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Dec 02, 2022 12:46 AM
allegra is transported to the bronze orchard
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Rendon's office is similar to other offices: there's a desk, there's chairs, and there's shelves to the side. The floor is stone tile, and the furniture is made of richly varnished wood, except for Rendon's 'chair', which really looks more like a throne than a chair. His chair is plush and padded, with silver embroidery worked into it. From the looks of it, it seems to be real silver. Rendon has a similarly opulent outfit, with long flowing gray and silver robes that have the same embroidery, as well as a headband similar to Conradia, but somehow has even more gems put in it.

He doesn't seem to be human. He has the general shape of one, but that is where the similarities end. His skin is dark purple, and he has horns half a foot long sticking straight out of his head. His ears are pointed, and he has a tail like a salamander's peeking out of the bottom of his robe. His eyes seem to glow slightly. His black hair is cut short, short enough to point upwards.

The light in the room is brighter than the light of the corridors. It's bright enough to be compared to sunlight. It doesn't seem to be emitted by anything in particular – the entire ceiling is just glowing brightly.

"Welcome to the Bronze Orchard, Allegra Highspire. I am the High Priest Rendon Salian. Please sit." He gestures to one of the padded armchairs in front of his desk. His voice feels soft and warm, despite his appearance.

He stands from his own chair and walks over to her. "But first, I was told you needed this." He incants, and his right hand seems to glow a bright yellow. He touches Allegra, and refreshing positive energy suffuses her. "Do you feel better?"

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Okay, so maybe this is a Daeva. That would make sense, this does seem to be the kind of place you might find a reclusive Commonwealth species.

That's some funky lightstone they've got there, too.

She is just about to sit in the delightful armchair - it's very reassuring that the chairs are not clearly less comfortable than the chair behind the desk, that's always a bad sign - when he walks over and starts casting, and then touches her. Clearly that's a thing now. She absolutely does not flinch and only someone fairly observant would be able to tell that she really wanted to.

The effect is much nicer than any energising ritual she'd previously been subjected to.

"Thank you," she says, in a very heartfelt manner. "Yes, I feel a lot better." She takes a seat as previously instructed. "I'm sure you have plenty of questions for me, I wouldn't want to waste any of your time."

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"I'm sorry. I should have told you what I was about to do before doing it – you have no reference for what our world's magic is like, after all." He sounds genuinely remorseful.

"The spell I cast on you is called Lesser Restoration. It gives you energy: removing fatigue and dispelling minor afflictions." He sits back down.

"Yes, let's talk. So, you are from another realm with different magic, and came to be here through a magical accident involving what I believe is some sort of artifact. You are a trained soldier-wizard of the Citizen Guard, which is the military force of Urizen. Did you defect?" His demeanor is that of a priest at confession, like you could tell him everything.

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The Damianites care a lot about comfort, and this extends to furniture. The Conradians don't really care about furniture, but neither do they turn it away. The armchair is enchanted to fit whatever entity sits in it: as Allegra rests her weight on the chair, the pads and cushions adjust themselves to fit her better. The effect is rather unnerving to watch and feel at first, however, as the cloth and down squirm and shift like a bag of worms.

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It seems like today is just going to be full of surprises, even if they are primarily surprisingly good surprises. Allegra is highly trained in not looking uncomfortable or weirded out by unnerving things happening and now actually has the energy to implement this training.

"Conradia did explain the spell to me, it's just not usual in my culture to touch people - all our 'touch' range spells can be delivered from anywhere you could plausibly touch the person if you wanted to," she explains. "A 'regio' is usually naturally occurring, although it can be manipulated by 'Eternals' to do what they want; a magical item specifically designed could also redirect one, I suppose."

She considers directly answering his question, but decides to see if she can get away with deflection for the moment; it's not entirely a conscious choice, she's spent so long rehearsing how to deflect on the subject that it's instinctive. If he's also reading her mind, then this is somewhat pointless, but the spell he cast did have an obvious effect that was different from the earlier one.

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"Ah, for us, touch means touch." He pauses for half a round.

"What an amazing advantage it would be, to be able to deliver a touch range spell without actually touching the person. Many touch range spells are damaging or have a negative effect. I believe you've met Agnes? She is a magus – magi specialize in delivering these touch range spells using their weapons. If I wanted to deliver a touch range spell like Bestow Curse, I would have to lunge at the enemy and touch them. Not necessarily their skin: touching a horn or hair or armor would be sufficient." He smiles. Despite the fact that he just talked about cursing someone, his smile is full of kindness.

Rendon is not reading her mind. They are under the effect of Mage's Private Sanctum now, so no more mind reading. 

"I've heard of places where magic works differently, but there are too few of them and they are too varied to be grouped under the same name. Is it that regio have standardized characteristics in your world, which is why you have a word for them? And what are Eternals? Are they gods?"

He laces his fingers together, resting his elbows on the armrests. "There is no shame in turning away from an unworthy master," he says, sagelike.

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"Our touch spells are all beneficial or at least neutral - offensive spells are delivered by implement, like the rod I came in with. You do have to tag someone with those, although you can be gentle enough not to hurt them.

Full battle mages can deliver them at staff length, which sounds a bit like your magi?

Regio have some standard characteristics - they generally make ritual casting of a specific realm easier, they're essentially a place where one of the realms of magic is - nearby?

Some of them contain portals to pocket dimensions between the material world and their Realm, which creatures who couldn't survive on each other's side can meet in - the most plausible mechanism for me appearing in a different place would be that I stepped in one of these by accident, then stepped out elsewhere, which is rare but not unheard of.

Eternals are creatures of the Realms, the largest of such, generally they have a domain - a place within the realm that they rule, or sometimes that they are - and, think very differently to people? They get worshipped as gods in some places, but they're just large magical entities which are quite limited in some ways."

If they're up for playing the 'I know and you know but you don't have to directly admit it' game about her current status with the Guard, that is absolutely fine by her, she'll continue to politely ignore the insinuation without outright denying it.

Meanwhile, she's still a little wary, but it's so nice to feel knowledgeable and appreciated; it's hard not to just relax into it and confide everything in them. Chaotic Evil, she reminds herself. They haven't even fed her breakfast yet.

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"Are all of your offensive spells like that? Do you not have any ranged offensive spells, like Magic Missile? Ah, apologies, you wouldn't know what that is. Magic Missile is an arcane spell that creates unerring bolts of energy. It is a very popular spell because it never misses – the spell homes in on the target.

Hm. The way you describe realms make them sound like a specific place and also a school of magic? Planes here do not correspond to specific schools of magic.

The wizards would love to talk to you more about those portals. Creating permanent Gates is something that only very, very powerful wizards can do, usually those imbued with divine or otherworldly power." Given her description, it doesn't seem like the Guard would be able to get to her. Even if they could, it seems like it would be enough of a hassle for them not to bother, especially as it seems like she didn't have a high position.

"Eternals sound exactly like our gods, then! They are magical and think very differently from people, but ascended mortals have values and thoughts much more similar to us.

But enough about magic. Tell me...tell me about your training in the Citizen Guard. How did they train you? Was it tough? Were your instructors kind to you or harsh? Why did you join?"

Rendon totally has noticed Allegra's deflection, but he wants to approach this matter delicately so she doesn't reject the ideas out of hand. He doesn't want to recruit – the church of Conrad does not do that – but he does want her to come away with a complete and accurate picture of what Conrad stands for before rejecting Him out of hand. 

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"I don't think the ranged thing is a fundamental limit of magic, but it's certainly a practical one as far as the magic we know goes - if you want to affect something at range, you have to involve some kind of intermediary, and it's always a ritual rather than just a spell.

Realms are both places and - schools of magic, yes, although not split up anything like that word implies. More the kind of place that 'plane' implies, yes.

It's possible to create a regio, but it's a long term project consuming a lot of resources and I'm not convinced I know a sure-fire recipe, although I know some of the theory behind how it could work. It would probably depend how - close? - we are to the Realms of magic, whether it could work at all here. Generally it's much easier if you can get an Eternal's attention and sponsorship to the project, which is a bit of a chicken and egg situation if you don't have a single regio to begin with - although if your magic can't detect them, or doesn't distinguish them from noise, there might be plenty already that nobody has had the right tools to study?

Citadel Guard - or I think it's formally The Guard of the Citadel but nobody calls it that - not Citizen Guard. Uh, standard basic army training for a while, a lot of running and being shouted at and formations and all that. The ones who could run in full armour and still parry with a sword afterwards went on to front line training, steady hands to physick, those who were left and had a bit of ritual theory - like me - to the ritual auxiliary. It was a bit of a shock to the system at first, but nothing like actually being in a combat situation, and the ritual auxiliary training was a bit disappointing, to be honest; I think by that point they were worried we'd get bored and wander off back to a wizard-tower with their training, so they weren't inclined to push us any more.

I joined because it was the easiest way to get out of my parents' wizard-tower and not have to think too much about where to go next; not many Urizeni are very keen on a career that involves enforced physical activity or following orders, so the army is always recruiting."

He's almost succeeded at putting her at her ease, she's almost forgotten she's in a hostile environment at all; it appears 'magic' and 'herself' are some of her favourite conversational topics, and it's much easier just to indulge in them than to consider what might come next.

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"Yes, I'm not sure we would have regio here. Indeed, I'm not sure whether your world's rituals would work here at all, though perhaps they might. It is said that people learned arcane magic by attempting to duplicate god-given divine magic. Slowly, through millennia, wizards and the like have been able to refine and improve upon that initial imitation. Perhaps it's the same with your world's magic. The other possible scenario is that your world's rituals will simply fail to work here at all, although I'm hoping that's not the case." They would really stand to benefit.

"I'm sorry for that embarrassing mistake. Does everyone in your country live in wizard towers? Your country must be known for its magic, then. Here, only fearsome wizards live in wizard towers, and usually only they and their familiar live there. Perhaps their family, if they have one. They also usually are laden with traps to stop intruders. No one else. Or is your world's version of wizard towers different from ours?"

Ah, an opening. Let's open this can of worms!

"Was there any particular reason you were so eager to escape your parents' wizard tower?"

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"We'll have to find something to replace crystal mana, I'm afraid I don't have any on me to study even, but I'd know what would do the job if I was holding it, or within sight if I can cast Detect Magic.

I'm not sure wizard towers is the exact right translation, you don't have a specific word in this language; they're ancient buildings from a long-dead race that was larger than humans that our people have taken over, mostly extended family size, some of them are larger or have accreted a town around them. Some people go in for traps, mostly for dangerous wildlife; I hear Redoubt still has orc brigands sometimes and they're a bit more security conscious down there, the high mountains tend to be inaccessible enough not to bother.

My parents... wanted me to be a musician. I know enough about the music of the spheres to teach it, but tragically I'm utterly tone deaf."

It's clear that there are Additional Worms in this can, but Allegra is especially keen right now not to show weakness or complain about things, and explaining the additional worms would involve doing that. Her trying-to-be-casual-and-flippant-about-it tone on the last statement especially is clearly covering a well of pain.

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Crystal mana? Like...Nahyndrian crystals? Surely not: the way she said it implied it was more mundane, like spellsilver. Regardless, she can discuss magic with the magicians. He's a cleric and his job is to talk theology.

He really wants to dig deeper on that, but he is able to tell that she's in a fragile state, and that it wouldn't be productive. Instead, he looks up and tells a story.

"My god, Conrad, ascended only two decades ago, and I met Him back when He was still a mortal. Both of us were born and raised in a country called Cheliax. Cheliax's patron god is someone called Asmodeus, and his whole deal is that he hates the fact that mortals have been given free will. So, he structures his country so as to reshape their people in a particular way.

Conrad was Intelligent enough to qualify for free wizard education – that sounds like something optional, but it's really not – but He was also Strong. His father was a fighter, and he handed down a greatsword to Him, which He chose to be his arcane bonded object.

Do you have those in your country? Here, wizards can choose to bond with specific items as a focus for casting and preparing spells. Most wizards choose an amulet or ring, but He chose a greatsword. That's because it's easier to enchant your arcane bonded object. If your bonded object is a ring, you can enchant it even though you don't have training to enchant rings in general. 

Anyway, His teachers disapproved of this, and indeed disapproved of the very idea of wizards fighting in melee. Wizards normally fight in the backline, casting long-ranged spells or placing enhancement spells on allies. In His diary, which we still have, He wrote about how furious He was that His potential was not being...utilized to its full extent. At the time, He wasn't upset about being used as a pawn or a soldier, but He was upset over being railroaded and forced to reshape himself in a way that was dissonant with...His natural shape, so to speak. This eventually caused Him to break away from Cheliax and strike out on his own, putting him on the path to His apotheosis."

Abyssal, like many Golarian languages, distinguishes between regular pronouns and god-pronouns. Rendon sighs. Conrad's saga is more elaborate than that and he's skipping over a lot of the details, and like, he's kind of questioning how relatable an ascended mortal's story would be to a regular person. He decides to talk about himself instead.

"When I met him, I was an orphan living on the streets. See, orphans usually get used as dummies for wizard students to practice spells on in Cheliax, and when I found out that a similar fate awaited me, I escaped from the orphanage. Tieflings like me are descended from fiends – in my case, I have demonic ancestry – so we tend to be treated badly. Fortunately, I was a teenager at that time, and had attained to my sorcerous bloodline. It was what allowed me to get away and survive being homeless.

Now, something about me is that I'm...suited to servitude. It's a little hard to explain, but what I mean is that I'm well shaped to be a lieutenant or a sergeant more than a general. I'm the sort of person who prefers to have someone above me. Normally, this would be great: it would have made me eligible to become a cleric of Asmodeus. Asmodeus is the god of tyranny, slavery, compacts, and pride. But my issue with Asmodeus was that He wants His slaves weak. He does not want them to blossom into their full strength, because weak people are easier to control. I wanted...to serve someone who would not mind me becoming strong, and would invest power into me freely. I wanted someone who wouldn't stifle me.

Many, indeed, most people, will not amount to anything. Their souls are like the seeds of weeds, who grow quickly, but grow neither tall nor strong nor fruitful nor beautiful. But for those who would grow up into a majestic oak tree or a beautiful rose bush, Conrad wishes for them to be able to achieve their full potential."

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"We have magic items that need to be bonded to people to work, but that sounds like a different thing. Generally artisanry - creating magic items - and actually casting magic are entirely different skillsets; I might be able to re-derive some of our magic item crafting from first principles, but mostly it needs a much larger range of materials that I don't know if you have here, I guess I could try for a Circlet of Falling Snow or something that doesn't need them.

I'm not sure I got all of that, there were a lot of words that didn't quite make it through the translation spell - I think 'Intelligent' and 'Strong' are doing some work that 'intelligent' and 'strong' don't, I'm not sure what a 'sorcerous bloodline' is or how you'd 'attain' it, and 'fiends' and 'demonic' are coming through oddly - we do have the concept of, uh, extraplanar creatures interbreeding, and specific terms for the results for our nearby planes, I'm just going to assume it's something like that?

I definitely know a lot of people who'd rather take orders than give them. I, uh, it's not something I've been accused of much, I have to say."

She's not quite sure whether she should be bragging and trying to make it clear that she considers herself a significant person, or avoiding implying that she's potentially going to be too much trouble for them.

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"Hm, Strength is simply a more formalized and quantitative measure of strength that we developed via testing. Intelligence is similar to intelligence, although it's only one component thereof. We split up mental ability into three quantitative measures: Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, which we are able to measure with spells. Conradia told me you had an Intelligence of 18, which I believe makes you smarter than almost everyone here, ignoring the effect of headbands.

Ah, you do have headbands, yes? I assume so, given that this Circlet of Falling Snow is a magic item. Headbands," he taps his own headband, "are able to enhance one or more of these mental abilities to varying degrees. Mine enhances all three.

A sorcerous bloodline is something related to your ancestry. Many people who have outsiders – entities from different realms – in their ancestry have that reflect in their appearance and abilities. My demonic ancestry gives me my horns and purple skin, for example. But sometimes magical abilities can also be passed down. Whereas wizards must study in order to cast magic, I access that ability by tapping into my bloodline's powers. 'Fiends' are outsiders from any of the Evil afterlives – Hell, Abbadon, Abyss – and 'demons' are specific to the Chaotic Evil afterlife, the Abyss."

He thinks it's probably best to let her eat and show her to her room. He imagines being transported against your will to a different world to be very tiring.

"Thank you for talking to me. It's almost time for me to pray for spells now. There are still errands that need to be done: I need to get you an arcane stamper, show you to your room, talk to you about your duties, arrange for you to teach and research magic, and tell you more about our world. I can fetch someone to help you with all that. Ah, or do you want to see me pray? It will take an hour, though. Do you pray to gods in your world? Or, rather, not gods, but Eternals? Do you pray to those?"

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"Our headbands are a lot more specialised," replies Allegra, who is trying to sit on her sudden considerable desire to obtain one of those headbands; she would be much more successful at hiding this if she'd had breakfast, slept adequately more than once in the last week, and/or wasn't trying to juggle an awful lot of other conflicting emotions about things; as it is she is giving Rendon's headband an intensely covetous look. She seems to just accept 'smarter than almost everyone here' as an obvious fact, rather than being particularly proud of or interested in it. "Sometimes our magic-touched - some of which do have horns like yours, although it'd normally go with metallic skin colouration - do have an affinity for specific magic, but they still have to learn it as usual."

The whole 'Evil afterlives' thing clearly makes her uneasy, but she's not sure what to actually say about it and it didn't come with a specific question, so she leaves it unaddressed. She is definitely tempted to stay and watch him pray, that seems like it might be the right answer to some kind of test, but it also seems like it will definitely delay any prospect of breakfast...

"Some people pray to gods, but it rarely seems to help them much. Or Eternals, there are actual communication methods you can use to send messages to Eternals, just thinking in their general direction doesn't usually work. In the Empire sometimes people contemplate the Virtues, or even pray to a specific Paragon - uh, an ascended religious person, they generally aren't held to interfere much in the world and some people think it's borderline blasphemy to expect praying to them to do much, but they do sometimes provide miraculous visions and some people power their magic off them. If most of your 'gods' are like you describe Conrad, that might be a better match, actually?"

Part of her is intrigued at this new intellectual comparison, part of her is distinctly worried that she has accidentally delayed getting on with the rest of the morning.

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He picks up on the headband-lust: wizards are so predictable. He has enough Splendor not to let his smugness show, though. Every caster loves headbands, but none more so than wizards. It's also clear to him that she looks somewhat uncomfortable, though he can't guess exactly what's causing it. Alright, time to pray.

"Yes, that's actually very similar. People here don't expect prayer to get them anywhere, but that's only because it's very unlikely to work. It is costly for gods to intervene in our world, and it is also costly for them to...see things. They are able to see things related to their domain easily, and so too for people who are aligned with them, but it is difficult to view things which are more conceptually distant.

One way to communicate with them is by deliberately thinking about a god's concerns and values – this makes your thoughts shine to them like a beacon, alerting them to you. It is for this reason that secondary worship of other gods is prohibited here, even though we don't have theological reasons to forbid it. We don't want to expose ourselves, even though we have placed magical protections over this place.

I'll go ahead and pray now, but you don't have to stay for the whole hour to observe. You can just leave when you want, and Conradia will get you where you need or want to go." In hindsight, that was probably what was upsetting her, he thinks.

He stands up and moves over to a soft carpet in front of the symbol, and then kneels and bows his head. He remains unnaturally still.

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Allegra stays around for a few moments in case it gets interesting, she's not that much of a slave to her hunger even though she's only had one good meal in the last few days; at least she's not stuck standing up to watch.

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Nothing interesting happens: Rendon is still just kneeling there wordlessly. Does she want to leave now, or look around the room some more?

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She takes the opportunity to have another glance around the room, but absolutely doesn't believe he is paying little enough attention that it would be a good time to poke around; if nothing particularly interesting continues to happen, she'll head quietly out the door to Conradia.

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The room is scrupulously clean and tidy. There's a sense that the room is more for show, rather than a place where 'work' is actually done. On the shelves are books in both Abyssal and Taldane, although Allegra wouldn't be able to read the Taldane titles. Many of them seem to be religious texts of some sort. A surprising number of them seem to be drafts of books rather than published ones.

 

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Conradia closes the door softly after her.

"So, how was it? Rendon is usually very kind – I'd be more concerned about you meeting Magnus. Magnus is the Damianite High Priest. He can be...intense. But no harm would come to you."

She takes a breath and then puts one hand on her hip.

"There's a bunch of stuff new people are expected to go through or settle or do: which one do you want to do first? We'll have to finish most of them today, but you can choose the order. I think Rendon would have explained most of what you'll need to do. Oh, right, something that may have passed his mind is equipment. We'll let you requisition equipment from the armory depending on your role and proficiencies. You'll only be able to choose from a limited range, but it's better than nothing. As for the equipment you left in the cell, someone would have brought it up to your assigned room by now."

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"It was good. I feel like I understand a few more things now. I'd like to meet Magnus at some point, I think, but probably after I've had some breakfast?" That's the closest she dares get to actually asking for breakfast.

"Apparently I need an - arcane stamper? And to see my room, and who I'm teaching magic, and who would like to hear more about my world. And hear about my duties. If the armoury and scriptorium aren't obvious someone had probably better tell me where to avoid, too."

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"The arcane stamper has two purposes. The first is that it lets you apply an Arcane Mark even without knowing the spell. An Arcane Mark is a simple cantrip that lets you permanently mark an item. It doesn't do anything except for glow slightly." She casts Arcane Mark on the wall, and the  word 'Hello' is now faintly glowing blue on the wall. The size of the word is about one inch squared. She dispels it the next round.

"We use it so everyone can mark which items are theirs. The second function is as a key for the Teleport Trap cast on this place. Someone who tries to get in without having both the stamper and a password – which we'll tell you – will be redirected to the dungeon cells, as you had been. This is also true if you want to get out of the place: Teleport Trap triggers regardless of direction."

"In any case, breakfast it is, then." Conradia leads her to the canteen. It's a few minutes walk away. It's one of the facilities which are shared between the two churches. 

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The canteen could be better described as a banquet hall. The tables and chairs are ornately carved, and there's a fountain in the center with flower bushes surrounding it. The place has the same noon-bright light as in Rendon's room, emanating from the high ceiling. It's almost as if you're outside. A lot of time, money, and effort was clearly put into the room.

Conradia takes her to the buffet line. There's beef stew – there's always beef stew – but there's a small selection of fruits and sweet pastries. The selection of food seems underwhelming compared to the decor and ambiance.

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"Yeah, so, most days there's only beef stew or other stews or soups. That's because everything we eat comes from Cauldrons of Plenty: they're magically enchanted cauldrons that can produce food on command. The beef stew is actually an improvement, since usual Cauldrons of Plenty produce terribly bland food. It took us lots of time to research how to make better food with them. Beef stew was beloved by Conrad, and He was the one who made them, so that's why it's mostly beef stew. I was the one who enchanted a few of them to make other things.

The pastries and fruits we import. The cost isn't the limiting factor, but the transport is. When we send people out to Teleport and go shopping, we also ask them to get some treats for us. You can have as much of the stew as you want, but you're limited to only one of the sweet things a meal unless you pay one of the shoppers to get stuff for you."

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