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Generated: Jun 04, 2022 7:49 PM
Post last updated: Jun 04, 2022 7:49 PM
with the earth at the dawning
the dunwich horror and an endarkened Ges in Kappa's Villarosa
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She is so hungry. 

Sometimes she loses control to the hunger and when she wakes up she is still hungry. She is trying very hard not to think about the possibility that she may have eaten anyone while she was out. She has definitely eaten a nonzero amount of non-people stuff. Sometimes people come looking for her and she runs away. 

The people sound angry. 

Wilbur is probably dead. 

He left to try to steal the Necronomicon because they wouldn't let him in to see it again. And he didn't come back. And he didn't come back. And she outgrew the house and got so, so hungry, and he didn't come back. He was almost certainly dead.

But it was only almost, and if she left Dunwich entirely, he wouldn't have any way to find her again. And she didn't have anywhere to flee to. If Wilbur was dead then she was all alone. There was nobody else who loved her, who wouldn't scream and try to shoot her--probably someone, somewhere, would, there were other magicians in the world, but--where? Nowhere near here. 

She did not have anything to do but hide, and wallow in her grief and despair and fear, and weep. 

Eventually they come. Not a mob, just three men; not shouting angrily or hissing in fear; they look determined, and resolute. 

She is so lonely, and she has no idea what to do. So she lets herself hope. She lets them get close. 

It is a mistake. 

It is probably going to be the last mistake she ever has the chance to make. 

She doesn't know what spell it is that one of them uses. She just knows that everything hurts, that she can feel herself coming apart at the edges. 

She does not have the wits to pull a spell together out of her memory. She tries anyway--tries anything--

"Eh-y-ya-ya-yahaah—e'yayayaaaa . . . ngh'aaaaa . . . ngh'aaa . . . h'yuh . . . h'yuh . . . HELP! HELP! . . . ff—ff—ff—FATHER! FATHER! YOG-SOTHOTH! . . ."

And everything goes black.

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The lights come up slowly, over the course of a few seconds.

The room smells of wood and cloth and dust and roses; nothing that is danger, nothing that is food.

She is not hungry, or in pain. She is a little sleepy, at first, but that clears as the light brightens.

She is arranged comfortably on a Lucy-sized, Lucy-ergonomic piece of furniture that somehow maintains the vibe of a cozy armchair despite looking more like an enormous padded bowl; directly in front of her, a white-winged angel sits at a large oak desk, smiling uncertainly and adjusting her halo.

"Congratulations to you both," says the angel, with self-conscious hesitance. "You've been selected by the ineffable Will of the Multiverse to," she peeks at her clipboard, "reincarnate into an otome game together."

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The occupant of the other armchair blinks several times, processing this scene in stunned silence.

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"What is an otome game? Who are you? Who is she?"

She doesn't ask "Why aren't I dead." She knows what reincarnate means. 

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"I'm an angel of the Will of the Multiverse. You can call me Tabitha," says the angel. "An otome game is a type of media that doesn't exist in either of your worlds, but you can think of it as similar to a romance novel; I think your world has those?"

She glances between the two chairs.

"I think I'll leave it up to you to introduce yourselves to each other; I wouldn't want to be overly familiar."

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"I'm Lucy. Why are you red?" she asks the other woman. 

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"My name is Raivethrani. Why are you invisible?" she asks, raising an eyebrow. (When she speaks, it's noticeable that her canines are longer and sharper than a human's.)

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"I'm a child of Yog-Sothoth. We're weird. I only know my brother but he's not much like me. He's visible. And normal-sized. ...Or was. Miss Tabitha, do you know if my brother is still alive?"

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"I don't have access to that information, but if you'd like, you can put in a request for him to be reincarnated into your new world with you, and then your world won't begin until he's available."

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"Yes!" she says eagerly. "--Can you get my mama too? And her parents?"

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"Yes, there's no limit on the number of reincarnation requests you can make. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself," she says with a rueful smile. "The purpose of this space," she gestures around at her cozy office, "is to give the two of you time to make your choices about how exactly you will be reincarnated. I have here," she raises her clipboard slightly, "one form for a villainess, and one form for a heroine. One of the foundational decisions you must agree on is which of you will take which role; after that, you'll make further choices about each of your character designs, the world you'll both inhabit, and other aspects of the story. There's no rush, though; you'll both be comfortable here just about indefinitely."

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“…What kind of villainess.”

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"In the most traditional form of this story, the villainess is engaged to marry the love interest, in an arrangement made by their parents without personal affection between the two of them; the love interest then unexpectedly falls in love with the heroine, and the villainess and heroine compete for his affections, with the villainess tending to resort to underhanded schemes and the heroine tending to appeal to the power of true love. The heroine is likelier to win the conflict, but many outcomes are possible. Does that answer your question?"

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“I…guess? Why would their parents arrange for them to marry if they don’t love each other? If they don’t love each other why is the villainess trying to thwart the heroine?”

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"Political and status-related reasons, broadly speaking."

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"I have... different questions," Raivethrani says slowly. "I'm not sure what they are just yet. I think perhaps you are describing a society very different from the one I am familiar with."

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"Yes," the angel says apologetically. "I'm not very well-informed about your world but I do get the impression you come from a society not much like the one in the story. We have plenty of time to try to bridge that gap in understanding, though!"

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"Status reasons so big you'd marry someone about them?" she asks, bewildered. "You're going to spend the rest of your life with that person! ...Unless they die. Is the villainess supposed to murder her fiance!?"

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"That does sometimes happen, but it's not the usual way of things... let me see..."

She pauses to carefully consider.

"...in the society described by the story, marriage is an economic and political arrangement as well as a personal one, particularly among the nobility. Families will arrange marriages in order to form alliances or secure resources such as wealth and status. One is expected to spend one's life with one's spouse, but not necessarily in a way involving romantic affection; if they disliked each other that might be a different matter, but merely not loving each other is considered broadly acceptable so long as they can get along well enough to have children. Arranged marriages can develop an affectionate component over time, and one might reasonably hope for that, but many people remain at the level of friends or friendly acquaintances or, in some cases, something more like civil but not intimate business partners."

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Raivethrani is listening to all this with an air of guarded fascination.

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Lucy undulates some of her tentacles thoughtfully. 

"If I take the villainess role, could I just step aside when my betrothed finds someone he really loves, or would I have to convince our parents."

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"One of the later choices on the form gives you the option of stepping aside," says the angel, nodding and adjusting her glasses. "In the default form of the story, the villainess suffers a terrible fate after she loses her betrothed, but the story can be changed to allow for the possibility of harmlessly giving him up."

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"Must I be the heroine, if she is the villainess?"

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"Yes, that's right. You will have to come to a consensus about which one of you will be which."

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"Do you not want to be the heroine? It seems like a thing someone would want."

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"I think it unlikely that I will want to be the heroine, though perhaps I will change my mind once I have a clearer understanding of the situation."

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“How come?”

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"Hmm... I'm not sure how to explain just yet," she says consideringly. "Perhaps later, when I have come to a deeper understanding of the situation."

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“Well, I don’t mind being the heroine, but I can’t say ‘you should just give up your fiancé’ the way I can say ‘I could just give up my fiancé,’ and I don’t wanna fight you.”

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She looks at the angel. "What are the consequences for giving up my... fiance... and what are the means to avert those consequences?"

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"...I should maybe start at the beginning," says the angel, "and we'll get there eventually."

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"Yeah okay that's fair."

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"So. You will be reincarnated into a romance story; the default title of the story is The Roses of Villarosa. As described, one of you will be given the role of heroine, the other the role of villainess. Based on the choices you make among the options on my forms," she hefts her clipboard again, "and on the suggestions you make on top of those, our worldbuilding and story teams will first write the story as a story, then create the world that the story depicts and insert you into it, along with whoever you choose to have reincarnated alongside you. You will by default wake up at the beginning of the story, when the villainess is already engaged to the love interest and he is about to fall in love with the heroine; all of you will be attending school together at the Royal Academy of the Kingdom of Villarosa, unless you make choices that contradict that premise."

She taps the clipboard for emphasis. "The choices on the form allow you to select, out of a number of predetermined options, your hairstyle and hair colour—which have effects on your character design and therefore on your personality and attributes—your backstory, your species, the level of technology and magic available in the setting, the backstory of your love interest, your fate should you fail to win his affections, and the minor character or characters who will be provided to assist you at the beginning of the story. Then at the end of the form there is a list of 'perks' and a list of 'flaws', which are meant to be in balance so that beyond the two free perks you start with, each perk costs a flaw to obtain. Some of the preceding options also cost flaws; some of them instead grant perks. Does that all make sense?"

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"I still have so many questions I hardly know where to begin, but I think I am following so far."

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"So...I get to have hair next time around?"

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"There are possibilities for translating hairstyle choices into a species without hair, but by default, the two options for your species are Humans and Elves, with Elves being an enhanced version of Humans and Humans being ordinary human beings. However, if you don't like that default, you can make whatever suggestions you like to the worldbuilding team about what attributes your world's Humans and Elves should have, as long as Elves are maintained as being better than Humans along some meaningful axis of measurement; alternately, if you do not want to make one type of people better than another, you can choose to both be Humans and ask that Elves be omitted from the world entirely, and still customize your world's Humans to whatever degree suits you."

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(Raivethrani can't quite stop herself from making a bit of a face about Elves.)

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Lucy notices. 

"Are elves real? I know lots of things are real, like Mi-Go and Shoggoths, but I thought elves were made up."

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"...Elves are certainly real in my world, which, as established, is not yours."

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"Both humans and elves exist in many worlds, but humans are more consistent across worlds, whereas elves can vary considerably," Tabitha explains. "I don't think there are any elves in your world, Lucy, but I'm not sure."

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"I think there aren't either. None of the books with real things in them that people don't know about have elves in them. Anyway, just doing humans and not elves sounds better, if humans can be anything."

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"Hmm," says Raivethrani.

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"Hm?"

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"I'm not sure I agree. It can be very useful to be more powerful than most people."

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"...I guess I see your point, but if we pick elf, then all the other elves will be just as much more powerful than the humans as we are."

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"Is there any reason we cannot make elves very, very rare?"

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"I don't see why not," says Tabitha.

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"I guess that works. So can the humans have all the things that are just nice to have, and then elves have some stuff that it would be dangerous for everyone to have on top of that?"

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"Potentially suitable," Raivethrani allows.

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The angel nods.

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"I want to have hair, so humans should at least sometimes have hair, and...should be able to breathe water, probably, Deep Ones live underwater...and fly in space! Humans should be able to fly in space. Mi-Go can do that and the Elder Things could back when they were around. And fly not in space obviously."

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"In space? In what kind of space?"

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"Outer space! You know, not on a planet."

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Perplexed blinking.

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Tabitha explains, "In some worlds, if you keep moving straight up off the ground for long enough, eventually you come to a point where the sky thins out into nonexistence and there is no air anymore. People often call that place 'outer space', or 'space' for short."

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"Fascinating. In my world, if such a place exists, we have not discovered it."

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"We know it exists because the Mi-Go and the Elder Things came from there," she explains, "or at least through there. I guess we might also know for other reasons but those are the ones I know of." 

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"And what are Mi-Go and Elder Things?"

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"Mi-Go are sort of flying insecty fungus things that live on Yuggoth--that's another planet orbiting the same sun as mine--I don't know for sure if they're from there originally or if they come from farther away but if they aren't from there they have a pretty solid colony. Elder Things are a really old species that settled on Earth from way outside the solar system a long, long time ago, but they were slavers and the shoggoths, their bioengineered slaves, rose up and eradicated them." 

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"Bio-engineered," she repeats, slowly, thoughtfully. "Interesting. I see. So... hmm. I observe that my species has hair," she runs a finger through hers, "and wings," she rustles one, "and can manage all right underwater, though improvements could certainly be made there. We also have some powers that I admit might be dangerous in the wrong hands. What would you say to having Humans be more or less like me, with certain capacities expanded and certain abilities omitted, and Elves be like me with those abilities included, and perhaps others added, if we think of anything interesting?"

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She considers this. 

"I dunno. It sounds good, but...there's stuff about my humans that I wouldn't wanna include, that I wouldn't necessarily think to mention if I was telling someone about humanity. Also, your color scheme looks nice on you, but I don't know how much variance there is there, and I want a different one."

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"I wouldn't dream of limiting your colour scheme," she says. "We can span the entire rainbow if you like. I do think I'm very well designed, however. Who designed humans?"

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"Oh, humans weren't designed, humans evolved. I wouldn't dream of suggesting we take humanity as a baseline. Miss Tabitha, do you know enough about our different specieses and stuff to guess if there's anything about Raivethrani's species that could be upgraded besides the color?"

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"I'm not very familiar," she says hesitantly.

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"Because I was thinking about it, and making it so the wing membranes can stretch out into solar sails seems like maybe it could work, but I don't have much experience designing things and you probably do." 

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"By all means let us make upgrades. Being able to fly without air above the sky sounds delightful. But—in fact, what you see here," she gestures at herself with one hand and a swish of her spade-tipped tail, "has already been upgraded once. The story as I have heard it is that the god of my people, whom we call He-who-Is, saw that the other gods of my world had made the people I know as Elves; and he saw that many things about them were good, but they also had many limitations, such as," she rustles a wing again, "not being able to fly. And so he took inspiration from them, and on that foundation built my ancestors; and truly, I cannot fault the results. I think I would make a very good foundation indeed, on which to build something even more wonderful."

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Tabitha is frowning thoughtfully as she considers space flight.

"Solar sails sound slow, as a means of getting a person from one place to another in space..." she says doubtfully.

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"What's faster?"

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"My first suggestion would actually be that, instead of only redesigning the people, you also redesign the world," she says. "I've seen people describe amazing things for their worlds, that were even more amazing when implemented. One of my favourites had, instead of planets, an infinite plane of clouds with continents floating among them, and sky both above and below. I think it would be possible in such a world to make people able to fly fast enough to cross between continents in a few hours, which is much faster than most reasonable ways of crossing between planets in a world like yours. Or you could design something else entirely, if you liked!"

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"I enjoy the thought of flying between continents in a world made of sky. Though I'm not sure everyone will want to have wings; some people don't, in my experience."

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"Well, if someone has wings and doesn't want them, they could take them off," Lucy says reasonably. "It's harder to add wings if you don't start with them. --Unless there's magic for that. And if there was magic for that people could have any kind of wing they wanted...your wings are great but feathered wings are great too."

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"In fact one of the kinds of magic my people have, which I was thinking of reserving for Elves since it can be used for all sorts of mischief," she says with a slight smile, "is magic to change the shape and function of bodies. If that magic were widely available to Elves, and Elves could easily use it to aid others, then in fact even those who started without wings could gain them—and it would be safer to remove them, too; I imagine removing a limb without life-shaping magic would turn out to be a messy business."

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"I think if you burn a wound it stops bleeding? But magic is better, you're right, I like that. Ooh, but even without shape-changing magic we should have more diversity relative to your species than just color--I've been thinking about it and I think I want pretty iridescent scales."

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"I do not want pretty iridescent scales, myself, but I would be delighted to facilitate them for your sake," she says. "Let's see, what other interesting variations can we supply... Some of my people choose to have hooves instead of feet and they seem to enjoy themselves, though I've never tried it. We could include those as a natural variation which people could keep or change as they see fit. Though with all this diversity of form, I think we should pay careful attention to how to make sure Elves are distinguishable from Humans at a glance. Perhaps, if nothing else, we could give everyone a sense for magic, in which Elves shine brightly with the powers they are responsible for, and Humans merely glimmer. That, I think, would give people a very good idea of who to consult for help with changing themselves."

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"Okay! What kinds of hooves? I've eaten enough kinds of hoofed animals to know there are different kinds of hooves."

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"Is there a reason we should limit ourselves to just one?"

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"Ooh. No. Hmm...there should be other types of feet too. What about, like, dinosaur feet." 

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"I do not know of dinosaurs!" she says, intrigued. "What manner of feet do they have?"

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She considers this. 

"Can I have, like, paper and a pencil?" she asks Tabitha. 

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"Of course!" She opens a drawer and retrieves a blank notebook and a pencil, which she passes across the desk.

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Lucy takes them carefully, flips the notebook open, and starts sketching. 

She isn't a brilliant artist, but she manages a drawing that competently demonstrates a leg structure that she has been informed is pretty close to a T-Rex. 

"This is what my brother's legs looked like!" she says brightly, showing the drawing to Raivethrani. "It's probably different from real dinosaur legs in some ways but it's what I know best and Mama said they were like dinosaur legs."

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"I think those would be lovely to include in our population," she says. "In fact I'm starting to think that we should invite the - 'worldbuilding team', was it? - to include all sorts of variations like these, even ones we haven't thought of, so long as they're reasonably comfortable and practical, and with enough variety included and enough of all that variety that no one is left in the unfortunate position of having a type of body that no one is designing furniture for. Or architecture, for that matter—imagine all the trouble one would get into as one of only a handful of wingless people in a winged society, or as one of only a handful of people with snakes' bodies in a society of people with legs!"

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"That would be bad," she agrees. "Oh! And we should have--I don't know how good your species's larynxes are but there are a lot of pretty sounds I can make that humans can't."

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"Would you like to demonstrate, so I can see if I can mimic them?"

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She mimics some especially charming bird song she's heard, and then--

It isn't a perfect reproduction of a church organ; she's only heard one from far off. But she knows the version she's heard isn't quite the full effect, and she fills in the gaps with unearthly echoing tones of her own imagining. 

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"Hmm! No, I don't think I could manage that," she says. "By all means let's all have such magnificent voices. Meanwhile, how well can you see in true darkness? I quite like my own people's ability to perceive colour without light."

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"I don't know! I don't think I've ever been in true darkness, there's always been stars. I see fine by starlight though."

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"Well, I want to keep my own darkvision, but you needn't follow my example if you don't feel like it. Perhaps varying types of vision would also be good to have."

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"I don't know the vision I have now would work in the dark, but I'd like to have vision that does," she says firmly.

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"It would be nice to be better able to tolerate very bright light as well, while we're thinking of improvements," she muses. "Assuming that the one is compatible with the other."

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"The worldbuilding team shouldn't have any trouble with it," Tabitha assures them.

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"Can you not tolerate bright light? How bright is bright?"

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"I've only left Shadow Mountain a handful of times, but the light of the sun outside its shelter of clouds can get uncomfortable, and any brighter than that can be a real problem. It's a trade I'm happy to make, for the beauty I see in the dark, but I'd rather not have to."

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"When I was little I loved to play in the snow, and one thing that's brighter than a sunny day is a sunny day where the sun is reflecting off the snow. I can handle that fine. I think if I had to pick I'd take handling bright light over not needing starlight to see by, but of course it's better not to have to pick. Umm. Does your species have monthlies?"

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Quizzical blink.

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"Do you bleed from the junk once a month. Or at some other frequency."

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"...not by default, certainly—is this a human problem?"

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"Uh-huh. I don't have it but Mama did."

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"Let us by all means omit this human problem. I suppose there's someone out there who might want it, stranger things have happened, but if so they can invent it themselves."

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“This is a problem you can solve with a pointy stick,” Lucy agrees. It occurs to her after a moment to say: “So I think we both pick elf, what’s the next thing.”

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"Hairstyle and hair colour, but the range of styles is different depending whether you're a villainess or a heroine—have you put any more thought into that?"

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"I am fairly sure at this point that I would prefer to be the villainess."

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“Okay,” Lucy says dubiously. “I guess I’ll be the heroine. I still don’t wanna fight you, though.” 

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"I hear that we have the option to avoid fighting!"

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“Yyyyyes,” she says slowly, “but you haven’t said for sure that you want to take it.”

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Tabitha, who has been fiddling with her clipboard, passes each of them three Polaroid photographs from each of what now appears to be two clipboards.

First she describes one set to Raivethrani: "The villainess hairstyels are Drill Hair which grants the perk Ohohoho! for free, Hime Cut which grants the perk Silk Hiding Steel for free, or Elaborate which grants a free Maid minion." The photos show one girl with appropriately fearsome ringlets, one with long straight hair and straight bangs, and one rather magnificent set of braids. "Elaborate covers any hairstyle complicated enough to plausibly need a second person to help style it; the other two are narrower."

Then the other set, to Lucy: "And the heroine styles: Tails which grants the perk Relatable for free, Hime Cut again which again grants Silk Hiding Steel, or Half Up Half Down which grants the perk Ingenuous." One photo has a person with two high pigtails, one showcases a different hime cut, and the third has sort of a Disney princess thing going on, with flowers woven into a ponytail that comes together over loose flowing hair.

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"I think perhaps I want to wait on choosing a hairstyle until we've seen the full list of perks, then," she says. "Which is also what I'm waiting on before I make any firm commitments about the option or options to avoid fighting each other; how can I decide whether I want them before I know what they are?"

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Lucy...decides not to comment on how "I don't want to fight you" in no way counts as a mechanical choice or even a statement of intent, just an expression of a preference, and yet this woman refuses to say it. 

She does tick several probability points away from the hypothesis "everyone who does magic is fine and only people who don't have magic are horrible." Come to think of it, it was a spell that that man killed her with...

"I probably want half up half down, because I like it better than the others," she says instead, "but I don't wanna commit either until I know all the perks."

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"All right, then let's move on to hair colour. There are five choices, and they each have some subtle effects on your mind or body that are by and large not difficult to overcome once you know about them, if you don't like them. Blonde makes you prettier but also more shallow; Red makes you stronger and more passionate; Silver makes you weaker and more intelligent and creative; Brunette, which covers brown or black hair, makes you more practical and down-to-earth but also more passive; and Rainbow, which covers all hair colours not normally found on ordinary human beings, makes your world a little more strongly influenced by narrative forces."

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"An interesting assortment. I'm not sure which I like best, but I can always decide later."

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"Silver," Lucy says immediately. 

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Tabitha notes this down in pencil on the heroine form.

"Moving along, the next question is species—being an Elf costs a flaw, by the way, though it sounds like that will be plenty worth it in your world. After that comes your choice of story role: the villainess may be the Royal Princess, the Duke's Daughter, or the Rich Heiress, while the heroine may be the Extraordinary Commoner, the Poor Princess, or the Hero's Daughter. Should I describe those?"

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“Yes please.”

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"The Extraordinary Commoner is admitted to the elite Royal Academy on merit alone, with no wealth or noble heritage to recommend her, which is a remarkable achievement but also leaves her in a very conspicuous position. The Poor Princess is a princess whose situation is politically inconvenient in some way so that she lacks the power that her counterpart the villanous Royal Princess would command, but is still protected by her royal status. The Hero's Daughter is the child of someone who died accomplishing a great deed, and therefore has noble status inherited after it was awarded posthumously to her parent, but lacks the social fluency in elite circles of someone who grew up there. Meanwhile, the Royal Princess is the daughter of the King of Villarosa and undisputed most politically desirable bachelorette in the nation; the Duke's Daughter is the only daughter of the kingdom's highest-ranking noble, who has less status than the Royal Princess but correspondingly more capacity to call on her ambitious father for help in securing her engagement; and the Rich Heiress is the daughter of the kingdom's wealthiest merchant, with less status but more money than either of the other villainous options."

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Lucy makes some hmming noises. 

"So if I pick the Extraordinary Commoner, will this actually result in me being smarter than if I didn't?"

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"Hmm... not necessarily. It will ensure that whatever talents you do have are recognized and valued by society, and might nudge you into circumstances that develop those talents more fully than they otherwise might, but it usually doesn't outright enhance you."

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"Oh. Hmm. If I pick the Poor Princess, will that mean I can't have my mama, or hurt her or something?"

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"Not necessarily! It could for example make both of you foreign royalty who have been exiled to Villarosa, or make your mother the king's ex-wife whom he divorced when you were a child."

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“Why would he divorce my mama?” she asks indignantly. “Mama is great.”

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"Political reasons again, potentially. Or any number of other possibilities, which might not necessarily reflect badly on your mother—perhaps he was unkind to her and she decided to leave him over it, as one potential example."

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"I am thinking of taking the Royal Princess option," says Raivethrani. "It sounds like if your mother was married to the king, that would make us half-sisters, whereas if you were exiled foreign royalty, it would not. Do you have a thought about which of those you prefer? Or I could choose something else, if you like the Poor Princess and don't want us both being princesses."

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Lucy considers this. 

"I'd be the big sister, if we did that. And you're older than me now. Would that be weird?"

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"Hmm, I suppose it might, at that. I wonder if it would be possible for you to be my little sister instead?"

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"Arrangements could be made... if, for example, the villainess's mother died, and then the King remarried the heroine's mother, and then later divorced her. But exiled foreign royalty is also an option."

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"Or if I was a bastard..." she muses. "I dunno. I've never been able to trust anyone who wasn't family before, but I've always been able to trust my whole family. I don't dislike you, but I don't know if I you well enough to invite you to be my sister. And I don't know that I want to be the child of a normal person who didn't do right by my mama and my brother and me. I might go with the foreign exile option." 

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"Reasonable," she acknowledges. "I have had a... different experience of family than that."

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"Really? --I should've noticed you didn't ask for anyone when I did. Did you not have anyone at all you'd want to keep? Even not family? What was your family like?"

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"...I suppose it would not be going far wrong to say that I have not, in fact, ever met anyone I could trust."

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"Oh. I'm sorry. You can be my sister if you want."

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...she looks genuinely surprised, and after a moment, smiles a more uncertain smile than has yet been seen on her face in this room.

"I... thank you. I'm... not sure. For now, let's both be Princesses, and we can discuss the details of the arrangement later when we know more?"

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Tabitha makes some notes with her pencil.

"Next is your choice of love interest—which is, technically, separate; one of you could choose to romance the Dark Rival and the other could choose to romance the Noble Prodigy, and then you would not be in direct conflict with each other. However, the villainess would then have a different heroine to contend with, and the heroine would have a different villainess. You two seem like you might be able to work out your differences peacefully; that will tend to be harder with people you haven't met, who haven't met you, who don't have the shared context of this conversation."

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"I want to work out our differences peacefully. What are the love interests? You said Dark Rival and Noble Prodigy, but there are three villainess options and three heroine options, so I bet there's a third love interest option. Plus I wanna know the details. If we work out our differences peacefully, are extra villainesses and heroines going to fight each other, or are we the only ones who definitely have to have a plot."

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"If you choose the same love interest, there will not be any other villainesses or heroines in your story unless you explicitly take options that add them. The third love interest is the Prince Charming, who, if you decide to be sisters, would most likely be your brother unless you decided otherwise, and in my experience most people prefer not to marry their brothers, though the option is provided for those who choose it."

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"I don't wanna marry my brother! I have a brother, and I don't wanna marry him, and if I had an extra brother I bet I wouldn't wanna marry him either. Let's pick not the Prince Charming."

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"Let's not," Raivethrani agrees, though she seems mildly perplexed by the turn the conversation has taken. "But what are the descriptions of the others, then?"

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"In short—the Noble Prodigy is a little older, somewhat reserved, has distinguished himself considerably and is a desirable match because of his talent and acclaim; the Dark Rival would be the Prince Charming's friend or rival, who is of lesser rank and lesser skill and less upstanding reputation, but may be more appealing to those who don't want to marry the Prince Charming for whatever reason."

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"I have a good reason," Lucy grumbles under her breath. In a more normal tone: "How much older is the Noble Prodigy? Reserved like how? What kind of talent? What is the Dark Rival less skilled at?"

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"The Noble Prodigy is usually a few years older, and not very emotionally expressive or open about his thoughts, feelings, and past. The Dark Rival is less skilled than the Prince Charming at some socially appropriate and valued talent, often a sport, sometimes a martial skill if the Villarosa is a warlike one."

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“Let’s not make it a warlike one,” Lucy says with distaste.

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"Oh? Why not?"

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”When wars happen, people die,” Lucy says carefully.

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"Hmm. I suppose you're right," she says. "I hadn't thought of it that way; I was... considering aesthetics more than practicalities, thinking of combat skills as a hobby one could practice as one practices sculpture, that could be valued by a society in the same way a society might value dance or poetry."

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“There are ways to do fencing or like kickboxing as sports that don’t involve anybody dying, but wars involve, like, guns.”

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"What is a gun?"

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"Do you know that thing where, when things in bottles ferment and get bubbly, sometimes the cork shoots out real fast?"

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She shakes her head slowly.

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"Oh. Drat. Well--do you know what explosions are."

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"Let's suppose that I do."

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"Okay, so if you put something really solid on one side of an explosion, all the force that would have gone that way gets put into the rest of the directions. If you put something solid in the way of all but one side of an explosion, all of the force goes out that one side. And then if you put something in the way of that side that isn't firmly attached to all the other sides, it gets blown out with a lot of force. A gun is a sort of tube that's closed at one end and then you put something flammable in it and then a bullet, which is a piece of metal designed to hurt people, and then you explode the flammable thing and the bullet goes real fast."

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"I see," she says. "Inelegant, but effective. If I were designing a society to live in, I would not include those. I'm not especially attached to my vision of a 'warlike' Villarosa, but it goes something like... their culture remembers a time when it was very useful to know how to kill each other with swords, so now they still practice those skills, as a game or an art form or both, and valorize them in memory of a less peaceful age."

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Thoughtfully: "If I used to have to kill people, and now I didn't, I would look back at the past with mourning, not valor. I don't...think I understand how killing people could be attractive at all."

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"No? Not even the idea that, in knowing how to kill people, you discourage them from trying to kill you first? In my experience, peace is best achieved through the understanding that war would be too costly to pursue. And, therefore, a society that cherishes peace but remembers war would be well served to keep that memory well-exercised, just in case. I don't like war—it's too destructive for my taste—but I would hesitate for a long time before giving up all my knowledge of it, in case one day that knowledge turned out to be needed."

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"It's not the practical considerations I don't understand, it's the attitude," she says, "but at that point I guess it's not something that needs to be hashed out for worldbuilding. I already know I'm different."

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"Hmm." She tilts her head consideringly. "Have you never played games that referenced things that scared or upset you, but in a safer context? I remember when I was a child, one of my favourite games was Ambush, where one child would pretend to be a monster, and the others would try to avoid the monster, and the monster would spring from cover and pretend to devour them."

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"No? I played with my mama and my brother. We played chasing and hiding games but they weren't about scary things. Maybe it's because the only things around that scared us were actually dangerous."

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"Our games were usually about things that were actually dangerous to encounter for real. I wonder if that's a difference between your kind of people and mine, or something else?"

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"But were you, like, around them all the time. Because the things that were dangerous to us were the other people in our village, and also their dogs. I hid in the house but Wilbur went out and nobody liked him and dogs tried to attack him. Can our world not have dogs in it?"

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"I am happy to omit dogs. And yes, the dangers we played games about were real to us."

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"Then...how was it fun?" she asks, bewildered. 

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"I'm not sure how to answer that question because I don't think I understand why it wouldn't be!" she says, with a sort of cheerful puzzlement.

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"Because when something is horrible then thinking about it more is not fun."

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"...hmm. Perhaps it is a difference between our kinds of people after all."

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"...Or, possibly, it's just that the ways in which people and dogs are dangerous was harder to, like, practice dealing with, in games that were safe," Lucy muses. 

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"That could be so," she agrees.

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"Wilbur probably died before I did. I wonder how. Is there any way to find out? Will he get his memories back?"

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"By default, everyone you choose to reincarnate alongside you will get their memories back after the plot concludes," says Tabitha.

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"Everyone gets all their memories back all at once!?"

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"...sorry, I'm not sure I understand the question?"

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"Is it the case that there is a designated point, either chronological or triggered after certain events happen, at which point the plot is designated 'finished' and at which point everyone who reincarnated immediately regains all their old memories at once."

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"Ah. No. That could be a way to handle memory reintegration but it's not the only way and it's not the default. Usually, people who were closer to the plot regain their memories first, and people who were farther from the plot regain theirs later; most often, people who can be expected to do better if they wake up with all their memories one morning do that, and people who can be expected to do better if they slowly regain their memories piece by piece over a long time do that. How many people are you planning to bring along?"

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"I don't want anyone to have to be dead, but...the only people I know are Mama, Wilbur, and Grandpa, plus I sorta know Grandma from Mama and Grandpa's stories. Those four are the ones I need."

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"If the number of people you are bringing with you is three or less, you can choose a specific role in the story for each one, like deciding that your mother in the story should be your reincarnated mother; if the number is ten or less, you can choose for each one whether they should have some specific role in the story, or simply appear somewhere in the world where they are not guaranteed to ever meet you, though of course you can search for them as thoroughly as you like; otherwise, it's quite likely that some of the people you bring with you will have roles in the story, but you won't get to choose which ones. I do think that having your mother in the story be your reincarnated mother is very likely even if you don't get to choose it yourself, though."

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"What about the rest of them? If I don't choose it, are Grandma and Grandpa still likely to be her parents, Wilbur my brother?" she asks, seriously concerned. 

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"I think it is very likely that your Grandma and Grandpa would still be her parents unless the implementation teams couldn't figure out how to make it make sense with the backstory even if they tried, and somewhat likely that Wilbur would still be your brother."

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"...I have no one I wish to bring with me from my world," Raivethrani says slowly.

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"How likely is 'somewhat likely.'"

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"I don't know exactly, but there are many more possible reasons why he might end up not your brother than why your mother or grandparents might end up displaced, because a brother will be closer to the plot."

She looks at Raivethrani. "Are you suggesting that you could use some of your own reincarnation slots to bring people in from Lucy's world for Lucy? That's... I'm not sure it's quite unprecedented, but I can't recall seeing it done before. In theory it should work, though..."

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"Is that really what you meant?" Lucy asks Raive, sounding awestruck and hopeful and stunned. 

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"It costs me very little to provide it, so I don't see why not. Why don't you bring your mother and brother and whichever grandparent you feel more strongly about, and I will bring the other grandparent and anyone else you think of who you might like to have along?"

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"Grandpa. I never met Grandma, she died before I was born, but all of Mama and Grandpa's stories about her were good. I don't have anyone but the four of them... I guess I know anyone else's name." She considers this. "Abdul Al-Hazred." 

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"Then I will bring those two. Who is Abdul Al-Hazred?"

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"He wrote the Necronomicon! Which is, like, the best book about stuff people mostly don't know about. There are others but the Necronomicon was really good. We had a copy but it was damaged--before we got it--and some important stuff was missing, Wilbur was trying to do research in an undamaged copy when he. When he probably died."

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"I see! That does sound like an interesting person to have around."

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Bounce bounce. "Can my magic work too in the new world?"

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"What kinds of magic do you have, and how do you want them to work?"

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"Uhhhh most of it involves drawing on, like, the Outer Gods for power, so I guess probably the new world would just need to be in reach of the Outer Gods?"

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"Unfortunately I can't offer you that; worlds created in this way have to be isolated from preexisting worlds for regulatory reasons. But if you'd like, you could invent a similar magic system that works differently, or even has a different set of Outer Gods which you also invented!"

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"...Ooh. Can you get, like, copies of books from my universe, for me to use as reference material?"

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"I should be able to do that! Which books would you like?"

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Bounce bounce. "I'd like the Necronomicon, and the Book of Eibon in Latin, and the Pnakotic Manuscripts in Aklo, and De Vermis Mysteriis and the Books of Hsan in English...I assume you can't make me know other languages."

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"Let me see what I can do. I won't be able to produce translations that no one in your world has actually written," she cautions, before leaning down to the lower drawers of her desk and opening one to start pulling books out of it.

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"What do all these books cover? I don't believe I'm familiar with your 'Outer Gods'."

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"That's why I didn't just ask for all of them in English!" she asserts. "The books are about how to do magic, and what kinds of people there are or used to be and what those people did, and what people have observed or guessed about the Great Old Ones and the Outer Gods. The Outer Gods are really powerful beings who don't much notice or care about our plane of reality, and the Great Old Ones are beings who exist much more closely to our reality than the Outer Gods do but also more closely to the Outer Gods' reality than we do. They do care about what goes on in our plane of reality sometimes, often not to the benefit of those who live there."

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"I am not sure that I want a magic system entangled with the existence of such people. What if one of them noticed me and didn't like what I was up to?"

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"Well, if I'm designing the magic system, I'd leave out the Great Old Ones entirely and just keep the Outer Gods."

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"I'm still not sure I like it. In my experience, very powerful beings are not always comfortable to have around even when they're on your side, let alone when they're just indifferent. And if our only protection is that they aren't paying any attention, how do we draw on their power to do things? Will they really never notice, not even if we become fairly powerful ourselves and begin exploring nearby worlds?"

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"I feel like, if anyone ever managed to piss off an Outer God, there would be stories about it, and there aren't."

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"That is much less assurance than I would need to be comfortable with them, I think. Perhaps your magic could work in a different way? What is the function of the Outer Gods, and how might it be replaced?"

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"They...are the source of the power? Like...reservoirs. They could all be like Azathoth, I guess. Or like how I think Azathoth is. I guess there are other interpretations of 'blind idiot god' but I always sort of assumed that Azathoth was like...not a conscious being. Like, still organisms, but like, plants, or mushrooms, instead of people."

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"A mushroom does sound easier to outwit than a god," she acknowledges. "How would we draw power from these mushrooms, then?"

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"With...spells. Sometimes you just have to say an incantation, and sometimes there's a more complicated ritual, but you say or do something that includes an approximation of the god's name, and then the thing you're doing magic about happens."

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"Hmm! That is not at all the way I'm used to doing things, but I suppose I can see the appeal."

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"It's best if we have both kinds," she asserts. "Magic is great." 

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"What sorts of things can one do by invoking the dread mushroom god?" she wonders.

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(Tabitha has by this point finished stacking requested books on the desk.)

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Lucy scoops up the books. "Well, in theory a lot more than I could figure out even from reading all of these, a lot of magicians keep their grimoires a lot more secret than Eibon did. And of course there's things you can do with an ordinary god that you probably couldn't with a mushroom god, like, I think having a baby who took half their essence from something that couldn't think at all would be a bad idea. But you can summon things, if there's things to be summoned...you can place a geas on someone, you can reanimate various creatures, you can do some interesting things with light...you can body-swap with someone, you can hide things, you can make visible things invisible or invisible things visible, at least temporarily, Wilbur did that once when we were little...I can tell you more things once I've studied these some more." 

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"I look forward to hearing it!" she says. "Do you want to study them now, or continue going through our choices? I seem to recall at some point we were discussing who our love interest should be."

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"Oh right. Yeah let's keep talking, the magic stuff can wait. I think I personally prefer the dark rival because a reserved personality doesn't seem like a desirable trait and we don't have that much to go on, but it's not a super strong preference."

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"That seems reasonable enough to me."

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Tabitha makes a little pencil note on her clipboard(s).

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"What's next? Probably it makes more sense to go through all the choices before getting too attached to any free-form worldbuilding..."

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"Hmm... have I presented you with the tech and magic level options yet?" She checks her clipboard. "No, it looks like I got distracted. Magic level ranges from None to High, and it sounds like you probably want High, which gives you both the Magic-User perk for free since with that magic level nearly everyone is a magic-user. Tech level is more complicated; the list there is Faux Medieval, Actual Pre-Modern, Early Modern, Marvelous, Industrial, Steampunk, Contemporary, Cyberpunk, and Space Opera. Should I explain those or would you like to look at the magic level options in more detail first?"

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"Is there that much more detail? 'Lots of magic' seems pretty straightforward."

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"There is not very much more detail than that," she confirms. "There are some descriptions of the default arrangement for uncreative people, but I think what you two have come up with is already much better than the default arrangement and you would not benefit very much from hearing about it."

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"Let's hear about the tech level options, then."

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"Mhm!"

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"Faux Medieval is the default, and describes a version of certain worlds' feudal historical period which has been upgraded to be more pleasant and convenient. Actual Pre-Modern is the same time period without any of the conveniences. Early Modern covers the invention of the scientific method and the introduction of guns and cannons. Marvelous is a future envisioned from within Early Modern, and has technological developments that would be considered fantastical by the standards of later periods, with an overall level of technological progress that can fall anywhere between the start of Early Modern and the end of Industrial. Industrial covers the introduction of factories, railroads, and steamships, and ends as electricity is just starting to get going. Steampunk is an alternative future for Industrial, in which steam engines and clockwork remained prominent and electrical technology never really took off. 'Contemporary'—not contemporary to either of you, but this pamphlet is outdated and makes some unwarranted assumptions about the applicant's demographics—covers a time period often called the information age, in which electrical technology takes off and enables a number of exciting possibilities that would have been very difficult to predict in advance, though Steampunk offers many similar amenities from a different underlying technological base. Cyberpunk is an alternative future for Contemporary in which those same electrical technologies remained prominent in a way similar to Steampunk's clockwork, and Space Opera is a future in which technology advanced to the point where humans were able to build vessels that travel between the stars, and establish a civilization spanning multiple solar systems."

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"If we take Space Opera does that mean we can't do the infinite plane thing?"

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"You can take Space Opera with an infinite plane universe, though I'm concerned that neither of you will be able to contribute much to designing how the technology will interact with the cosmology since the technology will be unfamiliar to you, and you might like to take a more familiar tech level in order to have more creative control."

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"I do like creative control."

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"I like creative control but also I'm intrigued by the words 'information age.'"