Dec 02, 2022 12:12 AM
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"They put a price on as-fast-as-a-rider-can-travel manumission of all slaves in Feroz, plus sundry other modifications to the criminal code.  The ink's drying on that deal right now.  So what did they do to Spiral?"

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"The Urizeni wouldn't behave, so they took all their children and ransacked their libraries. The entire place is now covered by an enormous magical effect of hatred and despair. But they're still there, working whoever's left to death, because there's a Mithril mine."

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"...Well.  That fucking stops immediately.  And it makes a good stop before I go try the fucking Druj, who're - y'know - optimizing for horrible shit."

Keth, who's in charge of Spiral?

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Salt Lord Mahiri Kaliact. She held the children behind the lines rather than risk them in the fighting, then the Empire smashed the port with magic. I'm fine, great-aunt, don't fret, I know the others are only over at the port, it's not a few minutes run. The huge raging magical plateau is also the Empire, sending their carrion army with attack dogs to have a slaughter on an ancient well of hatred. And the Druj took the mithril mine last year. So yes, please go and stage there next, I'm fairly sure Kaliact would love some smart company. Getting a Salt Lord on side would help with Dubhtraig, too.

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"Well.  It seems that the presence with the aura of hatred and despair is the Druj, as of circa a year ago.  Or so it's claimed to be, by someone who I have reason to believe is being truthful, though it's hardly like I've yet confirmed that with my eyes."

Then Spiral's our next stop.  I've means of fast travel; we'll head out after opening diplomatic channels-inpotentia with the Empire.

"I expect to have done that soon enough, though, that it's likely worth talking to your boss's boss's boss's boss about whatever the hell that giant magical eyesore is over thataways," she points right at the said eyesore, "and whether efforts of the Empire there are actually the most effective use of their limited resources, especially of the human kind.  I really hate pointless death.  I hate pointful death, even, but sometimes you do end up in the sort of horribly contrived situations philosophers debate about despite - best efforts otherwise.  There some way to get in touch with that person?"

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"There's a truce with the Grendel and the armies are mostly fighting the Druj and defending against the Jotun, but sure, go to Anvil if you prefer talking people to death."

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"Can't do that and be in the right headspace to prosecute a war, and the war's more pressing on account of people are dying right fucking now; I was thinking more like sending them a letter.  With an artifact or two so they can send one back a lot faster."

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"If you'll know where you'll be, they can send you a Winged Messenger, just stick your name and address in a letter and drop it off with a Striding. We're kind of too busy to play postman for you, but there'll be a load going through the Kharaman/Segura border. Or if you send one of your metal spiders to Anvil with it, they'll be all over that."

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"Yeah, if I knew where any of those places were I'd probably have already done that.  But I don't have --"  She stops midsentence, and an expression that's so clearly d'oh passes over her face as she buries her head in her hands.  "Why am I in charge of this, past me, that's bad planning, you know how we get - but someone else would have gotten it wrong, huh?  Maps."

...She checks whether she actually does have maps with any of those names on them yet!

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If the drones have been assiduously scanning everything they've probably run across at least one nice big decorative wall hanging of this map somewhere along the way, it seems to be quite popular.

Maria looks at her scornfully. "You're the only one who can be in charge of yourself," she replies. "Please do run along and kick in some Druj, they're not exactly my problem but I've never heard anything good about them."

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"Sure, but I'm not as good at everything as I'd like to be and in theory I could have trusted the tools I wield to other hands, y'know?  I'm in charge of myself, sure, but am I doing the right thing with the power and knowledge I have, that's the question.  Don't really think there's an ultimate answer, in the end, except knowing that I've tried."

Wow.  That declamation looked exhausting.

"Y'all don't try and blow up the place while I'm out kicking the Druj out of Spiral, alright?"

And that's probably all she has left to say, she thinks.

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"No promises. But... Vengeance is also a false virtue. We're not the Faraden either."

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"'s all I can ask.  Probably wouldn't take anyway, if you did; I know a lot of explosives, which means the disaster prep routine does too, which means no boom.  Unless something needs to go boom, in which case there's a measured amount of boom under known and controlled circumstances.  See you around ever, maybe; here's my comm handle, here's a comm, this icon has the help menu if you need it, you did a brave thing today and should be proud for doing it even if it turned out to just be talking to a very tired woman flying by the seat of her pants through an uplift scenario of very uncertain political reality instead of - risking your continued happiness to only buy time."

And then she's back outside, back in armor, heading towards Keth.  Think I might take a fucking nap while we travel, the adrenaline's wearing off.  Any particular thoughts for now?

And yes, she will send some drones Anvil-wards, establishing lines of communication as they go.  Shouldn't be that many pylons to ensure that even under antimagic the lines will still run; they're pretty tiny things, actually.  The manufacturing facilities are bigger, but she has a few going up - or down - or for that matter sideways - already; she won't need to arrange more unless she's invited to.  It's all in the algorithms.  They're pretty good algorithms, and rather conservative ones, too.  Means they won't mess up.

Speaking of which, anything those algorithms have choked on at all, that needs her personal attention?

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Maria catches the comm, looks conflicted for a second - considering whether to throw it back - then runs off.

No, I think this will be - no I shouldn't impose further on her goodwill, it will be fine - one of those things that's better to take as it comes. Oh, Rahab does know the meaning of Fidelity but he's still kind of mad at the humans so it's probably best to read over what he's got carefully before we head out.

Keth is very much Not Even Slightly Okay with the idea of leaving the rest of the orcs and flying off with a single other possibly-human-definitely-not-orc, especially if her sole company won't even be awake for the journey, but she is doing her level best to pretend that she does not have instincts that make this a cripplingly terrifying prospect because she really wants to be where the action is and have a chance to really make her mark on the world, and is also quite concerned that the visitor will leave her behind if she's too inconvenient.

The algorithms report that one of her manufacturing facilities has come down with a bad case of supernatural accelerated rot and vines, and enterprising individuals in the territory over the large bridge on the next major river mouth, which seems to be more heavily urbanised, have discovered one of the pylons and are enthusiastically studying both it and a drone that they broke with some kind of magical effect when it came to investigate, but neither of these are things that the algorithms can't route around.

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...Supernatural accelerated rot just gets pretty much noped by material properties, honestly, not to mention protective wards, but that's odd that it's happening in the first place.  Doot de doo, more in-depth review...  She can autopilot back to Lord Rahab to make sure that the contracts are as agreed while she's mostly focused on what and why the fuck is going on; she's been very careful to not do anything that'd mess with the environment or piss off faerie, y'know?

...I can tell you're terrified, Keth, so...what is it?  I probably won't actually sleep; there's too much to do.  I was just grumbling.  And emotionally exhausted.  But not physically, nor mentally, in any way that matters; I'm still good to operate motor vehicles.  Not that I should need to, there's autopilots for a reason and it's because humanoids generally suck at driving, but still.  Shouldn't take more than a couple hours, I think, to get where we're going.  Depending on the actual scale of things, which, estimating from the charts... She pokes at maps!  Once again!  Please tell her the captain's cartography was to-scale.  That big map's obviously artistic.

As for the people studying the pylons, they get a "Please do not break the drones, thank you!  Your zeal for learning is appreciated but that's very rude!" from a bigger (and probably scarier, because if they try to break it the spells just fizzle out) droid with a sword-and-shield logo, that hands out informative pamphlets on how they can learn how these things work!

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This is the kind of supernaturally accelerated rot and vine growth that comes from the nearby Realm aligned with magically tearing down all works of civilisation, it works on impenetrable white granite fortifications which will otherwise stand forever, and warding against local magic... is not working super well? Like, the wards and advanced materials science can fight it to a standstill by repairing the effects, but the effects are definitely happening regardless - that seems to be a fundamental local property of magic. Diagnostics reveal that the source of the effect is that a dozen Freeborn-looking humans holding small crystal power sources (expended during the casting) chanted for a couple of minutes to essentially open a small portal to said Realm around the manufactory and let the hungry vines and so forth through, and then ran away.

Similarly, the magical swipe looks like it could have knocked some bits off the bigger scarier drone if it hadn't dodged out of the way just in time, although it would have survived the experience; dropping the pamphlets on them from range works just fine and seems to suitably distract them from having another go - their breaking-things magic appears to be only deployable through actually hitting things with a stick they're directly holding, rather than something they can deploy at range.

The charts are meticulously to scale but don't contain Anvil; they contain a range of Imperial ports along the very detailed coastline - Oran here facing Siroc, then Quzar, Trivento (closest to the troublemakers with the drone), Caricomare, Glass Point, Crown's Quay, Elos facing Necropolis across the mouth of the River Couros (Necropolis is marked as being entirely surrounded by imposing cliffs), Visten and Apulus. Unfortunately missing from the charts is any mention of what territory or nation any of these is in, other than the Empire in general.

Meanwhile, Keth decides to confess what the problem is:

Could I bring an aide or two with me? I promise I'll pick some that won't make any trouble. I'm afraid orcs have this inconvenient thing about being alone...

 

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Goodness sakes, that's...I'm sorry; I wish I'd known beforehand, of course you can bring aides, especially if they're necessary for your health.  I'd prefer you prioritize your wellbeing over your convenience-to-me, Keth.

...And huh, that's a warm soft compassion-feeling hug enfolding her soul, there.

...I should have asked before I did that.  Sorry.  Shouldn't...mess up anything, at least.

 

The wardroid has much better defenses and faster motivators than the civic droid; the magic breaks against an infinitesimal shield, if it even hits.

The factory, meanwhile, starts unpicking that magic the hard way, while Questions Are Asked of the perpetrators.  (And where'd those drones even come from?)  "Excuse me, but might I ask the reason for this assault?  That construction is meant for the civic good of all peoples who wish it; it is capable of war, as most tools are, but intended for protective and constructive use not just for, but by, the people of this land."

 

As for the map...Well, if you project the artistic coastline onto the actual coastline, you might be able to find Anvil from the sky.  And it's not like she doesn't have approximately a dozen ways of getting something high up enough that it can look.

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Keth is really quite confused about the.. peace aura?... but it goes away quickly enough, and she picks out a couple of slightly less fancily dressed Grendel who appear to be surprised but happy to be chosen. "This is Calak and Mhendi, both of them have shown adaptability and problem solving skills in the past, so I hope they'll be a useful addition. Calak is a sky mage and Mhendi can do advanced sand magic, which might be useful, especially if you need to leave us somewhere - if you can tell us where you might be, we can address a Winged Messenger to Myra at a specific location, and it'll be with you shortly if you visit that place."

Calak has a magic-looking staff like the one that was used to knock out the civic droid, and some mildly magical decorative armour pieces that are projecting a kind of weak force shield over him, as well as a satchel full of herbs and salves. Mhendi takes a number of magical crystals and bottles of magical dye out of a supply cache and distributes them into her pockets and pouches.

The rounded-up ritualists attempt to defend themselves and/or go to ground a bit, realise it's hopeless, and start loudly singing Firebird's Child - they appear to be assuming that the drones are about to kill them if they can't get answers, have used up all the resources they had on hand and don't want to lead the drones back to their mana sites where they might get more.

The artistic coastline is a surprisingly good match for the actual coastline; Anvil looks to be a fair way inland, but there's a road - not quite as nice as the white stone roads visible elsewhere, but clearly maintained - from Crown's Quay that extends in approximately the right sort of direction. Apulus is right over in Spiral; the charts there feature a lot of recently-added looking warnings about sunken ruins and anchoring well off shore.

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"That sounds quite alright, I don't expect it should come up but I do want to talk shop so - oh what is it now - excuse me a moment -" (She's still standing there.)

"...No, they're not going to kill you, the whole point is that I prefer people not dying, for fuck's sake!" comes the exasperated voice of a wizard over the said drones.  (And out through the helmet, for that matter, though quietly because it wasn't intended to.)

If that doesn't take, a sleepy purple mist happens to them (or the same thing in dart form), and they wake up a little while later, bereft of magical items but otherwise generally unrestrained and in a comfortable setting, as best as she can manage to gather of their preferences.  (She thinks 'druid-circle #4' is probably a good starting point; smooth stone, water features, skylights, there's also some fruiting plants.)  There's no visible exit, but they have individual rooms and common spaces and doors.  "No suicide-songs, please; I'll sedate you again if I must but I really don't want to.  I genuinely mean you no harm, and if you'd please tell me why the fuck, I could plausibly resolve your issues.  I'm not paying personal attention to this place right now because I'm a bit busy with trying to take down the source of the huge fear and despair aura that I sure hope you've heard of over in Spiral, but press the green glowy button if you want to talk to me for any reason whatsoever, even if it's just to call me a bitch, and I'll make time to listen to what you have to say.  Please believe me when I say I give a damn about y'all.  That's the whole point of why I started doing all the crazy things I do to begin with, and it's carried me to the point that I'm about to pick a fight with an entire nation-state because it's awful.  I want to help.  Please help me help you.  Or just tell me to fuck off, that's fine too, but please actually talk.  I can't listen if you refuse to tell me anything."

 

Back in the present, Myra sighs.  "Well.  Sorry about that, I think someone tried to blow themselves up on me rather than talk about their issues, and I was not just going to let that happen; death, generally, sucks.  Where was I.  Mhendi, Calak, a pleasure to meet you; I hope we can work well together.  I'm going to have so many questions, but I want to make clear now that you're not at all obliged to answer them if you'd rather not do that, I just like learning about, and more generally learning, magic and I don't believe I've worked with anyone who does those styles of magic before."

 

The aerial scout drone's report on the bearing of Anvil gives the system a direction to work in, so it'll work in that direction, following along the existing roads.  Which...seem to be interesting, magically speaking?  That's cool.  Indestructible roads.

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The ritualists require a few more doses of sedative gas before they get the message and stop trying to kill themselves and/or each other in various ways (and/or singing in a mildly ominous fashion). They methodically search for exits. Nobody presses a green button yet, although some of them start having arguments about doing so. Apparently talking is what the Grendel always want to do and it never ends well for anyone.

"I'm sure we're all very happy to share whatever would be useful to you," says Keth; this appears to be her giving implicit permission to the others, although they just nod agreeably for now.

There's a lovely indestructible road that starts at Siroc, the extremely colourful major city just across the inlet, and heads down the coast and across that rather impressive large bridge, through a town at the other end; the drone takes a right and passes over an elaborately carved gateway surmounted by crossed butchers' cleavers, into an actually quite impressive sprawling city which is lavishly decorated, in a slightly less anarchic style than Siroc; and then heads on through the countryside, while the architecture of the occasional villages and inns gets suddenly less elaborate and more stern and solid.

It overflies a fairly major crossroads with a compact but extremely sturdy town also featuring a lot of the indestructible stonework, and following the main road out of that meets the odd looking ring of hostelries and offices that encircle a set of empty fields, in the middle of which is one very ramshackle looking tavern, one roofless wooden floored quadrangle building with a couple of other small rooms, and offset a bit from these, an intensely magical stone circle and a free-standing stone gateway inscribed with an awful lot of mystic constellations, surmounted by - uh, it's probably not the Flying Spaghetti Monster...

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There...are presently no exits!

There will probably not be any exits anytime soon!

There is a different colored button with a sign that says "entertainment and food requests"?

 

The drone can respect boundaries, and when it queues up a diplomatic facility, pending approval by whomever does that (because this is definitely Anvil, Myra's pretty convinced) it does not plan it inside the circle!  ...The stone arch has Myra giving it a through-the-camera side-eye, when it's in view.

 

Anyway, there's more immediate concerns.  "Seriously, you don't have to.  And you can and probably should ask me questions in turn, especially if your other option is trying to Detect Magic my stuff; the last guy to try it was glad there was a healer on hand.  I think he tried to look at too much of this all at once, but I can't rule out that it's just the everything of it all that did it."  What did happen to him?

(Myra, with Keth's aides picked out, and hopefully the legal code settled, has been making her way out to a factory, where their chariot awaits them.  Eventually, at least.  She's not as good at walking and multitasking as she'd like.)

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There are some individuals in purple sashes with horse-head livery, with matching silver horse necklaces, who are watching the Anvil drone cautiously; if it pauses for long enough, one of them will attempt to shout a greeting.

The stone arch gives the distinct impression that it is looking back and does not particularly approve of what it sees, especially because it might be about to be studied, it really hates it when people study it.

The stunned Freeborn was treated with some kind of smelling salts and a rousing chorus of some kind of local song, and as they started singing along they visibly improved until they appeared completely fine again within a couple of minutes. The process didn't seem quite as 'magical' as the original spell (or the factory-destroying ritual), it seems to hook into some kind of cultural thing they have going on.

Rahab had attempted to play fast and loose with the drafting a little bit, mostly around extensive powers of law enforcement giving his orc patrols the right to kill people and order them to do things without much oversight, but is happy to 'clear up' the 'misunderstandings' when called on them.

"Are you summoning the flying metal creatures from the Autumn realm?" asks Mhendi. "I'd assumed you were from Irrah Harah given the emphasis on freeing slaves, but, uh, none of the..." she waves her hands vaguely, "aesthetic is Spring?"

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"Not to my knowledge, no; they're technically not even sentient so much as really advanced machinery that can follow really complex rules and do math, but not improvise in the absence of direction.  I conjure them from parts, and metal's got durability going for it, especially in the absence of protective magic, which is something I've had to deal with often enough."

 

Nice try, Lord Rahab, but she has years of reading website terms of service (and also deploring laws used to harm especially minorities) on you.  You'll take your peace and prosperity and like it.  Did you think she wasn't going to check on every single instance of 'kill' in the document?  That her scrying powers somehow did not extend to text search?  Because she can and will, and about the only acceptable context is 'thou shalt not, save in immediate defense of life', and law enforcement gets held to a higher standard on that if she has anything to say on the matter.

(Similarly, she's pretty good at finding compulsion under color of law and Looking at Rahab, Very Disappointedly.  She expected this, but she had hoped better.)

 

...Well, if the stone arch does not like to be studied, would it like to be friends?  She's made weirder friends!  And also doesn't study anything capable of expressing a coherent opinion thereupon without its consent, y'know?  Though she's admittedly really curious about what is all this magic doing there's so much of it.  Something to do with stars?  Ooh, does the gate know if the stars here are also plasma-hot balls of hydrogen undergoing nuclear fusion that might have other planets around them?  Would it like to, if it doesn't?  She can probably arrange to check!

Oh!  There's more people!  "Hi!  This is Anvil, right?  Do you know who I should talk to about arranging for an embassy, because once the news from Feroz gets here, I'll need one!"

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"Plenty of Autumn heralds are basically complex machinery," replies Mhendi. "If they're not from the Realms, where's the metal coming from? And you, I suppose, for that matter?" 

The other two orcs seem to be carefully observing the reaction to Mhendi's audacity in actually taking the stranger's statements at face value and asking questions freely; Mhendi is a little frightened but determined to prove herself by being daring enough to keep asking things, also she's genuinely extremely curious about the weird magic happening here, she thought she knew a lot about magic and really wants to know everything.

Rahab didn't exactly use the word 'kill', he's not an amateur, but there was a lot of indemnity for unfortunate happenings and so on going on. He doesn't seem to be at all affected by the Disappointed Look, there was a battle of wits and he didn't quite get everything he wanted but things are good enough he's happy anyway, it would just be practically impolite by his standards not to push as much as possible and see what he could get away with.

The stone arch isn't quite a person and isn't inclined to chat, but it does have a perfectly good magical interface for providing information on conjunctions, which are the things it actually cares about; this interface is distinctly touch range only, though, and you have to guess the location before it will tell the user anything.

"This is Anvil," confirms one of the Anvil officials, very calmly, if with an undertone of long-suffering weariness. "Arranging an embassy is a Senate matter - if you would like to come and make your case to the Imperial Consul, they are best placed to assist you. May I ask who we're addressing?"

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"I'm from a very, very long way away from here, along directions of travel that I don't know if anyone has proper words for.  Even the speculative fiction authors, really.  The metal is - well, saying it's magic is just bloody obvious, but honestly I'm not actually sure how much of an answer I have other than 'You shape the magic this way and it does that thing'?  I've always been a bit more focused on picking up practice than theory; comes with the adventuring, I guess.  You'd want to ask the woman who taught me these runes if she knows, though I doubt she knows more than I do.  Her homeworld, where she learned, was about at the same general level-of-understanding as here, and she was dragged into adventuring with her knowledge pretty immediately.  Then there were asshole gods, and that's not even getting into what happened after that tale ended, but a lot's not my story to tell."

 

Oh, well, that's just politics, then.  She doesn't like it, but it's the price of admission.

 

Conjunctions, huh?  She's not going to start actually poking the interface until she's not flying by the seat of her pants to build relevance on a 4X scale, but maybe she'll poke that herself later.

"You're speaking to -" a pause - "Administrator Myra, and you're doing so through a remote interface, by the way.  Or at least that's a name and title I'm comfortable claiming at the moment.  Really, though, just call me Myra, it's not like I'm being official-official right now.  I wasn't exactly expecting to get involved in geopolitics this week, or even this month, I'm just an adventuring magic-and-mechanics engineer with a horribly overgrown sense of personal responsibility and a store of parts that's approximately the size of yes."  Perhaps he recognizes a kinswoman in the long-tired suffering department.  Perhaps he feels less tired after Myra subconsciously offers healing.  "Missed the metaphorical left turn at Albuquerque, ran into slavers doing the slaving thing, you can't just leave that, one thing leads to another and now I'm expecting to find myself making noticeable progress on kicking Druj forces out of Spiral by this time next week because I have an amount of magic-industrial leverage that terrifies me and the desire be helpful.  And honestly half the time of that estimate is room for unknown unknowns.  Sorry for ruining your day, I'm sure it was pleasantly boring and now you have to deal with all this.  Could you point me in the direction of the Consul?  I'd greatly appreciate that.  And I have been remiss in not asking your names and preferred forms of address, do please excuse my faux-pas."

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