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Generated: Oct 18, 2021 11:55 AM
Post last updated: Oct 18, 2021 11:55 AM
you and your white horse
Amenta colonizes Velgarth
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What a beautiful planet.

It has so much land! The year is a bit short, but the air is already breathable, according to the probes they've dropped. A lot of probes are suffering from inclement weather but the overall weather patterns look fine, just a run of weird luck. They might even be able to eat the plants and animals there.

Speaking of, some of the animals look almost like Amentans, which is kind of weird. But they're very low tech - oh, ew, they're really low tech, evidence from that highly explosive-looking war over there notwithstanding, ewwwww.

Okay, well. They look a lot like Amentans, they mostly act like very low tech Amentans who have very nice bombs. They send down a team to ransack the nicest library they can identify from space in the middle of the night, planning to return the originals once they've copied them all. When they have version 0.3 of machine translation into the library's represented written languages underway, they send three landing parties:

- one into Petras, to return all the books apologetically and offer compensation in the form of various shiny jewelry;
- and one each into Haven and Sunhame, to inquire what the war is about and if either side would like to be annexed in exchange for help with the war.

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In Petras, they meet an extremely confused mage-student at the local academy, whose side job is being a library assistant. 

He spends a moment frozen at the front desk inside, staring at the shiny, sparkling, impressive, terrifying space shuttle that's just landed on the library's front lawn, and then runs out. 

 

...And continues to stare blankly at the - people? - emerging from it??

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One of them holds up a large glowing rectangle which reads in rather broken Rethwellani We are here to sorry for thief! All book in many box there. Regret! It was important. Please take apology shiny stones in other box. The boxes are transparent, as though made of glass, so the books and shiny stones are clearly visible.

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The student stares at them. So blankly. 

 

He's thinking that a few days ago - thank all the gods it wasn't on his shift - someone, or presumably many someones, managed to get in and out of the library, without triggering ANY of the precautions, and it wasn't until the next time a janitor made their routine cleaning rounds that they noticed that all the books were gone - 

 

He is very tempted to shout something rude at this random stranger. But thinks better of it. Clearly they are ABSURDLY POWERFUL and this would not help at all. 

"I, er, nevermind - just leave them there, I, um, just - leave it, that's fine -?" 

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They have printouts of their apology and place them on top of the huge pile of boxes and then bow politely to the student and go back into their spaceship.

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In Sunhame, the team landing gets about twenty-five seconds into their script, and then a Sunpriest in gold-embroidered robes runs out from the crowd, and then suddenly the entire delegation is on fire. 

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AAAAAAAH

The entire delegation scrambles back into their ship, where the sprinklers promptly go off. They fly away.

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When the delegation lands in Haven, in a spot in the conveniently wide-open space of the Companions' Field and nearish the river, for a moment nothing happens at all. 

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The first thing to happen is that a large white stallion is suddenly galloping towards them. 

- and addressing all of the vaguely-humanoid minds in the bizarre shiny metal thing. :Who are you. What are you doing here: 

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Whoa! Telepathy! That was not in the mission spec. They have no idea how to reply. They confer among themselves about whether they should still go out and eventually a smaller number of them do.

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By the time they've settled on this, a few of the other locals have made it out to the field by the river. 

Savil is standing beside her Companion and looking very tired and very irritated and glaring at the spaceship like it's her personal enemy. 

(She's mostly just trying to get anything at all off mage-sight, but apparently the shiny flying thing isn't magical in the least???) 

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They hold up a screen! This one says in clumsy Valdemaran, We are welcome? ?? We are from far! Hello! It is good meeting you friends.

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Savil stares at them. 

Confers with Kellan. 

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Who considers this for a moment, and then confers with Taver. 

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The white stallion takes a step forward. 

:You say you are from far away? And that you want to be our friends?: 

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They perform actions with their devices and write Yes yes! How are you talk in this way?

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:- I am using Mindspeech. Most Mindspeakers cannot speak to others who lack the Gift, but I can: 

Taver's oddly front-facing blue eyes bore into them. 

:Why are you here?: 

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They do not have nearly enough context on local animals to find it odd that his eyes face front. Maybe that's totally normal. Though they are sort of surprised that there are more intelligent species on this planet than the ones that look like them, that's really neat. We are here for friends! For explore! For learn and teach!

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Taver relays this to the other Companions in Haven, who immediately relay it to their Heralds. 

:Where do you come from?: 

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"Amenta!" one of them says aloud, since they don't have enough phoneme-letter correspondence to be sure of how to transliterate it. She points at the sky in the approximate right direction; they picked this region in part because it's the right season for pointing at their constellation.

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"Ah-Men-Tah?" Savil offers, since this seems like the most helpful contribution she can make right now. 

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Yes! We do not know certainly how it letters.

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Tantras catches up, jogging over; unlike Savil, he missed getting a ride with his Companion. 

"What's going on?" he asks her. 

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"- Well, that." She points at the space shuttle that's landed on their lawn. "They're claiming to be from very far away." She points at the sky as well, not quite in the right direction. "They - want to be friends?" 

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It's embarrassing how incredibly little of an idea Tran has for how to respond to this! He's been the King's Own for, gods, three years now, and it's gotten to the point that he only rarely feels like a child playing dress-up when he has to speak in Council meetings, or have insightful opinions for Randi on where they should put their Mindspeakers. This...is something else. 

"...Um." 

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:They do not appear hostile: Taver offers. :So far: 

There's unease in his mindvoice, though. 

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Savil pinches her lips together, and switches to private Mindspeech. :Do we know if that - thing - has weapons?:

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Tran frowns at the space shuttle. It looks very shiny and very advanced and powerful. :...Can't tell. It'd probably be rude to ask?:

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After a long beat of silence, Taver answers the aliens - in Mindspeech, again, they seem to understand writing but not speech? 

:We appreciate the offer of friendship. We will welcome you in Haven: 

 

 

The aliens are not shielded at all and Taver is also absolutely reading their minds, now. He has - a bad feeling about this, though an inconveniently vague one. 

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The ones who have emerged from the ship are:

- one with blue hair, the one who said "Amenta" aloud. She is very glad they're getting a good reception! It's hard to do diplomacy through such bad machine translation. Hopefully the locals have a linguist - or some more primitive precursor to a linguist? - who can help them out with the translation project all those greens in the sky are working so hard on.
- one with green hair, who is transcribing what Taver says telepathically into writing so the record of the conversation is complete and annotating their machine translation record with what they were originally attempting to say. This is very complicated to do in real time and is not what she is trained for, her fieldwork was in translations of international news incidents, and those are all on video so you can listen to them six times, but she is not going to fuck up on a mission to meet aliens, no siree.
- one with yellow hair, who is taking notes on the green's transcription to include things like "then the blue pointed at our star" and "this speaker is a telepathic quadruped". He is nervous about how the other delegations are doing, they haven't heard anything back from the people returning the library books or the shuttle that went to Karse, and that's at least a little weird, isn't it? Maybe Mission Control doesn't want to distract them?

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:They sent an envoy to Karse as well: Taver informs Tran and Kellan. He's also relaying all of this to Randi's Sondra, who is not here in person; it seemed stupid to put the King at risk. 

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:Huh. Wonder how that went: 

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:Somehow I doubt it went well. The current Karsite leadership is - not exactly reasonable: 

Taver taps his hoof against the grass - his only visible sign of unhappiness, and hopefully the aliens aren't familiar with horse or Companion body language. 

After a moment, he addresses them again. :What do you hope to learn or explore most urgently?: 

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Well, ultimately what they are really after here is living space, though the magic is also VERY INTERESTING, if it's actually magic, and what else could it be, and the second option is less threatening. The blue composes a message and puts it through machine translation for the green to frown at and then they display it: We are very inquisitive to do with magic!

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That's...somewhat concerning. Why are they trying to colonize another planet. What happened to the one they came from. 

:We would be delighted to consider an exchange of knowledge, then: Taver answers. :We have magic, and you clearly have technologies that we lack: 

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Yes! We are ultra happy to tell about new inventions! replies the blue. Like PLUMBING. They need PLUMBING. She wants to tell Lay Pipe that they can send fifteen thousand purples here YESTERDAY.

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Savil, when this is relayed to her, rolls her eyes slightly and hopes the visitors don't notice. She's kind of offended that they're judging Haven's plumbing. The Heralds have done a lot of work on that in the last few decades! 

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:Then we should organize that: Taver says. :First, I suppose that you will need accommodations here?: 

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Ahahaha how about plumbing FIRST guest rooms LATER. Our boat of the sky is quarters! the blue replies cheerfully. Please let us introduce myself. We will say names that are ours!

The blue says "Kesha Nat". "Nat" means "star"; she changed it recently when she scored an interstellar diplomacy job.

The green says "Antai Tekma"; "Tekma" means "language".

The yellow says "Oshun Makutka"; "Makutka" means "observer".

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Tantras politely repeats the names, then points at himself. "Herald Tantras." Points at his Companion. "Taver." 

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"Herald Savil. Kellan." 

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It is so goodness to meet you! Where is the place we are at land?

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:The city is called Haven. The kingdom is Valdemar: 

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How to translate from telepathy into sounds... "Havfen? Fvaldtemarr?"

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Oh, that's surprisingly cute. 

"Haven," Savil clarifies helpfully. "Valdemar." 

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The green tries and has better pronunciation. The blue is embarrassed; she speaks four languages and still has a pronounced Tapap accent in most of them.

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:We should help you learn the language: Taver declares. :So that we can better exchange knowledge: 

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The green writes Yes please thank you!

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Then Taver can spend a while asking them in Mindspeech what sorts of words they want to learn, and then Mindspeaking sample sentences and having Savil repeat them out loud. 

 

The Groveborn Companion is exceptionally good at multitasking, and while he does this, he's also busy updating the other Companion in Haven, conferring with King Randale via Sondra, and worrying. 

And reading the visitors' minds, because he continues to have a very uncomfortable feeling about all of this. 

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Antai Tekma, the green, takes point on the language discussion, though the blue checks over everything she says for diplomacy. Tekma's really absorbed in the language discussion. The yellow, Oshun Makutka, goes on taking notes and is now specifically flagging some of them for the translation project who are supervising from orbit but is also thinking that he's kind of hungry and could really go for picklepot right now. Kesha Nat, in between making sure none of the example sentences are too judgmental about the plumbing thing and that nobody whose facial expressions she might be able to read looks too annoyed, is prodding Mission Control for an update on the other two delegations. She was against sending them all at once but if they're going to offer to take either side in a war in exchange for stuff they want there are admittedly reasons not to prioritize one or the other before making a decision, and she went along with it, and now she has no idea how her counterparts are doing in the southerly country...

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:What is up with them and plumbing, anyway?: Savil mutters to Tran in private Mindspeech, when that piece is relayed. 

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:Don't have a clue! At least they're trying to be polite about it, I guess? I feel like we could really be giving them a better welcome, here, but if they don't want a guest room...: 

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:We could offer them tea?:

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Taver, in between coming up with sentences that demonstrate the use of various Valdemaran verbs, conveys the offer of tea. 

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...is there any polite way to ask if it's a kind of tea where you boil the water. Thank you not! We aren't completed tests on samples for finding out if the foods are safety.

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Well, they TRIED to be hospitable, it's not their fault that the visitors from 'Amenta' are bizarrely squeamish. 

:If you like: he suggests, :you could speak with one of our mages, who is also an astronomer. He would know many more words about that kind of study: 

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Yes please! says Tekma, beaming. Wow do they even have telescopes yet. They probably have negligible light pollution so even a naked-eye astronomer would be worth meeting though. Plus the whole magic thing, which she still kind of thinks she's dreaming about.

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:In that case, would you be willing to come inside? He was badly injured in the war and is not very mobile yet:

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...they can shower on the shuttle. Tekma accepts. Kesha Nat ducks into the shuttle to tell those still aboard what they're doing.

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Tantras is at this point mostly over being offended at how the aliens apparently think Haven is disgusting. He will be very polite while he escorts them through the Palace grounds, pointing out various features of the gardens and buildings. That's a statue of King Valdemar, who founded the kingdom eight hundred years ago. 

(The statue is mostly well-maintained but has some pigeon-shit on the shoulder, not yet cleaned up by a groundskeeper.) 

He takes them to the House of Healing, since Kilchas is currently still recovering there. 

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The yellow takes pictures of everything as they go. Angles the camera to avoid the splash of pigeon-shit in the photo of the statue.

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Kilchas is so delighted to meet the aliens! 

He's a somewhat shrivelled-looking man, aged beyond his years, with long stringy grey hair and yellowed teeth. He greets the Amentans with enthusiasm. He's also a strong Mindspeaker, and even though it's not usually the done thing, he figures he might as well talk to them directly. 

:How did you manage to get here? We think the stars are really really far away!: 

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They are! confirms the Amentans' screen. They are very far that light from our sun is ten years ago here! We have an invent that goes so fast.

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Kilchas reads this and makes several different shades of perplexed expression while he tries to parse it. 

"...Whoa," he breathes, finally. And then remembers he has to Mindspeak. :That's incredible! How does it work?: 

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It is more complicated to explain with words we have.

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:Then we'd better get started teaching you more words so you can tell us about it! It's an - artificing sort of thing, I'm guessing? We should get Sandra in here, she studies that along with alchemy: 

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It is built of metal and fueled with stones! We were hundreds of your years ago at this amount of building. The invent that goes fast is most new!

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'Fueled with stones' gets a double-take from Kilchas! How would you even do that?? 

:Maybe you could show us pictures and diagrams?: he offers. :That doesn't need words so much. Oh, but probably you've got questions about our magic, too? Where should I start?: 

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What are the kinds? How does it be? Who learns how to magic?

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:Savil, you wanna take that one?: 

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:Er, all right: She drags over a chair and sits by Kilchas' bed. :So - we distinguish 'true magic', which is mage-gift, and the various other more specific Gifts. Kilchas and I are both mages, but we're Mindspeakers as well and that's actually how we're talking to you. Gifts are...innate, a child is either born with them or not. - Er, to clarify, a child is born with potential, and then some of the time it awakens and becomes an active Gift, at which point they need training to learn how to control and use it: 

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What controls potential? Is it a family happening? How many Gifts do there are?

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:Is it a family– oh, do you mean does it run in the blood? Yes, we think so. And - hmm. Around a dozen total known Gifts. I can give you a list?: 

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List please yes thank you!

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:Right, hmm. So I'll start with mage-gift, which is...the most flexible, I guess? You can do this with it: She demonstrates a mage-light. :Or this: A shield-wall, in reach for one of the Amentans to poke it if they want to. :You can start fires, throw lightning - you can make wards that detect attacks or people crossing them - you can, hmm, look at things far away, or send messages. Or make artifacts that help do all of those things. You can make Gates to go instantly from one place to another...: 

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Instantly! Wow! Any place?

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:- Well, there's a distance limit, the maximum distance depends how powerful the mage is. I can do three hundred miles but I'm an Adept, most mages are less strongly Gifted. And you need to have been there before, and there needs to be a doorway at both ends to anchor the threshold. But other than that, yes: 

She would offer a demonstration, except for the part where Gates are tiring and why would she do that. 

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Oh, it's way less exciting if it's only 300 miles. You can do that in an hour in a helicopter. They try not to look too disappointed. And there are more Gifts of less magicalness?

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That's a weird way of putting it but whatever. 

:Yes. Mindspeech is what I'm using now, to talk. Empathy is - a bit like Mindspeech, but for emotions specifically, and it can be receptive-only - feeling others' emotions - or projective, making them feel a certain emotion, or both. Farsight is a Gift that lets you look at things far away - it's somewhat better at it and less tiring than true-magic scrying. Fetching lets you move objects, either sort of push them around or instantly transport them from one place to another. Bardic Gift is...a bit like Projective Empathy, but specifically through music? Healing is basically what it sounds like. Same for Firestarting. Foresight sees the future - it can be short-range, usually a few minutes in the future and pretty specific, or long-range, months or years away and often cryptic. Hmm, what else... Mindhealing is like Healing but for minds specifically - it's very rare and I don't know that much detail on how it works. Animal Mindspeech is Mindspeech but works on animals, not people: 

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Amazing! The blue is thinking of applications for Foresight and Farsight for diplomatic purposes, the green thinks Bardic sounds bizarrely specific and so does Firestarting, the yellow is wondering what the point of talking to animals is and how good the healing and the psychiatry magic might be.

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:It's pretty useful but it doesn't let us travel to other stars!: 

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We too are so much excitement about traveling stars!

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Savil, yet again, has to put some effort in to avoid twitching and then correcting their grammar. :Well, anyway, we can probably set you up to talk to experts in each of the Gifts, while you work on being able to translate more about your inventions?: 

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Yes! A thing we can do is have listening things listening to things. We could give you some things, and the things could listen, and then our green people can work harder on language!

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:You can– huh! Sure, all right. Does it, er, help if you have the written part as well? We could get some people to read books out loud, or something: 

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Yes, that too is good, and some of that and some of conversations is most good.

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:Sure, I figure we can arrange that: 

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Wonderful! Our things that listen are in our boat.

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:Your spaceboat!: Kilchas says, beaming. (He very badly wants to ask if he could come see it himself, but he's not going to be able to walk that far and probably it's presumptuous to ask anyway.) 

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We can ask someone in the boat to bring the things yes?

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:...Tran, what do we think about this?: 

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Tran is trying not to fidget. :I - hmm. I don't know. Taver feels uncomfortable about it, but he says they're telling the truth and the listening devices aren't dangerous?: 

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:We should do it! Then we'll be able to talk to them: 

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Savil takes a deep breath, and makes herself smile at the delegation. :Yes, of course, you can have someone bring them: 

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A purple emerges presently from the ship, toting a box of little microphone pickups; the yellow sticks his head out of the window to call the purple over in the correct direction.

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The Heralds are visibly a bit tense, but Savil goes out to politely greet the purple, and can show them some places where they can put listening devices and overhear lots of conversation. The Healers' centre station is probably a decent spot for that, though there are concerns about patient privacy - who would actually be listening to the conversations! Can they promise not to go around gossiping about it? 

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Linguists! But they're not out to compromise medical confidentiality here, places with truly public conversations are fine.

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Fair enough! Savil can lead them around the Palace, pointing out good places to put listening-devices: in the kitchens, in the Court dining hall, in the servants' stairwell behind the Heraldic meeting wing, in the gardens frequented often by noble youngsters. 

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Great! Listening devices are placed and turned on for the linguists.

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Great! Is there anything else that the alien delegation wants to get done right now? 

(Savil is really hoping that she and the Heralds can peel off for a while to discuss in private, but the aliens are incredibly powerful and she's reluctant to risk being rude to them.) 

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The language is the priority now! Eventually they would like to talk about the war but it can wait till they sound less silly. Should they go back in their boat now?

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Sounds like a plan! Savil will repeat some polite diplomatic pleasantries by rote, and walk them back to the shiny metal flying-machine-thing still hanging out on the Palace lawn by the river. 

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Is this an okay place for it? They can move it but it does need a fair bit of space.

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Savil thinks here is fine? 

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Okay! Back into their ship they go. They write up a summary report of how everything went.

And then they get informed of how the other delegations are doing and OH YIKES the people in Karse set their counterparts on FIRE that's not how you treat visiting diplomatic teams AT ALL. Two people have already died of their injuries and the rest of them are receiving emergency attention in orbit from the mothership's doctor.

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If they're going to conveniently stay on the Palace grounds within range then Taver will definitely keep reading their minds! 

He is alarmed and concerned by the news they're getting about Karse, and immediately relays it to his Chosen and to all the other Companions in Haven. 

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...Is she a horrible person for feeling like this probably works in Valdemar's favour? 

:We should maybe push them a bit on getting help with the war: Savil suggests. :Since I can't imagine their impression of Karse is very positive, right now. And - it'd be very good to get Van off the Border - he's been out there practically alone for months now: 

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Tantras can't disagree with that! 

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:I think we'd better call a meeting with the Senior Circle and, er, talk all of this over: 

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While the Heralds set up their meeting, and then try to lay out an agenda and figure out where to even start, Taver keeps reading all the Amentans' minds. 

He has such an uncomfortable feeling about all of this! And nothing concrete to pin it to yet! 

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They're really upset about the Karse thing! Apparently returning the books to Petras went fine and if things don't work out really well here they might send proper diplomats there even though they don't have a war in progress to be opportunistically alliancey about. Things seem to tentatively be working out here, though. And there is SO much empty space, they could fit like four cities in empty bits of Valdemar alone if they can eat the local food and get the local farms up to efficiency and then they have a stronger negotiating position for moving into other empty space. Empty space empty space empty space BABIES. The people aboard the ship are actually mostly already too old to have babies but the purple isn't and it's very much on his mind that BABIES. Anyway, Mission Control has authorized the blue to invite Valdemarans to look inside the ship if they want, and to show them pictures of Amenta, and to inquire very delicately into the existing state of population control, since this is definitely a High Infant Mortality tech level and they're going to fix that.

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....Huh. Fascinating. They sure do spend a surprisingly high percentage of their time thinking about babies. 

Taver keeps relaying his observations, though just to Tran, who can take notes and then update the rest of the Heralds when it's a good moment for it. 

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"I want to get Vanyel back in Haven," Randi is saying. "He - he'd be good at this. And he'd - want to be here, for it." 

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Savil also would really like to get her nephew off the goddamned Karsite border! 

"Right. So we'd better push them on help with the war, then." 

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"I'm not really sure what it'd even make sense to ask for? They don't have mages." 

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"I mean, they'll definitely have non-magical weapons! They're incredible at artificing. We'd have to ask for details - and I don't know if they could send their own people, so they might have to tell our people what to do with their devices - but I'm sure they can manage something." 

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The room falls silent for a while. 

 

 

 

"...I can't be the only one," Randi says finally, quietly, "who's - noticed that it seems like our Companions aren't happy about this." 

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"No. You're not the only one." 

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Savil scowls. "I'm not sure I like it either. They're...strange. I don't think we properly understand what they want, yet. And, like Kilchas pointed out, whether or not they have magic they're incredibly powerful." 

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"Do we, er, know anything more about what happened to their planet? Why they're looking for a new place to live?" 

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"- Oh. Right." Tran picks at his thumbnail. "We've - got a guess. Taver says they seem to be - really really obsessed with having children. Thinking about it a LOT. We haven't confirmed yet that they didn't have some sort of devastating war that destroyed their original world or something, but...could just be that they want more land so they can afford to have more kids?" 

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"....Aww. That's - kind of sweet, actually?" 

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"Well, except for the part where it's our country they want to move into! And - I mean, could we actually stop them, if they decide they're not happy with how much we're willing to offer?" 

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“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here!” Randi takes a deep breath. Pinches the bridge of his nose. “Why don’t we ask them about help with the war, next - we can say it’ll free up more of our experts on magic so we can share our knowledge with them, which is true, Vanyel’s the one with all the Gifts. And then we can just…let them take the lead a bit? See if they show us more of what they want.”

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“At some point they’ll probably piece together that we could be reading their minds.”

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“And so? It’s not as though they could do anything about it.”

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The meeting goes on for a while. 

Taver keeps reading minds.

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The linguists are making slow incremental progress on the language samples. They should have Valdemaran speech synthesis up soon, and then they won't have to do the displaying a sign thing every time. The blue is now looking at satellite photos of the Velgarth region and imagining buying her granddaughter a TOTALLY EMPTY chunk of land and her granddaughter getting to do that development she's had dreamed up in various forms since she was two. The green is trying to help with the translation project with a view towards what they're about to want to talk about, which incidentally does turn up lots of nonmagical weaponry knowhow, although she doesn't know how it would stack up against magic bombs. Airstrikes would probably still work. The yellow is anxiously corresponding with his buddy from the other delegation, who is in the infirmary on the mothership with a hell of a lot of burns and will never look the same again.

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Oh, if the Amentans want to pay Valdemar for land, that could really help a lot with the war expenses! Also it sounds like they should maybe offer some Healers the next time they talk? Healers can't completely fix the scarring from severe burns, but they can do pretty well at it. 

(Tran is a good example of this. The scars across half of his body are barely noticeable except in certain light.) 

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(Shavri suddenly has such an intense desire to go to SPACE and help Heal aliens! She obviously cannot do this at all, and she's not going to bring it up, but...if only...) 

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The meeting eventually trails off into mostly just Tran and Jaysen discussing how much sparsely-populated land they could sell to the aliens, how to get the relevant nobles on board with this - probably the best plan is just to bribe them, offer five percent of the gold paid for it - and how they might allocate this new source of funding. 

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The sun's been down for a while and at this point everyone is clearly waiting on Randi to announce when the meeting is done. 

He sighs, and stands up. "- Well, it's late and we should probably call it a night. ...We should communicate with them, probably? Arrange a meeting for tomorrow." 

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Tran doesn't actually look up. "Taver says he can do it," he mutters, distracted. 

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Taver walks out and stops just in front of the space shuttle by the river. Waits to see if anyone will come out and talk to him. 

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The hatch does open eventually and the blue sticks her head out. "Hello! Can I help you?" she says, by rote but not badly.

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:Yes, you can. The Heralds would like to plan a time tomorrow morning to speak again?: 

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"Yes!" she says, and then she writes, We are unsure about how keeping time is here.

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:We have bells to mark the time of day. And candles for keeping time during meetings and such. I would propose a candlemark after dawn: 

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"How long a candlemark?"

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Taver, unlike an ordinary human - or even most of the other non-Groveborn Companions - comes up with a built-in capacity for mental math. 

He taps out a rhythm on the ground, about one tap per second. :About thirty-five hundred of that time interval. Time candles are not all exactly the same, so our timekeeping is somewhat approximate: 

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She checks against her pocket everything's clock and does some arithmetic on its calculator and nods. "We will be ready!"

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The Heralds trail off to bed. 

Conversations continue for a while longer in the places where Savil had them put microphones; the Palace staff work on shifts, there are things to be done nearly around the clock. And a few clerks have been tasked with reading books out loud, which the delegation has physical copies of already for comparison. They keep at their task until a reasonable bedtime and then stop. 

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Taver doesn't need much sleep. He keeps mindreading the delegation on the shuttle for most of the night, if they're still awake and doing anything. 

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They have a night shift grey but otherwise are on local time. The grey spends most of the night reading a series of graphic novels about the resentful daughter of a man who has children in seven dimensions.

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In the morning, the Heralds are ready to meet at the appointed time, and Herald Jaysen walks over to escort the Amentan delegation to a meeting-room. 

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The Amentan delegation are happy to accompany him! The blue has figured out enough of the language to compliment the architecture.

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This time, King Randale of Valdemar is present in the meeting, and is delighted and honored to meet the delegates! He gives a very polite and diplomatic little speech, which Kilchas - a much stronger mindspeaker - translates in real-time just in case they’re not quite up for that yet on their language study. 

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(Taver is, of course, still reading all of their minds from a distance.)

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The blue has a speech translated and ready to read aloud too! She hopes that the people of Valdemar will all come out the better for having met the Amentans, healthier and wealthier with more opportunities and knowledge, and the Amentans are excited about the possibilities for trade and travel and synergy between their technology and the locals' magic, and she appreciates very much the warm welcome they have received. She even means it, pretty much. The green is hoping they got the register right. It has just occurred to the yellow that telepaths might be able to read minds and they should maybe ask but he's registering this by writing a message instead of interrupting; no need for everyone to immediately start thinking about missing socks at the same time. (Where DO they go though. Sometimes they're stuck inside your sheets but sometimes they aren't!)

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Well. It was pretty much inevitable that they were going to notice that possibility eventually.

 

 

 

...Taver has such an uncomfortable feeling and doesn't trust the aliens at all! Inconveniently, he mostly has no idea why! 

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"Well, let's get down to business. Herald Tantras?" 

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Tran can lay out his notes and explain how Valdemar has been considering what kinds of resource trades they can make with the aliens. They can't really lend mages, and it seems like the Amentans have better communication technology already than what Mindspeakers are capable of, but Valdemar does have some Gifted Healers who could be spared, if that's useful for either practical purposes or research? 

(They are trying to avoid letting slip anything that they only know thanks to Taver reading the visitors' minds.) 

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Healers sound like they might synergize really well with medical technology and they'd love to borrow a couple to bring up to the mothership and introduce to the infirmary staff there! Why is it they can't lend mages?

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- Well, because of the war with Karse, mostly. If the Amentans could help with that, then it might be possible to free up more personnel.

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The Amentans could certainly consider that. It would be a substantial outlay of effort to bring military personnel to Valdemar all the way from Amenta, of course.

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Valdemar recognizes that! They’re not sure the most beneficial help here would be from more (un-Gifted) warm bodies, as opposed to technology? He's going to hand over to Keiran, who's thought through specifics more. 

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Keiran has so many questions about the capabilities of the Amentans' space vessels! And also their listening-devices they've been using! Can they take pictures from the sky and replace the need for Farsight scouting. Can the listening-devices be used to send messages both ways and how hard would it be to get hundreds of those distributed to all the military commanders, they could tighten up their communications on the field so much if they weren't bottlenecked on Gifted Mindspeakers. 

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They can take pictures from the sky! Listening-devices are good for that too, hundreds isn't that many. They weren't planning to lend soldiers directly into the Valdemaran command structure, the personnel would be to train locals in using the equipment and to deploy some of the especially high yield weapons.

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Can they say more about those 'especially high yield' weapons? 

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They've noticed some big explosions on the border? That was how they could tell there was a war initially, in fact. They can do stuff like that.

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"Ah, right. That's currently something our mages are doing. It would certainly take a load off them." 

(It does not seem like it will help Valdemar's negotiating position here to mention that any explosions in the last several months are done by exactly one mage, Herald Vanyel Ashkevron, currently holding a two hundred mile stretch of border almost alone.) 

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"We'd be happy to talk about what would make this a good trade on both sides! Our interests here are mostly going to be in land and magical assistance but we could also use local help with science projects like cataloguing all your wildlife, refining our understanding of your language, getting all your music recorded - we can also get some value out of souvenirs people back home would be thrilled to have even if they're things that seem pretty ordinary to you, it'd be very special to hold a piece of another planet." But mostly land and magic. Maybe they're crossfertile and she can have MAGIC GREAT-GRANDCHILDREN.

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"Huh - you want our music? We'd certainly be happy to show you some - there've been an awful lot of new songs, actually, these past few years. Interesting times are good times for Bards, you know." 

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"Heh, we'd better let them record Demonsbane and Shadow Stalker before we pull Van off the border, or he'll make sure those recordings don't make it anywhere." Tran smirks, then turns back to the envoys. "What sort of souvenirs are you thinking?" 

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"Jewelry, clothes - it's very convenient that we're about the same size and shape - we're still doing tests to see if we can eat your food but if we can anything from here that can make the trip will be an interesting treat for Amentans - curios in general, anything handmade really. It's all in a novel style as far as we're concerned."

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Nod. "Well, for now, we've marked out an initial area of land that's within our borders but very sparsely inhabited. It's up north - our population north of Haven is much less dense, which means you wouldn't be displacing as many people, if you want all the smallholders to move out. We can show you on a map. It's along one of the tributaries of the Terilee River, and it should be good for logging and mining - I'm sure your technologies for both are much more advanced than ours." 

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Taver has been having UNEASY FEELINGS about this the entire time, but he's mostly keeping that back from his Chosen. No point in distracting Tantras. And they do need the help with the war, which means they have to offer something in return. 

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"Probably, yes! Is it far enough north that it doesn't have distinct seasons? That's important to us." The year's probably too short for most people to season anyway but people can flow in and out depending on whether they do, like a moon only some people probably will be fine here.

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"...I wasn't aware that was a thing that happens far enough north. The growing season is definitely a lot shorter, the further north you go." 

...Randi looks thoughtful. Exchanges a glance with Savil, then with Tantras. 

"You know," he says after a few beats, "it's worth noting that there's quite a lot of land even further north of Valdemar. Which - obviously isn't within our purview to sell or trade to you, but it doesn't belong to any nation, and the population is also very low-density. The locals are mostly in small towns or under some landholders, and might well be willing to move if you give them trade goods in exchange." 

(And, more importantly, it would set up a buffer of powerful aliens in between Valdemar and Leareth's territory.) 

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"Can you show us on a map where you mean? That will help our people figure out if it has seasons enough."

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"Of course. Tran, could you go pick up a map from the archives that shows as far as the Ice Wall Mountains?" 

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"S'fine, I'll do it." Katha is already on her feet. 

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Tran already has the big map of just Valdemar, with enough detail to show small villages by name. He can go over that with the delegation while they're waiting for the more zoomed-out map. 

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They can correlate it with their satellite photos! It should be seasonable at that latitude.

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How about the area north of that, on this much bigger map? Valdemar hasn't explored it that thoroughly - this map is mostly pieced together from visiting 'merchants' (most of whom are plausibly more like bandits and not exactly trustworthy.) Some of it's north of the tree line. None of it's far enough north for the supposed phenomenon where the sun just stays up all summer and vanishes all winter - that would be on the other side of the mountains only. 

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That's northerly enough that it would be dicey especially on top of the already too-short year, but they'd probably have some settlements there eventually even if they aren't a priority.

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"What's the relevance of seasons, here? If it's length of growing season and your crops need a longer summer, you probably want to talk to places south of Valdemar." 

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"Oh, it's not that, we can grow plants there, but Amentans have a seasonal cycle and if we aren't in a place that signals clearly to our bodies what season it is, we feel like it's spring, all the time. It's not popular." She's so glad she's 32 and doesn't have the awful keening springs of her youth. She isn't even clinically hypervernal, blues seldom are.

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"Huh. What does...feeling like it's spring all the time...actually feel like? It's possible there's some application of our magic that could help?" 

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"Maybe! That would be a huge help to people with bad springs. It's related to our sex drive and desire to have children."

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"...That does sound complicated." 

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"Our Healers might be able to do something to help? ...Or it might need a Mindhealer, in which case that's - harder - they're extremely rare." 

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"Does magic run in families?" MAGIC GREAT GRANDBABIES

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"It's not inherited all that predictably, but - yes, we do have the impression it runs in families. The potential for it, at least." 

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"Do you have any systems in place to make sure there's more of it each generation?"

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"- Huh? How would that even work?" 

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Gosh she gets to explain eugenics to primitive natives! "When something runs in families, and it's a good thing you want more of, you can try to make sure that people who have that thing - or even who are just related to people who have it, sometimes - have more children! They don't have to parent the children, necessarily - we have ways of taking some of the tiny pieces of bodies that become babies out of people, women as well as men, and allowing other people to use them to make sure the kids they raise will have the best chances of that good thing. It's one of the most important public health interventions of the last fifty years!"

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"- Whoa! That's - you can have a woman get pregnant with...a different woman's baby? Shavri - er, sorry, my partner, she's a Healer - she would be so amazed!" 

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"I'm honestly a little worried that the Council wouldn't sign off on any plans to do that? They already complain about the stipend to the parents of children who get Chosen, that it's - preferential to Heralds, though really it's also covering losing that child's help at home - but also, not all of the nobles are pleased with how much of a say the Gifted Collegium deans have, on the Council, relative to the major landholders and their representatives." 

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"We don't normally do this with stipends," says Kesha Nat. "When there's money involved it's just defraying the costs of having a child at all, and people's own desire that their children be healthy and talented does much of the rest. Wouldn't any of those landholders like to have grandchildren with Gifts?"

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"It depends. I think Healers in the family are often considered a plus, but they're also - especially if they're nobleborn - not unlikely to decide to stay in Haven, if they train at the House of Healing and like it there. Bards are glamorous, but the, er, more conservative lords sometimes consider them disreputable. And of course if a Gifted child is Chosen - which they very often are - then they can't inherit the holding. That leads to some friction." 

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"Can you say more about Choosing?"

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"Companions are - well, you've met Taver. He's my Companion. All Heralds - which includes everyone in this room - were Chosen, generally in their youth, by a Companion. Companions...can see someone's fundamental self. What they're like as a person - whether they'll work hard and care about the future of Valdemar... And then of course we're all trained for the job, too." 

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So the Companions conscript people and this disinherits them. "What does that have to do with Gifts?"

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"Most - though not all - Heralds are Gifted. Gifts are very useful to the Kingdom, and - also can be very dangerous if they're untrained, or...used in situations that benefit the individual or their family rather than the Kingdom as a whole." 

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Is that a euphemism for something? "Situations like -?"

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"To give an example - a number of years back, there was a feud between two families near the border. And - it's a long story, but one of the sons of one family was a mage. Things - escalated - and he ended up taking out most of both landholdings with a giant explosion." 

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Savil's facial expression is so blank right now. 

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"...It's worth noting that he was a Herald-trainee, in that particular case. And so it's partly on us, for - letting him end up backed into a corner, like he did. And there were a lot of complications involved. But - having Companions who Choose most Gifted youngsters does at least reduce how often things like that happen." 

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"That sounds a little similar to some of how we use our caste system to limit the escalatory potential of war on Amenta! I'm glad it's working for you." Maybe they'll have to get magic grandbabies from Rethwellan or somebody, they're prepping a delegation for Rethwellan now since Karse bombed. So to speak.

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Some slightly uneasy looks are exchanged. 

"Interesting - what's your caste system, exactly?" 

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Yeah this was going to come up eventually but putting it right next to 'the symbiote quadrupeds conscript all your magic kids, dysgenically' it will look as good as she could have hoped for. "Amentans have sub-populations called castes which specialize in broad types of skill and career. Since people of a particular caste tend to marry others of the same caste, anything that runs in families and is good for some people to have but not others can spread out in a particular caste where it's useful and not in others where it isn't! It also lets our education system be a bit more customized to the cultural background and aptitudes of everyone it's serving. We have words for all the castes but it's also common to nickname them by the most common hair color, and people whose hair color doesn't match their caste will tend to dye to match - so you can call me a blue, and Tekma a green, and Makutka a yellow, and so on."

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"That's interesting. How often does it happen that people's hair colour doesn't match - er, and how does that come up, hair colour usually does run in families for us?" 

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"Oh, most people's hair colors do match. But occasionally there will be an intercaste marriage, or someone will just take after a remote ancestor, or their hair can be a new color the same way all the hair colors came to exist in the first place."

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"Are inter-caste marriages, er, disapproved of?" 

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"They used to be. These days people can go ahead and do it, though it's not really recommended in the typical case and people have more in common with members of their own caste."

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"Do you have a hereditary nobility - is that one of the castes...?" 

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"We don't have a nobility per se, our government is democratic, but blue is the governance caste! We also do diplomacy and landholding."

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The Heralds exchange some looks. 

"Is there any way for people born in other castes to, er, be reassigned on merit, if they end up having a lot of talent for governance work?" Katha asks. (Born to poor smallholder parents, she's a little touchy about this.) "- Also, do you not have guilds or whatnot, with leaders who represent the various trades? We have guild leaders who speak for the craft or trade in question, in Council meetings, to make sure their needs are represented as well." 

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"Castes don't get reassigned, but there's a lot of flexibility that would be more complicated to explain. We don't have guilds, but because we're a democracy, if a trade feels poorly represented they can vote for someone who better understands their needs! Most government offices also have ways for ordinary citizens to write in with feedback."

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It sounds kind of uncomfortable and not entirely fair to the citizens of less well-regarded castes - which is almost certainly a thing - but it's not like Valdemar is perfect, either, and they do have to keep in mind that these are aliens and it's better not to judge them for their inevitable differences. 

The Heralds try not to show any discomfort they're feeling, and move the conversation back to discussions of exchanged Gifted people so the Amentans can learn about magic, for weapons and other support with the war. 

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The Amentans came ready with a short presentation including pictures and graphs of various bombs and planes and such they can make and tote over plus their satellite imagery assistance and communicators for Valdemar's soldiers!

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Keiran is so amazed and impressed! 

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Savil...is less sure that her feelings about this are positive. 

She asks what sorts of wars they've had in the past, on their home planet, and - how bad the casualties and infrastructure damage tended to be. 

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The last war Tapa had that escalated beyond something like "shooting down a plane where a plane didn't belong" was with Voa, years and years ago, when Voa (a major food exporter) started delivering contaminated food and causing major shortages all over the world. Tapa announced an intention to take over a border province that was mostly farms to establish domestic food security, some of Tapa's allies kicked in some support, there was enough warning for the civilians of the province to withdraw if they wanted to, noncombatant casualties were very low and they avoided damaging anything they were going to need to integrate the province later. Today Imde province is part of Tapa like any other province.

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That's...odd and kind of surprising and Savil is more than a little suspicious that it went exactly the way they're claiming! That does not sound at all like how wars normally go! 

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"- Wait, why was this Voa country exporting contaminated food in the first place? Was it - some kind of international threat, trying to poison their enemies - you wouldn't think that was a very good idea." 

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"It was a terrible idea! It was the act of a single madman, and Voa could perhaps have smoothed it over but they wouldn't actually hold him responsible for the matter."

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"That's really awful! How many people died before the other countries realized the food was unsafe to eat?" 

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"Total deaths from food insecurity and the effects of the contaminated food were something like - I think ten to twenty thousand but it's been some time since I read an estimate report, and of course a lot of people weren't eating well even if they didn't die."

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"That's very unfortunate. I'm so sorry to hear that happened." 

Randi takes a deep breath. "...Anyway. I think what we're all worrying about here is that - if our world very suddenly acquires destructive non-magical weapons - which can be produced in large quantities, unlike mages - then our wars here could become a lot worse. Even if it didn't happen on your planet, I'm not sure that guarantees it's a good idea here. So - I think we want to stick to the bare minimum, on destructive offensive weapons. But we would of course be very grateful for the help you can offer." 

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(Taver is VERY SUSPICIOUS about the Amentans' recounting of the war with Voa, and is paying a lot of attention to reading all of the delegates' thoughts about it.) 

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"If that's what you're comfortable with!"

Man, she's glad they didn't push on exactly how the food was contaminated, because she doesn't want to have to explain that pollution is bad and their entire society is insufficiently sanitary and the entire delegation needs to go take a long shower after walking among the natives. That would just not go over well, she's not getting a vibe of "oh, please, tell us how we can actually wash everything properly, we are desperate to know but just too low-tech for it" from these folks. Also she's getting the sense that explaining reds will be dicey. They should maybe just do a modernized city here instead of bringing any.

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Interesting. And - not exactly in a good way. 

They know for a fact at this point that the aliens don't have any kind of Thoughtsensing, so it's not an infosec risk for Taver to alert his Chosen. Facial expressions still might be, though, so he passes it on to the other Companions of the Heralds present in the meeting, but tells them to wait for a good moment to actually bring it up. 

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Well, it's not like he was really expecting that the aliens were being entirely upfront about all of their cultural differences. Obviously that would be a mess. 

Tran suggests they go over the meeting agenda items and decide what to execute today. Valdemar doesn't want to send any Heralds to the ship in space, at this point, given how short-staffed they are with the war and also now this new situation. They would be delighted to send over a couple of Healers, though; a lot of them didn't want to volunteer to go down south, because of the danger to themselves, so there are more who can be spared from the House of Healing in Haven. 

And, of course, he's sure they can find a Bard who would love to go, and have the initial honour of learning the aliens' music and also writing some ballads to commemorate their first contact! 

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They would just love to bring some Healers and a Bard up! They actually have some people convalescing up there right now, another delegation was attacked.

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Valdemar is so sorry to hear that! In that case they can definitely have a group of Healers ready to go in the next candlemark. 

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Great! Would they prefer to keep these delegates around and have another shuttle fetch the Healers, so more can be going on in parallel?

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Sure, that seems reasonable, that way they can have Keiran and Jaysen and the other relevant Heralds keep working on the plans for how Amenta can help with the war. 

"- Are you also going to want some people to meet you over by the land we suggested you could start using?" he asks. "Knowing about the seasonality thing, I'm inclined to see if we can find some inhabitable areas in the far southeast - it used to be Pelagirs quite recently - but that's going to take us a day or two to sort out." 

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"Can you say more about Pelagirs?"

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"Hmm. Savil, you know more...?" 

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"They're lands that were - damaged, badly, in a magical cataclysm a few thousand years ago. A countr– er, a - faction of people who call themselves the Tayledras, and worship the Star-Eyed Goddess, have been working to repair the damage. So they're making steady progress, but the areas that were just cleansed tend not to have a dense population yet." 

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"- interesting. Areas merely near the Pelagirs area aren't dangerous? The Tayledras don't claim the land?"

"What's a goddess?" pipes up the green.

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Savil is still thinking over the first question - the answer is 'the borders aren't very well specified and it's best not to push it' but she wants to find a friendlier-sounding way to say it - when the second question hits her. 

"I - wait, what? Er - a very powerful non-physical entity that people worship. And She gives Her people powerful magic and sometimes does miracles. Do you not have that in your world?" 

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"No, I don't believe we do at all," says the green.

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"Huh! Fascinating. ...Seems convenient for you, honestly, less meddling." 

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Faces are being made about this remark. 

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"I couldn't say to make the comparison! It's interesting that there are so many species on this planet."

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"I'm not sure if I'd say that gods are an, er, species, not the same way that we are? I don't think they - grow up, or get old and die, or have children. ...There are other species, though, there's also a species of intelligent lizard-like people who live with the Tayledras. Legend is that they were created by some incredibly powerful mage a long time ago." 

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"Amazing! We'd love to meet some of them too, we want to know all about our new neighbors."

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"The Tayledras are, er, generally pretty reluctant to work with strangers. But I can contact my friends there and see what they think." 

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"Thank you, an introduction would be very much appreciated."

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Savil isn't optimistic about this, but she agrees to contact them. 

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A candlemark later - half of that time having been spent on an argument with Randi - Shavri is ready to go with the group of Healers volunteering. 

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Gemma will be accompanying her. She's very curious. 

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And Bard Breda, by dint of being one of the most senior and influential Bards and also very persuasive and willing to shout, has earned the honour of being the first Bard in history to go to SPAAAAAAACE. 

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SPAAAAAAAACE awaits them! A shuttle, smaller than the one the delegation are living in (the delegation's is nearly fifty feet across and three decks, the one that's there to fetch them is fifteen feet long and one deck) lands to collect the passengers. They are asked to be freshly washed before boarding; they're trying to keep the mothership particularly clear of local microbes and such.

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Sure, they can all go take baths and put on fresh uniforms and Shavri, who has unusually good Healing-Sight, can verify that none of them are getting sick - though of course there might be things that don't make humans sick but could affect Amentans, the same way that people only get the pox once. 

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Yes, they're doing preliminary research on the risk of that but didn't want to put off meeting the locals. They will settle for a bath and clean clothes and appreciate Shavri's extra diligence!

The shuttle is very clean inside. There's a thing they step on when they come in that scrubs the bottoms of everyone's shoes for them. The air is constantly filtered. Everything looks like it's been scrubbed in the last couple of hours. The Valdemarans are shown to their takeoff couches and strapped in.

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Wow these people really do care a LOT about their cleanliness! Maybe you can just afford to be that way when your entire society is a lot wealthier and more advanced? 

They strap in. Shavri looks around to see if there are windows or anything to observe the takeoff. 

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There aren't windows per se but there are screens which do a pretty good job pretending!

They are warned that taking off feels like being squashed, and they should let the pilot know if anything is going wrong with them either by speaking or, if they are having trouble speaking, squeezing that knob on their armrest.

Up up and away!

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Breda is the oldest one there, and is pretty unhappy about the acceleration of takeoff! She doesn't feel sick enough to justify pressing the button or calling out, though; she's mostly just annoyed at missing the opportunity to enjoy watching the screens. 

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Shavri also only gets opportunities to glance at them, because she's also busy watching the other two with Healing-Sight to make sure neither of them is going to have a stroke or a heart problem or anything. 

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Once they are up the acceleration squish drops off quite a bit, though there are some jostling movements as they get into position to dock with the mothership. And here it is! Welcome to the Legacy!

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Whoooooa that's incredible! Absolutely worth the being squished! Breda is trying to look in every direction at once! 

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Shavri is trying to stay FOCUSED because apparently there are people up here who were badly hurt and need attention from a Healer? She asks one of their guides if they should go see them now. 

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Yes, they can go there first thing, though all the patients are stable.

Here's the bunch who got set on fire.

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Wow, some of them look pretty badly messed-up! It would have been good to get Healers to them sooner, all things considered, but...they'll do their best. 

(Shavri is guessing that anyone who wasn't stable has, by this point, either recovered until they were or died.) 

She would appreciate an explanation of what kind of medical care they've been providing already, so she and Gemma know how to work effectively with it? 

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The oranges can show her all the equipment and substances they have been deploying! They offer Gemma and Shavri gloves and masks - burns can get infected - and explain all the medicines and grafts and antibiotics.

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Antibiotics! Eeeeeeeeeeeee! That's incredible and Shavri is so delighted! Also it sounds like they have much better painkillers than Velgarth, and better solutions for the problem where burn patients start out losing a lot of body fluids and salt and tend to get very weakened from it even if it's usually infection that kills them. Also the grafts are a really neat concept! 

After some consideration, she explains that the Healers can probably offer the most help by making sure the grafts take properly? She wants to look at pictures of how the normal healing process should look, though, to make sure she does it right. 

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They can look that up for her, and their help would be very much appreciated!

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Then within a half-candlemark of orientation and looking at their materials, Shavri has a strategy figured out to help coax the skin grafts into taking properly, and accelerating through a few days' worth of healing. 

Velgarth Healing-Sight can also penetrate skin, and see in detail which tissues are healthy based on whether they have normal flows of life-force, which means she might know better than they do if some areas aren't healing well or have hidden pockets of infection starting to form. And, of course, while she's doing fine-detail work she can also maintain a link and dump Healing-energy into the patients, whose bodies are probably depleted from all this healing effort. 

 

...It's not until she's been at work for a candlemark that she asks, tentatively, how this actually happened - what went wrong? 

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Amazing! It seems like modern medicine and Healing-Gift have great synergy potential.

One of the patients is awake enough to remark that they landed in Karse - they were curious about the war, that's why they also landed in Valdemar - and before they'd even gotten a sentence in they were set on fire. Presumably, in retrospect, with magic, though at the time it was pretty bewildering.

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"- Oh, gods. I'm so sorry." Shavri rests a reassuring hand on a part of their arm that isn't burned. "They - it's not your fault, it wasn't anything you did. Karse had - a coup, very recently, there's an extremist priesthood in power now." 

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"Is that why the war started?" wonders the blue.

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"...The coup was later. I - don't know why the war started. The Karsites attacked first, but... I think it was for different reasons?" 

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"They didn't say?"

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"I, um - not that I heard about?" 

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"Is that... normal for wars? That they just start with no declaration -?"

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"...I, er, I mean - if they'd warned us they were going to attack the border then we'd have - prepared for it, right? And then they'd have had a harder time? ....Um, does your world do - something else?" 

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"- well usually there's a lot more leadup. Someone's diplomat says 'my observers aren't satisfied that you've complied with international law' or 'this is the third time we've found your submarines in our waters' or even just 'I want your land and I'm going to take it by force', and then the other country can say 'I'm so sorry, here's how I explain those discrepancies, more observers are welcome to confirm' or 'that was my neighbor's submarine' or 'will you settle for this province' or something, and - there's stages, eventually someone might sneak-attack but you'd at least know what it was about."

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"- Huh! Does your world have - er, something like a Mindspeech-relay but everywhere? I mean, just, fast low cost communication between different countries? That...seems like the sort of thing that'd change the common practices around, well, that." 

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"Oh, yes, but I think gradual diplomatic escalation was typical even before we had things like phones and the Internet!"

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"Hmm. Well, good for them? Seems smart." 

Shavri feels suddenly very awkward - she didn't mean to implicitly badmouth Valdemar or their neighbours, she's just bad at this. She pats the patient's arm again (gently and on the un-burned spot) and moves on. 

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Bard Breda is trying to meet as many people as she can on the spaceship! She even has a tiny bit of Mindspeech, plus a lot of training at projection, so she can attempt to communicate even with the Amentans who haven't picked up Valdemaran yet. She wants to know all their best stories so she can write songs about them! And also she'd love to hear them sing some of their world's music for her! 

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Almost no Amentans have any spoken Valdemaran beyond a handful of plausibly emergency-relevant phrases like "I am an Amentan" and "where can I pee"; instead, devices are picking up what they say and translating it and displaying subtitles on the nearest screen (except when they have technical difficulties) and repeating them out loud in a slightly choppy voice (again, except when they have technical difficulties). Mindspeech is good too though! All the Amentans are happy to meet her and recommend their favorite books and songs! Most of these Amentans are not singers, though some will try - they have plenty of recordings though.

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.....Whoa!!! Breda has never encountered the concept of recordings before and that's AMAZING! 

 

- can they record her singing something and play it back to her? She's just– she's never even imagined being able to experience that and it's a fascinating idea! 

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Sure, this green can do that right here and now!

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Amazing! 

Breda will sing a new song for them! It was written about a powerful Herald-Mage who's now a war hero, and...she will tell the people here, in confidence, that she knew him when he was just a boy.... The song is called Shadow Stalker. And it goes like this - 

It was just a week till Sovven, and the nights were turning chill
And the battle turned to stalemate, double-bluff, and feint and drill
When a shadow drifted northward, just a shadow, nothing more.
No one noticed that the shadows grew all darker than before.

No one noticed that the shadows seemed to creep into the heart,
But from then the fight for freedom seemed a fool's quest from the start.
All the hopes that they had cherished seemed unreasoned and naive
Nothing worth the strength to pray for, or to strive for, or believe... 

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The Amentans listen quietly so the microphone won't pick up noise. When she's done the green doing the recording for her warns her that the sound quality won't be great since they aren't in an acoustically perfect studio, and also a lot of people don't like what their voice sounds like outside their head since they're used to it from the inside instead, but they assure her she sounded good and it's just that if she doesn't like what the recording turned out like. Here it is!

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......Auuughhhh. 

 

- okay, objectively speaking that sounds pretty good! If that were a distorted-playback of one of her students, she would praise them for it! However. Gah. Is that really what her voice sounds like. 

 

"- Do you like the song?" she asks, feeling shyer than she has since she was a trainee. 

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"It's catchy! It's hard to appreciate the poetry in a new language and I'm not used to the style but I could see it being popular on Amenta - do you want us to send it along, they'll be so excited -"

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Aaaaaaaah!

”Could I record a few others and you can send them in the same package?” At least maybe all her most actually-embarrassing mistakes will cancel out and most listeners will like at least one of the songs…

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"Of course!" They will record as many songs as she cares to sing and make sure she has water to hand.

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Cool! 

Breda sings all the way through the Windrider cycle - after explaining that it's a historical set of ballads, written shortly after the founding of Valdemar 0 and then sings Demonsbane, and a couple of other (worse) songs about Herald Vanyel's war exploits. 

(It's probably going to be notable to the listeners that Vanyel's name is coming up repeatedly, and in the context of songs about very recent events.) 

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"You knew this Vanyel person when he was a child, right?" someone mentions, peering at the translations of the songs.

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"I did, yes! He's had some rather impressive exploits since then." 

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"He's still around? What's he doing now?"

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"- I guess he's still down on the border fighting the stupid goddamned war? Though I haven't heard of any song-worthy battles he fought in the last couple months." 

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"I really hope we can get that all resolved so everyone can go home soon!"

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"I hope so too. I miss him. And - I'm sure he'd be glad not to have to keep fighting. He hates it." 

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"Stands to reason! What's his peacetime job?"

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"He's a Herald? Though I guess I don't know how much you've heard about what Heralds do." 

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"It seemed like a rank more than a job, per se."

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"Hmm. I can see that, I guess? It's - not exactly a rank, not in the sense the Guard has, where you can - advance to a higher rank with experience? Someone either is a Herald or they're not. But it's also not just one role that they play. Heralds do so many things for Valdemar– Oh! Have I sung you the song about the Heralds' oath, yet? I don't think I have, I should–" 

And she starts singing. 

I pledge this day my sword, my heart to build and help preserve;
Although I live my life apart from those that I must serve.
The laws of truth I will obey in every thought and deed,
Stand fast while others turn away, upon The Herald's Creed.

I vow to heal the wrongs I see as long as I shall live.
My heart will guide me faithfully and teach me how to give,
I'll render aid as best I can to those who are in pain
And by the strength of my own hand restore the peace again.

The deeds of those who lived before, have bound my life to theirs.
Their legends opened up the door and taught me how to care
The touch of my Companion's thoughts bring friendship, song and joy.
It is a bond that love has wrought and time cannot destroy.

I swear to guard and keep the Crown defending all that's just,
No force will ever bring it down, this is our sacred trust.
My path is clear before me now, my choices all are made
In Honor's name I take a vow to face life unafraid.

Upon my soul I make a vow this light will never fade.

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They think this is very pretty, though they keep shooting each other slightly puzzled looks.

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"I know that's pretty, er, vague on their duties," Breda admits after she's reached the end of the song. "Heralds lead and protect and serve Valdemar. They've got a wide range of responsibilities - they're often messengers, peacekeepers along with the Guard, and judges. Most of our Heralds are on circuit at any given time - they'll be assigned a section of Valdemar to ride through, and stop in each town to resolve civil disputes, uphold Valdemaran law, dispense justice, and represent the monarch - and of course offer services that can only be done with magic. They're also sent to respond to crises. And of course they've played a huge role in the war." 

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"That's a lot of responsibilities for people to have to learn to handle," ventures a green.

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"I suppose it is! Do your people divide those responsibilities up more, between different people?" 

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"Oh, yes, and in many cases totally different castes. Blues are judiciary, yellows do less heavily authoritative administrative work, greys do fighting, obviously we don't have a caste having to do with magic so I'm not sure how we'd handle that if it came up."

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"Huh. Are the other castes at least trained in self-defence, or do they always need to travel with, er, greys as guards?" 

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"- well, we don't have a lot of random attacks on travelers, but I imagine here they'd bring guards. Anyone can take self-defense classes but there's not usually much call for it at home."

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"How do you manage to have the roads and all be safe? I bet the King will have all sorts of questions for you about that! It'd save our merchants so much headache if they didn't need guards for their caravans." 

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"It's probably just better enforcement, maybe better social services?"

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"How does your world actually do enforcement, and catching criminals, things like that?" 

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There are a few greys on the ship; one speaks up. "Cameras help, and enough police presence everywhere that as soon as a crime is reported there can be cops following the trail - they use DNA evidence and stuff you couldn't have yet, but also asking questions of anyone who might have seen. We live more densely than you do."

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"You wouldn't have Truth Spell, though. How can you tell if people are just lying about what happened or what they saw?" 

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"I've never done interrogations, I wasn't even a detective when I was on the force, but you ask a bunch of people and see if their stories match and keep track of who has an incentive to lie? Also lying to cops is a crime, so people mostly don't."

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"Lying to town magistrates here is also a crime but people still do it! That's one of the things that the Heralds on circuit end up dealing with, is local court cases that weren't resolved to anyone satisfaction, or where one of the parties raised an appeal." 

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"- well, what happens when someone's found to have lied to a town magistrate?"

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"...Depends what the lie was covering up, and there's a lot of room for judgement calls on the Herald's part - the flexibility is part of the value that the appeal process offers. Lying to cover up someone else's murder or rape would - often get someone a punishment almost as severe as the murderer's or rapist's. Which is usually exile; Queen Elspeth didn't like having too many executions and King Randale's mostly stuck to that precedent. Lying about, hmm, a property dispute with a neighbour or something would usually just be a hefty fine. ...Caveat, I'm not an expert on the law, Bards do get some education in it but that was decades ago for me." 

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"We can't use exile - the neighbors don't want our criminals. I don't think that alone would be much of a difference though..."

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"- Huh, you know, that's a good point. Somehow I never really thought through the fact that exiling people means they end up in Hardorn or Rethwellan and - probably keep getting up to mischief there. Though I do think it's harder to get away with a life of crime if you're an exile from another kingdom and don't know anyone." 

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"Is it? Nobody would know your patterns..."

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"I guess that's fair. Reckon it depends what sort of crime? ...Oh, and I think exiles often head north. To where there's no government or law enforcement at all." 

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"Amenta doesn't have any regions like that."

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"Wow! Really? Literally everywhere on your entire planet is part of a country?" 

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"Basically! Not everywhere has someone living in it, we don't like to live on the poles in particular, but someone owns basically all of it even if only to - charge money to go on a visit to the Arctic, say. The middle of the ocean isn't owned by a single country but it is governed by international law."

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"How do you even govern an ocean? What sort of ocean crimes are there?" 

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"Well, piracy, for one."

"Smuggling, illegal dumping of hazardous materials..."

"Fleeing justice."

"Excessive fishing."

"Interference with communications and travel."

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"You have laws against doing too much fishing? Huh! Why?" 

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"Well, if you take too many fish, there aren't as many next year, you need fish to make fish."

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"I guess that makes sense! It's like the thing where nobles have to prevent poachers from getting into their hunting-land or else all the deer get hunted. The oceans are so big, though! How many people are even fishing in them, in your world?" 

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"- well, a lot? People like to eat fish and wild-caught is better in some ways than farmed and there are more than thirteen billion Amentans."

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"There are - what - just to check, you said 'billion'? As in a thousand million? Thirteen thousand million Amentans????" No goddamned wonder they want more planets to live on! They must be absurdly crowded! 

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"- yes, that's right. And we have less land area than you, on our planet. We live much more densely, though."

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"Is your entire world smaller, or do you just have bigger oceans or something?" 

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"The world is actually a little bit bigger but we have a lot more ocean, yes." Pictures of the globe, this one's Amenta, this one's Velgarth, the images spin.

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Wow! That's so neat! 

 

"- Is that really what our world looks like? There is an entire other continent on the other side! Have your people been there?" 

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"Not yet! We will soon but we wanted to establish some relationships on the planet for local context - stuff like 'magic exists', that's important! - and we started with you because we felt like offering war support would help us get off on the right foot."

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"Good for them that they're not having any wars over there, I guess." 

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"At least not any visible from space, I don't know if that's typical."

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"I'd guess they have mages too. - Though I suppose Herald Vanyel is, er, exceptionally good at making very large explosions." 

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"That'd explain why your war was the one we spotted first!"

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"It would!" 

Breda leans forward, lowering her voice. "- Listen, I do hope you all have a chance to meet Herald Vanyel, but...maybe don't mention that I sang the songs for you? He's very modest. Getting all that attention makes him self-conscious." 

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"I don't think there's a reason to bring it up."

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Nod. "Glad we're on the same page. Anyway, do you have more questions about Valdemar, or about Bards and the Bardic Collegium?" 

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"Is there a reason there's so much focus on bards in your educational system?"

"Does Valdemar have more - ordinary - diplomatic relations with its non-Karse neighbors? Are any of them helping either side in the conflict?"

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"I mean, Bardic is only one of the Collegia? It's a relatively common Gift in Valdemar, though, and - Bards play an important role for the Crown, in terms of spreading news and such. ...Er, on the diplomatic relations - we have treaties with both Rethwellan and Hardorn. Hardorn would definitely prefer to help us and not the Karsites, but they're...having a bad time of it. The wizard-weather from all the magic being thrown around on the border is hitting them hard too, and they don't have the infrastructure to cope with it. ...Rethwellan is officially neutral in this conflict. Which is understandable, they share quite a lot of border with Karse and they're just being pragmatic. They maintain tight border security, though, which mostly works in our favour since Karse is the one trying to invade us and not the other way round." 

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"We did also land in Rethwellan but didn't send diplomats," someone remarks, "just borrowed a lot of their books to get initial traction on some languages."

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"I guess that's not a bad plan, they've definitely got the best libraries. Maybe on the entire continent." 

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"It was the biggest thing we could identify as a library from space, yeah!"

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"I'm amazed you can tell what any kind of building is from space! What were you even looking at? I would've thought the roofs look the same on libraries and other kinds of buildings." 

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"Oh, they do, but if we zoom in enough we can see through the windows, and see people coming and going carrying books." The green who says this demonstrates by zooming way in on Haven.

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.....All right, that's kind of uncomfortable and creepy. 

(Breda does not say this out loud. It does seem probably very useful for the war effort, and she's not here to antagonize the aliens.) 

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"Wild, right? We don't have the kind that would let you recognize individual people or read over their shoulders on this ship - we'd have requisitioned it if we needed it but we're doing all right with the cheaper scopes so far - but we can guess if something is a book or not."

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"Well, I'm no military tactician, but I'm sure the Heralds have already brought up how useful that could be for Border surveillance!" 

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"Yep! It's one of the safer ways for us to help, too, sitting up here and looking at pictures."

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"I'm glad. I know it's not fair to ask all of you to put yourselves in danger for another world's war..." 

And, since they seem to have run out of conversation about Valdemar, Breda will go on to prodding them for more stories and songs and history of Amenta. Bards are infinitely curious about this, of course. 

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There are THINGS HAPPENING in Haven. 

Jisa mostly doesn't know what things! Her parents are very very distracted and she's barely seen them at ALL and when she has they brushed off her questions (and she was very easily distracted by the offer of being read a story or playing a game together.) 

But. THINGS. HAPPENING. 

And conveniently all of the adults are very distracted and so it's not too hard for her to sneak off into the palace grounds, and wander around hopefully in search of THINGS.

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Here are some Things! They are people with brightly colored hair who are walking to a larger mansion-sized Thing, talking to each other and holding glowing rectangles!

One of them spots her and gasps and beams and points her out to the others and then they are all looking at her and grinning.

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People! 

Jisa grins back and runs over. "Why's your hair like that?" 

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"Our hair grows this way because we are not humans!"

"She's so cute!"

"Looks about one - I mean, four, I guess -"

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Jisa knows that she's very cute and she likes it when people say it. She beams at them. 

...They're saying some things in Valdemaran, but also sometimes they're just making silly noises, and then something else, she can't tell what, is saying Valdemaran words? That's so weird! 

"You talk funny!" she says. "Sometimes you talk with your mouth and sometimes you talk from - that? Why?" 

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"We're new at Valdemaran and these things help us with it!"

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"Whoa! Do they help you with other things too? Can you do MAGIC with them?" 

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"We can't do magic at all!" It's mostly the one with green hair talking. "But these help us do lots of things. We call them 'pocket everythings' because they can do so much stuff."

"Can I pick you up?" asks the blue haired one.

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"If you want to! - Have you met my mama. She's very good." 

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Scoop! "Maybe! What's your mama's name?"

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Jisa thinks for a moment. 

"....Mama?" Pause. "- Healer. Healer...Shavri?" 

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"Oh! Yes, we've met her, she went up to our sky ship to see the infirmary there!"

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"- She did? She didn't tell me! She never tells me anything!" 

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"Oh no! Do you want us to call her on the ship? We can do that from here right now!"

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"...Ummm. Not right now." 

(Jisa is aware that Mama will probably - for some mysterious reason - be UPSET with her for talking to the interesting people with the multicoloured hair...) 

"- Can you make your hair a different colour if you want? I mean, what if you just don't like the colour it is...?" 

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"Oh, I do actually dye my hair! It comes in darker than this," says the green. "But I like it this shade. You can see a little at the root."

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"Oooh!"

Jisa leans in close to look. 

"....Can you dye it any colour?" 

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"That would be confusing, like wearing a uniform for someone else's job!"

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"- That doesn't seem fair. ...I wish I had RED hair. Like Healer Andy - he works with my mama and he's very nice and good and his hair is very pretty and mine is just brown and boring -" 

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"I think your hair is lovely!"

"I haven't seen any humans with red hair yet - black and brown and orange and yellow -"

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"Huh. I guess Andy's hair is kind of more orange? People call it red but maybe that's silly. There are also people with white hair! And sometimes half white and half other colours! Have you seen that yet?" 

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"I think so! White and greyish. Amentans have more colors but not a single one of us has brown or black hair, so on our planet you'd be very special."

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Jisa lights up.

"Really? ....But also half the other people in Haven would be special." 

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"That's true, but there aren't very many people in Haven compared to at home! You could fit everybody who lives in Haven in one really big Amentan building."

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“Whoa!” Jisa’s eyes go huge. “It’d have to be soooooo big! How can you make a building that big?”

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"It uses a lot of steel, and concrete!"

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“Ooh. I wanna see it! Could you draw me a picture of it?”

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"I can do better than that!" She pulls out her pocket everything and pulls up a picture of Shapto as seen from the air.

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Jisa is captivated! 

“What does that building look like inside? Are there windows even at the very top? That’d be so high up. If someone lives in the very top do they have to climb up allllll the stairs to get to their room?”

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"That building looks like - oh, that's the museum, there's lots of pictures of inside -" she navigates to some. "They don't have to climb stairs, we have tiny rooms that can go up and down by themselves and you just go into one of those and it'll bring you to your floor. There are windows all the way up!"

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Jisa looks so intently at all the pictures! 

"...What's a museum for, anyway?" 

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"Museums are for looking at and learning about things! This one is a natural history museum, so it has fossils, and neat rocks, and models of how our planet looked millions of years ago, and things like that."

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"Ooh. What's a fossil?" 

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"A fossil is a very old rock that has the shape of an old animal or plant or something in it! They can teach us about how life was long ago." Here are some pictures of fossils.

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Jisa is so enthralled by this! And by the neat rocks! That one is so pretty and she wishes she had one like it!

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"They sell them in gift shops at museums but we didn't bring any along!"

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"Aww. ...Can I go visit your world someday please please please so I can see the museum and I can get one of the nice rocks?" 

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"You'd need your parents' permission, but it would be fine with us! We'd like to have human visitors on Amenta."

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“Have you had visitors from other planets you found before?”

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"Nope! This is the very first one we've found with anybody on it we could talk to! The others are all just rocks, or have algae-ish stuff but nothing else."

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“Huh! What’s ‘algae’?”

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"It's a simple plant that grows in ponds and seas and things. You might have seen some here, I'm told there is some on the planet."

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“Ooh! - Can you tell my mama that I should be allowed to swim in the fishpond so I can find algae? She says I’m not allowed to.”

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"It's probably not very clean in there, I can see why she wouldn't want you swimming in it! When we want to swim we do it in special pools that don't have anything growing in them. Scientists studying algae keep it in tanks."

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“Aww, and then they’re not even allowed to swim in their special pool? That’s no fun!”

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"They probably sometimes swim to collect it!"

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Nod. 

"- Do they have other tanks with other things that they study in them?" 

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"Sure! Different scientists study different things, and some of those things live in tanks. Fish and plants and snails and stuff like that."

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"What sort of plants? Did you know, my Uncle Van says that in k'Treva Vale they have flowers the size of BABIES?" 

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"There are some flowers that big on Amenta too! I think those wouldn't live in tanks though."

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"What if you made a reaaaaaallly big tank? Like as big as a whole town? That's sort of what–" 

The Amentans do not get to find what is sort of that, because this is the point at which a local woman, prowling the garden path, sees Jisa and runs toward them. 

     "Jisa! I've been looking for you everywhere!" 

Jisa squirms. "I'm just playing with the aliens, Beri." 

     "Yes, well, your mama's worried! You'd best come back now." 

"Awww." But she wriggles to be put down. 

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"- I thought your mother was in space?" says Kesha, setting her down.

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"She is, but Beri says that when she thinks I won't listen otherwise." Jisa sticks her tongue out at her governess. 

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"She didn't tell me she was going to space!" Beri protests, looking self-conscious. She reaches for Jisa's hand. "Come on. It's time for your bath." 

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Jisa casts a look back at the Amentans. "Can I play with you again tomorrow?" 

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"Of course!"

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The next update that the Amentans on the ground receive is that evening, from Herald-Mage Savil. She went ahead and contacted the Tayledras in k'Treva Vale, and they're willing to host a (small) party of the alien visitors for a couple of days! If they're interested in taking up the invitation, Savil can Gate them over in the morning, once she's had a good night's rest. 

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They pick out some representatives and land them to be Gated, which itself sounds like an interesting experience.

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And Savil is there at the appointed time to Gate them over! She does not look particularly happy about this. 

:Introduce yourselves?: she demands of the arriving representatives. :The Tayledras won't speak your language and they'll be, er, nervous: 

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They all say their names, smiling cheerfully! Kesha is not in this group but the green who was with her is, and a different blue.

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(Savil haaaates Gates so much–) 

This does not show at all on her face. She leads them to the Heralds' temple to Kernos, the big bronze doors that have been used for Gates a hundred times before, and then raises her hands - 

 

- the doorway starts to glow, with a clean blue-white light - 

 

- and then it flashes, brightly, and a fraction of a second later, something else is visible on the other side. 

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Taver is lurking within his Thoughtsensing range, reading all of the Amentans' thoughts as they watch this happen. 

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The blue thinks that looks like it could be incredibly useful for transit! So much quicker and more convenient than a plane. Maybe it would be good form to offer to pay Savil? He's not sure of the culture around that but it would get locals used to Amentans buying their valuable services.

The green thinks that is SO COOL, WOW, how does it work, is it faster than light, are the people in the mothership getting interesting readings?

The yellow they've brought along - again not the same one as the main Haven delegation - is hoping it will not make her sick like buses and virtual reality that is just slightly off do. It seems like it might. Does she have an anti-emetic on her. There it is. She pops it as discreetly as possible, there is nothing in the universe more embarrassing than needing to throw up as soon as you get to somebody's place.

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On the other side of the shimmering barrier, they can see - an expanse of varying shades of green, mostly. 

 

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And a tall, slender man, clad in rippling green robes, stepping forward to meet the Gate. His waist-long hair is very white, and pulled back into braids on either side of his face. 

"- Savil?" 

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"Starwind. ...May we cross?" 

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A long pause. 

 

 

 

 

- and then he lifts a hand. "Of course, Wingsister." 

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Savil gestures for the Amentans to follow her through the Gate, and steps over. 

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SO COOL the green thinks loudly. DON'T PUKE the yellow thinks loudly. The blue is trying to calculate about how much money he should offer Savil for the lift if that seems opportune - it has to be in budget and he doesn't want to have to requisition a new budget till at least next month but if he lowballs her that's almost worse than not offering, really, they'll figure out how far a tap goes soon enough -

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(Taver reads all of their minds up until the point that they actually cross the Gate, and then loses contact.) 

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And Starwind steps forward. 

:Welcome to k'Treva Vale: He defaults to Mindspeech, because apparently the aliens have only recently learned Valdemaran, which isn't exactly his most fluent language anyway. :I hear that you are visitors from a different star?: 

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"Yes we are!" says the blue in Valdemaran. "Thank you for having us here!"

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A different white-haired human steps forward, taking Starwind’s hand.

:My name is Moondance k’Treva. This is my shay’kreth’ashke - my life partner - Starwind. He is the Speaker for the Vale: 

(Moondance is ALSO reading all of their minds, because he has a very bad feeling.)

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These people have such great names, the green thinks. There will be an internet fad next week about making up a compound name and her granddaughter is going to tell her to call her Sunsea. Actually, that would make a great jobname. She should focus though. Rumor has it they might be able to read minds and she wishes the blues would figure out a diplomatic way to ask about that sooner than later WHOOPS now she's thinking about the last time she had sex with her husband (it was okay, not great, he'd shaved the sides off his hair a little too close last time he touched up the mohawk and it was scratchy...)

The blue wishes they would specify what a Speaker is - is that a diplomatic role, an executive one, both combined because they're organized in small preindustrial units, what. What does his script have for him here - "It's our pleasure to meet you, Starwind and Moondance. I'm Tasut Mehoi, and these are Antai Tekma, one of our linguists, and Aio Shumah, here to take notes and manage communications with the rest of the Amentans."

Aio wishes she had changed her job name. If someone asks her to explain "Shumah" she's going to die. It's one thing to harmlessly indulge yourself with a reference to a TV show when, at least, everyone around you knows that the character a) exists b) their name means 'radio'. But she REALLY should have changed it before this only she couldn't settle on anything.

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…All of this is so baffling??? 


This does not exactly relieve Moondance’s bad feeling, but it does leave him somehow even MORE off balance! 

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”If you would like to follow me this way—?” Starwind says in Valdemaran, gesturing in the direction of the nearest path into the depths of the green jungle.

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The Amentans cheerfully follow along! They think it's really pretty here. It reminds Aio of a garden installation she saw once, tucked into the courtyard of an apartment building but open to the public, mostly nourished with mirrored sunlight.