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Generated: Jun 19, 2022 12:28 AM
Post last updated: Jun 19, 2022 12:28 AM
Triumph over our hostile nature
Vanda Nossëo visits a planet with dragons
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This universe has a civilization of humans! And some other things. It's not crowded in the way Edda is but it's not just the one planet either. The humans might be easiest to start with. They're on that planet over there, it's not Earth but it has very Earthlike conditions and bronze-age humans living in cities and villages dotted across two large continents. Depending on how thoroughly any prospective visitors look they might find other things before visiting.

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Teams are assembled for the Earthlike planet! They scatter around to all the cities and any particularly-far-from-cities village clusters.

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Focusing on one particular city that seems to be on the southern edge of the densely settled area-

They appear before wooden gates in a wooden palisade. Adults and children stream in and out of the city. The two spear-armed guards at the gate startle into alertness, the people on the road all pause hesitantly.

"Who goes there?" Seems like a reasonable response to Suddenly Appearing People?

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"Hello! We are peaceful visitors from Vanda Nossëo, which is based around another star."

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"Another star?"

"S-Star Travelers!? Oh holy ones, we are honored!" The guards bow. Everyone else starts bowing, too.

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"We're ordinary people!" says Nelen. "We're not particularly holy or special, it's just our job to meet new peoples."

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"You must be holy! You bear great magic power, and you came from the stars! Just like the legend says!"

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"It's - sometimes the case that a prophecy can tell people about visitors from other worlds before they arrive," says Nelen carefully, "but it's rare. It may be that we're separate from whoever or whatever the legend led you to expect."

They're an odd bunch: Nelen, who seems to be the leader, is a short androgynous man with a vermilion ponytail streaked with one stripe of gold, and his companions include a dark woman with pale pink wings and a halo, a seven-foot-tall inhumanly beautiful man with elaborate black braids and profoundly rich and lovely clothes, a petite totally human looking woman, and just about the ugliest possible man in a very crisp suit.

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"I - I suppose I'm not a priest," the louder guard says. "But - you look very powerful. And the priests call for you - for the sky lords."

"Maybe we should take them to the temple?" The other guard ventures.

Everyone else on the road is still staying well back, forming a crowd that edges into the fields on either side. More guards seem to be pushing their way through the crowd from the inside-the-city side.

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"We'll be happy to accompany you to a temple if that seems like where we should be," says Nelen. "We weren't aware of being called and I worry we'll disappoint sky lord related expectations, but if that's understood we'd appreciate the escort."

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"I think you should go to the temple, or to the King," the second guard insists. "Things could get messy here otherwise. And the crowd is blocking the road."

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"Sorry about that. Please lead the way," says Nelen.

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The guards confer with the other guards, and then a guard with a beaten-up bronze chestplate and a coat adorned with lots of two-foot-long red feathers who seems to be some sort of commander picks three more guards and starts shouting at people to clear the way.

The city is... A not terribly well organized bronze age city. They have a lot of big granaries.

And here is the palace! It's stone, unlike the rest of the place. Sections of it seem half-built. The palace guards stand aside for feather-coat guy, Commander Bearslayer (as someone calls him), and he leads them to a big dining room that at least has some artistic effort put into it. Abstract paint adorns the furniture and walls, with lots of circles and naturalistic curves and animal outlines.

"Here we are, star visitors! We weren't expecting important guests today, my apologies. Do you have any questions or requests before I go brief the King about you all, visitors of Vanda Nossëo?"

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"We're happy to wait to see the king, nothing we have to say is of particular minute-level urgency," says Nelen.

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"Right, ask the servants if you need anything! We can throw you a feast later today but there's bread now if you need it."

And then he's off and the guard escort follows, leaving a boy of about fourteen lingering by the door, looking kind of intimidated.

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Cassiel smiles at him and waves, trying to be unintimidating.

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He... Waves back?

 

 

"...Are you all really from another star, sirs? I've been to the mountain once but no further. What's it like?"

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"Would you like to see pictures?" Nelen asks.

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"Paint... Ings...? Yes, but..." He glances at the wooden door. "Yes, I would, if you don't need anything, thank you."

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"They're actually not paintings, but close enough." Nelen pulls up a picture of Amenta. "This is a picture of where I grew up, from very, very high in the sky."

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"The world is a ball." He nods confidently, relaying a fact he Learned In School. "It only looks flat because it's huge. Wow... Are those lights fires?"

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"No, they're another way to light places at night."

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"With magic or with artifacts*?"

*'artifacts' here definitely carries the impression of technology, but with the addition that they're very rare and strange.

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"With artifacts, in this case!" says Nelen. "But ones that it's possible to easily make thousands of."

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"The priests say we used to have all the artifacts we wanted before chaos nearly killed everybody."

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"Wow. I'd like to know more about that, but maybe the priests are the people to ask?" says Nelen.

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"Probably. I might tell it wrong. I don't know how long it will be, King Bison is always busy, but maybe I could go ask for priests to come, too."

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"Maybe we should talk to the king first and then see about priests. But thank you for offering."

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Nod nod. He looks at pictures for a while, if they'll show him, then hears someone coming and runs back to stand by the door.

The boy opens the door again, and the Commander comes through. "Announcing his wisdom King Darener, named Bison for his strength, king of Goldvalley and these lands."

The King is a middle aged man with dark hair and tired eyes and a neatly trimmed beard wearing a bronze crown and holding a chrome, blunt-tipped two pronged tool of some sort - a bident as opposed to a trident. A small group of more guards, servants, and one other nicely-dressed man emerges behind him.

"Welcome visitors," the King says. "I confess myself a bit at a loss here, but I was never one for too much ceremony so let's just talk, yes? Call me King Rener, or Bison as you wish, and please sit. I will hear what you have to say."

He makes his way over to the biggest and most decorated chair and sits, gesturing for his entourage to do the same and indicating a group of chairs for the delegation.

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They sit! Cassiel somewhat awkwardly! "Thank you for agreeing to see us, your wisdom," says Nelen. "We're from Vanda Nossëo, a federation of many peoples from many worlds, and have come here to see if your people would like to belong to it."

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"Interesting. We are already in agreement with the other kingdoms of metal, to oppose and drive back chaos wherever it lurks and march to their aid if called," he says lightly. "I have of course never heard of your federation, do elaborate?"

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"We just discovered this world recently; there are an enormous number and we're always exploring. Teams like mine are visiting your neighbors too and extending the same offers to them. Vanda Nossëo is dedicated to universal access to free movement, free trade, and free flow of information."

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"I would not have my people bar any merchant who chooses to risk the journey here unless they are a danger, nor scholars and priests and adventurers the same, but I don't think I fully understand what you mean with just those short phrases."

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"Of course. Member states of Vanda Nossëo are required to let their people leave if they want, that's the free movement part. Free trade is sharing technology and goods everywhere they can be safely offered, and free flow of information is an opposition to censorship and the suppression of ideas."

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"I do not see why I would forbid folk leaving either, aside if they are criminals or bandits. The great purpose of Goldvalley is to be a place of strength and order, from which warriors who can break chaos and finally make this world as it was meant to be can be trained and sent forth. If you can assist with this, I would find myself eager for some sort of alliance."

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"The rule does actually extend to criminals," says Nelen. "A lot of people commit crimes due to conditions that we can help with, and aren't likely to re-offend when they have plenty to eat and places to go. If someone's obviously still dangerous under the circumstances we can special-case them, and Vanda Nossëo does have prisons if there's a crime after we show up."

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He looks a bit frustrated and waves his hand. "Here I am considering arguing about the details without even properly hearing your pitch first. What is so great about joining Vanda Nossëo aside from neighbors with magical powers?"

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"Vanda Nossëo defends the borders of member states, and provides everyone with a periodic payment just for being a citizen," says Nelen. "That's on top of things you can get without joining, including access to Vanda Nossëo-produced goods, such as the translation magic we're using, enchanted healing objects, cool smokeless lights, and exotic food and fabric; and transit to Vanda Nossëo and allied locations; and automata that can teach your people things like math and science."

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The king and the Commander and the minister he brought with him ask about other magic and about the math and science and about what things they can do to defend places for a little while.

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They are quite equipped to talk about that!

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After a few quick demos-

"Mmmh. I am a brave and honest man, and that is much of why my people follow me. Your visit unnerves and frightens me. For all that you paint your arrival as a joyous thing, it feels as though the soil is about to be washed away beneath my feet and everything will change and be new and weird. You can defeat chaos utterly, should it rear its head, and that will please the common folk. Great magic and artifice will excite the craftsmen. Great learning will excite the scholars and priests. I don't hold with the whole star lords bit as much as most people do, and you've said you're probably not those anyway, but I think if you asked all my people to join the magic empire from beyond space they would throw a gigantic feast and agree almost to a one in a great frenzy. I have some concerns there. I don't think that would be particularly good, to do it like that, when nobody understands what Vanda Nossëo is and is fitting you to half-formed expectations out of myth and legend. For example, I notice you have not launched a great crusade to crush the beasts of chaos once and for all."

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"Chaos comes in the form of beasts?" inquires Nelen.

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"Yes, the dragons are the greatest agents of chaos, ever hostile to all the people of the world, and the dragons' changed-beast puppets as well. Though there are also spirits - beings of magic and not flesh who roam and rage as they please and cannot be destroyed by our hands. Fey tricksters and other strange things here and there as well, though not in Goldvalley as far as I am aware."

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"We'd definitely need to learn more about the dragons before making any specific commitments regarding them," says Nelen. "But your other concerns aren't misplaced - cultures change a lot when exposed to Vanda Nossëo. It would be completely reasonable to want to proceed slowly and learn more about us and the peoples constituting us before making a decision on membership."

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"Yes, I think that would be better. I cannot ignore the many good things you can do for people, however. Our granaries are in good shape but if you can heal the sick and wounded, I would have you heal the sick and wounded. There is no need for caution to beget suffering."

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"If you'll show us a good place to set up we can build ourselves a base of operations and start distributing that sort of thing right away," says Nelen.

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"Ferron is the one who handles the day to day of the city," he indicates the minister, who smiles. "Our discussion of the politics is done for now, then?"

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"Unless you have further questions! And even if you do, Natsuko can put up our building herself while the rest of us talk to you."

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"Oh, that works. Who is the king of Vanda Nossëo? Do you have a formal code of laws somewhere...?"

"I'm not sure which one of you is Natsuko, but come this way..." The minister stands and heads for the door. One guard peels off to follow him.

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Natsuko gets up and trots after the minister.

"We aren't structured with a king at the top," says Nelen, "though some people choose to involve themselves while also separately being kings of some part of Vanda Nossëo. We do have a code of laws, though, would you like to read the whole thing or is there something in particular you're curious about?"

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"I suppose I should read it over and give you ours as well, just to get a better handle on each other. A summary first perhaps?"

 

 

"How should I address you?" Ferron asks Natsuko once they're out of the room. "My king wants healing for the people and for you to operate as freely as any merchant here would. What accommodations do you require in return?"

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"My name is Tanaka Natsuko, and if you want to be polite it's Tanaka-san but if you prefer more casual address Natsuko is fine. I can create a new building in a few seconds for us to set up shop in, and then someone will teleport down a starting stock of things we think people might want around here, which we'll trade for personal anecdotes or stories or songs."

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"Tanaka-san, thank you for clarifying. I am Minister Ferron or Sir Ferron. ...How strange. If you wish to be paid in stories that is not our business. I think you had best demonstrate to me or the Guard that your products are safe first, and make sure to warn people about those that aren't. We do punish merchants who sell bad goods. Perhaps not a spot in the market square if you intend to... Raise a new building. With magic I presume?"

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"With magic, yes," she says. "We're not planning to sell anything more harmful than, say, knives suitable for chopping vegetables."

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"Hmm, there's that lot near the square we were planning to maybe use for another guardhouse eventually, that ought to work. I'm more concerned about things in the vein of especially strong alcohol that can get people to make trouble?"

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"We won't be selling intoxicants."

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"Or weapons, or things that could accidentally poison people or start fires or things?"

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"We do sometimes sell smokeless heating devices. They're pretty safe, and not complicated to use, but it wouldn't be impossible to start a fire with one if you, say, left it heating with a blanket over it."

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They are exiting the palace now. "I think that should be fine. It may be best if I collect a few more guards to keep things orderly? You're very exciting, you're going to be busy!"

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"We hope to be busy! If it's more than we've planned for, I can make more shops!"

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"Well the first is just this way, not far from here. The usual way we tax merchants won't work, we charge an import duty by the wheel and leg, but I'm honestly not worried you all will shortchange us when it comes time to figure that out. Instead let me ask, many of the sick and injured aren't well enough to push through an excited crowd for their healing, either, would your healers be willing to make visits?"

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"Yep, we can make housecalls. The easiest way is if we train someone local to take photographs - like this -" She holds up her computer, and takes a selfie and shows it to him. "Of the places we need to go, because then they can teleport there instead of going the long way."

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"I think we can handle that. The guard or the priests or the scribes... The scribes. They tally the sick and cripples as part of making sure we have plenty of food, so even if they don't already have a list they know how to go about it."

They arrive at a large open square, rough and uneven stone with a few stalls and wagons set up in rows along one side. "Well, here's the square, and there is your spot just there, see that empty space?" It's a house-sized gap in the rough stone and wood construction, with wild grass and bushes growing in it.

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"Mm-hm! Are there any rules about how it needs to look or anything?"

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"Not particularly, though I could imagine objecting to some possible ways it could look?"

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"I'll do my best to make it blend in," she says, and she looks around at the surrounding architecture and casts her spell.

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"Amazing. Simply amazing, what wondrous powers lie out there," he says of the Sudden Building.

The population of the market square definitely takes notice. Someone shouts about the star visitors.

"Er, if I were you I'd set up shop quickly."

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"Mm-hm!" says Natsuko. She takes a picture of the building, and a man appears in just a flicker before he's gone again, leaving behind the accompanying boxes. She pulls them into the shop; they all follow her as though feather-light. Then she sticks her head out and says, "Hey folks, what would this store sell in your wildest dreams?"

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"Magic plows!" "Flying things!" "House making things!" "Delver steel!" "Waterspouts! Like from that story of-" "Magic horses!" "Magic lights!"

Minister Ferron shouts, "I'm going to get some scribes! For the pictures!"

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Natsuko starts unpacking! Zanro catches up with her a bit later to help. They start with the lights - they're not actually magic, but they might as well be, little tap-on-tap-off lamps with no external moving parts. Who wants one? They'll cost a quick story or a song.

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Everyone wants one! They're kind of crowding and shoving for the chance to be next! Until the guard shouts out that they're civilized people and should be ashamed of themselves and he'll take them in for assault if they get too rough, after which they get a lot subtler about it.

This lady thought her husband was cheating on her but really he was out fishing the whole time. This teenage boy once saw a BABY DRAGON (his friend just behind him in line calls him a liar and says it was a vulture). This tired looking woman will sing a lullaby about all the plants waving gently. This man explains how swamps are sacred and bless the faithful with gifts sometimes. This man tells them about a rusty metal tunnel he found on the mountain once.

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Lights for everybody!

They start unpacking once people have gone off with their new lights and the crowd is thinning. They have spices and snacks and bolts of fabric. They can install translation magic that'll let you use and understand any language. They can heal - Natsuko can handle most things but anything she can't handle Nelen can. They have little space heaters. They have magic rings that will make it so you won't get anyone (including yourself) pregnant till you take it off again.

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The crowd doesn't really thin, though it does get more orderly when a few more guards show up. People are playing with the lights and shining them in each others' faces and milling around the square.

Allspeak isn't very popular. These people seem a tad xenophobic and incurious about the wider universe, more interested in the goods than in stories of other worlds, and the stories lean suspicious of foreign things in general. Healing is very popular, lots of people have scars or old sicknesses of some kind. The four scribes who are supposed to go around taking pictures of sick people arrive and look around confusedly. A few people want the rings but opinion seems kind of mixed.

Exotic spices are excellent! They are soon putting pepper in porridge and cinnamon on bread. An impromptu feast seems to be gearing up in the market square inspired by the spices, block party style. Someone is setting up to butcher a bunch of goats right there in the open where they're building big fires.

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Zanro shows the scribes how to take pictures and issues each one a camera and tells them that if they come back with pictures of the homes of people too ill to come by for healing, the pictures will make it quick for Nelen to visit.

Cassiel catches up and asks a little hurriedly if they'd like her to make some meat by magic for the feast right there!

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The butcher is a bit sour about that idea since he already bought the goats and was planning to sell all the meat. What's he going to do with a bunch of un-slaughtered goats?

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She doesn't have to, just thought she'd offer!

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Everyone else would much rather have space magic meat than boring old goat meat though!!!

Does anyone in this big crowd want to buy some goats or is he just screwed over now? The butcher demands, waving his cleaver around. (The guards start moving in towards him.)

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Tarwë will buy some goats. Would the butcher like anything from the shop?

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-Oh, alright. That works out just fine then. A bunch of spices and cloth and a few notmagic lights will definitely buy Tarwë these four goats. He's sorry for getting so worked up, sirs, it's just that goats are expensive.

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That's very understandable!

(Nelen whisks the goats into orbit to be ferried to some exotic-goat-breed hobby farm.)

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(These particular goats seem to be slightly more clever than most goat breeds but are perfectly docile and happy to be led wherever as long as there's grass.)

The feast and shopping spree continues without incident. The King reads the code of laws and wants to wait to install a bus station and maybe do it well outside the city.

 

-In the late afternoon loud horns sound, a single dull alarm note starting from one lookout and spreading around the city and countryside. This rather causes a panic. People abandon their food and rush off, or stand there looking worried. The guards all run out of the square.

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"- what does that alarm mean?" Cassiel asks a stand-there-looking-worried person.

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"-I don't know. Something bad. Could be horse bandits or a dragon or a spirit or anything really. We're - we're probably safe behind the walls."

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"If I go out and have a look and maybe try to talk to them if they're a talking kind of problem, will I be getting very badly in the way?" Cassiel asks.

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He laughs, startled. "I doubt it. The guard is just going to try to protect people, I think you'll only help."

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Cassiel takes off and gets altitude to see what's going on.

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There's a big fire in that field over there! It's spreading pretty quickly! People are forming a bucket chain with the river nearby to try and fight it.

 

There's a long, slender orange-skinned winged form slinking along the ground behind a line of hills. Not visible from ground level, but clear from above if one is looking for trouble in places other than the big obvious fire. It seems to be approaching a nearby clay pit, hastily abandoned due to the alarm.

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Cassiel precipitates some water out of the air, circling the fire, and turns a moat of surrounding plants into a firebreak, and when it looks calmed down enough that the fire brigade can soak or stomp remaining smolder, she approaches the dragon.

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It sees her flying nearby and abandons its curious investigation of the pulley elevator the clay pit is using, looks - confused, the giant feathers on its head (recognizable from that Commander's coat, he was wearing similar ones) tilting up and down - then turns and runs away, trotting along the ground in a slightly awkward run.

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"Excuse me," calls Cassiel, "hello?"

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The dragon stumbles slightly.

"I'm leaving I don't want to fight FLYING humans!!!"

It runs faster.

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...well crap.

Nelen looks at his tablet when it beeps and looks around for the king.

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The King is over there, drunk but trying to put on a very serious face as he listens to some guards about how Cassiel helped put out the fire.

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"Your Wisdom," says Nelen, "may I have a word? Ideally in private."

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"Hmm? Right, of course, honored guest and all. Thank you for the assistance. If you are concerned I uh, must speak with you. Do you have some place more convenient than going back to the palace?"

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"If you'd like to see our ship I can do that," says Nelen.

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He opens his mouth to agree, then pauses. "-I do want to but I don't think it would be quite appropriate for me to leave my city without, you know, preparations and things. There is an order to these things. Come, palacewards. Unless the store is alright."

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"The store is fine too."

In the store's back room: "Your wisdom, you seem like you've had a fair amount to drink; may I clear your head?"

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He has a guard wait just outside the private room.

"Yes, I rather have. It is a feast. But yes, thank you." He holds out a hand.

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Boop.

"Your wisdom," says Nelen once the alcohol's out of his system, "are you aware that dragons can speak?"

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He blinks, grimacing at the sudden transition to sobriety.

"...That's preposterous. Dragons do not speak. They roar and spit fire and eat livestock and man alike."

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"Our translation magic works on anything that can speak. Cassiel tried talking to the dragon that set the fire, and it replied."

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He speaks slowly. "I find it difficult to believe you. Perhaps a flaw in all men, that. It is easy to smile and nod when you speak of magic and plenty, and to deny the rest. And yet. Chaos is the great enemy, and dragons the very emblem of it! They are- They're against civilization itself."

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"I understand that they cause problems - we saw them doing that today, setting fires is really bad! But this does mean that we have to treat it as arson, not as an environmental hazard."

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"Problems. They cause problems. Yes, this is indeed a problem. Shall I go tell my guard that we are to capture the dragon and sentence it to hard labor? I'll lose my head."

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"It does seem like that might be difficult for your law enforcement infrastructure. We're happy to help as long as we're here with fires and any other dragon intrusions. If a dragon attacks your city bent on eating people I'm prepared to personally teleport it off this planet and not let it back until and unless satisfied it will stop killing people. The thing I need to get across here is that the dragons, also, are people, and we can't privilege you over them by fiat. If your people try to kill dragons..."

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There are hunting parties out right now, searching for this damned thing's nest. He doesn't say that.

"What business is it of yours what we do with trespassers in the realm?"

-That's not much better. You're talking to someone extremely powerful here.

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"Well," says Nelen, "right now, none at all. But now that we know dragons are people, teams like mine are going to go talk to them, and they will get the same offer you have. And if you do want to join Vanda Nossëo, for the defensive support that extends beyond me teleporting dragons out of the way as long as I'm posted here, for the universal basic income guarantee... in Vanda Nossëo, killing people is illegal."

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"I think, that I need to take a step back from this and consider for a time. I also think- You will find this stance on dragons to have quite the effect on every civilized human you meet here. Preparing this world for the star travelers' return is our reason for existence."

Pause. "You say 'people', and use it to mean 'beings that can speak'?"

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"Yes, more or less. Is there an alternate translation that would work better? I'm using translation magic and don't control translations of individual words."

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"I suppose I don't deny that dragons can be clever and have memories. They steal valuables and hold grudges. I- Stars." King Delen sighs. "It would be best if you do not mention any of this to the priests or the public just yet. Perhaps I am being vain but I think they would react... Worse."

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"...I'll take that under advisement, but it's not going to be practical to keep it under wraps indefinitely. I'd appreciate your counsel on how to break the information gently if we have the luxury to control the timing."

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"...Yes, dragons murdering people is very bad. We won't let them do that. You should not try to kill them, that would be very dangerous. Everything is going to be fine. We don't think dragons need to be hunted to extinction, because they are not a threat to us."

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"All right. That's true as far as it goes. Thank you, your wisdom."

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"May the term of address be true. I think of my job as being the one to have common sense. Thank you for bringing this to me alone first."

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"Of course," says Nelen. And that would seem to be all; out they go from the back room to the main shop, which continues to do brisk business.

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The king smiles quite convincingly and tells his guards that there's nothing to worry about, let the feast go on!

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Cassiel distributes food as long as people want! She makes it out of this glowing cloud-looking stuff that she makes from rocks!

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Amazing! Nobody happens to pick up on the idea that she could make other things, especially.

Meanwhile, the terrified dragon quickly retreats to her den. Yes, she's lingered far too long. She smells the hunters getting closer every day, and now flying humans! It's time to go. At night, when they can't see very well.

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There appears, in front of her den: a person who looks like an unusually tall human, with long braids and fancy clothes covered in Shiny Things.

Pardon me, says the person, telepathically.

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!

!

!

They are not pardoned! They snuck up on her without even smelling like anything! Her mom was right, she got too curious and now she's going to die.

She will be very very scared and very very still and quiet and hope they go away.

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I don't wish to alarm you, but I think it will benefit you to speak to me, says the person. If you object to me in particular, someone else can swap in for me.

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A wash of sensation, osanwe-like but not in words at all,

That's a lot of shiny things. Very impressive and intimidating. She is extremely scared but will not give up without a fight! But also she will just leave now if they want to let her do that! (So she can grow big and strong and come get revenge later because they CHOP DOWN FORESTS and ENSLAVE ANIMALS and KILLED HER MOM.)

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Oh no, I'm so sorry to hear about your mother.

Would you have a better time with this conversation if I gave you one of my shiny things?

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She projects a sunny burst of PRIDE and a trilling, happy tune like birdsong. Yes, that is an excellent deal, she will answer many questions in exchange for a shiny thing. If they promise to let her go after.

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She will for sure let her go, she's not keeping her prisoner. Here is one of her rings!

My name is Aiununceon, she says. What's yours?

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They should toss it inside! 

No name/too little to have a name/haven't done any things-that-give-you-names

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Toss!

It sounds like dragons and humans here fight a lot, is that right?

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Oooooh shiny. Yes, humans and dragons kill each other.

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If humans stopped trying to kill you, would you be okay with not killing them either?

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A sharp and clear memory, darkness and warmth and soothing telepathy, filled with loss and nostalgia.

The second lesson is that you must kill. If you do not kill and eat, your music will be silence. If nothing died, there would be no room for anything to be born. Kill what you must to eat. Kill what grows rampant and consumes all else.

That last part definitely describes humans.

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My civilization just met the humans on this planet. I don't know if you would like other human planets, but some are very different from this one, and the humans on them wouldn't want to hurt a dragon.

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???

?????????????

This is the planet! Mother Earth and Father Sun!

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There are a lot of planets in a lot of worlds. Would you like to see pictures?

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That's not what she was taught. Maybe they are confused. Maybe it will help her understand weird human things though so yes.

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Here are some pictures of different planets, seen from the sky high above them! This is the one they're on right now, this is the one the Elf came from - My planet is flat for magical reasons - and here are some more besides. These aren't drawings, they're 'photographs'. Would you like me to take a photograph of you so you can see how it works?

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That is not what she was expecting! She was expecting- Mental image of sunlight glistening off a brook full of colorful round pebbles.

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- huh. You were expecting the planet to be in a stream?

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No! They can use (osanwe) so obviously they are not just another dumb human so why are they trying to trick her with some boxlightthing??

(The dragon's fear and anxiety and frustration are getting pretty strong again.)

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Oh, you were expecting mental images? I can do those if you prefer.

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Yes, mental images. Mostly because looking at the matter images would require coming out of her den for a closer look and being EVEN MORE SCARED.

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Okay. Ainunceon will relay mental images instead of the various planets.

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...Awe.

...The stars are so beautiful like that.

...Multiple Mother Earths? She knew the Onesong* was much bigger than this valley, but it must be even bigger than she ever imagined.

*The multiverse/everything that exists/all of creation

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There are many stars and many planets around the stars in most worlds, and there are many worlds! Humans are surprisingly common but dragons are special and cool.

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Dragons ARE special. Dragons are THE BEST. It's so annoying that there are more humans. They should go away, (Mother said) Sun gave this world to the dragons and then the humans showed up and ruined everything.

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That sounds so frustrating! Does it seem like it might be important to ending the cycle of violence that it be known precisely when and how humans showed up?

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...She is maybe not the best dragon to talk about this. She doesn't actually know more than what her mother and the other dragon she met last year told her. (It's clearly very annoying to admit to this.)

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Okay. Ainunceon can ask other people to talk to other dragons. She is still hoping to make sure that this dragon is safe. She has some co-workers talking to the nearest humans, but it's good to have both sides of the story.

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Well she clearly stayed here way too long! She is going to take her things and leave and look for another territory to claim far away from humans. They can tell those hunters she smells sniffing closer and closer to her den that she is GONE. Tomorrow, when she is actually gone, that is.

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Okay. Would she like to be visited again in the future? (With more shiny things?)

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For more shiny things, definitely! They shouldn't sneak up on her though, they should announce themselves and see if she wants to come talk.

...She can teach them the Song of Annunciation for another shiny thing right now actually.

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Ainunceon would appreciate that! She takes off a bracelet and tosses it in.

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The Song of Annunciation is a crooning thing that is in fact nicely musical, and Allspeak handles fairly gracefully.

"Oh great one who has claimed this place, I am a visitor at the edge of your territory. I respectfully announce myself to the dragon who claims this land-" (-You can replace 'dragon' with their name if you know it-) "I am here openly, without stealth or trickery. I do not mean to intrude or insult; I shall not hunt your prey nor steal your things. Under the gaze of Father Sun and the by the Two Great Laws, I ask for parley and peaceful discussion so that our musics may both be heard-" Several verses that are just rephrasings of the previous parts, and then, "I shall wait here for a time, and if you choose to approach we will speak."

And also the much shorter Song of Peaceful Departure, "While I have announced myself, you have not come to speak to me. I respect your territory no less, and now I am leaving."

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Thank you! Can you tell me what the Two Great Laws are?

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Oh fine, that's sort of covered by the first Shiny Thing anyway.

First; You must create. One day you will die, and your music will become silence. Explore, learn, and seek Treasure, and when you are ready, seek out others who are great, and create children to carry forth your song forever.

Second; You must destroy. You must kill and consume to survive, but take care to destroy in balance, never taking too many or too much. Destroy that which should be destroyed. Preserve that which should be preserved.

Creation and Destruction are both part of the Onesong, one leading to the other. To live without these truths is unnatural and wrong.

This is the fundamental truth of the dragons.

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Thank you, says Ainunceon, I appreciate you speaking with me. And then she bows politely and disappears.

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AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH randomly appearing and disappearing nothumans!

(Later, she eats all her shiny things, storing them in her throat pouch and sneaking off in the night.)

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Elsewhere, other dragons are receiving visits from other Flat Elves.

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Even with the Song of Annunciation in most places the dragons demand that they leave, or ignore them.

In one particular area, at the edge of a region that looks and feels magically... Odd... A red fox that looks slightly unreal, like a Maia who doesn't quite have their body down, addresses the visitor.

Who Is It Who Comes Forth? What new chorus enters the song, so familiar and yet so alien? Why has your arrival changed the music yet to come? Why do we-I-the forest-the mother wish to speak to you?

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Hello, replies the visiting Elf, my name is Sorturon, and I am from another star, hoping to learn more about dragons.

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What is a star but a brother sun? What is the purpose of leaning? Did you know that great strength of magic and spirit and dreaming blurs our connection to Reality?

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Stars are pretty much other suns. I want to learn so I can tell my people what I find out, hoping to end the violence on this planet and bring great wealth and prosperity to every thinking creature on it. I did not know that, can you tell me more?

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Why is destruction so necessary? Why has my mother rejected it? Why is it difficult for this humble envoy so changed in spirit to hold a conversation? Would you be able to withstand her presence should she come forth in body?

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I believe so, and if harm comes to me, I will not take offense and can be repaired.

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Would you not weep for a visitor to come to harm, even if they can be healed?

The fox vanishes in a puff of flame.

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A minute later, a - very very large dragon, taller than some trees, strides through the forest, their branches smoothly moving out of the way for her to pass. She has an aura, a psychic power that washes over everything around her and infuses it. It feels - careful and delicate, as if she is keeping it as light as possible. Flowers bloom and plants perk up and sprout new growth all around her.

I am the one known as Allmother, o visitor. I am all but unique among my kind to tread so deeply the path of Compassion - so much so that my very nature has changed. I welcome you to this world.

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Thank you, Allmother, says Sorturon, bowing. I am called Sorturon, and I represent a group of many peoples called Vanda Nossëo, who explore the worlds and the stars within them and have now come to this planet.

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Oh, to see new stars and meet new people, to know the Onesong is yet greater than before... You will avert the Grey Future, the path I thought inevitable that has been laid out before me for so many years. I do not clearly see what form the future will take, but a bright star shines, a ray of hope and the knowledge that my fears will not come to pass. Our symphony will not end. They are lost in a way, the tailless ones. They are lonely and suffering, like so many of my kin. Crowing with strength and pride, yet empty inside. You are not the cold ones, who could not comprehend. Who are your people, to explore new worlds? What drives them forth?

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We want to spread prosperity and opportunity to every thinking person in every world we can reach. Having it ourselves, it is clear to us that the next meaningful work is to extend it to those who don't have it yet, and learn ever more about the multiverse in which we find ourselves.

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Prosperity. Opportunity. Fulfillment. Kindness. Reaching higher and onward. To the humans, prosperity means great cities of stone and metal, edifices of order where everything is just as they wish it. Their hopes and dreams burn brightly, full of joy and compassion and love. They do not realize the value of that which they are destroying, the great spirits of nature and the balance of the world being eroded into nothingness under the stones of road and city.

To the true children of above and below, shiny things are valuable, great treasures and fascinating secrets a thing of joy and contentment, and yet to the greatest among us, once we know our place in the world and learn of the vastness of Nature, the pursuit of adulthood is spiritual. To feel, to know on a level deeper than mere knowledge, to reach a greater understanding of the Onesong and become ever more, for stagnation is death. That is what drives the eldest of us.

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Different worlds have different spiritual practices and beliefs, some rooted in truth, some mutually exclusive at best. The humans of your world most likely have their own values they want to pursue.

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They do; They seek togetherness and progress. They wish to build and grow, and not unjustifiably see the dragons as a great enemy, hostile forever and anathema to their aspirations. It pains me whenever anything must come into conflict. I desire to see suffering's end, though it is impossible. Perhaps I am a coward and a hypocrite for having ended it in myself. I could not stand my own nature, and changed it. All life has become one in my domain. I am the trees and the ants, I am the rabbits and the foxes, I am the soil and the air, they are all me. I regret this in some ways, but what has been done cannot be undone.

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There are some gods in my world who do something like that, they put themselves deeper and deeper into a grove or a river or a flock of geese until they're effectively one and the same.

We too want to end suffering. I think you could help us, especially if you were willing to speak to other dragons on our behalf. Many of them ignored our visitors and we aren't sure what else to try when the Song of Annunciation and offering shiny things didn't work.

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That bears some resemblance to what I have done, though I could not take the final step.

I think some will speak to you on their own time. Dragons move slowly by the pace of humans, those of us who are not children. The other elders will call a Grand Moot in time, a meeting of all adult dragons to discuss the future. Even if you had not arrived, humanity is becoming more alarming to them.

I will be willing to send myself forth as envoys if there is something productive for me/us to discuss. My kin will not accept to allow the humans to continue conquering and expanding. They may not even be willing to accept their current extent, as in the mere last clawful-of-clawful-of-clawful of years so much territory has been lost and so many dragons killed.

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I hope we can satisfy you or the humans or both with new places to settle on other planets, but I understand that's not always an easy trade.

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The spirit of the Great Green and echoes of the Onesong have settled deeply into this planet. The weight of history and the spirits of so many creatures infuse it deeply. Anywhere else would not be the same, and our pride, that claw turned upon ourselves, will not allow us to retreat without a challenge.

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The humans at least are likely to be able to fit more of them into the same space with some help.

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We will fear that you will favor the humans, for their numbers, for closer sympathy to their forms and desires, for their natural organization compared to our solitude.

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Those things are factors, yes. We can't value one dragon more than one human, and we understand better what humans need and how to provide it because we have experience with them, and we're better able to interact with them efficiently because they organize themselves and one conversation can lead to many of them carrying out a plan. But we don't want to let them hurt you or steal from you, at least not more than has already happened.

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...The path forward lies heavy with your shadows, whatever choices are made. This is truth and reality, and wishing it were otherwise is futile. I would ask for you to turn back any dragonslaying parties anywhere in this world just as you turn back any dragons seeking to kill humans, but even this would be offensive to my kin were I to beg for it rather than you implementing such a thing of your own accord, so I am not asking for you to do that.

What of the beasts of the land, and the spirits? Have you spoken to them?

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Some of the animals that have had - dragon magic? - done to them have addressed us. The spirits haven't spoken at all.

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The beasts of the land who follow the true way have far dimmer spirits than those of dragons unless they are Enkindled - their spirits ignited by a portion of our soul and intent - but they feel and remember just as we do naturally. To the spirits I suppose you do not sense the Song, and may not notice them even if they did address you...

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That sounds like a potential issue, can dragons relay to us what they have to say?

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We could. Meaning may be lost from an alien mind to an alien mind to your own minds.

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Yes, we'll try to come up with another way to talk to them if we can.

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You should seek to speak to the beasts of the land as well. They merit consideration, if not so much individually as an individual human.

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We try to gently phase out the use of animals for meat, and when we open up new planets to colonists, we don't put very many animals on them and particularly not ones that seem obviously bothered by settlements. Other than that on the Vanda Nossëo level we don't consider them very much. Do you think animals here are likely to differ from those we're familiar with, maybe due to spirit influence?

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If you so casually dismiss the beasts you are familiar with, I think it likely. Their minds sing, if dimly compared to dragons.

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I could ask someone to bring some animals from other worlds here to see if they sing to you.

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I am willing to do this. They should remain out of my territory, lest their spirits be subsumed by mine as weaker ones can be.

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Where is a good place?

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Beyond the hill there; I will travel to the very edge of my demense. She slowly indicates a hill with her snout.

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Sorturon bows and jogs up and over the hill. Here?

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She perches along the hill itself, head peeking over the top

Yes, that is far enough.

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And a minute later there appears a human with a perfectly normal retriever, and a petted owl from Stork, and a mouse in a cage, and a fishtank containing guppies and tetras and mini catfish and rasboras, and a garter snake.

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She regards the whole group impassively for a couple of minutes, tendrils of 'aura' reaching forward.

 

 

The dog seems a feather less aware than wolves do, to me; The snake is similar to snakes I know; The mouse and fish and owl all seem... Less in a difficult to define way. I speak only of my perceptions and know well that they may not be truth.

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"Huh, I was expecting the owl to be different, it's had magic done to it, just not your kind," says the human with the menagerie.

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The magic is not the owl and the owl is not the magic... Or so I think. I may have to see what the magic on it does, I cannot tell.

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"It follows instructions," the human says. "Sit on my shoulder," she tells the owl, and it hops up to her shoulder.

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I do not see magic, I see spirit, but the owl did not understand a command and comply. It simply moved. It is a bird, and one that refuses to tell me stories, or perhaps does not know any.

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"Okay, thanks for checking!" says the human, and she and her animals all disappear.

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I am somewhat disturbed by that, and now more confident than before that animals here are smarter, she tells the delegate who did not vanish yet.

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Thank you for confirming; we'll revise our animal-related policies with that in mind, says Sorturon. Do you have a broad overview you could give me now of what the priorities of the spirits are likely to be?

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Your mind is sharp and clear and angled, more like a great crystal than a pool of water. You have such a division between emotion and reason, I think! It is... Tiring work to crystallize my ideas for you.

They will care about things continuing to be the way they are, or only changing in certain ways, or certain cycles, or specific phenomena, or the Four Elements, or particular locations, or their favored animals...

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Hm. Do you think it might help for some of the gods I mentioned to come by and see if they can talk to them? They sound similar.

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I cannot say without meeting them, but the worst case is not especially terrible.

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I'll put in a request. It will take longer than the last one.

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I will return to my glade now. I will listen for news. May peace and joy lie in the path ahead.

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Thank you very much for speaking to me. And he's gone.

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Elsewhere, about two hours after the Song of Annunciation was sung in a territory that seems far more like a garden than a random selection of wild forest, with many plants confined to particular areas and large open spaces cleared of underbrush, a dragon actually approaches the spot in question. Is the visitor still there?

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Yes, actually, they're sending Elves for this and Elves are patient.

Hello! Thank you for coming out to meet me.

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Head-tilt and feathers fluff up.

I am Pleased By Your Orderly Mind, strange visitor. You have learned to Sing the traditional greeting and Sing the music of minds, somehow. Those who intruded on my land before did not bother, but you show respect. You also do not smell like them. I sing a song of curiosity: What thoughts run through your mind to make you so different than the dead-skin-wearing brutes? Why have you come here? Is my garden not beautiful?

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I'm not a human, but a similar species called an Elf; though even humans can behave very differently from the ones you've encountered. I have come here hoping to learn more about dragons, and spirits, and local animals, so that our discovery of this planet can be good for everyone. Your garden is exquisite.

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(Thank you), I have worked hard on it and am Rightfully Proud. Seeking lessons and answers is a worthy task.

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My people belong to an organization called Vanda Nossëo that often contacts new planets and then offers them trade and opportunity and the chance to travel and settle in more worlds.

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Headtilt.

 

 

You sing of a great hive with vast reach. I know that I know nothing of the two-leg ways.

 

Trade, at least, I comprehend. Questions may be asked, but knowledge is a Treasure of a kind; Something will be given for something, and nothing for nothing.

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She takes off one of her hair combs. Speaking of, would you like this as compensation for your time?

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She lets out a cooing sound.

It is pleasingly shiny and finely crafted in the way that humans' things sometimes are; A good payment for several lessons, though more may be required if your curiosity is great.

Warden plods forward and ever so gently takes it between two large foreclaws, tucking it into some of her chest feathers and craning her neck to admire the effect.

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Oh good, I'm glad you like it.

One thing we usually offer when we land on a new world is permission to join Vanda Nossëo, whereupon we extend defensive support if someone is attacked. We're worried about this being complicated with much of the humans' land having previously belonged to dragons, and even if the humans who originally stole it are dead now, the dragons might not all be.

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The Kin may live for far longer than humans do if nothing slays us, yes. I think this will be true for some. Those who fought to keep their territory from humans have been slain, those who chose to flee would suffer the shame and harsh conditions of having no territory to call their own. Among those who fled, there will be those who died for one reason or another, and those who fairly challenged the territory of another and won it, and those who settled for poor lands not already claimed and perhaps still live. If they could not defend their territory from the humans, they did not deserve it.

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We've been warned not to try to stop the humans hunting dragons, do you agree with that warning?

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That seems moderately sensible, if somewhat oddly phrased. Perhaps you have misunderstood something. I will not beg for your protection, the nature of the world is that one must have strength and I would not depend on yours like a hatchling cowering beneath parent's wing. Though if you wish to hunt hunters and thus stop them from intruding upon my garden, I would not object either.

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We don't wish to hunt anyone. Stopping hunters would take the form of moving them, more than fighting them.

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Do you seek to avert Destruction in this way? Will you garden us and humans like I tend my Boars and Rabbits?

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We'd rather have you as citizens or neighbors. The transition from uncontacted to part of the multiverse is sometimes delicate, and we don't want to condescend to people but being careless and slapdash gets people killed.

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I do not have a concept of 'citizens'. If you learn the rules of Tradition and respect them, unlike the swarming and devious humans, you would make more acceptable neighbors than they.

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What are the rules of Tradition?

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It is a code of honor, rules which make our dealings with each other more orderly and respectful. There are many subtleties; I may not be able to fully express it to you in a short time. First, the Song of Annunciation, which you have learned. There are more Songs, appropriate for different circumstances. The foul art of Lying is forbidden. A traditional dragon must treat their elders and juniors with respect, giving and demanding nothing for free, but neither unfairly oppressing their juniors. The elders also can demand whatever they wish with their might and strength, but Tradition forbids this - they will test their juniors harshly, but not with impossible tasks. Visitors may challenge a dragon to a contest for a fair wager, though the challenged may decline. An exchange of riddles and a fight are the most common challenges. There are rituals for claiming a territory and for challenging another for theirs, or just a portion of theirs. It is against Tradition to sneak into a territory and poach or steal. No dragon may order another against their will. No dragon may claim Treasure found in the territory of another without a proper challenge. A traditional dragon does not bow to the demands of lesser beasts, and does whatever they desire so long as they have the strength to, whether that is clawing Treasure from the ground or diligently crafting the land itself into a Treasure as I do. Vengeful ghosts and other disorderly things are to be destroyed, while the lines of goodbeasts and the bounty of nature is to be preserved.

Tradition is not law. Those who are known to abide by it are trustworthy, and the spirits and beasts will know and whisper of it, and one's reputation is a worthy thing to cultivate; Those who do not are less trustworthy, but Survival is a greater law than Tradition. A dead dragon is far more pitiful than one with a poor reputation.

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I think it will be pretty doable for Vanda Nossëo to keep those rules firmly in mind while among you.

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I do not know how my kin will react to Vanda Nossëo. I do not know how to react to it. The hive-of-many-worlds greater than the Onesong we thought we knew is a staggering concept. When the world has been much the same for year upon year, such a fundamental shift brings dissonance to the Onesong. Many kin, I think, will rather you had not found us at all simply because your existence is so confusing and will change many things more quickly than they usually change.

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I think a lot of planets have some people who wish that. We would rather find a way to satisfy everyone, but if we leave a planet alone - there's another federation that does just that, leaves them alone no matter what until they've invented star travel themselves - if we leave a planet alone, people starve and die of disease and violence, raise their children in poverty.

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And what is wrong with that? The strong grow great, the weak perish, and the Onesong continues on. Thus is the way of dragon. I suppose it is not the way of Elf.

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It's not. And it's not good for humans, either, or for the weak who perish. At any rate, even strong humans decline in just a few short years, compared to the immortality they can enjoy among the stars.

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Compassion.

The dragon is silent after that, echoing patient contemplation through osanwe.

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The Elf returns wordless agreement.

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Every Draak seeks greatness in their own way. I prize order and beauty. I am interested in learning of new ways of order, of new tools to create beauty. Some will reject you, and some seek to wield the opportunity you offer. Perhaps I will interact with your great hive to this end.

I have heard that the Great Elder known as Allmother follows the path of Compassion, though I do not know where she lives. The one known as Darktooth the Wise similarly follows the path of Learning, and may be found where the rustmountain valleys come together like a tree near great Ocean, to the south.

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One of us already found the Allmother and had a very productive conversation with her! We'd love to send someone to talk to Darktooth the Wise too.

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I once took lessons from them. I could show you but it is a flight of many days.

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Can you give me a mental image of the place? That will let someone teleport to it.

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Warden transmits it.

Darktooth claims an especially large area apparently. A long, wide valley between two mountains with a river delta and swamp, as well as one of the mountains, with a sense of great caution attached.

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Thank you. What did you take lessons about?

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I have learned some lesser secrets of Number, and of the sigils that can be used to preserve events beyond memory. As well many things about the nature of the world and its ways, of the fire within Earth and the cycle of Water in the air, and other such things. I will return one day when I am more worthy.

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What makes you worthy of such things?

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I have long contemplated that. I do not know. I think I will know I have arrived at correctness, when I do.

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Do you think you or other dragons might be interested in traveling around Vanda Nossëo and learning in classes there?

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What are such things like?

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There are magics that can be taught, including song magic that most species aren't good enough at singing to do well with but you might be, and sciences and math like what you learned from Darktooth, and ways to preserve things beyond memory, writing and recording.

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I heard your singing and it was a thing of sound only, not of spirit like our own True Songs. Worthy and beautiful; Yet I have difficulty imagining how sound alone might cause great changes in the world.

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Would you like to see?

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Yes.

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So she sings a song for warmth, and the area around them heats up gently.

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Headtilt and feathers puffing up.

I cannot tell how that is working at all!!

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She concludes the song. It's a different kind of magic from yours. The songs have to be composed in specific worlds with a particular kind of magic, but then we can use them anywhere. There are music schools, in those worlds, where they work on new ones.

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How...

 

But this one has been so composed, and thus has power even far from its home?

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Yes, that's right.

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I do not understand how that is POSSIBLE. There must be a hidden order beneath the world that explains it. I am more ignorant even than I thought.

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There's a lot to learn, and always more worlds to learn about. If you'd like to visit one of the music colleges to see if you can learn to compose magic songs while you have access to the underlying magic, you can do that.

Permalink Mark Unread

It is certainly tempting. Yet it is a perilous thing to travel far from one's home.

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Would your territory be in danger of usurpation?

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Yes; I have trained Heralds from among the birds and pigs, but they are mere messengers. When my scent fades, challengers will come and trample my beautiful garden. Thus is the way of the dragons.

Permalink Mark Unread

That seems very limiting, if you can't travel for long without losing your home.

Permalink Mark Unread

It is not a certainty, but a risk. One that was worth taking to study under the wise one, one that may be worth taking again upon further consideration.

Permalink Mark Unread

Could you take turns with a neighboring dragon you get along with, guarding each other's homes while the other is away?

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She startles and growls.

 

...No. Territory is deep and personal. Our essences would mingle unnaturally, the land would grow confused. It would be a cycle, a new and weird one, not one of those long favored by Sun and Earth.

Permalink Mark Unread

Hm. What if a non-dragon looked after it? You could hire someone, once you had collected enough nonshiny-abstractions-of-the-concept-of-the-ability-to-acquire-shiny-things, which I don't think would be hard for you, since dragons are rare and special and cool and lots of people would want to pay you to do things.

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Perhaps. I am growing tired of conversation, visitor. Know that you may call upon the Warden of this garden again another day.

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Thank you for speaking with me. And off she pops.

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A surprisingly common theme in the stories told in the delegation's Goldvalley shops are stories of ghosts and visions on The Mountain. (It doesn't really have a name, being the only one worth the designation in the area.)

They say the ghosts charge living warriors with vengeance. That they will lead you to treasure if you follow them. That only death lies in following them. That they are signs of the dragons' past crimes, dead in the Great War. That they are not quite human, made by the star lords as diggers and crafters. That their buried kingdom still lies below, with a king's ransom in Delver Steel waiting for explorers. That their mindless rage is simply a delusion and a sad remnant.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Yeah they're going to send somebody in to check that out just in case.

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Eventually that person will see flickers of movement that aren't actually there on the edge of their vision, and random sudden chill or heat, when near a specific area.

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The Dwarf-fairy heads toward the affected area.

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The flickers intensify but don't actually become clearer. Animals seem to avoid the place, a small flat near cliffs, maybe a few hundred feet across.

It looks like there may have been a road and hold entrance here, long long long ago. It wouldn't be a bad spot for one anyway.

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"Hello," says the Dwarf-fairy.

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Nothing changes.

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He tromps around for a bit more, doing some amateur archaeology, checking to see if any other spots also show these effects.

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A couple other places have weaker flickers. There's more signs of maybe-it-was-a-road-once, some maybe-something-really-destructive-happened-here, and an old ventilation shaft near the peak, rusted and collapsed.

Permalink Mark Unread

Ooh, he'll go down the ventilation shaft.

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It's pretty collapsed. Goes down quite a distance and then branches out horizontally. Gangs of rats squeeze thorough the cracks, always traveling in packs and moving simultaneously.

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Huh! "Hello?" he tries, addressing the rats.

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The pack issues a cacophony of squeaking and runs for cover in the nearest rubble pile. A few rat heads pop back out to observe.

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He waves at observing rats.

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One rat walks out into the open with a small black ball of something, sets it aside, then repeatedly mimes eating and then holding out its paws and then touching its weird piece of coal(?)

Permalink Mark Unread

...he'll try holding out his hands?

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Eating. Coal. Eating. Coal.

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...is he supposed to take the coal? He will reach for it slowly.

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SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK!

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Okay, he withdraws his hand then.

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The rat takes its coal and retreats under the rubble pile with it. The watching rats vanish.

Permalink Mark Unread

Huh.

He descends further into the mine and explores it.

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Lots of collapsed tunnels. A few more rat packs that watch warily. The ruins of an equipment locker or possibly a pantry. An old, inoperative robot of some sort crushed in a dead end. The ruins of some sort of... Ore crusher? Something big and industrial anyway.

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Gosh, a robot. He takes a photo of the robot. Investigates what's in the locker/pantry.

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Lots of rat droppings mostly. Old hand tools and chewed-through rubber suits proportioned for a Dwarf and tiny scraps of plastic foil.

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Neat.

Worlds away, the forensics team tries to reconstruct what happened there.

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It was a mine and underground community populated by variant humans (not actually a separate species, just short and stocky) running semi-automated equipment to mine and be a center of industry. A third human subspecies seemed to be a ruling class of sorts, a neanderthal-like warrior caste. They traded material for food.

They suddenly started making tons of weapons.

A bunch of dragons and other big animals assaulted the place with magic powers. The warrior caste fought to the last man and to the death as the digger caste evacuated. The big battle sites correspond to 'ghostly' areas almost exactly.

A month later something too magic to conjure rained down titanic blasts of force and heat, shattering almost everything the initial battle did not.

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Wow. Weird.

The Dwarf-fairy leaves and a Space Elf shows up in his place.

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The ghosts are much more obvious now! Several vague, blurry outlines in the air, with a distinct sense of pride and anger and suffering and wrongness.

To the last... Our failure... Our shame... Our deaths... Unavenged...

Permalink Mark Unread

If she tries osanwëing them does that work like it would with a subtle artist or a Maia or just not work? Hello.

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It seems to work! They react at least, focusing on her and sending more half-formed impressions of despair and vengeance.

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Is there anything that would help you?

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Slay the dragons... Put us to rest... Nothing can make it right... Failure and loss... Remember the sacrifice...

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How can you be put to rest?

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Remember the sacrifice... The story did not end... Find the bones and ash... Hide them from the Sun... Mark the grave that we did not flee... Tell the story...

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Will it help you if we collect your remains, and bury them, and put a memorial on the hill, and put your story somewhere anyone can read it?

Permalink Mark Unread

Put us to rest... End the story...

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Okay. The Elf goes and gets the Dwarf-fairy and a Dwarf-demon and they start collecting bones and ashes, the demon mainly there for forensics but also for crafting a nice memorial plaque.

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The ghosts pay a lot of attention to all of them, focused and silent. Time has washed away almost all signs of the remains, but the ghosts will lead them to what is left. The mutterings of 'vengeance' seem to be slowly replaced by 'make things right'.

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The Elf will continue to try to elicit facts from them, checking against models the demon provides, so they can compose a thorough ghost story to put on the internet. The fairy collects all the remains and buries them. The demon puts a diamond plaque on top of the disturbed earth, This marks the graves of the miners who died here. Their story insofar as we know it can be found at - and then the URL.

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The ghosts are very insistent that both WARRIORS and miners died here, and will wax eloquent, if slowly, about the great battle and their commitment to duty and purpose. More and more of them settle into the grave and go quiet as the work continues.

The last one remains, hovering near the grave.

It is over. The scar in the world now heals. Thank you.

Permalink Mark Unread

They will adjust the plaque to add that some of the dead were warriors!

You're welcome, replies the Elf.

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The last ghost sinks into the grave as well. This area is now entirely free of ghosts, as far as they can tell. The odd rats in the areas of the collapsed mine they did not retrieve remains from are still around, but have been avoiding them.

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The Elf will go try talking to the rats, in case that works at all.

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They flee again but just after that - Very, very faintly, more in impressions and sensations than anything like words, but just possible to interpret if you are specifically listening, not immune to mind effects, and strain-

Twoleg sniffing again. Danger? Don't know. Trade? Twoleg did not trade before. Vote do? Watch/Observe/Caution/Wait/Hide/Listen.

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Trade? inquires the Elf.

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There's hushed rat-conversation, and then a clearer and easier to hear- Small lives in hidden places, safe from cat and hawk. Twolegs have never talked to us. We are hungry lately. We have learned an old secret of the dragons. We make the Boom. Strong Fire-essence within, ready to burn. A good distraction, a good weapon. Boom is useful. More useful than food to a big twolegs?

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Maybe. There is a spoken conversation, and the demon gives the Elf a dinner roll. Please do not Boom anything right now, but I would like it if you told me more about it.

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We will Boom if you hunt us. The secret of making the Boom is worth very much.

Hit it hard and it Boom. Throw it and Boom. Want it to burn and Boom. We are one and many. One uses the Boom to save many if we must.

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We are not here to hunt you, says the Elf. She puts the dinner roll down where they can get it.

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What is that food trade for? We don't trust twolegs. You are friends with the cats. We think you are tricking us.

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This is trade for what you told me about the Boom, she replies. I have not met any cats here.

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A bunch of rats come out and start tearing up the roll, taking it back into their crevices.

You quieted the angry things. You make food from nowhere. You talk to us. All these things have never happened before.

Permalink Mark Unread

We're not from this planet.

Permalink Mark Unread

Do you desire secrets? Secrets for more food?

Permalink Mark Unread

Yes, we can keep giving you food for secrets.

Permalink Mark Unread

What secrets interest twolegs? Places to get food and water? The things that happened here? The ways of we rats? What we sneak and see of other beings?

Permalink Mark Unread

We'd love to learn more about the ways of you rats.

Permalink Mark Unread

The rat clans are not a proud people. Pride is foolishness. We live half-blind in the dark, always hungry and always searching. We are one and many - what one of us knows, we all know, linked by the essence and spirit of our Love. What one of us decides, we all decide, a family that knows each other better than ourselves. Though we are small, we are careful and observant and clever. No trick or distraction is beneath us. We use the small paths others cannot access, we use our secrets, we use our numbers, we use even our teeth and paws if we must. Hunted by cat and hawk and hunger, the rats yet survive.

Permalink Mark Unread

Are there other rat families, separate from you?

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There are many clans, each with their own secrets and scents, yes. We share a kinship with them, though less than the furbound bonds of family.

Permalink Mark Unread

Are there rats who are not in clans?

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Yes; They are lost and confused without a family. Food?

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Food. Can they join a family? Or have babies who are in a family?

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Food!

This does not seem impossible, but we have never done it. Never in our memory had we too much food and too few bodies and no fear for the future changing and found such pitiful things, such that we would take in strange rats.

Permalink Mark Unread

If one of you traveled very far from the others, what would happen?

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A horrible fate. They would be lost, lesser, frightened and vulnerable.

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Do you have any stories about a time when all rats were alone?

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We remember being fewer. We do not remember being alone. Even before we met the dragon and bargained for the secret of Fire, our earliest recollection of many winters ago is of Love, and of knowing there are many of us, that the death of one is not the end.

Permalink Mark Unread

What dragon did you meet?

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They did not give us a name, but we remember well their awe-inspiring power. Trawling these ruined halls and throwing aside stone to dig for shiny treasure, defeating the foolish clans who thought to make prey of a dragon, their spirit burned so brightly! Truly the dragons deserve their reputation as great beings. When we offered treasure and secrets in trade for their knowledge, we learned of the essence of That-Which-Burns, and over several days we were taught to channel it ourselves. It is a powerful secret that has served us well in making the Boom, among other uses.

This odd visitor is still handing out food, right? By now they should have a lot.

Permalink Mark Unread

Yeah, the demon's keeping it coming.

That-Which-Burns?

Permalink Mark Unread

One of the Four Pillars of Reality; Fire. By holding understanding of Fire in our spirit we can emulate it.

We have enough food for now, secret-seekers. What else do you have to trade?

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Would you like some food that will last for later? Or something else?

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Some food does not rot, this is true. It would be good to have some just in case. But there is always food to find. You clearly have great and powerful secrets of your own. Will you tell us of the world we have not seen, that we might be more prepared for the future?

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Yes. Would you like to see pictures?

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Yes they would. They are still pretty cautious and suspicious though, and their vision isn't great.

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She will show them pictures up close and zoomed in, and tell them about the worlds.

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Oooh. Is it possible to learn the magic? Learning fire magic was the best thing that ever happened to this ratgroup.

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It is possible to learn some kinds of magic but she is not sure a group of rats has ever tried.

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After some extensive internal squeaking and some more questions about the other worlds and the magic and the mission of Vanda Nossëo, the rats announce that they will split the family, as they have done only twice before. One family will stay here and spread the news to other rats, the other would like to travel to these other worlds and learn.

Permalink Mark Unread

Gosh, okay! They will bring the traveling-rats along with them when they leave.

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It'll take a bit for the two now-separate families to settle. Do they have any more questions in the meantime?

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How does splitting the family work?

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It's really hard to explain! Feeling is far more critical than thinking for matters of the spirit. Here is how splitting feels (bounce: Dozens of sparks of always-present joy and comfort in the dark, echoing the same feelings back in cycles, even when one vanishes none have really vanished; Hard-long-desperate-tired-learned-fear warring with opportunity-curiosity-wonder-awe; A sense of mounting tension, then- Like the sudden departure of a dance partner, sudden nothingness, freedom and loneliness bittersweet.)

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Awwww. This Elf is going to quietly put in for leave from her job because she is going to be escorting traveler-rats around for the foreseeable future. Is there anything in particular they would like to see?

Permalink Mark Unread

Human and orc cities seem nostalgic, like the mine they've spent so long in. Also crowded, though. There is too much unknown. All they really know is that they want to learn magic.

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Okay. She doesn't know if groups of rats can learn magic. Can they sing?

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...Not really.

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Maybe they can learn wizardry. Can they read?

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They could probably learn?

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Okay. She will take them to her home and try to teach them to read.

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The rats are perhaps surprisingly clean and sanitation-conscious. It helps keep down on disease. They're very curious about this new place, carefully exploring it and asking their friendly escort elf all sorts of questions. Where is her family? What does one even do when food and safety and ensuring future food and safety aren't immediate, overriding concerns? Besides learn to read, which they are gamely attempting.

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This Elf is not married; her sister and brother-and-law live next door, and her parents live the next town over. She's in osanwë range of all of them, osanwë between Elves might reach father than whatever holds the rats together. She likes to sing and play the piano and go on hikes and ice skate and, yes, also read, when she isn't working.

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Music is... Strange, but not unpleasant. They are very motivated about how so many secrets lie behind the veil of reading and are trying very very hard about it. They have better luck parallelizing long passages rather than reading a single word at a time.

They understand family more than any of those other hobbies, and would be delighted to meet hers.

Permalink Mark Unread

She will let her family know that she has a guest that is a rat hivemind and they will probably come over! Her nephews might want to pet the rats.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

They will decide if any rats wish to be pet after meeting them.

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That's fine. The nephews will not pet them without permission.

Sister and nephews come over to meet rats! Hello rats! One nephew, who is learning to count, counts rats.

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There are 25 rats, including 9 not-quite-babies-anymore!

Counting is a good secret, small twolegs! It lets you know more about which things are, much better than some, many, and few. We learned to count our food and cleverly plan when to get more.

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Do the rats like food? Counting Nephew has walnuts in his pocket! Will a rat come take a walnut and... ... ... be PETTED??

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Everything likes food, we think. We have not smelled that food before, it smells good!

Two smallish light-grey ones will come and patiently be petted.

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The nephew is VERY excited. His older brother pets the second one.

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As long as he gets a bit more gentle after a small warning squeak, more rats will come be petted a few at a time sniffing at his hands and clothes, including the little-kid-rats whose fur is very short and soft, bodies just two or three inches long including tail.

Your family is not as close as our family, we are one and many and almost all the same. What is it like?

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I'm still little and don't know how to think private yet, says Counting Nephew, so maybe it is kind of like you! Only in only one direction.

It's quiet, says his brother.

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We think we don't get lonely the same way as you. It's not quiet, everyone is always there and we are only smart together. We would be lonely if we split up, but we never do that, it would be terrible.

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How do you only be smart together? Does one of you do counting and one of you do figuring out how to go places and one of you do remembering stuff and - stuff? asks the older one.

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The rats consider this for a minute.

We think one thing and echo it and then we think a different thing and echo it, like a circle. Sometimes we don't think and just react fast, like if we're scared.

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Which of you is next to which other ones in the circle? wonders the older boy.

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It's not a next to. Ripples in a pond. Important thoughts get echoed more and distracting ones don't.

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Oooh, huh. (Another walnut?)

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Yum! They share little nibbles all around.

Have you all learned to read?

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I can't yet says the little one.

I can, says the older one.

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The rats want to know about what they all do together and what their favorite foods are and what they're scared of and will squeak along to a song or two, trying to be musical even if their voiceboxes aren't really meant for it and mostly very high pitched.

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The kiddos will try to teach them to sing! It's sad that they can't sing properly! And they will answer their questions.

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And eventually their visit will conclude and the rats will get back to politely enjoying their escort's hospitality and building a small tunnelwarren out of whatever is loose and available to feel safer.

Back in Goldvalley, a man comes into one of the stores, ragged hair and beard and middle aged, wearing clothing of a very fancy for the tech level style with lots of geometric patterning and heavy boots, odd items like rag dolls and dreamcatcher-style arrangements of thread and glass vials full of powder tied to himself with string, carrying a big elaborately carved staff with a small burning coal in a brazier type thing in the top. He looks around at everything silently.

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The envoys are mostly keeping to the shop and its immediate environs, collecting stories and handing out merchandise, but he does get a second look if he approaches the store.

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He watches the exchanging for a bit, then patiently waits in line.

"I am a shaman. I can speak with spirits and beasts. I have come to see what has caused the great uproar here, but I find myself still confused."

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"Oh!" says Cassiel. "I'm delighted to hear that, we weren't sure how to talk to the spirits. Beasts we figured out, one of our colleagues adopted a swarm of rats, but spirits seem harder to find. Unless they're the same thing as ghosts."

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"Ghosts are scars in the world. I do not think they can truly change or feel anymore. It is often difficult to resolve their complaints, but also possible to forcibly disperse them if they're dangerous, as some are. A rat swarm? They can be quite personable, yes. But what is all this? I have heard the most wild tales on my way into the city."

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Cassiel repeats the standard spiel on Vanda Nossëo.

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"So you need to speak with the spirits? Wise. Many forget that humanity is not the only thinking thing on the planet. The shining glory of progress throws off a blinding glare. What do you know of spirits so far?" He starts gathering bags of spices after closely examining several. "Do you have a large measure of salt? Quite useful for rituals, salt. I'll give you advice and stories until all this is earned."

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They can scoop out a sack of salt for him. "Just what we've picked up from dragons, so far," Cassiel says. "Not us personally, but our colleagues who go talk to them."

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He freezes. "You've spoken to dragons? Amazing. But I don't know what they would have said, never having met one myself. Well, one that wasn't hunting cows at the time."

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"That's all right, I'm curious what you're here to tell us."

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"There are many different sorts of spirit. From vast and ponderous to the point where they hardly notice us, to ones so small as to seem childlike. The vast ones are not a concern unless you intend to raze forests or level mountains, but their revenge and death-throes can be painful indeed. But the lighter spirits, those that form around points of natural order or accumulated ritual, those can be spoken to if you have the practice and talent. It requires understanding your emotions, empathy and - attunement, I would phrase it, to what a spirit is, and a clear, focused intent to listen and speak with your mind. As an example, one of the brooks that feed this valley's river holds a playful water-spirit, which is largely unconcerned with anything that happens to it. It spoke to me at length about how it is flowing water, and thus will never be destroyed. Flowing around rocks and condensing if boiled, released when consumed and eventually melting when frozen. It knew no fear and no hunger or want. It remembers me, but only as a once-visitor invited to swim and play again."

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"Aww, cute. We're trying to find a member of a similar class of thing from another world who can come meet yours, in case that helps bridge communication gaps."

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"Spirits war with each other sometimes..." He says dubiously.

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"...well, we wouldn't bring a warlike one."

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He nods. "Well, I hope that will go fine. Hmm, what next... Oh yes, the Four. Four great spirits, or four archetypes of lesser spirits perhaps. Fire, water, earth, air. While the material world is made of dozens and more different things, the spirit world's fundamental blocks are those four pieces. Achieving an understanding and intuitive feeling with one of the Four can grant you powers great and small," he gestures to the coal. "This little bit of showmanship for instance. A proper lesson on them can take a while, but briefly, fire is pride, desire, strength, glory. Water- empathy, flexibility, reaction. Earth, stubbornness and patience and calm. Air, curiosity, freedom, exuberance."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh! Can you explain how you developed that understanding?"

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"From my master, from his master before him, and so on. Confirmed as best I can tell in my wanderings and observations. Many of the lesser spirits conform strongly to one of the Four, and will teach you about it - whether they answer your questions or just by observing their actions. There are more spirits, of course. Hybrids of the four, and more complex arrangements. A storm spirit is fire and air. Dragons hold all four within their hearts, quite powerfully."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are dragons just a kind of spirit, or more complicated?"

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"Dragons are a unique case. Maybe they are spirit bound to flesh. Maybe they're the ultimate form of animal spirits. Maybe they're the fathers of all spirits. Guesses. I don't know. I've never even spoken to one."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are animal spirits like the rat swarm?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think mostly they are... Cloudier? Rat swarms are very cohesive. Herds get like that sometimes, but there is much more individualism in larger animals. They are hard to speak to as well."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh! Physically larger animals? Like whales or elephants?"

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"I've never heard of a 'whale', but I met an elephant once. It was so upset but really just needed some better care instructions. More like... Goats, chickens, cats, turtles, llamas. I think there is something in insects and crabs and fish but I haven't managed to put myself in a sufficiently crabby perspective." He chuckles.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Any idea how any of this came to be?"

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A slow headshake. "Only stories from men as clueless as I. Perhaps I should tell them anyway?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Please! We sell what's in this shop for stories whether they're true or not, we want them all."

Permalink Mark Unread

"This world already existed when humanity arrived from across the stars. By an act of the gods and great spirits, the first men found themselves here, and quickly grew and prospered, making order and peace out of a brutal and hostile nature. But the terrible dragon kings warred with the gods, and all were slain. Now, we are left only with the broken pieces of two things that were once great, doing the best we can.

"Another telling says that Humanity's place has always been here, that it was usurped by dragon and beast jealous of our intelligence and the great cataclysm uncountably many generations ago was the Eldest Dragon's rage and hatred growing like a wildfire, until she consumed herself - and everything else. Since then the good people of the land have slowly been growing stronger again, and yet have a duty to stamp out chaos for good.

"Some say the Star Lords still watch over this world, observing and testing us. That those who are worthy - who exactly is worthy seems to change all too often - are rescued after death and taken to join them in the sky. The unworthy are left to crumble into dirt and become nothing, a fate that all must strive to avoid.

"Others say that rejoining the world after death is a natural and good thing. They bury bodies to second them to the soil rather than burning them to urge souls upward, and some believe that the spirits and animals of the land are former humans, while others say that all the dead sleep in a river of souls, resting eternally.

"The spirits tell a different story that I've pieced together. They say that the first and greatest spirits were Father Sun and Mother Earth, who came together to produce all their children, from the great dragons to the very tiny beings that cause disease. At first there were few, but over time they grew and changed, molded by chance and spirit. They say that humans arrived later, brought here from some distant place."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's really interesting. We'll be able to check, whether humans came from somewhere other than here to this planet, do you think that will be disruptive?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think those who turn out to be right will believe you and those who turn out to be wrong will say you're liars. A city or two might eject you over it. Personally, I don't think the history matters. We're here now."

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"Yes, it would just be abstractly interesting," Cassiel agrees.

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"To many, it would be an important and immediate question. 'Is my grandmother with the star lords? How could it be that the star lords don't actually exist?' Or alternately, 'I thought we were a real and true part of this world, you're saying we're invaders after all?' Would it be good for a society to find out the truth, or bad? Is 'what is good' even the right tack to take? Good is so subjective. I've known generals who confessed to me that priests and holidays are weapons, weapons of belief. But I'm no statesman or king. Just a spirit talker, used to rambling on and on."

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"How did you decide to do this with your life?"

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He scowls before covering it with a smile. "Ah, let's just say that asking questions isn't always a good way to become well liked. I... Ended up in a mud hut in the swamp with only an old man for company. Picked it up from there."

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"...huh. Do you like it now?"

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"Oh, definitely! It's not all beer and blankets but I've found my long journeys very fulfilling, considered as a whole. Say. How did you end up here, I wonder?

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"You mean, me specifically in this town, or Vanda Nossëo on this planet?"

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"You, if you don't mind? I think I understand why the organization is here, even if it's a lot to take in, but some sort of personal view is better to really understand."

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"Well, I joined Vanda Nossëo because, like, you know, the dream is to help people and I turn out to have not nearly enough aptitude for healing to beat any of the other magic healing options. I took a quiz to see what departments I'd be a fit for and considered Integration but decided envoy would be more fun. This particular town I think we got assigned randomly, we didn't know enough to pick and choose in advance. Oh, and I'm on Nelen's team because during training I met Natsuko and put in a request to be on the same team as her and she'd wanted to be on Nelen's because she likes his vibe or something."

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"Huh. Sounds like some very careful planning. I should stop monopolizing the story store if you've got enough from me for these spices and salt." He makes a head tossing sort of gesture at the line. "I'd love to meet the others if they'd wish it. Perhaps you have need of further consultation with a shaman."

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"Sure, they're over there!" She points and turns to the next person.

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He walks to Nelen and politely waits to be acknowledged.

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"Hi there!" says Nelen, when he's sent his current customer on their way with a new contraceptive ring.

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"Hello! I am a shaman, able to speak to the beasts and spirits. I've told the lady over there some about it, it sounds like that could be useful. I also wanted to meet more visitors from other worlds, I'm very curious what brings you all specifically here."

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"Oh, well, I joined up when - for a while after Vanda Nossëo found my planet I didn't have a job, kind of a lot of us didn't - my subgroup of my species. We took a while to get used to the multiverse, enjoy having Vanda Nossëo basic income, lots of us immediately started having a ton of kids, took up a lot of hobbies we hadn't been able to try before. And that was fun, for a while, but then I wanted to be doing something. If I were married it'd probably be the having a ton of kids thing, my species loves kids, but I'm not, so I wound up in an employment office and it funneled me this way and I passed a screen for the extra fancy spells. Eventually I'll meet someone and settle down. Maybe still do a turn as an ambassador now and then while the kids are at band camp or something."

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"I wish you joy and luck in that, truly. Sadly my time is nearly past, family is an old dream that is not to be for me. Are there very many nonhumans who look mostly like humans?"

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"Kind of a weird number, yeah, we don't know why. My kind have colorful hair and more teeth than you." He grins to demonstrate.

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"Ha! I could not even begin to venture a guess. Or well, I could, but I doubt my guesses are worth anything here."

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"There's some internal difference too, and stuff that you can only see over time - I can go from as pale as Tarwë to darker than Cassiel in the space of a few days if I get enough sun, and then back again if I stay inside. But mostly you can think of Amentans as humans who really really like babies."

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"I don't suppose I could go visit? I'm a wanderer, you see."

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"You can! We don't have a bus station installed here for more regular trips but if you'd like to just go up to my ship and take a ride from there to wherever strikes your fancy you're more than welcome. Shall I pop you up now?"

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He laughs. "Why not? I'll repay you with advice on spirits later, how about. Maybe even teach someone how to do it themselves- Though it takes years to master."

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Nelen pops him up to the lobby of the ship.

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He-

Is starstruck, making a beeline for the window and staring out at the stars and planet, open-mouthed.

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"That's not your side of the planet, right now, the town we're working in will come up in about three hours on that side," Nelen says, pointing.

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"This-

"It's just barely on the edge of my perception but I can feel her. Mother Earth, and Sun's distant gaze. So... Lonely and proud. I- I'm sorry. This is a very moving experience."

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"Those are - spirits?" Nelen asks.

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"Yes... Supposedly. They- Would be ancient and alien beyond belief, if they are spirits in truth and not - my own wishful thinking, or something. I - This is..."

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"The planet is probably billions of years old, and the sun older than that," Nelen says.

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"A thousand thousand thousands. We should- I should- Can you bring me closer or take me away while blindfolded so that I can't tell? I want to know if I am imagining it... I would imagine it still if you've moved me and I can't tell the difference. I don't know if I'm making any sense right now.

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"I can hand you off to someone who works shipboard and they can take you on a shuttle ride? I should be getting back down," says Nelen apologetically.

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"-Of course, of course, you have your duties."

He visibly steels himself before turning away from the window. "Thank you, and lead on."

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Nelen hands the shaman off to a shipboard human, who can lead the shaman to a shuttle and take him on a ride while he has his eyes closed.

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He can pretty reliably point out which way the sun and earth are, within about a ninety degree cone. And tell when they've moved very far away. He is extremely excited about this and finds it difficult to stop talking about spirits afterwards!

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That is moderately interesting to the pilot! He takes them back to the shuttlebay and parks and can give the shaman a tour of the ship now if he'd like.

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Sure! "At this point I have no idea what to expect and what not to expect from you all, if you have palaces in the sky and instant travel."

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"...what were you expecting before?"

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"I wasn't! Your society is a sudden dragon- Er, impossible to predict in advance. Or perhaps I was expecting flying palaces on some level, but the reality is different from the imagination."

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"Huh. I guess if I just had the concept 'flying palace' I'd expect it to be made out of stone and not metal? And have fewer computers?"

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"Oh, the artifacts I don't understand and gleaming metal everywhere is very on theme. There are plenty of tales of steel sky-ships buried in mountains, waiting to be woken."

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"Huh. Maybe there are some, if your ancestors came from another planet."

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"I don't suppose someone could look for them? A lady with wings mentioned finding out where we originally came from, which is a bit of a daunting subject honestly."

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"Yup! We're compiling a list of things like that to check and it'll get sent to the forensics department when it's all assembled."

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"There's a few people who I'd like to know what happened to - though it's hardly urgent enough for a magical forensics team, I'd think. What are the essential parts of the starship tour?"

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She shows him around through the crew quarters - there's an empty one he can look at - and explains the floating ornamental objects (the floating isn't magic, just hyperminiaturized, but the cleaning they do is magic) and the cargo bay with the vast amounts of empty space, filling up and emptying again as the staff demon and some teleporters take orders and fill them, and then it's back to the lobby he's seen, though it has offshoots - a dining hall, a theater - for onboard occupations.

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He seems more and more thoughtful as the tour goes on. "I'm glad I'm not a king," he mentions absently. "Thank you for the tour. I'm not sure if there's anything small I could do to repay you? Oh, I was told I could visit another world for a time as well, if you have a recommendation I would appreciate it."

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"I'm from Revelation and I think it's really nice!"

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"I'll take your word for it! What should I know to visit? Who should I see about that?"

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"Lisa's doing rides to the bus stop, she should be around somewhere - there she is, you can just ask her, and then you might want to ask directions at an information booth once you're at the stop - can you read -"

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He hesitates for a brief moment before saying, "I can. More incredibly impressive magic for that, hm?"

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"You can get an Allspeak installation at an info booth, and then you'll be able to read all the signs."

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He thumps one arm into his shoulder across his chest with a nod. "Thank you again, for the testing and the tour. If you find a need to talk to spirits some time, feel free to come find me."

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"Will do!"

Lisa can tote him to the bus stop and point him to an information booth!

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He will patiently wait in line at an information booth and take in the world around him. Who is around, what are they doing, what does the place feel like? Busy? Quiet? Clean? Welcoming?

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Incredibly busy. People are coming and going in all directions; there are signs, and paths inlaid into the floors, and skywalks and mezzanines above. Humans - or at least folks who look it - form a slight majority, but there are people of more exotic extractions, and they've all got places to go. There are a few permanent installations - the information booths, about twenty of them, and some places selling snacks or distributing advertisement pamphlets. There are huge posted bus maps up on several walls, drawn with different stylizations and emphases.

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He doesn't like this place. It feels cold and empty.

That's perfectly fine. Places exist for reasons and it's not like he's impatient or rash. He'll wait in line at the information booth and smile patiently, still carrying the staff with its little brazier and all. Though he's let the flame go out now. Nobody would know what it means, anyway.

"Hello! I'm from a world you fine folks just showed up at, and I wanted to see another. I was recommended 'Revelation', and 'Allspeak'."

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"Sounds like a plan!" says the info booth person. "I can Allspeak you right now, just a sec." He produces a wand and bops the shaman on the head. "There you go. Next bus to Revelation will be the Eastern red line, leaving from platform twelve in eight minutes - follow the red triangles, they start right there."

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He thanks them, and only realizes after he's left that he has no idea how to get 'home' without - Lisa, was it? He laughs and feels lighter and freer for it.

Here is the eastern red line. He reads signs and figures out where he's at and people-watches a bit.

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He is at Bus Hub #1 ("Stjernekart"), in a world called Edda. The Eastern red line goes from Elentári to Edda (you are here)! to Space Arda to Heaven to Revelation (and then Warp, but he'll be getting off before then).

Pop! The bus comes into existence. People get off on the far side and he can board on the near one.

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Just an oversized wagon ride. He gets on and - stands in the standing room as out of the way he can get, feeling very out of place with his unkempt clothes and charms and things and so many strange people. Usually he meets them a bit more one-at-a-time...

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Pop! The bus driver announces Space Arda; some people get off, some get on. Pop! The bus driver announces Heaven. (Heaven is very white and glowy, no sky nor ground.) Pop! Revelation!

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It does seem more efficient this way, since he got the impression they don't trust just anyone to teleport. However that works.

Off he gets into Revelation. Presumably this is another bus stop and not Revelation proper, so he looks for a way out.

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It is a bus stop! He can transfer to Revelation-internal buses, but if he just wants to get out, the legend on the sign says to follow the purple circles.

The purple circles spit him out onto a cul-de-sac in Minneapolis.

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He doesn't have to memorize this stop's name if he remembers where it is.

(Stjernekart, Edda, Stjernekart, Edda...)

Off he goes for a pleasant walk in suburban Minneapolis, then. Maybe he'll look for spirits later, see if those are unique. Those are very nice houses.

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They are very nice houses! There is a contest for makers of some kind of food, and ads for a museum, and people on electric bicycles, and a fellow riding a fucking rhinoceros down the street (apparently you, too, can ride the rhinoceros for a small fee!), and an angel repairing some tree-root-disturbed sidewalks, and restaurants, and a public library, and a craft fair, and cars that fly and cars that don't, and somebody having a loud phone conversation, and a robot mowing a lawn, and a lady walking six dogs, and a grocery store, and a sex toy shop, and a place papered with announcements of an upcoming concert, and restaurants.

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Amazing. All of it amazing. And far too busy to even try to look for spirits, which is just as well.

Museum! It's translating very oddly (with a compound word that includes all three of library-palace-temple), which makes it something he just has to see. He attempts to figure out where the museum is.

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The museum is over there! It's an art museum and they currently have an exhibit on Orcish art in addition to their permanent exhibits. He can't afford admission but they comp him upon having it explained that he's from a newly contacted world.

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He'd been planning to busk with magic tricks, but that's very nice! Is silver no good here, then? Possibly because of the thing where the starship had people making mountains of stuff?

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Yeah, silver is not a currency here, if his country joins Vanda Nossëo they'll buy up all the precious metals to avoid crashing the economy.

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Haha, well, that's all above his head. What could they possibly use instead? ...Actually can he suggest a place to learn that later so he's not asking them to do something that's not their job? Should he just go back to the bus stop info booths?

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The library would be better for stuff like that if he's going to have a lot of questions.

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Library it is. But in the meantime: Art. What is Revelation art like, and what is orc art like? Just the architecture is pretty grand. He's probably going to be wandering around in awe for hours.

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There are definitely hours' worth of awe to be had in here. And plaques about all the awe-inspiring things.

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He's getting a bit tired by the time he heads for a library, but his mind is spinning with all the art of a new world and he hasn't even thought about where he's going to eat or sleep.

He wanders into a library and looks around.

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The library has books, and computers, and librarians! A librarian waves at him.

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"Hello! I'm from a newly contacted world - and aren't those seeming like magic be nice to me words, hah - and I have some questions about how money works around here given-" He jingles a coinpurse.

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"Oh, of course! Wow, you must be a very early visitor, I don't think I'd even heard they were scouting a new one yet. Well, everything here is free, the library's a public service, if you borrow a book we ask that you return it within a month. If your polity, or you as an individual, choose to join Vanda Nossëo, you get a basic income every twenty days - I'm not sure how they settled on that number, sometimes it changes - and that'll cover everything you need as long as you don't need anything especially bizarre. Most people wear an ID bracelet or necklace or carry a card or get an implant chip or something, and that connects them to their government account and they can spend their basic from there. If you aren't a Vanda Nossëo citizen you don't get a basic but you can earn money regardless if you like, in a local currency, and you can still keep it in any of those forms, and some places still have cash but not here, we haven't had even paper cash for almost two hundred years now, demons really wreck it as a concept."

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"They opened up those stores yesterday morning! Showed up right in the middle of a road and the city guards weren't sure whether to take them to priests or the king, from what I hear. They didn't know about the dragons and nature spirits, either. Of course as a consummate wanderer I couldn't resist seeing another world. Are the computers talking to each other somehow, to tell who's who? Not that I know how to use them, but we have old ruined machines around - and the stories talk about them all talking to each other, in a way."

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"Ooh, you've got dragons? Materia's got dragons but I don't think any have been evacuated. And one of the late Ardas had like, two, but they were evil. Dragons and ancient technological ruins, very cool. And yeah the computers talk to each other."

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He will solicit a computer lesson while telling charming stories about learning to talk to weird spirits and the legendary Visage of All-Seeing (it's literally just night vision goggles), and then ask if he's likely to be able to busk money with magic tricks or if he has to figure out where to go camping or how to get home.

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He can probably busk with magic tricks since his magic is new and exciting but it will be easier if he has a money card or something for people to pay into! She can actually print him one right now. Getting home shouldn't be that hard, if he got turned around in the bus routes he can get help at an info booth.

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He knows he has to get to Edda - station number one. Probably. That's where the teleporter dropped him off anyway. But he's not worried about that, this is an adventure! He'd appreciate that card, and maybe something to make a sign with.

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Card and a bit of cardboard and a marker! "Not everyone has Allspeak, so aim to write in English," she advises.

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"Oh, you can do that? Will do."

I am a spirit-talker with magic from a new world learned over decades. Ask me about it!

elemental manipulation - object reading - illusion shows - personality guessing - minor blessings

Small donations humbly accepted - [payment card taped to cardboard]

"What do you think?" He asks the librarian, grinning.

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"Looks good! I'd recommend setting up by the fountain - turn left as you leave the library and go straight, you can't miss it, there's musicians and stuff there all the time and you'll fit right in."

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"Thank you once again! Everyone here is so welcoming."

He'll go check out the fountain, say hi to some musicians and look for a reasonably open spot.

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There are musicians! Guy with an electric violin, guy with drums who is also singing. There's also a group of dancers. He can find a spot to sit on the edge of the fountain and put up his sign.

Eventually somebody comes up to him. "What does object reading mean?"

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He's happy to take in the atmosphere and not actively seek attention yet.

"Hello! I can ask things what they are, and where they've been. Who used them and what they were feeling about it, sometimes. Its sort of the same thing one needs to speak to spirits - though you don't seem to have any of those in this world."

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"What can, hm, my sweater tell you?"

The sweater came from a secondhand charity shop about a year ago, and previously belonged to a woman who it didn't fit as well as this one; the first owner had gotten it for Christmas.

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He peers closely at a sleeve for a few moments, tugging on his beard. 

"Oh, hmm... Whoever had it before didn't like it as much, I think, it waited to be chosen for a while. In a place with quite a lot of clothes, but I'm starting to get used to your prosperity. You've had it for a year or so? I can't get much about any previous owner, or who made it, they didnt really have any... Attachment to it, would be the word."

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"Huh! Yeah, I picked it up from a charity shop. Neat!" The woman glances at his money card and smiles and walks off.

Next person wants to know what kind of minor blessings he means.

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"There are four, and they're fairly subtle. They are real, but they're not miracles, you know? Just a bit of a boost. Fire, for tests and competitions. Water, for empathy and personal connections. Earth, for patience and comfort and rest. Air, for learning and exploration and new experiences."

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"Ooh, I have a test coming up."

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With a smile and a snap of his fingers the coal in his staff comes alight, and he pulls a few sparks off it with another gesture.

"By the light of fire, that primal hunger, may you be the best you can be! With pride and will, you will face all the challenges ahead and find within yourself the ability to overcome them. Shine without fear, and May You Be Blessed."

He waves and the sparks form a circle around him before suddenly flaring and then vanishing. 

"Good luck! What is your test on? I'm new here and curious."

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"Math. I'm brushing up, I spent a long time kind of doing nothing and now I want to do things again."

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"I see. Basic income, right? It's a strange concept to me - where I grew up, you worked or you starved. I'm glad it doesn't have to be that way."

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"Yeah, daeva help a lot with that. Some people don't like UBI, they think there should be more incentive to work, but not starving incentive. Usually."

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"I do think the world is better when people get a little push, but it should be - aspiration, not fear."

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"Yeah! Are you guys going to join Vanda Nossëo?"

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"Well, it's hardly been a day since. Not as an entire world - we're not unified and the dragons and spirits are going to complicate things - but certain cities, maybe even the whole Metal Kingdoms as one or other unifications like that I think will likely want to- Benevolent visitors from beyond the stars is a big deal! A big cultural touchstone."

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"Ooooh dragons... why are the metal kingdoms called that?"

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"I've never met a dragon. Rare, reclusive, very dangerous - and definitely people, no matter what others say. The metal kingdoms were all founded about a hundred years ago by 'brother kings', set on... Well, invading and driving away dragons and building new cities in the untamed lands. Named all their cities after metals. Goldvalley, Silverreach, Ironriver, Copperhold, Pewtermarch, Bronzehill. Can't remember the other three."

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"Cute. Theme naming. ...Vanda Nossëo isn't being weird about dragons being people, are they?"

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"Well, what's weird? I don't know what they're thinking - they weren't exactly talking about it and were kind of avoiding the subject, I think, from what I overheard."

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"Huh. I'm going to write my representative to make sure they know." He takes out his computer and composes a note.

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Nature spirits are people too, but... "Huh, is that - going to be a big deal? I wouldn't want to cause too much fuss over nothing."

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"Oh, probably they're on it and I'll get a form letter but it never hurts."

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"Huh. Mention nature spirits and elephants and other animals too - I'm less sure other animals would all count, they can be simple. I'm pretty sure they know, I mentioned it, but if it never hurts may as well."

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"Mm-hm." He amends the note.

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"I'm trying to get a feel for the multiverse, would you mind telling me what your average day is like?"

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"Oh, sure, why not. I get up at like nine and I have breakfast, usually granola or I get a burrito from the place cattycorner to my apartment, and then I go to the gym - I'm planning to totally let myself go after I hit my ideal everything and hold onto it for like, a week, but I hear it's easier to make stuff stick as a daeva if you were ever actually in that shape as a human, and some people think it's got important health benefits you can't capture by going to the clinic whenever you get a twinge. - I'm going to be a daeva when I die, since I was born here and did a summoning one time. Anyway, then I go to classes, I usually walk there, kind of cool down after lifting weights, and I have calculus and multiversal studies and world history and modern English lit and ceramics and essay seminar and standard model bio, depending on the day, not all at once, and I get lunch somewhere in there usually from the food court on campus, and after classes I do some homework in the library because it's nicer in a place with other people even if nobody's talking and the librarians'll help if they're not busy, and then I walk home, which brings us to now, this fountain's on my way."

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"A lot to unpack in there! What's a burrito, gym, and 'standard model bio'? -I won't keep you any longer if you'd rather go get some rest. Or I will if you don't mind."

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"Nah, it's fine, you're interesting. I don't usually think of myself as, like, exotic. Burrito's a wrap, very flat bread with stuff in it. Gym's a place where they have exercise equipment. Bio is living things and standard model is like, the things aren't magical or otherwise doing something very weird."

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"I'll have to try a burrito later. Gym's like a guard training yard, I suppose? Except not - military. Huh, I wonder if I'm standard model. My instinct would be 'no' because-" He dips his hand into the fountain behind him and pulls it back up with a globe of wobbly water clinging to him. "This, but I really wouldn't know."

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"You can be biologically standard and still have magic powers but I dunno if you specifically are."

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"Oh, it's more- No, you're right, I have no idea. My magic is not innate. It's... Spiritual. Being aware of yourself and the world and reaching an understanding of things. And, you know, I have no idea how to tell the difference between 'this power was always within you, only now unlocked' or 'you've grown your soul like a muscle over time' or 'it's just long practice making you better at this'."

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"Even some stuff you have to learn to do you can have to be from a particular world for. But you can still also be standard model bio."

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"I think it'll be more clear in time. I'm not in a terrible hurry, I've got another decade or three in me."

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"- I mean, probably you'll want to save up for immortality?"

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He double-takes and the water splashes to the ground. "-What."

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"...oh, that's a thing. I'm not going to get it because I'm from here so I'll just be a daeva and that's fine, it's kind of better than never dying in a lot of ways, but if you don't have anything like that lined up you probably want to save some money and buy an immortality ring."

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"Do you know how expensive those are? And how an old man might go about earning a lot of money?"

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"Ugh, I forget what they cost, my friends are mostly local and we don't buy those or resurrections. It's a lot but you have rare magic and there's probably something nobody else can do that'd be worth money."

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Deep breath. "Maybe I can teach it. Maybe they'll want my help to talk to spirits, honestly that's the ideal case, that's my usual work. I really couldn't list out all the things I could do if I put my mind to it, if there's a metaphor that fits pretty well I can probably stretch it... 'M best with air aaand that means nothing to you does it." He chuckles. "I think I might want to cut this busking thing short and try to get home, or get to an office of theirs maybe, get a jump on that."

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"Sounds like a plan! Good luck!"

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"Thanks for the chat! Good luck on your calculus test too!"

Well! That was a half hour well spent. He picks up the sign, might as well and no need to be littering, and goes back to ask the library computers where the nearest Vanda Nossëo office is.

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They have one right near the bus stop!

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Off he goes to the office, then, looking around to see if there's an info-booth-like thing.

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Yup, there's a front desk with six people behind it, three currently unoccupied; one waves him over. "Hi, welcome to the Revelation Minneapolis office of Vanda Nossëo, how can I help you?"

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"Hello. Sorry to bother you with this. I actually came here from a newly contacted world, wanted to see something else for a bit. Then I heard that immortality rings exist, so I'd like to head back as soon as possible and ask about employment for my magic. I'd go back to, ah, Edda station one with the buses if I thought they'd be waiting for me there, but I don't think so."

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"Oh, did your escort just - drop you off at station one and not give you a way to get in touch with them? Okay, I'm going to send a message to the info booth staff at station one, and one of them should be able to help you get back to your own planet."

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"Seems so, maybe I misunderstood something? But I appreciate it! I don't need money to get into the bus stop? I was going to busk with this card, but..." He shrugs. 

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"- but?"

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"Sorry, I should speak more plainly. But then I heard immortality exists and urgently wanted to go home."

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"Oh, so you didn't get any tips? Okay, I can spot you a bus token." She pulls one out of a drawer.

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"Maybe I'm not as interesting as I thought. I'll pay the kindness forward."

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"Mm-hm! Do you need anything else?"

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"Not right now, thank you."

He will once again boldly go forth and... Navigate the bus system after handing over his token, trying to read the terminals first to get to Edda on one quick lesson on computer use, and resorting to an info booth if he cannot accomplish this basic task. He needs to head to one of the Edda info booths at the end of this, anyway.

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When he's made it to station one, the info booth is there with Lisa standing beside it, sheepishly awaiting him. "Sorry," she says. "I just had a slip of the brain. I owe a fine for stranding you and I can pay it to you or the charity of your choice, what's your preference?"

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"Oh, it's my fault as much as yours, walking off without a thought. It's not really necessary."

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"I'm glad it didn't cause you any serious problems! I do still owe the fine. If you don't care what I do with it I can just dump it on environmentalist subsidy or something?"

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"I've discovered the desire to save up for immortality, but it'd feel selfish to just take it. How about save it for someone on my planet? Is there a charity for that yet?"

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"Not specifically, no. If you want to save up for immortality you should absolutely take it!"

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"Heh, alright then. This thing work or do I need another?" He taps the paycard still taped to his cardboard sign. "I was thinking about asking if anyone wants to learn spirit-talking back on the starship. Or just wants me to talk to some spirits for them."

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"Yeah, that works." Moment's pause. "There you go. I can take you back to the ship now?"

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"Of course." He braces for teleportation and once on the ship, "Where do you think I should head to ask about making myself useful?"

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"There's a shipboard Dwarf who's actually here to handle economy-related questions, he'd probably pay you to tell him what kinds of capabilities he can expect to be coming off the planet looking for work and point you in the right direction on the way."

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"-I assume you don't mean the Digging Folk from our world. Sounds like a fun conversation. I hope your day's a good one and doesn't include any more fines."

He attempts to find this Dwarf and introduce himself.

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Lisa can lead him to the Dwarf's office! "Hello! Have a seat," says the Dwarf. "I'm Revna, and yourself?"

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He has a seat, then frowns and bristles before catching himself. "-Ah, cultural difference, sorry. It's a tad rude to introduce yourself or ask for a name on first meeting in my home culture. I go by Solomon."

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"Oh, whoopsie. Which culture is that, I'll post a note -" The Dwarf has to physically interact with his computer to make it work.

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That tickles something in his head but he dismisses it for the moment. "You're supposed to have someone else introduce you, or mention your name offhand in a way that it can be heard. To show that you are welcome and not a stranger. We call ourselves the Water People or the Lake People, I don't know what outsiders call us. If you have a map I can point out the region."

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The Dwarf pulls up a projection of the globe.

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There on the eastern lowlands of one of the continents, a region that does indeed have a lot of lakes and swamps.

"I've spent most of my adult life travelling and haven't been there in some time, though."

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"Gotcha. Anyhow," he dismisses the globe, "Lisa said you wanted to know how your talents can make money! What are they?"

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"Fairly rare ones, perhaps one in a large city with some skill and one in a dozen of those as practiced as I. I am a spirit-talker, a shaman-"

He goes over the basics again: Talking to spirits and animals (though that's harder), doing little rituals to calm or influence them, banishing ghosts, minor and slightly less minor blessings with more little rituals, minor earth/water/air/fire manipulation, petty illusions, object reading, an intuition to peoples' alignment on the four metaphorical conceptbundles of the elements, his body is magically reinforced and heals faster (that's probably not useful, he's mentioning it just to be thorough)-

"And with time I can develop new skills that have a decent metaphorical link to one of the elements. I developed object-reading this way through a metaphor with water. Oh, and I have no information on whether offworlders are capable of learning this, but I can teach it. Usually it's an apprenticeship but mostly for lack of good candidates, I'm not attached to doing it that way."

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"You could get pilot funding to check if people could learn it. How quick would you expect results?"

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He stops to carefully think for a long moment before answering. "I don't want to overpromise. Assuming a few good candidates who are really trying and put a day or two of solid effort per week in - not all in one block - a week at the earliest for it to become clear whether it's possible at all. If there's no signs at all after three months, I'd call it hopeless. I'll be able to tell if they're making progress before any students do. Getting to useful results would take longer, I want to say six months to a year to be able to find and start talking to the most cooperative spirits? With no guarantees that any particular person has the right aptitude."

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"All right. Do you have a very loose estimate of how many shamans like you there might be on your planet?"

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"...Maybe a dozen in each kingdom, more in some cultures so... More than four hundred, less than two thousand?"

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"Do you have a guess how many of them are better than you at teaching, more interested in money, or both?"

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"Haha, it's hard to tell. I don't have a good estimate of my teaching skills. I'd say I'm probably unusually interested in money and in the most skilled decile for pure technical skill, and since empathy is a big part of that there's likely not zero correlation between that and teaching ability."

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"Great. Based on that and the fact that no other shamans have come by here yet, I can probably offer you a grant for teaching a class - how many students would you ideally take at once?"

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"Hmm... Ideally I'd screen some folks who think they might fit for the length of a conversation, then an hour long group intro session, and then pick up to a dozen promising sorts and schedule them across from each other. I'm not sure how many I should screen, how much volunteering pre-screens them as it were."

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"Well, a lot, but we can filter by practically anything besides personal rapport with you. A dozen to be tutored one-on-one winnowed from a candidate pool of...?"

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"I've never done this before, you know," he says lightly. "So if I were actively looking for students instead of passively watching for good ones I'd need to talk to thousands of people. Maybe a hundred and then more if it's not enough? With some filtering that I have to think about for a minute."

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"All right, take your time."

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"The ideal shaman," he says slowly, "Is empathetic - and not just with the kinds of people they're familiar with. They should be curious and observant. They should be in tune with their emotions, be able to understand what they feel and why. They should be good at meditation and focus, able to take strange and specific states of mind deliberately. They should enjoy spending time in nature. They should think they'd do well picking at - I'm struggling to put this into words - entangled interconnected concepts that don't have one specific correct interpretation? Philosophy? This is an emotional and spiritual skill, not a technical or mathematic one. Artistic skills or poetry or musical ability would correlate but is not strictly necessary. None of these are specifically crucial, this is just my best attempt at a list of traits a good shaman has or can at least emulate."

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"All right, I can list those as filtration criteria if we have a glut and also nice-to-haves for the volunteers themselves to consider," says Revna. "When would you be ready to start?"

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"I've no competing obligations, though I'm getting tired, it's been a long day. I know a few places on the planet below that would be good for lessons, I might need a teleporter to offer rides."

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"How many rides are we talking about? There are some idling teleporters as long as this planet's brand new but they'll peel off to other places as things settle out."

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"...Being close to actual spirits who are known quantities to me is going to be important eventually but if teleporters are as rare as all that perhaps I should look for recommendations of natural areas that people can get to without so much fuss and investigate some, for the initial phase."

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"I'll add 'teleportation quals' as a nice-to-have for the students, shall I," says Revna.

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"May as well. I don't know how you-collectively operate yet, though I'm trying to learn. Big world out there."

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"Enormous!" says Revna enthusiastically. "All right, we should have candidates filtered by tomorrow, if you want to go get some sleep."

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"Miss Lisa also mentioned that you would be interested to know what people are good at and might find jobs with, and presumably also what they value if you're a merchant? Also, would that be aboard ship or shall I beg a ride back down to Goldvalley and find an inn?"

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"I am interested in that! You can have a guest room - let's see - 446 is open."

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"446, got it. Well I can talk a bit more now. Actually - I just realized I don't actually know how to use this-" He peels off the pay card from his cardboard sign where it sits against the chair. "I don't usually handle money honestly, since it's dangerous to carry too much silver on you and I travel so often. Oh, that's the first big thing - offplanet travel is going to be very popular. A lot of people would probably pay just to hop up and see the starscape, once they realize that's an option. Space is a big cultural motif."

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"Ooh, we can put in an orbital bus station if that'll be popular instead of going directly to Station One."

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"I think it would! The rest of it - I'm not sure what'll be unexpectedly popular, having never made contact with a new world before - exotic spices, sugar and cheap meat, healing magic, fine cloth, shiny metal gadgets, immortality rings - there might be murders over those if people don't join, ironically enough - all that will go well. Most people are farmers. Most of the rest are craftsmen of some kind or another, and most of the rest of the rest are soldiers. I'm not sure you really have much need for any of those."

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"Not a speck but they can retrain!" says Revna cheerily. "Okay, that's not fair, some people will buy handmade crafts as souvenirs, but practically speaking."

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"I wonder what the Delvers are making of all this. I don't know much about them - I barely know they exist, honestly."

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"- who might those be?"

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"Oh, it's said that there were once three races of humanity. The farmers, us, the delvers who mined ore and made machines, and the enforcers who fought invaders and crime. Enforcers all died with honor fighting dragons - or were brutal oppressors who were all justly murdered by we farmers depending on who's telling the story - delvers were scattered and shattered, and farmers slowly picked up the pieces. But I once saw a delver in a heavy suit of metal with a curious helmet that covered the face and had an odd piece sticking off the front, like an absurd tongue. From what I understood of what I saw, I think they have an - not an agreement but an understanding with outsiders. It was an odd scene, one party leaves goods lying on the ground and pounds on the great vault door, then retreats off to the surrounding hills. The delvers exit and leave baubles or metal as well, what they propose to trade for the first item, and then retreat inside. After that either the trade is made or rejected depending on what the first party takes without ever having to stand face to face. Or within bow range."

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"Huh. I'm not sure we noticed those. We'll have to be more thorough. How sure are you the Enforcers are all dead? Any other kinds of people?" wonders the Dwarf, typing rapidly.

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"Not very sure, honestly! Well, dragons and spirits and some or possibly most animals. There's tales of tiny aliens living in stumps and moving metal giants and living dreams that move from mind to mind and fey creatures luring people astray and a special rock where the star lords can hear you and a race of ugly Fishmen who make pacts with dragons and creatures made of living slime with odd artifacts. I've never encountered any of that personally, unlike the delver meeting place.

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"Wow. Okay. Forensics'll have to go over this place with a fine-toothed comb."

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"Dragons by repute really like shiny gold and silver and gems, though I've never met one." He yawns. "I'll be happy to try and help figure out if certain animals count as people to you folks, it sounds like that could get messy."

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"It could. There's big subsidies for non-animal meat, to displace eating even ordinary animals that aren't at all bright. Are you going to be all right finding your room on your own?"

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"I was shown around the guest rooms earlier, I'll be fine. But that's a sign it's time for me to go. This was a pretty productive conversation." He nods and smiles and stands to gather his bags.

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"Mm-hm! I'll get back to you if anything comes up regarding the grant or the student filtration process."

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In a dragon-territory in the jungle, after patiently waiting for the better part of a day, an elf receives a visitor-dragon, heralded by a veritable cacophony of animal braying and other noises.

Behold! the rooster on the dragon's head crows - it is somehow obvious that the rooster and not anything else is initiating the telepathy here.

Our Benevolent Master Approaches You! The Greatness Of The Dragons Is Clear For All To See And We The Finest Specimens Of Good Beasts Selected As Few Among Many Are Humbled To Receive Their Wisdom And Guidance And We Provide Obeisance In Turn. The Speaker Of Many Ways, The One Who Will Truly Master The Great Green, The Windy And Earthen Magician, Has Claimed This Territory, Two-Legged One! They Were Previously Occupied Mediating A Dispute Among Bears, Creating Harmony With Careful Thought. They Communicate Silently With Me, The Herald, And Allow Me To Sing Their Praises And Make Their Intent Clear. The Woodsinger Has Divined A Trembling In The Spirits That Indicates A Great Change To Come, And Before Sun Rests A Strange Visitor Who Knows Proper Courtesy Arrives. The Verdant One Declares That You Have Something To Do With It And Requests That You Explain Yourself!

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Hello, replies the Elf, yes, I'm a representative of Vanda Nossëo, a group of peoples from other suns and planets in other worlds, who have recently come here hoping to make things better for everyone.

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Our Emerald Lord Proclaims That 'Better' Is A Broad Concept That Can Mean Many Things To Different Minds, And That 'Everyone' Cannot Oft Be Pleased, As The Fox's Survival Necessitates The Rabbit's Demise.

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If there are foxes here who would go hungry if we protected the rabbits, we can provide them with meat that no rabbits had to die for. We find that's often possible.

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If You Claim The Phenomenal Power To Create Sustenance From Nothing, The Forest Of Feathers Would See Such A Thing In Action Before Making Judgement.

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I don't personally have this power but I can ask a colleague who does to come here, if your lord wishes.

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The Beast-Lord, Curious About The Ways Of The Tailless Ones, Is Willing To Receive Further Guests If They Will Be Courteous.

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Thank you, says the Elf, and a moment later a teleporter drops off a demon. The demon glances at the menagerie and produces something that will probably be appetizing to a member therof.

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A pack of squirrels and two rams nibble at it.

This Is Indeed Sustenance From Nothing, Unless You Use The Very Same Method With Which You Appear Yourselves. The World Hesitates And The Wind Changes With Such Silent Magic. Whence, We All Ask As One, Does This Strange Power Come From?

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(The demon and the teleporter leave.)

The magics of Vanda Nossëo come from many worlds; that one is from one called Hell, replies the Elf.

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You Exhibit Mysterious Power Of At Least Two Entirely Separate Kinds, And Seem To Have The Intent To Meddle As Humans And The Like Do. Our Lord Would Warn You Against The Woe Of Underestimating The Power Of A Dragon!

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I have no wish to antagonize your lord.

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The Flowering Of Wisdom In Their Appreciation For The Diverse Beasts Of The World Would Be Content To Receive Tribute Of Flesh And Plantflesh Of Many Types As Well As Some Small Trinkets And Cease Their Own Hunting, Enforcing This Law Similarly Upon The Lesser Carnivores, If There Is Some Way To Ensure The Future Population Of The Jungle Remains Balanced When Food Is Plentiful And Predation Nonexistent.

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It's possible to prevent the conception of new animals when there is no room for more, and we can provide the means to do so for most if not all species here, replies the Elf happily.

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Our Benevolent Lord Celebrates Your Arrival And Announces That Their Claim To This Territory Is Strong, But Rejoices When The Meeting Of Two Leads To More Things That Both Want. The Menagerie-Crown Wishes To Hear How One Would Accompish This In Greater Detail, And Also Of The Lands From Which You Hail.

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So the Elf can explain how various animal contraceptives work, and about various worlds in Vanda Nossëo (she herself is from Elentári).

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This dragon (whose rooster seems to have run out of new titles for) asks more about Elentári and eventually does start 'speaking' for themself.

They are at at least half as dramatic as the rooster and have lots of questions about the wider world and other animals and offer to give the elf a tour of their territory (to show it off) and introduce them to a lot of animals and spirits. Some of their close menagerie has wandered off but there are still a couple dozen small rodents, a tusked boar, a large ram, some birds, and a black bear.

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The Elf would love to be introduced.

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The dragon settles down back a ways, sitting on their haunches with wings folded up at their sides and front 'claws' right under their neck, like an oversized cat.

These animals are much 'quieter' than most thinkers, but still discernable. The rodents are mostly concerned about food, nesting space, and snakes. Their Lord has apparently brokered an agreement between squirrels and birds to share treespace rather than fighting over it. The birds talk loudly about things they have seen recently and about how they are very smart. The boar, Quiet Tooth, asks if the Elf has any truffles. The bear is named Dusk and only sends back sleepy acknowledgement unless asked a question.

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The Elf does not have any truffles on her but if that should be in the food shipments she will make a note of it! Are the snakes not part of the awakened community here, are they going to keep on trying to eat the rodents even given food from space?

(Elsewhere, the MO with dragons is gradually shifting frame to: Vanda Nossëo would like to offer dragons tribute to honor their benevolence with light nudging about what kind of benevolence they find worthy of honor.)

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They shouldn't listen to those treacherous snakes! But with meat that doesn't run away available they'll probably be fine just being their usual lazy selves. Dusk the bear agrees; Hunting is tiring and stressful.

There are other animals to meet - eagles and owls, fish and badgers. There's a sliding scale here; The birds repeat things a lot and don't show much critical thinking or learning ability. When they decide the Elf is safe to approach and land on, they all seem to get the message at once through some invisible cue, but don't show any more overt signs of hivemind-ness. The rodents act similarly. The fish and snakes are pretty much limited to wanting food, a comfortable resting spot, and not wanting to get eaten. The pack of wolves bark and bray at the dragon to stay away but allow the elf to approach and are on the much smarter end of things. Wild horses and goats seem slightly more complicated than the fish and snakes but still very dim, and the tiger the dragon introduces cracks jokes about their menagerie, calling them a walking circus and laughing, before accepting the offer of food that it doesn't have to kill.

(Dragons vary a lot in how they respond to this, but 'slightly better' is the rule. More of them actually bother to answer if they are being complimented, some of them will show off magic powers to bait more compliments. A few will accept donations of food but many are very defensive about interference in their territory and quite a few completely reject the idea of not hunting, seemingly on a 'this is the way it has always been done' line of reasoning.)

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The Elf rather likes having birds land on her, although she would prefer they not land on her hair.

Hopefully after enough dragons have taken them up on their offers it will be less obvious to other dragons that "this is the way it has always been done" is a good line of argument. Elves can be patient.

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In a remote, hilly region claimed by a red dragon who wants nothing to do with Vanda Nossëo save warning them from intruding on its tunnel network, there is a Delver enclave, easily found once you know where to look. While they don't have a surface city, they do have a massive steel door, well maintained, carved into the hillside. There is a dirt trail leading off to the north and another to the east, both eventually leading to human-claimed lands but both only infrequently trafficked by armed caravans.

If an envoy knocks on the great vault door and remains nearby, they refuse to come out. Only once the envoy leaves a note or something and retreats away will they emerge to look at it.

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Thanks to Solomon's information they will try that! It's a phone, not a note, they don't know any specific delvers to try aiming to be understood by in writing.

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They seem to know what a phone is! They poke and prod it carefully for a bit, then turn it on and connect, still standing out in the open.

"Who or what is this communicator connected to?"

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"Hello," says the voice at the other end, "my name is Anjiang and I represent Vanda Nossëo."

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"How can you speak this language? And who or what is Vanda Nossëo?" The tone is cautious and suspicious. "I assume this is a contact attempt and not a trade offer for a communicator of unknown make. May we take the communicator inside?"

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"I don't speak your language; I am using translation magic," says Anjiang. "You may take the communicator inside. This is a contact attempt, yes."

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"Hold."

The call ends, the two Delvers take the phone and retreat inside, they call again a few minutes later. A slightly different male voice this time.

"Is your 'magic' capable of affecting things remotely? That is, is it currently affecting me or the communicator? Also, what do you wish to communicate?"

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"Some magic is capable of affecting things remotely; my translation magic is only capable of affecting me. Vanda Nossëo has come to this planet to extend offers of trade and goodwill and membership in the Vanda Nossëo federation to all the peoples on it."

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"If you represented the origin you would have begun using code phrases by now. Where do you come from? We are Mine 556. We have learned extreme caution and would like to avoid most contact with outsiders. We are generally willing to trade, and do not intend any aggressive action except in self defense."

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"That makes sense. Our intentions are completely peaceful, but we can at least establish a track record as trade partners before asking you to take our word for it. Unlike other traders we don't much value physical objects. Instead we like stories - true or untrue - that help us learn about people. Will you trade us those in exchange for our goods? We usually distribute food, lights, heaters, magical contraceptives, healing objects, and other things depending on the needs of the people who will be receiving them; is there anything in particular you would like?"

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"Mmh. The majority of our material situation is classified. Most stories that aren't entirely fictional could imply things about our preparations and defenses. If you demonstrate the ability to divine such information without our help that becomes irrelevant. Alternately there is pure fiction or things the surfacers would know already. We often purchase exotic food, wood and pelts and cloth, and artifacts of various makes. Filtration masks and oxygen supply systems would be valuable. I... Suppose we could try a healing object and see if it has side effects."

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"We're happy to accept fiction or things the surfacers already know. We can also demonstrate information about your circumstances down there if you like. Filtration masks and oxygen systems are easy, on top of food and wood and textiles. What kind of artifacts interest you?"

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"Most artifacts traders bring, they do not understand how to use, and so they offer them cheaply. If they are broken they can be repaired or salvaged. I think artifacts from another world would not have these properties. If you can spy on us we would rather know and know what you know."

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"Among the kinds of magic Vanda Nossëo employs is a kind that allows the conjuration of copies of arbitrary material objects, such as all of you and your homes."

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"Hold."

The call drops.

 

Ten minutes later,

"It would simplify things greatly if you demonstrated your modeling ability, with no further information from our end."

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"All right. This phone can send pictures. In a few minutes I'll send some pictures of some models."

And he does, once the forensics demon up on the ship has made some and taken photos.

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They have quite a network of tunnels and reinforced halls and hardpoints and boltholes down there. The largest single space is some sort of mass mausoleum divided into sections and levels, with tens of thousands of sarcophagi in rows along walls and lots of decoration. All of the outer tunnels including several that open to hidden parts of other nearby hills have traps and sensors and guard posts all over them, and the path down from the main entrance is the most heavily fortified of all.

If they can do that, they're an insurmountable threat. They probably could have gotten the old codes if they wanted to. "...Right, so all the paranoia was completely pointless. We appreciate the demonstration. I still don't think we want to invite outsiders inside. Do you want to send down more phones and talk to more people?"

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"Sure can!"

More phones are delivered presently, and more representatives set up at the far end.

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Soon they are speaking to the one they were speaking to before, Security Authority Fremen Shotgun. He tells them a story about the last time the 'red menace' (the dragon) tried to raid them and got away with a few mining tools and severely injured two guards.

As well as Parts Authority Salah Crusher, who wants to know if they can create some fairly specific replacement parts with model numbers they they've been low on forever.

And Hydroponics Authority Maksin Masks, who opens with a rant about how nobody appreciates how hard it is to keep soil bacteria alive and what the lengths he has to go to with fertilizer to manage it, since they want stories that's one!

And Medical Authority Komuran Driller who would like that healing object please and then tells them about reviewing her own life extension therapies and deciding they're working just as expected, estimated 30% morbidity at 200 and 60% at 250, right along the average.

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They can do parts. They can do healing objects (these people seem technologically savvy enough to understand a pause button, so they get a little battery operated music player instead of an illusion rock with a sound baffle box).

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The parts Salah wants appear to mostly be various kinds of computer chips, but there's some absurdly powerful magnets and other weird stuff like laser lenses in there too.

Can they have all the stories various people tell be paid into a central mine account that is used at the authority of the Authorities?

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Unconventional, but sure, why not. If they don't want to tie up the phones, stories can be delivered in writing by signing them "Story Mail 44901 sugarglider".

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Right, the spying capabilities. They'll use the phones only for realtime conversations then. Is there anything they want to know specifically or want to address politically?

Stories include: This one time my friend insisted we'd hit uranium but the geology is all wrong for uranium and I was right, it was sulfates! The creche minder used to make me play with all the other kids even though I just wanted to be alone, I know we are stronger together but sometimes I just want to be alone. We had a screaming argument about security spending vs expanding the mausoleum last general session, it took days to resolve, honestly are we even delvers anymore if we don't honor the dead properly??? A fictional tale about the curious miner who delved too greedily and without backup and was rescued through heroic efforts of his peers and learned to be a team player as the moral of the story. A dramatic rendition set to music of the most recent battle against the Red Menace, who was forced to flee before the might of shocksticks and shotguns!

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They can explain the values and goals of Vanda Nossëo!

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"Does freedom of travel include allowing people in or just out?"

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"Just out. You don't have to let anyone in, although we recommend being clear about your entry criteria to anyone considering leaving in case they might not be welcome back."

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"We do have laws against murder, rape, and kidnapping and we'd be happy to hold a population-wide vote on the matter, but... The defense agreement and resurrections are extremely appealing. But we are pretty wary of joining a federation - not to mention, if we resurrect everyone we would need to expand or leave the hold, and that would probably complicate things given that a dragon also roams this area. Not to mention that our ancestors... Cannot currently be consulted and may be offended to have joined a strange new governmental structure without their consent, as it were."

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"Those are all very reasonable concerns. We haven't been able to get on speaking terms with the local dragon, unfortunately. You could, if you wished, settle somewhere else entirely? I don't know how attached you are to this exact location on this exact planet."

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"Do you know what happened to the Origin? Our records show that they planned to retreat for repairs and rearmament after the Great Destroyer ignited the sky. They seem to have abandoned us, and if that is the case we would have no more attachment here than a sentimental one."

Permalink Mark Unread

"With more information we can conjure for that the same way we conjured for models of your hold, but we'd need to know more, like maybe when they left exactly."

Permalink Mark Unread

They can look that up! The early records are kind of a mess but they have it down to a 30 year period thousands of years ago, that corresponds with that massive battle at the other destroyed mine they found.

Permalink Mark Unread

They will put the forensics demon on it till they narrow things down.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

...Funnily enough, there were a whole lot of weird spaceships full of weird humanoid aliens who put the three kinds of humans down on the planet. They weren't anywhere in this world before that and they weren't anywhere in this world after a bunch of them were destroyed by unconjurable negative space in the shape of a dragon the size of Madagascar, either.

Permalink Mark Unread

......gosh.

Are normal dragons unconjurably negative space too?

Permalink Mark Unread

Allmother is, as is some of her territory. The rest of the ones they've talked to aren't.

Permalink Mark Unread

Then they can relay to the Delvers that it looks like they came from another universe originally, and they don't know which one but it doesn't seem to be one they've discovered yet, and there are no more left in this universe and a lot of them were destroyed. It is of course possible that there are still some in whatever universe they came from though.

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"....So the Fall was complete after all." The Security Authority sighs. "Do you suppose we could get temporary defensive support while we continue to discuss matters with you and consider the offer to join Vanda Nossëo? We'll need a Special Session of the General Congress for discussion before the vote itself, and we can't just drop everything and start one right away anyway."

(The other three Delver enclaves that still exist in the world are following broadly similar conversation paths, if differing in the exact details. They don't seem to be in contact with each other.)

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"Is it just the dragon you're worried about, or is there another source of threat?"

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"No, it's pretty much the dragon. They are deadly cunning and have plagued us for hundreds of years. The one before it left us alone, but I suppose this one killed it or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We haven't been able to get through to the dragon, but we can move the person trying to talk to it to the border between its territory and yours and give her some company that should be able to keep it off you, if it's a narrow chokepoint."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have many old tunnels, former and current mine routes. It stings, but we could collapse most of them since you seem capable of providing for material needs. This is sounding less and less appealing, however, I don't think I can agree to it on my own at this point."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, if you can get it down to a narrow chokepoint, we can cover it with relatively free resources, since we have some float staff on the ship who could take a dragon, but we don't have thirty of them without calling for reinforcements, which we can't do for a nonmember state."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hm. We'll think about it." And then he has more questions about their laws and court system, which can be answered just fine.

Permalink Mark Unread

The dragon called Warden goes to the same spot they previously met a Vanda Nossëo repesentative, precisely 48 hours later. 

Permalink Mark Unread

The Elf assigned to the Warden, Yávemar, has been camping out there off and on, and is taking a little nap, but a dragon's approach is plenty to wake her up. Hello!

Permalink Mark Unread

Hello. After a journey through the Dreaming I have decided I want to leave my territory to its fate, lost or reclaimed later, and go try to learn song magic, because it is very strange and aesthetically appealing and potentially very powerful.

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh! Remarkable. If you want to immigrate to a Vanda Nossëo world, you will need to be able to follow the laws there; there are many choices of exact places to reside, with different local laws, of course, and you can choose any that will have you.

Permalink Mark Unread

Yes, I did not mean I wished to depart this very moment. I must understand you and yours much better before I become a guest-of-sorts. ('Immigration' did not quite make sense.) Just as you have learned the proper songs to call me. I am intrigued by the hints of deep order I hear in your thoughts. Interactions between dragons are generally not orderly even when Tradition is followed. What would you ask in exchange for a lesson in such things?

Permalink Mark Unread

I would be happy to teach you for nothing, but if that would be objectionable, I would like my comb back; I didn't know when I came here that you were so fond of shiny things and didn't bring it specifically for giving away.

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Something for something, and nothing for nothing, Warden says firmly. The head feathers twitch slightly, but they ever-so-gently pull it off of where it's tucked into feathers and carefully set it down on the grass before backing away.

Permalink Mark Unread

Yávemar puts it back in her own hair, and begins patiently teaching about the kinds of worlds that make up Vanda Nossëo and how the peoples on them live.

Permalink Mark Unread

Warden has no point of reference for any of this and needs things like 'the laws are very specific and written down' and 'people lie sometimes' and 'we divide responsibility for things among different people' explained.

Warden does understand that there are complex social rules that aren't the same ones dragons use at play, and keeps asking for examples and analysis of basic politeness by human and elven standards.

Permalink Mark Unread

Yávemar is very patient about explaining all these things. The laws are specific and written down, and sometimes amended as new things come up. People lie, but when it's important there's truth magic. She has read etiquette books by several species and can recite from them to illustrate concrete examples.

Permalink Mark Unread

A show of strength would get dragons to take you more seriously, Warden comments after learning about the practice of security fairies. Teleportation is scary but does not scan as an overwhelming power that cannot be defeated on an emotional level. That causes us to grow defensive and want to intimidate or avoid you. But a show of strength like effortlessly lifting a huge boulder would cement you as superiors in raw power and lead to greater respect.

Permalink Mark Unread

Huh. We can send more fairies in and have them move things around.

Permalink Mark Unread

I would not guarantee my insight is true in all cases, but I am glad to provide it and answer your questions as well. With the comb returned to you, it is knowledge for knowledge and I still have many more questions. Which I thank you for answering.

Permalink Mark Unread

You're welcome! I love teaching.

Permalink Mark Unread

Warden has more questions, then!

After about an hour and a half, We have reached my patience for conversation for now. If I return tomorrow at dawn and rest midday I will be able to speak to you again in the evening. Would this be acceptable?

Permalink Mark Unread

Yes, that's fine by me.

Permalink Mark Unread

Very well. Goodbye for now, Yávemar. I look forward to tomorrow.

Permalink Mark Unread

Goodbye. Yávemar returns to her little camp.

Permalink Mark Unread

The Elf sent to the supposed territory of Darktooth the Wise may notice a strange eagle settling on a tree nearby and watching them intently.

Permalink Mark Unread

Hello, the Elf tries, addressing the eagle.

Permalink Mark Unread

Hello.

I who oft serve as an Envoy of the dragon known as Darktooth am called Ember, o two-legged visitor. While my own mind is limited, I understand your importance. My parent-of-spirit has heard rumors from the spirits of wind and the watching owls of your arrival. Visitor from another Reality, I have come to answer your Song of Annunciation. I greet you on Darktooth's behalf.

Permalink Mark Unread

My name is Artië and I am pleased to meet you, replies the Elf. I am curious what the rumors have to say.

Permalink Mark Unread

I am pleased to meet a new mind as well. The rumors speak of a great change and strange visitors who appear and vanish as they wish, wielding powerful magic. Lord Darktooth watches many things, and has seen your (clan/web) interacting with the Humans, have seen you approach dragons as well. They have heard your claims of peaceful intent, and seen your starship high above, and concluded that you are not the Others which caused the time of woe so long ago. Lord Darktooth remembers that time personally.

Permalink Mark Unread

I'm curious to learn more about that if it wouldn't distress him to discuss.

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I am not sure. My lord considers it a sacred secret; Part of the Test of Wisdom put forth to urge improvement in young and impulsive dragons. O Artië, I ask for myself in this case - what drives so many minds to go forth and help others? My first thought is that you expect to benefit from this, growing the structure of power that you are a part of, or that you simply Love more than your own family, as some kinds do.

Permalink Mark Unread

We do care for people outside of our own family, yes. Everyone, everywhere.

Permalink Mark Unread

Those who love another are often furthering their own essence at a remove. They love their children, siblings, or even the whole of their species. But to love everyone, everywhere, why do you do that?

Permalink Mark Unread

We have values other than to further our own essence. Though as it happens cooperating with others on a grand scale is a good way to become powerful and wealthy and many do pass that on to their families.

Permalink Mark Unread

Yes, the mysterious tendency of minds to create such complications as 'values' other than mere survival... I would enjoy discussing philosophy with you or yours some other time. For now, I have been bid to ask what you would ask of Darktooth, what the nature of your (web/hive) is, what your intentions are towards we, the empowered children-in-spirit, and deliver all this news. Either they or I will return to you before this day is out.

Permalink Mark Unread

We would like to have lines of communication with all of the peoples of this world, and it seems that dragons and the animals like you that live with them are all peoples unto themselves and Darktooth one of the greatest. We have things to trade. Vanda Nossëo has many member states, whose people vote to join, and everyone can move around freely between any places that will have them to learn from and enjoy all the parts of the multiverse that appeal to them. We are construing empowered animals like you as people and are not as sure about those who haven't been empowered; I believe one intelligent swarm of rats, not belonging to a dragon's entourage but still not a typical rat family, has already moved to Vanda Nossëo. However, our normal operations include trying to displace as much meat consumption as possible and we're pushing that harder on this planet because it seems likely even unaffected animals are somewhat more important to protect than those from other biospheres.

Permalink Mark Unread

The eagle bows its head from upon its branch and declares, I will leave now to bring this news. As I said, an answer will come today.

Permalink Mark Unread

Two hours later, an enormous flying figure swoops down from over the mountains, before landing in a loud rustle of wind and the thump of something heavy hitting the ground, hundreds of feet away. This dragon is even larger than Allmother is, a figure that might not fit down a city street.

Hello. I am called Darktooth. It is good to meet you, envoy. Whenever there is a great change in the world, we must meet it with due caution and understanding. Only a fool decides there is nothing to learn.

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It is good to meet you too, I appreciate your coming to see me, replies the Elf.

Permalink Mark Unread

I have been told you have questions about our history. Ordinarily I task those who wish to learn it with a series of trials meant to shape young minds and temper the exuberance of youth with wisdom, but that is irrelevant now. Aside from your mind and essence being fundamentally different, your role is as well. I am not your elder. What do you wish to know?

Permalink Mark Unread

We are still lacking a lot of basic knowledge about dragons, the history of the conflict with humans, the way you alter animals, and what things are likely to be good ways for us to help dragons flourish without sacrificing anyone else's well-being.

Permalink Mark Unread

As of yet I have very little perspective for how you reason and act. My song on these matters may lack clarity. This dragon's thoughts are very neat and tidy, actually, with almost none of the associative and emotional leakage every other dragon has. It goes against both our instincts and learned impulses to share knowledge freely. We conceptualize accumulated knowledge and wisdom as a Treasure, something not to be shared without cause. In this case I am willing to explain the history in question from my perspective and offer general information on other topics. Upon further thought or for some kind of payment I may offer more specific information.

Permalink Mark Unread

Thank you. I'm happy to answer your questions in return if there's anything you'd like to know.

Permalink Mark Unread

I personally am approximately twenty-six thousand years old, with much of that time spent in hibernations and estivations. I have no reliable record of the origins of dragons. There are two common interpretations to the myth 'true children of Sun and Earth'. That we were created by the vast spirits of Sun and Earth, as lords, guardians, and caretakers for the lesser spirits and animals. That we evolved into the complex beings we are today over many eons, slowly gaining a stability of spirit that allows our existence in shapes that no animal could support of purely flesh.

This state of affairs with the early dragons living as they did continued for a very long time - tens of millions of years. During this time the one now called the Ruiner was the Greatest Dragon. Then the Others - who are not human but something else, colder and less emotional - appeared without warning. After a brief century-long period of scouting, the creation of cities and outposts, and skirmishes between us and their lesser vessels, they used their starships to engineer bombardment with large rocks from space, as well as inducing volcanic activity and similar things, I believe in response to escalating attacks from dragons. It was a time of great woe and immense death. At this point we did not accept humans as worthy of consideration. They were invaders who did not feel emotion in a recognizable way, automata to be destroyed. We did not understand their weapons or their reasons for such destruction. We could do very little to oppose them, and it seemed as though all would end for our kind and silence would reign forever.

The Ruiner was unmade by the pain of such loss. A being of immense power, she called forth all her 'children' - all dragons in the world - compelling us to fight at her side and empowered by a divine fury. Her rage and fury created a strength of magic like none before or since. We destroyed a great many of the Others and the Humans now living on the planet. This is a holy tragedy; She was the greatest symbol of Creation, and made herself into utter Destruction, and all the world suffered for it. We burned the Earth once again, fire and destruction reigning everywhere. However, even the Ruiner could not destroy the Others. They vanished, only to reappear with far larger starships than before. These greater ships stuck out not with beams of radiative light or flocks of guided missiles or metal projectiles, but with incomprehensible weapons that seemed to shred space and matter on a fundamental level that I still do not understand. Even this could not slay the Ruiner, though it drove her into the burning interior of the Earth.

We were utterly defeated, and the world burned around us.

And then they left. 

I was not there to see what happened next, like every other surviving dragon I had retreated deep underground in the hope of safety after the Ruiner's fall. It is impossible to tell for certain how long our estivation was, but it was surely thousands of years. When we emerged, the Others in their starships were nowhere to be seen, and the remaining humans, the farmers, were scratching their way through life using simple stone and bone tools, while the delvers continued desperately maintaining equipment they no longer knew how to repair. Nature had largely recovered, in a different shape than before but recognizable and comforting. Dragons were ascendant once again, with many births and much development and life occurring since then.

They hated we dragons, acting with fear and anger whenever one was seen. We dragons also hated humanity, symbol of our ruination. The humans slowly grow more numerous and sophisticated, with the discoveries of the use of fire, of clay, of slave-animals, and then metal. It seemed clear to us that the arc of history was aimed at an inevitable confrontation; The humans would create ever greater machines, using the natural world to their advantage and destroying nature to suit their own whims, as the consummate tool-makers they are. Eventually we would be driven back and exterminated one by one, piecemeal. Matters would come to a head in the next century or two. Then, however, you arrived. With this perhaps... An understanding and a way forward that does not require yet more destruction.

Permalink Mark Unread

It is our dear hope that no more destruction will be called for. Why were humans a symbol of the ruination if the Others who attacked were not human?

Permalink Mark Unread

While the Others were their lords, the three castes of humanity were complicit. They were pilots and soldiers none the less, going about their work with purpose and eagerness. They are the ones who built the cities and wielded those guns and clear-cut the forests and consider dragonflesh a rare delicacy.

My own plan if the situation became critical was to leave. I do not care to take revenge on humanity. It would accomplish nothing and only invite further revenge. I crave new discoveries, and I recognize that sometimes there is nothing that can make things right. Thus I have been studying the stars, and propulsion.

...You expressed curiosity in the way of altering animals.

The mere act of living near or deliberately singing knowledge to an animal tends to make it more aware of the world and all its possibilities by degrees. The minds of animals are ..... Compound. The minds of dragons are not mere flesh, but composed of both flesh and spirit. When mature, the spirit can in some cases interact and operate on its own, growing beyond the flesh. Animals are similar. They are supported by their inner spirits - patterns in the invisible layer of the Onesong that interact with brains. Animals' spirits often have a connection to many animals at once. If a dragon speaks to an animal, spirits tend to pay more attention to it, 'inhabit' it if you will, which strengthens the higher functions of such a mind. Complex animal thought is the thinking of mind-in-spirit tightly bound with mind-in-flesh. Either alone is far lesser. This can manifest in family structures with animals that tell stories to each other, hive-like behavior, the conceptualization of 'rumors' spreading throughout a species with no direct communication, or in a sort of ancestral memory. 

This is my own interpretation after very long observation and not a few experiments; I state it as a likely suspicion rather than a fact.

There is another way, fundamentally different in kind. 'Enkindling' is the art of constructing or grafting a new, artificial spirit for an animal, with accompanying bodily alterations. It is a deep and subtle art, but Enkindled animals are truly their own individuals, unlike the good beasts of the land who are simply tightly entangled with wider spirits.

Permalink Mark Unread

...is the rat swarm likely to have trouble being in another world away from the ambient spirits here?

Permalink Mark Unread

I don't know. It would be fascinating to interview them. I would also greatly enjoy hearing more about the other planets you hail from!
 

Permalink Mark Unread

She can list the most interesting ones! Would you like to explore more of the multiverse, perhaps visiting them?

Permalink Mark Unread

Extremely so. And yet matters here are very important, and such explorations can be deferred.

'What things are likely to be good ways for us to help dragons flourish without sacrificing anyone else's well-being' is not something that is easy to answer. I would first hear what ways you help other beings flourish, and what constitutes a sacrifice to well-being.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, most planets we find have humans or species that are mostly like humans on them. We alleviate material scarcity, encourage them to travel or emigrate if they don't find their home satisfactory, teach them things that they want to know, encourage them to join Vanda Nossëo entirely so that we can construe protecting them from outside threats as part of our mandate, and solve any natural disasters or other issues that are endangering them, so they can all be safe and free and have opportunities to grow. But we won't help them make war on their neighbors, or let them join us while they keep people imprisoned or enslaved who would prefer to be elsewhere that we can offer.

Permalink Mark Unread

Darktooth sends 'I am considering this carefully' for a while.

 

 

 

There are cases where our kind can trade or interact constructively with your kind, but I do not think they are the norm. I think we are more flexible than the average dragon thinks we are, but I am under no illusions. There will be shock and alarm at the debasement of Shiny Things; But while the best treasure is truly rare, the allure of gold and gems is baked within our natures. That will be minor in comparison to the rest. For a diehard few, any cooperation with your federation will be an affront against our history, an unnatural perversion. Something to kill over, or die over. For a larger minority, the provision of meat and the obvious desire to see hunting reduced will parse as a similar debasement, with various sorts of justifications. A cunning plan to weaken us, make us reliant for an inevitable future betrayal, perhaps.

Preventing natural disasters, teaching lessons of far-off things, the ability to see new lands and perhaps even claim new territories, will be fulfilling to many...

Are the humans of this world likely to join your federation?

Permalink Mark Unread

I think so. Perhaps not all at once, but it's rare that we can't convince a low-tech human population, with some creativity.

Permalink Mark Unread

What would then happen if a dragon came to hunt in those lands? If they succeeded and killed humans, and if the dragon failed and died? If a party of dragonslayers came to hunt in ours and succeeded in killing a dragon? If they failed and died?

Permalink Mark Unread

If a group of humans joined Vanda Nossëo, we'd want to be confident that their borders weren't under active dispute, but then if a dragon attacked humans within those borders we would bring them back to life and put the dragon on trial, and if the dragon were killed in self-defense we would probably also try the killers in case they had other motives but they would most likely avoid punishment. Ideally someone would call for help and the dragon would be harmlessly removed. If people left their Vanda Nossëo homes to invade a dragon's territory and killed the dragon they would be tried and convicted, and the dragon restored to life at their expense; if they failed their loved ones might or might not bring them back, but the dragon, acting in self-defense and not belonging to Vanda Nossëo, would be left alone.

Permalink Mark Unread

I will have to publicize that if you attack humans and their powerful overlords, you are an idiot and deserve your fate. Darktooth's thoughts seem a bit frustrated and resigned on this. How can you restore a destroyed being to life?

Permalink Mark Unread

We might not be able to do it with dragons; you seem possibly too magical. Our usual method is to have a demon, that being a kind of person with the magic to make material objects, create a new body, and use magic from a wish-granting device local to the Mîr neighborhood to awaken the body.

Permalink Mark Unread

I am almost completely sure that will not straightforwardly work. I know for a fact that a dragon body or even egg with no spirit dies immediately. Possibly not for lesser beings and the humans from this universe, either. I am less sure there.

Permalink Mark Unread

We have ongoing research in how to enable resurrections for more species, and a waiting list for when it's one day possible. I don't know if it's been tried yet with a local human.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Your magic seems fundamentally different from ours; When there is some trust, there may be great secrets to be discovered in the mingling. Trust... Fundamentally, you appear capable of doing whatever you want. None of us will like that, but we will... Accept it in time. After all, it is futile to complain about an irrefutable fact. Whatever we do from here, your presence will be regarded as interference by some. I am not yet sure how to sing a message such that you are a blessing, rather than meddling Others come to infest the planet once again.

Permalink Mark Unread

If there's anything we can do to be more uncomplicatedly regarded as good news we are eager to hear it.

Permalink Mark Unread

Get most of the humans off this planet.

Permalink Mark Unread

They might be happy to go. I can suggest that we emphasize the availability of colony planets as a signing perk. We can't force them off en masse.

Permalink Mark Unread

...

I do not have a clear sense of what you will consider unconscionable offenses or what you will consider meaningless peasantries. I am a dragon who has never entered a city or spoken to more than one human at a time. Or for more than a very short time.

 

Thoughtfulness-transmitting pause.

 

My thoughts thrown forth for consideration. I am considering a state that does as little as it possibly can.

As for justifications... Some combination of: 

Dragons are (cool/inspiring/majestic) with powerful magic, we would be honored to have them join the federation. 

We would like to trade magic and knowledge and stories for exciting Treasure from beyond the very universe!

The war with the Others was a great tragedy; we will fight together against any such Others who wish to trample nature. 

This is the way the world will be; We can resist it as a rock resists the ocean, or we can join it and adapt to the ever-changing future in the image of Water. Do you wish to become sand against the march of time?

Pragmatic reasoning; Given that you are here and want us to join under whatever conditions or rules this means, what benefits can we extract for such a deal?

Permalink Mark Unread

If there isn't already a state - who would form your state?

Permalink Mark Unread

There is not a state. There are the dragons, we who consider ourselves lords of all we survey. There is Tradition, including the tradition of the Grand Moot when matters of great import are discussed, which is not a law at all. Past Moots have only defined the new Tradition. I would not call it a state. However, if we are to form a state, it must be at such a Grand Moot. That is the only acceptable time for a great change in dragonkind.

Permalink Mark Unread

Would all the dragons be - reasonably encompassed by such a change?

Permalink Mark Unread

All adult dragons are expected to fly forth and attend. (One is an adult dragon if one is capable of flight.) Juveniles cannot easily come to the Moot Island and would be in immense danger around so many adults. It is also a highly stressful event with our largely solitary nature and only being called in trying times.

Permalink Mark Unread

I admit I'm not sure to what extent young dragons are in the custody of their parents.

Permalink Mark Unread

Only one parent will take custody of an egg. The involvement will vary considerably between dragons, from merely teaching them lessons during the period they are conscious but unhatched, to actively guarding and feeding them for their first year or two. Taking too much care of one's young is seen as risking making them weak and reliant on outside aid. Never so much as a human child is cared for. I conclude this question is relevant to statehood somehow.

Permalink Mark Unread

Children are allowed to vote, so if they're confused about what's going on - and also can't read - it will be complicated to apprise them of their choices.

Permalink Mark Unread

I understand.

For that matter, the spirits of the land and of certain animals have as much agency as hatchlings. Those, I think, would largely vote in favor on the argument 'nothing will be allowed to eat you'. Even as this provides a complication in getting dragons to accept such a state. I have heard the animal followers of that amusing beast-befriending dragon to the west discussing such things already, apparently unconcerned with the notion of restricting how many children are born.

Permalink Mark Unread

I'm glad the animals don't seem attached to their typical birth rates.

Permalink Mark Unread

If the dragons rejected a state but the animals and spirits still wished to form one, that could be....... Troublesome. I do not think it likely; The very notion of a state will be difficult to express fully. Perhaps some groups of animals should receive one vote, if one spirit is their animating force.

Regarding the confusion of others. It is possible to create a magical announcement that would reach all spirits, aware animals, and dragons, even hatchlings, with the cooperation of enough dragons at a Grand Moot.

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh, good, I'm glad we won't have to figure out how to get their attention all individually. I don't think there will be a problem with some groups of animals voting jointly, if they're effectively hive minds.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

You have spoken to the Allmother, correct? I wish to speak to them on this matter as well and perhaps consider for a time before continuing.

Do you have members who are physically imposing and not humanoid? If a representative at a hypothetical Grand Moot is called for, such a person would be best.

Permalink Mark Unread

There are Andalites - not as big as a typical dragon, but they have four feet and bladed tails - Mental image.

Permalink Mark Unread

Darktooth sends back curious approval.

Elves already are better than humans, I think Andalites would be better yet- in initial impression at least.

Is there anything more that ought to be discussed now and not later?

Permalink Mark Unread

Do you want a ride to visit the Allmother?

Permalink Mark Unread

No. I will go on my own time, after announcing myself.

Permalink Mark Unread

Then that is all I have to say for now. Thank you for speaking with me. If you mark this piece of paper, we will understand it to mean that you would like me to come back. A bow, presenting the paper with a flourish, and then vanishment.

Permalink Mark Unread

Upon further forensics work, it turns out there is exactly one live 'Enforcer', the larger and stronger version of the human race, left in the world. She is covered in tattoos and scars, sleeping on a rock shelf, mostly naked, inside of what appears to be the volcano lair of a huge dragon magical enough to be unconjurable. There are only a few other living things inside the volcano lair, each in a room in a long spiral path down with a pile of treasure, like some sort of video game gauntlet.

Permalink Mark Unread

Welp. They will send an Elf to sing to the dragon.

Permalink Mark Unread

If they approach the peak of the volcano, they will be greeted by... A lone black rat whose thoughts are clear and sharp.

Oh, visitor. You now speak to Never-Ever, but a humble Enkindled servant of the Many-Times-Burned. You stand before the lair of an ancient dragon. The fourth lair, the proving-pit. Beware: Many enter, and few leave. We say this not to threaten, only to advise.

Why have you come here?

Permalink Mark Unread

Hello, Never-Ever. I have come because my people are trying to meet many dragons and learn from them, but also most particularly because the last living Enforcer is inside of that lair.

Permalink Mark Unread

You speak of Last, one of the Beholden who have come to my master and asked for their favor. She resides below, touched by the flames of ages to withstand the immense heat and placed as was agreed long ago.

Permalink Mark Unread

Placed? Is she in some kind of stasis?

Permalink Mark Unread

She is a guardian. My creator has decreed that strength is above all else. Those who wish to speak to the second-eldest dragon and ask for a boon must prove themselves in combat, descending through the chambers and facing their guardians, or by serving as guardians and accumulating sufficient victories. You need not end their lives to continue; Merely defeat them. If you descend, you will come before Last as the penultimate guardian.

Permalink Mark Unread

And she wanted this?

Permalink Mark Unread

Last came to us of her own free will, and fought ferociously. She spoke of being the last of her kind, of having buried countless kin. She asked to be made eternal, a living memory; And her request was granted. She did not leave.

Permalink Mark Unread

I see. I'm glad that her wish is being honored.

Permalink Mark Unread

This humble rat observes that the great and storied Vanda Nossëo may be able to grant the wish that lord Many-Times-Burned has always refused, no matter the victories and treasure Last accumulates to purchase it with.

The restoration of a lost race. Such a thing has seemed so terribly unlikely, a hope held as a dying ember in roiling ocean, but it may yet come to pass.

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Vanda Nossëo can resurrect the dead of some peoples. We do not know if it will work for peoples from this universe; there is more ambient magic affecting living things here than in most places.

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I see. So even you are not all-powerful.

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No. We're growing in power over time, but we are not all-powerful.

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None are, and none will be.

 

If you do not care to Descend through combat, there is nothing but barren rock and searing heat for you here, O visitor. If you wish to address this dragon, or their guardians, the path is always open.

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If we find, on attempting it, that humans from this world can be brought to life again, will the dragon wake Last so that she can give us names, and her people can join her again?

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If you fight your way to Last and make the offer, my lord would not deign to stop her departure.

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Would it be taken very much amiss to teleport directly to her?