May 18, 2021 2:56 AM
I didn't think anthropics worked like that
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Vanyel blinks at her first sentence again, a flicker of curiosity that doesn't make it past his fatigue to become an actual question. :Right. Er, I'll do a weather-barrier first. In the meantime if you can find us a couple of saplings - go for about as thick as my wrist, and at least as tall as either of us - that'd be really helpful. I don't bother hauling the tent-poles with me, saves on weight to just cut new ones when I make camp: A pause. :Oh, sorry, some light would be helpful, wouldn't it: 

He lifts a hand, and a glowing point of steady warm-yellow light, like a disembodied lamp, appears a few feet above their heads. :Good enough?: 

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She caaan't.  She can't not say it.  She can't help herself.

:I can walk around for as far as the light reaches, looking for saplings like that and noting their location; I don't have tools to cut them down, if that's what you mean.  Also I'm genuinely ashamed about burdening you with so many questions, but while I'm walking around looking, can you Mindspeak something about WHAT is that light ontologically speaking.:

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:It's a mage-light. Do they not have mages either where you're from?: Vanyel yawns. :I'll cut the trees myself. After I'm done this: 

He raises both hands, staring with intense concentration at a point in midair, and...the air starts to shimmer. For a moment, something like a giant suspended soap-bubble glints in the odd light, and then it's invisible again, but the chilly breeze coming from that angle is suddenly cut off. 

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Who needed RULES?  Not her!  She doesn't need to know ANYTHING WHATSOEVER about what reality is or isn't allowed to throw at her in the next three seconds!

:There's no public knowledge about anybody who can do anything resembling what you just did, just like there's nothing resembling Mindspeech and no persons shaped like Yfandes.  I'm about to walk out of the volume where that bubble just was, to look for saplings; stop me if that's not okay.:

If not stopped, Thellim will duly search for saplings as requested, and be only slightly surprised when the 'mage-light' follows her.  Does she find two saplings, roughly as thick as Vanyel's wrist and taller than the maximum of their heights, before she would have to lose visual lock on the campsite to search further?  She's not going to lose visual lock on the campsite without checking in about Safety and How To Not Be Lost Forever In The Forest.

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(Vanyel is not about to lose his mysterious and inept-but-friendly guest by accident, that would be mortifying. He's keeping half a mental eye on her, with Thoughtsensing, and trying to make sure the light stays nearby though he's tired and distracted by the weather barrier and sometimes it lags. She gives the strong impression of being someone with NO wilderness survival training at all, and he'll feel terrible if she trips on an unseen root and breaks her ankle or something.) 

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It's noticeably chillier and wetter outside the half-formed barrier. 

Near the remains of a fallen lightning-struck tree, which opened a gap in the forest canopy to allow new growth, she can find a couple of saplings that meet the description! Mostly! They're slightly skinnier than a wrist, and one of them isn't perfectly straight, but they seem springy and sturdy enough. Also, with the branches no longer overhead to diffuse the rainfall a bit, she's rapidly getting soaked.  

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So kind of Nature to provide her with a free shower, but next time she'd prefer a heated one.  :I found two saplings that imperfectly meet the description, slightly skinnier than your wrist if I'm remembering its diameter correctly, and one isn't fully straight.  No problem if you want me to search further, but I can show them to you now if it's better to have imperfect goods now than perfect goods later.:  She won't mention the rain; Vanyel can see it too, and taking on some discomfort to help Vanyel will probably make her feel better about all the unreciprocated help she's getting from the already-tired person.

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:That'll do fine - I'll be right over: 

It's really nice to have help with this, actually. Usually he's left to make camp by himself, using Fetching to hold parts of the tent he can't reach. And...it feels good to see another human face, even a stranger. 

Vanyel heads over to her, and then notices her soggy clothing - she's much less prepared for the weather than he is - and tosses up a mage-barrier over their heads before he squats and, moving his hand but not actually touching the sapling in question, hacks through the base with a burst of focused mage-energies, catching it as it topples. He's tired enough that he has to find and tap a node to get the second one, which is a little embarrassing. 

:Can you manage carrying them?: he asks Thellim. 

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Well, can she?  She'll definitely try.  Thellim does standard exercises-for-health; does that suffice to carry two saplings?

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They're not that heavy, and if she's reasonably fit she should be able to manage, though the uneven and slippery ground adds an extra challenge. 

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Vanyel leaves her the light, but strides off ahead back to the clearing and weather-barrier, where he detaches a rolled-up bundle strapped to the saddlebag and starts shaking it out. 

When she catches up, she can slightly feel the discontinuity as she steps across his invisible barrier, and the air inside is now noticeably warmer and drier. 

:- Here, if you can hold the first pole at an angle...: Vanyel frowns at her clothes. :Er, just a minute - want me to dry you off?: 

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:With a towel, or with processes I don't understand?  And in the latter case, is it dangerous to me or expensive to you?  Being wet won't kill me, if the water here is the same as the water in my world.:

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:Er, with magic. It won't hurt you, I've done it before to my friend's toddler. It's...a little tiring?: Maybe more than a little, in his current depleted state. :But cheaper than having to Heal you if you get sick: 

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Yfandes whickers, nosing at his shoulder and looking at him in a way that somehow conveys fondness mingled with disapproval, even though horse facial expressions should not really be able to do this. 

:Wish you applied that reasoning to yourself, ever: she sends privately. :How's that sore throat doing?:

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:It's fine:

Vanyel scowls, then quickly smooths his expression out and smiles weakly at Thellim to try to show that the scowl wasn't aimed at her

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Thellim is not totally oblivious to what sort of person might help a stranger from literally another world, and not bring up remuneration at any point.  It's not the kind of person whose private Virtue leans toward 'will work diligently for sufficiently generous compensation' or 'properly paces himself for the long term'.  :I'm in generally good health, Vanyel.  Did Yfandes by any chance just say something about how you're pushing yourself too hard already, and don't actually have the energy to do this even if you would feel bad about not doing it?:

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:.....Um. Sort of: Vanyel looks self-conscious and a bit irritated. :Let's just get this tent up, then: 

He's clearly done this a LOT of times, and has an efficient process worked out; he gives her terse Mindspeech instructions for what to hold where, and within three minutes the bundle of canvas has been turned into shelter, with a waterproof sheet of leather rolled out inside to cover the damp ground. It's not a big tent; there'll be enough floorspace for both of them, but it's going to be cozy. 

Vanyel tosses the saddlebags inside, ducks in, and settles himself cross-legged at one end, beckoning for her to follow. He lights the space with another tiny mage-light, and digs in the saddlebags again, emerging with a smaller cloth-wrapped bundle. :Here. Eat: 

He tosses her what seem to be a hunk of hard cheese and a strip of dried meat, then uncorks a floppy leather bag that gurgles with liquid inside and takes a gulp before offering it to her. :Er, it's safe to drink, I made sure with magic, I'm sorry about the taste though: 

(The water inside is slightly gritty and does, in fact, taste like something scooped up out of a swamp.) 

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Thellim takes several gulps of swamp water, then tries to hand back the food.  :No, you eat, I'm not taking away your food.  It looks like I have more reserve calories stored in my thighs than you have in your entire body -:  Oops, she didn't quite mean to think that 'out loud'.  It's a little harder to stop yourself from thinking something than it is to stop yourself from saying it.  :Sorry, I honestly didn't mean to think that at you.  But my skipping a few meals until we get to town and higher authority should be fine.:

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Instead of seeming offended, though, Vanyel chuckles. :That's kind of you. I've got enough to feed both of us for tonight, though. Er, I'm sorry it's only Guard rations:

He starts gnawing on his own portion, with the lack of enthusiasm of someone who's been eating the exact same tedious food for months and can barely bring himself to choke it down one more time. Despite the moderately strenuous activities she's seen him get up to just in the last hour - riding is a workout in itself, as her thighs are now informing her, and magic looks tiring as well - he doesn't appear to be very hungry. 

:We'll have to share the blanket: he adds, apologetic.

(And he is going to check and reinforce his shields SO THOROUGHLY before going to sleep, because this would be an especially humiliating time to accidentally project at her during a nightmare.) 

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Thellim goes on looking at the chunk of hard cheese in her hand.  It's very clear that Vanyel is acting like she is Expected to just eat the food, despite her moral discomfort with the act.  It will be very socially awkward if she refuses.  The peer pressure to transgress against her deontology is practically a tangible force in her mind.

This about Thellim:  She has been in that situation before.  When she was eight years old, there was a teacher in her school who smiled at her and acted friendly with her and shared snacks with her, who one day started asking Thellim for help with minor pranks on other teachers, acting like of course Thellim would reciprocate.  The pranks escalated, bit by bit, little by little, over the course of months.  The point where Thellim finally balked was when she was asked to put a caltrop on a student's chair, something that would actually deal a physical injury.

It was all a test, of course.  And Thellim didn't do too badly!  A hundred years earlier, her performance would have been excellent and entitled her to subsidized childcare to encourage her to have more kids!  They have to keep making the test subtler and subtler, and perform it on younger and younger children, or else everybody would pass.  It's something Civilization can take pride in, that they have to keep making that test harder.  Thellim's score in the 45th percentile of moral integrity was barely below average.  Well within a standard deviation of statistical noise.  Slightly less than half the planet will get a score no better than that, by design, because they keep making the test harder.  A 45th-percentile score is definitely not at the point where you should start thinking that you shouldn't have children, if that's your only flaw, if you have other virtues to make up for it.  Almost all of the reason why Thellim doesn't intend to have children is that the people around her seem happier than herself and like they'd enjoy having kids more.  Her remembering her 45th-percentile score for moral integrity has practically nothing to do with it.  Almost zero.

But Thellim will not overlook that there is an atmosphere of taken-for-granted social expectancy pressuring into doing something that the back of her mind - or front of her mind, in this case - feels to be wrong.

:Vanyel, I'm sorry and I don't mean to force you to explain things while you're tired, I know that there's all kinds of things I don't understand about your world and that I might be misunderstanding - but the way things look - is that your world has lower technology and much less wealth per capita than my world, and people here are living on the brink of starvation.  Anyone who visibly looked like you, in my world, wouldn't be taken to a restaurant, they'd be taken to a hospital.  Even if you have enough food for today, do you have enough food for tomorrow?  For one month later?  If I take food from you today and it contributes to you falling over dead from starvation two months from now, when I have plenty of caloric reserves myself, that's - that's something my people would consider - worse than an innocent mistake.  A foul act.  I am not certain that I will be able to repay you myself.  I don't need you to politely reassure me that things are okay, I need a serious not-polite factual statement that authorities will reimburse you for whatever food you spent on me so you don't literally die.  Yfandes, back me up on this?:

Thellim glances at the 'Companion', hoping that her pleading expression translates across the species barrier.

:Oh, and sharing a blanket is fine: she adds as a quick afterthought.  She's slightly uncomfortable doing that with a strange man, in fact, but that mental twinge is nothing she can't just ignore.

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The look Vanyel gives her is even more baffled than before. 

:...I, er, thank you for - explaining...?: The overtones indicate that he's not so much actually thankful, on an immediate emotional level - he's too tired for that - but he's vaguely impressed, and thoughtful, and curious. :I - I mean, Valdemar isn't doing great on crops right now, all the blood-magic the Karsites are doing is terrible for the weather, but personally I don't think I'll go short on food later? I'm, um....: 

A long hesitation. 

:- I'm the most powerful mage in the entire Kingdom and they aren't going to let me go hungry. I - just -: 

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:If he looks half-starved it's because he is: Yfandes adds helpfully. :But mostly it's on him for not prioritizing re-supplying at main camp. ...Also tapping nodes for mage-energy suppresses the appetite. And Van's never been good at taking care of himself: 

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Vanyel glares at her. 

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Okay that is a different scenario than the one she thought was developing but fine.

Thellim wants to display her ability to update and respond to reasoned argument, so she immediately and without delay tries to take a bite of the cheese.  Taking into account that she is trying hard to mentally brace herself for the result of extrapolating technological progress backwards by centuries and applying the resulting transformation to cheese, is this edible if she tries to power through?

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