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Generated: Mar 03, 2021 6:05 PM
Post last updated: Mar 03, 2021 6:05 PM
Ambassador to Timber Hearth
Marin lands on the Outer Wilds
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Marin intends to enter the bridge. It's a procedure she's implemented thousands of times before; leaving Nymet requires using the bridge, and Marin Pathfinder of Nymet could not have survived cooped up in a single innangarð for her entire life. It's not an exaggeration to say that she has spent more of her life in the bridges than in any innangarð. She knows how to operate them: entry, traversal, and exit. It should take a moment's thought to conclude her journey. Instead, as her staff strikes the earth, the bridge opens...somewhere else. She's standing on a bridge- an ordinary bridge, one made from materials and not the raw power of the gods- in an unfamiliar innangarð, with no sign of the bridge she just exited behind her.

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The bridge is made of wood and it's sloped. In some ways it's more like a ramp than a bridge but it does connect one location to another. There are walls of rock on all sides of this place with a smattering of trees and structures. The largest is a tower with something shiny looking sitting on top. There's also a small geyser of water erupting at just this moment near the center.

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Unfamiliar territory. Possibly utgard. Marin begins to cast, and then stops. She's been cut off. She no longer has access to Nymet's power, just her own. She will need to cast conservatively. She begins walking down the ramp, tightening her grip on the staff.

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At the bottom of the ramp is a perfectly ordinary fisherman... if you count having blue skin four eyes and three fingers on each hand as ordinary. They doesn't seem to notice.

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This would concern her deeply if she were in an innangarð, but that already looked moderately unlikely.

"Hello," she says cautiously.

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They startle a little bit and looks over at her. Then they say something in a language she doesn't recognize.

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Wonderful. An urgent use of her apparently-limited magic.

Marin spends the next few minutes casting. Her staff begins to glow as the runes carved into it light up, and she concludes the spell by slamming the staff against the ground. Now they should be able to understand each other.

"Sorry about all that. My name is Marin."

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"Well it's nice to meet you Marin. I'm Spinel. I don't think I've met anyone like you before. I bet Hornfels will be beside themselves with excitement to meet you."

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"I look forward to meeting him."

She's not quite sure that she does. No obvious dangers so far, but there wouldn't be, would there? Even translating their speech could pose a threat to her sanity.

"What is this place?"

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"This here is the best fishing spot in the whole crater. I bet you meant more generally though. This crater is our home. We call the whole planet Timber Hearth."

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Planet. Interesting claim, based on the implications.

"It's a very nice crater. Why would Hornfels be excited to meet me? I'm not anything that interesting."

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"You're an alien and you talk. Nobody has ever met a talking alien before. Hornfels helps run our space program. You've also got some fancy technology if that light show was any indication."

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'Technology' is an interesting assumption to make about her magic. Most technology in Nymet (in every innangarð she knows) progresses too slowly to have much real value, but perhaps things on Timber Hearth are different than she's used to.

"I would be happy to meet this Hornfels, if they can make time for me. I'm sure running the space program," another interesting concept, she must admit, "keeps them busy."

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"I'll lead the way then." They reel in their fishing line and places the rod down. Then Spinel starts up the ramp looking back to make sure she's coming.

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She's following. As she does, she looks around, trying to get a lay of the land.

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The crater seems relatively small there's building scattered around. When they get to the top of the ramp there's a kid throwing rocks into a seemingly empty fenced off area. As soon as the rock crosses the fence though there's a flare of green something. It's probably a coincidence but a Geyser behind the fenced off area erupts a few seconds later.

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Investigating environmental features within the utgard will get her nothing but trouble. Talking, she thinks, is relatively safe until they show signs of degradation.

"I hope I haven't deterred you from your work. It may be important to Hornfels, but I imagine you had other ideas in mind for your day."

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"I wasn't catching much anyways. A living alien is much more important than that."

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"Have you encountered many dead aliens?"

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"The explorers have found Nomai bones all sorts of places. Nobody knows what killed them all."

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"How fascinating. Have your scientists studied the bones?"

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"I expect so they study just about everything. According to the museum exhibit they weren't built as sturdy as us Hearthians and had three eyes. Not sure if there's anything else we learned."

They pass the entrance to what might be a mine of some sort and start walking around the bend towards a large circular building with a substantial telescope coming out the top.

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"Your architecture is very different than that in my innangarð. Why do you include those protrusions?"

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"Which ones? Do you mean the sun shades, the solar panels, the telescope or the flag? Or maybe the support pillars?"

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Telescope. Fascinating.

"I was referring to the telescope, but I recognize it now. Ours have a somewhat different design," she lies. She's not sure why this part of the utgard would be so incredibly technologically advanced, but it is almost certainly some kind of trick.

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"Fair enough. Nomai Tech looks pretty different from our stuff too."

They've reached the entrance to the building. Spinel walks inside. "Hey Hornfels." Spinel shouts. "Come down here there's someone I think you'd like to meet."

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Another voice calls back. "Does someone have a new hatchling?" A pause. "I'll be down shortly."

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Spinel turns to her. "Might as well show you the museum while we're waiting." They lead her into a fairly large circular room with a spiral staircase in the center and various exhibits arrayed around it.

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Sure, she'll examine the exhibits. She might just learn something about what story they're trying to tell her.

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Immediately to the right on entering there's part of a wall with a star like symbol and a spiral of symbols.

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After that there's a piece of pottery, a skeleton and a contraption made of metal with three legs. Each is in a glass case with a placard in front of it.

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Fascinating, she supposes, in the abstract. The concept of a museum is somewhat new to her. Perhaps this is an honest expression of how the utgard thinks, and that is why they are so dangerous. They want to study them. Again, though, that is her temptation to ascribe meaning where there is none. No conclusions yet, just hypotheses.

"These are Nomai artifacts, then?"

She makes a show of saying this without glancing at the placards, since she won't be able to read them anyway.

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"The wall and the pottery are. You could call the skeleton a Nomai artifact too being that it's a Nomai skeleton. The probe is Hearthian make though."

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"You must have theories about what Nomai culture is like. Is it a popular point of speculation?"

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"We don't know much. There are small and large skeletons to be found so I reckon they had hatchlings like we do. They also have what seem to be houses in those upside down cities on Brittle Hollow. They didn't really seem to use many tools though. We haven't found any knives for example."

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"What about evidence of higher-level math?"

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"I reckon I don't really know. Hornfels says that technology requires math but I'm no expert on that."

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There's the sound of footsteps coming down the ramp. "What are you saying about me now Spinel?" And then there's a clearly audible gasp. "So not a Hatchling. Spinel why didn't you tell me you had an alien with you? How did you get here? Do you know anything about the Nomai? I have so many questions..."

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"I can't offer you new knowledge about the Nomai. I come from a place called Nymet. We don't have a name for the planet. I'm happy to answer whatever questions you have."

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"You didn't say how you got here. Do you have a spaceship or did you warp or do you not know?"

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"I traveled here via bridge."

She gestures with her staff, something which they won't understand if they're not from an innangarð.

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"I've never heard of that. How does it work?"

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"Bridges are the paths that allow us to safely travel through the utgard. Using my staff, I build them up between one innangarð and another."

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"What's the utgard? What are innangarð?"

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A direct question, that's interesting. Maybe she's in a very isolated innangarð.

"The utgard is the vast, chaotic, unstructured wilderness between innangarðs. Innangarðs are the protective bubbles in which intelligent life and civilization prosper. When you refer to space travel, what do you mean?"

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"I haven't seen any protective bubbles anywhere. Space is the emptiness between planets. When we travel through space we use rockets on our spaceships to fly from one planet to another."

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"Space sounds like it our understanding of the utgard, and rockets resemble bridges, but perhaps I'm relying too heavily on my assumptions. Were there more questions? I heard you would be quite excited to meet a potential alien."

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"That doesn't sound right to me. Bridges and rockets are pretty different things. Unless you mean something really different when you say bridges. How are you speaking our language anyway? We've had a hard time translating Nomai writing even with examples scattered around the solar system."

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"I'm using my magic to translate. It conveys concepts for maximum mutual intelligibility, but it struggles to cope when the gap is too large. 'Bridges' is likely the closest concept you have for what I'm saying, and if anything is coming through untranslated, you likely have no equivalent at all."

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"Magic you say... are you sure it's not technology of some kind? As for bridges, to us they're structures made of wood or some other building material that connects two places. Rockets on the other hand use channeled chemical explosions to generate thrust."

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"Bridges are typically made of wood, stone, or packed dirt, and they connect two innangarðs. We wouldn't have much need for a bridge within one. They're not ordinary structures, though, since no one could safely build anything in the utgard. We construct them with magic. I am fairly certain it is not technology, since we did not develop it, and we can cast it through any wooden object of the right shape."

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"I suppose that does sound like magic. We build all our bridges without magic just out of normal wood. They tend to be built over water. There's a few Nomai bridges we've found, they tend to be built out of ceramic like most of their buildings. You definitely couldn't build a bridge between planets since they don't stay at a consistent distance from each other."

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"Planets could be quite different from innangarðs, if my translation is treating the words this way. Could you tell me more about the scale involved with space travel, and what makes planets different than space?"

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"Our planet is 243 meters in radius just about. The sun is about 9 thousand meters away. Space is well... nothing it's empty aside from the planets and stars and such. Planets are big balls of matter that orbit around the sun. The sun is what we call the closest star and it's is an even bigger ball of matter that puts off a lot of light and heat."

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"Fascinating. The concept of the sun is familar enough to translate, but we know much less about it than you seem to. As for my world, innangarðs are often further from each other than it sounds like your sun is from the planet. Is 'innangarð' translating at all, then, or is it completely foreign?"

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"As far as I can tell it's not translating. I've never heard that word before. We have a whole exhibit about stars here in the museum. We've managed to figure out how they stay bright and how they'll eventually die."

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"I'm not able to translate written language. I would appreciate a tour, if you don't mind."

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"That's a shame... I guess we'll have to wait on Hal and Syl's translation project afterall." They shake their head. "On to the exhibits. The wall fragment over there came from the south pole of our moon Attlerock. It has some Nomai writing and apparently it helped Hal and Syl make a breakthrough. Hopefully they'll be done soon and we can finally read all the writing we've found. That star symbol appears at a lot of the Nomai sites we've visited, at least a few times it's been a centerpiece of the area it appears in. We haven't seen any other symbol as prominent or ubiquitous as it. We don't have any good guesses as to what it's supposed to be though."

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"From the moon? Is the moon also considered a planet?"

Marin does have a guess for why a symbol might repeat, but it relies on magic existing here without their knowledge. If the Nomai had magic, the Hearthians might not know about it.

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"Technically, no but basically. The moon isn't a planet because it orbits our planet instead of the sun and of course because it's smaller. The exact details aren't too important though."

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Nod.

"What other planets have you visited? How many of them bear signs of former Nomai occupation?"

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"We've visited Giant's Deep, The Hourglass Twins, and Brittle Hollow. We've scouted the Dark Bramble but the only explorer to try going inside never came back out and nobody else has been brave enough to follow them. All four of the other planets and our moon Attlerock bear obvious signs of Nomai occupation. There's also a Nomai space station in orbit around Giant's Deep nobody has found a way in though. All their creations seem to be powered down for the moment and some of the doors are just completely broken."

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This sure does sound like the exact reason people aren't supposed to go into the utgard, doesn't it.

Marin has never been very good at doing anything but exactly what she wanted to do with her life.

"Those are interesting names. How were they chosen?"

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"Giants Deep has Hurricanes that throw islands into space, back before we understood science better and then visited ourselves, we thought that there were literal giants that threw the islands up and let them fall back down. The Hourglass Twins are named that because for some reason once every few days a huge amount of sand pours from one to the other. It looks a bit like an hourglass when it happens. Nobody is exactly sure what prompts it. Brittle Hollow is a hollow planet with a black hole at it's center. A few times sections of the planet have broken off and fallen into the black hole at it's center. Dark Bramble... well it used to be a frozen planet but some strange plant seems to have eaten the whole thing. All that's left of the original planet are some bits of ice held up by the brambles... and some bits of ice that have been flung onto other bodies in our solar system. The wood of the plant is pretty dark and it's also a bit intimidating... I shudder to think what would it would be like if that happened to our planet."

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Four innangarðs whose gods are unusually hostile to human life? Some kind of strange inversion, wherein the world outside is innangarð and the enclosed spaces are utgard? This planet seems safe so far, so she's leaning towards the former, if not something even stranger. Black holes sound quite outside her abilities to deal with, as do hurricanes that throw islands, but she might be able to do something about the Hourglass Twins or Dark Bramble.

"I would be interested in learning more about these planets. My magic could help resolve the issues they're facing."

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"That must be some magic. I don't rightly know that most of them are a problem either. It would be shame if Brittle Hollow ever fell apart though. If you can do something about that it would be great. If you can do something about Dark Bramble that would be great too... though if you can try to rescue Feldspar before destroying it that would be good... they might still be alive they've pulled off some amazing things before."

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"Tell me more about Feldspar."

While she tries to think about how to solve the problem. If the plant has really covered the entire planet, but it is still a single plant...

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"Feldspar was one of the four founding members of Outer Wilds, our space program, along with our flight coach Gossan, our engineer Slate and me. As ground control and later museum curator I didn't work with Feldspar as closely as Slate and Gossan did. I can tell you Feldspar was absolutely fearless though. Nothing scared them. Test-piloted everything Slate ever built! It's a wonder Feldspar lived to see space, frankly, but they did. Flew all sorts of dangerous stunts and explored everything they could find. And then they went to explore Dark Bramble and we never heard from them again. We don't even know if they're alive."

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"My magic can't help find them if they're still alive, but it does help me travel in difficult conditions, move more quickly, avoid illness, control terrain, change weather, translate speech, protect myself, disguise myself, and tame utgard-beasts. The last one may not be useful here, but I believe the rest should apply."

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"Sounds helpful. Do you still need air to breath? There isn't air on most planets, least not air we Hearthians can breath. Though for some reason there is breathable air near trees just about anywhere... Nobody's quite sure how that works. I wonder how you'd do with ghost matter... it kills us pretty reliably and it makes exploring some places quite hard."

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"There are things that can kill me, and some of my protections have to be activated, rather than keeping me safe by default. I would want to understand much more than I currently do about the dangers."

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"We don't completely understand ghost matter. If you go inside it then it kills you pretty quickly, it only takes a few seconds. It destroys the tissues of your body both inside and out. We've built equipment to detect when it's nearby and our cameras overlay it when they take pictures as a safety measure. It also appears briefly as a green glow if any object enters it. As for other dangers, the main ones are running out of air, crashing into something too fast, and on the ember twin specifically there are some caves that fill up with sand... you don't want to get trapped in one of those... thankfully nobody has died that way but there have been some close calls."

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"Ghost matter does not sound like something I have any advantage in combating. Suffocation will take longer to kill me, but not by enough that I would risk it unless your technology provides significant improvement over nothing."

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"Our space suits carry 6 minutes of oxygen. I don't know how long that is relative to how long you can last."

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"I can add two minutes to that, assuming creating a bridge would be impossible- which I need to assume, if you've never heard of the kind that we make. It means I'm very far from the world I know. What else would you recommend I take on this rescue mission?"

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"Can you fly? Our space suits can fly a little but they don't have enough fuel to get you all the way to Dark Bramble."

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"I can't fly, no. Using a bridge, I can travel in ways that aren't physically possible without one, but I doubt I can create bridges here. It's worth a try if I find a good moment to do it, but not for testing purposes. Tell me about how you fuel your rockets."

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"We use Kerosene for rocket fuel. Does that translate?"

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"Not quite, no. Which animal does this oil come from, or is it produced from some other source?"

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"We get it from coal in the ground. It's a pretty complicated process to refine it though."

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"Finding it more easily doesn't help us with the problem at hand, then. We'll worry about that later. All I can offer over another person is that I will survive a bit longer, and stand a better chance of resisting other dangers. Is that enough to justify an attempt? If you think it could help save a friend and reclaim a planet, I'm willing to try."

There's a chance Nymet would even be able to call back some other version of her, she thinks. Not this her, but something close enough.

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"That's a very generous offer. I'm just not sure how much this magic of yours will help. The bramble is huge, bigger than our entire planet. I don't think you have much chance of killing it unless you have some magic you didn't mention." They run their chin. Syl will be leaving on their first expedition in the next little while. I expect they'll be willing to take you to Dark Bramble. I don't know if they'll choose to go inside with you. In the meantime, we can get you fitted with a space suit. And you can think on things a little more."

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"Thank you. I look forward to speaking with them."

She'll allow herself to be led through the museum if there's more to see, although most of what she cares about learning immediately has already been covered.

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Hornfels explains that the Heathians use salvaged Nomai tech in their probes to be able to teleport them back to their launchers.

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They also show her a purple crystal mounted on the wall that allows people to walk on that wall. Apparently it's another piece of Nomai technology.

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A fish-like thing that's a bit menacing... apparently found attached to a ship after a scouting run near dark bramble.

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An exhibit illustrating the phases of a stars life.

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And last but certainly not least a mysterious floating rock that teleports when you're not looking at it. Hornfels seems convinced it's an optical illusion but can't produce any semblance of an explanation for that.

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Huh. Nomai technology seems versatile and powerful, to the point where unlike Heathian technology, she could have mistaken it for magic. Marin files that away in case it becomes useful later, especially if it would ever make sense to try to replicate some of those effects with her magic. She can already think of a way to manage the wall-walking; teleportation is much trickier.

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Hornfels takes her back along the path over to what appears to be a mine entrance that she passed while walking with Spinel. She'll likely notice that it's now night when it was day just a few minutes ago when she entered the building.

"Hey Gossan, this is... Marin they need to be fitted for a space suit."

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"Well I'll be, a genuine alien. It's a pleasure to meet you Marin." They look her up and down and walk around her. "Mostly that should be pretty easy... assuming she can carry the weight, but it looks like she has a few more fingers so the gloves will take longer."

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"It's- a pleasure to meet you to, Gossan. Would either of you happen to know how long a typical day is, on Timber Hearth? In my home, they last 24 hours. Your day-night cycle seems noticeably faster than ours."

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"The sun is overhead once every six and a half minutes."

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"Fascinating. Does your weather change frequently, too? Your world seems surprisingly similar to ours, besides your greater technological development and the incredibly short day."

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"What do you mean by frequently? Whether tends to change on the timescale of hours but fairly gradually."

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"Ordinarily, there are very minor changes in temperature within a week, but anything bigger than that doesn't change without warning. It sounds broadly similar, anyway. I would not have expected something like this place to exist- the world seems different in some small ways, but Hearthians seem so similar to humans."

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"I'm not sure how to explain that... based on their skeletons the Nomai seem to have been fairly similar to us too."

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"Sorry, I shouldn't have distracted you. You were going to fit me for a space suit?"

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"Ah, yes... we should go back to my workshop." They lead the way out of the cave and back to a small building that Marin and Hornfels passed along the way.

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"How exactly do you craft space suits?"

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"There's a bunch of pieces... we already have some helmets premade and it looks like your head is about the right size to fit... might have to adjust the padding a bit. Most of the rest is just sewing. I've got a bunch of fabric treated to be airtight. The boots might also be an issue if we don't have a pair that fit you."

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"Minor alterations might be something I can handle using my magic. We're very good at mending, growing, and tracking things beyond what would be possible using mundane methods."

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"Well that's that concern solved then." They arrive at the building and Gossan opens the door and ushers them in. "We usually wear our suits over our normal clothes and the boots over our moccasins but if you'd prefer I can fit things more closely... I just need to know before taking measurements." They rummage around and hold up a measuring tape.

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"Over my shoes should be fine."

Marin observes the process curiously for a bit, but does eye Hornfels to see if they're bursting with questions.

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"How many of your people are there? How many innangarðs are there?"

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"We don't know how many people are in the world, but estimates range from 100 million to 400 million. In my innangarð, we have 500,000 people, and we currently know of 184 innangarðs that we are confident still exist, mostly of the same size."

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"Wow, that's a lot. We have 48 people in the village at the moment 'less someone had a new hatchling recently and that's all the Hearthians there are besides our explorers."

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"The differences continue to matter less than I expect. Did you know, in our world, we believe that a population of your size would die out within a few generations? And yet, here you are, flourishing."

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"Well, there's not much danger here on Timber Hearth... a few pockets of ghost matter, the geysers if you aren't careful and of course falling off a cliff. Otherwise, you're not likely to die from anything but age."

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"That will be a relief, then. Our world is more dangerous, if you plan to leave your innangarð before you die. There are utgard-beasts everywhere."

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"The only potentially dangerous beasts I know of are the jellyfish on Giants Deep and the angler fish from Dark Bramble."

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"Tell me more about this angler fish."

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"We don't know much... the only example we found was in the tank I showed you in the museum... it's grown by about a third since we captured it and it can move pretty fast when we put food in the tank for it to eat or if you tap on the glass. I have no idea how big they can get."

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"What makes you think it could be dangerous? Is that something that Feldspar was able to report back about?"

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"It moves fast and it has large teeth. Feldspar didn't send reports until after finishing their expedition to a planet. Except the couple times they damaged their ship so badly they needed a pickup."

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Hmm. Marin has used her tracking sense combined with her speed spell to evade more dangerous utgard-beasts in the past. It may not work if there are enough of these angler fish on Dark Bramble, but it might be worth testing. She can ask to stop by the museum once they finish up here.

"What material are your ships made out of?"

And what is this angler fish made of, that it could damage the ships?

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"Our ships are made of a mix of wood, metal and glass. I don't think an angler fish could damage one of our ships but one could probably bite through one of our space suits if you get out of the ship and you need to do that to repair the ship if it gets damaged in a crash."

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"I've got all your measurements now. Feel free to leave if you need to do anything. I'll get working on putting things together."

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"Thank you for your help. If you don't mind, Hornfels, I'd like to revisit the museum. I'd like to try using my tracking magic on the angler fish to ensure that it recognizes them."

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"Of course." They open the door and allow Marin to lead the way. "How do your people protect themselves from all these beasts?"

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"For the type of person who never leaves home, the innangarð protects them. Those of us who need to travel can rely on the bridges, as long as we only plan to visit another  innangarð- but sometimes they break. And some people venture forth into the utgard, rarely. As a pathfinder, I am the person designated by Nymet, my innangarð, to leave when we need to trade, gather food, or arrange marriages. I do most of the protecting, if I travel with a party."

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"So you found your way here while exploring?"

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"I did. I was intending to travel to a neighboring innangarð, Canaan, but somehow the bridge I was traversing snapped partway through, and I exited on one of your mundane bridges. It's not something we've ever heard of, but we wouldn't have, if it led the travelers to other worlds."

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"Will you be able to make a bridge home?" At this point they've arrived back at the museum.

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"I don't expect so. Bridges are only ever meant to one innangarð to another. I have no idea how I ended up on Timber Hearth."

Now that they're inside the museum, Marin would like to get within thirty feet of the angler fish exhibit, and confirm that her tracking sense works.

"I'm going to cast a spell to track angler fish near me. I'll mutter a few words, and when I slam my staff, the etching on it should glow. Most of our magic looks the same to someone untrained, in all honesty."

She begins.

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"I'm sorry, we're definitely willing to provide a home for you if you can't find your way back to yours. I hope the spell works."

 

The spell does indeed identify and track the single angler fish and nothing else.

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"Alright. I can cast the spell on whoever goes into the Dark Bramble. I suspect I may be a good choice to send in if you do attempt a rescue operation, not because I am uniquely suited, but because most of my magic will be helpful to someone who is. Who is considering making the expedition?"

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"Syl might though probably not until after making a couple easier trips first. It's also possible that Gabbro would be interested. Chert is currently working on updating our star chart but might be willing to help once that's finished."

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There's a loud roaring sound from outside the building. "I expect that's Gabbro with the statue they were planning to bring back." They start walking towards the entrance.

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Marin follows. She might not have time to cast very quickly, later, so she hopes a simple protection from lightning and fire will do. She prepares the casting as she walks; now all it needs is for her staff to contact a surface.

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There's a fairly large thing, presumably a spaceship parked on the ground outside the museum.

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And someone in a spacesuit standing in front of it holding what looks to be a rather bulky statue. "Hi Hornfels, who's your new friend? Also could I get a hand with this it's kinda heavy."

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Hornfels moves forward to help. "This is Marin."

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She doesn't have any magic for lifting heavy objects, but she'll say hello as she admires the spaceship.

"It's a pleasure to meet you. I arrived on Timber Hearth unintentionally, and I may not be able to return home, but I hope I can help you with some of the problems your planet has been dealing with."

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"Well it's good to meet you too. I'm sorry you're trapped here that's a bummer. Not sure what issues you're referring to. Timber Hearth is a pretty chill place."

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"I'm referring more to the issues on the other planets you've encountered. The Hourglass Twins, Dark Bramble, Giant's Hollow, and Brittle...I admit, I paid somewhat more attention to the ones I believed I might be able to help you with."

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"Dark Bramble's definitely a problem. I suppose it'll be an issue if Brittle Hollow really starts fallin apart which I suppose it might what with the volcano on Hollow's Lantern going active. The hurricanes on Giants Deep do make life there exciting. I guess they're dangerous if you're not prepared for 'em. Can't really guess what the problem with the Hourglass Twins is."

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"Hornfels tells me there's an unexplained transfer of sand between the two planets. If it's not yet a concern, I can focus on preparing for Dark Bramble."

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"Sorry if I wasn't clear. We don't understand why the sand goes back and forth but it's quite predictable and as long as you stay aware of the time not particularly dangerous."

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"As long as it's not a major concern. I wouldn't trust that it would stay that way, but that could just be unsupported paranoia. What is Timber Hearths' rate of natural disasters? Volcanoes, earthquakes, floods..."

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"I can't recall that we've had any."

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"Do you have any dangerous storms?"

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"Not that I can recall. Our planet is too small and rotates too fast for storms to get that big."

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"Interesting. Has anyone studied how hurricanes form on Giant's Deep? Is that planet a similar size to yours? It may be that I could stop the hurricanes entirely- pathfinders can control the weather on much larger planets than Timber Hearths, to a limited extent."

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"Giants Deep is big. More than twice the size of Timber Hearth if you measure from the ocean's surface. Not sure I'd want the hurricanes stopped but I guess it ain't just my decision."

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"My interest is primarily in solving problems, not indulging my curiosity. I would be happy to have a discussion on how to apply my capabilities to the pressing concerns of Timber Hearths."

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"Better get this statue setup first so as we don't have to keep holding it." Putting words to action they start walking towards the museum. There's a stand apparently already prepared in the entrance to the museum that they place it on.

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"We're quite grateful for your willingness to help... I guess we're just not used to seeing problems as urgent. It might be good to get some rest if you can, it'll take Gossan a while yet to finish your suit and then it would really be best to practice with it a bit before going anywhere potentially hazardous."

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Marin gets some rest. She doesn't try to reconstruct a bridge; if she's going to do that, she should announce to the locals that she may be leaving. It can wait. She tries to construct an innangarð; predictably, this fails.

There's training, to prepare her to space. First, she flies a jetpack: reasonably interesting, and somewhat difficult to adjust to, but not particularly scary.

When she flies the jetpack in zero-gravity, she panics and wastes some magic arresting her movement, before managing to relax enough to finish the exercise.

Finally, they have her practice piloting a model spaceship. Although Marin has never driven or piloted a vehicle of this type in her own world, she takes to it quickly enough.

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The next 'morning' finds her back in the museum waiting with Hornfels for Syl to arrive after his ritual sleep under the stars before setting out.

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Marin prepares the tracking, protection, weather, and terrain spells: they seem the most likely to help her on an unfamiliar planet. She's not operating on the kind of rest she needs to be in perfect condition, but she can make do for a few days like this.

She makes small talk with Hornfels, asking them about how their night was and whether they did anything interesting with it.

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"I was using the telescope mostly. I set the telescope to track a small patch of sky and do a long exposure and the image it recorded had dozens of galaxies in it. The universe must have thousands of times more galaxies than we previously thought."

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"That sounds like good news for your astronomers."

Or is that just Hornfels? Marin wonders how precisely things work around here with so few people.

"How many were you aware of previously? Is that something that interests you, how many galaxies there are?"

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"Before we only saw the big ones, obviously we could see the one we're in and...."

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Another person comes dashing into the museum. "Hornfels! the station in orbit of Giants Deep activated. It seemed to shoot something, I couldn't see where and then it broke apart."

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"It what? I have to reorient the telescope right away. I expect you'll want to launch codes to go take a look. They're upstairs." They start walking quickly towards the ramp to the upper level of the observatory and Syl follows close on their heels.

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That doesn't sound good. Marin doesn't have anything she could do to help with a telescope, and she suspects that if she went along, she'd only be seen as a liability or a distraction. She can wait here until Hornfels returns or calls for help. She looks at some of the exhibits she hadn't spent as much time with yesterday.

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The statue Gabbro brought is new when she goes to look at it the statue turns toward her on its own. The eyes open and begin glowing purple and more purple rays that look a bit like nomai writing seem to be streaming in toward the statue and then her memories of the past five or so minutes begin to flash before her eyes.

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-Marin tries to move her staff, because if there was any situation that constituted an emergency, it would be this one.

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It seems that she is unable to move until the statue is done. Its eyes stop glowing but they stay open.

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Marin tries to look away.

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With the statue quiescent again she's able to do that like normal.

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Well. Not worth burning her magic on a bridge now. Probably.

If it's too late for her, it's too late for a bridge to help.

Marin goes looking for someone- anyone- but preferably Hornfels.

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Syl rushes past, potentially she could call out and get them to stop. Hornfels is presumably still upstairs.

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Marin will go upstairs to find Hornfels. Syl likely has more urgent priorities than dealing with her.

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Hornfels has the entire telescope folded inside the observatory chamber and is slowly pushing it to a different position. They don't notice when Marin comes up the ramp.

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"Hornfels, is everything alright? You seemed worried, earlier."

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"I'm excited but also worried. The station Syl mentioned has been around since before I was born and it has never done anything in that time. Suddenly it activated today and we don't know why. Syl is going to try to investigate it and I'm orienting my telescope to try and see if any of the larger structures the Nomai left have also come online."

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"What do you know about the statue that was just brought in? When I was alone with it moments after you left, it radiated purple light directly at me from its eyes. I have to admit, I'm concerned about what that could mean."

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"Gabbro found it on an island on Giants Deep, apparently they had to get there by going underwater which is why we hadn't discovered it before. There were two on the island but they only brought one back. Otherwise, we had no reason to suspect it was anything but decorative."

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"It seems to have some functionality beyond just that. Neither of them glowed in situ?"

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"No, but this is now the second instance of Nomai technology suddenly activating today. I doubt that it's a coincidence."

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"When the light hit me, I couldn't move, and there was something else too. I saw flashes of the previous five minutes, like I was relieving them."

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"That sounds distressing. I don't think we've ever seen any Nomai tech do that before. But really we don't have many examples of active Nomai tech. Before today we just had some tech that manipulates gravity, the warp cores and the way their written documents show more when you look directly at them."

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Potentially interesting. The behavior of these documents sounds similar to how the statue reacted.

"That sounds disconcerting. What do you mean, they show more when you look at them?"

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"The Nomai write in a series of spirals, initially only the first is visible but when you look closely at a spiral sometimes more appear branching off of it. Hal and Syl say that it's like replaying a conversation. Eventually any given text resets."

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"That's- interesting. It fits the pattern of the statue replaying my memories. You've never run into that phenomenon before when working with Nomai technology?"

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"No, as I said, most Nomai technology has been dormant. The only active technologies we've encountered were the grav crystals and grav plating. Even the warp cores were taken from a workshop and powered separately."

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Nod.

"We should wait to expose anyone else to the statue. It seemed to have gone dormant again immediately, but our understanding of this technology is too limited to gamble on it. I should have asked if someone could check my state of degradation earlier, but if there are any healers here who could take a look, I would appreciate the consultation."

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"What do you mean by state of degradation?"

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"I suppose you might not have the same terminology we do, if you don't have the same relationship with the utgard. Do you have any techniques for measuring the extent to which people have been degraded by exposure to raw chaos, perceptual illusions, and involuntary shape-shifting?"

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"I don't think we have raw chaos or shapeshifting around here. I'm not sure what you mean by perceptual illusions. The only illusions I know of are optical illusions and those are harmless as far as I'm aware."

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"Those sound the same, if much less dangerous. I wonder if there's some underlying similarity that we could identify if we studied it. It sounds as though your world has fewer dangers on the planet itself. That could explain your population numbers- as far as we've been able to tell, humans in my world developed most of our traits through a process of natural selection."

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"As far as we understand it we evolved the same way. Our ancestors had a lot of difficulty finding enough food, we've since solved that problem through agriculture and cooking techniques."

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"I'd be interested to learn more about your study of evolution, but it's not urgent. Let me know if you find anything out about the station."

Marin goes to ask around in case she can contribute usefully to what anyone is working on.

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Tektite is looking for company. "I'm gonna go check out the plume of smoke over yonder. If you're looking for something to do I wouldn't mind help."

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"I'd be happy to accompany you."

She does; there's not much she can do at this distance without something specific to track, and working with limited magic, so she holds off on casting anything until they've gotten closer.

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When they arrive it appears that something has crashed in one of the craters. "I dunno what that is, exactly. Looks like some kind of plant seed, but it’s not anything I’ve seen on Timber Hearth before — and trust me, I was quite the explorer back in the day. D’you think it’s extraterrestrial? It kinda looks like something that might’ve come off of Dark Bramble."

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That doesn't sound ideal. Marin can control plant growth to a limited extent, and she can manipulate terrain...she has limited means with which to identify what this is, though.

"If it's from Dark Bramble, we should slow it down."

She begins casting something to delay plant growth.

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"I reckon that's a good idea if you have a way to do it."

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So she slams her staff on the ground, says a few words, and slows down plant growth within a certain radius of this suspicious extraterrestrial object.

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"I wonder what's inside it. I reckon we'll need a little scout to check. It would be a tight squeeze getting through there and those thorns look nasty."

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"Do you have technology that can do that? In our world, there are people who could send small creatures or magic to scout for them, but I'm not one of them. If there were anyone small enough, I could give them protection from the thorns, but there could be other, unknown dangers."

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"Oh yeah, just need to haul the launcher over. It's a bit to heavy to carry myself though."

Marin might also notice that the sun is red and larger than it previously was.

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She barely understands how her own sun works, let alone this foreign luminary.

"Is that normal?" Marin points out the change.

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"It definitely isn't we should probably head back and make sure Hornfels knows."

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Inside it is. She runs, while checking to make sure Tektite is keeping up.

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Tektite cannot in fact keep up given he has a prosthetic foot. He motions for her to go on ahead. Her run takes her just outside of the observatory when for a moment the sky goes completely and utterly dark and then there's a rushing noise with flecks of blue coming just over the horizon. And then a massive wave of blue energy follows after it. Finally there is white.

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And then she can't feel her body and she sees something that looks like a strange mask. Her perspective moves into the top hole in the mask and she feels her last 22 minutes of memory replaying surrounded by glowing purple tendrils. And finally, she's back exactly where she was 22 minutes ago. On her way to the observatory to talk with Hornfels.

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Well. This doesn't say anything promising about her mental state, but it would be an odd drop-off from the statue incident.

Marin will see if Syl rushes past her, and this time, she'll call out: "Syl! What happened?"

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"The station in orbit of Giant's Deep activated and broke apart. I want to get the launch codes so I can get there right away in case its orbit decays."

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She could be wrong about what's going on, in which case wasting any time now will cost everyone their lives- even if she's right, they can't have infinite chances. Still. Helping Syl find these launch codes might be important.

Marin follows.

"Is this related to the statue that Gabbro found? It activated earlier as well. Glowing beams from its eyes hit me and I couldn't move, for a moment."

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"It did what? When did that happen? Two pieces of Nomai Tech activating at once is evidence of a pattern, maybe we should go look at the island where Gabbro found the statue first."

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"Do we have time for that, if this station broke up?"

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Syl peers up at the sky. "I don't think the orbit will decay for at least a few hours... it might not at all. We have plenty of time."

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Marin follows.

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Hornfels is looking closely at the statue when they walk in. They look over when Syl and Marin walk in. "The statue opened its eyes at some point. I'm not sure exactly when."

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"Marin says that they were here when it happened."

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"It was shortly after you left. The eyes produced light which hit me, and I couldn't move. I also remembered the previous five minutes of my life in vivid detail, like I was re-living them."

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"How strange. We haven't seen Nomai tech do anything like that before."

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"I'm planning to take them to the island Gabbro found the statue on. Maybe we can learn more there."

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"That sounds like a good plan, let me get you the launch codes. Marin, you should go pick up your spacesuit. I expect you can meet Syl at the launch tower."

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Marin will try to pick up her spacesuit, although she suspects that's cutting it a bit close. She hopes she's not wrong about this. Dying while failing to warn anyone of their impending deaths would make for an embarrassing legacy.

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The space suit is waiting in the building where she was fitted for it. It doesn't take long to get there and find it, putting it on might take longer.

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Syl is waiting at the bottom of the launch tower, regardless of whether Marin takes the time to put on the suit.

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Outfitted in her new suit, Marin re-joins Syl.

"Take us away."

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"Great" Syl activates the elevator once Marin is on it. And bounces a bit while the elevator is going up and then dashes across and into the grav lift on the bottom of the ship.

 

By the time Marin is in the ship Syl has buckled into the pilots seat. "With the artificial gravity you shouldn't need to strap in but it's probably best to hold on tight just in case." With that they take off. There isn't really a feeling of motion but the view out the cockpit window is moving pretty fast as Syl sets them on a course for Giants Deep and engages the autopilot. Syl unbuckles and begins putting on their suit. "It's so cool being off planet for the first time... I guess it might not be as exciting for you, you've been to lots of places. You must have so many stories."

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Marin isn't familiar with seatbelts, so she'll trust Syl's assessment. She ignores the view out the window when she realizes just how disorienting it will be.

"Other innangarðs are more similar to one another than you might expect. The utgard is different- impossible geometries, illusions, warped space...but every innangarð is just a new place to get to know. These planets sound more different from Timber Hearth than any innangarð I visited did from Nymet, my home."

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"Well hopefully you'll enjoy our time on Giant's Deep. It might be a bit hard to walk around... the gravity is higher there." By the time Syl gets buckled back in the ship is rapidly approaching Giant's Deep. Syl expertly slows down and begins searching for the island they're looking for. "Gabbro said we're looking for the island with the arch."

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Marin looks out for anything- unusual. Any sign of illusions, optical or otherwise, in particular. While she does not have any spells active to spot them, she has decades of experience with the utgard.

If she spots an arch, that would be nice too.

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It takes a couple minutes but the island in question drifts into view. There's a set of floating purple lines above a circular platform on one side of the island. "Woah... Gabbro said the platform was a convenient place to land but I think they would have mentioned if it was Nomai tech. One more example of things coming online." Syl sets down the ship on the platform. "Did anyone mention that the gravity is twice as strong here on Giants Deep?"

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"You're the first one to offer that warning. Hornfels mentioned the hurricanes and the jellyfish as major phenomena of interest. Gabbro did say something about the size of the planet- twice as large. Is that related?"

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"It is. The larger the planet the higher the gravity roughly speaking. It's actually about mass not volume so the relationship isn't perfect but it's true for all the planets in our system." Syl unbuckles and exits through the hatch in the floor of the ship and waits for Marin to follow.

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Marin follows, trying to move slowly until her body adjusts to the shift in 'gravity'.

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Syl walks to the edge of a nearby beach. "We need to go underwater here, try to stay near the surface there's a strong current if you go too deep." Syl wades into the water and uses their jetpack on their way into an underground grotto with its own small beach.

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Marin casts a spell to give herself more generalized dexterity, to improve her ability to maneuver more easily underwater. She intends to take the staff with her; luckily, it doesn't rely on direct physical contact, only intent and proximity. Into the grotto they go.

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Syl starts off by going right from the beach. "I wonder... What do you make of this?" Syl is standing in front of a cylinder embedded in the wall. There's a softly glowing orb at the bottom of a zig zag going track at the bottom of the door. If Marin looks directly at the orb it lights up.

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As soon as the orb lights up, Marin tries to avert her gaze.

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She can look away, the orb goes back to it's soft glow. "Why did it just light up? Did you do something?"

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"I looked at it. It could be useful if Nomai technology recognizes me," Marin says, although she doesn't sound like someone who is thinking about how useful it is.

She looks at the orb again.

 

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"I wonder if Nomai tech is reacting to you because of what the statue did." The orb lights up again when she looks at it and she can move it by moving her eyes. If she moves it to the top of the track there's a grinding noise and the cylinder rotated to reveal a path outside.

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It takes her a minute to figure out that the orb is somehow responding to her, but then she does.

The feeling of being led somewhere doesn't ease her worries. Marin keeps her eyes peeled for anything moving, with a spell to slow their movement prepared.

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The door is just to a beach opposite the one the ship is landed on. "I guess we won't need to go underwater again when we're done."

Syl starts walking to the left. There are two more statues that look damaged and they don't do anything when Syl passes them. Then there's a small gap with a broken bridge which Syl uses their jetpack to get over. On the other side there's another statue. When Syl gets close it turns towards them and it's eyes open and glow.

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Marin probably shouldn't treat this as an opportunity to cast a tracking spell on the statue- she's not sure what it will do with complicated technology, when it has no effect on most inanimate objects but it does on living things. If what it does is track objects that can move under their own power...worth using up that magic. She casts.

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About half a minute later Syl looks up. "The statue showed me all my memories since I woke up. Ooh! That looks like something I can translate. I'll read it out for you." Syl takes out a device and aims it at an object glowing a small purple color. They read off the display on their device.

"PHLOX: Yarrow, would you kindly step back so Daz is closest to the statue? When pairing, the statue will choose whoever is in closest proximity.

PHLOX: ...See how its eyes have opened? That tells us the statue has paired with Daz. Now, no matter where he is in this star system, Daz’s statue will record his memories and send them to the Ash Twin Project.

YARROW: This is extraordinary sculpting work, Phlox!

DAZ: He has outdone himself again, hasn’t he? And now that we have our first successful pairing, we can test my memory storage prototype.

DAZ: Each statue will send a single Nomai’s memories to his or her own storage unit within Ash Twin.

PHLOX: Each storage unit will be equipped with a mask, the statue’s counterpart, which will be able to send those stored memories back to the corresponding Nomai."

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"That might level the playing field. We were low on time, or I would have mentioned earlier: the sky went dark, then blue, then white, and I saw a mask as my memories of the previous twenty-two minutes replayed. The station might crash on Timber Hearth, and we may be able to stop it."

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"So we're in a time loop? I don't think it's possible for the station to crash on Timber Hearth... if it's orbit decays I expect it will end up on Giants Deep. I wonder what made the sky do that. I wouldn't expect the sky to go dark unless something happened to the sun."

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"-what could happen to the sun? Assume my understanding of physics is extremely limited."

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"Stars like ours explode when they die... it's supposed to take a long time to happen though... If it was going to happen we should have already seen the signs. It would have gone red and gotten much bigger."

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"What else could happen to the sun? Does the color of the light indicate anything about possible causes?"

Marin describes what it looked like in more detail.

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"That sounds like the progression of a star's life running in fast forward. I don't understand how that's possible."

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"I know very little about suns, but if I just connect the dots- when the artifact's light impacted me, it held me in place and showed me the previous minutes of my life. Then, time seemed to move backwards until an earlier point. All of these effects have something to do with the passage of time- if Nomai tech is powerful enough to reserve the direction of time, could it affect the life of a star?"

Stars are much bigger than people, but Marin isn't at all confident she has the correct intuitions here. Best to lay out the logic for someone with a better grounding in this.

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"I wouldn't have thought either was possible this morning. I think we need more information."

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"We need to learn a lot more. For one, do you have any records that mention anything like the 'Ash Twin Project'? Perhaps that Nomai writing in the museum?"

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"We only have a few bits of Nomai text from Attlerock and Timber Hearth recorded. Nobody really thought we'd ever be able to translate it until Hal and I started on our project and we finished really recently. If we want clues we really need to find them ourselves."

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"Show me what you have so far."

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"I don't have all of it here. But from what I remember the text from Attlerock was written by Coleus, Thatch, Filix and Cassava. It discussed something they called the eye and how the locator apparatus they built on Attlerock wasn't able to locate it. On Timber Hearth underwater Coleus, Oeno and Cycad discussed possible mining sites and said that they were going to use a nearby site. We found that site but the entrance was locked by something a bit like the door lock we just opened. I think there's more Nomai writing here on this island. There's also probably more on the station I was planning to visit and some of the other planets. I just don't know exactly where." While Syl is talking the wind starts getting pretty loud.

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Nod.

"We should visit the site underwater. If we can unlock doors just because the Nomai technology recognizes us, somehow, we might be able to unlock that door now. We can go to the station first, though."

She'll ignore the wind until the sky fills with bright light, perhaps, since they don't really have a lot of other clues just yet.

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"Agreed, we should also visit the small Nomai ships on the Ember Twin and Brittle Hollow they might have clues." The wind gets even louder whipping through the space and then suddenly it's like gravity goes away and the whole island is lifted up. Three cylinders of purple light appear. One of them behind them and the other two on higher platforms. "Oh wow, I think these cylinders are safe spots. I think you should go in the one here. I'm going to try to get to the one on that platform I don't think there's a way to get there under gravity." Putting actions to words Syl is off, expertly maneuvering and very shortly in the cylinder on the upper platform.

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Most of this looks like utgard to her, but Marin will trust that Syl knows what they're doing, for now. She rushes to the cylinder on the ground, keeping her staff within the purple light as well.

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After about half a minute the island crashes back down into the ocean and bobs up and down a bit before stabilizing at it's previous level. The purple energy fields disappear leaving behind the illustration of a tornado glowing purple at Marin's feet. "Well that was exciting!" Syl says in an upbeat voice. "There's some more Nomai writing up here it's talking about the philosophical implications of the time loop, would you like me to read it to you?"

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"Please do."

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"PHLOX: I’m curious: Is sending a being’s memories back in time the same as sending the being itself back in time?
PHLOX: As an example, if we were to send my memories back in time, is that the same as sending “me” back in time (not my physical body, but my essence)?
DAZ: I imagine they’re two different actions.
CASSAVA: Wouldn’t both actions be effectively the same?
DAZ: Suppose that time was being rewritten. I believe this is different than receiving memories from what is effectively the future.
CASSAVA: But isn’t the end result identical in either case?"

Syl lets that sit for a few seconds. "I'll grab the scroll it was written on so we can reference it later but we still haven't been up the stairs. There might be something important written there."

Syl jets down from the higher platform and makes for the stairs. They'll pass by Marin if Marin doesn't start moving first."

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She’s not concerned with the philosophical implications if they’re saving the world. If the stakes were lower, perhaps she’d given the question more consideration (certainly, her brother would be happy to debate the issue), but they had urgent priorities. Such as: stairs. Marin casts a spell on Syl to improve their speed, since it’s more important that one of them gets a chance to explore than that she personally sees everything.

Marin follows behind at her normal pace, taking care to observe their environment (the sky, the air, etc.) in case new clues about this catastrophe present themselves.

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Syl quickly reaches another wall of text and begins to read. "RAMIE: I’ve installed the masks inside the Ash Twin Project, Phlox. They look beautiful (although I do feel as though I’m being observed!).
RAMIE: It’s comforting to know the statues will not pair until the project succeeds. Otherwise, I imagine the experience would be hard to endure!
PHLOX: Ideally, they’ll only need to activate once the project succeeds; as a safety measure, however, the statues will also activate in the event of equipment failure.
RAMIE: They will? Why is that?
PHLOX: If anything goes wrong with the Ash Twin Project, the statues (and their masks) will make us aware of the situation and enable us to fix it. Otherwise, it would be possible for us to remain permanently unaware of the problem.
RAMIE: I hadn’t thought of that! What a profoundly horrific fate that would be."

Just after Syl finishes speaking the sky above them goes dark, then it flashes then it goes dark again.

"This is the end isn't it?"

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Nod.

"See you again soon."

Marin still plans to conserve her magic for use in more powerful spells, but it still goes against her instincts to do nothing as the world falls apart a second time.

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Syl starts to say something but there's no time.

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And Marin's memories of the last loop play in reverse until she's once more at the beginning.

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On her way to the observatory to talk with Hornfels...and this time, when Syl rushes past?

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Syl rushes up. "Sorry we should have planned for this loop last time. I can help you carry your suit. You should be fine to put it on in the rocket. Should we keep investigating Giant's deep or try a different planet? I know you wanted to look into the Ash Twin project so we could go to the Ash Twin and see what we can find there."