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Generated: Oct 09, 2022 3:50 PM
Post last updated: Oct 09, 2022 3:50 PM
let my people go
Vanda Nossëo meets Prince of Egypt
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There's an Earth, found on a routine sweep for Earths from a newly discovered boring off Edda. It's very low-tech, the earliest Earth found without dinosaurs on it, and it's not totally clear from a casual scan what its special Earth Thing is going to be but all the Earths have things so they're operating conservatively, but they send teams down anyway.

Nelen Utopia and his team Zanro, Tarwë, Natsuko, and Cassiel teleport into place in Memphis.

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Well, to begin with, the Nile is running with blood instead of water. This appears to be a new and unpopular development. The people spontaneously appearing get some additional worried looks but the blood thing is kind of preoccupying everyone's attention. There's wailing and gnashing of teeth about it.

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...wow. Okay. That's - weird and bad? Candidate Weird Earth Thing. If there's a drinking water shortage they can get some water jugs and hand out cups of cold water as an opening move.

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That makes them pretty popular pretty quickly!

People want to know if the strangers have enough water for their grain fields and their livestock. People want to know where they got the water and if they're likely to keep getting it. People want to know if Pharaoh sent them or if if they're gods or what. People want to know what the gods are angry about that made them decide to turn the Nile into blood.

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Everyone can take all the water they can carry, but getting it to the farms is something they'll need to work out with the government. They will keep getting water indefinitely (Cassiel is working on that in the background but it's not really visually conspicuous). They are not gods and Pharaoh did not send them and they do not know why the Nile is blood.

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It's not long before a priest, who doesn't have any immediate personal agricultural concerns, wants to know who they are and why they're here, if it's nothing to do with the Nile. It's possible they should talk to the Pharaoh about doing something with the irrigation systems, but it's also possible he'll fix it himself before they can get there, what with how it's his entire job to maintain the balance of Maat.

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They would be happy to be introduced to the Pharaoh; they can leave Cassiel here by herself to man the water distribution. They're here as representatives from some of Egypt's neighbors.

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It's about an hour's walk from here to the palace-temple entrance. What neighbors are they from? He has seen people from other lands come to give tribute before and none of them looked half so strange as they.

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They're from a place called Vanda Nossëo! It's very far from here and they have only just recently ventured to within visiting distance of here.

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Well, if people from ever farther away are coming to pay tribute then that's all to the good. Are they from farther up the river, or across the desert? Which gods are worshipped in Vanda Nossëo, and who rules it?

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Vanda Nossëo is actually not from any conventional directions relative to here; you have to teleport to get there. Like this, Nelen demonstrates. It has religious pluralism and it is a democracy.

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The priest doesn't understand this whole "teleporting" and "moving not in any conventional direction" business but he isn't going to admit it. It makes sense that if they've been to lots of places they would know of lots of gods; around here the important ones are Osiris, Isis, Horus, and Ra. Democracy is much stranger. It's obvious that the son of the old Pharaoh is the new Pharaoh, so going around asking people to make sure they know that seems like a waste of effort. But perhaps things are different in the land of Vanda Nossëo.

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They are very different! Many individual chunks of Vanda Nossëo have kings of various kinds - Tarwë's people, for instance - but Vanda Nossëo as a whole does not.

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So it's more like an alliance of multiple kingdoms? 

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Yeah, that's a good way to think about it for now.

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The palace-temple complex is very grand an imposing, relative to everything else in the area, with stone collonades and larger-than-life statues. There are guards outside, but the priest's introduction and the hope that they may be able to do something about the water situation (just as a temporary measure before the Pharaoh sets it all to rights, of course) get them ushered inside. The priest explains that they're supposed to kneel in the Pharaoh's presence and wait for him to address them before speaking.

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Down all four of them go on their knees obligingly.

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The Pharaoh is a man of somewhere between thirty and fifty, with moderately better teeth than his subjects and ornate clothing: a double crown over a striped head-cloth, a leopard skin, and a great deal of jewelry set with gemstones. His face is set in a permanent expression of quiet arrogance as he welcomes the travelers from the distant land of Vanda Nossëo and asks what gifts they have brought.

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Tarwë has a bunch of spare jewelry in his pockets and lays it out on the floor.

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These are deemed acceptable; a servant scoops them up.

He also heard something about a plan to restore clear water to the fields. Tell him of this plan.

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So, they aren't sure why the river is blood, none of them have ever seen a blood river before, but their colleague is distributing water and can do that basically indefinitely, and they could ask their bosses about bringing some rain? Fixing the river will probably need to wait on knowing what is wrong with it, since if it did it once then changing it back might just result in it re-blooding itself.

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That would be most welcome. He and his priests have already been praying, of course, but additional ones can't hurt. Make it so.

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"Our supervisor says it'll rain in fifteen minutes," reports Nelen after a moment. "Starting in the north sweeping south, not a huge soak because apparently rain isn't common here but enough that the crops won't die today."

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Very good. They are dismissed.

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Before they have a moment to stand up, another man runs into the room, wild-haired and wide-eyed.

"Brother! Now that you see what has happened, will you not relent?"

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...they're gonna hang around and watch this unless they're being particularly hurried out.

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"You claim responsibility for this?"

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"My God has done it through me. And if you do not let my people go I fear there is worse to come. Please."

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"I will never give in to your threats. Leave."

The guards lurking at the edges of the room step forward; the man, looking suddenly exhausted, turns to leave.

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"May I ask who the people in question are?" Nelen asks.

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"The Hebrews. . . . Who are you?"

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"We're representatives from Vanda Nossëo. The Hebrews are not currently able to leave the area if they want to?"

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"No. They're enslaved."

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"This is no business of yours, travelers. All of you, leave."

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They'll leave, but kind of slowly.

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The unidentified man follows them, and identifies himself. "My name is Moses. Why have you come here?" He looks deeply unhappy, but not with them.

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"We're -" begins Nelen.

"- hey, wait a sec, actually," mutters Natsuko, and her companions look over at her while she frowns at her computer. "- uh, candidate Earth thing, tell you in downtime unless we look likely to run into it -"

"- okay," says Nelen. "We're here to offer Vanda Nossëo's friendship to all the people of this world."

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"You should leave Egypt. It's--like I said. It's going to get worse."

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"The blood river isn't going to harm us," Nelen assures him. "Why is it going to get worse?"

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"God wants the Hebrews to be free, Pharaoh refuses. I don't know what He'll try next, only that He won't give up until Pharaoh does."

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"- are they for sale?" inquires Nelen. "The Hebrews? Vanda Nossëo has a protocol for mass purchase and manumission of slaves."

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"If he doesn't turn it into a point of pride, perhaps. But there are thousands of us, and you are strangers--why would you do such a thing?"

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"Vanda Nossëo is very wealthy, and wants everyone who desires freedom to have it," says Nelen. "My own people benefited from a similar intervention some years ago and now it's my job to go around extending it to others. Are the Hebrews the only slaves in Egypt?"

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"Most of them, but not the only ones."

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"Maybe it will be less a point of pride if we're paying for the others too?"

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"I hope so. Once I would have said I knew him better than anyone. Now I'm not so sure."

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"And God is turning the river to blood because of the Pharaoh not letting the slaves go?" asks Natsuko, still looking at her computer.

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"Yes." Moses squints at the computer like he's trying to decide whether it's more likely to harm him if he knows what it is or if he doesn't.

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"Does God have any other - ongoing quarrels?" Nelen asks.

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"I don't think so?"

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"And your role in this matter is -?"

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"God spoke to me--no, I should start at the beginning. I was raised in the palace, as Ramses' brother. His mother found me floating in the river. A few years ago, I found out that my true parents were Hebrews. I--left. Went to live among the Midianites. Then God spoke to me. He told me to come back here and bring my people out of Egypt. I tried three days ago to persuade Ramses. He refused. Doubled the Hebrews' workload. This morning, the Nile--God was working through me. I don't--I just want my people to be free."

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They look at each other. Tarwë looks over Natsuko's shoulder at her computer. "You don't have this kind of ability on your own?" Nelen inquires.

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"No! No one does. I didn't even know what I was about to do until I did it."

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"- does God need your cooperation in order to do things like that?" Nelen asks.

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Moses' whole body twitches like a horse about to bolt. "I--don't know--I trust God. He saved my life when I was an infant."

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"Is -" begins Tarwë, but then the rain comes by. Natsuko does a spell to keep it off them. Zanro waves at the speck in the sky that is following the weatherfront and gets waved at back.

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Moses looks up at the clouds, then back at the palace, in bewilderment tinged with hope.

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"We put in a request for some rain. To mitigate the issue with the river," explains Nelen. "That's our colleague Sazarin up there. Our teammate is giving out drinking water, back the way we came over there." He points.

"Is there a religious expert we should speak to in order to learn more about God?" asks Tarwë.

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"How? And--no. I wish there was one. He's the god of our ancestors, they would have known more, but it's been generations since He's spoken to any of us."

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"Sazarin's people have the ability to create things, including rain," Nelen says. "Do you want to join us on the way to meet up with our fifth person or are you on your way somewhere else?"

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"I'll go with you. I want to know more about anything that can fix this situation faster."

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"Great."

Cassiel is still at the water station, refilling jugs that are now continuously pouring into a basin she made so people can dip up a cupful instead of crowding the spigots. The water is cold and clear. She waves when the rest of her team approaches. "Who's this?"

"This," says Natsuko, "is Moses."

"- is this the right year for -" says Cassiel.

"Yep," says Natsuko.

"Wow," says Cassiel.

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"What do you mean, the right year?"

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"There are a lot of Earths," explains Tarwë. "There are a lot of my homeworld, too. No two are exactly the same, and in particular they are often at different times."

"The weird thing is that on most Earths this didn't actually happen, there's just a story about it," says Natsuko. "- I guess that's not that weird, there's also an Earth with vampires..."

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"Other worlds? --What happened in them, how did they avoid this?"

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The Nile suddenly reverts from red to clear--and then, before the jubilation can get started, frogs start pouring out of it. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, crowding their way up both banks all the way to the horizon, carpeting everything in croaking, squelching frogness.

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"- did you do that?" Nelen asks Moses.

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Nervous headshake. "No--it felt like something, with the blood, and this time it didn't. And--I knew more was coming, but this feels too soon."

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"Other Earths avoided this by never having Hebrews actually live in Egypt in the first place," Natsuko says. "But - this is the second 'plague' listed in the story. And if it keeps matching the story a ton of people are - going to die."

"Ligaya's team says they tried a rez a minute ago. The locals are nonreductionist," says Zanro softly.

"Shit," says Nelen. "Okay. Tarwë, talk to procurement, get a showstopper collection of swag, golems, replicators, the works, escalate to wishes and turn it into an Eclipse dictionary attack if you've got to, take it to the palace and try to trade for the slaves, all of them. I think possibly we should not try to do anything about the frogs, frogs are - annoying but not especially harmful, and if interference is accelerating things - what's next -"

"Lice," says Natsuko.

"Also largely not fatal but plausibly worse than frogs, so we want to, uh, stay on 'frogs' as long as we can, I guess. Moses, can you initiate conversations with God?"

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"I can walk out into the desert and pray. I think I'll have to be alone. Even then I'm not sure, but I do think I should try."

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"Okay. We'd like to know - more about the details of God's aims here, in case they won't be fully handled by freeing the slaves and letting them go wherever they want, and how fast he's planning to escalate -" Nelen looks around at his colleagues for help.

"I'd like to know more about what God's abilities actually are," says Zanro, who is eating a live frog.

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"God can do anything," says Moses, sounding more confident than he has about anything else. "I don't know all of what he wants from me, but I know that."

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"- then why is he using frogs?" asks Nelen. "If he can do anything why can't he just teleport the Hebrews out of Egypt?"

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"There's a reason. I know there is, I just can't--it's something about--someone has to know something--" he runs a hand through his already-messy hair, his whole face scrunched up like he's trying to remember something very important that happened years ago. "I'm sorry."

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"- did you use to know what the idea with the frogs was, and then forget, or -?" prompts Nelen.

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"When God spoke to me, it wasn't like you or me speaking. It was more like--listening to six people explaining complicated things at the same time in a language I don't understand very well. Except completely different. I know what I'm supposed to do. Everything else is . . ." shrug.

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"What are you supposed to do?" asks Cassiel.

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"Keep telling Pharaoh he has to allow the Hebrews to leave. Keep sending plagues until he relents. Then tell everyone it's time to leave and start walking that way with whatever we can carry." He points east. There's not much to see to the east, even for an elf.

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They don't even have an Elf amymore, he's back on the way to the palace.

"But you didn't do the frogs one," says Natsuko.

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"I did not."

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"It would be good to know why," says Nelen. "Will it help if I teleport you out into the desert so you don't have to walk there?"

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"As long as you leave afterward. And don't go somewhere I can't walk back from."

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"About how far out do you need to be?" Nelen asks.

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"Far enough that I can't see the city."

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Nelen fills up a jug of water for Moses, pops him out a ways, and points out which direction the city is in, and then leaves him be.

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Meanwhile, Tarwë arrives at the palace and asks to be seen again by the pharaoh; he's carrying a bigger flashier objet d'art this time in case that helps, openly in his hands, and also a bag of holding from Procurement.

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The big flashy objet d'art does help, yes. What does he want?

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"Your Majesty," says Tarwë. "As I'm sure you're aware, the threat to your people from attacks on the integrity of the Nile is considerable, and my understanding is that it's connected with a demand to release the enslaved workforce of Egypt, which might be easily as threatening if they are currently relied on for essential projects. I hope you will accept this gift," objet d'art, "and hear my proposal for a trade between our peoples - we have laboring objects that can follow orders, to replace absent workers, and still more that can produce food already prepared out of nothing if simply left in the sun, and more magics still available to you, to secure your personal immortality or anything else you might desire. For this we would be more than happy to remove the slaves and take them somewhere that they cannot provoke harm to your kingdom."

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His eyes glint for a moment with the rational avarice of a resident of the late bronze age offered free food, then he scowls. "Moses put you up to this, didn't he?"

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"No. I'm here more urgently than I might otherwise be, because of the existing conflict over the matter, but it is standard operating procedure for Vanda Nossëo which I represent to compensate slaveholding civilizations for offering us the opportunity to manumit the slaves. You would be getting a similar offer if Moses and his supernatural backing had planned on waiting another twenty years, or had never existed in the first place. We are happy to pay as much for non-Hebrew slaves as Hebrew ones."

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"And if I wish to sell only those who are not Hebrews?"

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"It's a standing policy that we can only buy all the slaves at once, one time, because otherwise we sometimes encounter governments that enslave additional people specifically hoping to sell them to us."

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"Ah, yes, because you always trade with new kingdoms exactly once and never establish ongoing trade when you have no other motives." Apparently sarcasm has already been invented even this early in this Earth's timeline.

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"Not at all, we can trade for almost anything else indefinitely. You'll be able to sell handcrafts and performance art and tours and language tutoring and memoirs and land and more. If you make more of those things, hoping to sell them, that's all to the good. Just not slaves."

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"Demonstrate these magics you say you offer. My priests Hotep and Huy will determine whether they are genuine."

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"What would you like to see first? If you have no preference I can begin by singing a magic song."

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"Very well." Two priests in fancier robes than the first priest they met are fetched from elsewhere in the palace.

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When they are ready, Tarwë will sing up an illusion of home.

He's a Space Elf, so he's not an experienced magic song composer, but this doesn't inhibit learning existing songs, and the illusion one is pretty freeform. He sings up skyscrapers and trains and all the bustle and beauty of Ambaróna.

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"Entertaining, but not particularly useful."

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"Many of those aren't very suitable for a harmless demonstration, but -" He will sing it colder, instead, let the illusion fall away and chill the room.

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Ramses looks like he's trying and failing to come up with something insulting to say about this. "And what of the magical replacement laborers you mentioned?"

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He will pull one out of his bag of holding! "Most of them are bigger than this, but this one will suffice to demonstrate the instruction-following. What would you have me ask it to do, your majesty?"

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He wants to see how much weight it can lift and whether it can follow verbal and gestures orders like 'bring that box over here and then over there"; he has some variously heavy chests and urns brought in for the purpose.

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Tarwë tells it to do all those things. It can pick up a surprising amount for its size and will pick up and put things down with alacrity, never breaking anything or even setting it down loudly.

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During this testing, the wave of frogs arrive, is held off at the gates for a little while and at the throne room door for a little while longer, and then starts carpeting the throne room despite the efforts of three servants with brooms. The Pharaoh pretends not to notice.

Can the strange device be told to do something ten times, or to do it repeatedly until some time has passed? 

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Yes, if he'd like this golem helping to round up frogs (for example) that can be arranged.

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What frogs Yes, that would be an interesting demonstration.

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Tarwë produces a spare bag and the golem rounds up frogs into the bag.

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Now they have a big bag of frogs slowly crushing and smothering each other to death. The pharaoh seems appreciative. His priests, on the other hand, look nervous; they go mutter in his ear quietly enough that a human couldn't hear them, suggesting that Tarwë is personally controlling the golem and it will stop working as soon as his compatriots have left with the slaves. He nods, and says, "I wish to purchase this one piece of magic for now, before selling all my slaves at once for many such. What price would you ask for it alone?"

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"It doesn't understand your language," says Tarwë. "I'm speaking a different language, and you understand me by magic, but the magic won't help the golem understand. More are in progress that will be able to speak Egyptian, though, and I should be able to get one of those in a few minutes if not right away; will that do?"

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He is clearly extremely skeptical of this "not speaking the language you're clearly speaking" businesses but is willing to wait a few minutes about it.

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A few minutes later a Dwarf delivers a new golem of a similar make and instructs it to follow commands from the Pharaoh and anyone else he designates; then the Dwarf departs.

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He tries telling it to do a couple things to make sure it appears to understand him, then asks what Tarwë wants for it.

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"This one is only to demonstrate the magic," Tarwë says, "it's yours to keep as a gift; more of them, including ones large enough to construct buildings and work fields effectively, can be yours for the freedom of the slaves."

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Very well. Tarwë should come back in two days; he'll have a decision then.

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Meanwhile, the rest of the team is approached by a skinny barefoot child who sidles up to them like he's trying to convince a stray cat not to scratch him. "Do you want to hire a guide to Memphis, noble travelers? I know all the best sights."

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"Hi there," says Zanro. "We're not really sightseers, but maybe you could tell us what most people want a look at?"

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Deep breath. "Will you pay me something if I do?"

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"Sure. What do you want?" asks Cassiel.

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"An ounce of copper? . . . Or medicine for childbed fever."

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"Do you know someone with childbed fever?" asks Nelen.

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"My mother."

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"I can fix her right up if you show me where."

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"This way! . . . If it doesn't work will you give me copper so I can pay a priest to try?"

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"Yes." He holds out his hand to Cassiel and receives a lump of copper for this purpose, then follows the kid.

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He clutches the copper and leads them to a one-room house, containing a miserable-looking woman lying on a pile of reeds and holding a more loudly unhappy newborn. She opens her eyes, looks at the visitors like she's not sure if she's delirious and can't be bothered to find out, and shuts her eyes again.

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Boop!

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Her eyes fly open. "What . . . how . . . thank you?"

The kid is grinning. "He's one of the visitors from nowhere, Ma." He turns to Nelen. "How'd you do that? It's never that fast when the priests heal people."

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"I learned a very good healing spell," says Nelen, smiling. "Maybe the priests will want to learn our kind too, if their way isn't quick."

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"That would be SO COOL. Are you going to heal more people? Oh wait I said I was going to tell you all the things to see around here--" and he launches into a monologue about the Great Pyramid and the other even bigger pyramid that's currently under construction and a hill that's great to watch the sunset from and a part of the riverbank where there are usually crocodiles and you can get really close to them but they can't get you or at least they never tried it yet.

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Nelen listens to all of this very attentively, then says, "We'd be happy to heal more people. We'd need a place to put a building so people can come to us, ideally."

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"I'd say there was plenty of desert but whichever direction you pick is gonna be pretty far to walk for people who live on the other bank . . . There's a hill over that way that's too steep to farm?"

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"That sounds perfect, will you show me?"

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"Yeah! . . . You're going to be okay now, right ma?"

"Yes, Mut. Go show the--show our guests what they want to see."

"Okay. It's this way!" 

The spot in question is on a bit of ground that slopes steeply up from the riverbank. It is indeed hilly, and rocky as well, and approximately devoid of life.

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"Great, thank you. We'll set up here and if you need anything else, or anyone you know does, they can come to us."

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Mut thanks them and scampers off. Over the next few hours people start trickling in with various ailments and injuries, some of them frog-related but mostly not. Also the wave of frogs eventually brownian-motions its way up the shallower slope on the other side of the hill, and then the area is significantly less devoid of life.

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They have decided not to try anything too fancy to mitigate frogness, so there's a plank of wood people have to step over at the threshold but nothing locals couldn't do themselves.

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People speak up to be heard over the ribbiting. It's the usual assortment of low-tech-level complaints, injuries and infections and a higher-than-usual number of people who have horrible dental problems from years of sand in their food. One man who limps up with a stick mentions offhandedly that his foot got broken when his slave dropped a pot of stew on it; he had her whipped for it but of course it didn't fix the foot.

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All of these people are going to be amnestized. They will heal them without making much in the way of commentary on the slavery. They will sell sandless food and otherworldly trinkets for a song (or a story, or a personal anecdote).

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They can hear stories about the gods and about past pharaohs, and stories about someone's friend Amun's obnoxious camel and its antics, and stories about people getting killed by or narrowly escaping from various wildlife, and a ton of gossip about who's having sex or arguing over inheritances, and all manner of songs.

Some of the people who come by don't want healing; they want the visitors to tell them stories back. What's it like in the lands they're from? What do people do all day, what do they eat, what songs do they sing, what are their families like, what do they do to secure eternity for their dead?

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The Vandans Nossëo can show off pictures and tell about their childhoods and families back home! They have lots of different kinds of people and lots of them can be brought back when they die; important researchers are working hard on making it so that everyone can be even if they're a different kind of person.

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Wow! When people here die they get eternal life but it's in the next world, not this one, and then only if they lived good lives.

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What happens if they lived bad lives?

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Then their hearts are eaten by Ammut and they cease to exist.

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Wow, that's rough. What makes a life good?

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You just have to do you duty to your family, live in harmony with your community, and abide by the laws. And get buried properly when you die.

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The burial part is surely not always possible if someone is eaten by a crocodile or something?

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Not getting eaten by crocodiles isn't that hard if you're not stupid about it (and sometimes you can get enough back to bury), but if the visitors have a way to make it even easier that would be pretty great. Especially if it also works on hippopotamuses. Fuck hippopotamuses. 

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If it has to be the original body they don't have anything super good on hand for that but they will definitely mull over possible options for addressing that, they don't want people to cease to exist. Can the ammut be observed going after people's hearts or are these more metaphorical hearts?

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Oh yeah no it's not like your physical heart in your chest, it's your dead spirit's heart. 

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Much harder to deal with spiritual monsters than ones that have the courtesy to show up being corporeally toothy. Here are your meats and spices and fabrics and frog recipes and healing-song music players!

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Awesome! 

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The Pharaoh doesn't announce a decision about whether he's willing to sell all the slaves in the next several days. Moses has taken to alternating between visits to the palace trying to chivvy him along, spending time with his siblings, and hanging around the Vanda Nossëo shop, which is convenient because the frogs are somewhat inclined to avoid him.

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"That's interesting, since they seem to be completely normal frogs," remarks Nelen, standing in the radius of unfroggedness and waving a prestidigitator at frog slime on his pants.

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Moses, who just got back from his latest round of being told to go away by the Pharaoh, scowls.

"They haven't done any good. He won't listen. He cares more about his pride than his people, he wants things to stay the way they were so much that he won't realize they can't! I have to make him see--I have to keep going--I have to--"

He grasps his staff with both hands and holds it up, his expression smoothing out into an eerie calm. Then he brings the staff down on the stone in front of him with a crack that sounds not at all like a sound of wood on stone, and all the frogs fall motionless, dead. A moment later everyone present, except Moses but not excepting the Vanda Nossëo party, is covered in itchy, biting lice.

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"- ohfuck," says Nelen, and he flees to the water dispenser outside to pour water on his head.

"AUGH," says Natsuko from inside the shop. "Moses, how about killing some livestock? I can get you a nice grant from the humane meat people for skipping to the livestock one! - and then staying there for like, a while! Please!"

"Do personal space rings work on these?" Cassiel wonders, picking lice out of her feathers and poofing them.

"No, I don't think so," grumbles Zanro.

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Moses looks kind of out of it for several seconds, then pulls himself together enough to look sadly at Natsuko. "I'm sorry. I wish it didn't have to be like this. Maybe this time the Pharaoh will see reason."

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"In, uh, the story, he doesn't do that till you kill people," Natsuko says.

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"How many--"

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"- story doesn't give numbers. Firstborn children of everybody in Egypt except the ones who listen to your instructions for getting skipped." Scratch scratch.

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He closes his eyes for a moment, leaning harder on the staff, then turns around.

"I'm going back to the palace again."

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"Why do you think it will help this time?" Tarwë asks.