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Generated: Jun 23, 2022 6:18 PM
Post last updated: Jun 23, 2022 6:18 PM
you could use it to cook things
Griffie in the Hari Empire
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Griffie was just doing some regular gardening tasks when ey experienced a conflagration that tore a hole in reality. Ey falls through the tear while failing to call the spacetime police, and then finds that the sensation of dissolving is even more distracting than suffocation, but not quite distracting enough to prevent em from using an emergency casting of modified Life Bubble to make it stop.

And now ey's stopped dissolving and can breathe! Also, the tear is gone. Ey looks around.

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In a small room with one window and one door, there is a human teenager too tall to lie down in this room, shouting angrily in a tonal language.

Well. He'd rather come across as angry. In fact he's more terrified than anything else.

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Griffie doesn't speak the language yet, but understands terrified humans who want to look angry! Ey puts eir hands in the air such that spellcasting gestures or reaching for weapons would at least be pretty obvious, and backs towards the door while apologizing in Celestial and Draconic, trying to make the apology pretty clear from voice. Does this help?

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That helps. The door's locked by a deadbolt and by magic; Valanda undoes the latter while glaring suspiciously and without apparently moving.

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Okay. Warded door. Griffie will try to undo the deadbolt in a very still-not-attacking-you way and then leave. What's on the other side of the door?

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A hallway, slightly dimmer than humans prefer and with slightly lower handles on the doors. There are stairs.

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Okay. There's a window, showing some above-ground stuff, so the way out should be downstairs unless the architecture is weird. Griffie would really like to figure out how to cast Life Bubble like this on purpose, but not while trespassing in someone else's building. Ey heads downstairs looking for an exit.

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There's a lobby on the ground floor with the front door in it. It lets out on an open market square, setts-paved, surrounded by buildings painted abstractly in natural colors vaguely reminiscent of a forest. Out in the market are some stalls where people are selling fruit, blood, honey, and odder things than that.

The most populous species around seems to be some sort of furry quadruped with hands; then there are tiny birds and some mostly-feline quadrupeds and a couple of pointy-eared humanoids.

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Alright. This is at least plausibly a place where Griffie is allowed to be. Ey finds an out-of-the-way spot, sits down, and starts spell diagramming like eir life or at least eir extremely valuable resources depend on it.

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It is indeed a place where Griffie is allowed to be.

Commerce occurs. A couple of people look at Griffie with badly-disguised curiosity.

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Griffie would engage with this were ey not rushing to figure out a spell. The thing where people don't have souls is weird. The thing where Griffie hasn't even heard of this language family at all is weird. The entire portal incident is extremely weird. All of this can wait until after Griffie finishes a spell.

…and it's done. Even without working soulsense, Griffie still feels safe enough to close eir eyes to meditate for fifteen minutes to get the spell prepared. Does anything disrupt this process?

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Nope. Griffie can keep doing their thing as word of them quietly makes its way to the imperial government.

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What a coincidence! Given that this place is not a horrible screaming disaster, Griffie would like to look for something which looks government-ish or church-ish or otherwise likely to have people who speak a lot of languages and not be a private residence or a business that presumably is only interested in people with non-dissolving currency. It'd be nice if Speak with Animals worked, but if everyone has some kind of soul-hiding abjuration, that'd be pretty surprising, and it works pretty badly on non-animals to begin with. Probably not worth the sphere-1 slot if Griffie hasn't even tried looking around.

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Griffie can at this time visit one of the open-air market stalls, one of the buildings that all look about like the one they landed in, or if they venture a bit further afield, one of the taller buildings further from the square or a park or... a building that looks differently proportioned and is, in fact, city hall.

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The market stalls appear to be taking a local currency ey doesn't have and probably prefer trade goods that don't immediately dissolve into nothingness. Going into other people's apartments on purpose would be unproductive. Griffie investigates the taller buildings, but if they're also private in some way will end up at city hall.

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Some of the other buildings are open but mostly just contain businesses that are also probably not interested in dissolving trade goods. Nowhere seems to be a church, or anything.

City hall seems to be at least partly staffed by birds, one of whom tries to say something to Griffie.

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Griffie does not understand the bird! Ey responds by saying "Does anyone here speak the language Celestial?" and then iterates through eir many languages, including a language that crackles and a tonal language with a small consonant inventory.

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This eventually gets Griffie presented with a metal plate with a moving, speaking illusion of a language teacher on it.

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Griffie takes the plate and tries to convey gratitude really clearly with body language.

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Griffie gets out a sketchbook and pencil, and depicts a normal-looking hummingbird and an aggressive looking hummingbird, then a minimalist sketch of each posture next to the clearer drawing.

Ey then draws a hummingbird not interacting with anyone paired with a calm hummingbird sketch in a circle, and someone hitting a hummingbird paired with an aggressive hummingbird sketch in a circle. Hopefully this will get the concept across.

A series of sketches of Griffie hanging out in the city, looking at the tablet and sleeping, with sun-cycles used to indicate several days. Empty circle.

Griffie making a weird hand gesture, and a scroll with text on it coming out of eir mouth and going near a hummingbird's head. Empty circle.

Ey goes to hand over the sketchbook, then facepalms. Ey tears a corner off the paper, moves as if to set it down, and it immediately dissolves when ey lets go of it. Ey shrugs and looks to see if the hummingbird people have ideas.

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The staff discuss the situation amongst themselves and get the attention of one of the people currently helping some hapless citizen with some kind of paperwork; that person wanders over and looks at the paper.

A picture of a calm hummingbird appears in the empty circle with Griffie looking at the tablet; then there's further baffled discussion; then a picture of a calm hummingbird appears in the other empty circle.

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Okay! That is pretty helpful!

Griffie attempts to use Speak with Animals to speak with the least-warded person in the room. From their perspective, this looks like Griffie making some weird hand gestures and muttering something while touching eir headband, followed by nothing interesting actually happening. Griffie shrugs, sighs, and erases the bit where the scroll with text actually got near the hummingbird's head. Ey doesn't have a very good eraser.

Ey then makes a few guesses and sketches things again: Griffie assaults the other species around. Angry hummingbird. A local person puts coin on a stall and takes something. Calm hummingbird. Griffie takes something from a stall without putting coin. Angry hummingbird. Griffie holds out the paper again in case they want to convey any more information in this format.

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Those guesses are all correct and result in Griffie being handed another tablet. This one just has writing on it.

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This seems kind of unhelpful given Griffie's current illiteracy. Is there at least writing in the language video?

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It's not immediately visible, at any rate.

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Griffie performatively attempts to read the second tablet, then frowns exaggeratedly.

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Griffie's notebook starts acquiring obviously magical pictures of calm and aggressive hummingbirds adorning comic strips that float in the air above it when and only when it's open to this page in particular. Whether any of these successfully convey that breach of contract is illegal is an open question.

(There is further discussion. Someone who understood Hari might make out questions like "but should we enslave them?" The answer they settle on is no.)

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Griffie smiles, waves, and leaves the building to go look over the pictures about rules and the language video! Overall, a successful interaction with a government!

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The pictures about rules attempt to warn them against touching people without consent or going back on deals.

The language teacher teaches. Eventually the phrase that starts every episode might start making sense: "I'm Mahan and I will be teaching you Hari."

One of the episodes that plays not long after Griffie starts watching is about the local magic. 

"Today we'll talk about magic," says Mahan. "This is Ariu. Ariu is an illusion mage. Ariu will show us illusion magic now." There's a good view of a bare patch of ground between them. And then projected on that patch of ground are twelve symbols. "This is an illusion of magic. We call it that because there are twelve kinds." ("Magic" and "twelve" are the same word in Hari.) "You are watching Hari is the Language of the Empire on an enchanted object. It is enchanted with illusion magic. This is the symbol for illusion magic." He points to it with his tail. "I am a void mage. Using void magic is against the law. Do not use void magic. This is the symbol for void magic."

A snake slithers into view. "This is Agi. Agi is a force mage. This is the symbol for force magic. Agi will do some force magic." Agi levitates. "Agi is levitating by using force magic."

Agi slithers off, to be replaced by another furry creature who does sun magic. The furry creature transmutes elements. The symbol for sun magic looks like a sun.

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Griffie can avoid touching people, sure. And ey's a fast language learner who takes a lot of notes, starting off in a phonetic alphabet. Anyone observing them will notice that ey doesn't react to the weather at all, doesn't eat anything, and seems to be okay with sleeping in a public space, which only takes em two hours. (Ey's using Wild Instinct and thus twitches in response to a lot of slight stimuli in eir sleep, though if nobody actually gets near em or otherwise interacts ey won't wake.)

Does the language video eventually get to text?

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Now and again people try to talk to Griffie while Griffie is hanging around in public.

The language video does not prove adequate at literacy education.

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Griffie is happy to introduce emself with "I am Griffith. I am learning Hari." if approached, once ey can manage that. What do people try to say?

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Someone asks enthusiastic questions that might be about Griffie's leaves and someone else tries to say something that might possibly have something to do with sleeping.

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The leaf questions get an "I do not know those words! Come back later?". The sleep questions get Griffie holding up eir notebook with eir drawings and the hummingbird's illusions and saying "I talked with pictures in the past. The law says I can sleep here?".

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Sleep person wants to know something something plants don't want something something like other people? Fine, whatever, plants don't have to something something.

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"I do not know those words! Come back later if you want to ask again?"

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After around 7 days, enough time for the video to go through its cycle twice, Griffie feels capable of spoken Hari! Ey heads back to what was probably a government building.

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This is less of a big deal the second time. Nonetheless people try and sometimes fail to avoid being noticed watching.

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Griffie seems to be aware of being watched but does not seem to mind it! Ey heads into the building and, once ey encounters a non-busy-looking employee-looking person, says "I appreciate the language illusion! I can talk now but I had trouble reading the tablet with the law. Would someone be willing to tell me what the law is?"

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Sure, they can read it out loud.

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Griffie appreciates the reading of the laws, though anyone looking at em can tell ey doesn't like the slavery. Once that's resolved, ey asks if the Hari Empire has contracts with other empires-or-such, and if it's really true that there are no laws against changing yourself in ways that don't break the other laws.

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"There aren't - hm," says the civil servant. "We didn't previously know of other empires. And I'm not sure what you mean, about changing yourself, are you thinking of glowing obnoxiously or painting yourself with bad reviews of businesses you don't like?"

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"I don't know how far away you are from other empires, but they definitely exist. Local law where I'm from includes bans on some not-obnoxious-to-your-neighbors medical interventions because, to put a long story short, some people who are really really powerful there are big fans of disease and death and would only agree to stop doing unpredictable murders if people were instead legally required to die eventually. If the law here doesn't include that, that's pretty great for me, but I also wanted to explicitly confirm."

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"...Um. That, um, deeply concerns the Hari Empire, and we will have to investigate the feasibility of going to war with them in case anyone follows you. But, uh, no, we don't have laws that require everyone to die. Do you, uh, happen to know if the people who are big fans of disease and death might be going to follow you?"

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"They probably will follow me if they can, but I don't know if they can. I don't know how much you know about me coming here, I came here by accident and was suddenly in a human's bedroom and they didn't want me there and I left. It seems smart to inspect that site, I can draw the human or walk you to the room if they, uh, didn't come here already about me. And while going to war with them is a good idea, it's also really hard, you want to get in touch with the most cooperative of their enemies first if you can manage."

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"I can ask the police to go with you to the human's property and ask to be let in. I'll be passing a message on to the imperial government in Mar Geru about this and I expect they'll want you to go talk to them soon."

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"Will the police will include a knowledge mage? Also, I can talk to the imperial government, but I would like them to pay me for it, because now I can talk to people, and if I answer the imperial government's questions, then I am not talking to people at the market and figuring out how I can earn money here."

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"They always pay people for that."

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"That is probably a good decision."

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"Well, they don't prefer for everyone else to hate them and be motivated to replace them. Anyway, I assume a knowledge mage will be involved, yeah. Wait here while I talk to people."

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"Alright."

Having heard the laws read aloud, ey looks them over as a sample text while ey waits.

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A belul with a badge and a notebook eventually comes over to ask Griffie about the place they appeared.

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It's this apartment building! Over here. This is the right door in it, pretty sure.

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The officer knocks and announces that they're with the imperial police but not here to make an arrest.

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There's no response for a while, and then someone comes to the door with a too-bright smile and a recently redone ponytail. "Is this about - this is totally about them, isn't it." He gestures at Griffie.

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"I would have preferred to not accidentally appear in your apartment, because you didn't like it, and now it is inconveniencing you again, which seems also not great. However, figuring out details about me appearing here may be relevant to imperial defense."

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"That's kind of you. I'm getting paid for the inconvenience - how much, by the way?" he asks the belul, who names a figure. "So I'm fine but it's kind of you to think about me."

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"I prefer you being fine. Uh. I like that even though you did not want me in your apartment you did not cause problems for me, that was kind of you. I'm Griffith. Do you want to ask me any questions or tell me anything?"

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"...Sure? If you're still around after I'm done with the police."

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“My plan was to visit the market, but I don’t really have anywhere to be, and there’s advantages to interacting with people filtered by whatever made me end up here in addition to other filtering.”

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"I can find you in the market but if you want to talk privately you can come in, uh, as soon as it won't result in three people trying to fit in here."

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“That sounds acceptable, I’ll stay once the investigators leave.”

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It doesn't take too long for them to be done, at which point Valanda invites Griffie in.

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Griffie doesn't immediately say anything, and instead makes some weird noises and hand gestures and looks around. Does Valanda appear illusioned?

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He is not himself an illusion. He is warded, and the entire room has multiple spells on it, and there's something magical about his quilt, and there's an entire pile of magic jewelry...

"What are you doing?"

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"I am not a Hari knowledge mage, but I have a way of seeing magic, and I wanted to see if you were actually the first person here I met or if you were an illusion. It requires movement and making sound, though."

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"Huh. - And you wanted to trade information for information, I think you said? What did you want to know?"

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Griffie thinks. What do you think of slavery. Do you think the typical slave would prefer that their life continue as it is or to have everyone here die. What do most people here think of slavery… no, that's stupid. Probably more open-ended questions are better for getting unbiased results.

"What do you think the biggest problems here are?"

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"My employer's annoyed that ereli only live about thirty years and then die of old age, so we've done some research on that and we're hoping to change it. I kind of wish there were more humans so humans could live in a place that was designed for us. I guess I have personal problems but I don't think that's within the scope of your question, and, uh, I guess it depends on which perspective you're asking from, I don't really know what things are problems for you specifically..."

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"This is not information I'm interested in trading for, it's information-about-information necessary for trade, since that seems to be what we're doing: did you want to trade a question for a question or just, uh, ask each other questions until it feels like we've asked all the really important ones or something."

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"I don't know, but you might as well go next because I'm not sure yet what to ask next."

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"Alright. What do you think of slavery?"

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"It's not particularly fun and I wish I could have spent less time on it. What do you think of it?"

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"It seems—" Griffie fumbles for a word. Why is this word not in Hari is the Language of the Empire.

"I would like the Hari Empire more if it did not have slavery. Slavery is unkind, and also another thing, which I don't have the word for in this language. Usually slavery leads to people being hurt a lot while they're enslaved, and then even if they become free they tend to still be damaged by having been enslaved. I am … surprised by you wishing you could have spent less time on it instead of just wishing it didn't happen to you?"

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"...Well, I don't wish my entire home town had been destroyed instead, and I'm not sure what damage you're talking about."

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"I don't understand how your home town being destroyed was the alternative to you being enslaved, was someone saying 'give us slaves or we destroy you'? And, hmm, an example of damage would be persistently incorrectly expecting to be hurt when they make mistakes in a way where even though it hasn't happened for a year they still expect it."

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"I know this sounds irrelevant but do people have to be taught specific unintuitive sequences of actions in order to use any magic at all where you come from?"

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"For most people, yes, and not everyone can learn it. Some people are sorcerers, which … I don't know what that's like in general, the one I met could do a little bit of magic but not a lot and ey had to figure out the rest with study. If you build people you can give them built-in magic, I can turn into a regular-looking plant and turn back again. Some species are naturally magic but to do things with the magic they still need to learn? A cockatrice can turn entities it bites to stone but that isn't something it can leverage into doing other magic things."

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"...I don't think being able to turn people to stone and not being able to do anything else is particularly safe but I guess if they need to bite people, that's much easier to contain. Here people are born with magic, and need to learn how to use it well, and need a lot less time to learn to use it at all and don't really need to be taught how to do simple things like, say, accidentally destroy an entire city - although now that I think about it, probably only part of the city would've been destroyed, some of it would have anti-defense wards in place..."

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"I don't think people in my world are born able to destroy an entire city. Built that way, sure, but that's different. The thing where people are born with the same power of magic adults have does seem bad, but I don't understand why you solve this with slavery as opposed to commanding babies to not use magic."

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"Some of the species here aren't born able to walk or talk or think about complicated things."

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"…to be clear: Cockatrices are animals and can't talk or think about complicated things. And the same goes for Jubjubs, and one of those could probably destroy a town, but they're mostly very far away from all the towns I've ever been to and the one that was in the same broad geographic region as a town I visited probably rescued it and … this is unhelpful, isn't it. But if humans get enough cognitive ability to learn Hari magic at, oh, four years old, and they can handle it properly at eight, it seems like commanding them to not use magic is a much better idea than enslaving them?"

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"So, uh, did you specifically come here hoping to feel me out on whether I wanted to help you end slavery and replace it with a system where some people, uh, get to control other people's actions including through the use of command magic."

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"I was mostly trying to figure out how, uh, attached to slavery people were and why, and 'it's a system we use to prevent incredibly powerful magic toddlers from killing us all and the other ways of doing this would have a more complicated legal specification' seems like a pretty good explanation of that! I cannot actually put together high-quality alternative legislation in minutes, it was just the first idea I thought of. If people liked having slavery because they were really into getting to have opportunities to hurt slaves, that would be a different kind of problem and I would respond differently."

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"People like that exist but not giving them what they want wouldn't destroy society, yeah."

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"So, I plan to pitch your government on allying with an organization that is, in fact, opposed to slavery. They will want to work with your government on ending slavery in an orderly manner that doesn't get people assaulted by toddlers or make your legal code more confusing. They are going to be noticeably upset about the slavery and make steps towards ending it be a condition of mutual defense agreements, and such. Do you think that will be a giant problem for diplomacy?"

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"I don't know. It probably depends. I could speculate but I'm not a politician or anything."

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"Alright, thank you. Hmm. Is there anything that you think is a really bad idea to do here that isn't illegal? Please include really obvious answers. For example, in the city I have a house in there are some people who will stab you if you lie to them even a little bit, and so it's a bad idea to interact with people without asking them if they're like that. …I'm not one of those people, to be clear."

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"Don't... go off alone in a hidden area with a random stranger without first letting people know where you'll be? Uh, read the state and city laws if you haven't yet, those matter if you're going to be building anything or selling some kinds of food or doing sex work. Oh, and if you make people uncomfortable, like if you stare at them or pee on the street - you probably don't do that anywhere, never mind - or if they don't like how you smell or something, then they might charge you more money if you have to deal with them."

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"Thank you! I can't read Hari yet, the government building workers read me the imperial law but I don't know what they do and don't do, will the they be angry if I ask them to do things they don't want to do? And I don't think I have a smell here, anything that comes from me dissolves outside my bubble. …I should hire a defense mage to see if they can build me a better bubble but I don't have money yet."

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"...If you want people to do things they don't already want to do, you'll have to pay them. They might be mad you asked if you distract them from trying to focus on something."

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"Okay, that sounds like the norm I'm used to. Oh. Question. Do you know what the part of you that lets you feel things and remember things and such is?"

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That is a bizarrely creepy question. "Yes, I do, it's one of my internal organs. How about you?"

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"It's made of a different material from my organs and is able to be in the same place as the inside of my head despite there being an organ there."

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"Huh! How does that work?"

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"…I don't even know the word in Hari for the organ that's in people's heads that information from the body goes into. I can try to explain anyway but I think you might want to ask me again later. Or tell me lots of words, that works too."

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"I don't know what organs are in your head because you're a plant, but in some local species there are eyes and ears and noses and on the inside there's a tongue and teeth and a brain. The tongue is for pronouncing things, the teeth are for biting things, and the brain is for thinking."

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"My brain doesn't do the thinking, it helps with thinking and it makes information make sense for the part that feels things and remembers things, which is in my first language called the soul, which attaches to the brain at the … the base of the brain? The place where the brain attaches to, uh." Griffie runs a hand along eir spine. "This part."

"I could make you a picture but if you want to keep it it has to be your picture-making tools not mine."

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"So your brainstem is the anchor for an intelligent magical construct?"

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"Saying this body's brainstem anchors me in my body probably makes more sense, but yes."

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"That's cool! I wonder if - um. Anyway. That's cool. Do you have any illusions up?"

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"The government workers put some illusions explaining laws with pictures in my book but otherwise I don't think so. You can ask me weird-sounding questions about biology if you want, I used to work in medicine."

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"People haven't - I mean - replicating a physical brain is possible, in theory, but it's really slow and the parts you made first will die while you're making the rest of it, and lots of people hide theirs just in case. And making a magic item with flexible general intelligence is one of the hardest problems in spell design, but if there's an example right there for everyone to see..."

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"I haven't seen copied people. That said, in the absence of" Griffie glares, though not at Valanda "certain entities I will be discussing with your government, it is possible to make people stop aging, or have damage from aging healed. There are documented cases. I'm one of them, though I think you would really like a methodology that's less associated with near-total amnesia. …this is all about aging of the soul, making empty replacement bodies is a known process, just an expensive one especially if you're picky."

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"Well, uh, don't let people know how to stop aging or heal it unless you're sure you don't mind there being fifty of you who belong to people who thought 'oh hey, I want to own an alien plant' and will live forever."

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"Uh!" Griffie frowns and thinks.

"I don't want that outcome. I don't want other people who like being alive to die either. I … think it should ultimately be possible for something mutually beneficial to happen here that improves on the 'I just don't tell people any useful information and they die' outcome, I guess I just need to figure it out."

"Thank you very much for telling me this. I appreciate it a lot. Do you want foreign currency that's only really interesting due to being made of locally-unstable matter or anything? You're a defense mage, you might be able to stabilize it."

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"I might be able to do that, yeah. If nothing else it'd be interesting to try it. And I don't think anyone here who wants to be alive is dying of being a magical construct with planned obsolescence, they mostly die of - actually that's a detailed thing that I know a lot about and have forgotten what kind of summary laypeople would use."

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"It's not like my creator did planned obsolescence, normally creations like me aren't as intelligent as I am and aren't nearly as repairable either. She actually got … I'm not sure whether you'd call it 'arrested' or 'kidnapped' … for making us too repairable. And I do know about the thing where body parts get worse as the body gets older, there's … I have healing magic that automates some of the detail work, I could look into applying it that way. Anyway."

Griffie gets out and shows Valanda an embossed disc that looks superficially like it's made of copper. There's a crude figure of what might be a caralendar man, surrounded by unreadable text, on the front, and some more abstract-looking symbol surrounded by equally unreadable text on the back. "If you can stabilize this you can have it."

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Hm. Will a spell that just makes it stay exactly the way it is work? He tries about the same thing he'd try if he wanted to turn someone into a statue.

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Griffie sets the coin down and sloooowly takes eir hand away from it, preferring not to dissolve the whole thing if the spell fails. It doesn't.

"Alright! Good spellwork, enjoy your, er, embossed kuprin sample."

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"I will, I guess. Why did that work, anyway, I thought you said it was currency."

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"We don't have cheap sun-mage-like magic. This is just a standard weight of a kind of kuprin, which is like metal, and one of the rarer ones."

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"So it's not a - it's currency because the government says it's currency, it's just valuable and the government, uh, put a stamp on it for some reason?"

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"So, I don't fully understand this, because I'm not an economist, and I can't get you reference material either."

"But, to begin, whoever made this coin … probably a Temda-region coin, but even if it hadn't been that this would still be true … whoever made this coin may have been a government, but they sure-as-Static weren't the government. They may have done this with the approval of Axis, which is kind of the closest thing we have to a group that could be called 'the government' but, uh, they aren't a sole power like the Hari Empire is on the planet. But the people who made this coin also might not have gotten the approval of Axis!"

"I think the principle here is that they're staking their reputation on it being a specific weight of the right metal, and not some other metal or some other weight, as long as it doesn't look messed-up, and maybe they also hurt counterfeiters or maybe they outsource it but probably somebody does? But replicating the stamp is supposed to be hard. …and by the point you can do it you probably have better things to do, this isn't worth very much. There are tests people can do to see if they have genuine coins or not but I don't remember them right now and I don't think it really matters."

"The other currencies I've interacted much with are different kinds of metal-likes, some crystals that are useful for a lot of magic and hard to come by, and the Axis Currency Unit. The way that last one works is that they make a record for you with a number stored in a central location, Axis, and you can make the number go up by selling Axis stuff, and you can get stuff from Axis and some other groups in exchange for transferring some amount of number to them in an information system. Probably there's more to it, I never got my own record, my friend just used eir number for all of us."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Interesting. I guess I can see why they'd do that. So. Anyway."

Permalink Mark Unread

“I’m sort of curious about the currency here, now, but I get the feeling the government has an illusion about it and I just need to learn to read. I guess I should just explicitly confirm, you definitely feel like the Hari Empire … keeps its promises, holds itself to its laws, tries to be predictable and make people want to cooperate with it and sees this as important, and such?”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, absolutely, all of that - and the currency is an illusion, but they make it impossible to copy it completely perfectly and promise to take payment in it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh, illusion currency. Neat. I feel like I've gotten all the information I really need to know before I try to go acquire money, do you want more information right now?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I want to know what your plans are and who the people you want us to ally with are."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My short-term plans are to earn money legally, and then pay for something relevant to learning to read, defense mage services to substitute for my current means of not falling apart, illusion mage services for light source stuff, and maybe look into getting housing somewhere. My long-term plans are to get your government in touch with my world safely, to prompt them to ally with Axis which will probably be easy given what the Hari Empire and Axis are like, and to try to convince them to ally with Heaven, which will probably be harder."

"Axis calls themselves the … there isn't a word for it. The Region of Law, I guess I'll translate it as, but it's a kind of region you don't have a word for, presumably because it doesn't exist here, it's a region where you can only go to other regions by magic means, if you walked or flew however far you'd still be in the same region. The word in the language I probably want to teach your government is plane. Axis represents a very pure form of promise-keeping, order-maintaining, cooperation-encouraging, predictability, conflict-prevention, et cetera. So they're very reliable to work with but also they don't … care about making the Hari people happy, just about making them not regret cooperating. If someone else said 'we want to have a war to see if we can murder everyone in Har' and Har said 'well, if you try to do that we will fight you because we represent our free citizens' interests in not being murdered' Axis would offer to work out the chance of each side winning and then murder some fraction of the people in Har based on that. So nobody would have incentives to have a war."

"Heaven does Lawful, uh, in context I mean not 'person who doesn't break the law' but rather 'organization does promises and order and incentivizing cooperation and being predictable and preventing conflict' expression of … I don't have a word for it, and this one is important. The Celestial language word is goodness. Examples of goodness are … not being cruel, protecting people even if they can't pay you to protect them, making people happy, that sort of thing. I'm in favor of it. Their response to slavery would be 'we should help you find a better system in a way that doesn't involve you being unsafe', not 'it seems like a straightforward legal code so as long as the slaves can't fight back then it's fine', but they're also … the type of people who don't want your entire world to get murdered by someone who wants to kill everyone, and the type of people who think that bans on avoiding-death-research are bad, while Axis currently enforces those bans because they're part of a peace treaty with the very powerful person who wants to kill everyone."

Permalink Mark Unread

He brightens up noticeably at "defense mage services" and then looks steadily more confused and concerned.

"I can't really see us agreeing to a deal like that with Axis but I hope things work out okay with Heaven. Uh, I am a defense mage, not medically certified but I've been working on immortality so you might decide I'm your best chance. And I think the Hari word for the type of region you're talking about is 'universe.'"

Permalink Mark Unread

"So, the context for agreeing to that deal was approximately that people were pessimistic about avoiding-death research working and were really upset about things like 'this person running around aging cities to death in an instant' and couldn't stop the person, so they figured it would be better if people aged in predictable ways than if they fought a giant war about it, we have a lot of problems from the last war. …Heaven is an ally of Axis and they found some acceptable agreement, I think Har will too. I think the main way your government is going to get something they want here is by just being … probably the strongest and most lawful polity of our-kind-of-people I've seen, with magic like yours every little village can afford to have wards and disease prevention and fast communication with the imperial government and such, and that's a big deal."

"And the thing I want from defense magic is for the particles I'm made of to not fall apart without me being a statue, and maybe a bubble to prevent gas exchange, I don't think that's normal for medicine for people here anyway."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can definitely prevent gas exchange but we should have a conversation in public before I actually do any magic to you. What kind of people are you calling ours?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Preventing gas exchange is kind of pointless if you can't keep the particles the gas is made of from ceasing to exist, I still have to do the same generating-them-constantly magic either way. And … I'm not sure if this is a natural category, it probably isn't, but … people made out of the same sorts of things that their local kinds of plants or animals are made of, with people who are ribbons or have bodies made of gears or such kind of being an edge case. As opposed to people made out of concepts."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Aren't you made out of different things from any kind of plants or animals or ribbons or gears?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“I’m made of the same kinds of things as my world's plants, that’s why I said local.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Your world's plants are magical constructs?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“I’m a more complicated version of the same kind of stuff? My body was assembled from plants and I have a complicated system that I use for being a person, while regular plants have a much simpler version that they use for being alive. Like how you have a brain and insects have tiny amounts of the kind of stuff your brain is made of.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"...Then... what are the other people?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“They have the kind of stuff the part of me that makes me a person is made of, and then they also have quintessence, which is … how do I explain. In my world there is a such thing as an idea, like ‘cooperation’, being a material. And bits of it group up and get bits of the material my mind is made of and then form a person and that person is very interested in cooperation. For one example.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Cool!"

Permalink Mark Unread

“Well, sometimes they form from hatred or wanting to hurt people or such and that’s less cool.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's abstractly cool but seems like the kind of thing that would, uh. Cause one of them to be really interested in death and start a war."

Permalink Mark Unread

“There’s also a really powerful one that's into technically keeping to the word of his agreements but also into tricking people into making really unfavorable to them agreements so that he owns them and can be really cruel to them or other things like that! I am somewhat worried that your government will not understand how important it is to avoid him and his slaves.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, how important is it and how important do you think we'll think it is?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“I think it’s very important to avoid him. I think your government might think ‘he is agreement-keeping and stronger than Axis and not telling us to stop having slavery like Heaven’ and not think avoiding him is important.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"And it's important because he engages in predatory business practices and is very smart?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“Basically? Even if he lets you write a contract yourself it will still be a trap, he’s very smart. Also his goal is to conquer the world and then torture everyone who didn’t immediately surrender to him a lot. …he does also torture the people who do immediately surrender to him, just, less. He likes incentives.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Everyone? Why everyone?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"…I guess he might have some favorites who don't get hurt? I'm not sure. The ideas he's made of include things like 'power comes from people being afraid of you and thinking that cooperation is their only choice' and things like that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...The imperial government comes from that idea and doesn't torture anyone unless they commit a lot of crimes."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think the thing the imperial government wants is for people to not break some laws which it isn't that hard to not break, not for everyone to orient their entire lives around maximally satisfying local government officials? And people all have input into what the empire does and they seem to like the system of 'there's an empire that enforces some laws and does things like give people tablets about what the laws are and isn't in charge of everything'. Whereas this person … I'll just say Asmodeus, that's his name, not mentioning his name has been silly… whereas Asmodeus wants layers of slaves owning slaves owning slaves with him the only genuinely free person. And if you want people to think cooperation is their only choice for that, I think that just takes more torture than people thinking cooperation is their only choice with, uh, not assaulting people or stealing things or breaking contracts. Honestly I'm not sure the latter actually requires any torture, I'm pretty sure it doesn't, but I don't, uh, have access to the library I'd be referencing on that. Heaven probably has information on how to make people follow those laws without torture though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It'd be nice if it turned out torture was completely useless for us. I don't think I'd cooperate with Asmodeus even if he did torture me but I haven't met him so maybe I'm wrong, but - it's better for me that the empire is how it is - I think you're right, it sounds like Asmodeus is doing a completely different thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, I can't really picture people who have an honest understanding of what Asmodeus offers preferring him to the Hari Empire… I mean, he might have his slaves try bribing individual officials but that still wouldn't actually be a good deal for them in the end. And I'm sure he wouldn't like the structure where people get to choose who the government is."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well... if the Hari Empire handled him the way it handled the place I'm from - and I'm not saying this is going to happen, just, if it did - he could pay us taxes and be acknowledged as the governor of his own state and keep the people who are already his slaves, and get to vote on who's in charge of the empire and not let his slaves vote on it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Axis periodically offers Asmodeus and Heaven proposals which are sort of like that, except less 'one free person one vote' and more 'one amount of fighting strength, one amount of influence' which counts Asmodeus's slave fighters the same way it counts Heaven's free fighters. And then Asmodeus says 'no' because he can't tolerate the idea of forever accepting that there are some people who will be outside of his control."

"Also, I want to be clear here, just because I would lose in a fight to the Imperial police much less all their professional fighters, it is not clear to me that Asmodeus would lose. He is very powerful."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That sounds like something you should explain in detail to the imperial government."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That is already my plan. And why I think the empire should be allies with Heaven and Axis."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sounds good. I probably shouldn't keep you, they're probably waiting to ambush you - uh, nonviolently ambush you, with a job offer - as soon as you step out in public. But come back when you've got money and you're ready to talk about defense magic some more."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh! I didn't realize they would be that fast. Uh, if they offer me a job far away from here I might hire a local defense mage for convenience, but if you're working on immortality research I should probably be in touch with you again anyway, and there are some defense mage services I feel less urgent about than making my particles be stable without me doing magic twice a day forever. Anyway, it was not only informative but also pleasant to swap information with you and I hope to see you again later."

Griffie heads out.

Permalink Mark Unread

And another belul is waiting for them outside, to inform them of how much they'll make if they go talk with the imperial government and that a flight has been booked for them to the capital tomorrow.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are you going to try to underpay me because you know I haven't actually figured out how much this amount of money can buy, or is this what you'd pay me if I did know what prices were around here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"This is the standard rate for people summoned under approximately comparable circumstances to speak to the imperial government about matters of imperial importance, which is far from the highest rate any position commands because it is a standard rate, because it is expected to benefit you if the government learns what you know, and because it is not effortful or painful. At least, generally. If you expect it to be effortful or painful for you to be indoors because you are a plant, for instance, some form of accommodation may be made, and you should let us know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I accept the job offer. Being indoors for many hours per day is fine for me specifically because I have an item that gives me energy so I don't need bright light for that. Other people like me might need their clothes illusioned to glow on the inside to do lots of work indoors, though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm sure that'll be good work for some illusion mages."

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie thinks about several possible answers to this, ranging from "there aren't actually a lot of my type of plant creature and other plant creatures have different reasons for liking being outside" to "actually, even if everything goes extremely well, it's going to be a massive disruption to your economy and not just like having some immigrants of a different species" to "Even though I'm a nice cooperative person, if we can interact with my world at all, there's going to be a massive war". Ey doesn't actually want to say any of them, though, so ey makes a noncommital noise.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, anyway, the airport is over there, here's how Griffie will know it's time to go there, this same belul will be available to show them the way from the Mar Geru airport too, any questions?

Permalink Mark Unread

"If I am not going to build things or do sex work or sell food yet, do I need to know the state and city laws for here or for Mar Geru?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are also things about parks and fishing and it's illegal everywhere to replace matter with emptiness."

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie looks concerned about that last one.

"The matter I and my belongings are made of will replace itself with emptiness unless I do magic to make it not, and I constantly lose some of it and compensate for that by making more. I did not know this was illegal, made no attempt to conceal it, and I also demonstrated the problem in the government office and they did not warn me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You make more - for context, the reason it's illegal is because it causes there to be less matter, and we have no way to make more. And you're not even choosing to make it do that, right, it's just doing it and you're undoing it?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am not choosing to make it replace itself with emptiness, I am stopping it from doing that. When I came here I almost died that way, it was a very unpleasant surprise! I can make more but it would all fall apart without my magic or defense mage magic. I haven't destroyed any of the kind of matter that naturally exists here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Then you're - not fine, you're having some kind of emergency - you're not in violation of a law against void magic."

Permalink Mark Unread

Honestly, Griffie's standards for 'emergency' are pretty high these days and 'I have to do magic twice a day to not fall apart and to breathe' does not qualify. However, saying that would get into a topic ey'll be paid to discuss tomorrow and does not actually find fun, so ey doesn't. "Well, I like not being in violation of the law. What are the rules about parks?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"How about we stop by city hall and get you copies of the local laws and see if they have them for Mar Geru here or if we'll need to scry them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can't read Hari yet, someone will need to read them to me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll do it and try to talk the government into paying me for it later unless we can convince someone else it's their job."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I appreciate that! I would extra appreciate it if I could get a good view of the text while you read it."

Permalink Mark Unread

That's feasible.

When they get to city hall, the belul reads some state and city laws to Griffie.

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie is appreciative. The park laws permit basically everything Griffie would actually want to do in a park, it's convenient to not need to eat and not want to ruin other people's fun. Maybe one of the people who's scried Griffie and eir stuff will figure out how to make something like eir ring of not needing food and needing less sleep but for Hari people using Hari magic, that'd be cool. (And hopefully a more tempting target than figuring out making slave copies, eegh. Bringing the ring to nosy people's attention might be a diversion from that?)

Permalink Mark Unread

Great. The belul makes sure they have a time and place to meet tomorrow.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Griffie intends to be there! For now, though, having acquired the power of speech and resolved eir legal obligations, Griffie would like to visit the local market.

Permalink Mark Unread

The local market has many things for sale! Would Griffie like to buy some honey, some blood, some peaches, some meat, some fish, a slave, any of these three illusion shows, an amulet of nondetection for the price of a bag of apples, a bag of apples for the price of an amulet of nondetection, slave bracelets, a blanket, a knife, a writing implement designed for an agerah, bioidentical insulin, the services of a sun mage, bulk pecans...

Permalink Mark Unread

This is a very interesting marketplace! Mostly Griffie would like to see if anyone is hiring for short-term work, though, ey doesn't have any money. If that fails, Griffie will try to identify people who may not have realized they could hire a living cloud of exotic matter or sabertooth tiger or similar but would find that doing so is relevant to their business needs.

Permalink Mark Unread

People looking for short-term work, unfortunately, mostly read the noticeboard. There is a snake approaching force mages and people who seem to have hands, though.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of obvious unfilled need for a shapeshifter. Maybe if they contacted an illusion show producer.

Someone does come up to Griffie and offer to sell information and advice about Har.

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie appreciates the offer. Ey can trade services but doesn't have money yet, ey's going to go try to read the noticeboard and will probably wear money when ey has some, okay?

Permalink Mark Unread

There are ads in Hari for a medical structure mage and a Hari-Devin translator (whose ad is repeated in, apparently, Devin). Then there are more ads in something other than Hari, that probably isn't Devin. And then there are some ads by people looking for employees - would Griffie like to be a test subject for new spells? Is Griffie interested in helping someone move house? Can Griffie clean carpets confidentially?

Or Griffie could participate in blood sports or join a command design tournament.

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie painstakingly sounds out the advertisements. Ey can do medicine but not that kind! Ey would not like to be a test subject, that sounds like results wouldn't generalize. Confidential carpet cleaning sounds weird. Blood sports sound intriguing but like a not-right-now thing. Command design isn't going to be eir talent. Helping someone move house sounds good, what do prospective employees need to do?

Permalink Mark Unread

Show up while having force magic or hands and the ability to lift a bunch of weight.

Permalink Mark Unread

Sounds straightforward. Griffie can prep Ant Haul for improved carrying capacity, cast it on emself, and then show up.

Permalink Mark Unread

The person has already packed most of their stuff in large opaque boxes and explains to Griffie where they're going to. And eventually Griffie will have some rings.

Permalink Mark Unread

Great! Having local currency is instrumentally useful for many goals. True to Griffie's word, ey puts at least some of the coins on a twine string around eir neck. Can ey afford the amulet of nondetection now? Is the advice vendor still there? Does the blood sports writeup ey skimmed over have helpful additional details?

Permalink Mark Unread

The amulet is affordable. The blood sports looking for participants are something akin to MMA (intended to end when someone yields), a race in which interfering with opponents is allowed, and something intended to go on until someone can't possibly continue. All of them require a waiver agreeing that it's not murder if you die, and all of them ban the use of magic and other tools.

The vendor of advice is cleaning the street and building exteriors a bit at a time, but can take a break whenever.

Permalink Mark Unread

Magic use is banned, not restricted. Well, that sure rules out Griffie's participation. Maybe some other combat sports league will be less interested in blood and more likely to agree with em that nonlethal mastodons are cool.

Griffie can help with the unskilled-labor parts of tasks if the advice vendor would take that as part of payment, actually, but either way ey'll buy some advice.

Permalink Mark Unread

Sure, if Griffie can round up some of the dead flowers and mud to dump someplace that wants dead flowers and mud that's that much less stuff to carefully turn into inoffensive compounds. Don't bother with anything that's not basically fine and just in the wrong place, that stuff all gets broken down.

"Know anything in particular you already want advice on or shall I just tell you things as I think of them?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I've already gotten advice from one person, I think I'll get more information about this world if you start with things you think of first."

Griffie has a lot of experience with dead flowers and mud, and it generalizes! Ey can definitely move it out of the way.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, I think you might want to know about the different states, so you know where to move to. Anavel Sani is full of caralendri and they make illusion shows about fictional stories there - that's something very popular with caralendri, who like stories that aren't true - and hiring you might be cheaper than doing illusions if they want to do a plant character or something. Ehima's kind of got this tension going on between the Hari-speakers and everyone else, and by everyone else I mostly mean people who speak Lexori. And if you want to get involved in anemone farming you should go to one of the states that borders Anemone Bay. If you do you'll have to speak Devin but if you learn languages this fast that won't be a problem. And then there's Cloudbreak, which is up in the mountains and speaks Ilan, like Anavel Sani. And Har, which is where the empire came from, and Meiu, which is mostly people from Har, and Erhau, which is also mostly people from Har but less cold than Har and Meiu. And, uh, hm, I don't know what kinds of certifications exist where you came from so you might not guess that Har has law schools and medical schools - not that any doctor here will know what to do with you, but. Is this the kind of thing you want to know?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"This is a kind of thing I want to know!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hm. Uh. Anavel Sani has more sunlight in the winter and plants grow better there compared to here. Sometimes people's feelings about all the genocide the Hari Empire did aren't straightforwardly positive. Command designers make a lot of money per commission but there aren't that many buyers."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I request more information about the genocide."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, you know, the Hari Empire conquered the world. Sometimes it conquered places and got rid of the people who were there before."

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie sighs. "I suppose that shouldn't really be new information to me, the government that I've been comparing them to has also committed some. Do you think that if the Hari Empire conquered somewhere today, they'd be pretty clear about offering non-genocidal terms for surrender?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, that's more appealing than the alternative."

Griffie pauses to think. "What jobs would you recommend for someone who can turn into animals or, uh, a being of fiery-stuff or watery-stuff or gaseous-stuff or rocky-stuff? I've done magic-allowed combat sports but not acting before. Also, if someone could conjure some unstable temporary material from nothing for void mages to get rid of if they wanted to, would that be a big deal or not really?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think at least try acting. There's probably a use for a sentient gas or water but I don't know what use. I don't know if conjuring temporary material would be a big deal. Maybe? I assume you could do interesting things with the resulting void while it existed but I don't know what."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Alright, thanks. At least I'm sure to be the best actor for my species, haha. I think that's everything I really want to ask for now."

Griffie heads back to the market to look for other immediately-available employment for people who can, say, move objects with their hands, and also get a broad idea of pricing. Ideally, ey'd be able to hire Valanda before a human would usually go to sleep.

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie can already afford a simple defense mage job, but might want to have more cash in hand for this.

If they're paying very close attention they might be able to notice how many people work four-hour dusk shifts and make some inferences about Valanda's schedule.

Permalink Mark Unread

Given this, if there are more people interested in hiring someone with Griffie's skillset today, ey would in fact like to acquire more currency.

Permalink Mark Unread

Someone who is not the government invites Griffie to step into their illusion and answer questions in exchange for somewhat fewer rings than the government is paying them.

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie will warn in advance that ey's not going to answer questions that ey thinks should be discussed with the government before everyone else, but sure, ey'll take it.

Permalink Mark Unread

This person would like to know what Griffie is and whether Griffie can propagate vegetatively and what exactly Griffie's magic is and whether there will be more plantpeople coming and if so what they will be in the market for and whether plants have the concept of privacy and whether Griffie is afraid of herbivores.

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie is a euphorbia leshy, which means that ey's an artificial person made out of a specific kind of plant! Ey can propagate vegetatively but not into new people, just into mindless immobile plants, to make a new person ey would have to do complicated magic stuff. There will probably not specifically be more plant-people coming, most regular people from Griffie's world are actually sort of like the humans here, plant people are a pretty small minority. People from Griffie's world will probably want defense magic to keep their atom-analogues from rapidly decaying, and other wards, and may or may not want large high-quality synthetic crystals from structure mages depending on whether those work for their magic or not. They might like cheap shared sleeping spaces which are commonly rented in Griffie's world but not for rent here. On the topic of privacy, Griffie and other people from eir world have the concept of it but seem to be less into it than Hari people do. Griffie is probably going to buy private space eventually, but figures knowledge mages can already see what they and all their belongings are like, so it's not going to be their first priority, they want to buy a warning illusion and some defense wards first. …relatedly, they emit rapidly-decaying gaseous exotic matter, you haven't gotten too close but you probably should continue avoiding that. Griffie is not afraid of herbivores, for non-instinctual reasons because ey's the wrong kind of matter for any herbivores here to eat and murder is illegal, and for instinctual reasons maybe because ey's poisonous.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cool. They have assorted other questions about the large amount of stuff Griffie is carrying. Such as what some of it is, and how they managed to have it on hand when they came here.

Permalink Mark Unread

They spend most of their money on portable personal goods because their world is more lawless than Har and it therefore seems preferable to them to keep their belongings on their person as much as feasible. The metal discs are currency, ey repeats the currency explanation ey gave Valanda. The wooden carving of a toad with a preserved leaf embedded in it is a holy symbol of Immonhiel tool for getting the attention of Immonhiel who is a useful person to have the attention of something that's probably inexplicable without reference to an issue ey'd rather discuss with the government first, sorry. The feathers that look like they have to be from a giant bird in fact are from a giant bird, ey can … if this guy wants to pay extra ey can do a sketch. One of the rings is for not needing to eat food or drink water or sleep as long, the other one does something totally useless here. The stamped leather stuff is body armor that transforms with em when ey shapeshifts. The bracelets are for being able to claw people ey fights to unconsciousness instead of death so that they can be turned over to the appropriate authorities, don't worry ey isn't planning to pick fights here. The headband helps with thinking. The stick is for healing people, ey has healing magic that does its own detail work, and the spring setup for getting it into eir hand quickly is because time is of the essence when people are seriously injured. The vest helps with shapeshifting. The boots do a thing which won't function here and also let em levitate, which ey demonstrates.

Permalink Mark Unread

This guy does not want to pay extra for a sketch. They do want to know if any of these magic items are for sale or if Griffie will be making new ones.

Permalink Mark Unread

The boots of levitation will probably be for sale eventually, but Griffie will not be making new ones in the near future, ey doesn't know how to yet. Also right now the boots would disintegrate if ey let go of them and it's not clear to em whether the control mechanism actually works for Hari people.

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie does a few more odd jobs, then goes shopping.

Ey dithers over illusion forms before realizing that a sphere saying "warning: creature within emits inhalable exotic matter" communicates things just fine and should work when shapeshifting too, it doesn't need to be more form-fitting than a sphere. Can the illusionist pick the wording?

Getting a stabilization ward from Valanda is trickier. It turns out to be possible to create a ward that preserves the atoms of nonbaryonic "water" but that doesn't really leave it at all liquidy, and the actual ward Griffie needs (it works on a broken-off head 'leaf', which ey pronounces still alive) is more complicated than that, but doable. For that ward, ey'd like a large sphere centered on a token securely attached to eir belt pouch, and if ey can afford it, ey'd also like a ward a few inches off of eir body preventing free flow of gases, since the spherical ward will prevent their nonbaryonic "air" from decaying. It's okay if the ward for their body breaks on shapeshifting, it's more of a courtesy to others.

Permalink Mark Unread

Wow, that's actually a really tricky problem, but yes, solvable. Solvable but kind of tedious to implement, and he wants multiple times the usual cost of a spell for it. Preventing the air from getting too far away is an easier problem.

"What's the risk with the nonbaryonic air?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Griffie has been doing a lot of work today and can pay Valanda. "I don't see any reasons why it would be worse than baryonic inert gas, but it's novel to this world, so I'm trying to preempt unknown problems."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think people can die of breathing inert gas, actually. Responsible of you to do something about that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The way my magic setup works without the Hari-magic gas-containment ward and the stabilization ward is that the gas starts destabilizing when it gets more than this far" ey indicates an inch "from my body, so in order to inhale a mostly-nonbaryonic-gas mix someone would have to stick their face really close to me, which I don't actually expect people to do. I'm more concerned about something happening at lower concentrations. And then it possibly being handled as assault if someone gets sick and wasn't warned."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, that sounds about right. And are you going to need some kind of follow-up if you, uh, breathe all the air in the ward and then don't have any more to breathe, or what?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm using my magic to make the air correct. I'll eventually want some way to make that not rely on my magic so much, permanent magic is hard for me so I have to do set up an ongoing 'make the air correct' spell twice a day. But even if it fails, if the air starts going unbreathable, then I die slowly and I have minutes to fix the problem, but if I don't have wards at all, I die much faster and have seconds to fix the problem. I can tell you about my best air plans so far if you're interested, I'd offer to sell them but I don't think this is actually information of economic value to you."

Permalink Mark Unread

Shrug. "I was just feeling out whether I should be planning on offering you other things later or recommending other kinds of mages."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, okay. If you know any experimentation-oriented structure mages or have predictions about the result of attempting to use structure magic on nonbaryonic matter, I'll pay a ring for each."

Permalink Mark Unread

He does know someone Griffie might want to try talking to, but does not have a guess about whether structure mages can affect exotic matter.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, he can be paid one ring for one answer, not two rings for two answers, then. It's all very transactional.

After this, Griffie will go … decide not to rent a cupboard for two hours, actually, and to sleep in the park now that ey understands the park rules. Which by Hari standards probably means ey lacks privacy intuitions, but a dark box with foreign hard-to-parse wards doesn't actually feel like it'd be any safer than the park, and it seems like a rather unpleasant environment. Ey holds off on immobile-plant form until ey's more willing to pay for the body-centered airflow wards again, though.

Two hours later, ey wakes up, takes some cryptic notes while thinking about what to discuss with the government, re-prepares spells, and gets to work drafting an air-revitalization spell in case structure mages can't handle nonbaryonic matter. Life Bubble is sphere 4 but does an awful lot of things, and Griffie now has a nice pocket of air at a nice temperature. Ey doesn't have the same frantic haste while working that ey had when working on the Life Bubble modification, and doesn't finish anything before it's time to head to the airship.

Permalink Mark Unread

Their flight is totally uneventful and the imperial representative they spoke to before finds them again to show them where to go.

The imperial capitol building contains a dimly lit maze that looks like a different dimly lit maze, through which can be found the imperial audience chamber.

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The airship is not buoyant in the air! This is pretty scary and not what Griffie expected an airship to be! Ey consoles emself with the thought that ey can fly and that none of the other passengers look scared, but still spends some cognitive effort plotting out plans for saving the passengers in the event of a crash.

The maze is kind of disconcerting and ey goes through it with the glowing necklace out to illuminate eir path, and trying to keep close track of eir path as well as keeping an ear out for nonvisual clues. Probably they can just have perfectly smooth floors of force that dust falls through and thus that have no footprints, and perfect sound blocking, and perfect smell blocking not that ey's smelled anything besides emself and eir possessions since arrival. But hey, this is waaay too convoluted to possibly be an arrest attempt when they could have just done so more straightforwardly by being inaudible and matching the environment's light levels and hovering towards em while ey was asleep.

Ey enters the audience chamber.

Permalink Mark Unread

They do not arrest Griffie in the maze or at the end of it. The light doesn't reflect correctly off of anything.

The audience chamber is also dim. There is an agerah on a dais, apparently inside, who asks how Griffie came to be here.

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"I experienced a phenomenon sort of like catching on fire, but instead of it being oxidization-fire or the usual type of exotic matter fire in my world, it was Positive Energy, which literally translates into 'positive energy' but that's probably not actually a sensible Hari term for it. It tore a hole in space, and I fell through it and ended up here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you have a guess as to why that happened?"

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"I have powerful enemies and this tends to lead to me being involved in sudden confusing events, but that doesn't actually explain the specific details of this."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you expect your powerful enemies to follow you here?"

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"Eventually, yes. They don't seem to be chasing me specifically down, but whoever wins in my world is going to want to expand to others, and my absence probably increases my enemies' chances of victory."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So there's a war in another universe, the victors of which will come seeking to conquer other universes? How do they fight?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That sounds about correct. Right now, almost all the major factions are pretending to do very treaty-limited warfare but at least two of them are in fact working on treaty-violating secret weapon projects. The last time they fought all out … non-secret information includes that they had temporal weaponry that probably shattered time by the end of it and they sent continents flying. I'm willing to give you more information than that, with the understanding that it's not for publication and I would like you to respect the interests of the people who gave me the information when we get in contact with them."

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"What might it entail to respect their interests?"

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“To make me comfortable sharing their information … not publishing it and not using it to do things they don’t want. I want to pitch you on allying with my faction more generally, but will understand if that doesn’t happen, just, if I share their resources with you you shouldn’t use those specific resources to facilitate stuff like the making-people-unhappy components of slavery. Obviously if you independently rediscover it you’re not using their information anymore.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"I do not know of exactly one possible category that includes the aspects of slavery that make people unhappy."

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“Just don’t use it for enforcing slavery law, then. I don’t expect it to have significant applications there anyway.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"What do you expect that avoidance to entail?"

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"If you can somehow use the information I give you for, say, increased surveillance capabilities, you do not use those capabilities to look for runaway slaves or slaves who committed crimes against their owners. If you use it to develop improvements upon the state of the art in command magic, you do not use those improvements for binding slaves. Does that gesture at the relevant space?"

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"What if I just promised not to attempt to prosecute slaves who commit crimes against their owners?"

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Something feels a bit off. "Look. I'm not, actually, authorized to negotiate a deal about how to share Heaven's classified information with the Hari Empire, I'm just attempting to act as a representative of their interests. If you haggle with me about terms, what happens is not that you get a straightforwardly better deal, what happens is that either you don't accomplish anything you couldn't have accomplished some other way, or you make me a worse representative of their interests. But that doesn't change their actual interests! Heaven understands the concept of conditional cooperation just as well as the Hari Empire does, and if you interact with my world at all, which I doubt you can avoid forever, it will be in your interests to work with them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Perhaps you should tell me more about Heaven and their goals."

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"So! Backround information first: My world, which is called Suaal, has dramatically more variation in personal power than, so far as I can tell, Har does. In Har, what magic people can do is based on what magic they were born with and how well they understand how to use it. …you know that, you live here. In Suaal, magic varies dramatically in strength, and there are a small number of very very strong people called gods. Gods are, instead of being born to parents or built by designers, are made of quintessence, which is concepts-given-substance, including concepts like 'agriculture' and 'good tools' and 'overthrowing governments' and such. And then the gods build lesser beings out of quintessence and other materials that share their values, and the gods and their allies go around making the world more like their values which gives them more power. Except actually, it turns out if a bunch of disagreeing gods do too much of that, then the world breaks, so most of them they made agreements and now they mostly don't go around changing the world in person and have limits on what the people they make can do, too."

"There are some coalitions of gods. One coalition is based around Law: like the Hari Empire, they want the people they have power over to know what the law is. They want to have peaceful negotiations instead of value-destroying violent conflicts. The notable members of this coalition are Hell, Axis, and Heaven. The other major coalition is based on … Hari is the Language of the Empire gave me fewer words for this. Friendship, wanting to help everyone, wanting people to not be miserable, et cetera. This coalition is the Celestials, sometimes known as the Upper Planes. Members of it include Heaven and Elysium, but a lot of the Celestials aren't part of either."

"I don't think you want to work with the non-Heaven Celestials much, they'd respect your laws about slavery less than Heaven would. However, if you do want to work with them, I like them just fine and would have no objections to this. …okay, I actually do have an objection to you working directly with Elysium, I'd strongly encourage you to put up signage saying 'Hari children have powerful magic and if you free them from slavery they can be very destructive very quickly' or similar before doing so. But that's tangential."

"Anyway, of the Lawful powers, Hell would like to enslave and torture pretty much everyone and is very good at misleading contracts, even when they set things up so you not them get to write the contract they can still twist it to their favor. Axis shares your desire to have the law reflect the results of the violent conflicts that would happen so as to make those conflicts pointless, but in Suaal, that principle doesn't point to democracy, and so to appease the rather powerful god of Death, Axis enforces laws requiring everyone who isn't a god or some other exceptions to die eventually. Heaven is the only major Lawful power who actually wants the people of Har to do well."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So it sounds like you're warning us that - there are people who want to cheat us and have the ability to break reality, there are people who predictably don't follow laws and will try to steal our slaves if they come here, there are people who want to torture and enslave all the free people of Har, and there are people who want to murder us all. And that these people might come to our universe at some future date. Is all that basically accurate and have I missed anything important here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"All of these categories of people have leadership with reality-breaking capability, in case I didn't make that clear. I don't think you're missing anything comparable in importance that I'm also aware of."

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"Can you think of any way we might defend against their reality-breaking abilities?"

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"I'm not sure how you'd defend against the gods at their full power on your own. I would recommend you attempt to contact and form defense agreements with Heaven or Axis: they'll deal fairly with you, and a large population of powerful mages has a lot to offer them. I haven't made extensive attempts at contact myself, but my magic might work to do it. I would recommend that we initially attempt this, and if it fails I would recommend that you hire me for testing the interactions of the subset of Suaal magic I'm capable of with Hari magic to see if it produces useful results."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If we contacted Axis for defense, how likely is it that they would try to murder everyone in this universe?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It seems unlikely. More importantly, I expect them to go to work hard to make sure that you contacting them with the goal of cooperative trade does not make you more likely to get outcomes you do not want such as your deaths."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How quickly do you expect others to arrive here if we don't contact them?"

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“I don't have good estimates and will list contributing factors out loud because you might be better at getting an estimate out of them than I am."

"First off, knowing that nobody after me has arrived for several days is informative. …actually, you might want to confirm that there have been no traces of any of the types of exotic matter composing me that aren't from me, you have cheap worldwide scrying and it's possible that someone with antiscrying would still forget to cover their tracks thoroughly enough. Secondly, my allies haven't contacted me at all, which means that either it's extremely expensive to do so or they've been distracted by more pressing issues. If nothing happens related to me specifically, my guess is that the gods are likely to return to total warfare within the next 12 local years. Uh. If time passes at the same rate here as at home, which I haven't actually confirmed, and is plausibly not the case, that's a problem. Anyway. If the gods return to total warfare, probably someone will win, and probably they'll go searching for worlds to impose their preferences on, and even if I only reached here by freak accident they'll go try to replicate lots of weird conditions in interplanar travel. I … am not sure how much more personal attention to expect, but I'm probably needed for a complicated scheme, my intuition says 'six months is an upperish bound on how long to expect before contact' but that's not a very capabilities-based estimate."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If we don't contact anyone first, who do you expect to be first to contact us?"

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"Heaven or Abaddon, where 'Heaven' as a faction also refers to people allied with it like my companions. …I didn't name Abaddon earlier. They're the ones who want everyone to die, and one of the ones definitely doing treaty-violating secret weapon projects."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If we were to try to contact one of these factions, how would we do that?"

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“For initial attempts to contact Heaven, we’d compile a letter in an appropriate language accurately describing the situation and place it with some of my possessions and, ideally, a locally manufactured high quality multitool with some good wards. I would then do magic with the goal of sending the letter with valuable resources indicating priority, which would fail if we’re out of range. For Axis we’d do the same except with a different letter and a different demonstration of Har’s importance and value. If that fails I also have a crystal I can break to attempt contact, but it’s single-use so we’d want to save it for optimal conditions. It’s also possible for me to use very scarce personal resources to repeat the letter-sending attempt with more power behind it if the first attempts fail.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Can you elaborate on the multitool?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure. So, my closest contact in Heaven is the domain of Aiyuna, the Goddess of Good Tools, whose symbol is a wrench that's also a really fancy multitool? So I think advanced multitools would be more attention-getting than other demonstrations of value. I suspect it's unlikely that including something exciting and" Griffie attempts to search for a word and fails "their-symbol-ish is going to make the difference here between success or failure, but it seems like it might help a bit, and we'd like a rapid response if we're going to get one."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So we'd be contacting a specific member of the alliance who has an interest in tools? In the south it's common to sell jewelry charms that kill certain insect species, remain cool on hot days, count time, prevent scrying, and often display an illusion of some plants or animals. Is that the kind of thing you're thinking of?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was thinking more of the physical-object type, like, a wrench and a pair of scissors and such. It's probably the wrong place to use resources to spend too much money and search effort on any given object and honestly it might be smarter to do a decent sample of stuff targeting major gods' areas of interest that are advanced here, like a few seeds of a good rice type and a navigational tool."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I expect we could find those things. And if we contacted Heaven, would that make Axis more inclined to try to murder us all?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can't confidently rule it out at this moment, but it feels out of character for them. I'll try to get back to you on that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Of course. Meanwhile, what can you tell me about how you came by the information you've been telling me?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I've personally visited with the Upper Planes and Axis, as well as had various opportunities to talk with their critics and enemies. I can give you more information on how I learned a particular thing. For an example, people who don't like Axis generally object to actions Axis admits to taking, and I've never heard anyone say 'Axis said they would pay for the costs of contacting them about something they wanted to be contacted about but then they didn't' or such, and they pay for the contacting-them costs of those things when anyone I know has done it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If I heard that kind of claim under normal circumstances I would know how expensive it would be to set up fake Upper Planes to visit, how easy it would be to catch a lie, how easy it would be to check that there wasn't a pattern of specific people going to report things to Axis and disappearing..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Faking the Upper Planes would be very difficult. I'm sure people have faked regions of it for deceptions, but for what I've seen to be a deception … they would have had to bring in some actual high-quality expensive infrastructure and disguise it as Upper-Planes-ish or rapidly relay information from real infrastructure elsewhere to the mockup, or they'd have to be colluding with my wizard friend long before having determined that lying to me in particular would be useful, or have seamlessly replaced him at some point. They'd have to not just hide from some of my exotic senses but actively forge results for them, and I haven't seen any illusion magic that can do that."

"Hari people seem to like privacy a lot so I thought I'd clarify that this exotic sense doesn't detect anything about Hari people. It's for detecting the magic thing people in my world are made of but Hari people are made of their brains instead. …language. Anyway."

"You'd have to fake interplanar relations between other factions and the Upper Planes, which would again involve fooling my exotic sense to impersonate other types of people. I've met with … let's go with the translatable thing and call him Big Ear. Actually, no, he was explicitly allies with Axis and the Upper Planes even if he hated them, never mind. Anyway. I've met with enemies of Axis and the Upper Planes who don't cooperate with them at all and would probably love to ruin their day, and they never told me that the Upper Planes or Axis misbehaves in the way you describe? I've met mortals who the Upper Planes and Axis would have trouble colluding with who had complaints about both and none of the complaints included dishonesty in the relevant domains. …Axis does promote the false theory that some faraway portions of the world don't exist but I suspect they openly admit to promoting falsehoods in situations like that, and it's plausible that they avoid making the claim too directly as well."

"I've found suspicious patterns of disappearances before and none of them were about Heaven or Axis's behavior."

"Do you have follow-up questions?"

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"When you say 'situations like that', what kind of situations do you mean, exactly?"

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"Situations in which they're attempting to avoid giving information about the functioning of reality or their infrastructure on the basis that people with such information could do serious damage and omission of information is not hiding-y enough? When I visited a Heaven library about one such topic, a restricted section had a read-before-entering document saying that some of the information might be intentionally or unintentionally inaccurate."

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"I see," the imperial minister says dubiously. "Is there anything you anticipate us regretting if we were to contact the Upper Planes right now?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think the most likely area of regret, by far, is message interception, including interception of the fact that there is anything interesting here at all."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How likely is that and are there steps you expect we could take to mitigate that risk?"

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Griffie blinks with the awkward expression of someone who has just been asked an extremely reasonable question which ey was nonetheless entirely unprepared to answer.

"I don't know, I don't know the base rates and I don't know what the risk looks like under circumstances like these. The only interception case I'm familiar with is one in which the message was interception after the messenger returned to the Upper Planes, which should be mitigatable with me paying for a more capable messenger. I'd suggest we perform a study of other magic, but I don't think I have good 'reference' spells for this."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What might happen if the message were intercepted?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"People hostile to both of us showing up to take advantage of the situation and, if they're sane, escalate the opportunity to their superiors."