Nov 29, 2022 8:06 PM
vanda nosseo in velgarth shortly after the Cataclysm
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From the orbit of its moon, the planet looks almost normal. Green and brown continents, jewel-blue oceans, swirling clouds. 

 

It's only up closer, above the larger of the two continents, that the devastation is evident. Whatever happened here, it left two enormous craters, each hundreds of miles across. One appears to be slowly filling with water; the other is an arid plain, where nothing grows but grass. The two craters are close to a thousand miles apart, sprawled on an approximately north-south line, inside an even bigger ellipse of ruin. Vast areas are blackened, deforested by forest fires that must have run wild for hundreds of miles. Some patches appear to have been slagged down to the glassy bedrock. Much of the terrain still has plant life, but it can't be called intact; the colors are wrong, too many purples and sinister oranges, not at all like the healthy green on the other continent. 

There are odd - circles? - that seem to not match their surroundings. Circles of flat grass in the middle of hilly scrubland. Circles of tall trees that neatly cut off rivers or pop up in the middle of lakes. The circles are in a pattern. To a clever eye, it's noticeably the pattern of amplitude-peaks that you get from the wave interference of two waves emanating from point sources some distance apart, and the origins match the location of the craters. 

There are signs of civilization. On the far western coast, separated by the spine of a long mountain range running north-south, there appears to be some kind of island-based empire, with fleets of merchant ships bustling up and down the whole coastline. The far southern edge of the continent is also mostly intact, though at a closer glance everywhere shows the signs of recent earthquakes, buildings collapsed and not yet repaired. 

The area east of the destruction lacked a protective mountain range and is correspondingly worse-hit. And also, judging by the patchy brown-yellow and the lakes noticeably retreating inward from their former banks, suffering a major widespread drought that must have lasted many years. But there are a few areas of green, arranged in a way that looks like farming at work. 

Northeast, backed up against the northern, icebound mountain range, is an area several hundred miles across which for some reason inexplicably has an enormous magical force-field around it??? 

There are people living in the southern crater, the one that's not on its way to becoming a lake. They have horses and herds of livestock and tents. No buildings.

There are also people living in much smaller and fainter magical-force-field-bubbles, nestled near the periphery of - but still within - the worst-hit areas. 

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Oh yikes. They should have been faster - no, hitting planets with inadequate personnel is a disaster too, if not one with such a weirdly mathematical effect on the landscape - well. They can drop teams pronto, some of them on random farms for lack of a better population center, some in what civilization-esque things remain to be visited.

Nelen and his team descend to their assigned spot.

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They're headed to the area in the east.

Closer up, there are clear signs of previous civilization - cities, aqueducts, bridges - nearly all of it in ruins. For some reason, the bigger cities, and large-scale construction in general, seem to have fared particularly badly in whatever disaster befell this world. Even this far east, well beyond the area marked by forest fires, twisted local plantlife, and weird circles of land that don't belong, the cities are often half slagged to glass. The trees, at least those near riverbanks and thus less affected by the drought, are intact, and there are plenty of farmhouses and cottages still standing, so the earthquakes can't have been too bad - but the bridges have all collapsed, more or less violently. It's as though whatever happened, it selectively took out anything too advanced. 

There are signs of rebuilding. Here's a new city, sort of, set on the bank of a river about five miles upstream from the ruins of a bigger city. There are buildings, mostly earthen blocks with roofs of thatch or sod, some log cabins or wattle-and-daub, but surprisingly well-constructed given the primitive materials. Most of the still-green cultivated fields radiate outward from it, in spokes with an uneven radius between ten and fifty miles, connected by 'roads' of trampled-down earth or, rarely, gravel. It's unclear how water is being supplied to those fields, there's no sign of irrigation infrastructure, but clearly they're doing it somehow. 

The people in the fields, and in the city, which looks to have a population of several thousand judging by the number of buildings, look ragged and underfed but not starving. 

Probably that larger building roughly in the middle is the city hall? 

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They teleport into the street before the probable city hall and assess their reception! (Tarwë watches to see if any of his cells are reacting as though to radiation damage.)

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(There is no sign of radiation damage to his cells.) 

The people who see them appear look startled and alarmed! A very young woman selling tea from a cart, with a toddler strapped to her back and a bigger toddler on her hip, yelps and flees behind the nearest building. Everyone whose house has a door is frantically summoning their children inside and then slamming the doors shut, except for the younger and more able-bodied men - and a few women - who are circling up in front of the town hall, hands on their weapons.

One particularly fit-looking young man instead sprints off past the town hall, to find the nearest Mindspeaker and have them alert the mages, who are all outside of the city doing a weather-working. (It's still not a great idea to do even the simplest of magics within the city proper, where children might be nearby when a spell backfires.) 

The age distribution here is...odd. There are people under twenty, and a disproportionate-seeming number of kids under ten, and everyone else looks at least forty or fifty - and like the middle years of their life really sucked.

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"We mean you no harm!" says Nelen, raising his voice slightly. "We are peaceful visitors!"

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Yeah right. 

Glances are exchanged, and finally someone steps forward, visibly nervous but also indignant. "You can't Gate here! There are children!" Not that he actually saw their Gate, but maybe they were very fast at it, and how else could someone appear suddenly like that? 

- maybe they don't know? They look foreign. Maybe they're from the other side of the world? Lionstar k'Leshya says that theres another continent, across the sea, that the Cataclysm might not have touched - and before the war, especially brave and skilled ship captains could make the journey, if they were lucky. Though no ship captain will risk it now, not while magic doesn't work - it's not just big magics that were affected, delicate magics like scrying for navigation still don't work at all - and there's no way to evacuate your crew by Gate if the ship goes down within your strongest mage's range of the shore. 

"Magic isn't safe here," he says. Fidgets. "Just, you look like maybe you didn't know. Are you from somewhere far away?" 

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"Yes, we're from other stars, far away. What is dangerous about magic?" Nelen asks, concerned.

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Shrug. "There was a war between two mages. They sort of broke magic. Lionstar says it'll get better in a few centuries. The older folk say it's better now than it was? You can do magic again but you shouldn't do it in a city where there are children nearby because sometimes it explodes." 

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"Our magic is not the same kind you have here. Do you know if there's a good way to find out if it's dangerous for us?"

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He is not at all sure that he should trust these weird strangers, even though they seem to probably not be bloodpath mage-bandits? "Dunno. You can ask Lionstar when he gets back, he knows everything. Someone went to get him." 

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"Great, thank you. We can wait for Lionstar." They will stand around awaiting him.

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They're going to be waiting a while, because Lionstar took the other mages a candlemark's ride from the city. 

After a few minutes, the locals start relaxing enough to open doors or unshutter windows and look curiously at the strangers. The very young woman with the kids emerges and even tentatively asks if they would like tea, though she looks kind of terrified while she does this. 

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"We're fine," says Nelen. "Do you have a guess how far out Lionstar is?"

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The young woman has no idea! 

"Maybe five miles?" says the young man who was speaking to them before. "I dunno, he might gallop his horse back if he thinks it's urgent. Is it urgent?" 

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"Not as such, but some of us are passively slightly magic," Nelen explains. "Nothing seems to be happening yet as a result of that or the teleport, but if he's very far away it might make sense for Cassiel to fly out looking for him, or for us to leave you a way to contact us nonmagically and teleport away again, to limit the risk."

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"Oh." He relaxes slightly. "If you're a mage but you're not doing magic I don't think it's dangerous to other people? It might be dangerous to you, some people are more sensitive, but you'd have to be very sensitive - we have some mages who can't safely do magic again without collapsing but they're fine otherwise." 

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"In addition to being able to do magic, we have some magic items, Zanro has a non-reductionist soul, and Cassiel is passively indestructible."

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He looks so puzzled about all of this! 

"Sorry, I have no idea. If it's more like Mindspeech it's probably safe. I could go find Colden and he could Mindspeak Lionstar to ask? I think that would be safer than flying, or Gating again." (He is still assuming that 'teleport' is some kind of weird foreign term for Gates, what else could it be, and also that nonmagical methods of contact are limited to carrier pigeons, which seems worse.) 

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"My flying isn't more magical than my existing," says Cassiel, "I just do it with my wings."

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"Oh." Another very puzzled look, then the young man shakes himself a little. "That probably won't explode then. Lionstar went down the river that way." He points. It's the directed headed away from the ruins of the city. 

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Cassiel gets some space to take off and flies into the air.

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This earns shrieks and giggles of delight from the children, quickly shushed by their parents. 

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There's a man riding a horse just under five miles away, following a path that winds along the riverbank. The horse looks well taken care of, definitely better-fed than the man, who's even more gaunt and haggard than the average townsperson. 

Lionstar k'Leshya - a stolen name, but he kept it, it's not like he can use his original name here - sees the winged, flying person approached, and jerks the horse's reins, halting. He casts out his mage-sight. Pushes as much power into his shields as he dares. 

Waits. Colden did claim that the strangers came in peace, after all. 

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Cassiel spots him and lands. "Hi! I'm looking for Lionstar k'Leshya?"

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"You are speaking to him." Lionstar dismounts from his horse, moving with the easy grace of someone who has spent a substantial fraction of his life in the saddle. (He doesn't even like riding, especially, but with all means of magical transport unreliable, it's the best way to get around.) "Where are you from and what brings you here? - Also what species are you."

Gryphons are the only flying created-species he's aware of. Maybe a mage on the other continent created a humanoid flying race? 

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