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Ahmose in Worm
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Oh, a language-learning artifact! That sounds even better than Tongues, people wouldn't need magic if they could just spend a few weeks learning all the languages there are, and of course they wouldn't need to spend a spell slot and be limited to a short time. Probably actually knowing the languages (all at the same time) and being able to compare them gives you a lot of insights - anyway, Ahmose will follow Officer Barret!

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Barret waits a short moment, and then the doors open to reveal a small room -- perhaps 5 feet by 5 feet. He beckons Ahmose into the room, and then taps the item from his belt to another black box and pushes another button. Now that Ahmose is closer, he can see that the item on Barret's belt is a small picture of his face with some writing below it.

Once Ahmose has entered the room, the doors close and there's a feeling like the floor is dropping out from beneath them. After a few seconds the feeling goes away, but then it feels as though their weight has increased and they're being pressed into the floor.

Then the silver doors open by themselves to reveal a corridor carpeted in fine beige carpet.

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Ahmose knows about lifts as a concept; he saw some used for cargo at the docks in Sothis, and heard that the grander and therefore taller palaces and temples use them for people as well. (He has, in general, heard that such places use servants for a lot of things that ordinary people can do for themselves, in this case walking. The only fancy place he personally visited was the Temple of Nethys and it had no lifts because high-status people teleported or flew around.)

This world has very tall buildings, so it makes sense they'd use lifts. He doesn't know how many floors they just went down, so he can't be sure how long it would take to go up from the street to the roof, but the smoothness and convenience are impressive, like all the local artifice.

The carpet is more of the same; the only reason he can think of to put a carpet in a hallway is to flaunt your wealth (because you can afford servants to constantly clean it, and your shoes too) or power (because you have magic or artifice that keeps it clean even without servants). Flaunting wealth and power suggests that not everyone is as rich and powerful, which - makes sense for a governor's residence, really.

He carefully laundry-spells his boots clean before walking out onto the carpet.

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Barret doesn't appear to notice, instead leading him down the corridor, around a corner, and into a large room with a long table surrounded by chairs. There is a stack of cups and an artifact of some kind half full of water in one corner of the room. The far wall is taken up by a large viewing screen, which also shows Dragon's face.

A man in blue metallic armor sits at the table. His armor is retracted back from his hands, allowing him to fiddle with an artifact which is opened on a tray in front of him. His helmet comes down to just below his nose, leaving his eyes covered but his mouth (and neatly trimmed beard) visible.

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"Thank you for coming in to talk with us, Ahmose," Dragon says from the screen, the phone in his hand going blanks.

She says something to Officer Barret, who nods to her and moves to stand outside the door.

"This is my friend Armsmaster," she continues. "There's an artifact in his helmet that will let me give him translations, so you can just talk normally."

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Armsmaster begins to move his mouth, but the motion is silent. A moment later a rough male voice issues from his helmet, out of sync with his words.

"It is good to meet you, Ahmose. Welcome to the PRT ENE. Do you want some water?"

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Why is he wearing a helmet that doesn't cover his chin? Normally Ahmose would think "it's magic" and leave it at that, but isn't these people's magic supposed to be only fifty years old and not full of mysterious ancient artifacts? What happens if someone hits him on the chin? Well, presumably it's a magic helmet and it still protects him, but - alright, Ahmose is going to admit he does not understand the constraints of armor enchantments (not even on Golarion) and focus on the actual conversation. At least it's clear why he's wearing a helmet at all; it's translating for him.

He isn't thirsty, but catches himself in time to say - "yes, thank you." Politeness! Progress!

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Armsmaster stands and takes two cups from the stack in the corner, filling them both with water. He returns to the table and sets one down in front of Ahmose, before carefully setting the other to the side of his project where he won't knock it over. Upon closer inspection, the cup appears to be made out of waxed paper. He resumes fiddling with the device in front of him.

"The PRT ENE can always use more law-abiding magic users," he continues. "We want to offer you help getting settled to our world, help potentially returning to your own world, money, artifacts, and support in exchange for your help protecting people from Evil magic users and monsters. But Dragon thinks that you will probably have many questions before you can decide. What can we tell you or help with to help you feel comfortable making that decision?"

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"I can also have some food brought up," Dragon chimes in. "If you've been in the woods since yesterday, I think you are hungry."

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Alright, Ahmose gives up, he has no idea what waxed paper cups are supposed to be flaunting. He's going to leave all that to more splendid people and just focus on what's actually important here, i.e. trading for their help to get him home and for his accommodations in the meantime.

 

Armsmaster's request is not unexpected! It's deeply terrifying, but Ahmose has been trying to prepare mentally for this possibility. He tried not to think about the encounter in which he cut off a monster's foot, because it was distressing and hopefully useless to think about, but realistically it was always going to come up and so now of course they want him to do it again.

"I would appreciate some food," he says on autopilot. "And I can help you - move people around?"

This is why he was so afraid of selling his portals back home. They were valuable enough for the true wizards to get involved, and when they replicated his spell it would be out of his hands. He could sell transportation and irrigation and a year later everyone would be using his spell to kill people. This world has no wizards - supposedly - but he's not sure what that implies.

"Do you think you would be able to copy my portals and use them yourself?" he asks. "Not just you personally, but anyone working with you, or someone else who sees me use them." He's sure they will try, and he's already using portals openly so maybe it's too late, but as long as they're still negotiating for it he might as well ask.

The question he really needs answered before accepting the offer is "how can I trust your word not to copy my spell if you don't know about Law?" but just asking that is probably poor negotiation tactics (and impolite). Besides, what if an Evil wizard does it? Ahmose doesn't want to go anywhere near Evil wizards but that won't stop them from coming after him.

He reminds himself he doesn't have to make a deal with them. He can make his own planar portals, so he can try going home the way he got here. Except no, if he can't target them he won't be any luckier the second time. But he can - go to another plane, Axis or Heaven or another Good afterlife, and trade with them or just ask for help? It's something to try, certainly, he just needs to avoid stupidly falling into the river this time.

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Armsmaster frowns.

"While there are magic users who have the ability to copy other people's magic, they are very rare," he answers. "And their powers usually have strict limits. The group that would be most able to do something like that would be the Yangban. Dragon tells me that she intercepted you just outside the northern border of their territory, actually."

He pauses for a moment, his screwdriver hovering over the device he's working on.

"And while I would like to examine your magic, to see if I can get any ideas of how it brought you here, I have not previously been able to entirely duplicate anyone else's magic. I have only been able to get inspirations for some related artifacts. Does that answer your question?"

He folds the device up, making a few small adjustments as it clicks together, until he is left with a small lumpy shape on a short loop of flesh-tone wire.

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That would be very convenient if true - but - "if a few wizards have learned to copy other people's spells, does that mean they're the most powerful ones, because they know many spells?" In a world where spells aren't widely shared or sold, one's library might be more important than one's spell circles.

"I think my spell could be very dangerous in the wrong hands, and we should be very careful the wrong people can't see or study it. That makes sense in my world. I don't know if it does in yours, but if there are some wizards here who can copy spells, that seems" - frightening - "important." This might also be a useful argument for not using his spell too much, or near Evil mages at all if he can help it.

"How exactly would you want me to use my portals, to help you fight the Evil mages and monsters?" This is the one million pounds question.

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"I think there may be a translation issue," Dragon interjects. "I have 'wizard' and 'magic user' down as meaning two different things. You said that being a 'wizard' is learnable. Our kind of magic user can't learn to do new things. They can learn to use what they have better, but not learn to use someone else's magic just by seeing it. The Yangban have a magic user who can copy someone's magic across a group of people, which they use to share abilities."

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"And even then, they aren't the strongest," Armsmaster continues. "That would be the Triumvirate, the leaders of our organization of magic users. Some people's magic is just much more effective than others."

He folds his hands in front of him.

"The primary thing we would want you for would be to transport large groups of magic users to and from battles with the monsters that are trying to destroy civilization. Other than that, your help with rapid deployment around the city would make us much more efficient. Direct combat would not be required, although clearly your portals are useful for that and would make you one of the more dangerous magic users in the city." 

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Aaaaah. Finally talking about it is - maybe no more stressful than constantly fantasizing about it? But still, aaaaaah!

Obviously he'll refuse direct combat, but - 

He made that deicision long ago, but it was when he thought his spell would be copied by others who would use it in direct combat and he would bear the moral weight of that and not even see any heroic combat.

When Ahmose was a little boy, he dreamed of heroically fighting monsters, as little boys do. And then he grew up and discovered that fighting people (evil! mages!) is (probably!) a really! bad! idea! but he still has to remind himself about it occasionally. Inside of every sane adult wizard is a crazy naive little boy who thinks he'll grow up to take on Geb. (And win and be feted and adored, la la la la la, he's not listening.)

Ahmose's mantra, which he thinks has served him admirably well since he discovered the portal spell and cut off a crocodile's tail in a spirit of scientific inquiry (and spent an hour shaking) and did NOT immediately start stealthily killing evil Gebite mages through tiny portals - ahem. Ahmose's mantra, which he repeats to himself now, is:

Killing is not a substitute for Splendor.

Because, really, would he want it to be? (Remember: evil! mages!) No? Good.

 

He refocuses back on Armsmaster. His habit of tinkering with something to keep his hands busy and to avoid eye contact - actually, his magic helmet that gives him an excuse to do that - are so relatable. His own hands always fidget in the laundry-spell pattern when he loses focus.

"I can help you with transport. I would want to hear why" - not 'why you're fighting the monsters that want to destroy civilization', obviously, that sounds sort of like the Worldwound, and he'd heard they were using teleports for supply so it makes sense he could help there, but there was a fight earlier in the city itself, so - "why you're fighting in the city? I mean - who's fighting you, and why, and when is it going to be fixed, and - why neither side has won yet, I guess?"

"And about the monsters that are trying to end civilization, we have something like that ourselves and I don't need any persuasion to help you fight them but I guess I'd like to know more about them. Ours come from a rift to the Abyss - the Chaotic Evil afterlife Outer Plane - so maybe it's... a clue to how to reach other worlds from here?" He ends the sentence a lot less confidently than he started it, because while technically going through a planar rift would let him open a planar portal back to Golarion, he does not want to go through a planar rift into the Abyss. (Now that he thinks about it, he also really hopes they don't want him to transport their troops there!!)

 

And - "I want the things you listed, obviously. I would like to" - convince you to help me get home quickly, and not keep me here because I'm useful - "um. I think if you make contact with my world, and maybe other worlds and planes, that could be enormously useful to everyone involved? Trade between worlds is probably very very profitable, each side has not just things but technology the others don't, like magic and - like clerics! So - maybe you should think of this as very important for you to do quickly? And not, um, just as helping me personally."

"Also, if it's possible, I'd like a way to talk to other people. Who are not artificers or wearing magic armor, I mean. I don't know if it's possible, because Dragon actually learned my language, but if there's someone who could make a translation" spell "artifact, I would be very grateful. ...And of course I'll try to learn the language if I have enough time here," he really hopes he won't, "but it will probably, um. Take me a long time." Because he isn't Real Wizard levels of cunning, like Dragon obviously is.

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Armsmaster nods, and hands him the device that he finished assembling a moment ago.

"I anticipated that you would need a translation artifact, and prepared one myself. It goes in your ear, with the loop around your earlobe, so it shouldn't fall off. It is yours as a gesture of good will."

Also it contains a tracking device, so that they don't need to rely on Dragon's jurry-rigged graviton field stress meter if the powerful young mover decides to go gallivanting to the other side of the world again.

Armsmaster reaches into a pocket built into the side of his armor and pulls up a thin, rolled up mat with a cord trailing from it.

"The power it uses should last three days between being refilled, but just to be safe, you should probably refill it while you sleep by putting it on this mat and plugging the cord into an electrical outlet."

He pauses for a moment. "Ah, Dragon says she hasn't translated 'electricity' yet. You should plug this cord into one of the holes in the wall that have a matching shape in order to get the power the artifact uses."

 

He carefully folds his hands again.

"As for explaining the gang presence in the city and the Endbringers, I can certainly do that. I will start with the Endbringers, which are a larger problem. If you have any information on where they come from, that could be very helpful, but I think they are not like your monsters. Dragon, would you --"

Her image disappears from the monitor, replaced by pictures of the three Endbringers captured from their most recent battles.

"These are the three Endbringers. We don't know where they came from or what they want, but every approximately three months, one of them attacks a city and does not stop until the magic users of the world band together to drive them off. Being able to get people there quickly could help save many lives, as could being able to efficiently remove the wounded. How do they compare to your monsters from the Abyss?"

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They are incredibly generous!! Maybe it's just - being richer, taking only an hour to make a permanent translation artifact - or maybe it's because they really value his goodwill?

He carefully inserts the device in his ear. He is now wearing a unique magic artifact which means he is Officially A Wizard Adventurer Rich Person - never mind. It's still very cool.

 

"I am - not at all an expert on the Worldwound," he admits. "It's on another continent and I haven't studied it. People go to fight it from all over the world, and I think the countries next to it have armies there?"

"So - there's a planar rift into the Abyss. Like a very very big, permanent portal that no-one can close. It wasn't always there, it was opened a century ago. And the demons, which live in the Abyss, come through and attack people. There are very many demons, of many kinds, and some of them are very dangerous and only a powerful wizard could fight them, but none of them are so dangerous that all the mages have to band together to fight it. ...although banding together is probably a good idea anyway if you can!"

"The Abyss itself is - one of the nine afterlife planes. After people die they are judged and sent to one according to their alignment. The Abyss is Chaotic Evil, and the people who go there become demons, and become very very chaotic and evil, and then they attack mortals when they can."

"Single huge monsters attacking whole cities, which you can drive off but not kill, is - I know we have stories of them, I think Ulunat was like that? It was a colossal beetle and its carapace is still in Sothis thousands of years later, it covers a big part of the city and protects it from attacks and magic. And there are others, more recent, I could try to recall details but I don't really - know a lot about it. None of them have come to Osirion, not in the past century anyway."

 

Something else is nagging him. "They attack a city every three months. And - you don't know which city, so you can't prepare to stop them, and have to get there quickly?" And no-one can kill them between attacks, which is - really much more terrifying in its implications.

"My portals only go a mile distant, every few seconds. So I open them in chains - one through the other, two open at once - and it takes me a day to go around the world. I can't take you quickly to a city unless I already have a portal in every city. And it would take me a long time to open so many portals." And he'd need a way to keep track of them, and anyone who found the far end of one could - probably do something through it?

Even if he did it wouldn't leave him enough power to open planar portals; he had to close all his regular ones to open the one that led him here. This is really discouraging; Ahmose really would like to help fighting huge civilization-threatening monsters (from a safe distance), but - not if it means he has to give up on going home!

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Armsmaster frowns.

"Hmm. That is unfortunate. It's possible we could find a workaround, however. Even if not, you could still create shifting portals between a remote site and the battlefield, which would help with civilian evacuation and keeping medics and wounded away from the confrontation," he suggests. "Many magics come with restrictions, but they are all still useful in an emergency."

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That sounds reasonable! "I'm willing to commit to helping against the city-attacking monsters, and other big emergencies. And - small ones, if they're in this city or somewhere else I already have a portal and can reach in time?" Ahmose does NOT want to imply that 'small' emergencies which are, in fact, still emergencies where people's lives are at risk, are somehow below him and not worth his time. It's just that - he needs time to work on getting home. And maybe for other less important things? All the emergencies in the world sound like a very-full-time job!

"I would still like to understand - why you can't attack the monsters yourselves, when a city isn't at stake and you can prepare? Is it because you can't kill them no matter what, only make them run away, and that's... pretty useless when they're already somewhere you don't care about, isn't it." Immortal monsters are terrifiying! "How do you drive them off, then?"

"Oh! And if you have a different magic that opens a portal, I can open mine through it without going the long way, I don't know if that helps." Are they limited to teleports? "And" - he stops himself before suggesting that whatever these monsters are like, a portal can probably cut through one, and also he has dreamed up this incredible, incredibly untested technique that might keep a monster pinned in place -

Ahmose has a feeling that in his excitement he might be arguing for the wrong side in what is supposed to be a non-Abadaran negotiation. He needs to remember to ask for the things he wants from them, too.

"Can you help me reach my world, and what would that entail? I will be trying myself, too, but - the reason I say 'trying' is that my planar portals are currently... untargeted. Because I can't see where I'm opening them, but I found - a sort of workaround for that, which lets the spell complete - unguided, sort of."

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"There have been proposals to attack the monsters in between attacks on cities," Armsmaster agrees. "But the monsters retreat to various difficult-to-reach places between attacks. Behemoth retreats underground, where we can't reach him. Leviathan retreats to the bottom of the ocean, where people would be crushed by the pressure and have difficulty moving even if they could survive there. The Simurgh flies up to orbit. She is theoretically the most accessible, but she has future-telling magic that makes it extremely hard to hit her at long ranges. And up in orbit, she has plenty of room to dodge."

He shakes his head.

"For better or worse, the only time we can fight them is when they come to us. I am working on a magic halberd that I think will be able to hurt them more than we've managed so far, though. Hopefully with enough help, new magic users, and hard work we'll be able to kill them eventually."

"As for sending you home, I want to be clear that I can't promise anything. We haven't seen a magic exactly like yours. But of course every magic user is unique, so that's not surprising. With that said, Dragon and I are very good at what we do. What it would look like is — you would use your magic in one of my scanners, so I can get an idea of what your magic does. Then we would see whether I could build an artifact that can tell how your portals are targeted, or manipulate or strengthen them somehow. What is possible depends on how exactly they work."

He spreads his hands.

"Even if I can't do anything to get you home directly, I could provide you with a golem to enter untargeted portals and tell you about what's on the other side. That's straightforward. So I really do think we can help each other a great deal."

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That does sound very hard to deal with! These monsters seem almost - themed, are they the elemental equivalents of demon lords or something and where is the Monster of Fire - never mind, he's sure these people know all that can be learned about them already and don't need to waste time with his uninformed speculation.

Ahmose almost suggests that maybe the Monster of Air, the Simurgh, can't dodge a portal slicing it in two even if it foresees it's coming, because portals as far as he knows open instantaneously. Then he realizes that the other thing you can do if you see a portal coming, after you've maybe dodged it, is reach back through it and twist the head off the idiot wizard who just opened it.

...he'll keep his mouth firmly shut. Monster-baiting should be left to professionals! These people don't even have insurance!!

(But how can Armsmaster hit it with a magic halberd if it just dodges everything - no stop that!)

Ahem.

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Scouting portals without going through himself and getting trapped on the far side again sounds like a wonderful idea! This is - basically all he wants, right, at least in the near term.

He still feels that he should ask a million more questions and get an extremely detailed contract and then pay a local professional to read that contract for him. Except he doesn't know which local people to trust, just like he can't just trust Dragon and Armsmaster. And he doesn't know what terrible consequences the contract should prevent, or for that matter what penalties to stipulate or who to name arbiter.

Ultimately there are two kinds of deals. Ones made with trustworthy people - anyone Good or Abadaran, basically - where you can pay them to look out for your interests, even if you're not sure what your own interests are, because everyone wants to do well by everyone else. And all the other ones, where you can try to outsmart the other side - which he couldn't do even at home, and it would be ridiculous to try here - or, well, you can just give up.

Ahmose really really doesn't want to try to outsmart an alien. Not least because he's very certain he'll fail! But he suspects he's not allowed to to just give up and give portals to the first people he talks to on an alien world, about whom he knows for certain only that they asked nicely.

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What are his options?

He can try to deal with someone else, or get someone else's opinion of Armsmaster. But how can he learn to trust someone else, if he can't trust Armsmaster (and Dragon)? They are clearly powerful, plausibly part of the local government (or other power structure), polite and friendly, and have very useful abilities; they put some effort into tracking him and extending an invitation, and even gifted him with a translation artifact. It seems like a hard to beat combination. 

Unless they're lying, and there are clerics on this world who could help him with more familiar magic and with contacting Golarion or the afterlives. But he couldn't find any temples. Anyway, he can keep looking and talking to people, even if he agrees to this deal.

 

Maybe he should focus on what, exactly, the risks are if they don't deal with him fairly.

If they can duplicate his portal-spell after all (whether they know it yet or not), and use it without his permission, then - they can probably enchant or dominate him and force his cooperation so they can observe his spell in Armsmaster's device. The same if he tries to walk away without making a deal at all.

If they can't duplicate his spell, but want to use it in ways he won't endorse with full knowledge, then - again, they can enchant or hurt him to force his cooperation. But then it won't matter if he agreed to a deal or not. 

Did he just prove that he should always make deals as if his counterparty is fair, because if they're not then it doesn't matter what he agrees to, as long as the deal has a clause saying "void if you turn out to be unfair"? Maybe! Who knows! God, he's only been away from Osirion for a day and he's already missing the one thing that made it a halfway decent place to live in.

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"I provisionally agree." He thinks that's the right word? He hasn't ever actually worked for someone before! "We should draft the contract. But there's so much I don't know about this world, so, um, I'd like it to be for a short period at first - like a few months - so I can renegotiate at the end of the period with more knowledge. And also in case we make contact with my world and I want to stop working for you and go home."

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Armsmaster nods. "We're glad to have you provisionally onboard. Since we contract with a lot of different magic users, we have a department of law-workers who help with drawing things up. I can send for one who will tailor one of our standard contracts with your ..."

His armor beeps.

"Excuse me, I have to go," he says, standing quickly. "Dragon, will you ...?"

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