Dec 02, 2022 12:56 AM
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"Yes, we have metaphysical borders; we'd be delighted to find out how far up they go, experiments have so far been inconclusive - we can't really do much better than very tall towers and floating balloons, which can be hard to retrieve again when they get too high up.

It's possible to bargain with the more intelligent wolves, or the Sovereigns - those generally used to be human, but gave it up on the quest for immortality. Some of them are basically just wild animals and will eat you if you're not keeping to the general bargain made in the area, assuming there is one.

Druj just like doing, essentially, the most hideous awful thing they can possibly think of under all circumstances; so some of it is just your standard poisoned spikes under festering heads on poles type thing, some of it is a terrible miasma of despair that they really like spreading over any territory they hold, and some of it is the really big unpleasant stuff like tortured souls - it turns out, right, if you torture someone to death in exactly the right way, you get this extra powerful ghost that hates everyone and is quite effective at killing them, cursing them to kill each other, and so forth. It's possible to take them down, a lot of them have been taken down, but you need, like, an entire group of powerful priests to get it done properly.

Negotiating with them is not, so far, really a thing; and the Druj are constitutionally incapable of keeping any kind of agreement, the stabbing of backs is their national sport. Pretty much everyone who even stands still enough to listen to a tortured soul's complaints winds up cursed, which is fixable but it's a big hassle, or dead, which is not fixable as far as we're aware."

Tommaso is faintly distressed while describing what the Druj have been up to, but clearly also fascinated despite himself.

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"Gods of the second kind are a fact of everyday life where my ship voyaged from. Worshiping them is transactional. A god of voyages serves as the engine. I perform rites as payment. He moves the ship and replaces most navigational equipment. A wooden ship cannot ordinarily travel the stars. Technological starships are extremely difficult. This type of god is close to an ordinary person with alien metaphysics."

"Many gods of any type are best thought of as naughty children. Which may be small comfort if they are stronger than you. More civilized ones are more narrow."

Her glass is empty. "Would you like some tea? I know you are the host here. It will be a useful example."

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"I'm really just guessing but probably a tower is inside, a balloon too high up to see is outside. See either way I mean, the Mountain did some experiments with satellites, but they could see down from orbit. No idea if all metaphysical borders work like ours did though, like the Moon wasn't inside but it was compatible or something so it kinda was. It's almost certainly not some ad coelum thing, that would be really ridiculous."

"Hope your kinda-like-youkai things get civilized someday. And, uh, your Druj problem sounds pretty terrible. It's not like I've never heard of a vengeful ghost cursing people to kill each other or things like that, but they don't have territory bigger than, like, one building. And at home I'd just go over and duel them, because it'd be some youkai weirdo who thinks spreading miasmas of despair is fun and they'd stop after a duel. But I wouldn't duel a pirate clan, because they can't be reasoned with, all they do is raid and consume in order to raid and consume. I know someone who duels pirate clans, though." She leans in conspiratorially, which she is really too short to actually do properly. "You can probably hire her for real cheap, the secret is she doesn't actually understand money and just gets paid a lot because people hiring her are terrified of her. I asked and she's only blown up a planet on purpose like, three times, it's usually just already rigged to explode."

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"Yes, you probably want to call that kind of 'god' an Eternal while you're here - or a Herald if they're small and move around in the real world, I guess - it's the same thing, just terminology that reflects that they aren't actually anything to do with what happens to your soul, makes people less excitable about it.

Naughty children is an excellent label for most of the Eternals, although some of them would be upset about it, I suppose.

Sure, I'd love your interesting demonstration tea."

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"I'm sorry, my Old Asavean isn't really up to much - ad coelum?" asks Tommaso.

"I do rather hope our planet is not rigged to explode," replies Laria, "it's kind of where I keep all my stuff! I suppose if we all reincarnated somewhere else we could rebuild the Empire, but it sounds rather tiresome.

If the Druj could have done that they'd probably have exploded it in their frequent internal bickering by now, and I hope we'd have enough redeeming features elsewhere to avoid her deliberate planet-exploding services.

We do have several exciting pressing issues like that which could do with a firm hand; as well as the Druj, there's the Vallorn - not sentient this time, fortunately, but the kind of growing-out-of-control plant mass that would take over the planet if the Navarr didn't spend all their energy keeping it contained; the Grendel, whose entire economy is based around slaves and opportunistic invasion of anyone who looks like they're distracted; the Jotun, whose entire culture is based around dying impressively in battle, and thus they tend to pick a considerable number of fights; and that's just our local set of hazards that are active threats to us right now, the world has many more exciting little foibles here and there that we aren't currently fighting because frankly, that is too many fights already..."

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Praem stands and pours hot tea from a teapot which was somehow already in her hands into a cup which was somehow already on the desk. She stares at the desk for a moment and sits back down, no teapot in evidence.

"I can serve tea to guests because that is something I do. I am experienced and can bend somewhat to serve tea while a guest, but there will be no refills. I attempted but was not able to pour a cup for myself. You will enjoy the tea, unless you are predisposed against me or against tea in general. The yaoyorozu no kami work similarly. Focus gives identity. Identity gives miracles. Miracles receive worship, which strengthens identity. The last applies to kami, not me. I am self-sustaining."

"Are Heralds similar? Would your beliefs accommodate space travel facilitated by performing rituals for a kami?"

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"Ad coelum et ad inferos is a legal doctrine from before space travel, and I think before other stuff because cities have subways, where owning land means you own everything above and below that land. I think it can only possibly work if you can't dig very deep or go very high."

"I'm not sure what the deal is with exploding planets, honestly. I think the ancient birds used a lot of physics-warping geothermal power plants which tap the centers of planets, and somehow they can be rigged to explode. Uh, do you have any myths about wise and powerful bird people? Generally she just works independently or sometimes on contract fighting the pirate clans, who just attack everything for resources, and they like powerful bird tech, and she was raised by birds and hates pirate clans having bird tech, and planets explode in the crossfire, I guess. I just have random anecdotes from her. Honestly she might fight something that's not a pirate clan for vacation. I mean, she doesn't just jump into fights, or else she might have wiped out the more unscrupulous human admirals. I think there has to be either a really clear moral line or some bird tech involved. When she came to my planet we just had some normal magic duels, hung out at the firing range shooting lasers, that sort of thing."

"Hey, hey, when you guys get all your dignitaries assembled, I should show off some lasers! Maybe I can teach your math people?"

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"I'm no magician, but that sounds like Heralds, yes." She sips the tea politely, mostly as a signal of trust.

"As to whether the Synod will allow it - if people show up saying that these things are gods and must be worshipped to receive miracles, absolutely not, you'd get the rabble who defaced everything the Asavean architect worked on which happened to depict gods shouting and making trouble.

If they instead call them magical entities which require ritual behaviour to satisfy negotiated agreements, I imagine some Highborn will get their knickers in a twist about it, but it's no different to what the Varushkans do with their local weird powerful entities; if it's needed for useful, practical outcomes I expect it'd be accepted."

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"Bird people? I don't think that's one we have? There are Heralds that take the form of bird people, Lashonar's are particularly annoying - he's the Eternal of gossip, essentially, and they talk constantly," replies Laria.

"Hmm," replies Tommaso, "except we do have all those mysterious ancient ruins over in Urizen which aren't quite the right size for humans and have all these lovely big openings on upper floors over dramatic mountainsides - that sounds very like the kind of thing I would build, if I was a wise and powerful bird person?

Hopefully Ginerva will be back with our mathematicians shortly - it might be worth checking the lobby in a little while, actually, I suspect some of them would refuse the entrance fee on principle."

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"Performing ritual honorably is sufficient. Foreigners will not stop saying 'gods'. Perhaps adopt a loanword. Perhaps they are foreign Heralds. If the theology is resolved, your planet could benefit."

"I am receiving an urgent call. A moment, please." She sits perfectly still and silently.

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Marisa looks very worried at the mention of ruins in Urizen. "Uh, to be clear, planet destruction is a rare outcome. And those are uninhabited except for pirate forward bases. Uh, hold on a second."

She raises two fingers to her ear, geometric magic circles swirling in the air around them. After a second, she speaks. "危険だぜ!この星には鳥人の遺跡かもしれない!"

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"Not time sensitive."

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Marisa takes a long deep breath. "すまん。後で話す。" She hangs up, and looks at the others again.

"It's very unlikely to be on that scale. If that's what they are, they've been there for a long time anyway. It might be a good idea to get an expert opinion, though."

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"I apologize. My friend was worried about an ancient civilization."

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The bishop drinks the rest of the tea during the interruption; no need to let good tea go to waste. Instantaneous communication over distance, interesting.

"Oh, turn over a rock and you'll probably find an ancient civilisation. We've got trolls, we've got Terunael, we've got the ancient Asavean empire, and then there's whatever built the Spires... this place has been inhabited for a good long time.

Essentially the problem is, as soon as they get wind that someone is worshipping something as a god, it becomes an overwhelming priority that nobody in the Empire starts worshiping it as a god - so anything that looks slightly suspect, like ritual propitiation, suddenly gets a whole lot more scrutiny.

Is it possible to acquire different kami that nobody is currently attached to, which can be differentiated from the ones being worshipped? Or to negotiate the rite with the kami rather than have it passed on by someone who'll call it a god? We negotiate just fine with Eternals that we're pretty sure other people worship as gods, after all, we could probably get away with framing it like that. 'Kami' isn't a word we use, so it'll work fine as a word that won't set anyone off."

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"The Urizeni are always very happy to collaborate with foreign researchers - as long as they don't mind being told to do everything in exactly the right way according to the Urizeni, that is. And possibly patronised a bit. I imagine if they share their interesting findings or novel magic they'll suddenly find they're the best of friends, though," replies Laria.

"If someone could come through and wipe out the Druj, there'll be plenty of abandoned ruined Spires they can study without anyone inconveniently living there," suggests Tommaso. "Normally I'm all for negotiation and learning from each other, but the Druj really do leave everyone very little choice in the matter."

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"Can negotiate ritual, or help small unknown kami grow into their power. Recommend negotiating with at least two powerful established groups. Sumiyoshi are a set of three kami. Will provide starships. The Mountain is metonymy for a partnership of two kami and various other collaborators. Will provide technology."

"As a political favor, Buddhists travelled on our vessel as well. Five monks, as well as one commander, whose role is similar to mine in the Church of England. Handling exceptional cases. No Buddhist gods exactly. Only beings closer to enlightenment."

"All are youkai. Unclear why they practice Buddhism as they are not naturally reborn. Seems to distance them from their original nature as unfriendly spirits."

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(Bishamonten's best exception handler has meanwhile finished scouting the dockside. Seems safe enough to head back to the ship and officially disembark, no one's likely to flip out at a few feathers or odd ears or something. Honestly, they'll be way more scared of the locals than the other way around.)

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"Sounds like you'll have a bounty hunting contract to negotiate, I guess. Don't cheat her too badly or anything, but she is rich. Okay, I don't want to leave any mathematicians trapped somewhere with no chalk for long, where did you say they were?"

If she seemed rattled before, it's gone now, broom twirling casually in her hand.

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"The Buddhist framing does sound more compatible with our doctrine, yes. Do you suppose the commander would be like to come by and join our little comparative religion discussion, or would you like to give me more details? Do they relate to kami differently, for in?

I imagine that the prospect of starships and improved technology will help with some people. It'd be better if we can work out a framing that won't immediately cause the Synod to attempt to veto or burn down the results, though.

You're fortunate to have landed in Sarvos - the League in general is a bit more open minded than other nations, and Sarvos more so than the reactionaries and rabble rousers down in, say, Tassato.

Even so, if you're in communication, you might want to warn your colleagues away from mentioning gods or worship at all until we've considered possible improved terminology here - it's even worse if it gets ahead of us and then looks like we're covering something up, rather than just getting out ahead of a potential misunderstanding."

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"Out into the foyer," replies Tommaso, attempting to lead off in that direction.

"It's a shame we didn't get up to the balcony, it's a beautiful view," contributes Laria, but she doesn't seem to be pulling very hard in that direction; she wouldn't want to be seen fighting a losing battle.

A gallery attendant is watching the broom warily, in case it threatens to collide with any artwork.

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"To my knowledge, religious technology, and its associated concerns, are unique to the planet from which I arrived, and this planet. More similar than different. Their equilibrium is for an endangered population, yours is for a large one."

"My Buddhist counterpart is cautious. Had she snuck in here I would have introduced her, but I believe she is still near our ship. I will call the others."

First, a call to Marisa. Praem does not move or give any indication she is calling, but speaks out loud.

"Please say 'kami' rather than 'god' when applicable."

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Marisa remembers to use stealth this time.

「了解だぜ!」, she thinks at the communication spell. 「ここで大丈夫。」

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"I have informed our captain."

And now another call, still speaking her end out loud.

"Would you like to meet local religious authorities?"

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"Hello to you too. You work fast, I suppose they're all drinking tea out of the palm of your hand already. Did we rent a house or something?"

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