Dec 02, 2022 12:52 AM
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"...Well.  Have the Druj contested those regions?  There's nothing in the treaty about ongoing disposition, just the cession - if the Grendel have lost their hold, the region can surely be reclaimed by whoever dares.

"...And the Grendel claiming the exodus from Feroz as their allotment of slaves is why you actually specify methodology in your treaties.  Honestly, given the small numbers of slaves to even be thought of being's possible they still managed to comply with the letter, if not the spirit.  That's, what, a thousand, total?  There could easily have been a thousand slaves taken across Feroz.  ...In summary, you need better contract draftspeople.  And what does that last clause even mean?"

"...Anyway, enough about the past.  Let me guess, the past life memory reclamation involves a specific rare reagent?  It's not implausible I have some way of increasing the yield thereof, or simply duplicating the product, though I should note that simple duplication tends to have issues with sufficiently legendary items that're magical - it's something about the weight, probably, and the amount of magic.  Still, I would be willing to try.

"And speaking of magical reagents, I should probably get a sample of liao at some point, to see if it even works on me and if it'd help with realigning the fucking Black Plateau.  I've no prior experience with it."


"The Druj are in Ossuary, and most disturbingly, Screed; if we were to secure only two regions back from both them and the Grendel, those should be our priorities - although I'm sure the Ankarian refugees would be upset about Ankra, and they are an important faction in Anvil.

It sounds like you have not yet partaken of the wonders of Anvil, so let me tell you a little about the Imperial political process. I haven't been myself since the time of Britta, the Empress before last, but everything changes and everything stays the same, as they say.

Every solstice and equinox, there is a great pilgrimage to Anvil, which is the location in Highguard where the First Empress signed the Empire into existence. The Senate are elected there and meet there, representatives from every nation chosen in each nation's own - idiosyncratic - style, one per territory. There is also a lot of fuss with Generals and Cardinals and Archmagi and so forth, but it is the Senate who are empowered to sign treaties, so let's concentrate on them.

Each of them is generally beholden to a few powerful groups who make the journey in sufficient numbers to secure their election. They appoint Ambassadors and an Imperial Consul, who are responsible for taking initial meetings with diplomatic delegations from foreign powers - there's a distinction between 'foreign' and 'barbarian' depending on whether we're at war with them, but all delegations that are underway to Anvil or returning from there now have the protection of law.

The meetings with foreign delegations generally happen at some time on the Friday or the Saturday, depending on - whether the delegation is delayed, whether they object to showing up in the dark, and so on. The foreign delegations generally deliver a set of demands and requests, and they have very limited authority to negotiate; Winged Messengers can be sent and sometimes clarifications will arrive in time, but the magic is very fickle and the clarification might not arrive until the following gathering.

These are then dutifully written up into a treaty, which has to be scrutinised by the Constitutional Court for whether the Empire can actually implement it, whether there will be extra enforcement costs and so forth. And then two Senators must be found to propose and second the treaty as a motion on the Senate floor. Generally this ends up happening at the Sunday sitting of the Senate - right before the end of the gathering, with some people already taking down their tents and preparing for the journey home.

So, if the treaty is at all complicated, all of the Senators who manifestly failed to read it - or in some cases, have been so unfindable that the relevant ambassador hasn't even managed to tell them it was a possibility - will vote against it, because it's much harder for their people to blame them for something that doesn't happen than something that does - even though, in that case, what does happen is generally the continuation of a war that should have been concluded.

As for that final clause, it is actually very important - previous treaties with the Grendel have been broken when independent ship captains and suchlike have taken it upon themselves to unilaterally raid Grendel holdings. This provides the Grendel a method of saving face by making an agreement between ambassadors to receive compensation, rather than declaring the treaty voided and re-commencing invasion."

Ionnia smiles wryly at Myra. "I'm afraid the past is likely to quickly become your future, if you're hoping to help clear up some of our geopolitical messes.

Liao is a much more pleasant topic; we have a couple of Questors rattling around, they like to ask awkward questions of the Grendel who come by from time to time, and they will be overjoyed to administer a dose - and indeed any religious rites you might want to experience, and I'm sure they are full of theories about the Black Plateau and how to mitigate its effects.

The substance required for the past life visions is essentially a more refined form of Liao, but the refinement process only yields a handful of doses each season. I'm afraid the details are not my area of arete; the Questors will likely know a little more, but research into Liao has mostly been the province of the Highborn, although one of our own has been the Seer of the Gateway ever since Britta's death."


She is utterly flabbergasted by this.

"You mean to tell me that all Empire-level politics occurs in week-long periods three months apart?  And cannot be conducted outside that time?  What, and do forgive my crassness, the absolute blithering fuck kind of system is this?!  It combines the worst parts of mandated agility with the worst parts of inflexible slow-changing process!  It makes the law clear, perhaps, but that helps none if the law is full of holes you can drive a cart through and in matters of the moment often far too late arriving!

"Surely a system could be developed of allowing in-the-moment abstension, and voting on unsettled issues via Winged Messenger during the interstitium, or something!


"...The final clause would allow arranging reparations, and a way to make that happen is important; it just...barely has meaning.  Or rather, it has too many possible meanings, which, I suppose, allows such shenanigans as you have described.

"...Anyway: doing things with liao is universally a matter of religious rites?"  She looks like she's bitten into a lemon.  "From what I've heard of religion here, it's sounded rather...

"I like the sanctity of my own thought process preserved against external influence, and there's rather a lot of mind-affecting effects going around, there.  That said, clearly needs must; I've not the theoretical basis of a sufficient ritual handy and if I can shortcut the development process...well.  Better it be quicker than slower.

"I am not a fan of grand workings; they're always so...dramatically fraught, full of shenanigans and plots.  But this situation with the Black Plateau is clearly the time to bring out the ritual implements."


"Oh, you're a Lucidian? It's a perfectly respectable position, but if you're going to be dealing with the Black Plateau, you'll need to be defended somehow; auras are the easiest way of achieving that. I suspect you might have a somewhat skewed version of our religious practices from the Grendel; they do rather just collect them, like anything else shiny that isn't nailed down.

As for our political system, it's essentially a series of compromises between ten nations - who aren't all quite as well supplied with magic as each other, and so are not amenable to compromises that rely on it - all of which are, essentially, a pack of squabbling owlbears internally, also.

Obviously what should have happened is that we should have extended the Heliopticon across the Empire and solved the communication problem, and thus averted all the arguments about who can access decision-making from further afield and so on, but it turns out that lowlanders aren't very good at operating heliopticon towers."


"I do have such protections; they're simply not the same sort of thing as trying to drown out a loud emotion with another loud emotion - though the one I'm putting the most stock in is backed by, well, meddling Eternal, even if I think I might be able to replicate something like it by myself.

"...but seriously, they can't provision a single Winged Messenger...and appropriate caster, I suppose...per Senator?  That's just...odd.  Well.  Not my problem until it actually hits me.  And if ever there was a political system that did not eventually become full of squabbling owlbears in a trenchcoat, I know not of such a miracle.

"I regret to inform you that I'm probably going to render the Heliopticon mostly obsolete if you let me.  On the plus side, my solution can actually do some self-maintenance!  And make sure your facilities here don't spontaneously fall down."


"If you have a better Heliopticon, we would be overjoyed!" Ionnia actually smiles in a way that meets her eyes, at the prospect. "I mean, I'm sure heliopticon operators will continue to practice as a hobby and insist that the days of the heliopticon were the heights of purity and good content in communication, before the rabble came and spoiled it, but, you know. Communications difficulties are the bane of Imperial life, and the more we can eliminate them, the better.

Some Senators simply refuse to 'rely on' Autumn magic at all - especially for something politically important, they'd assume it could be intercepted or tampered with, even though that's actually impossible; in less civilised areas of the Empire, they often have rather little grasp of how even basic ritual magic functions.

I suppose if you can afford to keep something like Crystal Clarity up around yourself, that would also dampen the Plateau's effects adequately. I'm afraid I am more of an administrator than a ritual theoretician, much less an aura expert; and Willstone's researchers are generally here to use the Autumn regio, and I suspect Autumn effects are a little subtle for dealing with something like the Plateau.

If you can't do it with religious endeavours, you'd be looking at Day and Night at once - I believe that's what they used to calm it in the first place, before the Iron Helms... happened to it. Even so, everyone is quite convinced that ritual magic alone is no longer sufficient, so it may end up needing to be a combination of... all available powers."


"There's literally always people like that, I'm sure.

"Honestly, I think they have a point about not letting the skills pass from the earth, just in case...but boy is everything else just somewhat silly.

"I have literally no idea how your magic works compared to mine except that yours seems to be...weirdly planar slash conceptual?  But yes, that doesn't seem wrong."

"...All available powers?"


"Oh, and, here, take this; it's connected to my communications network, so you can get in touch with me if you ever need to.  Or want to, really."

She hands over a smartphone-alike (and its associated accessories).  "Do read the manual; it might be a bit slow-paced at times but it's got useful information about how things work, inside."


"We really need to find a way to refer to your Not Quite An Eternal without upsetting anyone, or being unduly inaccurate, I suppose," replies Ionnia. "I'm sure our Questors can find you someone to explain our basic magic theory - it does tend to call upon the Realms for more sustained and complex effects, but there are a wide range of fundamental resonances that can be used, some more mathematical and some more conceptual."

She nods at the gift, but makes no move to pick it up from the table immediately. "That is a handsome gift, thank you. I only hope my poor gift of local knowledge can be adequate to it. Is there aught else you want from me particularly, or shall I get the Sentinels to lead you to some Questors for your Plateau related research?

Oh, and how long do you think you'll remain here - is it worth us signalling some of our people in Zenith, who might know more about immediate requests for aid, when they will take at least until tomorrow to arrive through the Iteri pass? There are plenty of rooms for wandering scholars if you do wish to stay overnight, and meals are served in the dining hall, to which you are welcome, or at any time from the kitchens."


"Ahh, that's what you meant.

"I think that's all I have to ask of you.


"Give me a minute to check on something, before I decide whether I can stay?  I would certainly appreciate the local knowledge, regardless."


How's Keth doing with making contact?


It's just as well the strange flying vessel is arrow-proof.

Keth is not arrow-proof, but is also not the physick and has the most conspicuous robes, so she makes sure she is very visible as the vessel descends far enough that anyone might shoot into it. Fortunately, the guard-station has become tired of wasting arrows by the time this is a meaningful threat.

It turns out that being on guard duty in Spiral does not improve anybody's mood; it quickly becomes apparent that this is mostly some kind of respite duty for people who have got excessively combative and paranoid out beyond the effect of the Block, and none of them are pleased to have some work to do, or to have to share their cramped quarters. Apparently their main duty is ensuring tariffs are collected from caravans that use the pass, as well as being an early warning if anything changes with the Block - but the effects of the Winter regio have left everyone listless and unmotivated.

None of them are very pleased with the idea that they might have to be a messenger, to collect someone more senior who can deal with things, so eventually Calak is dispatched to the larger post up at Damarkan's Forge, although he's also not exactly happy with the idea that he might be running all the way down to Apulian to get the attention of the Salt Lord; Mhendi sends a Winged Messenger off, in case that might be faster this time, and then starts attempting to study the controls of the flying vehicle so that they can operate it off autopilot if they need to.

Meanwhile, Keth has settled in to the business of attempting to drag some information out of the soldiers' various depressing anecdotes, mostly featuring them being the only one of their unit to successfully flee a Druj incursion, or people who would have got on just fine in any other circumstances pointlessly murdering each other.


...The icons left in Keth's care seem to find the way this is being managed personally offensive, given how they flood the area with their energy rather than allow the Winter regio to drain these people who should be healing any further.


The airship's piloting interface is rather easy to use, even untrained!  There's even the option of flight simulation, since they're not presently traveling!


Keth's communicator breebles at her.

"Just finished my meeting with the Arbiter; how are things going on your end?  Anything that'd help you out any?"


Despite the aura from the icons being more pleasant than the local alternatives, it causes the garrison considerable quantities of panic; one of them does agree to leave this time and runs off towards Damarkan's Forge to collect a Urizeni priest who can more easily investigate it.

Mhendi agrees to hop the vessel a little way away, to calm everyone back down. 

"Slowly - we might want to fly over to Apulian directly, once Mhendi's got the hang of it. Do you know why your flying vessel has started emitting an aura of its own? Mhendi had to take it away from the encampment as everyone was talking about leaving to avoid it, even though we tried to tell them it was fine - nobody likes surprising new effects around here, even pleasant ones."


"...I'm going to guess that something about the situation there was direly offensive to my sensibilities in some way, plausibly to do with why everything looks at best half dead around there.  Let me just...

"...oh dear.  Alright, one moment..."

The 'aura' stops actively roiling and looking for people to help, but it doesn't stop being protectively flared out.

"Alright, that's...

"Perhaps you should chalk it up to a very strange human having far too much emotion at what she heard about the conditions and the history that brought everyone here and doing a spontaneous aura thing because of that; it should be safe now.  Well.  'Safe', because really, not having the aura be as aggressive about protecting those who need to be warded is a danger to them and others, but if someone really wants their magically-induced clinical depression, they can keep it.  It was essentially my fault, anyway; the impetus that caused that reaction is that I was feeling particularly protective-whether-you-like-it-or-not at the time I anchored the symbols and hadn't properly modeled consentingness."


"They've sent someone to fetch a human priest from Damarkan's Forge, is it okay to let them examine it or should we put them off?

I think everyone here's really had enough weird additional effects on them for a while and gets twitchy when another one shows up, even if it's entirely benign and actually helpful. We can probably talk them round if you think that'd be helpful, but I'm not sure I want them to get used to it if we're going to have to move on to Apulian anyway. I'll know more on that front when Calak gets back from the Forge - that's the nearest place with anyone who apparently knows what they're doing, the garrison here is a bit... under-resourced... from being stuck in the Winter regio."


"I see no reason the priest shouldn't be allowed to take a look.  ...And if this is better for them, we're not going to just...leave them to Winter's tender lack-of-mercy; I can make something that'll - oh, this might be a good test case for seeing if things like the Black Plateau's aura can be supplanted with sufficient meddling.  I'm not going to leave them in the lurch, regardless.  It'd be deriliction of admittedly self-imposed duty."  She makes a noise somewhere halfway between a laugh and a sigh, and continues.  "Anyway, if things are stable, I have some people to consult on my end; I can get the plane to make some additional conduits if that's something that'd be helpful."


"Once the priest is here and has checked it out for them, if we can carry something back to put in the garrison, they'd probably benefit from it once they've calmed down," replies Keth. "Should we be waiting for you, or should we head on to Apulian - where the Salt Lord is - if we don't get any more luck here?"


"That's up to you; you understand the political implications better.  I'll catch up with you by tomorrow either way."  She cues up the shipboard fabricator to do the thing she said she'd do; it produces a heavily rune-etched, stylized statuette.


Now the vessel is spitting out statues. Fantastic. She starts incanting for detect magic, in case that helps - then thinks for a moment, stops, and gently touches the statuette to see if there are obvious effects first; if this doesn't go too badly, she takes the statuette outside and starts incanting again, not wanting to accidentally target the whole vessel and possibly keel over in the middle of nowhere.


"We'll probably stay put here for you unless we're ordered to attend, then; I'd rather have you with the vessel when we go down there in case Salt Lord Mahiri Kaliact decides she fancies taking it apart and trying to see how it is made. I've heard she's fairly reasonable as Salt Lords go, but anyone can be driven by avarice when they get hold of this kind of equipment."


"Quite.  Thankfully, I've got plenty to go around."

"Keth wanted something for the Block; this is that," comes the vessel's proprietor's voice after a second of observing Mhendi's confusion. "Anchors an aura to itself.  Speaking of which, Keth's thinking y'all should stay put there-ish until I catch up."


When Mhendi touches the statue...The statue seems faintly amused, as if to think that Mhendi should have recognized it.

Nevertheless, Mhendi gets the information she's looking for - it's a more replicable way to ask for [CONCEPT UNTRANSLATABLE: (embrace, protect, respect, exalt, uplift)]'s attention, with some added decorative elements because Her favored felt like making this pretty, unlike most of her other work.  (Really, She thinks her favored could stand to be less relentlessly utilitarian-brutalist in more of her functional designs; She knows Her favored has aesthetic opinions that can mesh with her perceived needs.  It's simply a matter of spending a little more effort for a worthy reward.)

That she gets this information before the spell completes, and it includes what's inarguably gossip, is presumably surprising.


Well, it's nice not to have to waste mana on it, she guesses. She doesn't really need to verify its story, not with audible confirmation from their strange visitor.

"Thank you," she answers. "I'm a little way off from the Block at the moment, they didn't like the vessel with the extra aura - should I take it back immediately, or wait for further instructions?"


She'll ask Keth about that and relay the answer.

With that settled...she meet.

She's not really a fan of religion in the abstract, and this one's really fucking spooky in particular!  But they seem to have the monopoly on liao and its uses, so she'll deal.


"Can I call her with this? I'd like to wait for the priest to arrive, then call her over."

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