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Generated: Jan 20, 2021 2:21 PM
Post last updated: Jan 20, 2021 2:21 PM
Hidden deep down inside of our DNA
Changeling falls on an Outer Plane (D&D 2e)
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She's in Scotland, somewhere, today. Just hiking around the highlands at semi-random, feeling vaguely like a pre-industrial skald. Or- They weren't called skalds here, they were something else. Bards? It doesn't really matter.

She finds a hill with a nice view. There are sheep in the valley below, and a little cottage. A sheepdog is watching her. It's a perfect little moment. She starts recording and smiles and plays her flute, a wandering and jaunty tune with a slight mournful lilt to it-

-And-

-Now she's somewhere else entirely.

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For a moment, the world around her is a swirl of color that refuses to resolve into anything she can clearly make out-

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-and then she's looking out over the edge of a mountain, with warmth at her back. The sound of laughter, the smell of a roaring campfire, and the sight of a twilit horizon over snow-capped mountains greet her.

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She spins around in panic, and- Then turns around more carefully, more poised, to look at where she is now in detail.

(Is something wrong with her? Could she have been knocked out and brought somewhere else? A head injury that interfered with forming of memories and then suddenly healed leaving no other signs? She doesn't think so.)

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The mountains and the sky offer no helpful commentary. The bears which have gathered around the campfire do begin to take notice of her.

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One of them says, "Welcome, visitor! Are you new to Brux?"

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She puts the flute in its case to cover a deep breath and her startled stillness. Smooths her elaborate dress, which is green silk with leafy motifs and warm-colored embroidery and - while not as limiting as most dresses, it doesn't go to her feet and is plenty loose around the joints - probably sacrificing at least a little range of motion for its looks.

Apologetic smile, and inclining her head, she responds, "Hello. I'm afraid I don't understand you." And her cortical stack doesn't either. Which is. Strange. A group of campers deciding to be bears is one thing, but greeting people with some personal conlang - or something-

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"What a strange language. I'm sorry. One moment, please."

Berrypaw wanders into one of the tents that make up this campsite.

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The other bears look at her curiously, but don't say anything. They get back to their conversations.

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...She looks at the sky and attempts to spot Luna. Or enough stars to pattern match to Sol's sky.

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There is a sun and a moon visible in the sky.

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They're not quite the right ones. She looks for signs of being inside an o'neill cylinder and finds none.

It's possible some horrible poison could cause the wash of colors, and then she'd be dead enough to dig out her cortical stack. But it's not reporting any lost time and she's not feeling the tinglyness of reintegration. Is there any reason for someone to want to put her in... Some kind of extremely sophisticated VR cage? The level of hacking and/or detail needed to make her not notice being in VR now that she's spending time feeling the weight of her body on her feet, listening to herself breathe, stretching one arm slightly is a little absurd, but she has no other ideas except 'actually teleported somewhere else' which is... Equally impossible.

Well, good thing she's in a very calm and exploratory shape at the moment. This is interesting if nothing else. She spends the next little while taking in the landscape. It's rather pretty.

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"Hello, visitor. Welcome to Ursis."

A large black bear approaches her slowly, so as not to scare her.

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She's more frightened of the situation than what's clearly a person wearing a giant predator form. She doesn't expect casual murder and bears seem to be the done thing here.

"Oh, you speak English. Thank you, I feel welcomed. Ursis looks beautiful- What I've seen of it so far. I can't say I'm familiar. I'm not exactly sure how I got here either... Or that nothing happened to me between Scotland and here."

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"I am unfamiliar with Scotland. You are currently in Ursis, on Brux. You seem to have arrived via portal."

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"Oh? Portals are supposed to be impossible, as far as I know. Fiction, out of old legends. Our understanding of the world forbids faster than light travel, which portals imply. I'm honestly not sure whether to believe my own eyes. They can be interfered with back home, even. Ah- I go by Changeling, most of the time. Hello, it's good to meet you."

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"You may call me 'Father Bear'. Portals are reasonably rare in the multiverse, especially the kind that can be operated without a portal-key. Perhaps you had an item on you and performed some unusual action with it? Regardless, you are here now, and you likely cannot return the same way. What do you need to be comfortable, Changeling?"

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"I was playing the flute. Well, that depends on how I interpret 'comfortable'. I'm unlikely to die even out here. I'll certainly miss a lot of amenities I am used to. For the chance to explore something genuinely new to me, perhaps worth it." Wry smile.

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"Exploration calls to petitioners and visitors alike in The Beastlands. Perhaps you have come to the right place, despite your unusual circumstances. Do you need food or rest before you set out on an adventure?"

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"I don't expect food to be difficult, I have potent digestion. Probably I should figure out how to make a... Tent, or something. What adventures does one find here? Lost temples with dangerous traps? Monstrosities that must be hunted down and defeated? Beautiful landscape to explore forever?"

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"You may need to ask some of the others. I rarely find cause to leave Ursis, myself. They say The Beastlands are full of unexplored wilderness, of course, but few come here to explore in the way primes would. They simply live: foraging, hunting, mating, and on, and on..."

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"I am ever more confused. I would appreciate if you tolerate me asking questions a while. Such as what a petitioner is, exactly, and a prime... Ursis is right here, not the whole - state, continent, world?"

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"Ah, my apologies. For petitioner, substitute supplicant, perhaps, or worshiper? Petitioners are the people who come to exist on this plane after having lived and died on the prime material plane. People who live on the prime material plane are known as primes. Ursis is the name of this settlemet, consisting of this camp fire, the tents, and those who choose to live here. This layer of the plane we inhabit is called 'Brux', and the plane is called 'The Beastlands'. Is that helpful?"

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"Yes. Pardon me, I just- An afterlife?" She takes a deep breath. "None of this sounds familiar to me. It's quite a shock. It does not feel real."

It's beautiful though. She wants to go climb that mountain and sing at its peak. She wants to paint that valley. She wants to wander and watch. This form gives her a deep appreciation for aesthetics, an obsession even. Perhaps it's time to change, if that's unhelpful...

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"Please take your time. You can sit and eat with us. You may hunt, fish, forage, spar, or play with us as well, but only if you wish. Leave to explore whenever you are ready."

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"Do you know if there's a way to go home."

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"There are portals to other planes on The Beastlands, but I'm afraid you may not easily find your way back to the prime sphere that you originate from. Have people in your home perfected wildspace travel?"

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"Seeing as I have never heard of that... No, unfortunately. Is it something that can be learned?"

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"None here has ever built one of the ships that can do so. The Beastlands do not typically welcome petitioners who value technological growth. Our people have simpler pleasures. Perhaps you will find something in your explorations, though."

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She mutters something about not having a tiny forge(?) under her breath.

"Very well. Thank you for explaining. I suppose I shall simply make the best of it. Would people appreciate music?"

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"I believe they may. Brothers, sisters! Gather 'round!"

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And they begin to gather around the campfire, including some who had been somewhat further from camp or in their tents.

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Alright then! She takes her flute back out, stands in front of the fire, looks around and plays-

-she is not the best bard in a major city, but she could possibly be the best one in a small town. And she's somehow humming even at the same time she is playing the flute. The tune is aimless and slow and makes her think of the vastness of time and space.

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The bears listen. While most remain in their bear forms, some of them take on a more humanoid form and begin to dance. One of them joins her by vocalizing; it's not quite musical, but then the sound of bugs and birds pick up as they gather, too.

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How is he doing that.

Well, she can imagine little robot speakers or other tricks like that but this really doesn't seem like that kind of place. She can play music for hours without getting bored in this brain. So she will. She speeds up some, smiling, and will dance herself too. Her clothes will start to turn a combination of brown, orange, and red to match the aesthetic of the campfire.

If they're still talking to each other her cortical stack probably knows enough to at least make some tentative guesses by now.

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They continue to talk to each other! Most of it seems to be about how the fishing was that day, the changing ecosystem of the mountain, the state of their berry stores, and interpersonal gossip.

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After a long while of playing music she'll- Eat something if it proves to be on offer, then wander off a bit and breathe deeply while she - changes - 

Curiously, it's not magical at all, if anyone can tell that.

She could do a fully animal form with more time and calories and discomfort, but she's not used to moving like that, and she has a big library of well-balanced humanoid forms already, so it's fine.

"Yeah! That's better," she says to nobody in particular. "Feelin' ready to kick ass if I have to."

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Father Bear observes her curiously when she rejoins them.

"You transformed yourself! Well done. Very few in The Beastlands can do so, you will provide much-needed novelty to their lives. What kind of form is this?"

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"It's awesome, right? Most people back home have to go to a clinic to get their shape changed, doing it yourself takes some primo mods. I call this one 'dragon girl'. 'Course, it's not actually very dragony, maybe even a little demon-y. I could be a velociraptor or pterodactyloid that's more dragony than this but changing too far away from the basic human body plan is a huge pain. Oh, and it does stuff to my brain too, 'cause it gets boring being the same person all the time."

Her mannerisms and posture are completely different now. Brash and confident and careless as opposed to poised and deliberately elegant. The clothes are some sort of semi-revealing leather outfit now.

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"I admit that I am most content in this form, although I can take on others. My brain does not change, which may be boring, but I prefer a simple life. You will enjoy The Beastlands, for a time, though we may all come to bore you after a decade or so."

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"Yeah that's the worry, after a decade or two I'll still be stuck here and bored. Or dead with noone who knows how to get me back around. D'you know how that guy got the bugs to sing with him?" She points with her thumb.

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"Oh, she simply requested that they join in. I believe in life, she had the ability to summon creatures to do her bidding, but of course now everything she summons can refuse. If you seek a way home, you may wish to speak to one of the local powers. I do not have the might to send you home, without knowing a great deal more about where you came from. Perhaps you will find them in your explorations."

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"I could ramble on about it if it'd help. But, shrug." (She doesn't actually shrug. She just says 'shrug'.) "Other powers, eh? Sounds like a quest to me. Would you mind translating some simple phrases in whatever they're speaking? My stack's learning pretty quick but it could use the help."

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"I- don't believe that I can translate. I simply speak the languages that I must speak to communicate with others. You may benefit from speaking with one of them in my presence, as both of you will understand me and I will understand you both, but neither of you would understand one another."

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"You could say 'he said such-and-such', is that the idea?"

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"Yes, I think that would serve. You can ask questions, and I can repeat the answers in your language."

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"Anybody want to talk to me? Father Bear has offered to help a bit!" She announces loudly.

(It's harder than it maybe should be to keep track of people in very nonhuman forms, she can't remember any of them in particular except for the bug-singing one.)

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One of the other bears will approach, though she may not recognize him as the one who initially greeted her.

He says something to Father Bear.

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"Our guest has requested assistance with learning the most useful local language. I assume you can speak comfortably in Sylvan?"

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The bear says something else, in what seems to be a different language.

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"He has agreed to assist us. Ask your questions, and I shall repeat his answers."

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"Thanks! To both of you. Maybe I'll figure out a way to pay you back. What's your name, what do you get up to?"

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Repetition ensues.

"I should thank you! We never have visitors in Ursis unless they need us to cure them of lycanthropy or some curse or other. People call me Brother Berrypaw. Most of my days, I spend on preparing fish for the town and thinking of stories. What did you get up to in your home?"

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"Depends on my mood and my current shape. Travel a lot. Music, telling interesting stories about interesting places, putting that on the internet. Video games. Uh- Sorry if some of that's hard to translate. Changing myself often. Learning stuff and upgrading myself. Sports, sex. I pick up hobbies and obsess over them and then forget about them entirely for years, because getting good at something is the fun part."

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"I don't know what you could mean by half of those things. What else have you gotten good at? Around here, we improve very specific skills to higher and higher levels; none of us try broaden our skillsets."

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"Music and biology would be what I'm best at, I guess. I'm a very broad person by nature. Easily bored. Music never gets old and I have to know my biology really well to change myself without fucking up."

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"Biology? Odd to have a field of study about that, when it can be so different for every creature. Maybe you'll enjoy seeing different animals up close without the dangers of a prime world. I don't study animals, just eat them."

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"Well if you have lots of people who've done a lot of work on it and written stuff down for hundreds of years and collaborate on everything you can learn genetics and biochemistry - does that translate - and the potential to do cool stuff goes really high. I don't actually have a medical degree though."

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"Genetics does sound incredibly interesting! In your world, your philosophers understand how inheritance among families and species works?"

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"Yeah! It's super fucking complicated and kind of amazing. Evolution's a blind optimizer making random changes over eons, you can see how something developed on top of itself again and again over millions of years. Giraffes and lions and bears and humans all have the same basic structure if you look at the bones, just that a lot of them are different sizes. That's mammilia, mammals. All originally descended from the same critter, who knows how long ago, and diverging from there by living in different places or different ways so that slow mutations and selection pressure add up- Also, like, bats and birds are only very distantly related even though they're the same basic kind of thing, because something that flies around and eats fruit or bugs can survive and mate, it's a good enough strategy that a species that ends up doing it is likely enough to prosper. I could go on for hours."

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"Amazing! Can we discover those patterns in ourselves and the other animals? How do geneticists measure the divergences?"

Father Bear makes a gesture of raising one paw into the air.

"If I may interrupt?"

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"-Oh, sure. You probably don't want to be a translator all day, huh? I can figure out enough words to explain dee-en-ay later."

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"I am happy to translate as long as you need. I only wish to clarify: sometimes the powers will interfere in the normal process of evolution, so things often become more complicated than a general analysis would suggest. I have never heard of genetics or evolution but from your description, it sounds as though it operates normally until and unless the powers carve out an exception."

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"Yeah that'll do it. Humanity interfering does that at home too, even before we did science we made dogs outta wolves. And nowadays most things have been genetically engineered. So, the way we discovered all this is long-winded, but bodies are made up of cells, small enclosed life forms that cooperate to make one big being. There's a structure called deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, inside the cells, and that DNA describes instructions for how the cell should assemble proteins. Proteins do all the heavy lifting of cells being alive. Change the DNA, change the being carrying it. DNA is ultimately just an absurdly long string of pieces stuck together that can have one of four values on each piece - libraries and libraries full for even the smallest creatures. The cells in the main body have full copies. Reproductive cells have half copies, assembled semi-randomly, it's complicated. And when the gametes combine they assemble into one full copy that has pieces from both the father and mother. Some traits involve just one tiny piece of DNA and will show up in kids by a pattern called a Punnet square, after the guy who figured it out I think, but some are influenced slightly by lots and lots of pieces spread all throughout, or by how well a kid eats growing up or whatever, and vary a lot. Like height. There's lots of complications but that's the basic idea."

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This part takes a bit longer than previous ones to repeat! They can go back and forth like this for a bit longer before it's time to eat!

Most times seem like time to eat, around here.

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Biology: Is complicated.

Fish: Is delicious, especially in her more carnivorous forms.

She doesn't play music or sing again. She has enough vocabulary to participate in conversations now. Does anybody except Brother Berrypaw and Father Bear seem particularly interesting? If not she'll say her goodbyes for the moment and walk out into the wilds. To a nice cliff that seems like it would have a good view, perhaps. 

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No one else seems to have much to say. As she explores the rest of the mountain, the sounds and smells of the campsite fade away. In the sky, she can see the sun and moon, in the exact same positions they were when she arrived. The light is the same, no darker or brighter. There are animals of various kinds, though few as large as the bears. Looking out over a cliff, she sees vast swathes of wilderness.

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A bit creepy that the sky isn't moving.

She tries talking to a few of the animals, figuring that if they turn out not to be people there'll be nobody to see her embarrassed. Just polite greetings and asking if there's any particularly good views around here for lack of a better small-talk subject.

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Most of them do not speak to her. One bird does suggest flying out until she sees signs of the wandering tigers. A beetle recommends visiting the singing place.

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She asks for directions to the Singing Place and shifts forms again, then starts bounding away in a long-distance-running body with digitigrade legs.

Does night prove to not come at all, here? She introspects on her fatigue levels and watches her stack's clock, attempting to discern further weirdness.

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The sky does appear to change in hue, although never to become day or night. It remains, perpetually, in various states of twilight. Unlike the sun and moon, which remain fixed near the horizon, the stars come and go in a manner perhaps more familiar. She continues to tire at her ordinary rate, however, and time seems to pass normally. The beetle's instructions lead her through a number of zones of what appears to be different kinds of weather: rising fog and morning dew, pattering rain, gentle snow, and the warm heat of a summer day as just as it begins to cool with night's arrival.

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This is all exceedingly weird.

This body is good for meditative exercise and she covers a lot of ground, but after a while she starts looking around for forage, not really sure where to find it. If push comes to shove she can eat leaves and grass and even sticks and be... Fine-ish. But it would suck. She builds a quick lean-to in the 'summer day' region - it takes barely half an hour - occupies herself worrying about being lost in weirdass endless wilderness, and making a crude wooden spear with her nice knife because that seems to be the 'caveman thing' to do here, then... Drifts off to sleep.

If nothing interrupts her sleep, she continues towards the 'singing place' the next day.

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So she continues. The landscape changes as well, at times, though rarely in ways that might impede travel. There are different kinds of plant and animal life, as well as the part-humanoid beings. Most do not particularly take an interest in her, as she fits right in.

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She does eventually notice a shadow over her that is not her own. Something has been flying directly above her.

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Her description of this brain-state's general mood is 'vigilant' if she's feeling charitable 'paranoid' if not. She's snuck a couple of looks at whatever it is already, hopefully without revealing that she's done so.

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It is reasonably similar in body plan to her, except for the wings, and the yellow light that covers its entire body.

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Someone presenting as 'angelic' is..... Moderately unlikely to try to kill her. (Paranoid skittish prey mindset sounded fun when she was designing it.)

All the same, she lets her inner biology churn a bit while she continues to run. Building up fast twitch muscle, adrenaline, subtle armor.

And then, "Hello up there!" into the sky, in Sylvan.

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"Hello," booms the angelic figure that has been stalking her for at least several minutes.

"Welcome to the Library of All Knowledge. State your purpose, traveler."

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She looks around.

"This doesn't look much like a library to me. I was told the 'singing place' was in this direction, and it sounded interesting."

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"You have not yet entered the Library. I am one of its guardians. The Library has been described as a singing place."

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Interacting with this person in this brain is terrifying and stressful. She stops running and starts the process of changing.

"-Give me a minute please," She asks, or something approximately idiomatic in Sylvan.

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The flying angelic being gives her a moment.

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It's a little gross to rush this. The horns stay there the longest even as the rest of her finishes changing over a minute or two, steadily shrinking down and itching a lot. "I assure you, I have no intention of destroying the library you guard. I would like to hear more about it, though."

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As soon as her transformation is complete, she notices that the 'angel' has transformed to match. The horns have vanished, and the ears have changed shape, among the most obvious changes.

"The Library of All Knowledge is a joint project supported by my god, The One Who Watches While Music is Alive, Guardian of Singers and Troubadours, the One True Hand of All-Wise Oghma, Lord of Song, The Silver Harp- and his ally and companion, Deneir. It collects the music, scrolls, tomes, and so on that have existed on every Prime world in one place. We welcome well-intentioned visitors."

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"God."

That word gives her complicated feelings.

"...Are you changing shape to match me, or is something else going on there?"

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"If my shape has changed, it is because yours has changed, and solars always represent those who would request our aid and attention, or whose presence requires it. As you are an unknown quantity, of unknown abilities and intentions, I have been sent to investigate you."

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"Well, I am very foreign here. My 'plane' had not so much as heard of Ursis- Or other planes at all. So far my fear of excessive boredom has not come to pass. I suspect my abilities are lesser to yours. I can state my intentions but that does not help if you think me capable of lying."

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"I shall land near you, and in doing so, determine whether you speak truth. May I?"

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"Whether I mind depends on how exactly you plan to do that, really."

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This seems to require some thought.

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"I don't know anything about this god I presume you serve, or what your abilities are. Some ways of verifying I'm not lying, I would object to. Such as reading my mind."

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"We will not- I will not 'read you mind'. I will stand next to you and know which things you say are lies and which are truths. That is all."

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"I don't object to that, though if I find out you've done something more invasive later I will be quite annoyed."

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"Of course! I would never make a promise I did not intend to keep! May I stand next to you now? You may wish to close your eyes if the light is too bright."

The angelic being continues to fly, flapping their wings and circling her.

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"I can handle bright light. And very well."

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"Say one lie, and then only speak the truth."

They land, standing several yards from her.

"Please, speak your intentions."

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"This statement is false." Her lips curl up into a smile. "More seriously, ah... My hair is black." Lie. "I am curious about this land, and all the more curious after meeting you and hearing the truth of the library of all knowledge. I have no intentions of violence unless violence is first threatened upon me, or if agreed to such as in a spar. I don't expect that to change though my other personalities may be more liable to see things as threats." Truth.

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When she's finished speaking, they nod and smile in turn; it is a brilliant smile, with perfect teeth and the right size, with eyes glimmering with mirth and friendliness. There is no hint of strain, tiredness, unhappiness, or anything else that might mar a smile.

"Thank you for your candor. You may pass. I will no longer follow you, although once in the Library itself, you may be observed. We cannot offer complete privacy, as other recipients of the Library as well as its staff will also be present, and of course you cannot be allowed to remove any materials without properly checking them out. Goodbye?"

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"Is there," she asks, "A librarian?"

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"Only The One Who Watches While Music is Alive, Guardian of Singers and Troubadours, the One True Hand of All-Wise Oghma, Lord of Song, The Silver Harp- and of course, Deneir."

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"How does one seek librarianly assistance? Does the Lord of Song have a body? Does Deneir?"

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"The Lord of Song has representatives throughout the Library who will assist visitors, and one of Deneir's most prominent followers, Thomas Bookbinder, works within the library. The Lord of Song rarely appears in physical form, but he may have a body at certain times, yes."

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"I see. So they would be library assistants. You're just a guard? Do you get tired of it? Are you even the sort of thing that gets tired? My apologies if I'm being intrusive, but my plane knew nothing of this one, you see." She smiles.

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"I do not take offense. We do not tire, by our nature, but I will sometimes choose to pursue another task, and another will take my place as a guard."

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"I see." She doesn't, really. That's just the polite way to stop asking questions. "Thank you for your guidance. If you could point the way to the library entrance I will stop taking up your time."

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Instead of pointing, he starts to fly.

This way.

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She begins to see a tall and thick tree rising in the distance. Approaching even closer, it becomes clear that there are stairs and little structures built along the trunk and branches. She can see at least dozen entrances in just this visible part of the tree, but she can see colors further up in the canopy that indicate there might be more architecture up there.

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Interesting.

...She wants to go flying now. But it's a few hours' commitment to make the drastic changes necessary for that. Plus, calorie-burning. Maybe later.

She approaches and enters the big tree.

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Inside, she sees books in bookshelves, lining the walls of the trunk. They continue, rising into the shadows of the tree's trunk above. Nearby, she can see three or four other people perusing the shelves, as well as a muscular man wearing a loincloth and no shirt, and with large feather wings extending from his back, He stands vigil as the others walk around the Library of All Knowledge.

Besides books, where an ordinary library might have lamps, this place has glowing, whispering orbs whose colors gradually cycle through the entire visible spectrum.