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Sep 21, 2023 5:07 AM
Getting possessed by a Brinnite is by no means the weirdest thing to have ever happened to a Megazomian
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(...well, maybe not just. She doesn't feel nearly steady enough on her feet ( to speak) to be excited, but after a few minutes of quiet she is starting to feel curious.

She has a mental image of a possible future where these people do have a way to safely exorcise her, where she spends only a few hours here before moving on to somewhere mundane, and forever after wonders what was going on in this world.

It's certainly better than the futures where she gets her soul torn apart or something. But she does want to learn more about what the magic here is like, at least to the extent that that doesn't involve her being on the business end of it.)


"I also hope that this does not result in further harm to either of us." Unless you actually deserve it after all, in which case I rather hope you suffer greatly, she does not say. And then, having said all she is willing to say, she will remain uncomfortably silent and wait for the inquisitor.


Who, unfortunately, takes the greater part of an hour to arrive. Eventually he bustles in, a plain black notebook in hand, his aura entirely suppressed. He nods to the matron and to Jasmine-and-Kedri, and speaks: 

"I apologise for the delay, I had to report this matter to our head of security, who has confirmed that I am competent to handle the matter, and then I wished to check the deep archive, to see if I could find any useful information. Oh, but where are my manners! I am Orichalch Demon-Harrier. If only we had met in a better way." He bows slightly, but only slightly. 


Jasmine will bow in return, much deeper and more formally. 

"Prudence-of-Measures Jasmine, sir. And the spirit introduced herself as Kedri." 


(You really don't notice how valuable the ability to fidget is until you don't have it anymore, huh.)


Wow, he's being so much nicer now.

what's he playing at Okay, no, to be fair...if your name is literally "the Demon-Harrier", and you see another soul turn up in someone's body right in front of you, you're going to assume the worst, right? Certainly you don't want to assume that they're not a demon, because if they are that is in fact a serious problem that you need to nip in the bud. It makes sense to be concerned about demonic possession in worlds where demons exist, even if it's hard to viscerally feel that when Kedri herself happens to be from a world where there are no demons but there are people traumatised by the consequences of being mistaken for demons.

Landing in demon worlds doesn't always go badly. It is possible, sometimes, to convince people that you mean them no harm. And he did say that he believed her, or at least that he believed that she believed it.

There would be a bit of tension loosening in her shoulders, if only they were her shoulders at the moment.


She doesn't say anything yet.


The matron yields the couch opposite Jasmine to her senior, and takes up a guard's position behind him. 


"I see no reason not to get straight to business" he continues, after taking a seat. "You've clearly waited long enough. I see, essentially, four roads ahead of us. 

The first is the road where you are a infiltrator capable of producing a deceptive spiritual appearance capable of standing up to my direct security. I am confident in my ability to overcome the deceptions of even typical 6th realm infiltrators given sufficient direct examination, but the Bank is not the sort of place that attracts merely ordinary infiltrators.

Then second, you are what you seem to be, but have been created and placed here by a third party with some end in mind - access to our resources, turning you against us in the future, provoking an unusual response from our security measures. 

The third, is that you are what you seem to be, your story is correct, and you are, by nature or character, likely to oppose or disrupt the Bank and its operations. The fourth, and most desirable, is that you are what you seem to be, your story is correct, and you are well suited for long term alignment with the Bank and its interests. 

From my examination of you over the past minutes, I am confident I can rule out the possibility of you being a heart devil, disembodied immortal, malicious quote god unquote, or other conventional problem, and your story is not in fact unprecedented - according to archival records, a similar case was reported approximately two thousand seven hundred years ago, in the year 5674 after the ascension of the Divine Emperor, where a recruit of no particular note acquired a passenger much like this case. They went on to serve as a guard without particular distinction for 127 years before dying honourably during the repulsion of the Khan of Black Skies from the province. Documentary evidence of their life was limited on short notice, unfortunately. Are the two of you following me thus far?"


Jasmine does her best to not reflexively nod until Kedri confirms that she has also understood the matter, and to not reflexively try and model which of these outcomes lead to her being executed or exiled until the investigator has finished talking.  


They let the last walk-in live.

...for one hundred and twenty-seven years. And age wasn't what killed them.

She had other things on her mind the first time it came up, but she's noticing now that "mortal" and "non-mage" are the same word in this language.


--or, wait, not "they" let the last one live: this was twenty-seven hundred years ago, it took place in a different society. (...or did it? If mages live indefinitely, what does that do to continuity?) But he's open to the possibility that she can work together with his people and he's hoping it turns out that way, so those are good signs too.


She'd like to learn more about the Bank and the capacities of different realms and who the Divine Emperor and the Khan of Black Skies are at some point (presumably that first one sooner rather than later), but none of those seem likely to be urgent enough to interrupt about.



Jasmine will, then, nod. 

"Both of us understand." 


"Excellent! Now, while I'm confident that I can with a simple interview distinguish between the third and fourth cases, the first and to a lesser extent the second case would ideally involve security measures we would rather not reveal to outsiders. Would it be acceptable for you to swear a magically binding oath that you will not communicate information about these measures to anyone without sufficient clearance?" 


"Of course sir." 

Such an oath would of course be strictly less binding than the oaths new members take. Which she should have already taken by now. 


...she kind of hates that he phrased that as a question even though there is clearly only one possible answer. She's sufficiently in these people's power that she doesn't even dare ask what happens if she says "no", let alone actually say "no".

And, of course, this involves her being on the business end of a piece of unknown magic with unknown risks, wielded by a person of mostly unknown values.

How much information can she get out of him on how scared to be of this without making it look like she's seriously considering defiance...

"How does the process work, and in particular do I need to have control of the body in order to swear the oath?

Also, is this the kind of magical oath that magically *prevents* you from breaking it, or the kind that magically *punishes* you for breaking it, or something else?" Having a dormant curse on her that triggers if she speaks the wrong thing absolutely sounds like the stuff of nightmares. Sometimes things slip out that you didn't intend to say! Speech, while it has many uses, is objectively a kind of shitty method of communication!


Jasmine will relay her questions word for word, albeit with cold tone, and Orichalch will answer: 

"I do not believe you will need control of the body - while I have never applied the oaths to another under such circumstances as these, I have applied the technique to myself with intention alone, and it fails if the binder and the bound have different understandings or intentions for the oath. It will merely prevent speech or other intentional communication - the sensation of such restriction is in the moment not terribly pleasant but it is not painful and does not last past the end of the intention it is preventing you from acting on. It would not serve our infosec in the slightest to have a merely punitive oath - people are remarkably foolish, and it would only encourage those who believe torture to be an effective method of intelligence gathering by giving them a clear confirmation of which pain-addled pleadings contain truth."

"For you, the process is quite simple. Form an intention to abide by the oath - the terms I am suggesting are 'I swear not to reveal any information about the Bank's security measures which I learn today to anyone not properly authorised to have that knowledge', and I will touch you and apply the technique. It will be obvious if it has successfully been applied. The process is essentially harmless and operates by the same mechanism we use regarding more comprehensive infosec oaths for our own members, or the oaths we ask of certain clients, so you can trust that there is no deeper sting." 


Huh. That is a very reasonable explanation.

(Sure, he could be lying, but also there are plenty of things he could do to harm her that wouldn't require tricking her into them, so what would be the point? And it's clear that he's not lying about the lack of curses: it seems he has an even better understanding of why that would be stupid than she does. Well, he has had more reason to think it over.)

"I will swear the oath."


Jasmine will relay this dutifully; Orichalch will smile in as friendly a manner as an ancient being highly specialised in inquisition and pursuit possibly can.

"Thank you, this will go much more simply. Now, just recite that oath for me, if you will?" -  and when they do, he will recite "I so witness" in response and reach out with a hand glowing gold to tap their shoulder. It takes two touches, in fact, one for each of them. The effect settles onto them. It feels like a necklace of gold, currently loose and so light you could forget that it's there, but ready to strangle unwise words before they leave your tongue. 


Jasmine actually relaxes a little, with the oath. It's one more step towards knowing what her fate will be, and a good one, if they're apparently going to use the good stuff to prove Kedri's possible innocence. She's still suppressing the part of her that plans, because having a plan right now would probably be more dangerous than not, given how far above her Orichalch is. 

"This is going surprisingly well." She comments in the spirit of tentative comradery to Kedri. 


"I agree."

It is increasingly looking like these are fundamentally reasonable people, who are just understandably concerned about the sudden appearance of a mysterious spirit in their midst in a way that led to an unfortunate first impression. She would be glad to have them on her side, in the event that she encounters an actual demon.


"Well then! That solves a lot of problems. I now feel that I can openly tell you that the second scenario I was worried about is in fact something we consider handled by our normal protocols for new student intake - the number of schools and clans willing to send their geniuses to our sect to infiltrate is really remarkable, and when you look at the statistics, the rate of geniuses defecting to us for the better teaching, community, etc, more than makes up for the loss of low-security intelligence. But we'd rather not have it be public that we do keep statistics on that, because it might cause our enemies to stop making a predictable mistake. There's even a small bounty available if you successfully make friends with one of them - that's a secret from outer disciples who haven't learned it exists, for reference." 

"Making a determination about the first scenario will require us to go to another facility - if you'd walk with me, we can get started on that interview while we walk?" 


It sounds like there's rather a lot of high-stakes competition and intrigue going on within this society. Scarce, vital resources?

She really hopes her host will be able to do most of the navigating on the alien intrigue. Even the bits Kedri could theoretically keep up with are going to involve so much context she's missing.


"Should we try to switch back, then, to simplify the interview logistics?"


It's fortunate, then, that her host has been trained since the age of 12 to do just that. 

"That seems sensible. Relaying for you is somewhat tedious.

Jasmine will inform the inquisitor and then attempt to find the mental levers needed to yield control. After about five minutes and a few prompts from Kedri, she feels like she's going in the right direction, but - it requires her to relax and be emphatic at the same time, to pull Kedri to the front while also yielding the front herself, and she can't quite bring herself to, actually, do that. So it seems like, in the interests of getting to that determination done sooner rather than later, that she will be stuck relaying a while longer. 

"I'm sorry." she says to Kedri. She almost means it. 


Honestly, this is a refreshingly expected problem to have. If you went back in time a subjective day and told her that tomorrow she'd be a voice in someone else's head, watching from behind their eyes, feeling the body move to another's will but unable to move it herself, she'd be like 'oh, so I've got internal communication working, that's good'.

"It's alright. Like I said, it's not permanent."


And so, they will move on, through hallways and walkways. In this way, they see a little more of the complex they're in - a fortress the size of a mountain, the keeps and towers and spires strung together with walkways of white stone and flying buttresses that look more like something organic, like strings of sugar pulled thin, than like the works of a mortal stonemason. They pass guards keeping watch over locked doors, bureaucrats rushing about with papers, and stranger sorts with less clear purposes. At one point, a dragon, long and sinuous and storm-cloaked, can be seen in the distance out a window, flying above a patchwork landscape of fog-cloaked mountains, rice-paddies, and the yellow of rapeseed-flower. Eventually, they reach a central tower, where an elevator of the metal-cage style will take them down from the high halls of white stone into the underbelly of the castle, where there are fewer artistic paintings on the walls, and more pipes and mysterious interfaces set into niches. Everything is nonetheless, excellently maintained. 

As they walk, Orichalch will interrogate Kedri with a constant bombardment of questions - he entirely ignores matters of practicality and historical fact as much as possible, intent only on determining Kedri's own character, her personality, what's at the core of her. And, most importantly of all, if she is the sort to betray her allies and rob a bank in exchange for fabulous wealth and power beyond her wildest dreams. He is very good at his job. 


Jasmine will dutifully act as a relay, doing her best not to inject her own biases in as she does so. It's honestly kind of interesting, seeing an exam like this from (just barely) the outside, since she just got done with her own final round of exams (which admittedly had many other things they were testing besides philosophical compatibility.) 


Fabulous wealth and power beyond her wildest dreams, in a place as full of desperate people† as it sounds like this place is, is no true reward at all. Once you have enough resources to maintain a comfortable life indefinitely, having more just makes you a bigger target.

And if she betrayed her allies once, who would ever trust her again? A promise without magical enforcement is still a promise. Bank robbery would be a one-time benefit at best, followed by a lifetime of looking over her shoulder and an eternity of hiding what she'd done from the people of future worlds lest they realise who they're dealing with. To call such an act "selfish" would be giving it far too much credit: it would not truly be in her own interest.


She is not well-suited to conflict and fast-paced situations, but she's spent much of her adult life working to protect people in her own way and she's proud of that: proud that because--in part--of her, there are people who need never worry that the fish that has been sitting on their pantry shelf for a year is unsafe to eat.

She's had her occasions of violent rage, who hasn't, but she's long since learned to restrain herself long enough to find a soulless animal to take it out on, and even long enough to let it pass unsatisfied if she really must. "Voluntarily excluding herself from control of the body and getting a tanyikai to deal with the situation instead" seems like it will make that last option much easier and less risky to take, if still unpleasant.


She makes a mental note to ask whether dragons are sapient.


†'a desperate person is a dangerous person,' whisper the memories of civics and history lessons, 'people will do a lot of things if the alternative is a slow painful exile from their homeworld and their body; we ensure that nobody goes hungry or homeless, not just because someday it may be our own turn to need help, but because it is better to contribute a stable amount at regular intervals to a public fund to feed the starving than to be unpredictably chosen to feed a starving person at the end of the starving person's knife' ↩


Orichalch doesn't let on how he feels about all this, save for a friendly comment that she seems rather unambitious, and, after an extended walk, they find themselves in a room which resembles nothing less than a hospital X-ray room, with all the equipment made of solid gold, carved with runes that glow a steady blue. 

"Now, this setup is an inheritance from our very own founder, the 9th realm essence principle of security themselves! It's not cheap to use, but one can experience absolute certainty that nothing, not even another essence principle divinity, could overcome its ability to detect deception and hostility. Even with your oaths, you'll understand if I don't provide any more information about its method of operation. Now, if you could just take a seat there." He will move around various panels and occult devices to surround and face them, and then retreat behind an observation screen. "Don't worry, the process is entirely harmless. It's even had beneficial results in some cases!" And then he will operate something, on the interface next to him and then - 

- then there is light. It's like the overwhelming aura of Orichalch himself, but moreso, and lacking in a clear distinctive character, at least at first. As the moments pass, and the crushing, burning terror continues, it - becomes more legible, somehow. Slowly, the principle reveals itself - this is not a monstrous fire, but a defensive measure, emanation from a source far beyond them. But before either woman can get a sense for what that source actually is, the energy shuts off, as quickly as it started, and they're back in the mundane world, watching Orichalch puzzle performatively over instrumentation with no interface visible to the mortal mind. 


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