« Back
Generated: Jun 15, 2022 1:21 AM
Post last updated: May 21, 2022 1:25 PM
tower? I barely know 'er!
Sida in Fallen Tower
Permalink Mark Unread

Sida is walking along a mountain road in the dark. Which, sure, maybe isn't the safest thing, but walking in the dark is fun and she doesn't want to stop for the night just yet.

Permalink Mark Unread

For all beings, there is a plan. And for all plans, there is a time for action.

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida hears the unexpected rumble of an approaching vehicle shortly before she is struck from behind. Suddenly, she finds herself hurtling forwards, through a disorienting rush of color for a few moments before she hits the ground. She feels surprisingly healthy for having just been hit by a truck.

In the world she left behind, her broken body tumbles down the hill.

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida finds herself in the middle of a busy street. A few people look surprised, but it seems that most people are emphatically making the supernatural arrival of a stranger none of their problem. Besides, they're all busy. Street vendors hawk meat skewers and jars of condiments to passers-by, porters bicker over the delivery of pots to a nearby business, and someone is doing a street-performance involving a stylised image - no, an illusion - of a dragon, flying through the air like a living firework. The architecture looks positively medieval in construction; buildings are hand-crafted wood with colourful paint, built with a rickety density that speaks of a total lack of fire safety codes. The people come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes; there are elves and dwarves and goblins and so forth, but also a sort of orca-like person, and someone riding a giant wolf, even a sort of wooden robot person. A number of people are armed or armoured; swords, spears and bows seem to be the weapons of choice here. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Apparently there really is an afterlife? This doesn't look like any of the stories she's heard, however. Which arguably is good, it's more interesting that way. She stands up and approaches someone nearby who looks like they won't be too mad at being interrupted.

"Hello, do you know where we are? Did you get here by dying too?"

...Wait a minute, that wasn’t canaanite. What language is she speaking? This is starting to feel like a dream.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're in the city beside the fallen tower."  "I have no idea what you're talking about? You seem to be perfectly healthy to me." 

(The language she is speaking is the common tongue, a creole compiled from a number of different languages, at least one of which was spoken by lizards. If she listens to the crowd, it's not the only one she can understand) 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh. The place I come from is very different and I'm not exactly sure how I got from there to here. Don't suppose you've ever heard of the Hadarite Union?"

If there's literally anyone from her home planet/reality/??? in this place, that would be awfully convenient.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Odd things happen all the time. I have a cousin whose goat was possessed by a demon, you know. Not that we'd have known, goats being goats, except it went all red and its horns got bigger. Never heard of a Hadarite Union, though. Is it underground somewhere? Its awfully easy to loose touch with underground places, so I hear." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"...No, it's not underground."

Sida has so many questions! Like: what is a demon? Why and how do people live underground (if that's what they were implying)? What is the fallen tower? What language is she speaking and how? What are all these new species of people? How the hades did that hologram work? In general, what is going on?

But she can prioritize a little bit, save the other questions for later. If this is real, she's probably stuck here, at least for a while. And it's unlikely anyone will take paper money.

"How cold does it get at night, this time of year? And do you have cheap steel in this city?"

It doesn't really look like they do, which means most of her work experience is probably not very useful.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It was snowing last week, I wouldn't want to get caught in the rain. I know someone down in the old town who can give you a pretty good price on custom metalwork if you need something made. Good dwarf steel."  

(It's not currently raining, but the clouds are looming, so it might rain sooner rather than later)

Permalink Mark Unread

Sleeping outside isn't an option, then. And it doesn't sound like this place has much industry. Maybe she can sell some of her kit?

"I'm curious how it compares to what I've got. We don't have 'dwarf steel'"—unless that's something her weird language thing isn't translating—"but I think what we do have is pretty good. Can you give me directions?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Dwarves make the finest steel in these parts, the blacksmith's guild is basically all dwarves." Different words for the same group of people as "Dwarves" translate mentally as "mountain-dwellers" and "ones-who-are-bound-by-the-old-law."  

Directions to a specific forge in the forge district ensue. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you. Farewell!"

Sida follows the directions to the forge. On the way, she looks for signs or anything else that has writing on it, to see if she can read it.

Permalink Mark Unread

The majority of signs use shop-specific imagery (for example, she's looking for the forge with a sign of a boar, to find her destination) in their signage, but many also use text - which Sida can read. She can also read the text of a pamphlet on "economically valuable dungeon flora", which is being hawked rather aggressively but someone purporting to be an alchemist, to anyone who looks even sort of adventurer-y, and who will let her have a page through it to the end of making a sale. 

The forge with the sign of the boar is staffed by a person who would, by human standards be very short, maybe a little over 4ft tall, and what would be unusually broad and heavy-set by human standards, and with a long, greying beard, with the lopsided muscles distinctive of long work as a blacksmith. Right now, he's sitting at a desk, at the front of his shop, sketching out a design, while further back, a younger woman of the same general build (including long beard, though without the grey) is working at the forge, producing nails. 

Permalink Mark Unread

She approaches the man up front.

"Hello, do you have a minute?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Of course. What do you need?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"A few hours ago, I was mysteriously transported here from another world. So I'm new to the city and I don't know how anything works. My world makes steel in a different way that makes it much easier to produce large quantities of good quality, and I'm curious to see how what I have compares to the state of the art here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"A mighty strange story! I'm sure some arcanist would have a field day with something like that. While I'll not share any trade secrets - can't, anyway, I just buy imported steel like everyone else in the city - we don't have an iron mine, I'd be happy to let you look at an ingot or two, though, especially if you have some samples of your offworld steel."

His steel is good, but pre-modern. 

Permalink Mark Unread

She lets him take a look at her knife. It's made of stainless steel, straight, sharp, and without a speck of rust.

"Er, what is an arcanist? And would they be willing to pay me for their field day?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, yes, I see what you mean. This is a pretty impressive piece. Would fetch a pretty impressive price, I'd expect."

"An Arcanist is ... well, a polite term for when you want to say ritual mage but don't want to insult anyone else with interests in magical research by excluding them. Probably there's some way to get them to pay for information like this, but I wouldn't guarantee that it didn't involve spending ages as a test subject in some magical project, and I wouldn't know who to talk to about it, beyond one of the adventurer's guilds, maybe." 

Permalink Mark Unread

Magic? Is that what's going on? Magic? Well, it's probably better to talk to one of those arcanists about it.

"Hmm. I get the impression that most people in this city don't know how to read?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Lots of people can't read, plenty of people can. It's not always worth acquiring as a skill, even if the Order of Edification does try to incentivise it as much as possible. I found it easier to learn than to memorise the old laws, and that's pretty common for dwarves I think."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So scribing probably doesn't pay super well, then."

"Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Would you mind giving me directions to this Adventurer's Guild? And—I don't want to sell my knife if I don't have to, but if I do, would you be interested?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There's a spell for copying text, though, it's like the third thing they teach new ritual mages, so demand isn't as high as all that." 

"If you put me on the spot, I'd pay 200gp for a knife like that, though the right buyer might pay a half again more than that, if I'm to be honest with you."  

"The adventurer's guilds aren't all one institution. It's like, if someone, or a group gets powerful, they form an organization to handle their support staff and followers and apprentices and disciples and henchmen, that sort of thing. And a bunch of those groups have ended up performing government functions around here, so we call them the adventurer's guilds. Main ones are the Deep Gardeners, who run the dole and keep people fed, the Order of Edification, who run the big library and enforce contracts, the blessed of light, who keep the peace, the antediluvian exploratory league, who ... mostly dig into knowledge best left alone if you ask me, but they have lots of mages. Last two are the Red Church, who kill anything nasty that comes out of the wilderness, and the monster hunters, who mostly seem to run fighting pits for people's entertainment. They're not even organised enough to have a proper name, but they have a bunch of powerful members, so they're worth the mention. The term can also apply to smaller groups of the same sort of structure, if they're organised enough." 

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida isn’t quite sure what 'the dole' means, but the impression she gets is of some kind of institutionalized giving, maybe like the dividend? But it sounds like it's good for her. And his description of the Order of Edification makes them sound a little like a priestly order. Maybe it would be good to start there.

"Oh, wow. That seems like a weird way to run a government, but if it works, I guess. Could you tell me where to find the Order of Edification? I'll start there."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It is a rather disorderly alternative to a government, I think most people would say. The king in the north hasn't considered this place worth trying to govern for centuries. The Order of Edification are good people, if stretched a bit thin." 

Directions to the Order of Edification grand library ensue; it's a hard building to miss. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thanks!"

Off she goes to find the Order of Edification.

Permalink Mark Unread

The Grand Library of the Order of Edification is a large complex of the green-grey stone local to the area, built in a style reminiscent of classical styles, and roofed in Verdigris-stained copper. Much of it is walled off, with public access limited to a single front façade, where the finest stonework and columns surround a courtyard where scholars and visitors coming and going are carefully watched by guards - they're checking for various tokens of passage, to be permitted to enter various parts of the library and guild facilities, though there seems to be at least one area which can be accessed without a token. Along one edge of this area is a row of tables where clerks manage the requests and purchases of the public; there are queues, but not long ones. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Hey, this does kind of look like a temple! Although the guards are not something she’s used to.

Sida gets in line to talk to the clerks. When it’s her turn, she says,

"Hello, I arrived in this city a few hours ago from another world, and I have no idea how it happened. I heard that this might be a good place to go to find arcanists who would want to study what happened. I’d like some compensation, since I don't have any money I can spend here, but even if I can get an expert to tell me a bit more about how I got here, that would be useful."

Permalink Mark Unread

The clerk (another one of the anthropmorphic orcas, which the language magic fill in the name of as "darfellan") says: "I think I ought to escalate this to someone who might understand the metaphysics of the matter, and be authorised to spend money on it." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Alright. If they want evidence of my otherworldly origins, probably the easiest thing would be the language I speak that no one here should know, or my manufactured goods."

Talking to an anthropomorphic orca is really cool. So far this world is so much more ambiently fascinating than her home world. Hopefully it doesn't wear off too much.

Permalink Mark Unread

Another thought occurs to Sida, on the subject of things that are evidence of her not being from this world: she probably has a different microbiome and different things in her blood.

...Which means different diseases. The Union had already eradicated most of the worst infectious diseases, so hopefully she won't bring anything too bad over here. Unless one of the many non-human species is especially vulnerable to a pathogen that isn't a big deal for humans. Uh oh. And of course she herself is probably at pretty high risk, since this city doesn't look like it has the technology or coordination to effectively control disease, and she isn't vaccinated for all of those eradicated diseases. It might be a good idea to avoid people until she can get this figured out.

Permalink Mark Unread

The clerk head into a backroom for a minute, then return. "I've secured the use of a private room, I'll have a veteran mage come over as soon as I can find one." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay."

She'll follow him/her/them/does-this-language-have-extra-pronouns-canaanite-does't-have-because-there-sure-are-species-it-doesn't-have into the back.

Permalink Mark Unread

(her, in this case, and common doesn't have extra pronouns, though it does seem to have an extra level of grammatical formality once intended for referring to dragons and now used mainly to mock people.)

The mage they send over appears to be human, but for slightly pointed ears a slightly odd skin color - almost green-tinted. She's wearing flowing robes and looks mildly annoyed at having been taken away from whatever task she was working on. 

"So, I hear you think you're from another world? You certainly look the part. You said you had otherworldly goods that would serve as evidence?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure! You can check out the stitching on my clothing, or my shoes made out of synthetic materials, or my knife, or my polyester hammock."

She starts digging through her backpack and pulling things out.

"Ooh, I also have a map, you guys might not have printing that can make these. Also, at the same time I got transported here I got something else that’s letting me read and speak this language, and I might be able to understand other languages too."

Permalink Mark Unread

She examines the various objects. "Well, either these are real, or you're putting more effort into faking than I would be able to put into verifying." She switches languages, to one she's clearly not very comfortable with. "Understand this you do?". 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, but the grammar feels weird? I'm not sure if that's my sensibilities or the translation thing telling me you got the grammar wrong."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's entirely possible it's the latter, I haven't needed to speak high elvish since my mother died. We'll have to test if your translation works on dead languages, there's an extremely valuable open problem in the field, and normal translation magic can't translate something which isn't spoken by a living mortal." 

If Sida agrees this is a productive use of her time, she can go get a sample of writing in a dead language to test with. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Extremely valuable? Sida certainly thinks it would be a productive use of her time to figure out if that is possible.

Permalink Mark Unread

A rubbing depicting a complex geometric carving is provided. The geometry sorta resembles characters in alphabets she now magically knows, but she can't actually make heads nor tails of it. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I've got nothing. Darn."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, it was a long shot. Still worth trying. What are your plans from here on out?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I would like to somehow find a place to sleep tonight so I don't freeze, figure out what I can about how I got here and if it's possible to go back, determine if I am going to infect people with deadly diseases and/or get infected with deadly diseases, and then learn about all of the cool weird things in this world, because it is fascinating. We don't have magic where I'm from, I have so many questions about that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, you wouldn't have any local money, would you."  She reaches into her purse and pulls out half a dozen gold coins, of no particularly consistent make. "Here, if this isn't enough for a few nights at a decent inn, you're being ripped off. As for disease, I still have a spell slot open that, so I can cure any diseases you might be suffering, as long as they weren't made by a god or a curse or something. I normally save one for emergencies, but this seems like the sort of situation I'm saving it for? If you get infected with something, I can't promise to heal you; magic is expensive. But I can make sure you don't spread anything to this place." 

She will offer her hand expectantly. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, thanks." Holy cannoli*, gold? Either this person is incredibly wealthy or this planet has a lot more gold than hers does.

"I will gladly take the disease curing magic—it's amazing you can do that—although there's a risk I already spread something to someone. I landed in the middle of a street and didn't think about quarantine until later, sorry. I'm not carrying any diseases that are serious for humans, but I might have a few that are dangerous to one of the nonhuman species. That's another thing my world doesn't have, people who aren't humans. Unless you count dolphins, elephants, or apes, but those are dubious."

Sida isn't familiar with touch-range spells, or spells at all, but she can follow cues enough to hesitantly touch her fingers to the mage's.

 

* Non-literal translation of a similarly charming rhyme in canaanite.

Permalink Mark Unread

The healer will then say a word of power, and produce a form of white-gold glowing energy from her hands, which then tries to enter Sida's body. She *could* resist, but why would she try? When the spell completes, she is not suffering from any disease. 

"We'll keep an eye out, but you did your best. It was sheer luck I was in the library, even; there are probably only a hundred people capable of casting that spell in the city. But if what you say is true, I wouldn't worry too much; all the humanoid peoples tend to have about the same reactions to diseases, though elves catch everything a bit worse. Maybe it's just a product of long cohabitation, though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know more than a little about epidemiology, but I think cohabitation could be a factor. In my world, there used to be diseases which were dangerous, but not apocalyptic, on one continent. And when some sailors discovered a new continent that didn't have any of those diseases, ninety percent of the population of the island they landed on died. So they quarantined the place and no one went back for a while. But probably the worst thing I could have spread was a new strain of the cold, so hopefully that won't be too dangerous even to people who have never been exposed to it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"we have colds, yes. Moving on to the next subject you mentioned, it was interplanar travel, yes? Unfortunately, even the simplest interplanar travel is the domain of the most powerful elocators and archmages. Not even most of those we'd call "great names" would be capable. The only places I would know for sure could do it would be the lichocracy, and the Dread Wizard Zaxxor. And I wouldn't recommend interacting with either of those, if you could avoid it. They're amoral at best; monstrous at worst." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think I'll stay away from dread wizards, yeah. If I can't go back, then whatever data could be gained about how I got here is mostly idle curiosity. And I'm not convinced it wasn't just modal realism in action."

Permalink Mark Unread

"There's reasonable evidence that the ancients had access to a wider array of planes than we do now, even accounting for the difficulty of travel without an existing portal. But yes, you no doubt have much more tractable problems at hand."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, I've got a lot of tracting to do. Do you want to trade questions about this world for questions about my world?"

Sida is weirdly curious whether or not Hadar was independently invented here and can't help but notice this is an excellent test about how enlightened the Order of Edification is.

Permalink Mark Unread

"That seems like it would be productive" She takes out a notebook, what appears to be a dip pen, and bottle of ink and sets them out so she can take notes. "Would you like to go first? You presumably have a better sense for what the differences are between your world and ours."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, here's what I've noticed so far. We don’t have magic, or at least any of the things I've seen here which were called magic. Humans are the only definitely-sapient species. The variety of human-like species is weird, but mostly believable, although I think I saw someone who looked like they were made of wood, that's crazy. Technology is a lot better, so things are probably cheaper unless magic changes that. Someone mentioned demons, we don’t have those, or at least not the kind that possesses goats. Also something about people living underground, which seems weird. The government is a lot more organized and centralized. Gold is probably much more valuable. I think that's most of what I've noticed. Oh, you said something about gods cursing people? Are gods real here?"

"I guess what I most want to know about it magic and how hard it would be for me to learn how to do it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The variety of humanoid species is at least somewhat artificial; at least a third of the humanoids to this region have specific known creators, but there are plenty of sophont non-humanoids, and not every species is known to be artificial. The wooden person, for example, would have been a warforged, most likely; they're the products of some pre-fall military infrastructure that someone gets working again ever century or two. Someone wanted nice quick army generation. 

... "demon" isn't a natural category, just a vague label for malevolent supernatural entities. If it was possessing someone's goat, it was probably a minor fey, many of them exist to make trouble, and most of the other things that get the label usually have more important things to do with their time. 

Lots of people live underground; I've heard it argued that there are more underground civilizations than surface ones, just from sheer volume, but it's hard to inventory them, since they can be very isolated. 

One of those gold coins I gave you would be fair pay for a day of unskilled labour, and they don't have value beyond their weight of gold.

The gods are very real, yes, though divinely produced disease in particular is rare in this day and age, the current death-by-disease is a doctor and fairly prosocial, as far as disease-gods have gone historically. The normal pantheon has 35 gods, with variety of other gods who are ... not considered normal or safe to worship, and in many cases are actively malevolent.

Learning magic is difficult, and there are many traditions which are not technically mutually exclusive but in practice you should only do one if you're smart . Learning any at all can cut you off from other options as well, so it's not something to do lightly. But the public section of our library does have instructional books thought to be effective for the common traditions, and the city is full of people willing to take apprentices in whatever it is they do."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, a library, that's good. What are these gods like, in general? How powerful are they? And how intelligent? Do I have to sacrifice animals to them?"

"And, I'm not really expecting this, but there doesn't happen to be any reasonably cheap magical way to prevent or reduce the transmission of disease, does there?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're currently in the best library in the city! It's mostly not public, but unlike our competitors, we do try to make some things accessible to those without the means to pay for access. Spreading knowledge is the Order of Edification's primary purpose!

Gods are quite powerful - they have quite comprehensive control over their domains, but they're still finite. People can and have killed gods with nothing but their personal strength, but those were the strongest people in their generations. You're not *obliged* to sacrifice to them, and they all want different things, but pleasing them is quite useful - for example, rivers with temples to the goddess of rivers on them don't transmit waterborne disease. That's probably the single strongest intervention of the sort you were asking about. What do you do about disease, without magic or gods?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably the best I can do personally is to wear a cloth mask, avoid touching people and especially their bodily fluids—fuck, kissing people is probably a bad idea, that sucks—and maybe eventually live in a rural area. I'm not sure how paranoid I ought to be, however, and maybe the best option is just to learn enough magic to cure myself, if that's doable."

"Things we do at home more generally include, uh, better masks, disinfectants to clean things, vaccines—which give you immunity to a disease—and medicines to treat disease. Come to think of it, I might be able to help out with that one. There are funguses that grow in soil which are good at killing some kinds of diseases, if you're able to find one you could grow it and make it into medicine. Oh and of course it's very important to control the spread of disease. But it seems like the government might not be able to do that here."

"Also I think it's a bad idea to eat monkeys."

Permalink Mark Unread

"People being people, they will try and eat any and all meat that isn't actively poison - some people think that eating the flesh of monsters makes you get stronger faster, but I think it's just superstition caused by the fact that hunting monsters *is* a good way to get strong. I would expect alchemists to have found a fungus that could cure diseases if such a thing existed, they're all about that sort of thing. But if there isn't any magic associated with the species, maybe they missed it for the forest of obviously magical fungi to work with. If you have evidence something works, the deep gardeners will probably invest in it, but they have less than a tenth of a government's capacity to control the local population, and strong governments have trouble controlling their populations well enough to maintain a quarantine anyway. 

Becoming a healer as strong as I am would be ... well, it took me three years of adventuring past the point where I could be considered a qualified healer at all, and then I retired to work on a research project rather than keep risking my life. I wasn't the most active delver though; I hear there are people who try and make visiting the tower every week work, and maybe they'd get there in a month or two. And it means being a healer rather than anything that can proactively contribute to your defence, so the risk of death is even higher than normal if you don't have a group you trust."   

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, that doesn't sound promising."

"Er, what's this about monsters? It sounds like you're referring to something more than big game. And how does killing them make you stronger? Is this another magic thing?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Monsters are ... all the animals which aren't game? The big ones that can kill you easily, and which usually have magic. And also other forms of dangerous entity, like elementals, dragons, undead and sometimes fey or certain outsiders."

"You said you don't have magic, but you also don't have, like, names or epic heroes? People who have transcended normal limits in some respect through the power of their soul?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"We don't have any of those monsters. The only thing you'd run into that you couldn't scare away would be a large nonmagical animal like a lion or a bear, and those you can often avoid. And a few smaller animals which are venomous or something."

"I'm not sure what you mean by 'names' or 'epic heroes' but I'm pretty sure we don't have any of those. Unless you mean people who made an impact on history because they were unusually smart, or lucky, or good leaders. Although I wouldn't describe them as transcending normal limits, just achieving more of their potential than most people ever do."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah. Hmm. I hadn't considered that you might not have that. Well, there's - well, a weight, of sorts, that you can accumulate, by taking risks, exploring, fighting, pushing your limits, that sort of thing. An extension to your soul. And by default, what that does is it enhances you beyond what you can do merely by being smart or clever at the "mortal" level. The effects take a while to become particularly blatant, with that sort of unfocused holistic enhancement, but that would let a sufficiently powerful martial artist to fight a dragon to a standstill with nothing but sword-art and grit. Though someone with my level of experience and that sort of path could probably fight a wolf or a smaller bear in hand to hand combat? And this is what I meant about magic being mutually exclusive - there's the set of techniques we call "magic" and also all these other arts for focusing and channelling that weightiness of the soul, and of them, magic is the highest-investment, requiring you to turn nearly all of that weight towards channelling a force or shaping some effect. Even if you accumulate a lot of power, you're better off spending it to achieve greater results in one style of magic than mediocre results in two, since the effects tend to grow exponentially with investment. There are exceptions, but they're hard to get right."  

"A name is someone with enough weight that they could, for example, teleport from city to city, or fight a hundred people at once, or raise the dead. Not all of those at once. The kind of person who you *have* to be paying attention to, in the grand scheme of things. There are maybe a hundred of them in the city, and this city is known for how dense with them it is. An epic is someone with enough weight to fight a god, an ancient horror from before the fall, or an elder dragon, that sort of thing. You're lucky, you arrived two months *after* every epic on the continent finished using our dungeon as a battleground." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, thanks. I think I am going to process this information later."

whatthefuckwhatthefuckwhatthefuck

"I realized that I never introduced myself. My name is Josarin. I don't think I have any more questions for you, if you want to ask me some."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah. Yes. I'm Sendra. It is good to meet you properly." 

"I'm torn between trying to figure out if your world has more potentially useful knowledge like the thing about non-magical disease-curing fungi, or just trying to obtain information to satisfy the anthropological interest of whoever ends up reading my notes. Maybe I should take a day or two to get some plans together, and you can go rest from what must have been an extremely trying day?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, that sounds nice. I will warn you though, I don't personally know most of my world's scientific or technological knowledge, and some of it might not work well without, erm, all of the things that make our society what it is."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And the other half won't work because the things the extraordinary powers enable get in the way, no doubt. But it'll still be worth trying, I suspect. And even if it fails entirely, it'll make for an interesting publication for the great library."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Alright, I suppose I'll find an inn and come back tomorrow. Does that sound good to you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yep. I might not be ready to interview you first thing in the morning, but I can get you set up to read in the library or something."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll definitely visit the library. See you later, then."

Sida heads out, asks one of the clerks or guards for an inn recommendation, and heads there to get a room.

Permalink Mark Unread

The Sign of the bed and book is a nice, fairly large inn with private rooms, less than a block from the Grand Library, with a bookstore on one side and and a ink-maker on the other. Rooms are clean, private, have nice blankets, and cost 7 silver pieces (there are ten silver pieces to each gold piece, and ten copper to each silver) a night, or 11sp with meals (today's dinner: roast pork and steamed fresh vegetables, with a wide selection of sauces and condiments. Absolutely no stew, said the guard recommending it, like that was a vital commendation of the inn's cuisine).

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida will get a room and meals. The accommodations are fancier than what she normally gets. Having this much pork with dinner is a rare treat.

After eating dinner, she heads up to her room to process.

Permalink Mark Unread

So, she's trapped here and will probably never be able to go home. She won't see her friends or family ever again, which sucks, but she'll be able to move on. She's lost access to all the information afforded to the people of the Union, but that's probably more than offset by the new things she can learn.

And on the other hand, she did get hit by a truck. So everything after that is a bonus, really. This world does seem pretty dangerous, but it seems reasonably likely that if she dies she'll just end up somewhere else.

Permalink Mark Unread

Okay, priorities. First thing she should do is get some kind of cloth face covering, and rubbing alcohol if she can manage it. Which is not nearly enough to make her comfortable, but probably the best she can do for now.

She has a lot of reading to do about magic, the gods, and this soul-strengthening thing. And if it's feasible, it would be cool to get started on that path herself.

And she should figure out what is the closest thing this world has to Hadar, and possibly try to reconstruct what she remembers of the canon to share with them. Sida is not at all the right person for this, but no one else is here, so she ought to.

Permalink Mark Unread

Alright, this is pretty exciting. It's an adventure! Not the nice idyllic kind of adventure where you don't need to worry about dying, but realistically that kind of adventure probably doesn't have as much potential to be rewarding, anyways.

Onwards, then. To the stars!

Permalink Mark Unread

The next day brings with it new potential!

Permalink Mark Unread

After Sida wakes up, she eats breakfast and asks if the inn has baths available.

Permalink Mark Unread

It does, but at an additional cost of 2sp to cover the cost of fuel and the trouble of moving water. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh, thank goodness. She probably can't spend money like this indefinitely, but right now a bath is needed. Her clothes will have to wait.

After getting slightly cleaner, enough that she won't be embarrassed to be in a library/temple(?), she leaves the inn and heads for the Order of Edification's headquarters. On her way there, she looks for someone selling a handkerchief, neck gaiter, or other cloth garment she can comfortably cover her lower face with.

Permalink Mark Unread

Such a thing can be obtained for a pretty low price, only a couple of SP. Though it does seem to be intended mainly for identity-concealment purposes. 

 

The grand library is a little less busy, first thing in the morning, but it's certainly open and people are buzzing about doing things as they were yesterday.  

Permalink Mark Unread

She can get easily sent to the same room as previously, where Sendra is waiting for her, taking notes in her notebook. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Identity concealment isn't necessary, but it isn't unwelcome either. She'll take it, with a minimum of haggling because she's got much more exciting stuff to do.

She didn't realize Sendra would be waiting for her, but that works just fine.

"Hello!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hello. Did you find somewhere decent to stay? I figured I'd work on my thoughts about questions here rather than in the library nook I was using for research before I met you, so that I'd be easier to find. Do you want to read in the library in the meantime? I have a spare access token I can loan you, for now. The outer library has a lot more stuff in it than the public library, though most of it is probably too specific for your purposes."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I stayed in an inn, which was kind of weirdly nicer than I'm used to and worse than I'm used to at the same time. I would like to read in the library, and a token would be appreciated, although I'm not familiar with this hierarchal library organization and I don't know what to expect from it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah. The public library can be accessed by anyone who isn't actively trouble for the library. The outer library can be accessed by anyone who buys, is given, or is awarded, an access token; they expire at the end of the year. Our access price is on the cheap side for access to a good library, but the need to buy a year's worth of access at a time can be restrictive for many people, and it's still just straight-up out of the reach of many. Access to the contents of the inner library is on a per-subject basis and yet more expensive; that's where we keep things like the rare and powerful magic and the lore that someone had to risk death to learn, to ensure that it makes a return on that cost. The core library contains the things which we can't afford to distribute to anyone outside to guild, or most people inside the guild. Even I don't know most of what's in there. In practise, if it's not related to high-level magical or extraordinary techniques, or politically sensitive, or key to someone's adventuring plans, you can find it in the outer library; that collection alone can be considered one of the three most comprehensive in the city."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, right, you wouldn't have government funding, that makes sense. Thank you for the explanation, and the token."

Sida takes her token and head for the library, public section first. She looks for a librarian, of the type that you can ask for help finding things, if they have those.

Permalink Mark Unread

They have substantially more librarians of the "staff busy maintaining the building and the books who you can interrupt to ask for help, and they will happily help you because they are the sort of person who works in a library" type, but there is also a dedicated help-desk person at the entrance to the public library, which is, it turns out, a single large room whose centre is full of rows of reading desks, with a high ceiling and big windows to let in natural light, while the outer walls are lined with bookshelves full of use-worn tomes. 

Permalink Mark Unread

She heads for the help desk.

"I have a sorta unique flavor of ignorance and I want to find some books to help me fix that, are you the right person to ask for recommendations?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That I am!" The hyena-person (A gnoll, translation magic supplies) staffing the desk laughs disconcertingly. "It is the duty of the Order to ensure that all who look for knowledge can find it. What do you need to learn about?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I got here yesterday from another world that doesn't have magic, or gods, or the thing where people challenge themselves in dangerous situations to make their souls stronger and become more powerful, so I have no knowledge of these things. As in, I don't know nearly any facts about them, and I don't have any of the cultural knowledge and expectations to help me think about them. So if possible I'd like to find some books that can help me figure out what is going on with those things. Stuff like, what is magic, what can it do, what are the different types of magic, what are the different types of ways people strengthen their souls—if I understood that part correctly—what are the gods, and what do they do."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, Hmm. Well, I'd recommend On Theology, the conclave-approved edition, to learn about the approved pantheon and their main blessings. It even has some relatively neutral coverage of some non-pantheonic gods, which is surprising for anything that came out of a conclave of approved gods. There's a big index of magical traditions, I forget who wrote it, but it's fairly comprehensive. We have two copies in the public library, lots of people want to use it to figure out what it was that hit them. And then Tweet, Cook, and Williams "Handbook of training" is considered a classic text on what can be agreed on about the mechanisms of power growth, though it's written with an eye to giving practical advice rather than a metaphysical grounding. Not that anyone actually understands how it works on a metaphysical level, but you might want to skip over the sections on weapon selection and camping and so forth."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you, I'll start with those."

She'll first take a look at the index of magical traditions, what do those look like?

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida can read an incredibly comprehensive book describing the various ways people in this setting can be magical! 

Some highlights include: 
- Mages, who usually have a finite amount of powerful, thematically limited magic they can do in each day. Comes in "Healer", "Necromancer", "Beguiler", "Warmage", "Druid" and so forth. The bulk of "conventional, obviously magical things"  
- Ritualists, who have access to a wide array of repeatable spells, all of which are too slow to cast in combat. Would be considered weak but for the sheer utility of repeatable, versatile magic. One of the only traditions who can gain additional powers without gaining additional experience. 
- Psions, who use a reservoir of internal power to do their finite daily allocation of magic in a different way. Comes in a variety of different traditions each with a limited theme, but the highlights include "wilders", who hyperspecialize in a few powers, and elocators, who specialise in a variety of teleportation and mobility magic. A style of magic common far to the west of here, apparently.
- Warlocks, who let a god or similarly powerful being shape them and thereby gain a small number of thematic, repeatable, powers. Traditionally considered untrustworthy by religious sorts who earn their favour the hard way, especially since they're not obliged to keep working with the one who empowered them. 
- Spellshapers, who learn a small number of highly flexible techniques, using them in many different ways, but mostly as attacks. 
- Several traditions which claim to imitate dragons, gaining their physique, ability to use "breath weapons", and other traits. 
- A large number of different martial arts traditions, offering everything from setting your blade on fire to inspiring your allies to supernatural heights to teleportation to merely hitting things incredibly hard. 
- A large number of martial and pragmatic traditions which aren't considered *magical* per se, but which can achieve "mundane" things like training a dog so well that it grows 12ft tall or leading so well that your soldiers are physically harder to kill, or balancing on a cloud through sheer technical skill as an acrobat. Though the book only records two individual people in history who've achieved that last feat; nearly everyone who wants to do that uses more direct methods than "empower your skill as an acrobat until you can achieve the task through technical skill", and the quantity of power needed limits it to specialised epics anyhow. 

It's taken as given that advancing in every tradition comes with a corresponding increasing in how hard it is to hurt or kill you, and an increase in your day-to-day skills. Overwhelmingly, traditions have some use in combat, and those which don't are considered weak or foolish. Every entry in the book comes with references to at least one, and often more, other books detailing the capacities of that tradition in particular, and often ways to join or fight the tradition. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Wowww, this is a lot of stuff. Clearly it's going to take a while before Sida has a good understanding of what specific things people can do, but this did help her improve her general expectations of how things work.

It seems like magic—except for what ritualists do—isn't really a generalized part of the universe that happens everywhere as much as it is a thing that specific people with powerful souls do. Although perhaps she's getting the impression because of what the book focuses on. The soul strengthening thing—what do you even call it? They don't seem to have a name for it because they're completely used to it. It's still a really weird phenomenon. She takes a look at the handbook of training next.

Permalink Mark Unread

The handbook of training is split roughly into three parts - the first is a summary of how the author's understand the world to work, including both a summary of the same rough intuitions about Experience, as this author chooses to call it, as Sida has already heard. The two key insights that the authors try to get across here are firstly that while all else being equal, someone better-trained will beat some worse-trained, these differences are rapidly eclipsed if the worse-trained person has a deeper pool of Experience to draw on,, so mundane, low-risk training, while vital for acquiring new capacities and keeping your edge, should make sure to take second place to other things you can spend your time doing, like looking for good ways to take risks and grow, or maintaining your mental health. The second, the constant mantra of this first section is *that gaining Experience is dangerous*. There are better ways and worse ways, but there's ultimately no way around the fact that if you're getting experience, you are in danger. This world doesn't have good demographic statistics about this, but the author estimates that more than half of everyone who sets out to adventure dies of it, and that every great name has a trail behind them of a hundred people who tried to reach that height and died of it. 

The next section is - well, then, what to do about it? The author discusses a series of historical contexts and projects where people have done adventuring and adventuring-like activities. Artificially designed dangers seem like a good idea because they give someone powerful control, but they don't achieve anything productive and they don't ensure the loyalty of the people so Experienced to the person funding the thing, so they tend to be resource sinks for the people who made them and little more. "Dangers of Civilization" like slavery or courtly intrigue work, but again tend to be zero-sum games that end with some institution tearing itself to bits. Warfare (which seems to, in this setting, be a slow thing of circumvallation and contravallation punctuated by deadly raids by small powerful teams) is too deadly; you can't, as the ambitious weak person, ensure that you're not used as chaff to ward off some great name for another 12 seconds.

Instead, the ideal circumstances, the authors determine, is monster-hunting or the exploration of strange and dangerous places (like foreign countries, wilderness, ancient ruins, anywhere underground, and, at high levels, other planes). The reactive nature of these threats ensures that research, threat assessment and mitigation, and outright retreat can be used to maximise the rate of survival on a given level of danger, and the valuable nature of these tasks makes them both prosocial and profitable -  which isn't true for the weak participants of any other activity they've listed. The author gives advice on the best way to get strong without dying in each case, but the most attention is given to the suggested tasks of monster-hunting and exploration of dangerous places. For this, the authors say you should operate in groups of 3-6, with everyone being of approximately even strength and experience. The group size is because the group needs to be large enough that if you *do* slip up and get seriously injured, the group can recover and save your life, while anything dangerous enough to threaten a larger group would also be dangerous enough to consistently kill a few members of it. The ideal group, being big enough to survive mistakes but not big enough to force them, can thus take more risks and grow faster and more safely. The need for a "balanced" group is suggested to be because the Experience obtained from any given deed is assessed by the power of the strongest member, and that member tends to have done the lions share of the work as well, so it's less efficient. The authors don't have hard evidence for this one, though.

The final, and longest, section is a compilation of every bit of advice and pragmatism the authors thought to put into words. This is everything from advice about how much money you should spend on equipment before you can consider yourself comprehensively equipped (the numbers are in the hundreds of thousand of GP for great names), suggestions for weapon choices (short, versatile polearms are the top suggestion, combining reach and ability to function in an enclosed space; the authors seem to consider the main job of a melee fighter to be pinning down as many opponents as they can without dying while archers and mages actually deal with the problem), to long lists of potions and effects which you should try to have access to (Healing is the must-have, but healing potions are relatively cheap and common - *rare* must-haves include things like immunity to fear or being stunned, or flight that isn't dependant on a mount). There's more here than can be read in a single day. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, there's really only one choice here, is there? Sida will have to become an adventurer.

But she's not starting immediately, so she'll skim On Theology first.

Permalink Mark Unread

The gods are *absolutely* real, and very opinionated! This is a book designed to give a summary of them to someone who has mainly grown up with local festivals, and who is now stepping out into a wider world with a heart full of curiosity and ambition, so there's a lot of "well you know how your village death-as-absence priest probably presided over deaths by old age, that's *technically* incorrect but death-as-disease isn't fussy about it so it's fine", "You know, attacking temples to steal things is a Very Bad Idea no matter how shiny the god of wealth's decorations are" and other bits produced by the fact that this book was written by priests of 35 different gods all trying to get a say. The pantheon of civilized gods is the 35 gods most commonly worshiped by humans and considered to be basically safe to worship even when they encompass domains like "Fire in it's aspect as a destructive force" or "Sand considered as a force of division, erosion, and weakness", but the book also describes that many again gods which are not considered normal or civilized, for reasons ranging from "foreigners worship them" to "they refuse to have a church" to "they're a malicious force that seeks only harm, please do anything you can to reduce their influence over the world" to "It's a city-sized scorpion that pings as divine to some kinds of test but which mostly acts like a city-sized scorpion who was also a person would (i.e. by carrying around a city full of people claiming to be her descendants on her back)".

People can become gods, and this seems to be how most of the current gods came to power. It seems to be considered rude to investigate what they did to come to power too closely, or to refer to them by their mortal names (the convention is to use their domain, calling the goddess of rivers "Rivers" and the god of bees "Bees" and so forth), but even skimming history, it seems to be very hard to make a new divine domain but relatively achievable to usurp an existing one. Where "relatively easy" here means "happens a couple times a century" rather than "the last time this happen was millennia ago". Gods have substantial but not infinite control over their domain, which includes being able to re-write its fundamental nature and make semi-retroactive changes (which is to say, changes that are retroactive but which a long list of things are immune to the effects of, starting at other gods and running down to particularly stubborn Names, meaning that large changes result in an inconsistent history designed to produce both the intended change and also the backstories of everyone who was immune to the change, even when these are mutually exclusive. Gods try not to do this very often, as a result; it's more practical to make subtle changes that apply going forward. Gods have limited attention, but they can construct automated processes with their power to manage common occurrences; the collection of, and rewards for, devotion, is one such process that is very standard, as are the various defence mechanisms standard to shrines and temples (in escalating order of investment from the god: Minor curses, alerting every worshiper in 20 miles that you need to die, major curses, dedicated guardian spirits, truly horrifying curses). Subverting these processes is the sort of thing which causes every god to be angry at you. Most gods have broad or multi-faceted domains (Sand is the god of literal sand, but mostly worshiped as a god of deception, division, weakness, and so forth; Death-by-Disease seems to be actively invested in reducing the impact of disease and death on the world) 

The rewards for devotion are as varied as are the gods themselves, and the humans who worship them. The gambler-god and patron of adventurers, death-as-bad-luck, grants his faithful uncanny good luck; the unmerciful smith-god Forge remakes their bodies into new, more perfect, forms - or helps them bring change in other ways. The patient Soil grants good crops to farmers whose dutifulness goes back generations, and the precise Metal grants masterworks dedicated to them supernatural efficacy. Revolution grants madmen the knowledge needed to tear down states, at the price of further madness; Bees drives apiarists mad trying to talk to them, but thinks this is a compliment. Death-as-Disease agitates to prevent all death; Rivers agitates to keep people from leaving their homelands, keeping their blood pure as she keeps the rivers pure. If it wasn't obvious, being a permitted god is not the same thing as being a likable god.

The process of devotion, then. You're allowed to worship multiple gods, though you're splitting your effort and the space in your heart. It's not mutually exclusive with non-religious paths; divine blessings have nothing to do with Experience; they come from outside you. There are many basic tasks that will establish you as a follower of a god; swearing by them; celebrating their festivals and holy days; leaving thematically appropriate offerings at their shrines and temples, but true favour requires investment of effort - *building* shrines and temples, defeating foes of the god, furthering the god's cause or domain (And a god will send chances to do these things to someone who is established to be faithful and who is living the sort of life where those chances come up). Minor devotion is enough for minor blessings - a single stroke of luck, a single scar unmade, but major devotion can grant permanent supernatural boons. It'll never be someone's main source of power, but a close relationship with an aligned god is a useful source of power. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida is stepping out into a wider world with a heart full of curiosity and ambition, but her local festivals sure were different! The city-sized scorpion who carries a city around on her back is fucking awesome and she absolutely must visit someday. In some ways, these gods make the heathens of her world look so unimaginative.

People becoming gods is... promising, probably. It's good that this world can change and isn't stuck in the same state forever. If she's ever able to travel home then one day most of the gods will be Hadarites. Changing history is terrifying and Sida would very much like to get immunity to that eventually. Also, inconsistent history seems like the kind of thing that could break or destroy the world and the fact that the authors of this book know it can happen suggests it already has. Uh oh.

That the god of death by disease is against death by disease probably bodes well for her survival chances, so that's a relief. On the other hand, that the god of rivers wants to keep peoples' blood pure probably does not bode well for her survival chances, because she is from another world entirely and is likely pretty genetically distinct from the humans of this world, if the greater genetic diversity hasn't already overwhelmed that. Or, you know, if it makes any sense whatsoever to reason about the genetic differences between humans of two different worlds, which presumably do not share a common origin and yet are still definitely both human what the fuck. Anyways, it might be a good idea to pray. That's what people do, right?

Permalink Mark Unread

Rivers—apologies but I'm not sure what the right term of address is—I more likely than not will never have children in this world. But if it comes up, I just wanted you to know I am open to swearing an oath to definitely never have children. That's all, have a nice day.

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida is optimistic that that worked. Anyways! She will probably want to learn more about, uh, all of these topics later, but right now she wants to take a break from reading. Is Sendra ready to talk to her?

Permalink Mark Unread

Sendra is ready to talk! She's got a notebook full of questions to ask, collected with the help of some of her coworkers! Does Sida want to start with the ethics culture questions, the technology questions, or the biology questions? 

Permalink Mark Unread

Ethics/culture would probably be the easiest to satisfactorily explain. Sida knows some of the things her civilization knows about technology and biology, but not most of it.

Permalink Mark Unread

Sendra has taken time to carefully consider some of these questions; this is obvious from how she's reading directly from her notes. "Under what circumstances is killing another justified? What about stealing?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"At home, it would probably never come up, although if you had to kill someone in defense of yourself or another, I and most people would consider that acceptable. Stealing, I would condone basically never, although if you're confident that the person you're stealing from would consent to it, that could be alright. Like if for some reason you were starving in the wilderness and had to break into someone's unoccupied cabin and eat their food to survive—and of course you would later compensate them—they probably wouldn't even object, and if they did you wouldn't be in much trouble for it."

"But, uh, here it's probably different, and I don't think I'd trust the law to handle things. It is not even clear to me if this city has a uniform legal system. So I'd be willing to kill or steal in a broader set of circumstances to protect myself, or people I cared about, or to prevent knowledge from being destroyed. Like, one of the books I read mentioned that some gods are malevolent and definitely evil and worshiping them empowers them, so killing their worshipers might be a good idea. But regardless, I think to kill or steal you have to be reasonably confident that it will help you achieve a worthwhile end, I wouldn't kill someone just because they pissed me off."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That seems like a very reasonable framework, and not a very surprising one, given the level of wealth you've implied for your world previously." Sendra says neutrally. "Next question then: If you fall sick, who is expected to take care of you?"  
 

Permalink Mark Unread

"At home, if you weren't that sick, you'd convalesce at home and your friends or family would help out. If you were really badly sick, probably you'd go to a hospital and pay medical professionals to keep you alive. Here, I expect I would be taking care of myself, for now at least. Unless the Deep Gardeners help with that kind of thing? I've heard they do this 'dole' thing, but I'm not sure what that is."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The dole of the deep gardeners is just food, unfortunately; they will give anyone who comes to one of their kitchens as much mushroom stew as they can eat. That's expensive enough on it's own. Magical healing is the province of those who can afford to pay, though some spellcasters try to be charitable, when they can. People mostly rely on whatever medical training local folks have; there's usually someone with a way with herbs in every community."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, I suppose I'll have to meet some people, because I have no knowledge whatsoever of herbal medicine."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Meeting people with complimentary skillsets is traditionally considered a good idea, yes." 

"Next question: You know your friend has committed a crime you disapprove of. What do you do? Do you go to the authorities, do you warn your friends, do you remain silent?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"At home, I'd probably tell their insurer and maybe the victim of that crime, and probably stop being friends with that person, unless it was a really minor crime or we were really close friends. Although it also depends on the circumstances under which I learned this information—you don't want to make people regret telling you information you want to know. Here, I have no idea what to expect the authorities to do if I told them, so I'd probably only tell them if I thought it would make things better, in addition to the other considerations I described."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Their insurer?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"This is relatively recent—a couple of decades old—but in the Union, everyone is required to purchase insurance against them breaking the law, for which the penalty is nearly always monetary. So insurers predict how likely someone is to break the law, and that determines how expensive your insurance is. And if you report to someone's insurer that they broke the law, their insurer probably won't tell anyone, but their insurance rates will go up. Which is sort of important to make sure people aren't, like, freeloading off of more law-abiding people."

Permalink Mark Unread

"... How do people trust the insurers to get any of that right? They could ruin someone's life because of a bad gut feeling."

Permalink Mark Unread

"To be clear, insurers are basically never individual people. They're large institutions with millions of employees and prediction methods a lot more sophisticated than gut feelings, although I guess sometimes some things like gut feelings are involved in the process. And if your insurer suddenly hiked your rates a lot, you could just get another insurer. It's a competitive market."

Permalink Mark Unread

"... I can't imagine an institution with a million people producing remotely consistent results on a case-by-case basis. It'd be impossible to ensure that everyone involved was competent; we have enough problems with that here, and we have, like, less than a thousand employees even including all the guards and maintenance staff and teamsters. I guess if switching was easy, that'd help somewhat when you did encounter problems."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think normally each insurance company has it's own complicated formula/flowchart thing that determines the final price, and some people are responsible for gathering information, some people are responsible for putting that information into the formula/flowchart thing and making sure it's calculated properly, some people are responsible for assessing the accuracy of the formula/flowchart thing and figuring out ways to improve it, and there are other jobs I don't know about. Large institutions rely a lot on processes to do things in a predictable organized way."

"Also, we didn't always have organizations that large, and we had centuries for things to get bigger and to learn how to make large institutions work properly."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think here that mostly institutions on a scale larger than a city or small state have lasted a few centuries and then exploded dramatically"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Er, how exactly do they explode?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Some combination of losing functional control of their outlying areas, acquiring leadership that's wildly unsuited for the role, and a major threat that comes out of nowhere like a rising epic or a sleeping monster or something, usually."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh. That... wouldn't really happen to the Union. I guess I think I haven't mentioned that the major difference between the Hadarite Union and the other civilizations of my world's history is the religion, called Hadar. Which, among other things, ensures that even when the central government is weak, regional governments remain loyal to the Union as a whole, and that the government system is pretty good at making sure leadership isn't wildly unsuited for the role. It probably also helps that we don't have epics or monsters, and there are a lot of things in place to prevent plagues or famines."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Can you talk more about Hadar then? I don't think that strategy has worked here - the dwarves have something like it, their Old Law, but they're a mess of dis-unified kingdoms anyway."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"'Hadar' is a derivative of an archaic word that roughly translates to 'the path' or 'the way'. It's centrally about valuing truth and beauty, beyond that there's a lot of variance. However, some things are sort of commonly accepted. For instance, there's a lot of political philosophy based on the writings of the first emperor, about how to work together and form a Union which is to the benefit of everyone. So it's generally regarded as desirable to have a unified government, which functions in a certain way, and that has been pretty stable."

"And, uh, this is all out of order, but I should also mention the priests. Hadar was first conceived about 1800 years ago—I don't know if years here are the same length—when the prophet, Irakas, arrived in the city of Gebal and began training his students. He and all his students swore an oath to pursue the truth and to deceive no one. Those students trained their own students, who trained their own students, and eventually this evolved into the priesthood, who all swear variations of that original oath. And of course there are monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to make sure they follow their oaths, but they pretty reliably do, which makes them trustworthy. So many of the most important parts of our society rely on priests to make judgements on things, and that allowed us to avoid some of the issues other civilizations had."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Years here are 385 days, plus usually 5 intercalary days, but the number varies." Sandra mentions offhandly while considering. "I can see how that could be effective if everyone trusted the priests, but just to clarify, you don't have an actual god or anything running enforcement?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Now and even moreso in the past there were a lot of people who thought there were gods, and we can’t conclusively rule it out. Although there isn't any compelling evidence to say gods exist, much less any specific god."

Permalink Mark Unread

"... that must be weird. Here, everyone is quite certain which gods are and aren't real. I think the least active god everyone agrees is definitely in existence would be ... Murder, probably? They're only known from the commentary of other gods related to violence and the occasional theogonist; they don't answer prayers unless the prayers are related to reporting that something related to violence is failing metaphysically, and I haven't ever met or heard of anyone in that situation."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"The world is a fundamentally confusing and difficult-to-understand place. We are everywhere beset by illusions and forgetfulness. It's something we're used to, I don't find it weird."

"Um, speaking of Hadar, I've gotten the feeling that the Order of Edification is the closest thing to a Hadarite priestly order that exists in this city. I was pleasantly surprised to find something so relatively familiar."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'd say that's likely, though we don't have anything like your priests; we like to think of ourselves as honest but couldn't credibly enforce that kind of oath on our members. We do try and spread knowledge of the truth, and the tools required for truth-finding and learning when we can, but to be honest, too much of our effort is spent maintain our position and do our own research. We're also just a young institution; less than a century. We have managed to cross the hurdle of being dependant on our founders, though. Barely. So we might last for a while, if all goes well." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not a very good person to do this, but at some point I'll write down what I remember of the canon and share it with you guys. That might be helpful."

And of course if she can get powerful enough to make it home again, many things would become possible. Sida under no illusions that is actually going to happen and she won't just die trying, but it's fun to aim high.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Even if, in the end, it's no more than one more book in the stacks, it will be a worthy addition to our library, and we will pay you accordingly. And I hope it will be more than that. I can get you a blank book and some writing supplies after this interview."  

"... perhaps we should move on from the thorny topics. How do you feel like answering some questions about what the fauna of your world were like?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure. What do you want to know?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"What sort of domesticated animals do you have? What are they used for? What sort of things do you consider pests? Why are they pests? What's the largest or most dangerous living creature? What's the largest or most dangerous extinct one?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"People sometimes keep cats, dogs, and ravens as pets, or sometimes less domesticated animals. We also have cows, sheep, goats, pigs, yaks, llamas, and some others I don't remember for meat, milk, or wool. People used to ride horses or camels to get around, or use horses for mechanical labor, but that's not very common anymore. Pests normally are bugs or rodents, because they'll try to live in your house and eat your food. The largest creature is a type of whale, the most dangerous is either a human, a mosquito, or maybe a hippopotamus depending on how you define it. I don't think there are any extinct animals larger than blue whales, although I think there used to be giant man-eating saber toothed cats."

Permalink Mark Unread

Sendra notes this all down. "Do you mean 10ft long giant man-eating saber-toothed cats, or like, 100ft long giant man-eating saber-toothed cats?"  Like this is a perfectly normal set of possibilities. 

"... I can understand the reasoning for a human being the most dangerous, but a mosquito? Do you mean, like, a stirge?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, ten feet, if that. I actually don't think a hundred foot long cat would be able to support its own weight, much less get enough food to not starve to death. Unless it's magic, I guess."

"Mosquitos, in my world at least, carry a variety of really nasty diseases that used to kill a lot of people. And still do kill people. I don't know what a stirge is but I'm pretty sure we don't have those."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not certain about sabre-toothed cats specifically but there are definitely records of otherwise-mundane mammals which grow to that scale. Even domestic pigs will get that big if you let them eat enough magic, though a pig's capacity to bioremediate hostile magic and use that to grow is arguably a magical ability? A Stirge is basically a mosquito but about a foot in length, with a few body plan changes that make more sense at that scale. Very unpleasant, but also pretty fragile." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"You can eat magic?"

Surely that's not a good idea. But she kind of wants to try it.

"Is it a good idea?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, humans can't, except through the medium of foods which are specifically magical to their eater, or to the products of alchemy or other sorts of intentionally edible magic things. But pigs can? It's very useful, you have a cursed forest that you've cleared all the resentful dead and wyverns and such out of, you let a bunch of pigs loose into it, they'll eat a bunch of the random cursed plants and such that you have lying around, and then use the power that would have cursed the inhabitants of the forest to grow bigger. ... then usually you have a bunch of giant boars hanging around that need to be hunted down. Honestly, I'm a little surprised that they're worth having around without that, though I guess that no magic means they stay a manageable size." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"That is... very weird. And yes, they do stay at the same size. People keep them around because they can eat nearly anything, so it's a good way to make use of stuff that otherwise wouldn't get eaten. Or you can just feed them grain."

"What other questions did you have?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Some questions to try and get a sense for how the world works if you don't seem to have weight? And then after that some questions about the economy, and then I think we're done. What's the most impressive thing you've seen a person or a small group of people doing, or which you've heard of a person doing?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not really sure what you mean by impressive, but some of the things that individual people have done that most impressed me are like, artists who have created sublime works of art, or people who are really excellent parents or spouses, or people who possess a deep understanding of how the world works and are good at predicting the future. But most of the cool stuff I can think of is stuff that a lot of people worked together on. A single person or small group of people couldn't design and build a modern airplane, for instance."

"In general, impressive stuff that individual people do is usually something like, athleticism, having a skill they're really good at because they practiced a lot, good judgement, being good at understanding and persuading people, or art."

Permalink Mark Unread

Sendra dutifully notes this all down. "What is an airplane, then? I think I've heard the word before but I can't remember where."  

(Translation note: The word is here being translated into one of the few languages which still actively has a word for airplane, which happens to be a dialect of high elven, which Sendra technically speaks, but not well, and not that dialect.) 

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's a vehicle, usually made of metal, that has wings and engines and flies through the sky. It's a good way to travel between distant cities."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That sounds like a tremendously useful thing, yes. But also presumably the sort of thing you warned me you didn't know how to create?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I know some things, but most of them wouldn't be very useful. There are a lot of prerequisites, too. It might be achievable in a hundred years with a concerted effort, unless magic makes things easier."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It might be worth creating a roadmap or something like that anyway. I think that most mundane crafters end up learning to make magic items of some kind when they get good enough, but working on some of the pre-requisites might be an interesting direction for someone who wants to please Metal. Or for that matter Progress, who I think has an interest in artificial flight in particular."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll write down some ideas later. Probably after I get a better idea of what people here are actually capable of, I'm not sure what I should assume."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's fair. You should probably assume that whatever you can find in this city, there's somewhere out there doing much better; this world is nothing if not heterogenous. Not that that will be helpful if you can't find them, but still."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If people know how to do it much better elsewhere... does that mean they aren't able to do it at scale, or that there isn't enough trade to spread stuff around?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think both are a factor. Institutions don't scale well, getting people with the right skillsets is very hard, especially if those skillsets require you to be powerful to acquire them. And lots of technologies are only useful when the economy surrounding them meets certain prerequisites, so knowing that something is possible isn't the same as it being viable to implement. And trade ... happens a lot, but it's expensive and dangerous. If you start to do something on the assumption that a foreign import will stay steady, well. Sometimes it holds; we manage to import onyx just fine. But there are lots of onyx mines. Something with only a few sources is much harder to sustain."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"This is not important, but is onyx used for magic or something? It's not a major trade good in my world."

"Um, I'm guessing trade is difficult because of the monsters? There are probably giant sea monsters that attack ships, aren't there."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Onyx is essential to pretty much every permanent form of necromancy, which means most of the north-eastern states, including us, consider it a vital trade good. Obsidian can substitute for many purposes, but it's rarer and harder to work with. The Deep Gardeners maintain a monopoly on imports in the city."  

"Monsters are the main factor, but other people can be nearly as bad. I hear the western sea is pretty clear of the larger sea monsters these days, but the eastern sea ... really isn't. The northern sea, when it's clear of ice, is the safest though, there are some extremely valuable trade routes along there."

Permalink Mark Unread

That seems like a really weird thing to have a monopoly on, but okay.

"That sounds like there's potential for more trade one day. If there's a geographically convenient region with enough of the right resources nearby, it might be possible to start industrializing there and spread out later."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Indeed, but it hasn't happened, so I don't know if such a location exists or what is currently preventing it from doing so. It might be something to research, if you can give us better commentary on what doing so would require."  

"I think the last thing I wanted to ask about was economics - how do you structure your society, how many people do you have, how wealthy are you. That sort of thing. Apparently you thought gold was less valuable here?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, that's a broad question, but I guess I can give you an overview. There are about five billion people living on the planet. We are... wealthier than we used to be, for sure, but I don't really know how to describe how wealthy. If all you want to do is make enough money for food, water, and shelter, you can do that by working ten or twenty hours a week, which should give you an idea of how much labor is needed to produce that food, water, and shelter. But most people work more than that, because they want nice things. Gold is valuable, because it's rare, and people like to use it for jewelry. I think it's probably less rare here, because the amount of gold you gave me would have been a lot more money back home, and the exchange rate with silver is a lot more than ten to one."

"I'm not sure what you mean by 'how we structure our society', in the context of economics. People buy and sell things, and that's how they get what they want? I'm not sure what else you're looking for."

Permalink Mark Unread

notes notes notes. "Mostly I'm thinking about - who has the power to do what? Who holds monopolies, what people do to get ownership of land, what sort of institutions do you make to coordinate people, that sort of thing. Those things get set up in a lot of different ways across the continent."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"The Union Government is the institution which solves coordination problems for the whole world, like taxing land, resource extraction, and pollution, upholding the legal system, and funding various useful things the priesthood does. Cities or regions are sometimes under the control of a municipal government, and they do lots of things in various different ways depending on how the people there think the municipality ought to be run. Generally there aren't monopolies, but sometimes municipalities will want a local monopoly, and for some things, like parts of the road network, rail network, or electrical grid, it makes sense to have a monopoly run by the Union Government. Anyone can own land, as long as they pay the tax on it, so I suppose in the final sense the Union owns all the land."

Permalink Mark Unread

Some more, final notes. "I think that's everything I wanted to ask. Probably once I've got this written up more formally, I'll want to ask some follow-up questions to clarify, but that will be a problem for another day." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure, happy to help!"

"I have a few questions for you, about magic, which I think it would be better to have a human answer than try to find in a book."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure, ask away."

Permalink Mark Unread

"In my reading, I found a few references to mind-affecting magic, which is... not something I'm used to having to worry about. So I want to get a better idea of what my vulnerabilities are, what I need to watch out for. How can magic be used to affect my mind? How common is that? Can people read my thoughts? Can they spy on me from far away without me noticing or otherwise magically discover information about me? I need to develop new assumptions about how much privacy I have, and how susceptible I am to outside influence."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's ... decently common. There's a fairly common tradition, beguilers, who specialise in mind-affecting magic like enchantments and illusions, and I think there are psionic analogues. Most other traditions have some mind-affecting spells; as a healer, for example, I can construct an aura around myself which prevents people from attacking me as long as I don't attack them first. Nearly every recorded mind-affecting spell or power can be resisted with a strong enough will - it's a skillset that most casters pick up naturally as part of the process of learning to cast. But you can't rely on that when dealing with the powers of a peer enemy; it's still a bit of a coinflip who will win out. You can also prevent spellcasting by physically interrupting the casting process - it takes time on the order of multiple seconds and usually requires both speech and gestures, but beguilers nearly universally study methods for concealing or removing the need for those gestures, given the subtle nature of their spells - none of those methods are without cost, though; it's much harder to cast any given spell in that way than to do it in the obvious way, so being able to do so for any given spell is rarer. Nearly all of the dangerous mind-targeting effects need to be done by specialists consuming their daily resources to do so - a beguiler of my power who did nothing but read thoughts could spend perhaps an hour a day maximum reading a single person's mind, and I'd be surprised if there were more than a hundred people with the capability in the city; there are probably many fewer. The common spell for that, it's called "Detect Thoughts" only has a range of about 60ft. A ritualist could use the spell, but they'd be spending more time re-casting the ritual than benefiting from the spell by an order of magnitude. Ritualists can Scry to view people from afar but they have to be nearly name level to manage; it's practically easier to teleport to someone than to spy on them without noticing. 

Regarding active mind control, there are a lot of unsubtle combat effects like stunning someone with sensory overload or putting them to sleep, but that doesn't seem to be what you're worried about. "Charm Person" is a common spell, one of the ones every Beguiler will be well-practiced; it makes someone seem likable and trustworthy, like they were a well-regarded friend, but doesn't give them any particular power over you beyond that. "Dominate Person" is a spell that name-level beguilers (and thus also ritualists - beguilers and ritualists share the same intellectual lineage, along with warmages, so ritualists find copying spells of those other traditions easy) can cast; consider it about as hard for them to do as resurrection is for a healer. It allows total control over the target's body and actions for a period of a week or two; since it can be recast usually more often than daily, once you're under it's control, it's very hard to break out through sheer will, since they can layer effects until one takes, but it's expensive and long-term control is obvious. I'm not sure if there's anyone in the city who can cast it, but why would they make it public knowledge if they could. The intermediate point between those two is "Suggestion", which forces someone to obey a single order for a handful of seconds - it's about halfway in difficulty between those two. None of these effects can order you to commit suicide, or to do anything which you'd want to do less than that.

Personally, I wouldn't be substantially more worried about minor mind control than I would about mundane forms of deception, and I wouldn't be more worried about major mind control than I would about any other method by which a great name can choose to kill you or make your life hell."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you for explaining that, it was helpful."

"Wait a minute, did you say resurrection?!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"... Healers at the name level can bring a body which is still largely intact and undecomposed back from the dead, if the person's soul in the afterlife agrees with that. At higher levels the requirements get lighter, needing only the head or skull, and then needing nothing but an unambiguous reference to the person to be raised. The basic techniques also do irreversible damage to someone's soul and metabolism, though the soul can be regained the hard way; more advanced ones focus on preventing that. There are to my knowledge two people with this capacity in the city; between them, maybe 5 to 10 people are raised per day, at a cost of between 10k to 20k GP each - the process consumes diamonds in large quantities, a trait common to most major healing. You can technically resurrect someone who has died of old age, but they won't be younger, so they will usually die again in fairly short order. I think Druids have a workaround for that, but if they do, it's not in common usage. If you want to remain in this world forever, the usual strategy is some form of undeath."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Holy shit."

"Uh, can you explain souls, the afterlife, and living forever with undeath? I didn't realize necromancy could do that."

"And I should mention that it's possible to synthesize diamonds with the right machines, that might be a big deal."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Synthesis of diamonds could be extremely valuable, but the limiting factor is people with the right skillset, not the diamonds themselves; plenty of diamonds get made into jewellery or ground up to power someone's experimental wheat-mutation project or what have you." 

"Every person with a mind, and a number of entities which are not people, has a soul; they're the thing which accumulates weight and experience. Even attempts to make a mind which don't involve soul-craft end up with the mind in question being ensouled; the process is unclear. When you die, your body and part of your spiritual nature remains here, but the soul is taken to the afterlife, where it travels to one of several realms based on heuristics about which one it will find most satisfying to linger in. In the afterlife you only have access to the parts of you which are encoded in your soul, rather than your body and non-soul spiritual anatomy, which is only your most fundamental nature for people without weight and nearly all of it for someone at name level, and the process of dying is traumatic at the best of times, so you shouldn't consider it a second chance. The afterlife also contains many entities which are the product of merging the nature of the afterlife and the soul-stuff it is composed of with that of souls present there; we call those outsiders, and they're the least-seen form of spirit, since they're far away and usually preoccupied. The afterlives can be visited like any other planes - there are a few portals here and there, even, and the gods keep and other powers that be often keep a lot of their stuff in them.

Dead bodies continue to contain a lot of what made you alive and able to do things; improperly buried or traumatically killed bodies can return as resentful dead, but necromancers can also reanimate them as servants. With the right rituals, the soul can be trapped and bound into it's body after death; this can be done consensually or non-consensually. Someone thus bound is already dead, and thus cannot die again, though sufficient damage to their body can destroy them. Necromancers are skilled at arts that prevent the weight of ages alone from being enough to destroy them, though. Many prefer the afterlife to such a fate; being undead can be quite unpleasant in a variety of ways. One method of particular note is Lichdom - a Lich is a powerful spellcaster who has bound their soul to one or more anchors and cannot be truly destroyed until every anchor is; they can be separated by substantial distance or even kept on different planes. It's considered the gold standard for undeath-based immortality, and it's very difficult, on a technical level, to achieve the state ethically."  

Permalink Mark Unread

Okay, yikes, maybe she ought to be more worried about death than she was. That sounds less fun than ending up in another world or ceasing to exist.

Sida isn't quite sure what 'gold standard' is meant to imply, as her world largely stopped using metal-backed currency decades ago, abandoned for it's shortcomings.

"Thank you for the explanation. That was all of the questions I had for you right now, I guess."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're welcome. We should get you those supplies I promised, and some official compensation for your time, and then you can go about your business." 

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida wasn't expecting more compensation, but she won't turn it down.

"Sure."

Permalink Mark Unread

Compensation is to the tune of a blank book of parchment, writing supplies, and 20gp. "We want to be the sort of people, who when someone has a unique potentially-worldshaking experience, they can go to us and let us write a book about it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"An admirable goal. We'll meet again, but until then, unconcealedness!"

"Sorry, that's a lot less awkward in my native language."

Sida leaves the library to get lunch. She's looking for some relatively cheap street food.

Permalink Mark Unread

The *very* cheap option is going to one of the Deep Gardener Kitchens and getting a free bowl of mushroom stew, and the next-cheapest option seems to be "that, but you buy some of the many condiments that people offer for sale outside those kitchens to improve the flavour of the stew". For a silver piece or thereabouts, Sendra could also get skewers of grilled pork in a herby sauce, or a bowl of richly flavoured rice, or a plate of eggs fried in the fat of a sort of lamb confit. For a little more than that, she could get a large and hearty pastry (somewhere between a pasty and a beef wellington) that is claimed to be favoured by the god of Death-as-Luck, sold by, of all things, a flaming skull handling it's wares with telekinesis. 

Permalink Mark Unread

The mushroom stew does not look appetizing and Sida will optimistically assume she will never be poor enough that she has to eat it.

She decides that she has to talk to the flaming skull, and buying their product seems like it might help a little, so she goes for the pastry.

"Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?" she says to the flaming skull.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am always ready to help the ambitions of puny mortals."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was wondering, were you always a flaming skull?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"A tricky question of identity! This skull once belonged to a mortal, but I am not he!" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"How were you born, then?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was made to be a tomb-guardian after a lifetime of loyal service, and have, since that tomb's destruction, had to find other work." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I see. Uh, my condolences?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Freedom is not a downside!" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Were you being forced to guard that tomb, then?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It is hard to tell the difference between being forced to do something and doing it merely because it is what you were created to do, and leaving your post is physically difficult. My kind are greatly weakened, if we leave the post we were made to guard." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I see. Well, thanks for answering my questions, and I enjoyed the pastry! Have a nice day!"

Sida heads back to the library to do some more reading. She's still orienting herself to this strange new world and wants to answer some more questions before she's ready to make any decisions about what she's going to actually do with her life.

Permalink Mark Unread

The library continues to be open, and she still has her access token to the outer library. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida returns to the theology book to read more about a few of the gods she was curious about. Specifically, Knowledge, Understanding, Death-by-Disease, and Air-That-Moves-You.

Permalink Mark Unread

Knowledge is one of the least person-like of the Pantheon gods; in some ways, it's more appropriate to think of it as the institution of a library, with agents and workers and councils and heads to those councils, but no true self underlying all that. It's blessing come in the form of both literal answers to questions, but also in the form of guidance to less terse sources of information. Its agents have an uncanny sense for the location of troves of hidden information. It values truth, knowledge rendered into more useful forms, and good literature in general. 

Understanding presides over the idea of not just knowledge for it's own sake, but knowledge to a purpose - it values self-knowledge and other-knowledge and building a correct model of the world that can be used to interact and engage with it on a more profound level. It cares more about building this within yourself than it does about effectively transmitting it, but the latter is still encouraged. It's blessing comes in the form of precision, the communication of lessons which cannot be put into words, and the foiling of hostile spells. Those who pursue it's greatest insights find themselves thinking faster, deeper, and broader, allowing them to reach greater heights of understanding with fewer resources. When intervening in the world, it protects the learned and centres of learning, preventing the destruction of knowledge or insight, and rewards those who have found mastery and understanding. 

A wise man once said:

Your mind is software. Program it. 
Your body is a shell. Change it. 
Death is a disease. Cure it. 
Extinction is approaching. Fight it.

Thus commands death-as-disease, patron of those who fight pandemics and transcend biology. Sits on a throne carved out of ancient evils ruling disease and necromancy. Blesses people with health and the will to continue fighting the good fight, and with the tools they need to keep doing it. In favour of ethical necromancy as part of a balanced program of working to defeat the metaphorical dragon, death, and also literal dragons, if they're asking for it. 

Air-That-Moves-You is a flighty god, one given to sponsoring wanders and seekers and strangers, and keeping these people alive through their travels. It abhors boredom and allowing yourself to become static and solid. It preaches no one true insight, but rather simply the yearning in your heart and the rattling in your bones, and the need to keep moving. It's blessings are warnings and fair winds and dreams of places you've never been to. It asks people to keep moving even when that's hard, and rewards those who can with new ideas and new destinations. If it has any agenda to push, it's just one of making the world more amenable to these things - it asks you to help travellers, teach the curious, and break barriers where you find them. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Knowledge seems very strange, mostly. Understanding's values are very close to the core of Hadar, it's fundamental center. Death-by-Disease would be an ally, to be sure, but Sida doesn't personally feel very strongly about it's aims. Air-That-Moves-You, as described, cares about exactly the things Sida always has, and perhaps is the one she feels the greatest kinship with.

Sida definitely feels as though she might eventually seek out a god as her patron—the potential upside is huge—but that can wait for later.

Permalink Mark Unread

One thing is certain: Sida is going to learn magic. She wants to do so terribly badly and is more excited about it than she has been excited about anything in years. Which isn't to say that her life wasn't exciting, just—magic!

Based on her reading so far, most of the magical traditions are pretty specialized, with limited spells available. And while some of them could be quite useful, it seems... sad, or disappointing, to be transported to another world where magic exists, and immediately embark upon a path that closes off most of what can be done with it. Many of these traditions also seem like they're mainly good for fighting things. And although Sida is perfectly willing to fight things in order to grow stronger, growing stronger merely to get better at fighting things does not appeal. There's only one choice then.

Returning to the books about magic and training, what do they say about what she needs to do to learn ritual magic, to start on that path?

Permalink Mark Unread

A ritualist needs:
- A broad understanding of magical theory and arcane lore in general. 
- The ability to read magical notation, and probably their own shorthand for writing it in. 
- To have memorised the entire content of the spell "Read Magic", which is a sort of hyper-specialised translation spell that only functions for magical notation. (The theory is that since all ritualists use the same underlying logic and laws, the spell needs to translate only symbols, rather than syntax or truth) 
- A spellbook, with rituals in it. This is very expensive, with even common spells that are not valuable as secret knowledge costing as much as 100gp per page to copy just from the cost of materials and artistry. There is a shop that sells dead people's spellbooks for somewhat less than that, with any pages describing anything interesting cut out of them. 
- If they have any sense at all, enough combat training to avoid freezing up, and either skill in some weapon or use of one of the rituals which grants access to a repeatable magical attack. 
- They also recommend finding more specialised "how to be a ritualist" books. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Why would everyone develop their own personal notation, and then use a spell to translate other peoples' notation? And why do the spellbooks need to be written in such an expensive way? Are they magical themselves? Because surely if they only contained information there wouldn't be the need for such extravagance. If this book doesn't have answers to these questions she'll just have to figure it out later.

She also wants to test something, which should be simple enough. If any of the books in the library have a sample of magical notation, they don’t even need to be a proper spellbook, she'll take a look to check if her mysterious translation superpower lets her read it.

Permalink Mark Unread

She needs to find a book about magical notation to answer these questions, which the library has several of, and this obtains several theories as to why this is considered necessary. The first is that Ritualism as an academic field and has existed over thousands of years in every culture on the continent, and since it's fundamentally academic in nature, any given practitioner will be working with whichever set of sources are most suitable (due to availability, translation, suitability for purpose, author-reader compatibility) for them specifically, and thus they will naturally develop a personal set of idiosyncrasies in the way they talk and think about a truly complex discipline - a mish-mash of schools of thought, ways of notating abstract concepts, and personal takes that renders their understanding of the art fundamentally different to anyone else's. The second theory is that it's beneficial to avoid standardising your notation because even mundane notes on rituals (let alone the actual content of rituals and spellbooks) is rare and valuable knowledge, and a unique set of notations that forces anyone other than you to do time-consuming translation work to read forces any attempt at stealing that knowledge to be overt theft, rather than subtle espionage. The final theory is that since ritualism is, on some level, about trying to write down the fundamental nature of a universe that is profound beyond human comprehension, all systems of notation are fundamentally flawed, and growing as a ritualist is about finding a set of flaws in your notation that works most ideally with your personal set of requirements and magical style, while working to transcend as many of those flaws as possible. In any regard, even if you choose for some reason to perfectly mimic some existing system of notation even when this proves slow and troublesome to you, you will absolutely want to learn to cast Read Magic for when you have to deal with the ten thousand different ways to notate the same fundamental magic properties and behaviours that have emerged as ten thousand mages and wizards across dozens of continents and several millennia all study the same art, and you try and cannibalise their work for occult power. Or you would, except actually whatever is going on with Sida's translation superpower works totally fine on magical notation systems, to the extent that she can tell while not actually knowing very much arcane theory.

Regarding the expense of proper spellbooks: A ritualist is someone who does rituals. Those rituals need materials that exist outside just the caster's mind; usually specifically complex diagrams drawn in arcane inks made from ground gemstones and herbs that grow only wild places. A spellbook is thus not just a set of instructions on the procedure for casting a spell and the expected effects, but essentially a portable ritual ground that functions as a tool which enables the spell to be cast. Spells can also be cast using larger, static, ritual grounds, made from cheaper materials, or memorised until they're ground into your very soul, but the former is static in location and slow to do, and the latter consumes both heroic quantities of effort and some portion of the ritualist's growth potential, and neither system permits the use of the same exact rituals as the spellbook method; thus the fact that nearly every ritualist in the city uses the spellbook method is, itself, an incentive to use the spellbook method, since swapping, buying, or stealing spells is vastly preferable to producing them yourself - developing an efficient spell for a given level of power is a noticeably harder task than using one, even not taking into account that the most-distributed spells were all the work of true masters of the art and once-in-a-generation geniuses. 

Permalink Mark Unread

All of that makes quite a lot of sense, actually. Although, if ritual magic existed at home, there would definitely be a standard notation for it.

When she decided to learn magic, she didn't realize it would be this expensive. Fortunately, she has a few ideas to make money.

Sida puts away all the books she was reading and approaches the help desk, if they aren't busy.

"Weird question, but do you know this city has a... publication or clearinghouse to connect buyers and sellers of unusual or obscure goods and services?"—baal, that's fifteen words in this language?—"I'm trying to find customers for translation work and I don't know the usual way people go about buying translation in this city."

Sida is vaguely aware, in some corner of her mind, of the concept of advertising, but it's rarely done in her world.

Permalink Mark Unread

The librarian thinks for a moment and then answers: "Well, if you joined the guild, there's an internal market for that sort of thing, but we don't share with outsiders. Otherwise, I should think that there are plenty of scribe's workshops that could use a good translator - maybe look for ones with signs or offers in multiple languages? Other than that, the coffeeshop district has a constant buzz of scholars needing things done, but you'd have to find and impress individuals until you had a reputation."  

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida thinks she can impress some people.

She thanks the librarian and leaves for the coffeeshop district. She might need to ask for directions.

Permalink Mark Unread

The coffeeshop district is strung out on the main streets connecting the hillside dungeon-fortress of the Antediluvian Exploratory League and the nine-story library-tower of the Institute for Supernal Dynamics, which puts it on the outer part of the eastern side of the city, just before the slopes of the river-valley the city is built into become too steep to comfortably build on. The instructions to get there are simple - keep going uphill, and then follow the sounds of people arguing. It seems like while the overt purpose of the district is to provide coffee, beer, supplies, and homes for the scholars of the city, it's more (in)famous purpose is providing them with a venue to bicker, shout, and, show off with, at, and to each other. The coffee shops are filled with scholars young and old, magical and mundane, and with the sounds of friendly (and unfriendly) disagreement, along with the occasional bang or hiss of ill-considered magic. 

Permalink Mark Unread

If they're arguing loud enough, maybe she can find customers that way. She'll start by walking around, listening for any arguments that mention language.

Permalink Mark Unread

Dismissing out of hand all the arguments that are merely in foreign languages, the first mention of language she hears is merely a poorly-considered attack at someone's source, insulting it for it's foreignness. The next candidate is specifically bemoaning lacking funds to hire a translator. Finally, as day drifts towards evening, she strikes paydirt -  "- and where in the 15 hells (tl note: not literally hells, but a profanity referring to the afterlife) are you going to find someone who speaks southwestern-dialect drow in this bloody city." The people arguing appear to be two scholars. Both have the same ever so slightly uncanny angular look to their faces, like they've had cosmetic surgery done by someone whose tastes run in a peculiar direction, and pointed ears, but where one has pale-blue skin and darker-blue hair, her conversant has bone-white hair, purple-black skin, and a wide-brimmed hat keeping any sun from falling on his face. A few more moment's listening informs that they seem to be discussing possible lines of research into a matter of comparative religion. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Ah, the sweet smell of opportunity. She pokes her translation superpower to make sure it can work with southwestern-dialect drow—she's not sure if she can simply start speaking it without having heard a sample. Assuming she can, she approaches the pointy-eared people, and says—in that language—"Today is your lucky day. I happen to have a gift for languages."

Permalink Mark Unread

It takes a bit of concentration, as she navigates a sort of mental map of dialects and sub-dialects to pick one, but she can indeed speak southwestern-dialect drow without prompting. She rapidly comes to regret that - the language seems to have been carefully designed to be as unpleasant to speak as possible, with a mess of grammar rules to make any English-speaker feel fear, and a phonology which is almost painful to produce with the human tongue. At least it all seems to happen automatically. 

"well, that could plausibly be south-western drow, it's not like I speak it." says the white-haired man. Switching languages to one which shares not so much a vocabulary but a design aesthetic with southwestern-dialect drow. "Do you speak eastern drow as well?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

She switches to eastern drow.

"Yes, I do. I speak, and write, many languages. Possibly all of them except the extinct ones."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, some kind of language-magic then? You wouldn't be offering translation work if it was a Permanency'd Tongues. Are you an angel then? I hear those have language-magic. Either way, if you can read my books, I'd be quite happy to hire you to translate them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It would have to be some kind of magic, but I don't know what kind. I got it when I showed up here yesterday. I'm from another world. I can probably read them, and I'd love to be paid to translate them. How much do you want done?"

Permalink Mark Unread

The man nods firmly. "An Amnesiac angel, then. Well, I have five books and sixteen tablets in grimlock touch-cuneiform, if you read that as well. How does 8gp a day sound?" He says, with the tone of someone opening negotiations with a lowball bid. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm pretty sure the market rate is higher than that, but I want to build a business quickly, so... I'll take 10gp a day if you promise to tell all your friends and colleagues to talk to me if they need translation work done, especially for obscure languages. My name is Josarin, by the way." She says, with the tone of someone offering a generous deal because they need something to happen quickly. "Oh, and I don't really know how expensive paper and ink is here, or how much the job will need, so you can provide whatever materials you want me to use or I can just bill you for expenses."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can provide them, no point risking you buying substandard codices. If I'm getting this done, it'll be on good solid parchment, and we'll have something that lasts! You have yourself a deal, miss Josarin! I have a place above the bric-a-brac shop maybe two streets over" he gestures "that way. If you'll meet me there tomorrow morning, I can give you one of the books and some supplies?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have a deal."

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida heads back to her inn, pays for another night, has dinner, does some writing, and goes to bed.

The next morning she returns to the coffeeshop district and locates the bric-a-brac shop.

Permalink Mark Unread

The bric-a-brac shop sells iridescent bird-feathers, a torch that glows shining-blue ("guaranteed ever-burning"), what appears to be a pocket-watch, and a collection of formal robes with intricate weaves, and that's only what's in the front window. 

Above it there are several apartments; the guard of the store eyes her suspiciously, but doesn't do anything as she heads upstairs, where the elderly drow man is waiting for her. 

"Ah, there you are. I was just about to give up on waiting and go to bed." He's assembled a package, which includes two books wrapped in fur, and two more blank books of similar sizes. "there you go, that should keep you busy for a while."  

Permalink Mark Unread

She didn't think she was running late or anything...

"Right. I'm not sure how long this will take, but I'll deliver the first book as soon as I'm done with it."

"I'm curious, by the way, are you an independent scholar, or affiliated with a... I'm trying to think of some thing we had at home, for lots of people to learn things... Ahh! Why can't I think about this? This is super weird!"

Permalink Mark Unread

The drow scholar thinks for a moment. "... huh. I think I've heard about this before. Did this thing involve a network of glowing screens that could transmit messages throughout the known world?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't think so. We did have ways to transmit messages all over the world, sometimes with glowing screens, but I don't have any trouble thinking about that. And I don't think it was how the... learning places worked."

Permalink Mark Unread

"... fascinating. You seem to have what is documented as a very common condition recorded by dark-age scholars immediately after the fall of the tower. They all agreed they'd obtained their common knowledge somehow, but none of them could for the life of them figure out what it was! They did seem to think the glowing screens were important somehow. My personal theory is that they had a system like the deep imaskari, where you weren't afforded adult rights until you could pass certain exams, except it worked better because they had longer lifespans." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, that wasn't it. Everyone had the same rights. It was like... a place, where people went, to learn things. And it wasn't a library. And it wasn't the same as apprenticeships. And I can't think about how it worked. The glowing screens were for one-way broadcast communication, so people could watch moving pictures. Which kind of fulfill the same role as books for entertainment or information, except they have sound and colors and images that move."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hmm. That it was a specific place wasn't in the records that I read, but I haven't any primary sources. Does sound like it could fit, though. Not sure I believe you over my sources, you could be making this all up."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, whatever, I've gotten that before, check it out"—she displays, in a non-threatening manner, her knife—"it's my fancy shiny knife that probably no one in this world knows how to make without magic. If you don't have any more questions, I guess I'll head out and get to work."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The knife is certainly counterevidence for my primary theory, which is that you're trying to get a quick buck out of me somehow. Damn thing looks expensive. Be done quick! And bring my books back!" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Will do!"

She takes the books and heads back. Alright, what is going on? There is a thing she can't think about, which she was able to think about before. Not only is this EXTREMELY DISCONCERTING, not only is it a level of forgetfulness heretofore unknown, but it might be a falsification of the commonly accepted theory that concepts are inherent, the same across all possible universes. Much like how the ratio of a circle's circumference to it's radius is always the same, and it's not even clear what it would mean for it to be different. Well, actually it seems more likely that the concept still exists, but that some part of the magic here gave her brain damage so she can't think about it.

Even though she can't think the antimeme, she seems to be able to think about the antimeme. Although she didn't notice it until her third day here... better safe than sorry. She gets a piece of paper and writes, in large letters, 'remember learning-place antimeme', and puts it with her other papers such that she won't be able to avoid seeing it. If that doesn't work she'll get a tattoo. She adds 'get tattoo if you forget' to the paper. Hopefully that works.

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida gets to work translating. It's relatively interesting work, and she gets to learn a lot about the history of the churches of some drow minor gods. Once she gets her first payment, she starts looking around for a place to live. She's used to being pretty frugal, but with her translation superpower and eventually magic, she's going to be pretty well-off, and the amount of studying she needs to do will be more of a constraint than money anyways. She gets a nice apartment in a building with security—she really can't afford to let her clients' texts get stolen or damaged—and hires a few servants. As it turns out, housework takes a lot longer without modern appliances, and hiring people to do it for her is now easily affordable.

Permalink Mark Unread

After a few weeks of translating, and finding other clients, Sida is walking down the street when some shouting breaks out - it seems that a disagreement between some mages has, in combination presumably with an excess of wine, caused a fistfight to break out outside one of the local bars. Most people are just doing their best to walk around it, but a few other people are getting dragged in - this one in retaliation to a mis-targeted punch, that one because she's friends with one of the fighters, and so forth. Someone is calling for the guards. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Yikes. Best not to get involved with that. Hopefully the guards will break it up.

Permalink Mark Unread

It takes a minute for them to get here, but eventually the guards do arrive, a group of 4 people, all in matching armour painted red-and-white - the colours of the blessed of light. Some people have the presence of mind to scatter at this, but the rest proceed to be beaten by the hafts and pommels of the guard's spears until they're no longer able to stand or fight. At which point, the guards proceed to start going through their pockets (though the light of some minor healing magic can also be seen from one guard). 

Permalink Mark Unread

Alright, avoid the gangsters. Sida heads away from the scene, and looks for someone to ask questions to, about what just happened.

"Who are those guys? Are they supposed to be the Blessed of Light?"

Permalink Mark Unread

A gruff-looking dwarf peddler, remaining stoically with their stall: "Yeah, that's them. They'd kill anyone who used their armour falsely, and nobody else trains people to heal and fight at the same time."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I've heard of them, but I didn't realize they were a violent gang. I'm new in town, guess I've got more to get used to."

Permalink Mark Unread

The peddler shrugs. "They're better than the last lot we had, mostly don't bother people who aren't disturbing the peace. Last lot was trying to do 'taxation'. Must have been, oh, 8 years ago? I'm quite glad they're gone."  

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, no need to bother this guy anymore.

"Yikes. You have a nice night, I guess."

Permalink Mark Unread

'The Blessed of Light' seems like a weird name for a gang. She wouldn't expect them to name themselves with a sort of religious reference like that. Of course, Sida's expectations for what gangs are like are in part based on works of fiction, most of which were not reviewed for accuracy. So she knows she might be getting things wrong.

A couple of days later, when she visits the library, she looks for books related to the Blessed of Light—their history, where they came from, how they operate. If they're too recent, maybe there are archived periodicals that mention them?

Permalink Mark Unread

There's at least one book on every major faction in the public section of the Grand Library, though not all of them are particularly complimentary. The city doesn't appear to have any wide-spread periodicals. The Blessed of Light see themselves as basically heroic wielders of light-magic (specifically, the channelling of positive energy, the same force for healing, growth, and defence that healers use to heal, and one of the six fundamental substances of reality). Their rise to power was precipitated by the central leadership going around killing a number of people who were abusing their power, acting tyrannously, or otherwise being "villainous", and the current state of affairs is a mix of attempting to solve the problems some of that "villainy" was existing to solve (i.e. keeping crime rates down and financing operations of a large group), and constructing a framework intended to enable other people to follow in their footsteps. They have some technique which enables people to be "Dawnblades" - an aggressive melee fighting style combined with the light-channelling power of a healer, that works especially well when fighting things which are vulnerable to positive energy (but which is more limited than many other melee techniques, and much slower to develop spellcasting than a regular healer), and tend to train everyone who joins in this technique rather than optimising for diverse combined tactics like most other guilds. 

Permalink Mark Unread

This reminds her of how the kings of Mizraim claimed to be living gods. Maybe the Blessed of Light think that if they portray themselves as heroic vanquishers of villainy, it will give them some measure of legitimacy and cause the populace to object less? But is anyone really fooled?

Reading more books isn't going to help here. She'll have to talk to people who have more insight into how the city works than she does.

Permalink Mark Unread

Time passes.

Sida settles into a routine. She translates various obscure languages for a completely reasonable large amount of money, works on her upcoming book / disorganized notes about her home world's knowledge, and studies arcane theory. Parts of it resemble mathematics, but not enough to have definitive answers about anything. There are always exceptions and complications. It feels very much like the sort of trial-and-error confused maps of things people develop when they don't understand the territory at all. She finds it to be incredibly frustrating, and difficult, and it isn't the kind of thing she would ever feel the slightest interest in if not for the fact that it will let her do magic. But that makes it all worth it.

Nevertheless, sitting at a desk all day, working on various projects, gets dull. The work she's doing is, logically speaking, necessary for what she wants to achieve, but nothing will change the fact that Sida is decidedly unsuited for it. So, when she takes breaks, she walks around exploring the city. The novelty, so far, has not worn off. On one such walk, she visits the coffeeshop district, which she has discovered is one of the best places to find interesting people to talk to. Which is probably why people go there.

Permalink Mark Unread

There is a woman whose staff appears to be sprouting fig-leaves, engaged in an argument about the proper way to nourish grave-plants when cultivating them in captivity. The person she's arguing with thinks the use of a real grave is vital, but apparently she thinks there's a workaround involving concerning amounts of blood-and-bone fertiliser and buried mourner's clothes, if one can channel negative energy to make up the difference, that will get many varieties to live and grow, if not thrive. 

Permalink Mark Unread

A guard in face-concealing full-plate stands silently just behind her chair, where they won't get in anyone's way. 

Permalink Mark Unread

This sounds interesting. Some combination of botany and necromancy?

Sida gets a spot nearby to unobtrusively listen to their conversation.

Permalink Mark Unread

The conversation meanders through a series of other points about trying to artificially cultivate various exotic plants - these ones need concentrated sunlight from many mirrors to thrive, there're entire ecosystems which work best if you can shape the entire local landscape to concentrate background energies to where they are planted. Eventually, her conversant has had enough of her cheery demeanour and willingness to go into excruciating detail, and he goes to the bar to get a drink. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm curious, how does one create magical plants?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, mostly you find them! The world is full of wonder and the art of horticulture is mostly about trying to get wild stuff that already exists to grow in captivity. Once you've got that far you can do a little breeding for functionality in captivity but you tend to trade strength for convenience pretty badly and selective cultivation of something which has a single bloom every century takes a while! Though I did hear about one time someone made cuttings spliced onto a non-magical analogue work pretty well for a situation like that."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do plants that depend on mirrors grow in the wild?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, no, but in the wild they grow on the peak of a particular volcano and it's easier to use the mirrors than it is to use multiple kilometres of simulated volcano, as a rule. If simulating the volcano is even viable, I've never tried or read about someone trying."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, that makes more sense. I'm ah, new here, so I'm still learning what to expect. Do you guys have natural selection theory on this plane?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's a theory that sometimes comes up. It's not always that applicable, nature isn't really an equilibrium. You can also just really weird drivers - like elementals, those spontaneously generate, which can cause all sorts of havoc for the local environment, and magic can be horrifically mutagenetic at times. So you can have this broad intuition that things won't be alive if they don't have a way to survive but sometimes the way to survive is hyperspecialisation into a unique microclimate in a single tunnel somewhere or they just started existing yesterday and *won't* survive, or it was put there by the ancients being half-assed about biocontamination and is actually adapted for an environment a continent away. Or a god likes it, that happens with bees a lot."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I like bees too. They seem like a sensible thing to like."

"So, you're a botanist, then?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Bees are excellent but you should be careful - the god isn't good at humans. There are some people to the west who have interacting with it figured out, but it's not a trivial action. Apiarists tend to go mad." She laughs, like that was a joke. "I'd sort of like to visit some day."  

"Yeah! And a druid as well. The world has so many interesting plants and it's so rewarding trying to get them to grow. I can't wait until I'm stronger and can take a stab at some of the *really* impressive stuff. I fear even an assassin vine would get the better of me as I am today."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"When you say 'apiarists go mad', do you mean that apiarists find the god very frustrating, or that contact with bees drives them to insanity like some kind of contagion? Because that would be kinda concerning."

"I'm training to be a ritualist, myself. I've been itching to travel, but so far I haven't left the city. It probably wouldn't be very safe for me. Frankly, it's not as safe inside the city as I'd like."

Permalink Mark Unread

"A little of both! Most apiarists are fine, give or take, but occasionally you find one making graves for every bee, or trying to build their home into hexagons or live only on honey and pollen, or something like that. Once there was an entire cult of them infiltrating a city planning bureau somewhere to the south-east. I don't think anyone ever cleared up what they were trying to *do* but they were assassinating people, so..." 

"Well, the world isn't meant to be safe! That's not how you grow. I guess you should finish training first, though."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Er, I'll be careful then. I didn't think bees were a threat to my sanity, but there's always something..."

"It makes sense that there should be dangerous places, for people to grow, but I think it would also be good to have safe places, for people who don't want to do that. And if the gods don't mean for that to happen, there's no reason people can't disagree with them. At least, I don't think people get smited for that kind of thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, fair! I don't think many of the gods are asserting that the world as it exists is correct and how they've designed it, if nothing else, how would they all agree on something? I mean, can you imagine? Getting half of a hundred powerful people in a room together and expecting them to agree on anything! I wouldn't think they could serve themselves tea. I guess it's safer in the southeast, where all the big countries are. they can afford to spend more time keeping everything under control. But travel is hard, and that's very expensive to do." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"To travel, or to keep everything under control?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well I suppose massed travel *would* be incredibly expensive to do, but I meant keeping all of the monsters and such under control." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"The-City-by-the-Fallen-Tower seems to be doing alright so far, in terms of not being invaded by monsters. It's mostly the lack of government and consequent state of danger that bothers me. Which doesn't seem like a problem of not having enough money so much as a problem of not having the right culture. Or maybe it's just an inevitable consequence of the power equilibrium here, I don't know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think describing the political situation of this city as statically anything is fundamentally misunderstanding things? My great-grandfather is always on about this - you can spend all your life trying to fix the world and you can be making progress, but it's hard to see when the world is big and complicated and never actually in equilibrium? And the world is even less in equilibrium than it normally is, what with that mess about the Kingskin Bodhrán. So I think eventually he'll get there and we'll have a proper functioning government. After all, we've managed the dole for a good bit, and that's a tremendous force for good. There are a lot of cities where people just starve, if they can't work and don't have family who can." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't mean the kind of equilibrium where everything is static. There are dynamic equilibria, too. Where things are always in motion, changing and shifting, but shaped by underlying forces that are constant, and constrain the way things can be. The sun is always moving across the sky, but it rises and falls every day the same. That's an oversimple example, but, same idea."

"What exactly happened with the Kingskin Bodhrán? I think I've heard something about that, but I don't know the details—it was before I got here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah. It's this big-deal artefact - gives a constant trickle of healing to everyone who declares fealty to you. Someone figured out it was under the tower somewhere, sold the information to every major power on the continent, and we had to put up with two months of them turning up and fighting over it. Lord of Light got it in the end, headed back home to use it to expand his empire, bring back the "good old days". Not really the best news, but what can you do?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, yikes. The Lord of Light isn't related to the Blessed of Light, is he?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't think it's common knowledge, but great-grandfather says he's been sending them funding."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hmm. This probably has implications I will think about later, when I have more than a rudimentary understanding of how politics works here. Your great-grandfather sounds like he's well-connected."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah! He's one of the founders of the deep gardeners! He's taught me a lot of stuff."  

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida chuckles.

"Ah, then I suppose he would have a pretty good idea of how this city works. I’m Josarin, by the way."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Dyva Graverooted! It's good to meet you. You mentioned not being from here?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

She turns to the figure in armor. "And you are? If you don't mind me asking. I presume you're with Dyva."

"Yeah, I'm from another world. I showed up here about a month and a half ago after I got hit by a truck—large vehicle—and, presumably, died. My home world doesn't have magic, or gods, or weight, or monsters, or sapients other than humans, so it's been something of an adjustment."

Permalink Mark Unread

The figure inclines ?his? head to acknowledge that she's addressing him, but doesn't say anything. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh that's Ossa, don't mind him. He's my guard, has been for ages."  

"Oh wow that's so cool! I've heard about other planes but never one that was that weird. I guess the plane of air doesn't have any ground, and your home is hardly weirder than that, but at least the plane of air is part of a paradigm of elemental planes. I've heard theories that there are other material planes - I think the main argument I've heard against that is that we seem to have a fairly complete set of gods here, but if there are places where divine influence can't reach. That could have fascinating implications! Theoengineering isn't really my field, if only because you need a lot of weight to get anywhere in it. Maybe I'll study it some more if I make it that far. What do you do *instead* of gods? Enough gods spend their time just ensuring that their domains keep functioning that I'd think a world without them would just fall apart after a while."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"The world runs on natural laws, we think. Not all of it is fully understood, but a lot of it is."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How odd. I wonder what would happen if you tried to use them here. Probably it wouldn't work at all, I'd describe the fundamental nature of the world as pretty magical."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Some of them do, I think. Some of the sort of medium-level derived principles, that is. Objects move in the same way on a human scale, I think. Probably a lot of biology is the same, I think people here have the same organs as I do. But the lower-level foundational laws are definitely different, and I have no idea what's going on there."

"...There might also be other things I'm not noticing, or have forgotten. At home we have a way for people to learn things that I can't think about here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's probably fine, we manage to struggle along without it, and we have plenty of educated people. Though it'd be nice if some of them were a little less armchair-theorist about gardening." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's moreso the idea that there might be other things I can't think about that's bothering me. I think it would have to be pretty extreme for me not to notice the discrepancies in my memories or whatever, but still. It's scary."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah. At least take comfort in the fact that literally nobody else can conceive of this one either? But yeah, that's why you've got to get strong, right? So people can't just do stuff like that to you. At least with adventuring, if you die, you'll die facing your doom, rather than being taken by surprise because you chose to remain a frog in a well."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not familiar with that idiom."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, it's like. If you're a frog in a well, you think you can see the sky, and the entire world? But actually, the sky is infinitely vaster and more complex than you can see, and the world contains many things besides the interior of the well. Because there's something you're not doing, your understanding of the world is limited." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, that's cute. I don't think my language has anything quite like it. Maybe it's the implication that one can simply exit the well."

"So, you're a druid? What's that like? I'm interested to learn more about inf—other forms of magic."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Being a druid is wonderful and obviously the best, but I'm also planning on learning to be a necromancer as well! Great-Grandfather invented a way to make the two work together, if you get strong enough. The best part I think is just having a connection to nature at all. ... It's not a source of power, that's a common misconception. But druids get to understand nature on a level no-one else does. I spent all my childhood learning about these deep flows of power that were making my plants live and die and now it's all just obvious. ... especially when the deep flow of power in question is whether or not I'm watering them, but I grew out of forgetting to water things when I was like, six. All the short-term magic is useful, but it's basically just a distraction from the actual proper implications of setting up that interface in your soul. Like making crossbow bolts when you could be making tomato-stakes - you never want to be *out* of crossbow bolts, but they're not what's good in life."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"That does sound like it would be nice. It sounds like you mainly work with plants, but I've heard druids can do things with animals too, is that right? And it wouldn't surprise me if fungus druids were also a thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I work with fungi as well, though I'm not super-committed to it like some people are, you have to spend your entire life worried about contamination or surrender control over what fungi you have to the fungi, if you want your main thing to be fungi. I have the technical skills to do the animals stuff, there's a lot of utility and practical skills there, the first twenty things to try and kill a new adventurer are all animals, but animals aren't that interesting to me."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fair enough. I'm glad you enjoy what you're working on."

"So, how do you combine necromancy with druidic magic? Does it have anything to do with animating dead plants?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's more often animating dead things with plants! I can't go into details, because family secrets, but the idea is that death is a font for new life, and life is a font for new death, so you can make a positive feedback loop. I imagine you can do the same thing with healing, but druidcraft is better because life is actually adapted to deal with death already, you get all the mechanisms for handling growth and death and rebirth handed to you rather than just raw power. That's the obvious philosophy bit, the hard bit is making that actually happen in your magic."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"That does sound interesting... There are so many fascinating avenues of research here that I won't have time for. But if I'm ever able to make it home, everyone will have a lot of stuff to do."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think as a rule, everyone everywhere has a lot of stuff to do. Anyone who says otherwise is shirking. What're your priorities, then, research-wise?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, I mean—knowledge of the existence of magic and other worlds would change a lot of things, cause a rapid shift in everyone's priorities."

"Right now, I'm just learning enough theory to be able to do magic at all. Longer term, I'm interested in divination and polymorph spells. Divination just seems like it's incredibly useful in general, and I think polymorphing would be a lot of fun. I'll also have to learn a lot of combat stuff to be able to grow, of course, but I figure there is already a lot known about how best to do that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, yes, I see. You said you had no weight as well? You'll have a massive rash of adventurers, then, that'll play out very interestingly. Do you think you'll cope? I've heard of enough regimes here toppled by adventurers the ruler was ignoring, and that's when the ruler used to be one!"  

"Divination is good, very useful if you can use it well. One of my cousins is a diviner. Polymorph is a bit out of our weight class for now, but one can always be ambitious! Have you decided what reserve-ritual you'll be doing?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, there will probably be several million, at least. But I don't think there will be any revolutions, if that's what you mean."

"I have not decided yet. I still don't have a great idea of what options I have available, and I don't need to choose anytime soon."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm glad you're that confident in the benevolence of your state! It speaks well of them, even if I have trouble believing it."

"Wow, okay, you are early in your training. I figured you were just like half the people here, and using training as excuse to never actually get up and leave. No offence." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I arrived in the city a month and a half ago, decided I was going to learn magic on my second day here, started studying about a week later, once I had steady work. I'm pretty serious about it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's pretty impressive! Why jump straight into the hardest possible magic, if you don't mind my asking?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I grew up in a world where there's no magic. It has a lot of other things going for it, but—no magic. So when I got here it was pretty exciting. It still is pretty exciting. And I thought it would be really lame to, so soon after I had this revelation, choose a path that would close most of that off to me. And, it's challenging, but not so challenging that I can't handle it, or that it isn't worth it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I hope it's everything you dream of it being!"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, I'll probably die trying, but I think it will be interesting. It was nice to meet you, Dyva. I'm in the coffee shops relatively often, maybe we'll run into each other."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah! I hope so, you seem to be an interesting person, you were fun to talk to! I look forward to hearing about your progress!" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Until later, then. Remembrance!"

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida continues her normal routine: translating, studying, writing. She's making good progress, and may be ready to cast her first ritual by the end of the year. She continues to wear a mask, and gets some cheap grain alcohol to disinfect things. It seems to be working, as she doesn't get anything more than minor illnesses. She only gets mugged once, and looses a couple gold, but is otherwise unscathed. Altogether, things are going well.

When she hears about a traveling shrine to Air-That-Moves-You, she decides to pay it a visit.

Permalink Mark Unread

The shrine has been set up on the edge of the city, in an empty lot among the gardens that spring up to supply the city's demand for fresh herbs and vegetables. It takes the form of what almost looks like a church-spire built onto a cart - precariously tall and more than a little bit rickety, but basically sound and capable of being moved from place to place. The whole thing is strung up with hundreds of ribbons in dozens of colours and patterns, along with dozens of sets of wind-chimes, hung anywhere they'll fit. You'd think they'd produce a cacophony in the breeze, but it comes out more like a symphony. The priests are an old, old orc, his hair gone grey and his face deeply weather-worn, along with a younger couple (a goblin and hobgoblin) he's been training to maintain and move the shrine once he's gone. They've set down for a while to take offerings, explore the city and trade.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hello! This is the shrine to Air-That-Moves-You, right? I was hoping I could ask a few—well, a lot of questions."

Permalink Mark Unread

The old orc is the one taking petitions right now. "Ah. Well, we call them the dancing wind where I'm from, but yes. I'm always happy to answer questions."  

Permalink Mark Unread

Alright, deliver the spiel.

"So, I'm from another world that doesn't have gods. I showed up in the city two months ago, and I've learned quite a lot in that time, but I'm probably still more ignorant than a child in some ways. I was hoping you could tell me more about the god, and what worshiping it entails. I am considering, uh, declaring an allegiance."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Another world that doesn't have gods, you say? What I'd give to go there... But I don't imagine you'll be finding a way back within what life I've got left." He smiles the quiet smile of someone who has spent his life doing exactly what he wanted to spend his life doing, but who is still sad to be old and dying. "The Dancing wind is a god that asks us to keep moving. Compels us even. I think all of it's strongest followers are people who knew there was something they couldn't have staying at home, or that the world was vast and they had to see it, or something like that. The fundamental lesson is that you can't stop moving - everything else flows from that, and the desire to live in a world where that's something everyone can live. It doesn't have to be physical movement, they don't oblige travel, especially from lay followers, but you can see the spiritual connotations - you can't let yourself fall into habits just because they're easy, not when you could be exploring and wondering at the world instead. Since you're here today, you're not doing too badly at that - the people with a real problem there are the ones who haven't been into a building other than their home, their workplace, and their favourite pub in years. We have to go to them." 

"Many gods have services on their day of the month - 35 gods corresponding to 35 days and all that - but that's hard for the dancing wind, since most of our shrines and priests move. Still, you should keep that day in mind, as a day to spend doing things the god would like. Meet other faithful. Give offerings to the shrine, if you can afford it. We always need travelling supplies, I keep giving them away." He laughs cheerily. "The ribbons and wind-chimes are all offerings as well, of course. I sell cloaks stitched in a style that's considered like a prayer, where I come from, though I had to adapt it, the craft is mostly used for the life-giving-waters and the tower-shaking-storm. If you ever make it big, you should make your own shrine, even if you're not becoming a priest - either one of the stationary sorts, or by sponsoring someone to start a new travelling one. That's outside most people's budget, though. But in general, what you do to earn the favour of a god is live your life with them in mind - think 'what would the Dancing Wind want me to do' and then you do that. And if you're right, then you might get a blessing or two out of it."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'd need to be a Great Name to make it back home, if it's possible at all. So that probably won't happen anytime soon."

"I've always been a wanderer of some sort, I think. When I feel inspired to do something, typically I do it. And that's lead me all over the place, geographically, socially, in the library, and so on. And I came here because the creed of the Dancing Wind sounded a lot like what I've already been doing my whole life. But I won't—can't decide to do what the Dancing Wind would want me to do, except by coincidence. I do what I want me to do, or sometimes it's an impulse so unexpected I didn't know that's what I wanted."

Permalink Mark Unread

The orc closes his eyes and thinks for a moment. "I think, in general, that the gods would rather live in a world that was alike to their nature than a world that was obedient to them in thought and deed but which didn't actually get it. The dancing wind doesn't mind that I left my home to avoid starving, or that those two left their home to get away from politics, or that generally speaking people are travellers for their own reasons first and for the dancing wind's reasons second. If you just pray and make offerings for safe travel, and then travel yourself, you can have a long and happy life on the road, and that's a good thing, a thing that the Dancing Wind will use their powers to encourage, where they can - and if you're funding shrines and temples or hunting people who destroy shrines or feeding every stranger who comes to your door looking for a place to spend the night, a god can afford a fair amount of power and attention for you, and prayer can just be for you how to draw the god's attentions to that. But - and maybe this is a priest speaking, and not something that matters so much for lay people - you also have a relationship with a god, and purely transactional relationships are worse than deep and loving ones. Some of the saints of the dancing wind have been people like you, who just went where they felt like going for their entire lives, but they were also people whose desires were to have a relationship with the divine? Not every saint was a priest, though. I think that's worth remembering."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you, that clears some things up for me. I might not be able to worship any god, but I like the work you do, so"—she drops a few gold in the offering jar. "I hope you have a pleasant day."

Permalink Mark Unread

This whole religion thing is a little weird. The worshipping-sapient-gods-who-actually-exist part, that is. She's been delaying worrying about it for a while, but it's time to come to a decision soon. She heads for the temple to Understanding, in the city, to find someone to talk to there.

Permalink Mark Unread

Understanding's temple is also out of the city, but in a very different way - to get there involves crossing the river and heading out of the city for a ways, maybe an hour's walk through mostly gardens and orchards, with the occasional wizard's tower or little fortification to break up the monotony. The temple itself is built into a hillside - the most striking thing about it is how a spring has been diverted into a series of waterways that stream throughout the complex, causing every building to have a fountain or pond, and every footpath to be matched by a little burbling stream or fast-flowing aqueduct. The main temple itself is an open-courtyarded thing of sweeping lines and brightly coloured tiles (reminiscent of a Chinese or Japanese style of temple), but there are also less-artful outbuildings to house monks and kitchens and armouries and so forth. A monk is sweeping the main yard as Sida arrives, while two others are using the courtyard to spar, one with a quarterstaff and the other with a single-sword style. Both occasionally achieve straight-up supernatural effects with their fighting. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida hasn't really been outside the city before today, or not very far out at least. She hopes she doesn't get attacked by a stray monster hiding in the tall grass or something.

The temple is impressive, albeit more extravagant than she's used to. Perks of having adventures as sponsors, she supposes. She approaches the sweeping monk.

"Hello. I have some questions about Understanding—the god, that is. Is there someone here I can talk to about that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Monsters do leave her alone, though she's treated to the sight of a songbird which leave a sparkling trail behind it, flying in the distance, and to that of a little earth-elemental in a shape reminiscent of a hedgehog, and maybe the size of a cat, pushing it's way determinedly through a hedge, as well as the more mundane wildlife and farmlife of this well-cultivated land. 

The sweeping monk replies to sida: "Ah, yes. I can answer your questions; we have spaces set aside to talk with people who come to visit. Would you prefer to talk outside or indoors?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Outside is fine. It's a nice day today."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably one of the last ones before winter sets in properly, yes." 

She is lead to a clearing in the gardens of the temple, where several stone benches have been placed around a small pond. 

"So, what did you wish to learn?" 

(It is, perhaps, the luck of the dice, that this monk and the previous one are both orcs, but orcs aren't rare in this city.)

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm from another world, originally, before I arrived in the city two months ago. At home, we don't have any gods, so that's one of the things I'm trying to learn about. The predominant religion in my world centers around the sacredness of truth and beauty, which takes many different forms, but some of them seem similar to what I've read about what Understanding cares about. There is a... theme that centers around freeing yourself from illusions, remembering your deepest insights, seeing and thinking more clearly. There's a lot of other stuff that builds on that, but that's in large part the core of what it means to be on the path, to most people."

"So, um, I already know what is important to me, and it seems close enough to what the god cares about that I want to figure out if worshipping Understanding is something that would be worthwhile for me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Interesting. For most people, the gods teach us what to value and how to go about engaging with life. But you're not interested in that, are you? Have you considered learning from a god who doesn't preach to be who you already are, but who has something you need? Understanding is a great ally to you, but - do you need an ally? I have faith that you will do Understanding's work, if you truly are set on that path already. So why do you not cultivate another virtue not already so strongly rooted in your heart? Of course, if you will not be deterred, I will be happy to teach you how we in this place honour Understanding, and bring about it's work in our hearts and deeds. And of course, no matter what you decide, I would be interested in hearing about the practise as it occurs on other worlds. Different minds produce different insights, after all." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I know what I value, and who I want to be, and I don't expect anything I learn on this plane to change that. An ally is essentially what I was looking for. I'm not sure exactly how gods work, but I was hoping that I could do mostly what I was going to do anyways, go a little out of my way to aid someone's goals, and receive in return a little aid to mine. I'm told that a transactional approach could only result in a very shallow relationship, but I'm not interested in being anyone's servant, and I don't know if there are any other alternatives."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think you should not confuse a shallow relationship with one that is unrewarding. The gods are not incapable of understanding that great deeds should be greatly rewarded, even if those deeds were done solely in the name of a reward, or for unrelated reasons. But essentially, yes. If you only want to do a little, your rewards will correspondingly be only a little. But do not confuse that for it not being worth it." 

"... Though, I am concerned, that you think of the relationship between priest and god to be one of servant and master, when it is rather one of student and teacher. Understanding has the greatest mastery of themself, and the greatest understanding of the world. If you are interested in truth and clear-sightedness, why would you *not* follow their directions in finding them? And when the master calls, what student would not rally to their causes?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"To have a god for a teacher is... more reasonable than the impression I had gotten so far. What I was worried about is independence of thought. It's important to have a certain degree of skepticism towards things other people tell you, and to come to your own conclusions, because in the end you bear sole responsibility for your beliefs and decisions. But some of the things I've read or heard have suggested to me that gods, or some of them at least, desire some amount of deference, or conformity to their beliefs and values. Maybe I was reading too much into stuff, I don't know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hmm, I think I have a number of things to say to that, but first, let me ask -" 

"Tell me, why do you think that there are so many gods of death? Why the pantheon permits a god of deception and weakness to stand as a full member? Have you considered what it means for there to be 35 gods in general?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's easier to usurp an existing divine domain than to create a new one, right? So either there's some fundamental principle of symmetry or a historical reason why this world ended up with seven groups of five, plus all the other various gods. I'm given to understand that a lot of the distant past is shrouded in mystery, so there are a lot of possibilities for what could have happened so long ago. But if I had to guess, the number of domains, and the way they're divided up, has something to do with the amount of work needed to maintain the things they pertain to. Since apparently the basic rules of the universe need maintenance here. Or maybe it was originally less symmetrical, and in the past someone made it their goal to add new gods or rearrange things to create a symmetric, universal pantheon."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, the founding of the pantheon as an institution is actually pretty recent, in cosmic terms. We have good records of the early pantheon conclaves in the rebuilding period after the fall. But that's not what I mean - why do we worship a god of weakness, and not of bloody revolution? Why do we worship a god of death by violence and not a god of torture? Those gods also *exist*, but we do not follow them. The first lesson, then, that you need to learn is: Not all gods are the same. We do not follow revolution because he considers the idea of a church to be a heresy against his own beliefs; we do not follow the god of torture, because, quite frankly, he is a monster, for all they dress it up as prosocial. Some gods wish their followers to be loyal before they are thoughtful, but it's not a fundamental trait of godhood, any more than it is a fundamental trait of any other kind of leader. Similarly, some gods consider their domain to be a throne on which to sit, and others consider it a matter with which to wrestle. If anything, I'd say the latter view is more common. To be a god is to say that your relationship with your domain is the most important such relationship, but that's not the same as thinking you have everything figured out." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"That makes more sense, but I still have some confusion I can't quite articulate. Did you have other questions?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Can you tell me more about the whys of the religion you had at home? What made it a holy thing, and not just another set of rules that came from a higher power?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Um, we don't have definitive rules, mostly. Nor did we have higher powers, and if we did we wouldn't necessarily obey them."

"The prophet Irakas said that knowledge of truth and knowledge of beauty are both forms of knowledge, alike, but different, both sacred. There's a lot of disagreement about what it means for something to be sacred, in what way truth and beauty are sacred, if that is the same way for both, etcetera. Some people focus exclusively on one of them. Personally, I never paid attention to most of that philosophy. I don't think it's particularly important for my life, or most peoples' lives. I think what it ultimately comes down to is that—the world we live in is a confusing place, and it's difficult to know what's really going on. So anything we can do to improve our understanding, to see through the fog that surrounds us, is worthwhile. Knowledge elevates us. It moves us, a little bit, away from confused bumbling around and towards purposeful action."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What an excellent way of putting it! The bit about Understanding, not the bit about sacredness. We have scholastics who could not put it so well." 

"I do think you have missed something important by dissmissing the holiness in your own creed, but I do not think you will find it in arguments with priests."

"You should not leave this place empty handed, though, so I will give you a gift, to show you that Understanding is on your side."

He will reach over to the garden, and pluck a crocus that flowers there.  It's stamens begin to glow a pale blue. He hands it to sida. 

"A blessing. Understanding only knows exactly what for, but I'm certain you will appreciate it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Holiness isn't the word I'd use, but I'm certainly not dismissing the sacredness here. I just think the... philosophical minutiae are not important to me. It's something I feel and know on a deep level, even though I can't offer a rigorous explanation."

She takes the flower and smiles.

"Thank you. This is quite pretty."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Then perhaps you will come to feel and know the sacredness of our faith as well."

Permalink Mark Unread

She starts braiding the flower into her hair.

"What, exactly, is faith? I'm using a mysterious translation superpower to speak the common tongue, and what I'm getting from it is... confusing. I don't think there's a word for that in my native language."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The way I'm using it is essentially a synonym of "religion", or maybe "culture", but it also has connotations of - this is a thing which is holy or sacred and a thing which is important for reasons beyond the simple pragmatic decisions being made by everyone who is a part of the project. Something to *believe in*, rather than simply endure because it makes pragmatic sense to do so. A cause. The sort of thing you'd want to keep acting on, even if you were the last person in the world who did."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, yeah, I get that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you for answering my questions. I did learn some things, I think."

She finishes her braid, says a short goodbye, and heads out.

Permalink Mark Unread

So, this world's religion stuff is pretty weird. She's not sure exactly why, but it leaves her unsettled. Maybe the part about having a close relationship with a higher entity you don't truly know and can't properly talk to? She definitely doesn't understand a lot of how this works, but she has lost interest in learning anymore. Sida is inclined to go with her instincts here, both by judgement and by nature. Oh well, this probably won't be important for a while anyways.

Permalink Mark Unread

Several weeks later, Sida is in the coffee shop district to meet with a client, and to stay up to date with the happenings in general. On one of the patios, she spots Dyva talking to a red-scaled kobold. (One of many things she has discovered in the past few months: Kobolds are short reptilian people created by dragons.)

Permalink Mark Unread

"...only been to the first floor of course, though it is not as if that is a small place. We have been on three trips so far and I doubt I have seen more than a quarter of the floor. It is a convenient way to gain Experience, but by no means easy. Some delvers do not fully realize that, I suspect."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Still! That's very impressive. I think something like a quarter of people die on their first delve down there, one way or another. Less if they're working for great-grandfather, but he doesn't really organize very many expeditions these days, so it's not surprising that they don't. Have you had any trouble from stronger expeditions? I heard someone complaining that there was a powerful sniper taking potshots at everyone using the entrance for a few days last month."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have not run into any trouble we were not able to avoid or wait out. It is also possible to time expeditions for low-traffic periods, if you are willing to wake up early."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hey, Dyva. You guys mind if I join you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, not at all! This is Tarka, who was just telling me about the safest ways to delve in the dungeon under the Tower! Tarka, this is Josarin - she's from another world, it's fascinating!" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Pleased to meet you, Josarin."

[INQUIRE ABOUT ORIGINS.]

"I am curious, where did you come from? And how did you get here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The planet is named Olam, but I don't think that would mean anything to you. It's another world, kind of like this one, but without magic, gods, Weight, or people other than humans. Well, I thought we didn't have magic, but I got hit by a truck and transported here, and I guess that's kinda magical. I have no idea how it happened, really."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, so you are stranded, then?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes. Probably. Unless I become a Great Name and gain the ability to transit planes. Which is what I'm aiming for, it's just not very likely."

Permalink Mark Unread

[SHE SHOWS PROMISE. WATCH HER.]

"Indeed. I wish you luck."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So, how are your plans going then Josarin? Have you decided if you're going to try entering the dungeon after you've finished your training?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm making progress. I might be done in... nine to eleven months? Optimistically? But I think I have reason to be optimistic. I might visit the dungeon once or twice, but I don't think I'd want to make it my regular gig. I've got a whole new planet to explore, you know?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're making good time, then! I look forward to seeing what you can do. The dungeon seems dreadfully boring, to be honest! All risk and death and the botany is well-studied even when it is valuable. Well, until you get down to, what, the 5th floor? I hear there's some good stuff that far down. For people who really need the money and power, like, now, I can see the appeal, but I can afford better."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"It is somewhat predictable, yes, which can be advantageous. But I imagine it would get boring for some people."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was thinking about getting a party together, hitting the road, and seeing what we run into. There should be plenty of appropriate risks to take in the wilderness, if I'm not mistaken."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh the wilderness is just as willing to kill you as the dungeon is, indeed. Somewhat more, if you account for the fact that sometimes you're not the only dangerous thing wandering around out there. But also, you have the chance to find things people have never found before, as opposed to the corpses of the last people to try going down the path you're taking."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Personally, I am satisfied with the progress I am making now, although I can see why you would feel that way. I suspect it is better for one's growth—not Experience, but one's general skill and the range of situations they know how to handle—to go off the beaten path, as it were."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think finding corpses could be interesting, actually. As long as whatever got them doesn't get me."

"While we're talking trade: Dyva, I'm curious how your, uh, career is going."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Whatever got them will certainly try to get you, unless you were what got them, and you have to worry about the unquiet dead - people who aren't buried properly, or who died violently, tend to leave behind bits of themselves that are often aggressive." This last bit is said with an air of of 'oh right I need to make sure my offworlder friend is kept up to speed on magic-related common knowledge'. 

"Things have been going very well for me! I've got some interesting seeds that I've been trying to grow, apparently they're from a mobile carnivorous plant that I'd quite like to train up. Ossa is good and all, but having some extra firepower would always be nice. I haven't been able to get them to sprout yet, though, I'm not sure why."  (She can list half a dozen possible reasons, from hydrology to the magical character of the air, though, and what she's trying to do about all of them). 

Permalink Mark Unread

Sida is glad to be kept up to speed on magic-related common knowledge!

"I've heard about unquiet dead, but I was under the impression they wouldn’t be a problem immediately, for some reason. And, uh, I guess what I meant is, are you killing things?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're right it's not usually a problem immediately, but if someone's body is left in the dungeon for a few days, that'll absolutely do it, though. I'm not personally killing things right now, except for occasionally when something goes rogue in the family garden-complex. Killing things would take time away from my garden. I guess I should at some point, but for now I'm happy spending my parent's money." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you do want to travel eventually, it seems like it would be hard to take your garden with you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"... I've got a few plans, but yeah. Not fun. Still, if a decade of wandering and collecting seeds lets me come home and set up a *really good* garden, I think that'll be worth it?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Civilization is pretty old here, right? Do you know if there are any large seed libraries anywhere?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Soil's cults are known for them, even their little temples tend to make sure that there's reserves of seed for the future. I've always wanted to go on a pilgrimage to the grand temple to the south, but it's a long way. I'm sure the dwarves have some as well, they love Soil, but it'd all be underground stuff probably. Which is still interesting, you can get some really cool plants underground! But a lot of them need the depths to grow at all. It's a real shame there isn't a proper temple to Soil in this city, but they take so long to build. We have a shrine at home though, and we can leave offerings at the construction site, or the dwarf diarch-temple."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Diarch-temple is Steel and Soil, right?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Correct. Although the way dwarves worship them is not the same as they are normally worshiped."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I have been pretty confused about gods. Religion here seems to be some strange combination of trading or allying with gods the way you'd trade or ally with any other person, having weird parasocial attachments to gods, and vague philosophical alignment with gods for which it is unclear to me why the specific entity is necessary. I mean, the organized priesthoods and the trading part make sense to me, but I don't really get why people worship them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What else would you worship?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, nothing? Maybe your spouse?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Tarka gives her a curious look, but says nothing.

Permalink Mark Unread

Dyva will maybe giggle at that. "So like, your problem isn't that you don't think our gods in particular are worth honouring, it's that you don't want to honour anyone?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think I am having trouble understanding what precisely these words you are using mean. Like, when I think of 'honoring' someone, I'm thinking of treating someone with special respect for because of their admirable accomplishments or qualities. In that sense I probably already honor most of the pantheon, or would if I ever interacted with them. And I know that religion consists of more than that, because people honor each other—other mortals—all the time, and it is not the same thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think you're overthinking it! The gods are the gods. They've earned their place at the heart of the world, and all that stuff you talked about people doing - it all makes sense alone and it all makes more sense together? It makes sense to follow the master of your domain and it makes sense to trade with those who share ideals with you, and the gods are important and powerful. It's not a problem, you can just enjoy the festivals and make offerings at shrines and not worry about if your relationship doesn't have the exact right tone of reverence or whatever."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I take issue with... a lot of what you just said, but whatever."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That particular cultural confusion is not one I believe I have heard before. Perhaps you will come to understand the matter better in time."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably. Either that or the null hypothesis."

"I shouldn't complain because I'm the one who brought it up, but theology is lame and I don't want to think about it anymore. Uh... if you had to spend the rest of your life as a plant, what kind of plant would you prefer?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Am I allowed to say the Tree of All Souls?"  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll allow it," she says with unsubtle irony.

"I'm not super clear on the metaphysical or botanical status of the Tree of All Souls, though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was just going to pick a Jungle-Lord Redwood, but Dyva, I believe you have truly broken the question."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ooh, yes, Jungle-Lords are nice too! But the Tree of All Souls is absolutely a tree! It's sort of a weird hybrid, from what I've heard! Every culture has different symbolism for what the world-tree should be like, so it tries to match. So there's places where it's an oak or an ash, or a yew, or a fig, or a cherry, depending on whose afterlife it's being at the time. Like it's every tree that was ever important to people grafted together into one! Which is sort of literally true? What about you Josarin, since you asked the question!" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, that is incredibly weird. I never thought I'd say this, but some part of me yearns for the days when I thought the fundamental nature of reality was simple, and well-behaved."

"When I asked the question I had in mind some kind of big tree, like a redwood. A normal redwood, because I forgot that all this crazy shit exists. What even is a Jungle-Lord?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Dyva probably knows more about them than I do, I have only heard the stories."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, yes. They're not really a species as such so much as a phenomenon - a type of fey, technically - in the jungle far south of here, a tree that grows taller than everything else can claim dominion over the trackless jungle, and crown itself in gold and garnet. Then they tend to go to war with each other, marshalling trees and vines in long slow battles between trees. You can talk to them, if you're brave and they feel merciful, and there are a bunch of legends of heroes being paid in the treasures of the jungle for performing some service or another to one of them. Not really the sort of thing you can just cultivate, I'm afraid."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I shouldn't be surprised at this point that you'd desire to cultivate something like that. Anyways, that's not a bad choice, Tarka."

Permalink Mark Unread

Not long after, the conversation winds down and everyone heads their separate ways.

Permalink Mark Unread

It takes Sida several more months to learn enough arcane theory to be capable of even the simplest magic. The magic photocopier ritual is pretty cool, actually, although it also reminds her that she can no longer use actual photocopiers. Once she has been living in the City by the Fallen Tower for a little over a year, her long period of intense study nearly complete, she heads to a discount spellbook retailer. There are several options, all expensive, all with their own combination of useful and unwanted rituals. She settles on one which once belonged to an unfortunate archaeologist. They probably found Comprehend Languages more useful than she does, but a lot of their other picks are useful.

Of course, in all this time, Sida learns many things, meets many people, and visits most of the safe-ish parts of the city. Though interesting, we elide those events, because none can compare to her excitement in fulfilling her childhood dream of doing magic. Real, proper magic. To prepare for this event, she dons the traditional attire worn by all the sorcerers in the stories: a wide-brim, flat-top hat, a loose billowy shirt, breeches, and boots. Ten minutes of gesturing, incanting, and performing weird little motions with her mind later, a glowing pulse bursts from her fingertip, rockets forward, hits the old ceramic pot she set up at the other end of the archery range, and shatters it into several dozen pieces.

"Haha! Yes! I'm a real sorcerer now!"

This might be the best day of her life.

Permalink Mark Unread

Later that afternoon, Sida finds Dyva, skipping into their normal hangout (the one with the really good spiced tea).

"Hey, guess why I'm in a really good mood right now."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know, did you find a nice new pot to move an exotic orchid into?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"First of all, I have seen exotic orchids you wouldn't believe. Fitofilak Botanical Gardens, bitch. Second, I do not care about orchids nearly as much as you do, so they were wasted on me. Third, I cast a proper first-rank ritual from my spellbook today, and I am now a proper mage."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Congratulations! We should go have something nice for dinner to celebrate! My treat!" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I want oysters but I will settle for waterfowl."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think you could travel for years on the cost of importing oysters on short notice, so roast duck it is!"  

They can have spit-roasted ducks, daubed in sauces and spices as it roasts, along with steamed buns filled with various sweet and savoury fillings, and steamed sticky-rice studded with mushrooms and sausages. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Food in the city is pretty good when you're living the high life.

"So, Dyva. I'm leaving soon, I like you, and now is as good a time as any for you to leave the proverbial nest."

Permalink Mark Unread

Dyva sighs. "Ah, yeah. I guess I should be thinking about that. I've been slowly moving a bunch of important things into pots that I can load onto a cart, but ... even so. But yeah, I can't imagine a better person to travel with! Do you have any other plans for who to ask?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Ossa stands silently at her back, as always. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I have no plans whatsoever, but we can probably find someone. If Ossa is coming—hi, Ossa, maybe one day you'll talk to me!—then we would probably want to look for... someone who is actually good at killing things. I don't think either of us will be able to do damage quickly. Maybe Tarka can be persuaded to deviate from his normal routine at the Tower? He seems like he's been kinda frustrated lately."

Permalink Mark Unread

Ossa continues to say nothing whatsoever.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh of course Ossa is coming. Like there was any doubt. Tarka is a great idea! I think maybe he got in a fight with his last party? So I'd bet he'd love to have something else to do! We should ask him, the next time we see him."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sounds good. If he's in, I think we'll have a decent party. I'll need another week or two to finish getting my reserve ready and settle my affairs here, if that's enough time for you to finish potting things or whatever you need to do."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It should be. So much to do..."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Have you made progress on those mobile carnivorous plants?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I got one to grow, but it attacked me and Ossa had to kill it... I think I need more Experience before I can try something like that. At least I have Ossa. The plants I'll be bringing are mostly various plants of minor virtues and uses, plus some mundane stuff like culinary herbs and the very prettiest of my flowers." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"That is unfortunate. Hopefully you'll have better luck later with more Weight. And, uh, I don't mean to make you loose your beat here, but I'm slightly worried you're going to overpack and end up with a really heavy wagon and I don't know how good the roads are."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm doing my best not to! I guess it depends a lot which direction we're heading, when it comes to road quality. If we go north or south, the roads are pretty good, but it'd be only okay to the east and basically non-existent to the west." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was thinking I'd want to go north, visit some of the dwarfholds. Although we'll have to see what Tarka, or if not Tarka whoever else we can recruit, thinks."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The dwarfholds have a lot of interesting things going on, I'll bet! And they're easy to get to from here. And then we can go further north or something. Lots of things to see!" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"So, if I'm not mistaken, we can just follow the River Veriu north until we reach the Kingdom of Locks. And hopefully run into an appropriate amount of danger along the way, although I'm not sure exactly what to expect."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My understanding is that those valleys are pretty safe, all things considered; if we want danger, we could ask around for people with problems to solve, or take some day-trips up out of the river valley? Even the hills shouldn't be too bad, there are people using them for pasture. Maybe we can find an old barrow or a shrine or a hidden glade or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I do enjoy a nice hidden glade."

Permalink Mark Unread

The next day, Dyva will track down Tarka. After some polite chatter. 

"Hey so, me and Josarin want to head north to explore and find our fortunes. Would you like to join us?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, I am in need of a new group..."

[THIS OPPORTUNITY SURPASSES YOUR OTHERS. ACCEPT.]

"...and I would be pleased to join you. When do we depart?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Glad to have you aboard! We were leaving two weeks from yesterday, was the plan, I think. I'm still setting up a good wagon." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"You probably have more to pack than I do," he says, tilting his head slightly to the side.

Permalink Mark Unread

Over the next two weeks, the three of them prepare to depart. Tarka takes the lead on planning, focusing on every detail. Supplies are purchased, agreements for the division of loot are made, capabilities are discussed, tactics are planned. During one of these conversations, Tarka asks the obvious question.

"Ossa is not human, is he? Or any other form of humanoid, I expect."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, no not really. He's a skeleton. Not even a particularly advanced one, he's mostly running on muscle memory and a basic instruction-set. The muscle memory is a good one though, the original owner was a veteran bodyguard, I think."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ohhh, that makes sense! What is muscle memory? And don't skeletons not have muscles?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I see. That gives me some idea of what to expect, although I would like to spar with him later, if possible."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sparing with him is fine. Ideally, you'd do it before we go, I don't know spells that repair him yet and it's best to be careful."

"Ah, muscle memory is, like, your skills and motions and so forth as recorded in your instincts and your reflexes and so forth. Some of it is literally muscles, but lots of it is in the parts of mind and metaphysiology that stick around after death rather than taking off with the soul, so you can preserve it if you're careful, that's how mindless, soulless undead know how to walk around and such without anyone needing to manually describe walking. If you've got a fine touch, you can even keep around some more sophisticated skillsets like using weapons or tools, or in Ossa's case, the whole suite of stuff he does. Reacting to people, if in a not-very-sophisticated way, jumping in front of attacks, the whole lot. Combine that with a small central core for making high-level decisions, and you get something which can walk around and do things, much more cheaply than a purely-artificial construct. Even most constructs use *some* kind of cheat of like that. And yes, the phrasing in Common is stupid, it's from old imperial and they didn't allow necromancy so they also didn't think about how it worked very much. The draconic is much nicer, it's [a word that literally translates as "the lower/lesser/base/animal memory"] but it makes you sound like an stuffy old academic."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Of course. I should not take long or do damage, it is just a simple assessment."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, I've heard of that. Although at home we call it 'neuromuscular habit' and I don't think there's any metaphysiology involved."

Permalink Mark Unread

Several days before their departure, Sida makes one last trip to the Order of Edification's library—her beloved library, how she'll miss it—to make a few final additions to her notebooks and to look for Sendra.

Permalink Mark Unread

The Order of Edification is as it has been since she first arrived here, in all it's glory. Sendra is hard at work, deep in a pile of books on white magic in a nook in the library. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Psst. Sendra. Do you have a moment?" she whispers.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I do. What's the matter?" Sendra replies. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I, am leaving town soon. So I would like to say goodbye and give you the notes I've been writing for the order. I don't think they'll be very useful, but they're worth something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah."  Sendra looks worried. "I'd ask you to stay safe, but you wouldn't listen. Good luck. Thank you for the notes. I hope you don't have to bury too many friends."  

Permalink Mark Unread

"I've lost a lot of people already. I'm... not unaccustomed to it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Anyways, executive summary. I've outlined the tech tree and what physical-scientific knowledge I can remember, which is not as much as I'd like. Also, the natural laws are a lot more different here than I first thought, so probably a lot of this won't transfer over. And I have even less of an idea of what things make most sense, economically. But hopefully I should at least be able to give you an idea of the rough sequence of steps, and where you can end up if you follow them."

"I have also outlined what I remember of the Canon, although I've only ever read about half of it. This might end up being useful, if someone founds a priestly order and then gives it a few hundred years. But I've realized that I don't know enough about my civilization’s social technology to adapt it to the different conditions here, and it will take a while to develop something new. I think the lichocracy might be a decent starting point, though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"... the lichocracy? The state whose system of government is a blatant formalisation of the idea that the most powerful should rule, plus some systems to make up for the fact that the sort of powerful person they attract isn't interested in governance at all? I'd be interested to see your reasoning there." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, in order to be a lich, you have to be pretty smart, right? And since they're immortal, they have much more reason than most people to play the long game. So with the combination of power, intelligence, and long time-horizons, they should be in a pretty good position to make a long-term investment into a polity, to keep it stable and prosperous. I'm not entirely sure what they value individually, but I would be surprised if it didn't involve wealth and/or magical knowledge. And the strategy you'd pursue to maximize a polity's tax output and growth—economically, technologically, etcetera—would be pretty good for the citizens, or at least better than seems to be the case in many other parts of this world. The part where they're not interested in governance could be an obstacle, depending on what form it takes, I'd have to know more about the place."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hmm. I think there are several bad assumptions there - the first is - not every lich is from a magical tradition that depends on intelligence, many are from traditions where stubbornness or pain tolerance or ability to sweet-talk are more useful traits. I don't have a demographic survey on hand of what's most common. Secondly, ability to play the long game is not the same as inclination to play the long game - many liches take their newfound unkillable nature as an excuse to stop planning for their own survival, let alone sensible economic development. Thirdly, raw intelligence doesn't equate to skill at governance, it's an old trope, of the wizard taking power and assuming that skill at figuring out the mysteries of the universe will translate to running a slice of it and then failing totally. Immortality doesn't help much, because there are only so many skills a person can keep sharp no matter how long they live and being an undead is actively detrimental to mental flexibility and stability. Finally, viewing your subjects as a resource extraction project to be maximised doesn't actually result in good things happening to those people as actually implemented by people motivated by personal gain as a governance culture, no matter how enlightened the person who proposed the policies implemented likes to think they are. The incentives you have described are there, and they have some effect, but what good the lichocracy does for it's citizens is well outweighed by the evil it spews into every neighbouring nation."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, I was under the impression that becoming a lich was a difficult, magically complex undertaking. If you can do it without being clever, the situation is different. Probably it wouldn't work then, unless you had the right person."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It is the case that people have often achieved magically complex effects through sheer weight and stubbornness. Intelligence helps, but it's not required. Also just in general experience can substitute for talent in any domain, if you have enough of it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I should have expected that. Anyways, do you have any questions?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Unfortunately, I think all my questions will arise when I have read your manuscript, and that will most likely not be until you have left." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, that sounds like it will be annoying. Anyways, it's been nice knowing you, I hope we meet again."

Permalink Mark Unread

At last, after entirely too much time spent training, Sida is ready to leave the city. Joined by Tarka, Dyva, Ossa, and Dyva's wagon, she exits the city, heading north.

"Goodbye, Fallen Tower. Goodbye, City by the Fallen Tower. I shall return!"