever gets back to Earth. She's tempted to stick her head out the door and look around but doesn't want to get tempted into actually wandering off, so she doesn't.

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Snowstar paces the hall outside. 

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And, eventually, another man arrives. Tall and thin, silver hair falling past his shoulders. 

He knocks politely on the side of the open doorframe. "Margaret?" 

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"Yes, hello." He fits the Earth stereotype of a wizard perfectly and has no way of knowing he's doing it and that's neat.

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He smiles, a bit tightly, and comes into the room, sitting down across from her. "Thank you for being willing to come. I confess, I am very eager to hear about your world! This is such an unprecedented and fascinating event!" 

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"It's pretty exciting from this end too! What have you already heard about Earth; do you have any specific questions?"

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"I've heard a few things about their - your - advanced technology, but I think it may have come through garbled in the report. You have - very fast carriages on rails called 'trains'? And metal birds that can fly through the air? And boats that can swim underwater?" 

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"We do! The boats that go underwater are basically never as good as the ones on top of the water, but they're good for exploring the ocean floor. The trains and airplanes--the flying machines--are actually used for getting from place to place, and I've been on both."

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"Incredible! You must tell me about it! What was it like?" 

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"Airplanes are really loud, but they're also really smooth--they don't flap like birds, the wings are fixed in place and shaped so that when they go through air really fast the air pushes them up. They need special areas called runways to take off and land because it takes them a few minutes to get up to speed and slow down again, and once they're in the air they go several miles up. You can see the tops of clouds!"

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"The wings are shaped like..." Urtho frowns intently, hands darting in the air. "You will have to draw it for me, I think! And what drives them to go so fast in the first place?" 

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"I don't know if I could draw one well enough to show something that would actually work; the exact shape matters a lot. But they get their propulsion by burning a kind of fuel that burns very hot and makes the air expand and then forcing that air out the back of the engine, which pushes the engine forward."

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"- Huh." Urtho leans forward, eyes sparkling and intent. "Fascinating! Can you draw me a diagram of that?" 

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"I think so. A simple one, at least; modern ones have all sorts of tricks to make them go farther on less fuel."

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"Oh, how clever! Here you go." He takes a notebook from his pocket and opens it on the table for her, then glances around helplessly. 

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One of the little hertasi is waiting nearby and, without even asking for clarification, produces an inkwell and quill pen for him. 

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"There you go!" 

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She sketches a simplified cutaway view of a jet engine, and a wing, and also a propeller. "Older planes used their fuel to spin one of these; the blades are angled so they pull air from front to back."

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"Wow! Do the blades need to be an exact shape too, or are they just flat pieces at an angle? If it's only the angle, I think we could arrange to test that and figure out the right angle even if you're not sure of it." 

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"No, those need to be the right shape, too, they're kind of like tiny wings." She wonders if she could make a magic wind tunnel and try to figure it all out.

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"Goodness! That sounds so complicated on so many axes - how did your civilization on Earth ever manage to figure it out?" 

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"Experimentation! And there are lots of us, and at least in some countries the economy is good enough that some of them can spend their time on stuff that might take a long time to pay off."

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"How wonderful!" Urtho spends a few moments staring at her engine diagram in awe. "- What else? There must be so many other things that were revolutionized, I cannot even think where to begin... Can your world build very tall towers? Here we can really only do it only with magic." 

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"We can!" She talks about concrete and rebar and steel, hundred-story skyscrapers with more window than wall because all their strength is in their core.

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Urtho listens in awe.

A couple of minutes in, he holds up a hand, apologetically, and then gets out a bigger sheet of foolscap and frantically scrawls diagrams on it, completely ignoring Margaret. 

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That's extremely relatable. Margaret will follow the golden rule and not bother him until he's finished, though she also does her best to interpret his diagrams upside down.

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It seems to be a rough sketch of a possible building design. The structural parts of it are easy enough to interpret, even upside down; however, he seems to be using quite a lot of stylized-shorthand markings, perhaps to indicate specific kinds of magic, and these aren't legible to her at all. 

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Combining magic with modern construction techniques (and potentially also rune-based space-folding) could make some absolutely fantastic architecture. Skyscrapers where every room is a house and you never have to climb stairs, earthquake-resistant and cheap to heat and as tall as the bedrock in the area can support or even taller . . . It's definitely worth sketching about.

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Eventually, Urtho emerges from his half-trance. He blinks at the paper for a moment, sets it down, and then looks up at Margaret. "....Goodness, my dear, I am so sorry for getting distracted and ignoring you – I am such a rude host." 

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"It's no problem. Are there other things you're especially interested in? . . . I feel like I should be trying to do diplomacy but I'm not actually a diplomat, just a professional interesting foreign person."

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Urtho takes a deep breath. "I am no diplomat either, I confess – at least, I never wanted to be." He frowns. "It does seem important that... Hmm. Do you have an explanation for how or why you came from your world to ours, during this especially critical juncture? The timing is... Well, I suppose we shall see if it is fortunate or not, but it does seem significant." 

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"It's possible that the artifact that sent me here would have sent anyone here and now. And it taught me your language, which is two sufficiently different but related things to make me think it could have been on purpose. But I don't think whoever created it could have known I in particular would end up with it." 

She doesn't add that given its unknown but potentially long-ago origin, it might have been intended to transport a dragon in particular.

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"Hmm." 

Urtho gives her a piercing look. In this one moment, at least, it seems as though he may be able to tell that she's holding something back. 

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"The other possibility I've thought of is that whoever made it was going to try to come here themself--or even that they might have been from here in the first place--and they lost the artifact before they could do it. Is there magic in this world that could potentially contact other ones?"

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"I had no idea until very recently that there existed other worlds! So I am afraid that I do not know." 

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"Hm. Could you theoretically do a Gate to the moon? I don't mean would it be a good idea or take a reasonable amount of power, just in theory."