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May 21, 2022 1:58 PM
Vanda Nosseo meets Ars Doloris
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This world has been making itself somewhat inconvenient to investigate. It's the only solar system in its universe, and the design is pretty blatantly god-created. The sun is made out of glowing filigree and gossamer fabric, the stars are a complex swirl of carefully arranged light, there's multiple moons and one of them is a giant paper lantern... It's incredibly pretty, though, and the planet at the center of the system is just as carefully and beautifully arranged as the sun and moons and stars. 

There are, also, almost no mortal settlements on the surface - a few tiny monasteries, somewhat more clusters of what are effectively landing pads for beautiful flying craft and outlets for large portals to dimensional pockets. 

The mortal population isn't exactly small - instead, every messy corner of humanity is neatly folded away like a pile of clothes shoved in a drawer, except instead of drawers or closets, settlements are tucked into enormous dimensional bubbles. The bubbles are extremely magical, and so is a lot in them - though not everything, or even perhaps most things. The people don't seem to be reductionist, and many of them have magical bodies (this seems to skew very, very heavily towards the adult population; magical children seem vanishingly rare).

The world isn't at war right now, and the news doesn't mention anything the locals consider large ongoing atrocities. They call their gods the Arts, and large sections of news reports on the interactions with the Churches and their associated Arts or on interactions between the Arts. There don't seem to be any imminent dangers from those (though the way Allspeak translates the name and epithets of the most frequently mentioned god, the Art of Suffering, might be a little unnerving to some people).

Some of the bubble settlements are clearly more culturally, politically, or religiously influential than others, and some do seem to be part of larger polities or alliances. One of the more religiously important cities looks to be Thousand Tigers, the capital of the Liberty River Valley Alliance. The Liberty River Valley has an unusually dense cluster of bubbles along one heartbreakingly beautiful valley, the mountains terraced to support the numerous landing pads, the aircraft tailored to visually complement the numerous colorful birds that flit among the trees and waterfalls.

Thousand Tigers is also one of the prettier bubble cities - among its numerous churches are several dedicated to the Art of Architecture, and they have a lot of magically supported buildings. It's not particularly large population-wise nor particularly over-crowded - the bubble cities need to be able to support themselves with zero imports if needed, and this one seems particularly attentive to that - but it's still got about two hundred thousand people buzzing about their days. There's also a pretty clear city center, luckily, with a large public square overseen by grand buildings.

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Well, Tarwë's going to like it here, probably, Nelen thinks, as he teleports everyone down into Thousand Tigers's public square.

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People nearby step away from them on startled reflex - but there isn't actually much further response, and after some curious glances most people go back to their business. (A few watch for longer, but - their physical appearances don't actually stand out much, even the less beautiful members of the delegation. One of the people they startle has iridescent scales growing from her skin and turning into little frills, and someone else walking by seems to be made at least partly out of yarn.

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Well, if nobody's particularly bewildered by them or how they got here, they will walk up to the most government-looking building there is to be had.

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It's a bit hard to figure out - a few are pretty definitely museums, but the largest and most impressive buildings seem to be churches, not government offices - but there's a stained glass building with a sign out front that says 'Department of Divine Affairs' next to possibly-a-church, a closed park with meeting tables on its other side. 

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- Though there is someone paying an unusual amount of attention to them, sitting on the wall between the maybe-church and the Department of Divine Affairs. She doesn't look bewildered, more concerned or possibly suspicious, and she's squinting at them and tilting her head a bit.

(She's also one of the least adorned adults around. Still beautiful and with an athletic dancer's build, but there's a harsh edge to it, and she doesn't look modified at all, the light scars on her neck and hands untouched by attempts to either highlight or conceal them. She's in loose and plain clothes, too, almost ascetic next to everyone around her.)

She jumps down from the wall towards them as they approach, raising a hand.

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"- hello!" says Nelen, raising a hand back and waving a little.

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"Hello!" She strides over, moving rather gracefully, expression shifting to a teasing smile. "You five are very strange, aren't you?"

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"We usually get more of a reaction than this," Nelen admits, glancing around at the unimpressed populace. "We're from Vanda Nossëo, a federation based on another planet around another star."

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" - So like, the stars aren't exactly painted on but they're pretty close, and I thought there weren't any other planetary projects around?"

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"Yep, your world only has only the one star. But there are other worlds - a little but not a lot like how this bubble here isn't in the same place as its entrance suggests - and most of them have many many stars."

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"Oh, other universes - as far as I know we fell out of contact with anyone else millennia ago, after the original gods got into some kind of interdimensional spat."

" - Also that explains why your magic* looks weird."

*This word doesn't exactly mean 'magic.' It could perhaps more closely translate as 'magical or technologically enhanced capacity to fight.'

"But you guys don't look weird to most mortal eyes, and you teleported weirdly but most people also won't spot that, so they're probably just assuming one of you is really Favored."

She shakes her head and keeps going before anyone can respond. "So I can answer questions and also direct you to, hm, whatever government entity seems appropriate - I'd get pulled into the vast majority of that anyways, unless someone feels like trying to get a god at the table instead, this is the type of thing everyone tries to kick up the chain of command."

"But - why are you here?"

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"There are other teams in other bubbles too, we were assigned to this one basically at random but it looked like a big enough bubble to warrant its own visitors," says Nelen.

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Hum. "Why this universe, though?"

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"Oh, our method of scouting for universes is actually random. We choose a starting universe, and then randomly visit a new one and see what's there, unless we're looking for something specific that we can specify without having visited first. Universes can be next to each other or not, so when we have the organizational slack to look for a new universe, we tend to choose ones that are right next to places where we have useful neighborhood-spanning powers because that means we can do the most good there, although occasionally we look for other worlds just because we're trying to find a shortcut or something and then we circle back to those planets eventually with a diplomatic arm. This one was random, though."

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"What're your goals here, then?"

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"Oh, we're here to invite people to join or, failing that, just get acquainted with and trade with, Vanda Nossëo, the interdimensional federation we work for."

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"For joining - do you mean people as in individuals, secular polities, or collective adherents of a Church?"

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"Individuals may immigrate but if they want to keep living in a territory on this planet ruled by a government, theocratic or otherwise, then joining requires a majority vote of the inhabitants of that polity."

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She frowns thoughtfully. "How do you handle non-territorial governance systems, then? - Probably we could just do a universe-wide vote, given that the largest Church claims nearly all sapient mortals as Her adherents, and She normally doesn't delegate Her jurisdiction to secular polities..."

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"Most governance systems are territorial, although sometimes you'll get ones that are coexstensive within some or all of their area. We're not opposed to a universe-wide vote, if that's what makes sense here."

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"So like, if something is an element of government you want to enforce against gods, then you need a god with sufficient weight enforcing it, and with a divinely valid claim to the mortals being protected. And gods won't bother with enforcing anything outside of their Art."

"So the largest Church, that of the Art of Suffering, cares about and so governs interpersonal interactions that could negatively affect someone's integrity-of-self, and if you aren't enforcing laws around those against gods your polity probably won't survive long, so effectively all polities cede jurisdiction on those to the Art of Suffering."

"But like, if I went and disrupted traffic, I'd have to answer to the city council about that, and if I defaced a building - here I'd have to answer to Architecture's Church, but in some polities you'd answer to the city council unless you felt like appealing their decision. If I wanted to travel to another bubble within this divine-territory without just teleporting, there's - hm, I think four or five distinct governments involved in that, and if I wanted to travel to another divine-territory that number would pretty rapidly balloon."

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"It sounds like we're going to need to learn a lot about the gods here... many worlds don't have them and ones that do can vary in how they work and what they're like."

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"Yeah - there's a lot of people we'll need to loop in, probably Divine Affairs and Secular Diplomacy from the city, then some of the Churches..."

"...If you're that alien, probably we should also get like, first pass screening about etiquette and possible surprises out of the way first, since divine affair stuff can get, uh, tetchy once you bring in the Churches."

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"Please," nods Nelen, "we don't know any of your protocols."

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"Yeah, let's find somewhere comfortable - and private - to sit and talk." She glances briefly around, humming, then: "Do you guys have any taboos about like, this kind of discussion happening in a secular wing of a temple? - A mostly politically unaligned one, just, my greatest formal ability to command resources is within a specific Church."

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