May 27, 2020 6:42 PM
Sindri and Demon Cam in Threefold
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"See you." He dismisses her.

The town, when approached, does contain humans. No daeva are in evidence, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. It's all very medieval and he stands out very blatantly. But most people's reaction seems to be to glance uncertainly at him and then hurry past without stopping. It's not the most reassuring attitude they could take; it makes him feel like he might be hazardous to approach.

After a few rounds of 'don't look at the stranger', someone finally meets his eyes: a middle-aged woman with greying curls and a pleasant smile. She asks him something and he shrugs and says, "I don't speak the language, sorry," whereupon she invites him to her house for tea. They run through all the languages they each speak; he thinks she's got two, and he's got English and Russian and Thulic and French, and neither of them recognizes a single word the other says. At last she admits defeat on the language question and starts feeding him snacks instead. This is a pleasant way to pass the time. He solicits language lessons and absorbs vocabulary like a sponge.

The lady's name is Maika, or Livei Maikada - they do surname first around here. She lives alone in a small house and weaves cloth for a living. Her work is beautiful. She offers to teach him the trade, and he explains that he's stranded here under mysterious circumstances and will want to go home to his family as soon as possible but he'd be honoured to stay with her in the meantime. She is happy to take him in. He suspects an estranged or just absent child in her past, but politely refrains from asking; maybe he'll bring it up when he knows her better. And has a better command of the language. In the meantime, he helps her tidy up around the house and does whatever miscellaneous chores don't require height or literacy.

When he summons Lollah the next day, he has an entire local outfit complete with leather slippers, a few words of Avashin, and a command of spoken Eivarne more appropriate to someone who's been studying it intensively for a week.

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"Whoa," says Lollah. "What language even is that."

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"It's called Eivarne and it's local and that's as much as I know! This almost certainly isn't Hell unless Hell found a way to populate a planet with humans. 'Bizarre fifth dimension' is now my leading theory."

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"Yeah, demons can't do that. Bizarre fifth dimension. Okay, uh, here's your shoes, here's your book, here's your meds, your mom says try not to get into any trouble and your dad says unless the trouble deserves it."

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He laughs. "Thanks. I will take their advice to heart. Might not summon you again for a while, I don't want to alarm anybody and it's a bit of a trip to get out of town and back. But I've made a friend and I'm doing all right so far."

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"Okay! Circle me if you need me!"

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"Will do!"

He dismisses her again. He goes back to Maika's house. Maika gives him a box to keep his stuff in and respects his privacy enough not to ask what the book is about or what the weird little bottle is for. He sits by her loom and talks while she works, learning weaving and Eivarne simultaneously.

At the end of a week, he has a solid conversational grasp of the language and he's starting to suspect there might be some trouble around here that deserves him. He asks Maika to teach him to read and write. The printing press seems to be a recent invention; three of the ten books in the house are handwritten on vellum. But she's perfectly literate and happy to teach him. After another week he has read all ten books. His vocabulary expands accordingly.

There's something about the way Maika talks about the Emperor...

It's not that she says anything bad about him. It's that she very carefully avoids saying anything bad about him, and this seems to leave her with very little to say. She doesn't want to talk about it, so he doesn't press. He does chores around the house and helps double-check her accounting and learns a lot of fascinating things about textiles.

The local calendar is 360 days long, divided neatly into twelve thirty-day months, with a thirty-day lunar cycle to match; fifteen days is a half-moon, seven days colloquially a quarter. The first, eighth, and fifteenth days of every half-moon are weekend-like rest days. He tries to explain the Terran calendar and Maika says it sounds horribly complicated, although she admits the seven-day weeks with their two-day weekends have something going for them. He refrains from saying that the tidy precision of the local version makes her planet look artificial.

He's not surprised to hear of gods; he is surprised to hear that they're all dead. Maika clarifies that a god is a fairly well-understood phenomenon, accounting for the part where it's been sixteen hundred years since anybody saw one. She goes on to explain about magic.

Sindri wonders what has gone horribly wrong with his approach here that it took him half a month to learn what local magic was like. But apparently it's rare enough that Maika doesn't personally know any mages or own any artifacts, so at least he has that for an excuse.

Magic, she says, comes in three basic kinds. Earth mages can shape the earth and do magic focused on the self. Air mages can shape the air and do magic focused on inanimate objects. Light mages can shape light and do magic focused on other people. Those are already pretty rare; rarer still are the combination mages: Earth and Air make Water, Air and Light make Fire, Light and Earth make Wood, each with its own elemental shaping power - Wood has lifeshaping, which sounds like biokinesis; the others are straightforward - and access to everything the parent magics can do except their basic elemental shaping, plus its own set of combined powers, like Wood's communicative telepathy or Water's memory enhancements. Any given mage cannot access all possible powers of their own element, but they all get the appropriate elemental shaping power plus a few more things from the rest.

And then, if three mages of the basic kinds combine themselves into a single being, you get a god. Someone who can use all six kinds of elemental shaping, and draw powers from any of the six specialties, and on top of that can also shape magic itself. Only a combination of the three basic elements will result in a god; there's stories about an Earth mage and a Fire mage, or a Wood mage and an Air mage, or a Water mage and a Light mage, who tried it and failed. The question of whether Wood, Fire, and Water would do it is somewhat more ambiguous, but it's not a very safe experiment: gods are difficult or impossible to disentangle, and frequently mentally unstable after jamming themselves together like that, and failed gods don't seem like they'd come off any better. Gods are the reason why the Godscrest Mountains are so bizarrely beautiful, and also the reason why the entire southern end of the continent is a barren wasteland inhabited primarily by horrifying monsters.

Sindri kind of wants to be a god. He does not disclose this ambition to Maika. Apparently magic is something you're born with, anyway, and he wasn't. Something to put on the backburner.

But as his command of the language gains depth and nuance, he becomes more and more certain that something needs to be done about the Emperor of Eianvar. It's all in what people don't say. They don't say what happens to people arrested for sedition or lèse-majesté, and they don't say what the Emperor's favourite hobbies are, and they refrain from saying these things in a way that puts Sindri in mind of contemporary accounts of Caligula. He could probably get more details if he spent a couple of months here and got to know some people well enough for them to let their guard down, or if he asked Maika some hard questions; but Maika's been nice enough to him that he doesn't want to put her in that position, and if things are as bad as they sound, he doesn't want to wait two months to carefully cautiously creep up on the rumours when there are faster methods of verification available.

He's been waiting to turn eighteen and qualify for an EU summoning license. Well, this sure as hell isn't the EU, and he's a thane of Thule and there is a problem in need of solving. He reads his summoning textbook, reads it again, reads it a third time, spends a couple of days writing out possible bindings and then thinking of how he would get around them and revising them to close the relevant loopholes, and finally he takes his notes and finds a secluded spot a few hours' walk outside of town and draws the safest ungagged random demon circle he could come up with.

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"- ooh you're letting me talk! Hi! What can I do for you?"

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"There's an imperial family I would like to spy on."

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"...that's a new one." Pause, switch to Eivarne: "What is this?"

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"Eivarne, the language of Eianvar, which appears to be the only polity on this planet, and is also the empire whose emperor merits spying."

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"That is... also new."

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"Isn't it just!" he agrees. "I appeared here mysteriously about three weeks ago, in the southern Godscrest Mountains -" he gestures to behind Cam, where a staggeringly excessive mountain range glitters intimidatingly in the midmorning sun. "Then summoned the family fairy to take me somewhere a little less shiny. There's a general medieval fantasy aesthetic going on, complete with non-daeva-based local magic system, of which I've seen no direct evidence so far except that I did the math and those mountains should not be able to stay up on their own. The river that ran with gold could probably have been faked, but it's a little harder to fake trillions of tons of granite."

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"You sure they're granite?"

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"The parts I saw, yes. I'm sure there are other kinds of rock in there too."

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"You sure they're solid?"

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"I had some time to kill while Lollah was looking around for signs of civilization, what was I going to do, not investigate the properties of my surroundings? I obviously can't vouch for the entire mountain range but what I observed was consistent with the whole thing being made of real actual rock. And the air pressure shouldn't have been comfortable at that elevation either. If the Godscrest Mountains are being faked by daeva, there must be some exceptionally bored fairies holding it all together."

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"I dunno, I'm not positive I couldn't pull that off if it were what I wanted to do with my time, but I admittedly don't know of anyplace that looks like that in Hell or anywhere else and demons are real nosy. Anyway, why spy on the imperial government?"

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"People have this way of delicately not specifying what happens when you get arrested for sedition that leaves me highly suspicious."

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"What sort of spying do you have in mind?"

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"I was thinking I'd start with the complete text output of the imperial palace in Akaiet for the last twenty years and see where that gets me."

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"I'm not sure the palace is a conjurable parameter. Author is, or language..."

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"The Emperor, then? His name's Fareine Siurek, if you need that."

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"I also have, like, some qualms about reading people's diaries and whatnot, I mean I'm sure you can find a demon who'll do it for you no problem so I'm not going to be too precious about it but do you have a search plan?"

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"Never having investigated a government for signs that I should overthrow it before, I'm open to suggestions."

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