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Generated: Oct 20, 2018 11:04 PM
Post last updated: Feb 26, 2017 11:36 PM
didn't come for a fight
Sindri and Demon Cam in Threefold
Permalink Eye

He's curled up in bed, dizzy with pain, barely coherent enough to wish he could pull it together and go get his meds, certainly not coherent enough to actually do it.

So he misses the moment of transition.

But ten or fifteen minutes in, when the storm finally subsides from his nerves, he opens his eyes and inhales and knows he isn't at home even before his blurred vision regains its focus. The air smells wrong. Wherever he is, it's not Thule.

After a few blinks, the view in front of him resolves into a sparkling waterfall, glittering gold in the sunlight. Literally gold. He sits up, carefully, wincing and scrunching his eyes shut when the movement sends a few final sparks of pain through his limbs; then he looks around. He is on the side of a mountain, surrounded by other mountains. The golden waterfall spills into a golden pond, from which a golden river continues on, winding downslope and out of sight.

Something about this whole scene looks... off. Something subtler than the gilded river. It looks unreal. He can't pinpoint exactly what's wrong with it, but it's - more like the descriptions of Fairyland he's read than like a real place on Earth. (Can't be a real place off Earth; you couldn't fit all this inside an arcology.)

Okay. He's been mysteriously transported to a strange mountainside in possibly-Fairyland. That's a thing that just happened. And either something was messing with his perceptions or it was done very subtly, because he notices when anyone grabs him or moves him around during an episode. It is very noticeable when that happens.

...might as well start by ruling a few things out. He finds a stick and a flat patch of dirt and draws a circle for the family fairy.

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Lollah appears seven minutes later. "Hi, Sindri! - Wow, where are we, is this some kind of - park -?" she says.

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"I have no idea where we are and was hoping you could help me find out," he says. "At least the success of the circle strikes 'Fairyland, somehow' from the list of possibilities. Mind taking a look around for me?"

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"I don't know how you'd get to Fairyland but if you did, I'm not sure you couldn't summon me from there? This can't be it though, there's a sun. I'll see what's here, resummon in twenty if I vanish -" Off she zooms.

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He waits.

What's here: Mountains! Tall, utterly gorgeous, wildly-unlikely-to-occur-naturally mountains! The Himalayas have nothing on these. Also that river of gold gets even more golden as it nears its source, which is a blindingly bright lake in the very highest of all the improbably high valleys in these improbably high mountains. There is a city on the shore of the lake, if she squints. It's got a vaguely medieval-fantasy thing going on, complete with a lovely stone palace.

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Well that's weird as fuck. Lollah comes back. "Uh, I don't know how you'd get to Hell either but there's a castle and way excessive mountains and shit and that river sure is gold, maybe a demon made this planet? Demons are really into way too much gold I hear."

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"Well. That's exciting," he says dryly. "Thanks. I have no particular desire to test the drinkability of golden rivers; can you find me a less shiny water source, preferably with some signs of civilization near it?"

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"There's a city by the castle, but if this is Hell that might just be for decoration. I can grab you some cloud if nothing else - do you want to go check out the city -"

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"I want to go check out the city but my desire to go check out the city is balanced by my desire not to blithely fly up to some strange castle which might or might not be inhabited by demons when I have no idea what's going on. If there's such a thing as a non-gilded river around, particularly one with a castle-free city in its vicinity, I'd rather take my chances there."

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"I'll look." She looks.

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Sindri waits. He is thankful that he was wearing jeans as opposed to pajamas when the mysterious forces struck, but wishes he had had shoes too.

There is more around than just the lake of gold. This golden river turns south and winds through the mountains and eventually feeds into a huge and slightly menacing crater; on the opposite side of the lake, another river turns east and splits several times, diminishing in shininess as it traverses the decreasingly excessive mountains until the water is clear and the mountains are down to mere hills. There are a couple of more promising lakes to choose from at that point, with several towns tucked up against their pleasant blue shores. The more southeastern one sits right where the hills begin to give way to a sandy desert; the more northerly one curves around the shrubby margin of an impressively large forest.

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Lollah returns. "There's some regular-color lakes with also-medieval towns next to 'em. My bet is still 'somehow, Hell' - didn't get close enough to check for people -"

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"I'll take regular-coloured lakes over this," he says with a wave at the stunningly gorgeous but debatably toxic waterfall. "People or no people. If the towns are abandoned maybe I can steal some shoes from the people that there aren't."

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"I can taste water for you," volunteers Lollah, "I won't catch everything but if it doesn't taste like water I'll notice." She picks them up and zooms them to a town.

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That sure is a town!

"Thanks, I will take you up on that," he says.

Lake water from the northern lake turns out to be perfectly waterlike.

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"Yum," pronounces Lollah. "Maybe not, like, filtered and fluoridated, but it's fine - I can grab down some cloud if you want, like, certified only substances that can evaporate -"

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"Yeah, I'll take a drink of cloud while cloud is available."

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Lollah condenses and retrieves an amount of cloud and levitates it for his drinking enjoyment.

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Lollah is so convenient to have around!

"Thank you very much," says Sindri. "All right, let's see... the prudent thing to do would be to bring you along while I investigate the town, but if I do that then if this isn't Hell and is instead some unheard-of fifth dimension, I can't assume that daeva are a known quantity in the local context... the architectural sensibilities seem very human, at least, I'm not likely to get up close and then find the place full of lizard people who are shocked and alarmed that I don't have a tail."

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"I think unless this gets more emergency-ish I draw the line at dropping my wings," Lollah says. "I like this set, I don't want to have to chance a new one."

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"Yeah, that's fair. All right. I'll go with the less prudent option, then. You can tell my parents I was fine last you saw me, and I'll try to summon you back within a day or so. And - I really wish I had a summoning textbook, in case of emergencies - if nothing else I'm going to really miss my access to modern medicine if I can't get home in the next couple of weeks, and I don't fancy trying to draw a safe demon binding from memory while having a nerve flash..."

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"I can bring you stuff," Lollah says. "I mean, smallish stuff, but meds and a book for sure."

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"I would be very happy to be brought meds and a book."

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She nods. "Anything else, or just that and whatever else your parents pile on me -"

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"Meds, a book, a pair of shoes? Everything else is pretty secondary, I think."

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Nod nod.

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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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"Do you have an overthrow plan?"

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"Not yet!"

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"I am skeptical of the 'meet new planet, spy on and usurp its government' M.O."

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"Would you rather I let them keep torturing political prisoners?"

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"A lot of Earth governments also used to torture political prisoners and improved on this baseline without violent overthrow, like, I understand the urgency but you haven't tried 'establish trade and set a good example and loan them an ethicist'."

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"...yes," he says, "the purpose of the spying is to find out exactly what the problem is, at which point I start considering possible solutions."

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"I'm not sure spying on them opens in good faith!"

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"Neither does running an empire where if you openly criticize the government you will be arrested for sedition and never seen again and the way in which people carefully avoid discussing what happens to you will heavily imply you're being tortured for the Emperor's personal amusement!"

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"They don't know they're auditioning for the goodwill of a more advanced society! I don't know that the world would be a better place if someone had annexed Belgium over King Leopold and I don't think you do either!"

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"Discussion of whether it's appropriate to overthrow the government is very premature until we know what the situation actually is. I just don't think I gain anything from refusing to consider the possibility, or from being exquisitely polite about how I find out what's going on given what I already know - and I'll be very surprised if you tell me you've never joked about taking over the world for its own good -"

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"What you know is three weeks of rumor, sounds like. You could send a daeva suitably immune to substantial amounts of the category 'torture' to go say hi instead of running the risk of telling a merely unpopular emperor you've been reading his diary."

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"How willing are you to be the test case for the interaction of daeva indestructibility with local magic? I wouldn't send anyone I liked to Akaiet, daeva or otherwise. Not as a first resort."

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"I can't perform any independent check on how worrying your rumors should be," Cam points out, "you've got me a bit sewn up, the best I can hope for is a slide along the curve between privacy invasion and flying blind when your BATNA is finding somebody who says 'sure summoner just name your top ten movies'."

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"Yes, well, some joker's been going around telling everyone that demons are universally evil and thirst for human souls, you may have heard."

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"Yeah, fuck that guy."

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"I know if I were a demon I wouldn't touch a summons with a ten-foot pole in the modern social climate. Say, what's your name, anyway? I'm Sindri."

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"Cam, pleased to meet you. What can I say, I live in hope that someone will let me terraform Mars."

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"Ooh. I'd say you should talk to my parents about that, but I'm not yet fully convinced you're not an infohazard."

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Sigh. "Rar."

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"I'm family friends with the Grand Duchess of Thule," he explains, "which I assume is more national governments than you had an in with ten minutes ago, even though Thule is not very internationally important. And 'hey let's terraform Mars' sounds like exactly the kind of thing that I'd refer someone to my parents for if I was very sure nobody's souls were on the line."

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"I don't want your soul! I wanted to terraform Mars and now I want to not fuck up first contact with the planet of improbable mountains! Please feel entirely free to not give me your soul!"

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"I could call you back in a day with the capacity to conjure for verification," he suggests.

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"If you send me back I can just check up on whatever I like in Hell," Cam says.

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"Yes, you could duplicate the entire planet if you felt like it, but to my understanding that would take longer than a day, I still have a better grasp of the search space. And it would be really annoying to dismiss you for two minutes every time I made an assertion you felt like verifying."

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"I don't have to dupe the planet full size," Cam says. "I could check out the mountains, run machine learning on the language, make the castle and see if anybody in there looks tortured at the moment..."

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"So, if I call you back in fifteen minutes will you have conclusively decided whether you want to work with me on this?"

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"Can you gimme a couple hours?"

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"Sure." He can use it to run further investigation into the 'demons: terrifying infohazard?' question.

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"Thanks. And, hey, thanks for letting me talk, I've never caught an ungagged before, it's refreshing."

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"You're welcome! Is it just 'Cam' for the circle, or -?"

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"Oh, no, full name, Campbell Mark Swan -" He spells it.

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"See you in a couple of hours." He dismisses him.

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Cam goes home.

He sets up machine learning on the entire written corpus of the planet so it'll be searchable. He makes a miniplanet. He investigates a cross-section of the mountains.

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That sure is a planet with a population not too far shy of a billion that discovered the printing press about half a century ago!

The majority of written material is in Eivarne, but there are three or four other well-represented languages and a few dozen more with only a handful of recent books each. The major modern languages mostly all share the same alphabet, or can be made to with a little creativity; but Avashin and the two dialects of Hialene each have their own competing runic script, and Satni's alternative writing system is something complicated and mostly logographic that's at least six times as old as the Eivarne alphabet and is going to take significantly more than two hours to chew through.

The miniplanet has one continent. Something horrible appears to have happened to the south end; everything south of the Godscrest Mountains is a barren wasteland, and the coastline looks like it's had some bites taken out of it. Either the people who designed this place had a very creative art team, or somebody had a very nasty fight there a good long while ago from which the landscape has yet to fully recover.

The interior of the mountains is very solid, except for the occasional cave and so forth. They certainly aren't cleverly engineered to look solid without collapsing under their own weight. Somebody just piled up enormous quantities of rock and told it to stay put, convincingly enough that it obeyed them over the laws of physics.

...also, the inexplicably empty lake high in the Godscrest Mountains with two inexplicably empty rivers failing to flow out of it might be related to Sindri's report of a river that ran with gold.

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He leaves the machine learning chewing on its linguistic gum. He can conjure its progress later if he can convince Sindri it's useful. He gets a list of mages and sets up a genome project for them too just in case. He separates out published works, searches for anything referencing torture.

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Published works referencing torture: a whole lot of fiction, a whole lot of furtive pamphlets, a handful of respectable nonfiction sources. It doesn't seem to be a point of contention that the Emperor tortures people; you're just not supposed to mention it in polite company, and criticizing him for it carries a high risk of arrest.

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...okay. What does he do it for? Also how does magic work.

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Reading between the lines a little, the Emperor tortures people basically for the hell of it! Many of them are political prisoners, but it looks more like 'the Emperor wants to torture people, and arresting them for sedition gives him a good excuse and deters them from saying mean things about him' than like 'the Emperor has all these political prisoners lying around, and torturing them seems to be the done thing'.

Magic: sometimes people are mages! You're born with it but you don't manifest until sometime between the ages of twelve and twenty, at which point you get your basic elemental shaping power and start accruing extra powers from within your element's domain or domains. A god is a type of mage, created by merging together three mages of the three basic elemental flavours; the local calendar dates from the end of the last divine war, which sunk the southern continent and took all those bites out of the coast, and in the subsequent sixteen hundred years there have been no signs that any gods survived it. People are understandably not super keen on gods these days.

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Jesus. Okay. Model of castle?

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Stunningly beautiful palace perched on inexplicably waterless lakeshore! The stone in the outer walls is arranged so that the blocks form a subtle gradient, pinkish stone in the west facing the city and bluish in the east facing the water.

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Contents?

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Medieval fantasy luxuries, an occasional mysterious gap which might signal an object too magical to conjure, one entire wing of the palace with only one person living in it, extensive dungeons in which several people are being tortured...

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And it's the only polity so there's no diplomatic record - how did the Emperor get to be Emperor -

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Brutal civil war against his father followed by the reconquest of all the outlying territories that were enjoying a brief independence at the time!

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Damn. How long has he been Empering?

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Thirteen years. It's 1685 and he had his father assassinated in 1672.

There's a prince, Fareine Korovai, who lives in the empty wing of the palace and has had almost nothing publicly written about him since his birth announcement. He was six when his father overthrew his grandfather.

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What has been published?

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Pre-usurpation: a few accounts of princely birthday parties, at which it is generally agreed he was a solemn boy who didn't say much but did occasionally smile.

Post-usurpation: a few people speculating about why the prince is almost never seen outside the palace. One account of the prince being seen outside the palace. (He was out hunting with his father. He looked inscrutable but did not appear to be discernibly enjoying the outing.)

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Is he being summoned yet or does he have time to read a little more -

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Not quite yet. Getting close to time, though.

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He doesn't think Sindri has a watch. He loads up a version of his computer with what he's got and attaches it to his belt; an ungagged summon should allow that and might not allow him to remake it there.

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Meanwhile in Eianvar: random demon number two!

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A demon appears! She's totally naked! "Hello, summoner!" she says.

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...he blinks, but doesn't otherwise comment.

"Hello! I'm interviewing for suitability to a potential long-term project."

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"Gosh. What's in it for me?"

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"Not anything you seem to be looking for, unfortunately."

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"Well, recommend me to your hot friends."

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"I'll keep it in mind - what's your name?"

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"Kelanevah - in Latin characters thats K-E-L-A-N-E-V-A-H. The H is important, leave it off and you summon a battery engineer and she won't even answer."

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"I'll make a note of it. Bye." (He does actually make a note of it while dismissing her.)

And next?

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Boy demon! Wearing clothes! Adjusts his hat. "Summoner."

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"Hello! I'm interviewing for suitability for a potential long-term project."

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"What's the project?"

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"It involves spying on politicians, so if you find that off-putting this gig is not for you."

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"Oh, not particularly, if they have anything really secret it'd be chiplocked. Unless you mean conjuring models till you catch them with their mistresses or something? That would be sort of undignified."

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"I'm keeping the details under wraps until I move past the interview stage, but catching people with their mistresses is not the idea, no."

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"Uh-huh. What do you pay?"

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"Variable - I think I can manage some interesting media recommendations, but I'll be really in luck if you happen to be interested in obscure textiles."

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"They won't be obscure that long if you go waving them at demons. Anyway, I'm not a textile person."

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He laughs. "Fair enough."

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"Media recommendations aren't going to keep you in demons long term either, so you know. It's not like demons can't recommend each other things."

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"Do you have an alternate suggestion?"

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"Some places do money, lets us commission art. You know how the Martians do the power grid letting fairies adopt kids, there's demons who'd go in for that."

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"Good to know, thanks."

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"Oh, and travel, some people want a look at the real Saturn or whatever."

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"I'll keep that in mind. What's your name?"

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"Yuru."

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"Is there anything in particular I should be recommending you for if I have a friend in need of a demon?"

Permalink Eye

"I can interpolate the legs off a fly at thirty paces?" Shrug.

Permalink Eye

"How'd you come by that skill?"

Permalink Eye

"I was bored!"

Permalink Eye

He laughs. "You'll be the first name that comes to mind if I ever need to de-leg a fly!"

Permalink Eye

"I keep trying to come up with a good extension of the 'what do you call a fly without wings' joke but I haven't got one."

Permalink Eye

"A roll?" he suggests off the top of his head.

Permalink Eye

"No, I leave the wings on usually. I guess if I didn't that would work."

Permalink Eye

"The progression is more aesthetically pleasing if it's fly-walk-roll, definitely. Do you have a preferred payment method, in case I come up with a use for precision interpolation?"

Permalink Eye

"Nothing specific."

Permalink Eye

"All right. Well, thanks for your time." And he writes down this one's name and dismisses him and consults his estimate of the time and decides he'd better draw the circle for Cam now. Double-checking them eats almost as much time as the interviews themselves.

Permalink Eye

Cam reappears.

Permalink Eye

"And what were the results of your investigation?"

Permalink Eye

"He's totally torturing people. Also, the mountains are solid granite, not that this was the primary object of investigation."

Permalink Eye

"I feel very vindicated in my initial assessments."

Permalink Eye

"Fought his dad for the kingdom thirteen years ago. He has a kid, who is a near-complete cipher to the public."

Permalink Eye

"Interesting. Possibly bears further investigation. Wouldn't it be nice if we could make all Eianvar's problems go away with one tidy little assassination? Though I don't expect it to turn out to be that convenient. Things never are."

Permalink Eye

"- shit, forgot to check if they have an afterlife here."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm?"

Permalink Eye

"I feel differently about assassinating people who will then go on to be, y'know, dead!"

Permalink Eye

"I was not aware that there was another option!"

Permalink Eye

"You said you had a family fairy, they didn't tell you?"

Permalink Eye

"I would bet a considerable amount that she did not herself know!"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I guess that's possible, especially if she doesn't spend much time on the Internet at home. Uh, there's an afterlife. I think Hell would have noticed if people from this planet had the same one though."

Permalink Eye

"What are the characteristics of this afterlife?"

Permalink Eye

"Limbo by default, turn into a daeva for summoners."

Permalink Eye

"Explains the name - what's Limbo like?"

Permalink Eye

"Disappointing! It's flat forever like Fairyland but there's nothing there except one thing per person. The things are indestructible though. So're the people but they don't get magic powers and can't be summoned."

Permalink Eye

"Rough deal for them. Still, I wasn't aware of this option a minute ago and learning of it does not change my willingness to consider assassinating someone who treats his populace like Emperor Siurek does. If I could arrange for him to summon somebody beforehand just in case, I might, but on the other hand if that worked then Emperor Siurek would be a daeva and I don't think people other than Emperor Siurek would be likely to benefit from that."

Permalink Eye

Sigh.

Permalink Eye

"In fact if anything I feel even more urgent about dealing with him because if getting everyone on this planet to become a summoner is important it's very important and I sure as fuck don't want to do it with that guy running the place."

Permalink Eye

"You could let me check this place for an afterlife. Back in Hell, if you prefer, trade you whatever's handy for a preprint circle."

Permalink Eye

"I'm kind of interested to see what checking for an afterlife looks like."

Permalink Eye

"'Posthumous' is a conjurable parameter."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh," he says. "...but how's it handle edge cases - if someone, oh, drowns and is resuscitated, are they subsequently posthumous - and what if there's an afterlife but its contents are immaterial and therefore unconjurable - and what if there's an afterlife but it's conditional and not many people qualify—?"

Permalink Eye

"I was going to try posthumous works in all the languages ever written on this planet, but you're right that I can't catch anything too inherently magic, I can't even get the golden imitation water here. Drowned and resuscitated doesn't count, at least if the alternative is 'shows up in Limbo', it might throw a false positive here."

Permalink Eye

"So it'd be a bit tricky to be sure of your results. I think I want to see this process," he says.

Permalink Eye

"Need at least a token trade to be able to try."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm." He reaches down and picks a handful of lovely long-stemmed flowers, their blue petals streaked with vibrant turquoise. "How about I trade you this adorable flower crown," which does indeed look to be where these flowers are headed, "for your assistance in safely determining whether or not this world has an afterlife and what it's like if so?"

Permalink Eye

Cam politely waits until the flower crown is done before saying "Deal."

Permalink Eye

Sindri tosses the flower crown at him, frisbee-style. If uninterfered-with it will land neatly on his head.

Permalink Eye

Cam allows it to do so. "Okay, posthumous works in -" He pulls up his list of planetary languages, rattles them off as he attempts conjuration.

Permalink Eye

No posthumous works in any language younger than the modern calendar. Things start turning up when he reaches the divine era.

"Ooh," says Sindri, when he gets something in archaic Satni. "So there's not nothing..."

Permalink Eye

"I'm calling deific shenanigans. Gonna grab my machine learning progress so I can run an actual search in archaic Satni, find the author..." He does that.

Permalink Eye

Archaic Satni is the one with the beastly complicated logographic script. There are a few dozen people with posthumous works in it, and he can identify their names with a little work and then find that nearly all of them were written about pretty frequently, but the computer still throws up its hands at the prospect of translating any of the material.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, he doesn't need a translation so much as a timeframe.

Permalink Eye

Posthumous works in archaic Satni began appearing a couple of centuries after that language arose from its immediate ancestor, and continued until a few centuries before the end of the divine era.

Permalink Eye

"I will have better data on this language in a while - faster if you find anyone who reads the damn thing - but it looks tentatively like gods resurrected some people who spoke it, who then did not go on to be permanently immortal."

Permalink Eye

"Score one for gods," he says. "References to resurrection in published material you can translate?"

Permalink Eye

Searchy searchy search.

Permalink Eye

Yeah that's totally a thing gods can do. They don't seem to have done it very often but perhaps that was because they were so busy decorating mountains and going to war with one another.

"Well, I feel much better about assassination as an option now," Sindri remarks.

Permalink Eye

"Are you trying to calibrate your sales pitch for demonic sensibilities or something."

Permalink Eye

"No, I'm just - thinking out loud, as opposed to making any kind of sales pitch at all, and I have a morbid sense of humour and a vivid imagination and am mainly thinking of assassination in contrast to much worse options."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"Again, I have not yet reached the stage of deciding what to do about all this, I'm still figuring out the parameters of the situation. Nothing would make me happier than to discover that all I had to do was - seduce him, or some damn thing - and he'd stop torturing people and the problem would be solved. But it seems really unlikely to work out that way and the existence of resurrection means that even if I have to kill him, he's not gone forever, he's just - indefinitely awaiting review."

Permalink Eye

"Gods seem hard to come by and harder to steer."

Permalink Eye

"I consider those both solvable problems in the long run."

Permalink Eye

"Well, watch out, if the run is long enough you may find yourself having to work through summoners who think you're an infohazard."

Permalink Eye

"Under those conditions I probably would be!"

Permalink Eye

Sigh.

Permalink Eye

"I want to - fix things," he says, beginning to pace back and forth. "Things in general. All the things that there are. Do you know the þainneið - probably not, hardly anyone does - it's the oath you take to become a thane of Thule, and it says, basically, 'when things are not okay, when people are starving or in danger or oppressed or miserable, and there's something I can do about it, I will consider it my duty to competently and responsibly solve the problem'. The original wording is more tuned to tenth-century priorities but that's the soul of it. I took it last year on my sixteenth birthday, and I've been waiting to turn eighteen and qualify for an EU summoner's license so I could find out what the fuck is up with demons and determine the appropriate response, because if the souls thing is for real we're giving you way too much slack already and if it's not we need to stop fucking gagging you - but now there's something more urgent than that, somebody else is going to have to be the smart summoner with the impeccable record who goes to bat for demons' right to speak because I am going to be busy saving Eianvar from its dumpster fire of an emperor."

Permalink Eye

"Some people are assholes who think it's funny to make desperate humans make excruciating faces! Nice demons often don't have anything they want out of a summoner, at least not that they can get without talking, so you get a different mix than with angels and fairies! The gagging thing was some asshat who was a summoner pre-Revelation deciding that the best way to make bank once he couldn't corner the neodymium market anymore was selling books scaremongering about that until everyone decided letting demons talk was irresponsible!"

Permalink Eye

"And see, that just makes far more sense as an explanation than 'demons can steal souls' - if all three kinds of daeva can do it you'd expect angels and fairies to know more about it, when in fact they mostly know less than a well-informed human; if only demons can do it, it's an insane asymmetry in the powersets any way you slice it - I've read one of those books and it looked much more like someone trying to make himself look important than someone sincerely warning the world about a perceived danger - it just would have been irresponsible not to check -"

Permalink Eye

"How were you imagining you'd check, it's sorta hard to verify."

Permalink Eye

"Summon a bunch of demons long enough to get to know them. I have a talent for getting to know people. Assuming that demons as a collective aren't hacking random summoning with the specific aim of fooling me in particular, I'm satisfied that the more reasonable explanation is also the true one. I could spend days following up on it to make really sure, but I am going to be busy figuring out how to seduce, murder, appease, propitiate, or otherwise handle Fareine Siurek."

Permalink Eye

"He's not bad-looking, if you go with 'seduce'."

Permalink Eye

"Oh? What's he look like?"

Permalink Eye

Cam digs up a portrait.

Permalink Eye

"Goodness me. If only he weren't so fond of torture."

Permalink Eye

"I know, right."

Permalink Eye

He laughs.

"All right, let's see..."

Another flower crown begins to take shape. This one is more elaborate than the last.

"- I apologize if you don't like flower crowns," he says as an aside, "I'm sort of informally apprenticed to a weaver and it's got me thinking about practical knot theory - anyway - I want to know what the deal is with the barely-mentioned prince, and I want to know what the Emperor's daily routine looks like and who else in his life I should be worrying about, and I want to know what the minimum necessary intervention is to get him to stop. Suggested avenues of investigation? Questions you want answered?"

Permalink Eye

"I have no strong opinions on flower crowns. Is there anything you'd like to search Korovai's writing for - possibly also, given the givens, his editorial work - like, what would convince you to talk to him instead of spying if you found it."

Permalink Eye

"Part of the reason why I'm so cavalier about spying is that, as a future jarl of Thule myself, if I found myself in his position I would welcome being spied on by a hypothetical me. Also, I don't know yet how to talk to him safely, because there is local magic and I don't know how much of it is also spying on him. But I'd try if I saw a solid indication that he was the sort of person I'd accept as Emperor of Eianvar, i.e. at minimum not a dumpster fire."

Permalink Eye

"Are we talking personal character, policy inclinations, puppetability..."

Permalink Eye

"I'm going to have better things to do than run Eianvar by proxy. If I end up having to personally conquer and administer the place because nothing else will do, I will be annoyed. I want someone in charge who will lead to good results for the people of this planet, by whatever means. If that's because he's a good person, even better. If he's personally abhorrent but in a way that doesn't involve harming anyone and does involve running the country competently and responsibly, I'll take it."

Permalink Eye

Cam looks for snippets of the prince's writing and what documents they might be notes on.

Permalink Eye

The prince has commented extensively on a wide variety of legal documents! The majority of his notes are ciphered and have never appeared in cleartext, but there's this copy of the tax code annotated with just the word 'recent', over and over again...

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, he has a personal cipher, I feel much better about reading over his shoulder with that to keep me from reading his diary."

Permalink Eye

"Same!"

Permalink Eye

"Here are his annotations on the tax code. Bit repetitive."

Permalink Eye

He scans them.

...he starts laughing.

Permalink Eye

"Mm-hm."

Permalink Eye

"I like this guy. I want to be his friend."

Permalink Eye

"They're pretty low tech, I could do a bird drone in through his window - or sitting on the sill - and I bet nobody double checks it."

Permalink Eye

"...I think I want to know more about the magic system before I try that - imagine if they had a ward on the palace that kept birds off so they didn't crap on the walls, or some such thing -"

Permalink Eye

"It was suspiciously bird-poop-free."

Permalink Eye

He laughs. "All right, so how do we investigate for possible bird wards?"

Permalink Eye

"Good question. Magic from here definitely falls under the no conjuring magic stuff rule. Maybe I can find a list or something." Search.

Permalink Eye

There is totally a well-organized list of all the magic and magical artifacts on and in the palace. The anti-bird-poop ward only denies the palace's hospitality to the poop, not the birds who produce it.

Permalink Eye

Cam displays this list to Sindri.

Permalink Eye

"All right, so your bird won't be suspicious for that reason at least..." He scans through the rest. "Wonder what a message box is and why they've got half a dozen of them..."

Permalink Eye

"Physical mail? That used to be a thing."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe. Wow, who's Lady Reihar and why does she have a better-equipped bathroom than the Emperor..."

Permalink Eye

"...maybe she just really likes taking baths? Who knows."

Permalink Eye

"I'm automatically suspicious of anyone who lives in the palace and gets expensive luxury goodies in the current regime, but presumably if she's important her name will keep coming up."

Permalink Eye

Cam searches for it.

Permalink Eye

Lady Reihar is less important than the Emperor and therefore the rumours about her torture hobby are more numerous, more detailed, and better-substantiated! Also she doesn't even live in the palace, she just has an entire suite complete with ostentatiously enchanted bathroom there because she has the Emperor's favour so why not. People are fairly circumspect about suggesting that she might be the Emperor's mistress but at the same time it's pretty clear that most of them think she's definitely the Emperor's mistress. She is also a Wood mage, and contributed substantially to the Emperor's success in usurping his father.

"Wow," says Sindri. "I was not nearly suspicious enough."

Permalink Eye

"Bleah," says Cam. "I can - with your permission I can - make a model of her house and check that out."

Permalink Eye

"Please do."

Permalink Eye

Minihouse.

Permalink Eye

Lady Reihar appears to be engaging in abstract art in her bedroom. Oh no wait that's a person.

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

"Eugh," says Sindri. "Is that -"

Permalink Eye

"I went to medical school and I can tell you that it is biologically impossible for that person to be alive without magic."

Permalink Eye

"Wow. Um. I am definitely terrified of Reihar Nirue," says Sindri.

Permalink Eye

"I don't blame you."

Permalink Eye

"Let's not try to seduce her," he says. "I feel like that would be a bad plan. Any other useful information available...?"

Well how about this rumour that she might have resurrected somebody!

Permalink Eye

Posthumous works of somebody - "Nope. Unless they never do anything, which I suppose is given her hobbies possible."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah... is there some way you can, I don't know, consider the resurrectee a creation of hers and conjure for resurrections she has done? Or would that catch it even if she just cloned them or something? Actually I think I want to know if she cloned someone, I am deeply concerned for the welfare of the clone if so."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think I can conjure by that, it'd be timeslicey shenanigans."

Permalink Eye

"What's the name of the resurrectee -"

Kadiran Ruava!

"Can you conjure for her under the assumption that even if it's not a successful resurrection she was probably still named after the original if she turned out viable at all -?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, if you let me."

Permalink Eye

"Go on, then, let's see how she's doing if she exists."

Permalink Eye

That's a familiar abstract sculpture.

Permalink Eye

"Augh!" he says. "I keep being insufficiently suspicious!"

Permalink Eye

"I apologize for assuming this might be garden-variety mistreatment of political prisoners easily handled by United Nations sanctions and the introduction of summoning to alleviate material scarcity stresses."

Permalink Eye

"I damn well wish it had been - poor girl - all right, let's consider our approach to the prince. I didn't see anything on that list that made a bird drone sound like a bad idea. And now would be a pretty good time to send one because Lady Reihar is pretty likely to be the only Wood mage in Akaiet, she's busy, and Wood mages have lifeshaping which, if it comes with an associated sense as I think I've heard implied, is the only means I currently know of for someone to magically detect that a bird drone is not a real bird. Thoughts?"

Permalink Eye

"Water might be able to do it too. I guess I can add pockets of water to the bird drone."

Permalink Eye

"All right. Water-laden bird drone. Let's see what Prince Korovai is like."

Permalink Eye

Cam conjures feathers in the area, finds some that look big enough to go with a big bird, makes the bird, inspects it, and copies its design for a drone. He starts it up in the sky halfway to its destination already and pilots it from his computer. Off the drone flaps.

Permalink Eye

Sindri paces and constructs increasingly elaborate flower crowns as a form of fidgeting.

Permalink Eye

The drone won't need that much attention till it gets closer to the palace. Cam plays Freecell. "Do you want a chiplock install, seems like it might be handy for all your government-toppling needs."

Permalink Eye

"Sure, yeah."

Permalink Eye

Cam hands him a computer.

Permalink Eye

"Thanks."

Does this computer come with CAD software such that he can continue fidgeting without picking innocent flowers?

Permalink Eye

Once he trains it, sure!

Permalink Eye

Training a chiplocked computer is not a valid form of fidgeting at all, but having the computer will be practically useful so he puts up with it.

Permalink Eye

"I love these things," Cam remarks. He wins at Freecell.

Permalink Eye

"I'm sure I'm going to love having one; the process of getting to know it is... less lovable."

Permalink Eye

"It's only like ten, fifteen minutes. It used to take hours when they were new!"

Permalink Eye

"That sounds terrible."

Permalink Eye

"Nah, I was too excited to be annoyed about it."

Permalink Eye

"That's fair."

Permalink Eye

"You might have noticed I have a Privacy Thing." Shrug.

Permalink Eye

"I did pick up on something along those lines."

Permalink Eye

Bird drone approaches. Cam exits Freecell.

Permalink Eye

The prince is sitting by his window, conveniently enough. He looks unhappy.

Permalink Eye

"Opinions on how to approach?" Cam asks, circling the bird.

Permalink Eye

"Wow, he looks miserable. Is that an open window - wow, the quality of the glass around here is amazing considering the tech level, three cheers for magic -"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, open window, you want me to fly it in?"

Permalink Eye

"Go for it."

Permalink Eye

In goes bird. It lands on the prince's floor.

Permalink Eye

The prince looks at the bird.

"Please go away," he says tiredly.

Permalink Eye

"I assume we're not doing that?"

Permalink Eye

"Indeed we are not. Can we have the bird say 'I really enjoyed your commentary on the imperial tax code'?"

Permalink Eye

The bird says that.

Permalink Eye

 

 

 

"..."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not a real bird," it adds.

Permalink Eye

"You don't say."

Permalink Eye

(Sindri giggles.)

Permalink Eye

"Is it safe to talk here?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

"Pardon my accent, I'm new to the planet."

Permalink Eye

"I'm fascinated," he says, desolately. "...pardon my mood, my best friend is being tortured."

Permalink Eye

Wince.

Permalink Eye

"I'd like to help with that but could use help navigating."

Permalink Eye

"Help with what, specifically?"

Permalink Eye

"The torture problem in general, recencies in the tax code..."

Permalink Eye

"With what resources?"

Permalink Eye

"I can make arbitrary material objects and am from a much higher tech background."

Permalink Eye

"...that does not sound like you have the means to kill Lady Reihar," he says.

Permalink Eye

"I probably have the means to launch her so far into the sky that she never lands again, if necessary."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not sure I would count on that as a means of dealing with her, but it would at least be likely to delay her return..."

Permalink Eye

"At least," agrees the bird.

("You want a model of the solar system so I can check if it's weird in some way?" Cam asks Sindri.)

Permalink Eye

"My father is a much more tractable problem. But it's no use getting rid of him and leaving Nirue alone; she'd just kill me as soon as I looked likely to forbid her from torturing people."

Permalink Eye

("Yeah, go on. I already suspect from the calendar that some orbits have been tweaked for neatness, but that might just have been some ancient god who really hated having days, months, and years that didn't divide neatly into each other.")

Permalink Eye

(Solar system in glass?)

"Definitely not a desirable outcome. I'm only cursorily familiar with local magic, so I don't immediately know how to try getting through her defenses if it's possible at all."

Permalink Eye

"A god could do it but unfortunately I don't have one available. The main trouble is that I know she has defenses but I don't know what they specifically are, so any given attempt to kill her might fail and then she would be warned and whatever followed from that would not be pleasant."

(Solar system in glass: a Sol-like sun, a handful of planets, nothing super weird going on that's visible at this scale.)

Permalink Eye

"I'm also personally indestructible, although this hasn't been tested against local magic."

Permalink Eye

"I would not assume you were safe from Lady Reihar if I were you."

Permalink Eye

"I don't assume it, but it's possible."

Permalink Eye

"How would you test it?"

Permalink Eye

"I could see if I can find a mage I'm willing to trust..."

Permalink Eye

"I can probably assume it works consistently across mages. If there's a trustworthy one who'd perform a controlled test that works."

Permalink Eye

"I only know the one Wood mage, unfortunately. And any others you find are likely to be... differently specialized. Although they will all have lifeshaping."

Permalink Eye

"If local mages can get through my indestructibility it will be because of something about the nature of the magic, I'm nearly certain, not anything about the specialty.

"Also, there are two people on the other end of this fake bird. I'm Cam, the indestructible magic one, and there's also my summoner, Sindri, who is a human. Right now he's the only person with the ability to summon people like me to this world."

Permalink Eye

"I can imagine many things Nirue might be able to do that would not necessarily interact with your indestructibility at all, and many of them would be hard to test without finding a similarly unpleasant mage. Like cursing you to be constantly surrounded by impenetrable silence and darkness, if taking away your connection to your senses doesn't work."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, I don't have anything in particular prepped against a silence and darkness curse."

Permalink Eye

"How does it come to be that only one person in the world knows how to summon indestructible magical beings?"

Permalink Eye

"I can only push the mystery back one layer. There's a world where it's really common to summon us; he's from there and if he knows how he got here he hasn't shared it with me."

Permalink Eye

"I have absolutely no clue how I got here," says Sindri.

Permalink Eye

"He reasserts that he has no clue."

Permalink Eye

Prince Korovai looks thoughtfully at the fake bird.

Permalink Eye

Sindri sighs.

Permalink Eye

"I don't have direct evidence for your cluelessness," Cam says, "not that I don't believe you, I do, but still."

The bird says, "I can tell you how to summon me but I'd be skipping some safety steps."

Permalink Eye

"What do the safety steps guard against?"

Permalink Eye

"Undesired behavior by summonee. This summons is unusual in letting me talk."

Permalink Eye

"Undesired behaviour," says Sindri. "That's one way to put it."

Permalink Eye

"Would letting you talk normally be considered unsafe?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, for extremely stupid reasons that have a lot of cultural momentum at this point on his world - if the bird suddenly stops talking that's him dismissing me but it takes a minute - circle on the floor with 'I summon the demon Cam' spell it -" He assigns himself a transliteration in Eivarne. "- written around it, close the circle after the writing's all in, with enough room for a person to stand in it, just so you know how if something happens, I have no reason to expect it but bottlenecking access to summoning like this is a bad plan long run and I don't have an adequate local translation of a decent actual summoning textbook -" He looks semi-apologetically at Sindri.

Permalink Eye

 

"You could, as a courtesy, mention that undesired behaviours in demons can include destroying a planet in a matter of seconds," Sindri suggests.

Permalink Eye

"My summoner suggests I mention that possible undesired behaviors in demons include destroying a planet in a matter of seconds," sighs the bird. "I'm not going to destroy your planet."

Permalink Eye

"...I should wait until Ruava is available to join this conversation before I make any plans," says Korovai. "You might consider giving me the means to speak directly to your summoner in the meantime."

Permalink Eye

"He can hear you, I can rig something up so I don't have to relay it." He fiddles with some things. "Okay, now we have actual two-way audio."

Permalink Eye

"Is the extent to which you appear not to trust one another accurate?"

Permalink Eye

"I trust him considerably more than he seems to trust me, at this point, although advising you to summon him unbound has done him no favours there," says Sindri.

Permalink Eye

"I know that looks suspicious! I would love to teach him actual summoning! I used to fucking teach actual summoning at the University of fucking Washington! But having one person on this entire planet who knows daeva even exist is a bad plan and I had to get it in under a minute in case you freaked out!"

Permalink Eye

"Well, here I am, not abruptly dismissing you," says Sindri. "Can we now agree that everyone in this situation is better off if we actually discuss our plans before implementing them - like, if you'd asked, you might have found out that I left my weaver friend instructions on how to safely summon my family fairy if I'm not back by tomorrow, and a note to give to her to pass on to my parents -"

Permalink Eye

Sigh. "That's very responsible of you."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you!"

Permalink Eye

"I'm sure Ruava will be able to sort this out," murmurs the prince, mostly to himself.

Permalink Eye

"Any idea when to expect her?"

Permalink Eye

"Tonight, almost certainly."

Permalink Eye

The bird nods.

Permalink Eye

"And I think she will be able to make better sense of you than I can."

Permalink Eye

"I'm really not trying to be nonsensical."

Permalink Eye

"And yet."

Permalink Eye

"Is there something in particular we can clear up, or is it just a side effect of the 'obviously not trusting each other' thing...?"

Permalink Eye

"Mostly that."

Permalink Eye

"Well. Perhaps Cam can explain summoning in more detail while we wait."

Permalink Eye

Cam has his computer! He looks up his introductory summoning lecture for reference but doesn't try an exact translation. Three types of daeva, anatomy of a circle, potentialities of and limitations on the magic, bindings and tasks.

Permalink Eye

Korovai takes notes.

Permalink Eye

Cam makes an attempt to translate into his imperfect Eivarne some basic bindings - "The good preprints are paragraphs and paragraphs, but you can at least make it difficult to impulsively do damage, and inconvenient to do it deliberately."

Permalink Eye

Sindri helps with the translations.

Permalink Eye

Eventually Cam asks permission to make dinner.

Permalink Eye

"Sure."

Permalink Eye

"You want some? Any requests?"

Permalink Eye

"Might as well. And I'm not picky."

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Arctic charr in lemon butter sauce with rice pilaf and roasted brussels sprouts.

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That works!

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Om nom. "I can send the fake bird elsewhere," Cam mentions to the prince, "if at some point it would attract attention sitting in your room, for example if you are also about to be brought dinner."

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"The fake bird would be more noticeable leaving and returning than staying."

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"Okay. It can also go in a cupboard or whatever, it's a very tractable fake bird."

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"It is very rare for anyone besides Ruava to ever enter my wing of the palace."

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"Okay."

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He continues to sit unhappily at the window, but now he's also reading over his summoning notes.

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The bird reads over his shoulder. "My command of Eivarne is imperfect since I'm borrowing Sindri's and he's been here for three weeks but I think this entire class of bindings is gonna be awkward in this dialect," it says, pecking a section, "now that I've thought about it more - could be a weakness in my translation -"

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"Your command of Eivarne is very impressive for three weeks' exposure," he says. "I suppose it's very unlikely you have any Avashin, Satni, or Hialene."

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"I'm - doing technological stuff - to all the writing ever produced on this planet, back home, so eventually I will have okay automatic translation of those things. Perhaps Sindri is just really good at languages, why would he misrepresent how long he's been here."

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"I wasn't aware I was this good at languages, but apparently being stranded somewhere that no one speaks English, French, Russian, or Thulic is highly motivating. I have a few words of Avashin but definitely not enough to summon in. I don't even know the word for 'summon'."

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"I speak all of them and a few more. If I understand the language transfer right, it's possible Ruava or I should summon someone to make a translator of them."

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"That and there's the afterlife thing, at least potentially..."

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"Yeah the lecture I was working from doesn't have that in, I didn't know at the time." He explains the afterlife thing.

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"Yes, I can see how that would be very useful. But I should not risk an unsafe summoning for an uncertain chance at immortality."

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"You could also just summon Sindri's fairy in a perfectly conventional circle, I'm not actually advising unbound summoning. It's just concisely communicable."

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"A perfectly conventional circle acquired and verified by what means?"

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"I can't make anything Sindri doesn't let me make. He can have me make whatever sort of circle his folks usually use for the fairy and I can't make a circle which is, say, not that."

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"I'll wait for Ruava first. It shouldn't be much longer."

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"Is she going to be, like, in conversational form - I went to medical school, I could send you another bird with some stuff if she might need stuff albeit I'd need more information -"

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"She will be in perfect physical health and capable of contributing to the conversation without difficulty."

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"Okay."

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He waits.

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Ruava, looking not at all like someone who was tortured recently, climbs in the window.

...she blinks at the bird.

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"You need not be alarmed by the fake bird," says Korovai. "It is a means of communicating with some strangers from another world who have assorted fantastical claims about how they can help us."

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"Hi," says the bird.

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"Let's hear some fantastical claims," says Ruava.

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"On the other end of this fake bird are me, Cam, indestructible magical summonable being who can make arbitrary material objects, and my summoner, Sindri." Who is some guy. "The bird is nonmagical. It's technology you don't have and was made by magic but itself works on entirely physical principles."

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"No offense, but arbitrary material objects sounds like less of a solution to our problems than you might think. Even if you can do very fancy fake birds."

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"I've been thinking about that and I'm considering a solution involving a fairy and some fancy binoculars," says Sindri. "I can't say for sure that flinging this Lady Reihar person into the sun very abruptly from a long ways away would do the trick, but it's the best plan I've thought of so far."

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"Into the sun. Goodness me. Let no one accuse you of thinking small," says Ruava. "What is it even like in the sun."

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"Toasty."

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"If anything horrible happens to the sun you'd need several very well-coordinated fairies to get the planet resituated and it takes weeks to make new suns, plus orbital mechanics concerns, I think we should at least try a nicely contained pinhole or having an angel turn her to stone first."

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"My concern with angels is that she might have better range than they do, and I'm getting a definite sense that we would prefer she not know what happened to her until it's too late to retaliate. Would turning her to stone work, do you suppose...? How far away can she affect someone?"

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"I'm positive she has more range than she lets on," says Ruava. "And once she's got something on you she can meddle with it from anywhere - she does this thing with a specialized kind of curse where once it's on you she can cut off your senses at whim, and your magic too if you have any, I've no idea how you'd safely test whether it works on indestructible magical beings because as far as I know she's the only person who can do it at all..."

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"How confident are you in the word 'anywhere', because fairy range is, like, 'write your name in big letters on the moon from the surface of the planet' but not infinite."

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"I would be really surprised if it was possible to get far enough away."

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"Exciting. I assume you're a recipient of this charming power."

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"Yep. So if you get her and she has time to yank all her leashes out of spite, I'll be stuck senseless and so will a bunch of the Emperor's toys."

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"Does she sleep?"

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"Yes. Who knows what safeguards she has when she does, though."

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"Yeah, I'm just trying to calibrate exactly how coincidentally prepared for powerful visitors from another dimension she is."

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"She's - well, not paranoid exactly, but - she's a Wood mage, which means she can do magic to herself as well as other people, and she likes the way her life works and she has a twisty mind so she's probably done plenty of things intended to keep it that way and then not told anyone about them. She stayed home when Siurek's armies took Dianivae, so she was scared of my grandfather at least at the time, but it's been years since then and we definitely shouldn't assume she'd be put much out of her way if a mountain fell on her."

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"Inconveniently, if we wind up being paranoid about all this to the point of leaving her be it might be unacceptably dangerous even to just tell people about summoning without directly interacting with the... government and personal habits... at all."

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"Yeah..."

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"I want a test of the afterlife thing," says Sindri. "I cannot think of a fast ethical test on the afterlife thing but I want one very badly."

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"Do you guys know anybody who's dying."

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"I can find you lots of people who wish they were..."

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"Doesn't help. Sindri are you looking for a test of the afterlife claim or of whether it extends here, because I'm pretty sure these people don't wind up in Limbo so it might not work for them the rest of the way either."

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"I want to test whether it extends here specifically, because that seems like useful information to have. Like, if it works, we could have important local players summon and then have backup summoners waiting in case of murder."

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"...To be clear, what I'm suggesting is that I find someone who would rather be dead than in the palace, which isn't very hard around here, and have them summon somebody, and then immediately murder them. I'm not sure if that's what you'd call ethical but I wouldn't lose sleep over it."

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"I don't have ethical qualms with assisted suicide per se, I was just assuming it'd be noticed. Am I wrong?"

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"Oh, sure it will, but there's ways around that."

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"Oh?"

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"Like, Siurek thinks his poor son doesn't have enough fun in his life, he'd be delighted if some girl disappeared from the dungeon into Korva's wing and came out dead a few hours later. Nirue would guess that it was a mercy killing but she'd have no reason to guess interdimensional shenanigans."

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"Grand."

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"Augh," mutters Sindri. "Yeah, sounds like it'd work."

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"Life at court is so glamorous."

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"It sounds it. D'you have, like, painless assisted suicide methods, or should I give you something."

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"The ways it's possible to kill prisoners are kind of specific."

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"- explain?"

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"So in addition to leashes there's something called a suicide ward - standard version is they can't be killed unless it's on purpose by one of a short list of people and in a particular subset of ways. Korva makes the list because his father keeps hoping he'll discover the joys of torturing people to death. Nirue likes to keep an eye out for people tripping their suicide wards and then punish them for trying to escape."

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"Okay. Does the particular subset of ways explicitly forbid being unconscious or anesthetized at the time."

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"I wouldn't want to chance it."

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"I'm starting to feel like this place is expressly designed to make me feel useless."

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"Reihar Nirue is a horrible person."

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"That I started feeling a while ago."

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"So... me and Korva should both do a summon just in case, and then I should go find somebody for us to mercy-kill, and then maybe we have somebody sneak up on Nirue and turn her to stone in her sleep and hope that works?"

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"- Nirue might notice if her curse thing were still attached to a dead person, if dying didn't shake it -"

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"...mm. True."

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"How comprehensive is the sensory deprivation thing because you wouldn't believe how good assistive technology can get."

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"If she just leashes my senses individually then I'm just missing whatever she took. If she shuts down everything I can't even sense light - I'm a Light mage, she just keeps my magic leashed all the time so I can hardly ever use it."

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"Presumably she is voluntarily immortal. If we just launched her into space all by herself then even if she survived a black hole she'd get bored sooner or later, wouldn't she?"

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"She might figure out how to come back."

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"That seems less plausible than some hypotheses."

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"What do you mean?"

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"Space is big and things in it move fast."

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"It's just been a very strong guiding principle of my life never to underestimate Nirue especially when she is pissed off."

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"Not unreasonable."

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"I like to think I'm a pretty reasonable person."

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"Sure seems like it to me."

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"Mm. So we're still short an answer to the afterlife question. I'm kind of inclined to summon just in case even without it."

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"I can maybe use the bird to place a predrawn circle for you if Sindri wants to let me. Can't do it blind but the bird has reasonably accurate transmission of its location."

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"One for me, one for Korva?"

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"Whoever you summon will get the languages, which will be useful - Cam, do you know anyone you want to nominate as a translator -"

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"All my social contacts with fairies and angels are out of date. I know some reasonably friendly demons who might help out for the hell of it but I don't know any who I can guarantee in advance want translation work. I could look up linguistics nerds if that's a priority."

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"I think good translation should be a reasonably high post-crisis priority, because if the afterlife trick works we want everyone summoning as fast as possible and even if it doesn't we still want everyone to have lovely things like computers and laundry machines. Possible difficulties include 'what if the afterlife trick does work and mages keep their magic and this becomes a problem in the daeva realms', but on the whole I think that's probably solvable if approached sensibly."

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"I really want to know if we're indestructible to local magic. The social fabric of all the daeva realms depends heavily on everybody being indestructible."

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"Unfortunately we don't have a mage handy, not counting Ruava since she's apparently, er, deactivated."

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"If I knew any other trustworthy mages, I would recommend one."

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"Do you have any ideas for how we could find one?"

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"Trustworthy people are hard to find."

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"I could probably manage something but it would take time and it really sounds like the things we should be most afraid of are also the ones that will be hardest to test."