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Generated: Apr 30, 2022 5:41 PM
Post last updated: Apr 30, 2022 5:41 PM
I reserve that power for myself
Xian in Cosel
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Behold! A perfectly ordinary wetland. Grass, trees, boggy knee-deep water, pond scum, mud, fog, everything a person could possibly want in their swamp.

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Except, of course, not being a swamp.

Field Marshal Adrien Durante of the Consular Republic of Ajanta did not expect to be in a swamp today! At least not this swamp. Some swamps were possible, since yesterday he was leading the Army of the South on a multipronged assault on separatists, pro-separatist supporters, and crab-men. But whoever, exactly, dressed him in his military uniform, quietly provided him with his holstered sidearm, pocketknife and bootknife, then dragged him out to the middle of a totally unfamiliar swamp, is not merely engaging on a prank on his commanding officer, but a really, really impressive one.

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Central Computing? He doesn't need to say it out loud to get the AI's attention.

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Nope. No Central Computing. Not visible anywhere.

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"You know," says Durante (to thin air), "this is actually a genuinely impressive act of logistical competence. If you did this just to get my ear, you've succeeded."

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The silt under his feet starts attempting to suck him down. Rather more aggressively than one normally expects from a landscape.

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Then he is not standing there any more. People who assumed from his skin and hair he was human might be slightly surprised at how little time that takes.

Also, there's an air pistol in his hand.

"If you don't mind I'd rather talk than fight. How about you?"

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The silt in his new location also wants to pull him down! Shlurk shlurk.

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And (he checks) there's no face behind any of this?

Because if, not, he's going to implement a very rapid retreat in a direction known primarily as 'not here'.

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If his eyes are very sharp, he might be able to see a face peeking down at him from up a tree!

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His eyes, like the rest of him, were genetically engineered by people genetically engineered by people genetically engineered by people smarter than any earthling not named Johnny von Neumann.

"If you stop trying to hurt me," he says (very calmly for someone rapidly dancing away from swiftly-spreading silt), "I won't have to hurt you."

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The face is VERY ALARMED to have been noticed.

The silt animates in all directions and heaves toward him in a great circular tide.

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Right. The very alarmed face is going to get a bullet between the eyes and he is going to go straight up into the trees, grab a branch, and see if he can leap over the silt-tide. Unless it suddenly speeds up or gets even taller, he thinks this is plausible?

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The alarmed face screams about the bullet - an understandable if rather abnormal reaction to being shot in the head - and meets Adrien in the air when he jumps, gliding on its wings, which appear to be made of leaves in lieu of feathers. And attempts to break his neck with its bare hands.

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Is this a knows-martial-arts-with-superhuman-strength kind of neck-breaking attempt, per se? Because if it merely has normal human strength and no particular martial arts training, it is going to be on the far side of Durante and moving very slightly faster than it was before before it quite realizes what went wrong.

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It has normal human strength and no particular martial arts training, but if it (she, actually) can get a moment of contact with his skin all of his muscles will suddenly go very weak like they've all been in constant use for a day or so.

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GAH.

She's still gone, briefly; it was her strength he was using to throw her, not his. His gun almost slips from his other hand and he barely tightens his grip - 

Durante is going to try to push his muscles as well as he can and run away as fast as his overstrained, exhausted muscles can carry him.

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Oh, he's - running away from her?

...okay, she'll take it. She sinks into the swamp and lets him go.

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Tired, tired Durante wants to go in SOME DIRECTION that is NOT A SWAMP.

He has wilderness survival skills! He trained in this!

He's just... really, really tired. This is more tired than he usually gets. He's going to be looking for a good place to set up camp, once he's well out of the leafwing's reach.

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Swamp swamp swamp swamp really really big tree with enough root going on that he could probably camp on top of the roots if he wanted.

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Ugh ugh ugh. He is SUPER NOT HAPPY about camping out in the swamp. Does he think he'll be able to hear trouble coming if it comes, or does he need to keep going?

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The swamp has a swamp-typical amount of bird/frog/insect noises. Other than that it's quiet. And it would be hard to move quietly in all this muck.

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... Unless you can fly.

Yeah. He... does not think he'll see a better option.

He will camp on the roots, see if there's anything he can recognize with his wilderness survival skills as being edible, make the obvious preparations that occur to him, and see about recovering from that ordeal.

He will sleep, if he sleeps, very, very lightly.

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If he looks hard enough he can spot probably-watercress and some wild rice.

Nothing bothers him at night except mosquitoes but those are available in huge numbers.

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You know, the Attani wiped those out. In the morning, he sees why.

Watercress and wild rice will provide him calories. He needs more calories than that, because the Attani were not genetically engineered for WANDERING AROUND A SWAMP, they were genetically engineered for starships in which food cost a negligible amount.

Is there any chance at all he will get out of the swamp before something horrible happens to him?

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If he keeps walking the ground does eventually dry out and he can find the river that's associated with this swamp and go upstream along a more normal bank.

Oh look, a cute little preindustrial village! It has cows!

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OH THANK THE EMPEROR, a cute preindustrial - what is that SMELL.

Right. A cute little preindustrial village. He's smelled worse. For instance, dead bodies!

Does the cute little preindustrial village have anyone prepared to trade him food and language lessons for song, poetry, or manual labor?

 

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With sufficient miming and polite smiling and reassuring nods he can get food (lentils and bread) and a five year old assigned to babble at him incessantly while he chops firewood.

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SUCCESS. He will chop ALL THE FIREWOOD.

He is very grateful to the five-year-old's babbling, with luck he'll pick up a few words here and there.

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"- and then, you should put me on your shoulders, like my dad does, and RUN RUN RUN all around going ROAAAAR like a monster because I'm a monster tamer," opines the five year old.

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This seems broadly acceptable to Durante, but he's going to do it in the direction of the five-year-old's father, and he's not going to do it until after he's chopped all the firewood.

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"And then, you should try to eat my sister, but I'll stop you, because I'm a monster tamer, and you're a monster, and then I will have saved her life and she will have to be my slave for one THOUSAND HUNDRED YEARS."

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"Slave? I don't understand that word."

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"That's because you're not very smart. And then we will go to the sea and go under the water and fight elementals! You can breathe underwater. Because you're a monster. And I can do it because I'm going to eat your monster spines." Now the five year old is trying to bite him on the leg.

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NO. Do not eat Durante's leg. Eating his leg is BAD. You will stop eating Durante's leg IMMEDIATELY (this is also the voice he uses on new recruits) because he is supposed to CHOP FIREWOOD. And then you can explain what an elemental is.

(Though, frankly, he has a guess.)

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"They can fly and they kill people till someone does magic to stop them," says the five year old. "My aunt died from an elemental."

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"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that."

Pause.

"Someone should do something about the elementals."

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"Yeah! Once they're caught they're useful. Liiiiiiike dogs! If you find a stray dog it bites but if you have a dog it'll let you pet it and stuff... I want a dog... we had a dog but it died... you should get me a dog, you should go chop more firewood till you can get a puppy from the smith's dog! I have good ideas. I want to sit on your shoulders and eat your monster spines."

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... Okay, it's not as if the elemental talked to him, but he still feels really uncomfortable about that idea as applied to anything human-shaped.

"I need to try to fix the world, so I can't spend all my time chopping you enough firewood for a puppy. I am sorry."

And the kid will NOT be allowed to sit on his shoulders if it will get him his spines eaten.

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"But I waaaaaaaant tooooooooo!"

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"You can sit on my shoulders if you want to, but you cannot also try to eat me. People don't do nice things for you if you bite them." This is an important life lesson that everyone needs to learn eventually.

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"I will eat your tail. I'll eat it all up." The kid mimes biting his imaginary tail.

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"Since I do not have a tail, you can eat my tail. If you try to eat anything I do have, I will object."

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"You don't have spines! You got mad when I ate your spines you don't have!"

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"That was because you bit my leg. I do have a leg, even if I have no spines."

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The kid resumes eating his imaginary tail.

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Then Durante will finish up the work, and then, as promised, put the child on his shoulders and RUN RUN RUN him back to his father going ROAR until he gets there, when he will explain as politely as he can with a five-year-old's vocabulary that the work is done.

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He will get food for his trouble (it's bread and chickpeas).

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Excellent!

Can he get some idea of where the big cities (if there are any) are from here, or what the local political situation is? He's sure they can tell, but he's from a very long way away.

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They go to Wuld for market day; they think there's bigger cities farther west, on the coast, but don't know exactly how to get there.

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Great! Do they know where Wuld is or how far away it is or what its government (if any) is like?

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They can tell him how to get to Wuld, which apparently takes four hours at a walk each way. Wuld has a Lord, who is in charge of the militia in case the city is attacked and who can be appealed to in case of disputes and collects taxes for things.

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Durante would like to know how to be polite to the Lord. Is there anything else important he should know about Wuld before he goes there?

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The Lord doesn't normally just walk around talking to random people but if you do run into him you call him Lord, and you bow like so, and you do whatever he tells you to. You have to pay a fee to enter Wuld but usually they pay it in whatever goods they're bringing to market; he could probably collect enough firewood along the trip for the entry if he wanted.

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... Is the lord hiring soldiers for the militia? That's sort of the job Durante used to have.

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Presumably they hire on a rolling basis but the farmers are not aware of a specific recruiting push.

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Valid!

He expects he can collect the required firewood. He's used to managing.

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They will see him off when he's ready to go.

It's not super tree-ish around here once he's out of the boggy zone but there are shrubs and copses he can gather an armful of wood from on his way.

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Great. To the city, then, setting a brisk pace.

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The firewood availability thins out near the town, perhaps because people in the town gather firewood too sometimes. Assuming he planned for that, he'll have an armload and the gate guards will take it as passage. Here's Wuld! It's full of dung and clay buildings. There's an elemental over there, one with metal feathers, but he's meekly following a teenager who wears nicer clothes than everyone else.

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And now he's back to being broke! He'll manage. He's curious how the gate guards are equipped and organized and if they have any discipline. And he's curious about the teenager, are people treating whoever it is the way the villagers said the lord would be treated?

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They don't have great discipline - they're chattering and not looking around super closely - but none of them are obviously drunk or asleep or missing.

The teenager doesn't get bowed to but does get asked for magical assistance!

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Fascinating. What kind of magic does the metal elemental do?

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The elemental usually doesn't seem to be doing anything but sometimes puts its hand on the mage's arm. The mage mends tools and sometimes puts "wards" (Adrien doesn't have that word yet) on things or places when asked.

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Interesting. He's very curious about that tool-mending. How complex are the things it can build?

(He's wondering if it can duplicate his air-gun, specifically. Because if so, with six metal-mages and a couple dozen men he might well be able to take over the city, at least if those guards are state-of-the-art.)

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The mage isn't called upon to fix anything more complicated than a scythe and a magic lamp which has no moving parts today.

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Alas.

In that case, his top priorities are getting money, getting a place to stay, and getting a job.

Anyone know where he should go if he's interested in signing up with the guard?

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He should go over there! Over there is the other city entrance, whereat he can find the captain of the guard.

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Great!

"I'm a foreign mercenary looking for work," he announces, (which is completely true if his name is, in fact, Adrien Durante.) "What're the hours and pay like?"

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Apparently they do watch for ten hours, and if they get antsy they can do a patrol shift for a couple of those hours. They don't have precise timekeeping so it's fuzzy, but that's the ballpark. They get two free meals of bread and beans and half a preserved lemon per day as part of the wage; the rest is paid in salt, a sack yea heavy. If there's some kind of shortage of something the food can be substituted and the salt can be delayed or replaced with a similar value in shells but that hasn't happened in awhile.

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Is the job long-term or can he quit if he gets a better offer, does it come with equipment or do you need to buy your own, same for lodging and for both what are the standard prices, do they pay extra for people with extra skills like the ability to outwrestle anyone here (this is spoken in the tone of someone who is absolutely willing to show this off), and is this the same thing as the militia or a different thing and if so how does the pay compare.

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He's not allowed to quit if they need him but if everything's basically normal he can quit the day after any festival (these occur roughly once every thirty or forty days but it's not very regular). You're supposed to buy your own equipment and your own place to live. If he can outwrestle everyone here they can give him a signing bonus. The guard is automatically part of the militia but people can be part of the militia without being part of the guard, which mostly takes the place of a portion of taxes rather than being directly paid.

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Understood, thanks. (Unless the signing bonus is quite high he doubts this is his comparative advantage, but he'd rather not say it.) Do they know when the next festival is, do they know about how much housing and panoply costs, and he assumes there's no war on right now?

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The next festival is in nine days. There isn't a standard issue of armor or weapons, it depends what he's good at fighting in/with. None of these guys are renting their lodging and they don't immediately know how much it would cost. There is no war on right now.

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Understood, thanks. He's best with a dagger or his bare hands, quite good with a bow or spear (Xian actually did consider that the succession contest might be on a primitive world), and a very quick study with everything else. He'll be back if he decides to take them up on the job.

Next priority: Check lodging prices, check weapon prices, check other employment options to see if they pay better. Ten days is an acceptable period to learn a city, if he needs it.

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They have not invented hotels. Or apartments. He can get a spot in a barn or on a hearth in a house outside the city walls, even one that comes with food, if he's willing to do farm labor; inside the city there's a leatherworker who can use him in exchange for a spot of floor and dinner, and a potter whose apprentice just died of a fever.

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... Wow. "Not having invented rented rooms" is some pretty hardcore primitivism.

And how does the price of buying himself some cheap Bronze Age weapons and armor compare to his signing bonus?

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They're surprisingly inexpensive! Not cheap but he can get a spear and a breastplate. The leather skirt recommended for accompanying the breastplate is actually more expensive than the breastplate.

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Wow. This is presumably metal-magic. Yeah, he's not competent to take over the world yet.

Well, he'll pick up the gear, and he'll take a nine-day job with the guard while he gets his feet under him, and see if any of his fellow guardsmen has a spare room. He knows he'll look funny (what he knows are bayonet drills for close-combat and spear-hunting), but he is very confident that he's ahead of the local guards in unarmed martial arts and that makes him valuable, so he'll take a ten-day job and see about spending it learning the city, becoming reasonably well-liked (he can teach people Attani martial arts! He knows dirty foreign songs he can translate! He buys people drinks!), and learning just what kind of world he's landed in.

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He has landed in a Shattered State! There was an empire, and the Emperor (a mage) was killed by elementals he unwisely attempted to release, which he for some reason did at the same time as a lot of simultaneous magic-backed rebellions around when magic became more commonplace. The rebellions had no trouble in succeeding and establishing the independence of everyone who wanted it.

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That makes sense! He wants to learn all about magic.

... So, the guard is mostly in charge of security, and if there's ever a war it will be magic that settles things? (He doesn't say it in quite those words, but that's definitely what he's trying to feel out.)

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He can't learn magic, you have to be born a mage.

The guard wouldn't be irrelevant in a war but magic is very important both for direct violence (if in small quantities - neither mages nor elementals can keep going with the magic for hours) and for intelligence and logistics (shadow-walking, scrying, healing, working objects made of the elements).

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He doesn't want to learn MAGIC (or, uh, he does, he just can't), he wants to learn everything magic can do.

Shadow-walking, scrying, healing, working objects made out of the elements are important. Can magic stop arrows?

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Depends on what he means by "stop arrows"?

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If, on a battlefield, someone shot an arrow at a mage, and the arrow was moving very fast, would the mage die.

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Oh, probably not, they'd probably have Adamant wards, or have an elemental take the arrow for them.

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What are Adamant wards? And how fast do elementals move?

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Adamant is the metal element and can also be used for generally physically defensive things? Elementals don't move much faster than regular people but you'd put one between you and archers if there were archers or you heard an arrow.

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(So hypothetical supersonic projectiles would work for that.)

Adamant, huh. What do people know about its generally-physically-defensive capabilities? What all does it stop? Do mages still wear armor in battle, if they're fighting?

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People he talks to are mostly not mages and don't know a ton about it. One of them has seen a mage wear armor but it might have been enchanted armor.

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Understood.

... How about healing magic? Just how impressive is that?

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Oh, it's really good. If you're not literally dead the right mage with the right elemental can definitely save you and one person heard a story about someone who was literally dead (though not for long) getting brought back.

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Durante can believe that.

So, elementals, huh? What's the deal with them?

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They're very dangerous in the wild! He should avoid letting any see him if they don't belong to a mage, they'll kill him. They'll also kill people if their mages try to let them go. Everyone's better off if they're working for a mage.

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He ran into one on the way here, yes, it almost killed him.

They just... try to kill people all the time? Unless they're bound, when they don't?

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Yup, that's pretty much it.

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Hmm. What do they do when they're bound? Just 'whatever the mage tells them to'?

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They don't have to tell them anything, they can just magic them to do stuff.

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Huh. Fair enough.

Well, Durante will spend his time guarding and learning. Learning the language, learning how to write, learning what magic does and what technologies they have and what they don't... he doesn't want to leap into anything. He just wants to make friends with people.

So far.

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Most people don't know how to read, although a surprising fraction of the kids do - apparently it's in vogue to teach mage kids even if you skip it for non-mage kids. He can pick it up without too much trouble. They have a pretty simple alphabet but no standardization of spelling and a handful of ideograms for certain concepts sprinkled in among the phonetics.

The guards are pretty friendly, especially if he likes beer and wrestling!

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He learns how to read very quickly, about as quickly as he learns to speak the language. He's not surprised by the non-standardization of spelling, because Cocoon Academy has an excellent history course, albeit unusually focused on how past rulers navigated or more commonly failed to navigate difficult situations.

As for their tastes, well, He likes wrestling and is really, really good it and wants to teach them to be really, really good at it and this will help him make friends. Beer is slightly less cheerful; he can win money off of drinking contests, but that's because he cannot actually get drunk off of non-distilled liquor. He'll buy lots of drinks for other people, though!

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Being able to drink everybody else under the table and plausibly fake being at least a little loosened up after a couple rounds will do, these aren't very discerning assessors of drunkenness. He is rapidly very popular.

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That's his goal.

His other goal is, of course, to start scouting out other employment prospects. Preferably better paying, higher-status ones. What can he learn about the local political scene? Who is the local lord, and what are his goals, and who are the people who he needs to talk to politely? Which people are obviously important, so that the guard refrains from picking quarrels with them? Are there any brilliant inventors with metal-magic who might be interested in learning how to make moderately advanced weaponry, and, if so, what are their political opinions? And are there neighboring regions where it looks like it would be a much better place to start, with lots more money and resources and conquering urges and political instability?

(Also, can he take a look at maps of the area? Maps are very important for world domination, though not as important as seeing the land yourself.)

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The lord is a fellow called Vun who took over from his uncle and is largely inoffensive except for having a kind of unseemly number of wives (six). There's one adult mage in town and everyone respects him and he takes in a lot of work and sometimes shows the kid mages how to do something. His political opinion appears to be that he wants a steady job and to be depended upon; he isn't an obvious yes or no for exotic weapons. All the neighbors are about the same, the empire hasn't been fragmented that long.

There is a map in the lord's manor, and he can swing an invite for dinner after he's been in town for three weeks.

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Hmm. Is Vun popular? Does he have cousins (on his ex-uncle-ruler's side) or children? Where does he get his wives; where are they on the scale from political marriages to love matches to kidnappings? Are there exciting stories about foreign parts? Who was the emperor, and can he find out how large his empire was? How much are the kid mages kids, as opposed to teenagers who are going to start pushing for adulthood Real Soon Now? Are there other people who want to learn martial arts Ajanta wrestling, and are willing to pay for classes in his spare time? (He only sleeps four hours a day, he has more spare time than most.)

He'll want to swing an invite once it's been a few weeks. Short-term, he's going to be working for the guard, building up resources of popular opinion, money, and informal debts, and telling lots of stories. (This is a whole world that has never heard of Achilles, and storytelling has a significant skill-overlap with making inspiring speeches.)

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Vun doesn't inspire much comment any which way except about the wives. He has one living cousin on that side, female, who is married to one of his brothers-in-law. The wives are a mix - the first one was a prisoner of war from the imperial capital in the war for independence, two are twins and the daughters of the owner of the largest farm estate in the environs of the city, the fourth one is reported to be his favorite and not even the prettiest one, the fifth he acquired in exchange for a daughter of his (by wife #3) from among the sisters the lord of the next city over, the sixth (the prettiest one) is much younger than he is, and the only mage of the lot, daughter of a merchant family who were early adopters of prenatal seaweed consumption.

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Huh. Understood.

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Most people around here are monogamous but it's not that irregular for particularly important men to have a few wives, around here.

Vun's heir is his favorite son (via wife #2) and he's been clear about the succession after that - next in line after that son is the mage woman's eldest, who is a girl, and that's kind of irregular and people think it's intended to make assassinating the first choice less appealing, not that there's an obvious faction that would like to.

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He thinks that if Vun's favorite heir is not from his favorite wife, that's positive news?

... Uh, does his fourth wife have any children yet?

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Yup, she's got one living daughter.

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Right. Well, assuming that that's actually Vun's preferred prioritization of heirs, he takes it as a moderately good sign. (Nobody having complaints about him, on the other hand, is a very good sign. Durante is used to a world where there is nothing people will not blame their government over, which admittedly makes changing the government much easier.)

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One of his guard buddies wants to know what he wants to know so much about Vun's family for.

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Durante laughs it off. He's asking about lots of things; the ruler's family is just one, and that's because he wants to avoid offending any important royal relatives.

Still, he'll focus his questions in other areas for a while.

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Oh if he's curious about royal relatives there's a widow over that way who is rumored to be the escaped princess of the Empire but nobody can prove it and she just spins and minds her own business.

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Huh, really? An imperial princess? Cool. Why do people say that?

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She looks sort of like people say the emperor looked and showed up at around the right time and her grown son is a mage (though he has since left the area) which was unusual around the time he would have been born.

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... And the emperor's sons are more likely to be mages than other people's sons?

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People used to think it ran in families, though now they know it's the seaweed thing. Still, the emperor did have a couple of mage kids. Maybe they just liked seafood for unrelated reasons in that household.

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Right.

Durante's fundamental battle plan boils down to "pick up information, pick up rumors, pick up any and all languages, and wait for something to occur which he can exploit somewhere in hearing-range." Being the one who made a mess plays badly, being the one who fixed a mess plays well. But he'll pick up the invite, once it's been a few weeks; he always wants to know more about the situation he's in.

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Dinner is wild boar with onions and greens! And also bread. Vun wants to know where he's from.

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Durante was born in Altaire, spent some years in Ajanta, and has traveled around a lot as a mercenary. This is his first time in the Shattered States.

He will praise dinner!

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Wow, what's beyond the Shattered States besides barbarians?

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Lots and lots of countries! Some of them have jungles! Some of them have mountains! Some of them have really big oceans! Once he was campaigning in Harghana...

(And he launches into an exciting story that carefully downplays all the exciting technological developments, giving the impression that people are accomplishing everything with spears and wagons instead of guns and trucks, but that still suggests that wherever he's from is pretty amazing at organization.)

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Wow, that's very cool. Does he think much of it would work here or does it require a lot more people or something?

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He expects most of it would work here! Some of it requires lots of people, but not all of it!

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Cool! What things would work here without more people?

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So, he could refrain from jumping on this opportunity, or he could jump on it.

... Well, if Vun wants his advice, legion reforms, underofficer training, pike infantry, the longbow and a number of other developments will all function quite well under the circumstances. There's other things that he might be able to do - in armor, for instance - but he'd want to talk to metal-mages about that.

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Ooh, longbows! Vun is fascinated by the concept of longbows.

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So the fundamental idea is that by using a bow made out of the right wood - which they might have trouble tracking down, but wood-elementals might just be able to make - you can get something that can take the full strength of an archer regardless of how strong he is, and use that to drive an arrow. Rates of fire are very impressive; the main weaknesses are armor penetration and that longbows-and-quivers are fairly bulky, limiting the weight of secondary weapons an archer can carry in a fight.

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What kind of wood might that be?

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He doesn't know their name for it, so he'll want to look at a lot of different woods so he can see if any of them match.

(You can also make a very expensive but even stronger bow out of wood, horn, and sinew, but you can't have wood-mages mass produce it.)

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Horn like some kind of antelope horn?

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He thinks so!

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Huh. They can try collecting varied wood types and he can see if any of them are right.

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Excellent!

(Does Vun intend to bring up the subject of salary and/or rewards and/or promotions for the person telling him all this?)

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Vun does not appear independently inclined in that direction!

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Well, Durante will bring it up only insofar as he needs to make excuses, due to his duties with the Guard and with his students tragically preventing him from devoting as much time as he would like to this project. And perhaps also very indirectly if someone asks how his homeland does projects, since it does indeed do them by hiring experts and paying them lots of money.

(Are there other people at the table? If so, what do they have to say on all these subjects?)

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There are other people! That one wants to know how long his guard contract lasts, and this one wants to know where all the money comes from, is it all taxes? and that one wants to know how hard it is to make a bow like he describes if you have all the stuff, and how hard to learn to shoot it well.

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He can leave his guard contract after any festival if he has somewhere else lined up; he's not intending to stay in one place forever, even one as nice as this; he likes travel and adventure and danger and exploring new lands.

Taxes, yes, and tribute from neighbors.

A wood bow is easy and inexpensive to make, a composite bow is very hard and expensive, and archers need training but most of that is strength-building.

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How do you set up tributary relationships where he's from?

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Either you win a war with an enemy state and demand tribute, or you offer to defend a weaker state from its neighbors in exchange for it paying you tribute to help pay for the armies defending it.

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People do that here sometimes but all the existing relationships like that were disrupted in the Shattering Revolution.

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And they didn't immediately begin fighting wars with each other over pre-imperial claims to hegemony and/or attempts to restore old borders?

... But they're currently at peace?

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This place is! Their neighbors are fighting with some folks on the far side about diverting the river that separates them for irrigation.

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... Durante is happy to hear allll about it.

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They don't know a ton about it, just what they hear from merchants and stuff, but they will tell him what they know! The neighbor is Clat and Clat's neighbor on the other side of the river is Soror.

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He will listen! When they have said what they have to say he will change the topic, either to something else they want to talk about or to one of the many stories he has to tell on his own.

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Apparently this guy heard a joke about a drunk goat and wants to tell it; he himself is drunk, which sort of both adds and subtracts to the humor.

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Durante can still laugh. (He's very good at laughing at other people's jokes.) Do they know the one about the man who came home after a long journey...

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They don't know that one! Do go on!

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Oh. Well, he's in bed with his wife, who he hasn't seen in ages, and a naked man with a knife leaps out of the closet (he'll use whatever the best translation of "wardrobe" is, actually) and says, "I am the fugitive criminal Gabriel!" and runs through the door. A few seconds later another naked man jumps out and says "I'm guard officer Arthur, did you see where the fugitive criminal Gabriel went?" and the very confused man points.

"Thank you, citizen! Guard squad, after me!"

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They would like to know how all those people fit in a storage trunk?

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... You know, he could do a long explanation of the role of absurdity in humor, but he doesn't think it would land.

Instead he'll laugh it off and switch to broader humor. 

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They have perfectly good senses of humor but are too drunk or culturally different for subtext!

And eventually dinner is over and the servants start clearing everything away.

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Understood! Durante will thank them for a lovely dinner, and, assuming nobody wants to speak to him after dinner (if they do, he will of course be happy to discuss it), start putting together rumors about this war he's hearing about. He doesn't need to do it secretly; he's fairly open about the fact that he's interested in Adventure! and is from another land and wants to know what kind of Adventure! showing up to fight in the war will be.

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The locals don't know a ton about it but he can put together that:

- Clat will pay top dollar for food if you'll bring it to them but it's too dangerous for most people to bother
- Soror has water elementals (2) and Clat doesn't, but if you're trying to get a river to behave a certain way Stone and Earth are also useful and Clat has more of those
- Clat's current king is a twelve year old but he seems to be doing a surprising amount of the decisionmaking himself
- Soror's current king is more experienced but has mostly been leaving the war to his generals
- they are both hiring mercenaries, and Clat pays slightly better; rumor has it they can use the Stone elemental to mine for underground salt

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I see.

Are there ambassadors in the city, from either state? Are there maps?

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They haven't invented ambassadors. There's a merchant selling pottery, though, who came through Clat, and he can get ahold of a (remarkably crude) map.

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Well.

That will do, then.

For someone who spent so long hanging out, drinking with the guards and telling war stories and teaching martial arts to pick up a little extra cash, Durante moves surprisingly fast.

(For someone who is still working a full-time job, Durante moves surprisingly fast. Maybe it helps that he only sleeps four hours a night.)

He's already carried out the first step, which was building his name. Now the second step is to find a backer. He goes to every noble with relatives in Clat, every major merchant in Wuld, every great landholder with too much food to sell, and explains, with the confidence of someone who knows exactly what he’s doing every step of the way, that he’s an experienced captain who would like to put together an expedition to relieve Clat - a very large delivery of food and (insert other standard export goods that have been piling up and are valueless here and desperately desired in Clat here), plus an escort that he can command; lots of people know him know, mostly in the Guard, they know he’s honest (or, well, that he can convince people he’s honest), and he’s looking for either a partner or a loan - funds to equip his band, funds to pay their salary on the way there, and either the food or the funds to buy it. He expects someone will take the chance, if he has to go through every merchant in the city.

The third step, once he has a backer, is that he'll let people know he's recruiting. One man is worth so much less than a dozen trained soldiers, especially a dozen some of whom are young wizards, eager for adventure. Durante's been telling everyone stories of heroes and glory and fighting monsters and war, of the horrors and tragedies of battle and campaign (that, somehow, spur so many young men onwards, for the greater the horror the greater the tragedy in overcoming it), and while most of these stories are those of Earth, of Hector before Troy and Roland at Roncesvalles, but enough of them are of his own expeditions that they'll have a pretty good idea he knows what he's doing. So why not come and be heroes? The romance of war is strong in his voice, songs of raining arrows and flashing swords and the charge of lances, to thrill the heart and set a fire in the mind.

Some of them will think better when his voice falls silent. Others... well. Durante will see about the others.

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The concept of "funding" is a little underdeveloped around here, but he can, with enough looking, turn up a landholder who would love to sell some food in Clat and can comprehend the concept of supplying money now and taking more money later in the event of venture success. He has a few caravan guards he can lend to the purpose, too, and some of them have friends who'll come along if he's hiring more.

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Great! Durante is getting as much capital as he can for this caravan he's organizing. He is absolutely hiring people, in the full hopes that some of them will want to stick around in Clat doing mercenary work there with him, provided they're willing to take orders on the way there. He'll also be equipping them himself if he can find an Adamant mage who's interested in going along with the adventure and/or just being paid.

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One of the guard's friends has a fourteen year old brother who is a mage! Adamant isn't one of his elements but if Durante has enough money he could buy an Adamant elemental and he could use that.

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Does he have enough money? (Are there Adamant elementals in the city for sale?)

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There are no Adamant elementals for sale in the city right now but he could (just barely) afford one if there were.

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Unfortunate.

(Durante is not going to commit petty theft. He's a robber, not a thief - to paraphrase the punchline of one of the stories he's been telling.) If anyone changes their mind he'll take advantage of it, but these people have been nothing but courteous to him except their government and he has no intention of wronging them.

Still, considering just how many young mages there are in the city, Durante expects he can get an Adamant mage eventually. Teenage mages? Female mages? Female teenage mages?

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He can get a female sixteen-year-old if he's willing to anger her parents!

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Are her parents important? Because he kind of assumed a lot of teenagers would want to sign up for the expedition and teenagers' parents usually are unhappy with them going on adventures, this was kind of an accepted cost.

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Her parents are not important! At all! He can anger them with impunity!

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Well, if she wants to go on an adventure and risk her life heroically and craft weapons and armor better than anyone else has ever made and become famous throughout the world, who is he to tell her no?

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She does want that. She's going to put her name on all the armor. (It would still help a lot if they grabbed her an Adamant elemental but no big if they don't run into one, it's a long enough trip that she'll have time to turn any metal they find into whatever's called for.)

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Sounds good to him!

(He's also willing to buy metal; she can transmute any metal into any other metal, right?)

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She can!

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Excellent.

Then he wants her to transmute metal into this alloy. (But keep it secret, for now, until they're on the road.)

He draws the medal out of his pocket. There are letters written into it on an alien language, but it is the shape of a small shield, and metal, and he taps it.

"It is much lighter than any metal made in your country, and much, much, stronger."

He wants - for every man or woman of his company - a spear, sword, greaves, breastplate, round, wide shield and helm of the metal. He can show how to shape the designs simply and easily. The plates he wants are thin and do not look as though they would stand up to an arrow, and when they leave he will show them that no bronze weapon can pierce it.

He calls it titanium.

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She is very excited about making titanium swag for everybody. She's going to start with the spears and shields, since those seem to her the minimum viable product here, but will then move on to the other portions of the outfit as she gets more metal and recharges her magic.

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Excellent!

Well, Durante will keep recruiting, singing, charming anyone he can get (who can fight or do magic) to join him. The expedition will leave the day after a festival, the first festival Durante can manage to get all of his ducks in a row.

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The next festival rolls around; his Adamant mage has made the company spears and shields and is working on the greaves now. On the day of the festival a trader comes by who has a couple of elementals to sell, including an Adamant.

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Well, Durante may not know how to horrifically abuse the powers of shadow or stone elementals to his military gain (wait, no, he knows how to abuse both of them - lightning or... water?), but he certainly knows how to use Adamant.

He's potentially interested in buying this Adamant, since the ability to make metal would help a great deal. Does his Adamant mage want to come with?

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She'll come! He'll need her if he wants to actually buy the elemental, he's not a mage and can't hold onto one of the amulets properly.

The seller is perfectly happy to explain to him that Shadow elementals can permit you to teleport. (Between dark places.) If that's the sort of thing that might be interesting.

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(Actually, he thinks that scrying would be much more useful, though he won't say it.)

He does think it's interesting, but he doesn't have the capital for two elementals for the moment. So, Adamant elemental.

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Adamant elemental is his! His mage takes the amulet and puts it on and can conduct the elemental along behind her, matching her gait. When they get back to where she's been working she starts taking off bits of its wings and also has it braiding her hair while she works.

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And what is the Adamant elemental's reaction to this? Does it have anything to, say, say about this program? Or is it just being a zombie?

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It's not saying anything at all! (On closer inspection it's probably a boy elemental but it's covered in a lot of metal so it's not easy to tell.)

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Then he will not worry about his exceptionally stoic probably-boy elemental.

... Actually, wait. Can't elementals also do crafting-magic?

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Assuming he remembers right, yes!

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In that case he is going to suggest that, if there's no magical reason why not he isn't aware of, she could get her job done much faster (and then she and her new comrades would have better armor, very important for her job) if the elemental participated in armormaking too!

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"Huh? No I couldn't, I'm using its magic. I'll run through both reserves after not too much of this."

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Oh, that makes sense. Carry on!

(Any crisis happen before the next day?)

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Nope! No crisis! The Adamant mage does have a screaming argument with her dad that ends in her making the Adamant pick the dad up and remove him from the scene but the dad doesn't come back after that.

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Just so long as the dad isn't damaged.

Durante wants to leave comparatively bright and early, as he told everyone he would! This will involve SO MUCH work getting people who got drunk in the festival out of bed, and SO MUCH use of his Officer's Voice. (If people want to desert immediately, well, he hasn't paid them yet, and better now then later. But if not they should get ready to get on the road.)

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One guy makes a rude gesture at him and goes home. Everybody else is still game to get going.

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Excellent! Let's get this army on the road. Durante is ready with advice and assistance and morale-building (he has SO MANY SONGS and is now getting to the point where he can translate lyrics on the fly) to keep his caravan moving.

He won't be making any objections if the noncombatants want an early stop, but that's because he wants to get some training underway.

(He also wants to have a quiet conversation with his Adamant-mage, once they're away from the city, about tech sharing, if they can find a moment.)

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They're mostly used to doing a lot of walking but marching is a different story and they don't have unlimited endurance for it even with the Adamant carrying a lot of their stuff.

The Adamant mage (her name is Pajuna) is amenable to a quiet conversation, though she brings the elemental, possibly in case Durante decides to attack her or something.

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Well, before they arrive he's going to stop, and pause, and smile at Pajuna and her elemental, and quietly draw his gun without pointing it at anything he does not want destroyed, and hand it to her carefully, safety-on.

"This is a military airpistol," he says, treating it as a loan-word. "You can think of it as the next step after a bow, the way a bow is the next step after a javelin. The javelin delivers the power of an instant's exertion at a distance, and the bow concentrates your muscles to deliver the force of more than an instant's draw. The airpistol uses your strength to compress air, then uses the compressed air's desire to escape to drive a bullet -" he uses the native word for a crafted projectile made for a sling "- through an enemy. I want to know if you can replicate copies of this pistol made wholly out of titanium; if so, they would be an amazingly valuable advantage, and one no one knows we have."

(And they'll also be obsolete as soon as he gets an R&D facility that can turn out chemical-propellant rifles, let alone railguns.)

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"...gosh," she says. "Can I take it apart, to see how it is inside...?"

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He'll demonstrate! It's supposed to be possible to field-strip and reassemble without difficulty; here's the magazine with the bullets in it and the spring action that makes it go, the barrel, the slide, the safety so you can't shoot people... it's a really neat little device, if a little bulky for a pistol. (Given the need for air instead of a better propellant.)

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Cool. She doesn't have Air but the other mage does, if that would help make them work faster? She thinks she can do the spring and everything assuming titanium is in fact the kind of metal you want for that.

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He's happy to discuss the specific metals to use in more detail! Titanium is generally good for weight and strength, but there's different metals useful for different things, and he's happy to go over all the principles of gunmaking in great detail.

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Pajuna's very intent on learning all the weird stuff he knows. When she has some magic back they can check if the gun can fire through a ward.

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Sounds good!

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(Thank you for the reminder that all of his technology will become obsolete as soon as magic completely changes the battlefield, he thinks but does not say. At least his tactical mind won't.)

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She gets to work on replicating the gun parts with bits of metal picked off the elemental's halo.