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Generated: Oct 28, 2021 1:03 PM
Post last updated: Oct 28, 2021 1:03 PM
off of that dark precipice
Sad Cam talks to Ancora
Permalink Mark Unread

Ancorabenilisifentiliane is making a door.  They don't really want to be making a door, which would under other circumstances defeat the purpose, but none of the things they do want to be doing are at all available, so: door.  It's made of a dark, polished wood, and its frame is in stone with sharply delicate metalwork accenting the sides.

It is beautiful.  It is useless.

The frame stands out in the open, without any walls, in a forest that is even more beautiful and even more useless.  Its artist has just finished carving an elaborate design onto the front of one of the stones of the frame; they swing open the door to access the next face.

- That doesn't look useless at all.

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It does not! It looks very non-useless!

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And occupied!

"- hi."

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'. . . Hello.'

They step through and close the door behind them.

They're - a person, tall, wearing a fancy jacket and half a ballgown, cut out in the front to show off shiny pants and knee-high boots.  Their mouth doesn't move when they speak.

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"Uh, welcome to Milliways. - it's not mine or anything, I got here same as you."

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'Whose is it?'

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"The bar is sapient but she calls whoever controls the door and other stuff 'the Landlords'."

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'Are the Landlords around to be met?'

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"It does not seem so."

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They start walking around and looking at things.

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There is a window beyond which stars are exploding brightly. The bar itself, unstaffed and with no drinks on the shelves beyond. Stairs. A hallway, leading most proximately to a bathroom. Booths and tables with benches and chairs respectively.

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They occasionally run their fingertips over one thing or another; after a few minutes they approach the bar.  'Is there a purpose to this place?'

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I'm not aware of an overarching goal, but I serve drinks - first one is free - and sell objects to patrons.

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They make an inscrutable sort of gesture before correcting it to a nod.

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Can I interest you in a beverage?

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'You can.'

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Here is a glass of something black with white foam.

"So what's your name, I'm Cam," says Cam.

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'Ancorabenilisifentiliane.'  They take a sip.  'It is nice to meet the two of you.'

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"Ancora- sorry, I didn't catch all of that -"

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'Ben-i-lis-i-fen-til-i-a-ne.'

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He writes it down this time. "Nice to meet you."

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Sip.  'What are you; humans can't have wings by themselves and you are not one of mine.'

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"We're called demons. I used to be a human, though, and I could put wings on a human."

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'One of mine could put wings on a human who wasn't mine as well, but then that human would be mine, a little.  Who made demons?'

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"It's not clear anyone did. What are you exactly?"

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'An artist.'

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"I meant like your species."

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'Yes.'

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"...you're a species called artists?"

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'Yes.  Why do you think this would not be so.'

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"I'm used to art being a variable talent within species."

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They don't react to that for a moment, their hair drifting slightly in a nonexistent breeze.

'Artists make and are made of art.  I met creative humans but there are none of them in our realm to need a collective name for.'

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"How are you made of art?"

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'Humans are sustained by food and drink and grow stronger by exercise and practice; artists are sustained by their projects and grow stronger when reality is in line with their visions.'

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"...huh. What kind of projects do you do?"

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'Myself alone or the species entirely?'

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"...both."

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'Most artists do woodworking, masonry, metalsmithing, weaving, embroidery, pottery, gardening, implementing natural design, and things in that vein.  I have undertaken those projects as well of late but do not prefer to.  Previously I made a magic system.'

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"- you can do that?"

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'If I could I would not be making doors.  But perhaps someday, again, and perhaps sooner than I thought, now that I am no longer trapped with only other artists.'

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"- can you tell me about how you made a magic system?"

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'I selected some humans who seemed amenable and with their input decided how it should function.  There were several minor missteps in the implementation but it seemed like the project would be immensely successful until one of them killed the other five.'  They take a sip of their drink.  'This was not in accord with my vision.'

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"Sounds like the sort of thing you don't want your art project doing, yeah. What's the magic system like?"

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'People who are mine can drink others' blood and have both parties gain magic.  People who are not already mine can use their gains to gradually become so, or for their own uses.  Magic allows people to make temporary or permanent improvements to themselves or others, generally, or do instant effects on living things.  The first interaction with magic a person has gains them a soul.'

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"When you say someone is 'yours' and mention 'souls' what is it that you mean?"

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'Unaltered humans are made up of only physical matter, and die when that matter is disrupted.  Interacting with magic gives them a hook of sorts, which things might catch on.'  Sip.  'I will eventually be able to retrieve the five.  But not any of the billion who would have received one and did not.'

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"Oh. Can't make a new magic system that has resurrection built in?"

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'In the event that somebody else has gone there and spread their own version, I would be able to use those for my purposes.  But not if there is nothing left of the person but atoms.'

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"What about people who weren't made of atoms to begin with?"

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'Those are accessible.'

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"There're about a million dead ones in the world I just came through and I really want them to be alive again."

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'Oh.

'I am very weak at present.'

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"And you need to - do more art? To be stronger?"

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'Yes.'

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"Can I help with that in any way? - I can make arbitrary material objects and that includes media from the worlds I'm familiar with if that's the kind of thing that's useful to you."

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Their voice remains as expressionless as ever but gold and silver glitter starts gently falling around them.  It fails to accumulate on any surfaces.  'I would read any books you cared to provide.'  The glitter stalls in the air for a moment before resuming its descent.  'Consuming media is not a project but inspiration is useful.'

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"A lot of stuff isn't books but images or sound. Sometimes moving images with sound."

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'I would also see paintings and hear music, yes.'

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"Theater? Sculpture? Dance? Do you know how computers work?"

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'Those three as well.  I do not know of computers.'  They adjust their hair with a breeze which fails to affect the glitter.  'Of the listed artforms, only sculpture exists in the artist realm.'

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"May I show you my favorite aerial ballet or would you rather start with something more familiar?"

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'I encountered the others when I travelled to Earth, but my conspecifics were uninterested in them when I returned.'

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"- does that mean you would or wouldn't like to see more?"

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'I would very much like to see works in the forms of art which I have been cut off from for a century.  And the descendants of those forms.'

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Cam gets permission from Bar, makes a TV on the wall above the fireplace, and puts on Atriama.

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'What is that,' they say when he turns on the TV.

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"It's a television screen, it plays recordings of moving images. With sound." The overture starts up; the principals dance introductorily through their leitmotifs.

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They watch in complete stillness for several minutes.

'This is very abstract,' they eventually comment.

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"It has a plot," Cam assures them. "Though I don't know how accessible it will be from your perspective. I can explain what's happening as we go if you like."

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'Do.'

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So Cam explains the plot of Atriama.

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'Are there supposed to be people represented here.'

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"...yes..." He pauses, gets up, traces Atriama's balletic outline with his finger. "That's Atriama. It's a flat image, maybe your vision doesn't work well with flat images - no, you said you paint?"

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'I see rectangles, in three colors.'

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"...do you do mosaics?"

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'Yes.'

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"Does it help to think of it as a moving representative mosaic?"

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'Artists do not generally make representative art, excepting myself.  Human mosaics were.'  They pause for a long moment.  'Human mosaics had larger and more-self-consistent color blocks.'

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"Yes, with the color blocks much smaller and more changeable this actually looks to human eyesight a lot like being present in the location of the camera. Look -" He makes a camera, takes a picture of Milliways, displays it.

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They stare.

'Do humans exert effort to see things like this.'

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"No, not particularly. I guess some of it might be cultural but a human who grows up around photography doesn't need to actually work on it consciously."

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'I will experiment.'

They continue staring, blinking once every few seconds for a minute or so and then several times rapidly.  'Oh.  I see the forms of objects now.  The colors are supposed to match reality also?'

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"With some allowances for equipment, yes."

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Blinking, blinking . . .  'Start the aerial ballet from its beginning.'

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He skips back to the overture.

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'This is much more comprehensible.'

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"Oh good."

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They sit through the rest of it fine.  Their body stays completely still and their face completely emotionless, but sometimes ambient effects happen around them; the glitter rain makes a reappearance, occasionally short ribbons of color dash into and out of existence, and during two of the most impactful moments the air surrounding them goes frigid.

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It's a couple hours long. Cam looks at them sort of hopefully at the end.

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They gaze back impassively.

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"Was that - helpful, or anything -"

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'Consuming media is not a project.'

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"...yeah, I guess not. Is there actually a way I can help?"

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'I may not know what sorts of projects I want to do, or can be done, until I have consumed substantial amounts of media, however.  This was not possible when I visited Earth.'  They gesture at the TV with a swirl of sparkles.

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"What year was it there?"

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'Before the turn of the twentieth century, but near to it.'

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"Yeah, movies hadn't taken off then, and didn't get sound till a while after they were already popular in silent form. Also humans tend not to have wings so you don't see them doing aerial ballet but that's separate."

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'Are small immediate gains more important than foundational work, here.'

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"...there's a million dead Maiar, about."

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"I don't know what that implies for - time horizons or whether you're willing to help at all."

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'I intend to grow in power regardless.  Once there is enough of me I will have the ability to work on this in parallel with more central projects.'

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"Okay. Would you like to - see more, or have me teach you to use a computer so you can browse on your own -"

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'If you think that's wise.'

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"I can keep recommending things instead but I don't know if my taste is likely to correspond to what will - inspire you."

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'Your first choice was unlike anything I have encountered before.  I do not think I absorbed very much of it.'

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"...do you want more recommendations, or just the Library of Hell and a computer tutorial to browse it?"

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'I would like to watch the same thing again.'

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Cam rewinds Atriama. "There are also other productions of the same," he mentions.

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They nod a beat or two later than would be a usual response for a human.

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"...do you want to see a different one or this same one again?"

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'The same one.'

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Cam falls silent. Makes himself dinner while it plays again.

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They're less motionless on this watch; they request that he replay certain moments of choreography frequently enough that possibly he will want to teach them how to do that themself - there's a few bits they watch a dozen times over.  With those, they get up and start mirroring the dancers.  Apparently they're capable of shifting forms, although at first it's hard to tell; they don't grow or appear wings so much as make it seem plausible that they'd had them all along in a way that one just failed to notice.  This extends to their clothing as well; their boots - if they were ever wearing boots - get traded in for more dance-appropriate shoes and bits of their coat and skirt appear smaller so as to stay out of the way of their movement, or flare out to accentuate a spin.  Somehow they never hit the ceiling or floor even when it definitely seems like they should.

They also ask a lot of questions, mostly about what's fiction versus reality, but also the plot in general, whether things are foreshadowing, details about the music theory and what instruments are being used, and how the lighting works.

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Fortunately, Cam really likes Atriama and can get into all the fine details for quite a while, though he has to look up details about how this production was orchestrated and lit.

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'Another production?'

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Cam puts on another very different staging.

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They refrain from commenting till half an hour in.  'I dislike this.'

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"...would you like to switch to a third one, or keep watching it for, uh, background, or do you mean you've determined you dislike Atriama in general?"

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'I would like to switch to a third one.'

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Cam switches. There are many productions of Atriama in the history of Hell. It's even been put on by fairies once, with costume wings and particularly elaborate choreography, and angels, twice.

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They ask for a few instruments once it occurs to them to do so and add quietly playing along to their methods of active consumption.  They pick up the appropriate harmonies and counterpoints for whatever they're playing rather than sticking to the melody, and make some mistakes in so doing but not very many.

From their reactions to various versions, Cam can determine that their aesthetics tend toward the gothic and elegant, though it's not exclusively that; they seem to quite like some flavors of gaudiness but have no tolerance for anything resembling garishness.  Synths and electric instruments and ones they haven't heard before particularly fascinate them, if the number of questions they ask about those is any indication.

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Cam provides instruments, and looks up facts about instruments, and chooses grandly elaborate productions over kitchen-sink slapdash costumery. He drinks coffee in quantity.

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'I would like to learn how to use a computer now,' they state after maybe a day and a half.

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Cam sets them up with the nicest non-brain-surgery computer on the market and walks them through its use.

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They have a bit of trouble with the interface at first but pick things up readily enough once that's overcome.

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And Cam can produce the Library of Hell on servers in the Milliways backyard, if they wish.

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They wish.

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All the works of everyone in six worlds are at their fingertips.

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They appreciate this!  Immensely!  It's even possible to tell this by their body language and facial expressions a bit; they start trying to copy those too after a few more days of exposure.  They don't quite manage to do it while concentrating on absolutely anything else, but attempts are made, and they're happy-seeming ones.

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Cam remains on hand to troubleshoot as needed (and make sure they don't wander off into unfriendly time dilation).

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There are occasional questions - it turns out they can't see cartoons very well, although 3D animation is substantially better even at similar levels of stylization; it seems to have a lot to do with the level of shading detail (and indeed, they don't have an issue with the painted backgrounds when they watch the earliest animated films, just the simpler moving characters) - but in general they're fairly content to sort through everything on their own.

They play their instruments and dance, both with variable numbers of limbs, and eventually think to ask whether Cam wants to join in.

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"I can't dance but I do play violin."

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'Why can you not dance?'

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"Too clumsy. The wings and tail help but I still fall if I break into a run or dance."

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They consider that for a moment.

'This is fixable.'

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"- really? Uh, I don't want to - spend down resources you could otherwise direct toward resurrecting Maiar -"

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'Not yet.  If you were mine you could do it yourself, and this would contribute, not detract.'  A smile, which they hold for a beat and then immediately drop in order to resume speaking.  'It is better when more people can do more things.'

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"What exactly are the features of being 'yours', the phrasing isn't - neutral, as I currently understand it..."

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'If I instead call them 'vampires' will this cause you to become distracted by etymology again.'

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"...a bit, yes."

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'How so.'

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"Traditionally in fiction about vampires they drink blood, may or may not be evil, have various vulnerabilities and drawbacks that would bother me more than the inability to dance, sometimes have psychic powers and connections which ethically concern me..."

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'Yes, mine are modeled after those.  I read about them and they were the most perfectly-aesthetic thing I had ever heard of, so I made them real.  Though I did not see fit to include the evil or the vulnerabilities.  There are some psychic powers available but I avoided unethical ones there as well.'

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"What ethical psychic powers do they have?"

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'They can decide how much to care about people and model them better than they would otherwise be able to.  And make them fall unconscious; it was decided it would be better for people to have the option in a situation where they might otherwise kill someone.'

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"...model them better how?"

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'It helps one understand how others work as people and predict how they'll react to different situations.  Its fidelity is not very high.'

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"Understand and predict them by what mechanism?"

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'I don't understand the question.'

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"- I probably shouldn't be a vampire anyway because it's very important that I be a demon and I'm not sure they'd interact constructively, so maybe it doesn't matter for my purposes."

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'I do not think it is very different, but if you think it better to refrain then of course proceeding would be unhelpful regardless.'

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"It would be very bad if it interfered with something about my demon-related characteristics. Even if it helped you bring back the Maiar, I'm using demonic conjuration to bring back dead Elves and I'm only halfway done."

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'I see.  What are Elves.'

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"They're a species of people that lives in the world I came through. They look sort of like humans but taller and prettier."

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'How can you resurrect them with conjuration.  Might it expand to humans from the world I encountered.'

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"No, sorry, it's a special Elf feature. They have backups."

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'It is more urgent to me to obtain souls for people who will otherwise be lost than to resurrect people who are dead but without chance of getting worse.'

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"That's understandable. I just can't leave the resurrections half-done, it could take them a long time to find somebody else to finish them up."

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'I am informing you of my priorities, not attempting to dictate yours.'

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Cam nods. "If you're able to help with the Maiar would their - characteristics change in any way -"

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'Not inherently, I do not expect.  If any of them did it might help scale the operation, but bringing them into the project as active participants when they are not aligned with it is worse than leaving them out.  But it would have to be a different system in any case; vampires were designed around physical beings.'

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"Okay. I don't know if any of them would be - aligned in the right way. I'm not sure what that means exactly."

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'Having similar aesthetics and goals, or acting as if they do.'

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"I don't know any of the dead ones at all. Or the living ones well. There's probably stuff in the library about some of them, if that helps."

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'I would not expect it to at this stage and would expect it to at a later one.'

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"Can you tell me more about the stages there?"

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'For now, I will continue consuming media and working on small-scale projects.  Once I have grown strong enough, I will have the capability to teleport to my Earth, and shall do so.  There, I will begin work on ensouling people, and enlist people who are already contributing to help.  This will cause me to become more powerful substantially faster, and once I can divide my attention between multiple bodies, I will return here in one and begin preliminary work on resurrecting your Maiar while others continue there, including determining whether it will be more efficient for me to resurrect them all or construct a system they can work within to do it themselves.'

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"- thank you. Thank you very much. Uh, do you have a time estimate - or need anything else from me -"

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'You also have been very helpful thus far; I appreciate this likewise.  My estimate for the first stage is not less than several days and not more than several months.  I expect it would be very likely to valuably help if you came with me to my Earth; the risk of another misunderstanding of the magnitude that returned me to my realm of origin the first time concerns me.'  They emulate a head-tilt.  'Although I suppose I also don't know that you yourself won't go on to murder.  I certainly did not predict such conduct from any of the six before it happened.'

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"It... takes exceptional circumstances. But I'm nervous about leaving Milliways before I'm done resurrecting all the Elves."

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'I am nervous about leaving, making a mistake, being forced back, and not being able to help you from there either.  I think you should be as well, although of course how you weigh these concerns is your choice.  What takes exceptional circumstances.'

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"Getting me to murder people takes exceptional circumstances. What kind of mistake do you mean? Forced back where?"

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'Back to my realm of origin; if I am weakened enough I cannot subsist outside of it.  This is what happened previously; I am not eager to repeat it.  It seems likely there are many sorts of mistakes, which I do not expect I can predict, that could lead to this outcome.'

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"I'm not sure how having me along would make that less likely."

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'You're psychologically closer to human, yet in a sufficiently different context that I would hope that if I made a mistake, it would be of a different sort than I would make with them.  It would be my hope that perhaps one side could catch the other, in that event.'  They pause.  'But perhaps consuming enough of their media will gain me more competence there.'

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"I find a lot of what you say hard to - contextualize," Cam remarks.

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"By which I mean I don't really know what you're getting at and would appreciate it if you rephrased it, or gave examples, or something."

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'For example?'

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"...in this case I still don't know how having me along would help anything. I don't feel clear on what we'd be doing or how it would be better with my assistance."

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It takes them a while to formulate a response, and they speak slowly once they do.

 

'I have told you what I want to be done on my Earth, in some amount of detail, and will have time to elaborate on and clarify that before it is possible for me to return there.  There is some chance that I will have conveyed it poorly, and some chance that you conveyed yourself poorly to me and are going to murder people or otherwise intentionally take actions to weaken me.

'With the people I will be speaking to on my Earth, there will also be these chances.  I will have less time to explain things and get to know them in, as well.  It is my intuition that, if I go alone, I am taking the full weight of each chance separately.  It is also my intuition that if you came, and helped to explain things, that I would have to make the same mistake twice in order to make one at all, because you and the other person would have an additional opportunity to notice if the other was misunderstanding or malicious.'

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"I know that you want to give people souls so they can be resurrected and that your powers somehow work by means of doing art. I don't actually know what that looks like on a - project management level. If you need me to... translate Japanese, book hotel rooms, pawn things for cash, act as your agent in art galleries, construct a museum on the Moon, source materials out of which to create blackout poetry, teach myself IRB proposal lingo and get legal permission to turn people into vampires... I can probably do most of those things but the last one sounds really hard? But I don't know what kinds of things you would make mistakes while trying to do."

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'I do not know what almost any of those things are.'

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"And I do not know what the things you would need me to do instead are."

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'I think I also do not know these,' they admit.

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"One thing we could do, if you're willing to wait, is I could get some people from New Valinor to hold the door for me, spend a few months getting the rest of the Elf resurrections done, lightleap back to Valinor to deal with war dead and make sure people know where my summoner is, and then come back."

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'I do not think I am very willing to wait while there are people irretrievably dying.

 

'Also my picture of your situation and its logistics is unclear and I don't understand how many of the terms you use fit into it.'

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"It's a long story. I should at some point tell it to you anyway, I guess."

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'That seems likely to be helpful.'

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"Demons can be summoned. Usually we are summoned to an Earth, which is probably similar in some respects to the one you know, and under some magical restrictions that prevent us from doing whatever we want without human oversight. In a - freak accident, I was summoned to Arda, instead. Without any bindings on. They were in the middle of a war with an evil god. Anything I need to clarify so far -"

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'What is a war.  Expand on 'evil god'.'

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"A war is a large-scale armed conflict. The evil god was a Vala, I don't know if you've come across anything about Valar poking through the library. They're magical entities, poorly defined powers, and there are fifteen, one of whom likes torturing people a lot."

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'I see.'

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"So, I got summoned by a child belonging to a host of Elves who were planning to travel to the planet on which the evil god was conducting his war and fight him, and since if my summoner dies or dismisses me I vanish back to Hell I went and made the summoner kid and his family and some people to keep them company a safe planet in the middle of nowhere where nobody else knew the location to wait out the conflict, and once I'd determined to my satisfaction that they weren't making up how evil the god was I helped with the war, material support mostly. Any of that need clarifying -"

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'No.'

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"Valar, Maiar, Elves, and orcs who are an Elf offshoot species, can all make binding oaths, which means that if they say out loud in the correct phrasing they will do something then they have to and can no longer choose otherwise. Melkor, the evil god, and his associate evil Maiar, could spoof this by making illusory sound, which doesn't count as speaking aloud for this purpose. But a friendly Maia, Melian queen of Doriath, enabled me to test that I can conjure for all and only recordings of spoken words by a particular speaker. Which allowed me to verify that oaths were actually made, for purposes of negotiating anything we wanted the other side held to."

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Nod.

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"Eventually he offered - everything we wanted, a complete stop to all the torture and all the war for him and all his Maiar and the orcs too, an excruciatingly detailed oath about it -

- if I went to Valinor where the other fourteen Valar lived and put a black hole in it."

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They don't respond at all for several seconds, and then, abruptly -

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- it's awfully cold in here.

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'I had thought you were speaking of a hypothetical.'

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Cam shakes his head.

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They're silent, cold, and still for a long moment.

 

 

 

'You want them back, still.'

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"I didn't want to kill them in the first place! I turned him down the first time he suggested it before we knew I'd be able to resurrect at least the Elves!"

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- they blink, and the room is again at a normal temperature, and instead there are several other effects - a vicious wind whipping their hair and clothes about, howling but not actually affecting anything but its origin - their eyes glow from behind their mask and dust trails out like tears from them in red and silver and gold and black, swirling around their figure in the gale - they seem taller, bigger, than should really be able to fit in the room, but they're not hunching or hitting the ceiling -

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Cam buries his face in his hands and waits it out.

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This only causes it to escalate, apparently.

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Bar has security, she said, they'd show up if this were dangerous and most things aren't in fact dangerous to Cam. He waits more. Starts crying, eventually.

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The intensity starts to taper slightly, and shortly afterwards they glide out into the backyard.

 

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Cam flops miserably on Bar for a bit. Eventually makes a pint of ice cream and borrows a spoon and goes through it.

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They don't come back inside during that time.

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They're probably not going to want to help any more but waiting in the bar is still his best bet for meeting someone else who will. When the ice cream's gone he picks up his violin, plays through his repertoire.

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It takes a few hours for them to open the door a crack.

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Cam pauses mid-note.

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It does not open more than that.

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"I'm sorry," he tries.

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'That is very clear.'

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"I'm immortal, if you want to go do something else I can - wait for someone else who can get the Maiar back, here, no time's passing in Arda while I'm here."

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He sets his violin down. Sits on the couch in front of the fire.

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'I apologize for the cold.  I had forgotten that physical people are vulnerable to it.'

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"I'm not, actually - I mean, I felt it but it couldn't hurt me any."

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'But you did feel it.'

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"Yeah. It's fine."

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They come inside - walking, not floating - but keep their distance.

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"Is there - anything I should clarify, or -"

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'I did not at all understand your comment about time not passing.'

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"According to Bar while someone is in Milliways, usually time doesn't pass where they came from. I checked to make sure that was true of Arda, and it is, it's paused. I'm not keeping anybody waiting, looking here for somebody who can get the Maiar back."

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''Looking here for somebody'.'

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"- yeah, that's what I'm doing here, I'm - seeing who comes through, trying to find someone who can bring back the people I can't - and you're the only promising one so far but it's only been a few weeks -"

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'But I am a promising one.'  A small breeze picks up around their feet, noticeable only in how it catches their skirt.

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"You can invent entire new magic systems, that seems like it'd probably work."

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'Yes.'

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"So - anything you need that doesn't risk abandoning the resurrections in the middle, I'll help you out, if I can, if - you still want me to."

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'I do, yes.'

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"Thank you."

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They . . . attempt a facial expression.

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"I'm not really sure what you're trying to communicate."

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'It's mutual.'

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"I just - I don't want anyone to be dead and I especially don't want anyone to be dead because I killed them."

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'That is not the aspect about which I am confused.'

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"What is?"

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They puzzle.

 

'You're . . . upset.'

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"...yes."

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'You're more upset than you were initially.'

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"I'm always upset about it. I'm usually - compartmentalizing a little so I can do other things but bringing it up directly brings it tor the surface more."

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The breeze continues to dance around their feet.

 

 

'By my understanding, humans cry and cringe when they are very upset.  You did not start with those until well after it was already brought up.'

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"- it also seemed possible you were upset enough to not help with the Maiar, which would have been bad."

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Headtilt.  Unheadtilt.

'Why.'

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"...why would that be bad?"

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'Why did it seem possible I was upset enough to not help with the Maiar.'

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"You were... reacting very strongly, and I find you confusing in general, and it's in range for what I'd expect of a human, that they wouldn't want to work on anything with me after finding out I holed a planet."

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'I apologize again for the cold.'

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"The cold itself was fine, I'm indestructible."

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'What is the not-'itself' which was not fine.'

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"Just - being scared that I'd lost a chance to get them back. That I'd wait and wait and every time it'd turn out like that, that as soon as somebody has the full story they'll - go, and not help me fix it."

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'But then it would not be fixed.'

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"- well, yes, but. I'm not sure that would be everyone's overriding priority. If they still believed me about what I was trying to do at all. And - I'll get it fixed, somehow, I'll stay here as long as I have to."

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'How could someone self-consistently be upset enough at you doing that they then don't want to fix it.  Either it is worth being upset over or not; if it isn't then there's no sense in being mad at you and if it is then it needs fixing.'

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"If they decided I'm generically untrustworthy," he suggests.

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'I will do research, and if it transpires that you have misled me about important facts about the situation, then I will not help you with the objective you were attempting to mislead me into,' they determine.  'Unless it is also important.'

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"That's entirely appropriate. Thank you."

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Nod.

' - If a world's time is paused while one of its members is here, then my priority upon getting a multiversal teleport should be to bring someone back here, instead of attempting to operate there immediately.'

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"I'm not from Arda and I'm pausing it, but if you can do that it sounds promising. You could also try opening the door and see if you can reach your Earth, if that's where you have in mind?"

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They try the door.  Outside it: a pretty forest.  They close the door.

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"Where's that?"

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'It is where I was before I was here.'

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"With the other artists?"

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'Yes.'

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"Do you think any of them would help?"

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'No.'  They're quicker on this response than usual.

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"...why not?"

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'They are all - very narrow, in their interests and abilities.'

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"I see. What makes you different?"

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'My progenitor dabbled in broader projects and one of them, left idle, was successful enough to create me.'

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"- oh, huh, so you're some sort of second-generation artist?"

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'I'm not sure what you mean by that.'

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"You were made as, yourself, an art project. It wasn't obvious to me where artists normally come from, maybe that's typical."

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'I wasn't the project; I resulted from its success, as is the standard method of reproduction for my species.  I expect my efforts here to result in at least one new artist, unless things go poorly again.  And I likely have fewer generations above me than almost any artist my age, but certainly not as little as two.'

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"So you - sort of bud off when your parent makes enough art?"

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'Enough successful art.  Which is why they're all so narrow.'

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"What makes art successful? How does that make them narrow?"

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'Successful art matches with its artist's vision and intentions.  If those intentions cover only very specific and carefully-chosen criteria, they are generally acknowledged to be more achievable.'

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"...huh. And the characteristics of the art affect the budded-off artist."

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'Correct.'

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"That's an interesting way for a species to work."

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'It is a terrible way for a species to work.  None of them even were interested in music, when I returned with the concept.'

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"Well, most species do evolve over time."

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'Is that so.'

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"Most of the species I'm familiar with. Admittedly not most of the species who are people that I'm familiar with."

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'I hope they are pointed in better directions, then.'

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"...Elves seem lovely."

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'What direction are Elves pointed in.'

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"I'm not actually sure what you mean by that. They're - prosocial immortal artistic folks."

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'What traits is their population acquiring more of over time at the expense of ones they are losing over time.'

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"The being immortal means they may not be evolving in the same way. And they were created to begin with. I'm not sure there are coherent directions most evolved species are aimed at, except in retrospect."

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'Artists are also immortal.'

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"I had guessed but it's good to know."

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They walk over to the electric guitar Cam made them and sling it on.

'What is it that you were playing before.'

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"Most recently? Uh, Beethoven's ninth sonata for violin."

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They look at Cam's violin, and at Cam, and back at the violin.

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"Do you want me to play it again."

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'I do.'

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Cam rewinds his sheet music and takes up his violin and begins Beethoven's ninth violin sonata from the beginning.

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They noodle quiet improvised accompaniments.

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At the end of the sonata, Cam asks, "What's next for you?"

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'I will continue to create more art and expand my reserves of magic.'

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"Okay. Let me know if you need anything. Or, uh, want to introduce me to art-offspring."

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'I do not think any of those are likely to make an appearance any time soon.'

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"That's probably good, they'd complicate matters. - did making vampires produce any?"

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'No.  The project was still in progress when interrupted.'

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"- condolences, if those are appropriate."

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'I consider them to be.'

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"Does having an audience help? I'm up for looking at whatever you're working on."

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'I do not believe it to be directly beneficial but you may look regardless.'  They keep at playing the guitar with two hands and have at any given moment the number required to operate their computer on top of that.

There are paintings, a few dozen of them, in various stages of completeness.  The medium and relatively-finished ones look a lot like those produced by incarnates at similar stages, but the early ones are completely different; they don't seem to have a concept of sketching at all, or if they do they don't use it here.  Their subject matter is exclusively representative and exclusively of non-nature subjects: lots of architecture, especially cathedrals and castles; lots of people, all of them very elegant and frequently wearing high-fashion sorts of getups; there's a realistically-rendered 16-frame animation of one production's Atriama doing what might be original choreography.

There are instrumental compositions, also variously fleshed out, some very short but fully orchestrated, others much longer but with portions of only melody or only chords blocked in for long stretches at a time.  They have recordings of the practice sessions they've done but aren't inclined to show those off, especially since they have largely occurred with Cam in range to hear them.  Every piece with more than two parts has a mix of synths and electric instruments with more classical ones.

And then there are four files with CGI models in them.  The first three aren't anything much, just basic shapes and one abandoned attempt at a donut, but the last is a ridiculously-detailed filigree panel, forming swirling leaf shapes at a distance and more inorganic crystalline ones up close.  It looks meticulously hand-modeled rather than autogenerated.

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"Ooh, I like that," Cam says of the filigree, "and the implications about your learning curve here are really interesting."

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Glitter rain.  'What are the implications.'

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"You seem to have more - startling jumps in your technical competence than a... I don't have a good collective noun for the kinds of person that aren't your species, and 'non-artist' makes it sound like they don't make art at all... Uh, hm, I saw a slideshow once of every twentieth drawing, bar none, doodles included, by a particularly well regarded angel artist, and maybe that would give you an idea of how it's typical to develop over time, if you feel like it. But your first three projects here look like anybody else's first three projects, getting familiar with the interface, and then this is really fancy."

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'I tried things alone at first, then began to follow a video tutorial but disliked the suggested subject matter.  So I read the descriptions for each of the interface options and treated the work as a creation I was committed to and did not discard it at the first frustration.  This is unusual?'

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"Yes. Even someone who reads all the documentation will tend to need practice to get a good result, and practice usually takes the form of several inferior final drafts."

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'I am already practiced at sculpture.'

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"But not at computer modeling. It's not something I'm criticizing, it's just noticeably different."

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'How could that be construed as criticism.'

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"Uh, I'm not actually sure but usually when I spend this long picking apart exactly why I made some remark on somebody's skills or achievements it's because they interpreted it that way."

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'I wonder if, if you made a physical version of this, it would expand my reserves of magic farther than modeling it did alone.'

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"I can do that if you tell me dimensions and material."

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'I would like it in silver, sized to fit on the exterior of the lid of a harpsichord.  And a harpsichord.'

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Here is the harpsichord made to order.

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Smile, unsmile.  'I can hold more.'

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"What does that mean?"

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'My magic reserves are larger than before you created that.'

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"Oh, good, happy to help."

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'I will model more things now.'

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"Enjoy."

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They take off the guitar, seat themself at the harpsichord, and get to it.

When they approach Cam again, they have kind of a lot of requests, including frames to put some of their paintings in, instrument cases and stands and new instruments proper, a collection of figurines, and more large furniture pieces than might be strictly wise to attempt to fit in the bar.

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Cam can fill all these orders but some of them he will fill out back.

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'I expect to have the teleport shortly.'

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"Whereupon you're planning on going back to the Earth with the vampires?"

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'Briefly, yes.'

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"Do you still want to - workshop the possibility of me coming along -"

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'I did not think that would be necessary if I am only bringing someone back to pause the time?'

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"Okay, cool, that simplifies matters."

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'I have - very little idea of what it will be like there.  Some, from descriptions of your Earth, but I do not know how much to expect that to hold, especially since for all I know time could have been passing at different rates between there and the artist realm.  But I have some rather cursory information about people who are particularly aligned with the project.  You may be better positioned than I to evaluate which of them I should invite here.'

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"What's your cursory information?"

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'I can tell who has the greatest reserves of raw magic at any given time and of late it has largely been one particular person.  I can tell there is one person who used the first magic they got to save seven lives in one night.  I can tell there is an inventor with interesting aesthetics.  I can tell there is a person who - '

It's frigid again for half a second before they catch themself, and then it's raining around them instead.  It shifts to snow over the course of a few seconds, though Cam still can't feel any cold from it.

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"...you okay?"

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'Someone has made birds who are people.'

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"...is... that bad? Could go either way..."

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'I believe it to be good in general, but - ' they play a motif from Atriama.

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"...the birds don't last after they die?"

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The snow gradually lets up.  'No one there lasts after they die yet; they are simply eventually retrievable or not.  It is not an emergency but I had not connected the implications until now.'  It's no longer snowing at all.  'Please refrain from making any eggs.'

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"I won't."

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They nod.

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"The person who saved seven lives sounds promising. Do you know anything else or is what you told me all the information I have to work with? Do you have their names, for example, I could use that to conjure for more."

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'I have more information but nothing especially concrete or conveyable.  I could paint them.'

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"That might or might not be enough for conjuration to go on."

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They start on that, and eventually present four files to Cam.  They're less realistic than most of their other work, and the backgrounds are very abstract but very detailed - in places more so than the portraits proper.

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"These two look, uh, young," says Cam, indicating the middle two. "Which are they?"

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'The lifesaving one and the inventor.'

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"The lifesaving one could be an adult, if a young looking one, the inventor probably can't..." He tries conjuring. "...unfortunately, it looks like I can't conjure for things relating to the subject of a painting."

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'Magic can affect aging.'

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"Do you know how old they are?"

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'No.'

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"Do you know how long ago they became vampires? - these people are all vampires?"

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'The first one isn't.  I can order the other three chronologically but do not have much more detail than that.'

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"Why don't you?"

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'Artists have not as a species invented timekeeping.'

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"Can you tell me some things that were going on at the time you turned them into vampires - newly released music, say - and some things that were going on when you left Earth?"

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'I did not turn any of these people into vampires and I receive minimal information only about the projects people with magic are themselves working on.'

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"They were turned later by other people? Okay. Uh, I'm going to see if Bar can narrow down who they are -"

She can't. With a few more creative failures at learning more Cam eventually says probably the young-adult lifesaver is the best bet.

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'I directly turned only six people all of whom are dead.'

 

 

They continue doing more art and requesting more instantiations thereof, and let Cam know once they think they'll have it within a day, and then, finally - disappear.

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Cam waits around. Chats with Bar and the security guy. Reads books.

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It only takes about twenty minutes before they return.

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" - Ack - "

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"- did you not warn her? Or is teleporting just unpleasant -"

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'I warned her.  Though it did not seem prudent to waste more time than was necessary.'

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"...hello. I'm Cam. Ancorabenelisifentiliane wasn't able to tell me your name."

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"Judy.  Hi."

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"If you don't want to be here my understanding is the door will probably be able to take you home."

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"Where is here?"

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"It's called Milliways. It's an interdimensional bar which also tends to pause time in the worlds of the occupants. The bar is a person but she's not responsible for the rest of the establishment."

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". . . Huh.  And I have been whisked away here because - "

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"To pause time on your Earth."

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" - why - is something bad going to happen - "

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"I believe they're just concerned with the ordinary death rate."

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" - Okay.  Uh, is that - tractable, or did we just figure, hey, here's a time-pausing bar - "

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'It is tractable.  I am the entity that created the sort of being you are.'

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". . . Humans?"

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'Vampires.'

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"Ah-huh."

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" - or well, cool!  Neat.  Love your work, or - it's one of the most important things that's happened in the history of humanity, at least, definitely."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Apparently vampires have recoverable souls and humans from your Earth don't."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - yep, that sounds pretty important.  Is that just full vamps or does it include the ah, sangrades, or what?"

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'Living beings gain souls upon their first interaction with the magic system.'

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"Definitely less of a nightmare to scale, that - who are you, Cam, what's your role in this."

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"I have a long and complicated story the upshot of which is I need to get a million insubstantial god-things out of a black hole or otherwise restored to life."

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"Gosh, okay.  Is that tractable."

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"Not with magic I have. I'm hoping they can do something if they ramp up enough." He inclines his head toward Ancora.

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'I can,' they assert.

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". . . Gotcha.  It sounds like you have non-applicable magic?  What's that like."

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"I can make things. For reasons that are not well-understood this magic cannot make minds, even minds that are implemented on physical substrates, but the other species that were casualties of the black hole are cyborgs with backups I can use for the purpose instead, so it's just the Maiar - the insubstantial god-things - that I need outside help with."

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"Can you elaborate - 'things' like artefacts or what; is it crafting or are there rituals and then you just have whatever it is, poof, or - "

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"Nonmagical matter that appears stationary relative to my reference frame, optionally copied from existing objects according to what are called 'conjurable parameters', very poof."

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She whistles, impressed.

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'Cam is immeasurably helpful.'

Permalink Mark Unread

"I gave them a computer and have been conjuring up their 3-D models to spec. And introducing them to video recordings, which were apparently new; what year is it on your Earth?"

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"2014.  - 'My' Earth?"

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"There are lots. I was born on one."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess that's probably not weirder than anything else going on here.  And uh, why my Earth; why me specifically to pause it - "

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"Ancorabenilisifentiliane gave me a shortlist of options and didn't know much about anybody, including names or anything I could use to conjure for more, but your resume was the best, especially considering that the runner-up is thirteen."

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"What was on my resume?"

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"Saved seven people's lives the first day you had magic?"

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". . . Ah."

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"Is that - complicated somehow, or -"

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"It - wasn't a great time, is all.  And I suppose - I was one of them, if six versus seven makes a difference for complicatedness, or if it just being self-defense loses me points."

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"We don't have to talk about it if you don't want."

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"I do not super want, yeah.  Thanks."

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Cam nods. "So, uh, that's what we're about."

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"Uh, cool."  She turns to Ancora.  "So - you made vampires, now you're in an interdimensional bar, what's the story there."

Permalink Mark Unread

'Specify further.'

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"- where have you been, in between those.  And what were you doing."

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'In the realm whence I came initially, gathering strength.  I was severely weakened and forced to leave Earth when one of the members of the initial set of vampires killed the other five.'

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"Is that so."

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They nod.

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"Is that because it - interfered with the artistic completeness of the project, or what -"

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'It was not what I had intended.'

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"Their species is sustained by creating art," Cam tells Judy. "I wouldn't have thought vampires were art but it seems they count."

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'Vampires are the most exquisitely artful concept that has ever been conceived of.'

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"To each their own."

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" - Uh, so, if the bar part of this place is a person, then what is the rest of the establishment?  Are they also people?"

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"There are infirmary and security staff. The woman currently in the infirmary has some kind of issue - Bar doesn't know what it is because her world doesn't produce publications she could access and guess from - and can't hold a normal conversation, but the guy in Security is cool, will probably be able to fill any locality-limited request you have, but his magic won't work if he goes to a world other than his own or Milliways. There is a possibly personable giant squid in the lake in the backyard. The entity or entities in control of the door are referred to as 'the landlords' but do not manifest their will in any other way. Other parts of the establishment don't seem to be people, just variously magical effects."

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"Gosh, okay.  Uh, so, if I'm staying here indefinitely while you do whatever, does that look like camping out in the backyard, or - are there showers anywhere; will I have to swim with the squid to bathe - "

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"The upstairs is a hotel, I am happy to buy you a room - Bar takes counterfeit, I can keep that up however long - complete with bathroom facilities."

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"This is more convenient than many alternatives!  I appreciate that, thank you."

(She has little fangs visible when she smiles enough.)

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Cam drops a sack of gold on Bar; it disappears and there's a room key and a napkin that says Room 2001.

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"Oh, wow, 'very poof' indeed.  Do you mind if I go check that out or did you have anything else you wanted to cover."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, there's time dilation between noninteracting parts of the establishment, and we can't guarantee how it'll run. Would you like a computer compatible with mine so you can send me messages?
The kind I have requires a brain chip - very poof, but still something you'd want to know - and there are kinds that do not."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, what does the brain chip, like, do - "

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are billions of people with abilities like mine and things we can conjure include unpublished files. If someone wants to keep their stuff private from us, it can never be set to recorded format unencrypted. The brain chip uses the user's cognition to encrypt, because one thing we can't do is make minds, so there's no way for us to get around it. This also incidentally makes the device thought-controlled. The non-brain-chip kind is still fairly annoying to copy stuff out of, but not that hard. Uh, if you do want a brain chip we should check with Bar and have the infirmary lady spot me in case vampire brains are different."

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"Could I maybe . . . upgrade later."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, no problem. Here's one of what they've got." Cam hands over a computer.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Cool, thanks.  Are interfaces from whenever-brain-chips-happen intuitive enough to 2014 people or do I need lessons?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I gave them lessons but you've seen a computer before so the built-in tutorial will probably be fine."

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"Okay, thanks.  Uh, bye!"  And upstairswards she trots, swiping the key off Bar on her way.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Not looking forward to explaining to her about the genocide," sighs Cam.

Permalink Mark Unread

'I would offer in your stead did I not expect those results to be yet worse.'

Permalink Mark Unread

"I appreciate the sentiment but completely agree." Sigh.

Permalink Mark Unread

They cause a carefully-temperature-neutral glittery snow gust.

 

'It occurs to me that, if there are rooms available, those would constitute additional places to house furniture and sculptures and similar.  And it is possible rooms themselves may be able to count as projects if adequately decorated.'

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"Yeah, interior design is a thing, at least for humans. I can get you a room too." He drops another sack of gold and Bar produces another key for room 299.

Permalink Mark Unread

'Is there a convenient way to convey existing pieces up stairs.'

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"Not especially but I can make a robot that can manage it."

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They walk off to go check out the room and then start teleporting some of their favorite pieces up to it, taking a break to play some glockenspiel-viola duets with themself after a few trips.

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Cam does not seem to be essential here, though he does record the music.

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They continue transferring things up, spending more time doing art between trips than making progress on their task, but eventually get everything they want in their room in their room.  Afterwards, they still mostly loiter around in Cam's general vicinity but occasionally sequester themself.

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Judy comes down to request meals at intervals that don't suggest much time difference and is otherwise pretty content to spend her first day outside of time alone.  She asks for steak, once she makes the connection between conjured food and vegetarianism.  " - And uh, we should probably check about blood with that, huh."

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"I can do blood, Bar can probably also do blood. This'll only work if you're the kind of vampire that literally drinks blood and not the kind that is using it as a proxy for life force or something but the latter doesn't seem like Ancora's style."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think it's probably just literally blood, yeah.  I'll try a quarter cup from each of you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Any other specs?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Like what, blood type?  Uh, nah.  - Except that it should be in a glass or a mug or whatever, if you were going to not do that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I wasn't going to like, rain on you." He hands her a wineglass with a quarter cup of O-neg.

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"I appreciate that!"  Sip.  "This works fine."

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"Oh good."

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She downs it, tries a similar order from Bar with similar results, and takes her steak upstairs.

Cam gets a message a few hours later asking whether he can come up and poof her a wardrobe, since she only has the one set of clothes and all.

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He can come up and do this to whatever specifications she has in mind. "Do you just want a copy of what you have at home, or do you want me to find you a catalog...?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"A catalog would be super great!  Thanks."

She looks maybe a touch shakey, on top of the smileyness.

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He gets her an era-appropriate Land's End catalog. "Uh, don't feel limited to those colors or whatever. Are... you okay? My medical school didn't cover vampires but the infirmary should be generically capable of handling whoever happens to be around."

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"Oh, um, uh - I think I'm, um, kind of nervous about - spending the foreseeable future away from everyone I know and everything I was going to do, for possibly a really long time?  With no advance warning?  And it's sort of sinking in now but I'm like, totes fine on the medical front."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, it's not great. You could ask Ancora if they could do anything about it - if you have loved ones who'd want to be teleported in here too, say, or anyone you could reach by holding the door and yelling?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll think about it, definitely."  She starts paging through the catalog.  "Uh, so you're like, pretty committed to sticking with Ancora and helping them out, right?  Because of your thing or whatever?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I would probably instead go back to resurrecting Elves if somebody besides Ancora showed up and could just resurrect the Maiar with a wave of their hand but I'm sympathetic to their project too."

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She nods.  Keeps flipping through the catalog.  Possibly the shaking is getting slightly worse.

 

 

 

 

 

"Do you want a hug?  You just seem really - like you could use a hug."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I should probably explain why I look like that before you hug me."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"I could also use a hug."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I should probably explain before you hug me for any reason. It's just kind of a lot."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"Please?  - If you don't want to hug me that's fine, but - if it's on my account then I really super, super don't think there's actually literally anything you could say that would make me not want to?  And that's not - people tell me I don't suffer from lack of imagination; I just.  This is not the sort of action I can regret, I don't think."

She's definitely shaking harder now; a catalog page she's holding but hasn't turned yet is making wobbling noises.

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"...okay." He holds out his arms. And wings.

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Hug.

She pulls her sleeves over her hands and turns her head to the side so her hair's in between her face and his chest; caring about touching a shirtless person where shirts normally go is literally the most useless, trivial thing she could be spending brain on when - whatever, it would take more to try and not care about it, it's fine -

She gives the best hug she is capable of, for what maybe verges on awkward amounts of time.

 

 

And then - Cam should stop being awake. As quickly as she can manage it.

Permalink Mark Unread

He slumps in her arms; his wings droop behind him.

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Cool.  Cool cool cool cool.  This is exactly the outcome she wanted and took steps to enact.  - Gosh, okay, she sure has not really spent magic on augmenting her physical strength; setting him down on the floor is an awkward endeavor.  And then - she complimented one of Ancora's statuettes earlier and asked if she could keep it.  Its base is solid and weighty.

She aims for the head.

( - she's actively spending magic on keeping him out - she'll feel it when he dies - )

Permalink Mark Unread

He doesn't even bleed. The slight red mark on his forehead fades in a fraction of a second.

Permalink Mark Unread

Gosh, yep, okay - time to temporarily boost her physical strength a bunch, apparently -

Permalink Mark Unread

The result is... identical except that he scoots a bit across the floor this time.

Permalink Mark Unread

- she still has the steak knife up here -

s . . . tab?  stab stab?

Permalink Mark Unread

Did she mean instantly healed scratch instantly healed scratch instantly healed scratch?

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Apparently she did!  What.  She's relieved.  She's confused, and scared.

She has never kept somebody unconscious with magic before but it's wearing down her supply quite a bit faster than it intuitively ought to; she does not have much time - she tries to slit his throat???  Probably this will also just fail to work probably.

Permalink Mark Unread

Totally fails to work.

Permalink Mark Unread

Rad and cool and great and fine and chill and fine.  - Maybe it's an intent thing!  She does not really want him dead but she does not want seven billion people dead or subjugated either so she wants him dead -

Nope.  Okay.

Okay.

She takes the not-murder-weapons and puts them in the bathtub and draws the shower curtain and turns off the light in the bathroom and shuts the door and - takes a few seconds to think; she's running out of time but strategy is important and she needs to pick one and stick to it -

- it's so tempting to feign concern, like he just passed out and she had no clue why this happened, or pretend to have been knocked out herself as well.  If it worked, this would be a costless mistake and she wants this mistake to be costless so, so badly - but the fact is that it won't work; her acting ability is simply not adequate to hold that much weight - it only didn't give her away before because she was so below suspicion -

- she exits the room, closes the door behind her, starts heading down the stairs - still burning magic on keeping Cam unconscious -

- if she walks out the door time starts there again and she's pretty sure the alien can just teleport directly to her, wherever she goes, forever -

- she sits down on one of the couches by the fireplace - no that's not right; could be taken as trying to be nonchalant; she needs to signal that she knows what she did and she's sorry and she's not going to try it again - hide under Bar?  Obviously she expects to be found but it would help play up the 'scared and young and not a threat' angle - too much risk of seeming like she's actually trying to hide and just grossly incompetent -

- her magic is very very close to running out; she cuts it off, keeping a sliver left; that amount of time won't make much of a difference and a sliver is so, so much better than nothing at all -

 

She puts herself on the floor and crams herself into the space between the arm of a couch and a very ornate bookcase that the alien didn't want in their room, in full view of the door to the stairs, and draws her knees up, and does not get the blood on her hand on her jeans.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam wakes up... confused. "Judy?" he says, a few times, but this fails to produce Judy so he lets himself out of her room and goes downstairs. "- Judy, there you are, what happened, are you okay?"

Permalink Mark Unread

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"Uh - hi - I'm fine - " she says, somewhat weakly.

Permalink Mark Unread

"What happened?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh - you - passed out and then I - "  Okay so when making this plan she did not account for how hard it is to not just reflexively lie about wrongdoings you have done wrong.  Also she thought it would be obvious enough that she wouldn't have to explain it; she'd kill not to have to explain this - well, no, empirically she wouldn't, if not for lack of trying -

She puts her face in her hands.  Now her forehead has blood on it.  Excellent.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I... don't spontaneously pass out."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Gosh, really?  Must've been - uh - " stop lying, Judy, you idiot - "Itriedtokillyou."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Somebody beat you to it and now I'm immortal. Uh. Why?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Vampires are an existential threat to my Earth and Ancora is almost certainly super evil and you probably are too and you can conjure people's private stuff and could've been lying about not being able to get mine ahead of time and probably tailored everything you said to me accordingly and if Ancora got booted back to where they came from when their test group killed each other in the first place then probably the same thing would happen if you died since you were supplying them and even if you were good it would've been worth it, even if you were good and had a million resurrections dependant on you it would be worth it seven thousand times."

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"Wow. Uh, I actually have about twenty-five million resurrections depending on me, the Maiar are one million but they're just the ones I can't do on my own, I was halfway through with the ones I can when I found this place. You could have... mentioned? That you think vampirism is an existential threat?"

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"Right but I don't know you're not evil.  I still don't but now I'm not risking losing the shot at killing you by tipping my hand anymore and Ancora's time-frozen and you can't make me open the door."

Permalink Mark Unread

"- you did something to Ancora?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Told them I wanted my cat if I was going to be stuck here, sort of like you ended up suggesting - said it'd be less time wasted and fewer lives lost if they ported there while time was stopped and I'd open the door after - "

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"What's your plan now? Live here forever? Run up a tab?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't think it will take all of forever to think of something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You know, it would have been way easier to roll with the murder attempt if you'd waited for me to unload my story of why I'm such a bummer first, I would have been like 'that's fair'."

Permalink Mark Unread

She sighs but obediently recites the next line in the obvious script.  "Why are you such a bummer."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think I won't tell you, actually, I think I'll get the security guy to spot me so you don't try anything while I open my door and get an Elf in here." He meanders to the side corridor where the security office is.

Permalink Mark Unread

She stays in her nook.

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Cam reemerges from the corridor a moment later, goes to the main entrance, pulls it open. "Alassëo?" he calls. "Can you come in here?"

A tall beautiful man with pointy ears and gorgeous robes sweeps into the bar. Cam has a very quiet conversation with him.

Permalink Mark Unread

She continues to stay in her nook.

Permalink Mark Unread

Eventually Alassëo goes into the backyard. "If his computer - which is like mine - detects him falling unconscious, mine'll scream. If he dies I can resurrect him. So you're aware."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"I don't think you have a very good model of why I'm doing things."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's mutual. Consider it an abundance of caution if you like."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure.  Wanna make any attempts at convincing me you're not evil or are we giving up on that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's complicated. I dunno how receptive you are to complicated."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well try me.  Or don't; whatever."

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"I made a deal to end a war with an evil god that involved destroying the planet all those dead Elves and Maiar were on."

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She emits a whistley exhale through her teeth.

"Do you care to supply more detail on that.  - Or we could take turns or something, if you'd rather."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Most of the population of the universe was uploaded and duplicated instances of captured cyborg Elves, which he ran in accelerated time and tortured constantly. He had a client species descended from same who were acting as his soldiers in a more conventional front of the war, because they - along with the god-species and the Elves - could make binding oaths that forced them to follow through on anything they could be made to swear to. A friendly Maia helped me determine that I could verify oaths - normally you shouldn't trust one made by a Maia or Vala because they can do illusions, and only actually speaking out loud counts, but it turns out to be a conjurable parameter so I could check whether he'd actually spoken as long as he recorded it. We - negotiated. I held out for him to cut it out with everything, and I waited till I knew how I could put back Elves. He wanted me to go hole the other inhabited planet, which was - noninterventionist, noncombatants. Deal would have held even if this hadn't killed his conspecifics there but it did. Then I made a new system and planet for them - their stars had recently gone out anyway, he wrecked them as an opening move in the war - and started putting Elves back."

Permalink Mark Unread

It takes a while for her to say anything.

 

 

"So like.  If this is real I'm very extremely sorry and would you like a non-murder-attempt hug about it, but.  You do realize how tailored this sounds, right.  Like, 'oh, you see, we're the same sort of person, both willing to kill people for the greater good, except when I do it it's with much higher stakes and at greater personal cost but I can fix all my mistakes, and it worked instead of pathetically failing, and so you should weight my evaluations of the world as being much more important and trustworthy than your own - '  - Admittedly you'd had to have come up with this pretty quickly post-murder-attempt if it's that but I feel like you can get most of the way there off of almost any of my class essays - why would the murder be easier to roll with if I knew about this; that would just make me a hypocrite - "

Permalink Mark Unread

"You can ask Alassëo about it. Or get publications from Bar, they have newspapers. I was sort of envisioning a scenario where I got as far as saying they were dead because I destroyed their planet and not all the details before the murder attempt but it's not like hypocrisy is outside my hypothesis space, I don't know you that well and have not been reading your essays."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I imagine you can fake an awful lot of evidence outside of time, I don't have a way to confirm that Bar isn't in on it, and I only have your word that you have not been reading my essays.  There's presumably an amount of evidence that will convince me but I haven't determined where that threshold should be yet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh-huh. You did see me bring Alassëo in."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yep.  - Want my side of things now; seems only fair and I don't have an issue telling you things you'd already know if you were being evil about it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure. If vampires are an existential risk that seems important to know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, no kidding.  So, uh, this last spring I was in a car crash, lost a leg."  She knocks on the side of her right calf; it makes a not-flesh noise.  "And like the crash itself was pretty bad but I don't supes mind being a cyborg, and I cannot emphasize enough how little I care about high school popularity contests but it was looking like I was going to get prom queen because everyone felt bad for me or whatever.  Other people care - more, about high school popularity contests, apparently, and one of them in particular cared a whole lot, and happened to be a vampire, and for vampiric reasons decided that the solution to this was to rip my throat out with her teeth."  She curls into herself a bit tighter and puts a hand on her collarbone.

"Uh, I don't know if vampire media is different in your world, but - that's the sort of thing that you'd expect a fictional vampire to do but not a sane real one; if I drink somebody's blood straight from them without an intervening vessel then they get magic too - that's why I specified it should be in a glass earlier but it didn't seem worth getting into when you were going to be dead soon anyway - and magic is very helpful about letting you know what you can do with it.  And there are safeties for malicious intent for pretty much anything you can do to other people but not on the mind control -

"So I spent everything I had on making her like me and care about me, and apparently this either saved not only my life but six others, or you guys were lying to me about that for flattery or whatever."

Permalink Mark Unread

"All I have to go on is what Ancora told me. ...do you want a leg."

Permalink Mark Unread

"No.  - If I get convinced you're alright I might want like, a cool future prosthetic later."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My cool future doesn't actually have all that much in the way of prosthetic improvements because we can just put in organic limbs but if you eventually get a brain computer they can hook up to that. - I did ask Ancora about what powers vampires had and got a different picture of the mind control situation. I suppose it's not a great surprise they didn't communicate very clearly about it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What was your impression of the mind control sitch?"

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He consults his notes. "I summarized vampires as I was familiar from pop culture, including 'sometimes psychic powers'. They said there were some psychic powers but they avoided unethical ones - just being able to model people better and decide how much to care about them - I don't think this was grammatically ambiguous enough to cover altering how someone else cares about oneself. And they mentioned the unconsciousness thing. I didn't pursue the line of questioning very far because the context was whether I should maybe be a vampire and I didn't want to risk any of my demon traits. - thing I am is called a 'demon'."

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"Yeah no you can totes do it to other people and I think you should count that as having been lied to.  - If it turns out you're okay and were just misled you should be glad I timefroze them, and - I don't immediately see how I'd be of much use to whatever you're doing, but I would defs help out with your thing, if I had the means to."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ancora's bad enough at communication that I'm not ruling out that they're sincerely confused somehow and would fix it if they could but it could be that you acted correctly. Uh, noncon mind control shit is horrifying and everything but you said existential?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not concerned about a single extinction event so much as like, a slower zombie apocalypse type thing, but with vampires - Sara was not a great person growing up but she wasn't like, murder-someone - or, uh, murder-seven-someones-over-prom evil.  There's definitely additional mind-stuff, aside from the affection control, which - I'm pretty sure she wasn't actually entirely sapient, when - you know - and I'm worried about there being some sort of intermediate step that got her to do the thing that does that.  And then apparently the first group of vampires also had a murder spree, and - I don't know how to count my thing; I couldn't use it to reason because if I was getting more murdery then that was all the more reason to take drastic action to weaken vampires as a whole - "

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ancora was upset about the murder spree. Or pretended to be and also pretended to be very bad at pretending. But yeah, that's - statistically suggestive... Who wasn't sapient?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sara, the girl who - " gesture.  "I mean, while she - " gesture; " - she's fine now.  Ish.  Like I mean I still don't like or trust her but she's a person and stuff."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So there's some issue where under some conditions vampires go, uh, feral, and get murdery?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, um - can you make me my phone - or like, my phone but without a cracked screen and the same case but as if it were new, if you can do that?  I have pictures of a thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can do that." Phone.

Permalink Mark Unread

She starts scrolling through her photos app.  "So, in most vampires media I know about, turning is a pretty instantaneous thing?  Or like it might take three days or whatever, but it's fairly binary, and it's a thing that happens to you, with its associated effects.  Whereas in real life, you just get magic you can do whatever with if you get bitten.  But there's like - I mentioned the magic tells you what you can do; it also tells you what you need to do in order to become a vampire, and once you've done enough of that then you can be one."

She does not un-nook or hand Cam her phone, but she holds it up in his direction with a selfie on it.  "Uh, so this is me a few months ago, and you can see that there's no fangs, my facial structure's less pointy, and - okay so maybe with the lighting difference you can't tell but my skin is in fact tinted differently.  And there's like posture stuff and whatever that's not so much discernable from still photos.  And these are all factors you have individual control over, separate from whether or not you're a vampire.  You follow?"

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"Think so."

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"So, once you're a vampire - which is itself a binary thing, once you've got all the reqs - you can still control all those things, but if you approach the minimum of what you need to vamp it feels - very aversive.  But you still can.  And if you do, then - now you're feral, apparently.  But part of the aversiveness is that it feels like that's what's going to happen; it seems totally predictable, and I didn't receive an explanation I found satisfactory for why Sara would have done that anyway.  So I'm suspicious that there might be further mind-stuff that caused that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...that's such a weird design.

Do you like being a vampire?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh?  I certainly pushed really hard to become one?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, because if you didn't the security guy could probably safely devamp you."

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"Oh, um.  I think I need to keep it in order to have - any leverage in the world at all, but if there was something better I would probably want to take that.  What's the security guy's deal."

Permalink Mark Unread

"He is generically extremely powerful but he can't use his magic outside of his own world, Milliways is an exception."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I see."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah. He's friendly enough but can't do anything about the Maiar and won't help your mind control vampires situation either. Uh, if you decide to go visit him say up front if you don't want a new biological leg, he might have to specifically try not to replace it if he does anything else for you at all? I'm not sure exactly how it works for him."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - Huh.  I'll keep that in mind.  - Might he be able to help my-specifically mind control vampires situation, if there was one?  It admittedly felt like a very considered decision to murder you, and I didn't feel remotely inclined to introduce teeth into the equation, and Sar - "  She makes a slightly strangled sound and tries to pretend she didn't, clears her throat.  "Sara wasn't going in for hugs, or anything, uh, before I mind controlled her into - but it seems worth checking.  Could I have a water."

Permalink Mark Unread

Bottle of water. "I wouldn't rule it out. Though I'm not sure how to bet on the magic system interacting. If he de-vamped you, being human's a stable state; I don't know if being de-mind-controlled and also still a vampire is."

Permalink Mark Unread

Gulp gulp gulp.  "I think I need to stay a vampire for now."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, tell him that too if you go say hi."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay.

 

"Can you maybe take like, two steps back."

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam can indeed take two steps back.

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She gathers her phone and water bottle and un-nooks, leaving plenty of personal space between them, and steps off to the side so she's no longer between Cam and the closest wall.

"I think I'm uh, maybe out of stuff-doing stuff for the day.  Could I - have some pajamas?  Uh, I don't remember what page they were on - jersey knit, elastic waistband, purple and light blue plaid on the pants, matching solid-color long-sleeved t-shirt?  If - you feel like it."

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Cam flips through the catalog in his computer and finds the pajamas in question and presents them to her folded.

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"Okay thanks bye!"  And she rather flees.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam conjures for Ancora and surroundings to see if they are in fact fetching a cat.

Permalink Mark Unread

They're at the very least in a fairly-standard-looking 2014 sort of house, one room of which contains a cat.

Permalink Mark Unread

That's nice of them. It would be great if this were all a misunderstanding and they can totally fix the mind control problem after it is pointed out to them and it comes as a complete surprise, but before Judy allows this to happen she will have some kind of backup plan, which will hopefully also be fine.

Cam drinks a mocha and reads about development economics.

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She heads to Security first thing in the (relative-to-her) morning.

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"Hey," says the guy behind the desk. He looks generically attractive in a way that suggests he has arbitrary control over his appearance but is not very creative. "What's up?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, hi!  Please do not change the amount of leg I have or make me not-a-vampire, but could you check whether I'm being mind controlled?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"- my power's actually not great at divination. If you are being mind-controlled I can probably fix it but I don't get feedback, you'd be the one who could tell if I did anything. Do you have an unusual amount of leg -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I do.  You can't check without trying something?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not as powerful as we can get, and I'd probably be able to in another few decades, but not as-is, no."

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"Okay, thanks anyway!  Uh, I might come back later but I think I shouldn't try anything right now probably."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay. Uh, I won't be here forever, the shift'll change eventually, but I've been running slow this shift compared to the main bar."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, okay.  Um, in principle, do you know whether you could, like - increase how much magic I'm able to store when I do the thing that gives me magic, reduce the cooldown on how quickly I can get magic again, make me smarter or have a better memory, uh, increase my vocal range, things like that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Vocal range is easy, the magic stuff I'd be guessing, memory and intelligence are also on the high end of things sorcerers can do."

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"Neato!  Just a sec; I'll be right back."

She goes and finds Cam.  "Morning!"

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"Is it? Morning."

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"Oh, is there a time thing or whatever?"

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"There isn't really a day cycle and I don't have to sleep."

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"Oh, that's cool.  Uh, anyway, I was wondering - I was gonna ask the security guy for some stuff, but I didn't want to if you'd take it as like an act of aggression?  So I thought I'd check if you minded if I saw if he could make me able to handle more magic and maybe try some petty stuff that otherwise I would eventually probably use my magic to do.  - And maybe some less-petty stuff; not having to sleep sounds supes useful."

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"I'm planning to stay in the area of the establishment policed by security as opposed to going off anywhere you can do anything to me. Since, you know, you tried to kill me, and have mind control powers. Given this I will not feel particularly threatened."

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"That's entirely reasonable and I wouldn't dream of asking you to do otherwise!  Even though I'm super not going to try and kill you again and also am not going to mind control anyone ever again in any situation where I have literally any other options, and expect and plan to retain plenty of other options!"

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"I am gratified to hear it."

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"Okay great!"  She turns on her heel and heads back to Security -

- for about three steps before turning back around.  "Okay but like - to be clear I could not in fact mind control you right now, even if you were elsewhere and I - was emotionally capable of it - and would not be able to for at least a couple days even if I drank blood during that time, and the thing I was going to do would, if it worked, change that.  - Um, or like, I have a little magic left, but barely any; I don't even think I could knock you all the way out again - we might have a legitimate values difference or something but I'm trying to avoid escalation via stupid miscommunications - "

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"I'll tell Alassëo, who for Elf reasons can't stay in areas Nechar is responsible for at all times."

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"Okay, uh, I was going to go talk to him next but if that's the case I should do it first probably - "  And she starts off towards the door to the backyard.

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The Elf has climbed a tree and is sitting it and singing.

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She positions herself vaguely nearish the tree and loiters until she's acknowledged.

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He comes to the end of a verse and glances down at her. "Hello. Judy?"

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"That's me!  You're Alassëo, right?"

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"Yes."

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"Nice to meet you.  Um, I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about - I guess whatever you think is relevant and important?  Sorry, I know that's not very specific but I don't think I have enough context to ask anything more useful - "

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"About - Cam? The war? Elves? The reconstruction?"

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"Uh, yeah, all of those I guess."

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"It would have gone much worse without him.

The - black hole - was on the King's authorization...

I don't think he's eaten or slept or sat down or picked up his violin or anything, not while time was passing in Arda, since then."

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"Gosh.  Um.  It's - this is very - moving, and all, but - I don't know what Cam told you about me, but the gist is that I don't have a way to confirm any of this, and do have reason to suspect I might be being lied to.  Do you have any better ideas for how to resolve that than loading me up with enough self-consistent details that it's implausible for someone to have made everything up even with access to time pausing?"

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"I... suppose you could summon another demon and ask them to check?"

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"I could?"

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"Unless it doesn't work here."

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"How does that work, when working is a thing it does; we didn't cover that."

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"...if Cam decided not to tell you how he may have had a reason for that, I'd want to talk to him."

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" - Sure!  Uh, sure, yeah; I wasn't trying to, um - that sounds sensible."

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"It might be he just didn't get around to it," says Alassëo reassuringly.

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"Okay.  Um, do you have any other ideas for if it turns out there was a reason not to tell me?"

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"We could... call in more Elves from New Valinor and you could talk to them without their being coached? - I guess if you are particularly suspicious you could suppose I was coaching them by osanwë."

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"By what?"

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"We can talk to each other's chips telepathically."

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"Ah, 'kay.  And even without that I don't know there weren't a bunch of people in here planning stuff before, who stepped out just so they can come back in later."

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"I... suppose. What do you think he's trying to trick you into doing, exactly?"

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"I don't know specifically but I also don't know basically anything about what's going on here and it seems worth it to be really careful and not just assume things are working how people say they are just because it would be convenient and easy to go along with them.  And I have some idea of things that could go really horribly even if lots of features of the situation are as they present themselves, and don't want to - limit myself by being unimaginative.  - And the last time I went, 'No, surely not; I'm just imagining things; this is totally normal and this is a nice, regular person who I should not assume the worst of' I pretty nearly got super murdered, so."

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"I'm so sorry to hear that," says Alassëo sympathetically.

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"Thanks."

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"Our war was in some ways caused by - naivetë," he says.

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"Oh?"

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"The Enemy had done terrible things before. Creating orcs, terrorizing the Elves of Endorë. The Valar imprisoned him for three Ages of the world - and then, when he said he was regretful and longed to atone for what he'd done, released him on parole - he was quiet for a while, and then -"

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"Ah.  Yeah, that's the sort of mistake I'm trying to avoid.  Which probably opens me up to lots of other kinds of mistakes, but hopefully not anything too bad going forward what with time being stopped?  I don't know."

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"What is it you mean to do?" Alassëo wonders.

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"Just find stuff out, mostly, and come up with a plan based on that."

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"A plan to do what?"

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" - There's apparently a whole multiverse, and I don't think I can narrow it down to anything very specific yet?  Or do you mean - I want to, uh, prevent my world from being destroyed, and also all the other worlds, and generally make sure that people are able to live good lives, I guess."

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"Is your world in danger of being destroyed?"

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"I think it might be, yeah."

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"If you need more people on that - the same way Cam can resurrect us would let him fork us, I think, we can't abandon our people but we could make more of ourselves."

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"Gosh.  Well, thank you.  Um - should I go ask Cam about summoning now or did you have anything else?"

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"I'm mostly just here so that if anything peculiar happens to Cam the door won't be lost."

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"Right.  Well, thanks; see you later - possibly I should not see you later.  Because right now I don't have the ability to magically hurt you, and later I might, and even though I don't at all intend to, I don't want to - leave any room for misunderstandings."

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"...okay," he says, sounding a little puzzled.

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"I don't think something bad is likely to happen to you but if anything does I want it to be very clear I had nothing to do with it?"

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"Oh. All right. Goodbye, then, I guess."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Bye."

And back inside, to ask - no, she told the security guy she'd only be a second; she should probably go talk to him first.

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The security guy is still in the security office. He's eating an ice cream sundae.

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"Hi!  Um, I've sorted things out on my end and am ready to be magically adjusted if you still feel like it?"

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"Which ways, you mentioned a few things?"

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"Probably start with seeing whether you can reduce the cooldown on how soon I can have magic again?"

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"Sure, all right." He squints at her a bit. "Did that work?"

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" . . . I'm not sure.  I guess I wouldn't be able to tell yet unless it was enough to get rid of it entirely?  Might just have to wait and see if it comes back sooner than normal."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'd say come back if you need me to retry but that won't actually help, I can't get stronger in here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, I appreciate you trying anyway.  Uh, how about the total power and also vocal range?  More the upper side but I won't scoff at low notes either."

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"Vocal range is easy - there you go - and I'll try on the total power thing, sure. Did that work?"

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"Didn't feel like anything that time either, I don't think."

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"Well, you can let me know when you find out, or don't, whatever."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I probably will!  Is there anything else that's really common for people to do where you're from?  Like, Cam mentioned he doesn't sleep and that's probably a different thing, but - first of all can you do that and second of all is there anything that you know of like that which I might not be thinking to ask about?"

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"I can't do that yet, that one's really hard. Uh, it's not really common to stick permanent effects on people who aren't themselves sorcerers. People who hang around us enough tend to do better in lots of ways but that's just part of how we work."

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"Okay!  Well, thanks, uh - I don't think I caught your name?"

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"Nechar."

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"Nechar!  Thanks."

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"Anytime. While I'm here, anyway, if you come to my world bets are off."

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"Oh?"

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"I'm busy at home."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Gotcha.  Well, thanks again!"

And off to see Cam.  "Hello again.  Um, Alassëo thought that maybe I'd find summoning another demon convincing about stuff but also that maybe you had reasons other than not having thought of it for not suggesting it earlier?"

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"...well," he says, "if you do it wrong, you destroy the planet."

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"Yep, uh, want to avoid that one for sure."  She glances out the window.  "Is this place even relevantly a planet?  - Not that I, um.  Just . . ."

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"I think here would be fine, Nechar can probably handle it, but if you knew how to do it and went home and did it there..."

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She nods.

Permalink Mark Unread

"On my original world summoning has been used to excellent and largely nondestructive effect for over a century but I don't know if your world is prepared to absorb it, let alone with such a specific vector of introduction."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How largely?"

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"The mortality rate fell dramatically when magic went public, mostly due to the use of summoning to handle infrastructure and shipping and medicine and suchlike, but there are small-scale summoning mishaps. No serious attempt to destroy the planet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well.  I was trying really hard to prevent the spread of a much less dangerous threat than that to my world, but I'd probably think less of you if you decided to teach me anyway based only off the information you have now."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Behold how I'm not teaching you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Right, yes, I wouldn't have said that if I thought you were going to; I just would have quietly thought less of you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh-huh. If you think summoning a demon would allow us to come to some workable agreement on our differences I guess I can have Alassëo test if it works here and then if it does I can help you summon somebody without letting you know how it's done, with of course the caveat that you might imagine whatever you like about whether this lets me introduce distorting influence."

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"I don't even know that it would; he just brought it up as a potentially-faster alternative to me doing lots and lots of reading.  Though I would be a lot more confident in my ability to tell if there exists an Earth as described a certain way and springboard off of that than trying to evaluate an entirely alien culture, if springboarding is - how that would work.  I don't have a very clear picture."

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"Unfortunately a lot of the information I could provide to explain how a demon would help with that would also be germane to how summoning works. Uh, Alassëo can bindingly give his word? You could check that with Bar, if you don't want to take my word for it though since my word on that came as part of my explanation for how I holed a planet you might choose to, and then he could tell you whatever."

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She sighs.

"This is very - sticky.  I would probably take Alassëo's word if I could be convinced it was bindingly given but I'm not going to take anyone's word that it can be and am not immediately thinking of any remotely ethical ways of proving it - is there any hope of proving myself to be trustworthy with summoning or did I just completely burn that - can I try and verify anything about your Earth or is it too entrenched - "

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"Hmm... If you think Bar is secretly me appearing things on the countertop I guess that will not work for you very well. I guess you know that when you showed up I was wearing jeans and sneakers? They wear those on my Earth. I doubt that gets you very far. I just - you didn't - make any attempt to find out more about what information I was working with, Ancora-wise, and -"

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Her face is rather flushed, now.  "Yeah, I - yeah.  I could try and explain but it would probably just sound like excuses, I don't know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am not in much position to disparage the concept of excuses but..."

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"Just - I'm not a good actor at all and I was pretty sure that if you caught wind of literally anything then I'd lose the chance permanently, and - there's no being the right amount of careful here, right?  Not exactly; there's far too many ways things could be for me to spin the wheel and have it land on the appropriate level of caution, or of suspicion or willingness to take drastic action.  It could be that everything's fine and I'm massively massively overreacting and doing a lot of pointless harm all the while, or it could be that it's worse than the worst thing I could possibly think of and I would never be capable of preparing for it or preventing it, or, it could be absolutely anywhere in between those.

"And so wherever I draw the line, it's going to be above some of those possibilities and below others, and every action I take cuts off more options - and obviously attempting to murder someone is burning lots of options, but as far as I could tell so was not doing that, or at least one really important big one.  I - wish someone more competent was here instead of me?  But I'm not sure anyone is actually competent enough to deal with this sort of thing, just maybe more or less lucky in whatever level they pick matching reality's.

" - I don't know enough about summoning to have any clue whether that makes me more or less qualified for it, but.  That's where I'm at, I guess."

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"Do you have, like - friends or allies or anybody you'd want double checking you here who merely are not present, or are you just flying solo?"

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"Just me, really."

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"...How old are you?" he wonders.

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"Seventeen."

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"When I was seventeen I worked alone too. It worked out okay for me but it could have - not.

I don't think either of us is in a hurry. Maybe if we wait around long enough more people will come in and they can - mediate or convince me to teach them summoning or something."

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"Yeah.  Okay."

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"I only have your word on Ancora being bad news. You demonstrated the knockout trick but that part they'd mentioned."

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She tenses up, hugs herself a bit.  "You're not going to get me to - demonstrate - that, if that's what you're asking.  I guess maybe the other direction, but - no, that wouldn't give you any information anyway, would it."

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"I was not asking! I do not want to experience it! But I'm pointing out that I only have your say-so."

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"Fair enough.  . . . I'm pretty curious about your general impression of Ancora.  Or I guess your specific impression; I haven't heard a lot of details, or just - why you think they're alright."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They seemed motivated to help. They were even upset about the holed planet. They were pretty weird, but they did say there weren't unethical psychic powers when I asked and I didn't have a reason to think they were - even competent enough to lie to me, let alone motivated to."

Permalink Mark Unread

"'They were even upset about the holed planet' is not, uh, inherently reassuring.  What about - actually, could I have some stuff to write with."

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Yellow legal pad and a ballpoint pen.

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She writes a bit, tears off the page, folds it into eighths, and sets it aside.  "What do you think happened when they went and got me.  Like, approximately."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They said they warned you but were in a hurry about it and you didn't contradict them so I'd been imagining they, like, showed up wherever you were, said they were taking you to another universe or that your help was needed or something like that, and then poofed you here?"

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"They didn't say anything; they showed up in my living room and did some sort of weird wordless incomprehensible telepathy thing and then imitated a statue for a bit before porting us without any more-immediate advance notice.  I guess you probably don't want to take my word that the lack of contradiction was out of - befuddlement, and trying to process what was happening - "

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, that sounds, uh, psychologically plausible. I'm sorry."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah so!  If you acknowledge that that sort of communication gap can happen, then - I'm not saying they're definitely one hundred percent evil on purpose, but even if they're internally a saint that's still a problem, and one that calls for really careful consideration and handling, I'd say.  And once again it could be anywhere in between; they could be aligned on the resurrections and then have a totally reprehensible opinion about what to do with the people afterwards, or something, or - anything!  It could be anything; they're an alien you can't communicate effectively with and you're just trying to hand them more power without understanding what they'll do with it."

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"My prior experience with aliens has been mostly encouraging but I acknowledge that I do not know as much about Ancora as would be ideal."

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She sighs.

" - You're not handicapped by having to get your evidence through a party you can't put weight on trusting; can't you find some way to not have to take my word for the mind control and stuff?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"If there's something written down about it in your world I can get it from there. If it is not so much discussed in writing..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, can't you find out?"

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"I mean, if I conjure the entire written corpus of your entire planet and search through it, probably eventually, but I like to be a little more precise than that when I'm being an infosec hazard."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - 'kay.

 

"You know, you also basically only have my word that I tried to kill you.  Like, I did, and it would be a super weird thing to lie about, but . . ."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I suppose it's possible you decided to knock me unconscious for some unrelated reason and then claim it was a murder attempt but I don't think it's likely."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Right but so, I didn't lie about that - or like I sort of did, a little at the beginning, but I didn't mean to and it's not like it was remotely convincing - and obviously it would be stupid to overgeneralize that and assume I'm being a hundred percent truthful about everything, but - is the fact that I fessed up to that any evidence at all about the rest of what I'm saying?"

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"I guess? I am not, like, a world champion at social deception games, or a psychologist, or anything. Also, like, at least one of you or Ancora has seriously misled me recently and you are probably more humanish and therefore more legible to me, an ex-human, than they are, but I also know I may not be working with a full list of vampire powers or psychological effects, because Ancora did not give me the same list as you."

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She makes a frustrated noise and puts her face in one of her hands.

 

 

"Can you get, like, security footage of when I was attacked; would that be any convincing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you were being recorded, sure, can you give me more to go on there?"

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"I don't know for sure if I would have been in view of any cameras, but it was at the school and I know they have at least some - would have been, um, March 29th, sometime between like, I dunno.  Six and eight pm?  If you get me a map of the school I can point where it was.  - I guess the cameras might automatically turn off for the weekend or something, too."

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"Name of the school should do me."

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She names it.

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Cam sticks a chip in his computer, takes a picture of Judy, runs facial recognition to find the correct videos.

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" - am I good to go for now; I don't really want to - watch, or hang around while you do - "

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah."

Permalink Mark Unread

She heads over to the other side of the main bar area and occupies herself on her phone.

 

The footage shows - from a high angle and somewhat blurrily, in silent grayscale -

- Judy entering the school, mostly done up for prom but still in sneakers, a backpack slung over her shoulder, a touch rounder of face and moving differently than she presently does, waiting around and periodically checking her phone impatiently -

- another girl, in heels and a nicer dress, approaching her -

- them talking, growing angrier at each other -

- the other girl - Sara, presumably - lunging at Judy, knocking her to the ground - the back of her head blocks most of the view but she raises it for a moment to spit out a chunk off to the side -

- Sara pausing at Judy's throat, then sitting up a bit and staring down at her for a prolonged moment - descending again, but with a rather different character to her movement -

- Judy, weakly struggling, saying things at too poor an angle to be discernible by lipreading -

- Sara, running her hand repeatedly down Judy's side, along her ribs, leaning over to leave a trail of kisses down her arm and exposing Judy's newly-holeless neck - though since the video quality's not great there could maybe still be some under all the blood - probably not, given that she ultimately survived it -

- Sara rising after several minutes of continuing in that vein, opening the window, scooping up a shell-shocked and largely unresisting Judy, and climbing outside.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay," he says, blanking his computer, "I've seen it."

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She comes back over.

"Well?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It looked like you described. I'm sorry that happened to you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thanks.  Cool.  Now what."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't really know. Your plan is to stay here and try to find somebody who can help you deal with your planet's mind control related problems, right? And mine is to stay here and find somebody who can resurrect Maiar, even if it's not Ancora. We can, like, coexist, I don't think our respective powers solve each other's problems or anything."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure.  I mean, you're the one who just got solid evidence that I'm telling the truth, and not the other way around, but operating on your premise: sure."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is there something you want me to do with this information? I'm not threatening to cut you off from your Bar deposit, I don't want you to starve."

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"I appreciate that, I guess.  Could still be - manipulating me into something nefarious, or whatever.  If I'm going to be stuck here indefinitely I'd really prefer to be able to trust you, if trustable you in fact are."  She sighs.  "I'd consider trying to work out something where I offer to just stay here forever - with trackers for enforcement or something - if I could learn summoning, but I don't even know if that would help because I don't know how it works, and you can't tell me, and also so far your guesses about what I'll find convincing are - let's say imperfect."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not sure there's much you would find convincing that I can actually produce, but if you want to suggest something be my guest. I don't actually know if summoning will work here at all but that I can have Alassëo check."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can think of some things that'd be convincing about the way your Earth is but I'm not going to say them right now because I'm not allowed to know things about it, and it would only work if you could give me it as soon as I asked instead of having extra time to fake it while knowing what I was going to ask for.  But that only helps if knowing that your Earth is a certain way will then get me far enough to be able to determine that all the other stuff is true, which again I don't want to take your word for because you thought wearing jeans and sneakers was weak evidence instead of exactly zero, given that you could easily have copied them from my Earth, and thought that binding oaths being part of your story made them more likely for some - entirely unclear reason; I didn't get that one tee-bee-aitch."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...because Elves can make binding oaths, if you decide that part is credible, you can get Alassëo's oath on anything he corroborates," Cam says, "I didn't realize that was unclear. I don't think I actually had enough information to know that jeans and sneakers would be the thing to copy - I had a portrait of you to guess your age from, but did not know what year it was in your world, and in mine it's the late twenty-second century and both jeans and sneakers are out of fashion, I was just born in 1987. I don't want you to know things about summoning, if you want - anything else to do with my Earth that seems probably safe."

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, I mean - so this is the issue, right, you say you only had this much to go off of, but that's the part I don't believe you about; in the case where you're evil and stuff I think you had a lot more.  And I get that binding oaths would fix this if I believed in them, obviously, but before it seemed like you thought I might find them credible specifically because they were part of why you holed the planet, even though I also think that might be made up because it sounds incredibly tailored, for reasons I explained when you told me about it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What do you think hypothetically evil me wants from you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The entire problem is that I don't know.  - Well not the entire problem, but like, a lot of it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Can I demonstrate that I'm not evil by continuing not to want anything from you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I mean, it'll help.  Like you said, though, we don't have to be in a hurry, and I think that applies equally to whatever evil-you might want.  And it's not like we can't fill time by trying to make progress on other ways of establishing trust."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, you're not telling me what those are. Do you need me for something? You seem very invested in this."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I will not be convinced by a history book but if they contain little enough information about summoning that I'm allowed to have one then it'll be a solid start to reference stuff against.  And sure, if wanting to know fundamental attributes of the place and people I'm imprisoned in and with makes me very invested, then by all means call me very invested."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Summoning becoming common knowledge was a major historical event. I can give you a history book from 2006 or earlier without redacting, or I can redact a later one. You are not imprisoned, you can walk out the door whenever you please, you are self-imposing hermitude out of humanitarian concerns."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ancora already had the ability to kidnap me from my house before having ever met me and is probably - oh whatever, sure, I'll refrain from dying on this hill; I'm very invested in learning about the attributes of my hermitude.  I'll take an aught-six history book for now and if you feel like starting on redacting you could maybe do that, whatever, I'm not your mom."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Indeed you are not." He presents her with the required texts of every history department class taught at the University of Washington the semester before summoning broke.

Permalink Mark Unread

She doesn't really have the attention span at the moment to do more than skim and also global was two full years ago, but do things seem mostly the same?  Any wild differences that stand out?  Could these literally just have been taken from her world.

Permalink Mark Unread

There is no obvious difference, since in 2006 no textbooks mention magic at all except in the anthropological sense.

Permalink Mark Unread

Fantastic.  Well, it was still worth establishing that, and confirming future-things'll be a lot easier than if the divergence point was earlier at least.

. . . possibly her continued bad mood and increasingly-deteriorating ability to concentrate have anything to do with having skipped breakfast and possibly lunch by now.  She will take a recommendation from Bar.

Permalink Mark Unread

Bagel sandwich and a slice of quiche and fruit salad?

Permalink Mark Unread

Ooh, yummy.  That does help.

- it helps enough that midway through she brings her palm to her forehead with an audible smack and makes a very annoyed noise.

Permalink Mark Unread

"- mm?"

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"I have a magic power which lets me model people better.  Seems like it'd probably be kinda useful in verifying non-evilness."

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"How does it work exactly?"

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"I don't know; I haven't used it before and the magic only lets me know about things I can do at any given moment, which right now is not much - I think I could . . . see how someone would react to something?  Very briefly and for a set of very limited somethings, presently."

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"Huh. Is there something you want to see how I'd react to?"

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"Uh, for now I'm gonna hold on to what I have because if I'm in a situation where teleporting a few feet would help I will really regret having given up the ability to teleport a few feet, but as a first thought I can probably use it to determine whether the binding oaths are in fact a thing."

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"I can't make them but you could presumably check Alassëo, sure."

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"Right, yes."

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"And then he can give you his sworn word on all the rest. Cool. How long does it take you to recharge?"

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"Couple days, for anything at all.  And it's al