« Back
Generated: Apr 15, 2018 2:19 PM
Post last updated: Apr 15, 2018 2:19 PM
light my way back home
Cor in Kitaloei
Permalink Eye

There is a space at the bottom of the world, where Earth and Ice and Shadow meet. It is cold, but not cold enough to kill; dark, but not too dark to see. A small round room, made of chilly black marble, lit by a dim and sourceless glow, with a spiral stair climbing the curve of the wall and a shallow circular recession in the exact center of the floor. The recession is maybe six feet wide by six inches deep, lined with something resembling pale frosted glass, and there is nothing in it.

Permalink Eye

A person, covered in artful blood and soot designs, lands halfway up the stairs, slumps onto the ones above in a dead faint, and lies there.

Permalink Eye

A voice speaks softly yet urgently in a language he has never heard before, repeating the same message over and over and over again. He is otherwise uninterrupted.

Permalink Eye

Eventually he wakes up. He shivers violently in the chill; he's barely dressed and rubs his arms and hugs his knees to his chest. Looks around.

Permalink Eye

The room is round. The stone stairs are broad and shallow, taking one full turn around the wall in their ascent from floor to ceiling. The mysterious voice is still repeating its indecipherable message. It sounds male, of indeterminate age, urgent but not emotional.

He could go up, or go down, or stay put.

Permalink Eye

He goes down, carefully.

Permalink Eye

Apart from that shallow down-step in the middle of the floor, the room is empty and featureless.

Permalink Eye

He goes and paces out the size of it to see if it has room for a spell.

Permalink Eye

 

After one step inside the circle, he can feel a humming in his bones, like a note too low to hear. It's not unpleasant, exactly, but it may be startling.

Permalink Eye

...he steps out.

Permalink Eye

As soon as he leaves the circle, the mysterious voice cuts off mid-word.

The humming stays with him, building slowly. Other sensations follow. The chill of the room softens - it's not warmer, exactly, but he's more comfortable in it, able to move easily without shivering. The dark is no less dark, but he can see more clearly. Something clicks into place, an intangible presence under his skin. It feels like it belongs there. He can see in the dark better than he ever did in the light. The cold air is as pleasant as a warm spring breeze.

"Congratulations," says the voice, and he understands it perfectly now, he could think in this language if he pleased. "It's yours now. Try not to destroy the world if you can avoid it. And find the creator. You're his only chance."

This time, it does not repeat the message.

Permalink Eye

how many fucking worlds are in danger of being destroyed

He tries stepping into the circle again.

Permalink Eye

—it's unusually easy to do that. His balance is perfect; his body goes exactly where he puts it.

There is once again nothing in the circle. And whatever it gave him the first time, he has it now. There's nothing left for him here.

Permalink Eye

 

He goes up the stairs.

Permalink Eye

With flawless grace.

And up above the room—

He stands on a triangular black marble floor at the bottom of a very large space. The three walls angling up and out from here are - not stone, not any substance he's seen before; one is pale blue and white with hints of green, one shimmers subtly with every conceivable colour adjacent to black, and one is patterned with dim greys and browns like an abstract painting of a distant cliffside. Far above him, rocky masses hang in the air, silhouetted against the faceted sky, serenely ignoring the call of gravity.

Permalink Eye

Well this isn't boring and uninhabited at all.

Are there more stairs out.

Permalink Eye

There are not. He could try climbing the unearthly walls. Or—

—the intangible presence offers him a suggestion, in the form of a subtle buoyant feeling. It seems to be trying to tell him that if he - shifts a kind of mental balance toward this feeling of lightness, he could go places much faster than he's used to.

Permalink Eye

 


Okay, mysterious subtle buoyant feeling, he doesn't look forward to starving down here for lack of space in which to paint. Let's have it.

Permalink Eye

The feeling of lightness intensifies, welling up like a fountain - and then where Cor was standing there is... still Cor, but without all those inconvenient physical parts. He can see for miles. He can hear the distant whistle of the wind blowing along the bottom of the main continent.

And he can move. He need only want to go in a direction and he's off, moving through the air as fast as a shadow, and with as little regard for obstacles.

Permalink Eye

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa can he move slower and get used to this instead.

Permalink Eye

Yes, if he prefers to slow down he can. And if he prefers to resume his human form he can slide that mental balance back toward solidity, but he might like to get on top of some land first.

Permalink Eye

Yes how about that land over there it looks land-y. Aaaaa.

Permalink Eye

 

And there he is, good as new, all digits and appendages and decorations intact.

Permalink Eye

 

What the fuck.

Permalink Eye

He's standing on one of those floating islands; from this vantage he can clearly see the bottom of the main continent even with his human eyes. It looms above him, a vast slab of rock, here and there a plume of mist pouring from its edge as a waterfall spills over the side.

No one is around to tell him what the fuck. Unless he would like to ask a rock, but they don't look especially talkative.

Permalink Eye

 

Okay. He will zoom somewhere with... civilization. Since this seems harmless. For now.

Permalink Eye

He can zoom so good! Look at him go.

There is civilization on top of that main continent. Plenty of it. He can see the brighter faces of the world from here, too; the continent sits midway between top and bottom, surrounded by the three middle faces, with the top three faces visible above. One of those top faces, the orange-red one, is noticeably brighter and more active than all the rest. It shines with all the colours of fire. There is a sun. It is sliding down the border between the fiery face and the neighbouring pale green-gold-grey one.

The nearest city is a very pretty one, close to the eastern edge of the continent. They seem to be fond of stained glass here. Nearly every window is an intricate work of art.

Permalink Eye

Okay. He will... coalesce... there.

Permalink Eye

It's a nice place to coalesce!

The city bustles, painted with light by the early afternoon sun. Over there is a museum of natural history built out of gorgeous pink granite; over here, a market where people are buying their groceries; thataway, a large public park with trees and shaded paths and a charming gazebo with a round domed roof—

There is something in the park. It's not entirely clear what something is, but his new companion/tool can sense it. Something has no physical presence, but it's very definitely present nonetheless. It feels - bright.

Permalink Eye

He will... dowse for brightness, tempting as the museum would be under conditions of less urgency.

Permalink Eye

A bit of park-wandering (during which he attracts a couple of odd looks from passersby) reveals that the bright feeling is located in the shade of this cluster of birch trees, where a little artificial stream curves past a wooden bench decorated with chunks of thick green glass. It's very pretty and peaceful here.

If he keeps looking, keeps trying to define the shape of the feeling, it almost starts seeming like a person, curled up in the grassy hollow next to the bench -

Permalink Eye

- sleeping peacefully in the shade of the trees - and when the branches shift, a sunbeam glints off her pale hair; she's still very translucent, but she's more there than she was a minute ago.

Permalink Eye

 

Okay. He's... going to not watch this total stranger sleep? He's going to go see if he can understand the locals and see about a bath and clothes. Maybe they have a charity or something.

Permalink Eye

The next person he sees is a middle-aged woman pulling a two-wheeled cart laden with unidentified sacks. She stops, brushes greying red hair of her eyes, and gives him a concerned look. "Are you all right, young man?" she asks, in the same language as the mysterious voice at the bottom of the world.

Permalink Eye

"I'm... lost, and I need a bath and some clothes. I'm not hurt." Will it help to say 'it's sheep blood and the sheep is fine too'? Probably not.

Permalink Eye

"Are you sure?" she asks, peering dubiously at him. "Well, I suppose you'd know. I'm afraid I don't know the way to the nearest Imperial House, but I was on my way home anyway, and I could spare you some old clothes. What's your name? I'm Onnri."

Permalink Eye

"Cor. Thank you very much."

Permalink Eye

"No trouble at all," she assures him, resuming her journey with cart in tow. "This way. How lost is lost? Should I be saying 'Birch Street' or 'Dawnbrook' or 'Golden Plains' or 'the mainland'?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, is there a name for the entire space enclosed by those colorful panels?"

Permalink Eye

"The world? Kitaloei. Goodness, you are lost."

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

"Well, you are in the world of Kitaloei, on the mainland, in the province of Golden Plains and the city of Dawnbrook, turning off Birch Street onto East Riverstone Road," she says, making the indicated turn. "And it's the first day of the year 3645, month of Fire," she waves up at the lit panel of the sky, "season of Chaos. I hadn't heard there were any other worlds to get lost from."

Permalink Eye

"I hadn't either till I tried it."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds like there's quite a story behind it. Anything to do with why you're wandering around in need of clothes and a bath?"

Permalink Eye

"I painted on myself to travel here and am not wearing much so I could paint on myself."

Permalink Eye

"Suppose that's logical. And here we are," she says, gesturing at a neat little two-story house with round windows and a small front garden. "I'll just be a moment taking this around back and then I'll let you in."

She and her cart proceed into a little lane that leads behind the house.

Permalink Eye

Cor waits.

Permalink Eye

And a minute later she comes back out front, sans cart, and unlocks the door and waves him inside. The interior of the house is pleasant and cozily furnished. "The bath is through there," she says, pointing at a door. "I'll go see about clothes."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you, that's very kind." He goes to have a bath.

Permalink Eye

The fixtures are reasonably easy to figure out. They have running water here. He can become clean.

When he emerges, Onnri is just pouring herself a cup of tea in the kitchen area that adjoins the living room. There is a stack of clean clothes perched in an armchair near the bathroom door - a few shirts and two different pairs of pants, presumably so he can pick what suits him best. Mostly blues and greys, though one of the shirts is trimmed with green ribbon, and generally Onnri-shaped, meaning somewhat shorter and wider than Cor; but it's not too bad, and the pants come with canvas belts with which to prevent them falling right off him in a comical fashion.

Permalink Eye

The pants take some figuring. He'll do a variety of colors. "Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"No trouble," says Onnri. "Cup of tea?"

Permalink Eye

"...sure, thank you."

Permalink Eye

She pours a second cup and offers it to him. It's interestingly fruity.

Permalink Eye

Sip. "I really appreciate the help."

Permalink Eye

"Well, if I showed up in a strange world in need of clothes and a bath, I certainly hope someone would help me," she says. "So it's only fair to treat others as I would like to be treated in their situation."

Permalink Eye

"That seems like a sensible philosophy."

Permalink Eye

"I like to think so!"

Permalink Eye

Sip. "Do you happen to know where I should go to ask about, uh, evacuating a ton of people from my world."

Permalink Eye

"...goodness," she says, blinking. "Ah - I'd try the imperial palace in First City, if I were you. Though I'm not sure how you'd get there, if you're in a hurry."

Permalink Eye

"...I have magic powers."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Well, there you are then. I'm afraid I don't have a map lying around, but they've got a huge glass model of the world in the museum down the road, we could go have a look and I could name landmarks for you."

Permalink Eye

"That would be really useful, thank you."

Permalink Eye

"Looking at the world model is hardly an onerous task," she says with a grin. "Just let me finish my tea." Slurp.

Permalink Eye

He finishes his tea too.

Permalink Eye

And they can walk to the museum, and see the huge glass model of the world.

It's real big. The bottom point (which is missing any depiction of the room Cor showed up in) is on the ground floor, and they have to go up to the second floor to get above the mainland; the top point hangs from the third-floor ceiling. There are no political divisions marked on the model, but the geography is represented in amazing detail.

"That's us," says Onnri, pointing at the eastern edge of the continent, where a plateau rises from the northeastern part of the green-and-yellow plains that span most of that edge. "Dawnbrook, in Golden Plains province. The provincial capital is Wind's Rest, to the south. Due west of us is the imperial capital, First City, a ways south of the Laughing Lake. Should I name everything else while we're here? I know all the provinces and their capitals."

Permalink Eye

"Sure, why not."

Permalink Eye

"All right. That forest north of us is Wildwood, and the capital's Honeycomb, in the middle of the northern half. The desert west of that is Silver Sands - isn't it pretty? - which is where we get a lot of the raw material for our glassworks, I was carrying home some Silver Sands glass when we met. Capital's Bramble Hill, middle of the west half. Then the pink mountains south of there are in Rose Mountains province, capital Flowering Falls in the north, and the grey mountains south of those are in Singing Mountains province, capital Westmarch, which funny enough is in the northeast part of the province. The little icy bit south of there is Glass Lake province, capital Slow River, which is way in the south next to a glacier; and the rocky hilly stretch between Glass Lake and Golden Plains is Dusty Hills, capital Highpoint, which is the very tall mountain you can barely see because it's got three floating continents hanging around right above it. Middle of the mainland is Laughing Lake province, capital Brightwater, in that notch on the south edge of the lake to the west. And that's it for the mainland, but there's five more provinces to go."

Permalink Eye

"Do you happen to know how it is that continents float?"

Permalink Eye

"Good question," she says. "I suppose a museum of natural history is an excellent place to get it answered, but personally I don't have a clue. They just do that."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"Anyway, those three are Rainmere with the bendy lake on it, capital Cliffside; Jeweled Sea with all those gorgeous icebergs, capital Lonely Shore; and Heron River with the long squiggly river, capital Misty Falls right where the river comes off the edge. Then those two continents holding hands up there," she points up toward the third floor, "are the Twin Steppes, capital Tall Rock, can't miss it, it's got a really tall rock. If we went up to the third floor to look at the top of 'em you'd see what I mean. And up there almost straight above us," she points again at a cluster of floating islands, "are the Blazing Isles, capital Long Drop 'cause it's on the highest inhabited land in the world and if you look over the edge you can see straight down to where Earth meets Ice. —Oh, I s'pose you'd need the faces named too, being from a different world and all?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

"So the top three are Fire and Light and Air - I'm sure you saw Fire outside, it's all lit up because it's Fire's month right now - Light is next, it's the shimmery one in the east, and Air is the one in the southwest. Middle three are Wood and Twilight and Water; Wood's in the northwest, Twilight in the east, Water in the southwest. And the bottom three are Ice in the northwest, Shadow in the east, Earth in the southwest. When the sun goes 'round the world it comes up the middle of Shadow, then Twilight, then Light, and reaches the top point at noon, and then for the second half of the day it goes down between Fire and Air and then between Wood and Water and then between Ice and Earth until it reaches the bottom point at midnight. 'S why we're called Dawnbrook, we sit right next to the dawn. Get the best sunrises in the world."

Permalink Eye

"...okay."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm?"

Permalink Eye

"Just really different from what I'm used to."

Permalink Eye

"Oh? What's your world shaped like?"

Permalink Eye

"I am from a sphere surrounded by emptiness. The sun is a ball of fire really really far away."

Permalink Eye

"...and outside the emptiness...? Or do you not know?"

Permalink Eye

"As far as we are aware, emptiness occasionally punctuated by spheres continues forever."

Permalink Eye

She blinks, trying to absorb this concept.

"...I wouldn't know what to do with a world like that," she says. "It sounds so - big."

Permalink Eye

"We don't have a way to leave our original sphere yet, except that I've apparently managed."

Permalink Eye

"Well. Welcome to Kitaloei. D'you want to look around and see if we can find an answer to how the continents float?"

Permalink Eye

"I should probably figure out the evacuation thing. Will you want these clothes back later?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, no, keep 'em. Good luck with the evacuation and all," she says.

Permalink Eye

"Thanks."

He leaves the museum before dematerializing; seems politer.

Permalink Eye

Armed with his new knowledge of geography, it's pretty easy to locate First City, right where Onnri said it would be; and there is exactly one building in First City that looks like it is definitely the imperial palace. It's very large. Nice architecture.

Permalink Eye

He appears at it. He... walks in.

Permalink Eye

Looks a bit busy around here. No one accosts him immediately, but none of the people in sight look like they can spare a minute to help a lost traveller; everyone is on their way from somewhere to somewhere else, often while writing something down or reading from a note or hauling a large roll of fabric or something in that vein.

Permalink Eye

 

"Excuse me!" he says loudly. "Who do I go to with a bizarre emergency?"

Permalink Eye

"Riale Kazegann," three people answer, not quite simultaneously.

"Not today, you just missed him," someone else calls. "He flew to Dawnbrook this morning to save the world. If it's desperately important try Viralenn Peribeti, but she's busy making funeral arrangements."

Permalink Eye

"Where in Dawnbrook would he be?"

Permalink Eye

"Search me," says the person who knows he went to Dawnbrook. "Vira might know, if it's important enough to interrupt her. She's in the Rose Room, east wing, fourth floor."

Permalink Eye

"It is probably that important." He looks for stairs.

Permalink Eye

There are stairs. The palace is pretty easy to navigate.

In the room on the fourth floor of the east wing with carved wooden roses hanging to either side of the door, there are a number of people coming in and out at all times and one very busy woman in the middle of it all holding a clipboard and having three conversations at once.

Permalink Eye

...it's important but not on a scale of minutes; he can wait a little bit till he'd be interrupting fewer people.

Permalink Eye

One of the three people she's talking to scurries off on an errand, and then another one, and with the space this opens up in her schedule she asks Cor, "Yes, what is it?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm from another world which is in the process of ending and I was told one goes to Riale Kazegann with bizarre emergencies, how do I find him, I have very rapid transit powers."

Permalink Eye

She blinks.

"...He took the Emperor's swoop and an imperial seal to Dawnbrook. Those are both distinctive things; you might be able to ask around, if you can get there fast enough to catch him before he moves on. I think he mentioned going to Highpoint next, but I don't know how fast or where he's headed after that."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you. Other trivia I should know before I get out of your way?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know how long your world has left but apparently this one has until the end of the year. And if you don't know what the Emperor's swoop looks like I can have someone find you a picture—Tifinn—" she gestures at one of the people hanging around, who nods.

Permalink Eye

"I do not, thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Follow Tifinn then. And good luck." And she turns back to her conversation, which soon afterward multiplies into two.

Permalink Eye

He follows Tifinn.

Permalink Eye

Tifinn finds him a picture of the Emperor's swoop, hanging in a gallery a few corridors away.

It's a member of the smaller, sleeker class of winged boats - there are always a few of those in the air over the continent, which he will have glimpsed in passing. This one in particular is made of dark reddish-brown wood with silver detailing, the outlines of feathers painted onto its solid wooden wings, with a pale green glimmer depicted in the air around it. The colour of the wood is unusual among swoops, and the style of those clean silver lines is extremely distinctive.

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Good luck," says Tifinn, already heading back toward the Rose Room.

Permalink Eye

Zoom.

Permalink Eye

Zoom!

It is getting towards evening by now, the sun sliding down the sky into the gap between the mountain ranges in the west, and when he reaches Dawnbrook the Emperor's swoop is sitting in plain view on the roof of a fancy hotel, parked on a landing pad next to a couple of lesser specimens of swoopkind.

Permalink Eye

He coalesces out front of the hotel and goes in.

Permalink Eye

"Hello!" says someone with the look of a hotel employee. "Do you have a reservation?"

Permalink Eye

"No, I'm looking for the guy who landed the Emperor's swoop on your roof."

Permalink Eye

"Ah - what for?"

Permalink Eye

"I was told he was the person to find if one has a bizarre emergency."

Permalink Eye

"I see. Well, I'm afraid I don't know where to find him, but I assume he'll be back at some point since he took a room here."

Permalink Eye

"Can I wait in the lobby?"

Permalink Eye

He hesitates, eyeing Cor's rather non-fancy outfit, but then: "Yes, certainly."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks. Do you have pen and paper I can borrow?"

Permalink Eye

"Ah - hm. Let me see," he says, and after some rummaging produces a small notebook with the look of hotel stationery and a fountain pen with an internal ink supply.

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

And he goes and takes notes.

Permalink Eye

A few hours go by. The sun sets, and the elaborate windows - everywhere in Dawnbrook has elaborate windows - paint the room with coloured light.

 

The woman he saw sleeping in the park floats in through the wall. She is seven feet tall and not at all translucent at the moment, and there is a band of black iron over her eyes, attached to a chain that fades into nothing as it trails away behind her.

Permalink Eye

"...hello?"

Permalink Eye

She doesn't seem to notice she's being addressed; she drifts to a halt a few feet in front of the door, waiting.

Permalink Eye

Possibly for the teenage boy who walks in the door shortly afterward carrying an enormous book with a braid of nine chains down the spine. They fade into nothingness as they trail from the end of their braid, most of them all in one direction, one reaching forward toward the floating woman, and one reaching backward—

Permalink Eye

—toward the man floating in the door, tall but not nearly as tall as the woman, with a half-open shirt showing the iron disc set into his chest, its chain stretched out toward the book.

Permalink Eye

"Are you Riale Kazegann?" he asks the teenage boy.

Permalink Eye

"...Yep! Why do you ask?"

Permalink Eye

"I went to the palace and asked who to go to with a bizarre emergency."

Permalink Eye

"And then flew to Dawnbrook looking for me? You must've been chasing me all day."

Permalink Eye

"No, I'm, uh, fast."

Permalink Eye

"...all right. So what's your emergency?"

Permalink Eye

"My world is, uh, also ending, it's going around. I came here via magic from there to see if I'd land on a place to evacuate or shunt world-ending magical byproduct. Wound up at the pointy bottom bit of this one and was mysteriously conferred additional magic powers including being fast."

Permalink Eye

"...huh," he says. "Have to admit I wasn't expecting that one. Uh - let's go up to my room and talk about it there."

Permalink Eye

The floating man takes the floating woman by the arm and up they go through the ceiling. No one in the room reacts to this at all.

Permalink Eye

"Who are your intangible friends? I found the woman sleeping in the park earlier."

Permalink Eye

 

"—they're the elemental spirits and nobody else can see them and now I'm even more intrigued about what you picked up at the bottom of the world. Let's go upstairs."

Permalink Eye

"Okay." Up the stairs. He doesn't even need the banister it's great.

Permalink Eye

Up the stairs and down the hall and here's a fancy hotel room and there are his intangible friends.

"So this guy can see you," he says to them, and "—oh, what's your name," to this guy.

Permalink Eye

"Corbelan. Cor for short."

Permalink Eye

"Nice to meet you. I'm Riale but you already know that."

Permalink Eye

"Telarin, spirit of fire."

Permalink Eye

"Ravkesial, spirit of light. I think you have the Blade of the Void."

Permalink Eye

"Great that's just what I needed in my life more void. It's a blade? How is it a blade as opposed to a - suite of superpowers?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know. We know it exists but we don't know much else. Its place in the cycle is as the force that destroys the world, but it's also supposed to be somehow crucial to saving it, only we don't know how."

Permalink Eye

"When it... attached to me... it told me to find the creator, I don't know what the fuck that means."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, that's me." He hefts his enormous book. "The Book of Creation. It's for creating things. I'm supposed to spend this year running around examining things closely so I can create the next world as well as possible, but that seems obviously inferior to saving this one so it's strictly my second-choice plan, first choice being 'figure out how to end the cycle of destruction and do that instead'."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Well. I found you. The mysterious voice said I'm your only chance. At what was unspecified. I was advised to try not to destroy the world. Which is admittedly a thing I might normally have to try to not do but it would take me more than a year."

Permalink Eye

"Well. That's an interesting wrinkle. My current plan involves touring the continent finding all the elemental spirits and waking them up early, then wandering around recording stuff in the book and seeing what I can figure out about how to save the world. Want to tag along while we figure out how to solve each other's problems?"

Permalink Eye

"...sure. Uh, I might be able to find them for you, I didn't just run across Ravkesial."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, that was going to be my next question - you said you found her sleeping in the park; even I can't see them before they're awake, we had to guess and then Telarin had to stand near where we thought she was and make a moving speech and then she appeared."

Permalink Eye

"A moving speech?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. To the theme of, uh - 'I know it's not your month yet but we might have a chance this time, get up and join the fun already'."

Permalink Eye

 

"I may need more context."

Permalink Eye

"There are nine months in a year, each associated with an element. In the ordinary course of things, on the last year of the world each spirit wakes at the beginning of their own month, and we assist the creator in making the next world. But the previous creator was skilled enough and dedicated enough to write a world where there is an obvious place for each spirit to sleep, and when the place is obvious enough to be found ahead of time, it's possible to wake a spirit early. As long as it's done in order. Fire, Light, Air, Wood, Twilight, Water, Ice, Shadow, Earth. Is that the kind of context you were looking for?"

Permalink Eye

"Approximately. My world is really different so I'm missing things that will seem basic to locals."

Permalink Eye

"Why, what's it like there?"

Permalink Eye

"Spherical. Being eaten by magical byproducts. Not, so far as I know, periodically recreated. Devoid of spirits, sleeping or otherwise. Also we have fourteen months."

Permalink Eye

"Spherical? Like, the outer shell, or...?"

Permalink Eye

"We don't have a shell, we live on a sphere enveloped in air in an infinite or near-enough void."

Permalink Eye

"Whoa."

Permalink Eye

"What sort of void is it?"

Permalink Eye

"Vacuum."

Permalink Eye

Thoughtful nod.

"It doesn't usually come up, but outside the shell of this world there is void," he points down, "and chaos," he points up. "Perhaps it would be useful if I told the story."

Permalink Eye

Ravkesial gets a sort of sad, withdrawn look on her face, but doesn't protest this suggestion.

Permalink Eye

"You okay?" he asks Ravkesial.

Permalink Eye

"The story starts with the elemental spirits being free," she says. "It doesn't end happily."

Permalink Eye

"In fairness to the people who did this to us, their world was ending," says Telarin. "But I should probably start from the beginning."

Permalink Eye

"...okay."

Permalink Eye

"So," he says. "I don't know if there are or were other worlds, but this one - in its first iteration - began a very long time ago, and it was not nearly as pleasant and stable then as it is now. There were nine faces on the world's shell, and nine elemental spirits to go with them, but instead of being arranged in a single stable configuration like they are now, the sizes of the faces shifted over time. Sometimes they came in close enough to nearly crush the continent - at the time there was only one, floating in the middle of the world. We had no control over the shifts in that elemental balance. I speculate that someone must have thought we did. Because, after it became clear that the shifts were getting worse over time, after it became clear that the world was going to end, I woke up on the first day of the last year of the next world with this chain binding my heart."

He taps the disc on his chest, illustratively.

"They didn't tell us anything, but it's possible to reconstruct some of the logic. The world was ending. They couldn't save it. But they could create the means for it to eventually be saved. The cycle goes on, and although it's not strictly true that every world is better than the last, they are improving over time. They last longer, they offer better lives to their inhabitants. One day we will learn how to end the cycle, and we will have a world strong enough to go on forever. I hope it's this one."

Permalink Eye

"I don't know what they assumed about us, but unless they thought we were deliberately destroying the world for our own amusement, it can't have been worth what they did to us," says Ravkesial. "The chains bind us to the book, each by some part of ourselves that is important to us. They took Telarin's ability to feel emotion, and my sight, and Camalirea's voice, and Ilifalyr's memory, and Avasendai's hands... I don't understand how they could have known us well enough to know how to hurt us this way, and not known that we weren't the problem."

Permalink Eye

"...okay, is it time for me to mention that my magic system is based one hundred percent on destroying things?"

Permalink Eye

 

"It may be time for you to mention that," says Ravkesial. "Go on."

Permalink Eye

"Three basic themes - fire, death, annihilation. It has its small utility uses like cooking - via fire - or weeding - via death - or dusting - via annihilation - but it can get more abstract and more involved. I got here by applying destruction to the barrier between worlds on the presumption that there might be such a thing. Any use of magic dumps some nonexistence into a disappearance point; every mage is hooked into one. We were - mistaken about how fast we were nonexisting the planet. It's a sphere, the points aim down - if you go down far enough you hit magma and after that we couldn't tell how far, but we assumed the rate was constant, it's not, the points eat their way onward on their own in addition to the amount they eat from individual spellcasting and it's accelerating. One punched through the planet, annihilated half a city, there was a war, it got worse. Some of my friends are trying another more conservative option with more moving parts. I tried this."

Permalink Eye

 

"If we can't save this world, you could dump your nonexistence here. If we can, you could evacuate all your people. But I don't know if we'll have the substance to spare to feed your magic."

Permalink Eye

"Void balances with Chaos, seems to be the lesson of this story," says Riale. "You've got the Blade of the Void, I've got the Book of Creation, maybe I can - throw some chaos at your disappearance points and shut them up. But unless your world is dying a whole lot faster than mine, I think we need to get this one figured out first. It doesn't sound like this system was designed to have important parts taken out of it, and you're holding onto an important part."

Permalink Eye

"If our math is right we have months to a couple years, but our math was catastrophically wrong before. Moonshot might work. As a stopgap I could send somebody home with a letter, tell my friends they can try to find more worlds, and then I can concentrate on this one."

Permalink Eye

"Sure, we can swing by the capital on our way from Highpoint to Wildwood in a couple days and find a volunteer. I mean - I could wave my imperial seal around Dawnbrook until we find somebody willing to sit still for being voided into another world, but if it's somebody I personally know then I know more about - how they're judging the risks, how they really feel about it, so I'm more comfortable asking crazy things of them."

Permalink Eye

"I can wait a couple days."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Good." He takes a deep breath and lets it out. "Wow, it has been one fuck of a day."

Permalink Eye

"Me too."

Permalink Eye

Wry smile. "Yeah. I uh. ...we had an immortal Emperor, until this morning. He was my best friend. That's probably - relevant information."

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks. ...first thing I'm doing after we save the world...s... is figuring out if I can do resurrection with my creation powers."

Permalink Eye

"How do they work?"

Permalink Eye

"I have this book," he hefts the book, "and I can—record things in it—" he opens it and flips through the pages. Every page has a drawing of some object, exquisitely detailed, so realistic it feels like you could just pick them up off the page and hold them in your hand. A lamp, a book, the Emperor's swoop, a tray of tasty-looking food, the imperial palace. "And I can create anything that's in there." Tray of tasty food appears on a spare bit of table. "And I'm supposed to be able to use the stuff I record in the book to sort of - make a blueprint for the next world, so it appears that way when this one's done - and I already asked about putting people in the book, and you have to know them really well and even if you get them down perfectly it's just their - self, not their memories, and you can't just create people with the book, they come out as bodies without minds. So I could write Kanero into the next world, and I very well might if saving this one doesn't work out, he made a really good immortal emperor, but I couldn't bring him back right now even as far as 'same person with no memories'."

Permalink Eye

"...I don't see a way to help you with that with either of my destruction-themed power sets."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. But saving the world will give me time to figure more things out, nobody's ever had longer than a year to work with this thing, and the spirits can only learn so much when they're not the ones using it... anyway."

Permalink Eye

 

"It's possible that your original destruction-themed power set could do something about the chains, but please don't try it," says Ravkesial. "I don't know what it would do to the system, and if it broke the cycle in a way that ended the world permanently..." She shakes her head. "I'd stay like this forever if it meant everyone else got to live."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, agreed," says Telarin.

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I was totally planning on trying as soon as I had a disappearance point that wasn't on my rapidly disappearing home planet," he says, "I'll - be more conservative, sure."

Permalink Eye

"After we save the world, if we do, we'll have time to pick the knot apart. Until then... we don't know how this system works but we do know it was meant to lead to an undying world, and I consider it of the utmost importance to get to that point before we start to pry at its moving parts with tools it is unprepared to encounter."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"Much as it makes me itch, that does make sense," Riale agrees.

Permalink Eye

Sigh.

Permalink Eye

"Should I like go wave my imperial seal and get you your own room," he suggests.

Permalink Eye

"That would be neat if you can do that."

Permalink Eye

"I will go and do that."

He leaves the room.

Permalink Eye

"It's strange having someone who isn't the creator able to see us," muses Ravkesial. "It's been so long..."

Permalink Eye

"Well, yep, I can see you. Hi. I saw you in the garden but I decided it would be creepy to watch you sleep so I didn't hang out."

Permalink Eye

...she smiles slightly. "Well thank you for that."

Permalink Eye

"You're welcome."

Permalink Eye

"I hope we can save both the worlds. Or at the very least save this one and evacuate yours to it."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Me too," says Ravkesial.

Permalink Eye

Riale comes back and hands Cor a key. "You're right across the hall."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks. Uh, g'night, unless there's more things we should discuss."

Permalink Eye

"If there are, I think they can wait for the flight to Highpoint tomorrow, it'll take most of the day unless your fast thing can take passengers."

Permalink Eye

"I haven't tried but it would be sort of weird if it could, it involves kind of discorporating."

Permalink Eye

"Well now I'm fascinated but I bet my fascination can wait until tomorrow morning and I should get to sleep so we can get an early start. G'night."

Permalink Eye

"G'night."

Cor goes to bed.

Permalink Eye

And so does Riale, and he wakes up early in the morning and eats breakfast and leaves his door half-open while he sits with the book and puts things in it, so he'll know right away when Cor emerges.

(The rooms have fancy bathrooms and comfy beds and tasteful furniture and are generally expensive-seeming. This is a very nice hotel.)

Permalink Eye

Up gets Cor.

Permalink Eye

"Good morning! Ready to go? Do you get airsick - I guess maybe you don't know if you get airsick. Well unless you get airsick while discorporated in which case I am so sorry."

Permalink Eye

"Being discorporated is not uncomfortable in any way. I have not flown other ways."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Then I guess if you turn out to get airsick you can fly to Highpoint your way and we'll catch up."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds like a plan."

Permalink Eye

"Want to have breakfast before we go, or try to eat in the air?"

Permalink Eye

"How common is airsickness?"

Permalink Eye

"Not that common, but I don't know how being from a world without flying vehicles changes things."

Permalink Eye

"Eh. I'll try eating in the air and I can stick it out till lunch if this is a bad plan."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

He picks up his book.

"I'll go tell them we're leaving, then meet you on the roof."

Permalink Eye

Telarin takes Ravkesial's hand to lead her up to the swoop. Since Cor might need some guidance there too, he politely refrains from going straight through the ceiling.

Permalink Eye

Cor follows spirits.

Permalink Eye

And here they are on the roof. Telarin settles Ravkesial onto one of the swoop's wings and sits beside her. There is some passenger seating available for Cor in the vehicle's main body.

Permalink Eye

Plop.

Permalink Eye

Riale emerges onto the roof a minute later and climbs into the swoop to sit at the controls.

"Highpoint, here we come," he says, guiding the vehicle into the air. "There's food on board, or I can make you something with the book, although my selection's not great because I've only had it for a day."

Permalink Eye

"I have not had time to become bored of book food."

Permalink Eye

Giggle. "Okay, here," and he puts a hand on the book and a tray of food appears in front of Cor. It may possibly be the same tray from last night's demonstration.

Permalink Eye

"Thank you." Nom.

Permalink Eye

"So, any new thoughts since last night?"

Permalink Eye

"I really don't know how to solve your problem, but if we can send a message back to my world and they can find more worlds, maybe one of them can."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe, yeah. If your world finds more worlds to evacuate to, I'd consider sending everybody out of this one, in case I can't save it - but that would involve a lot of your magic unless you got really lucky at scouting and found a different way to move between worlds, and it doesn't sound like it's a good idea to use a lot of your magic. And from everything I've heard, there's supposed to be a built-in way to make this world not end. I've got a whole year to find it; if I can't manage that, what am I even doing?"

Permalink Eye

"Drawing food?" suggests Cor. "Uh, it's fine to use a lot of my magic as long as you have a stupidly large quantity of stuff and space you don't mind being destroyed, it took a long time to go through our planet with a lot of casual use. Roasting chicken and so on."

Permalink Eye

...he laughs. "Well, fair enough. If we can afford to preemptively evacuate this world, then we should do it, assuming we haven't figured out how to save it by then. But I think your world should be the evacuation priority."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, everyone there is - already aware the world is ending, people here are mostly doing okay seems like."

Permalink Eye

"They'll start getting upset when word gets around that the Emperor is dead. But yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe I'm underestimating how alarming that is."

Permalink Eye

"He was immortal, he'd been around since the beginning of the world, he was - a constant, a background fact. And then he just died for no reason."

Permalink Eye

"What does it mean to have been around since the beginning of the world? Did a bunch of fully grown adults wake up and go 'gosh golly, a world'?"

Permalink Eye

"...yes? And it is now three thousand six hundred and forty-five years - and one day - after that."

Permalink Eye

"And they were all normally mortal except the one guy? What else was in the world with them when they started, did you go from stone age on up in this time?"

Permalink Eye

"All the geography was there from the beginning, and the middle bits of First City, the palace and some outlying stuff and houses and so on."

Permalink Eye

"...weird."

Permalink Eye

"Most iterations of the cycle start with less than that. The creator from the previous world was very thorough."

Permalink Eye

"Did people wake up knowing how to do things? Did they have names? Did they find suddenly existing unsettling?"

Permalink Eye

"Kanero said everyone started with the language and he in particular woke up knowing it was his job to run things. And they could all walk and move and eat and stuff right from the start. Everything else they learned from the library."

Permalink Eye

".......weird."

Permalink Eye

"It sort of makes sense, if the book can put people in the next world but can't put them in with memories, that that's how they'd show up... and I don't know what trick the last creator pulled to make Kanero immortal but I'd love to find out."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, nice trick if you can get it."

Permalink Eye

"With an obvious flaw, though. He died right at the beginning of the Last Year, which suggests to me that he was tied to the lifespan of the world. If I can make the world undying and then figure out how to make everybody immortal that way, that'd definitely be better than nothing, but I'd rather not tie everybody to the world in case something happens to it one day, you know?"

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense. I'm glad I can leave my dying world."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Sigh.

"So - tell me about your world, I guess. Spheres? How's that work?"

Permalink Eye

"There's a universal principle according to which everything trends towards everything else in proportion to closeness and size. There's a lot of emptiness and the stuff in the emptiness tends spherical and things on sufficiently large spheres experience down pointing toward the center. Sphere's got oceans and continents and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"...huh. That's... I kind of like it. It's got style."

Permalink Eye

"Alas, I can't take credit for it."

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

Permalink Eye

"There are a lot of different languages - the, uh, blade of the void, gave me this one, I didn't speak it yesterday morning - and a lot of different countries, usually with more decentralized government structures because it's only difficult, not impossible, to assassinate people remotely by magic. I lived in a distributed city called Gatesnest with neighborhoods all over the globe, connected by a lot of gates."

Permalink Eye

"Gates?"

Permalink Eye

"My magic can with some finesse use the nothingness byproduct to make there be no distance between separated points."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. They're cool."

Permalink Eye

"Pity about the, uh, world-eatingness."

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

"I'd suggest you could bring local magic home eventually, but I don't know if it works in other worlds..."

Permalink Eye

"In each iteration the magic of Kitaloei is primarily designed by the previous creator. There are - underlying themes - but the details can vary widely. I don't know what that suggests about its portability, but it does seem relevant to the question."

Permalink Eye

"What are the themes?"

Permalink Eye

"Difficult to describe. But I've seen enough to have an idea of what is ordinary and what is surprising. The magic of this world, from what I've seen so far, is admirably well-constructed but otherwise not strikingly unusual. If I woke up to a world in which your magic was in common use I'd be very surprised indeed; it... occupies a different region of possible effects. Someone could design a world here with a magic system that was good at destroying things, but it would not be limited to only that, it would not destroy more than it was asked to, and I don't think it could be used to do more - abstract - things like move between worlds by destroying whatever is in the way."

Permalink Eye

 

"When you put it that way," says Ravkesial, "I'm a little concerned about what mass transit in and out of Kitaloei using that magic would do."

Permalink Eye

"I didn't notice any effects directly related to my arrival here but I'd definitely be leery of locating a disappearance point here."

Permalink Eye

"If there is such a thing as a barrier between worlds, and you're doing damage to it every time you travel... there is a barrier around Kitaloei and it is crucially important to the world's survival," she says, gesturing at the faceted sky. "We are... like a bottle in the ocean, afloat on the boundary between air and water. If the shell cracks, we drown."

Permalink Eye

"...okay, I can see that being a problem. I was trying to work on a more abstract level than that but it's possible I did not succeed or that success is impossible. But on the other hand I didn't come through one of those ...visible, flat, located things. Those things are still in places and I didn't move."

Permalink Eye

Nod. "So it's likely that there isn't a problem, but - not entirely certain."

Permalink Eye

"Now here's a cheering thought," muses Telarin. "Inside the shell of the world, we're safe from what lies outside it. But your world has no shell. So if there were a barrier that could be weakened between here and there, and you weakened it too far, would your world be overrun by floods of Void and Chaos?"

Permalink Eye

"That's the least cheering thought I've ever heard, and it has some competition," says Riale.

Permalink Eye

"Conveniently I landed indoors, so to speak?"

Permalink Eye

"So if I end up writing the next world I should give it a stable, portable, side-effect-free magic system that does interdimensional transit. And if I end up saving this one - I don't know, maybe there's a long way around for magic system creation and I can make one anyway."

Permalink Eye

"How does magic here work?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm not an expert, but basic summary: by ritual, you can turn an object into a magic object. The more impressive the magic object, the more time and complexity is required. A swoop like this would've been maybe three or four months of work from a dedicated swoop manufacturer, and to be a swoop manufacturer you need a huge number of magical tools that each might take a month or more to make and aren't useful as anything except ritual components for making flying vehicles. Swoops and soars might be the most complicated magic objects in the world, but most of the other really useful stuff also needs magical tools to make, just not a hundred of them and not necessarily ones dedicated to making that specific thing and nothing else. I think light-stones and heat-stones and cold-stones all take the same set of tools to make, for example."

Permalink Eye

"...were all the rituals just written down in the library?"

Permalink Eye

"No, people keep inventing more of them, I think most of what was in the library was like - principles of ritual development and the rituals to make the tools to make better tools to make useful things with."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds like exactly what I would expect from the previous creator."

Permalink Eye

"What was the previous creator like?"

Permalink Eye

"I explained the situation to him as soon as I woke up. He spent ten minutes efficiently extracting everything I could tell him about the prospects for saving his world, determined that he wasn't confident enough in his ability to succeed for it to be worth trying, and from then until the end of the year he did nothing that was not strictly necessary to the project of making this world the best one he could possibly write. I have been doing this for a very long time and I have never met someone so dedicated."

Permalink Eye

"How are creators designated?"

Permalink Eye

"It's not clear. But - there does seem to be some selection at work. It's always... not necessarily someone who ends up doing a good job, but someone who could."

Permalink Eye

"And we know they're picked before the world actually ends, because - my first sign that something was wrong when I woke up yesterday morning, before I saw Telarin, was that I hadn't had any horrifying nightmares about the world coming to pieces that entire night. Which has not otherwise been the case for as long as I can remember. Apparently that's a thing with creators. And then the nightmares stop on the first day of the last year."

Permalink Eye

"...that's, uh, weird. Why would that be built in? How much of this was designed - is the, uh, world always the same shape -"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, it's always shaped exactly like this, although the size can vary; better-designed worlds are often bigger. It's hard to tell how much of what we see was deliberately included by the people who designed the system, and how much was accidental. I can't think of a good reason for the nightmares but it's possible they were meant to be something else, or not meant to happen at all, or that whoever designed them was the same person who included the chains and that's just the sort of person they were."

Permalink Eye

"It seems intuitively weird to me that the size varies but the shape doesn't. Maybe people and things are sometimes smaller?"

Permalink Eye

"Why would it be strange for worlds to vary in size but not shape?"

Permalink Eye

"Mostly because there's the constant outside stuff? If you can make a completely new thing amongst the void and chaos in the absence of this crystaly shape being here at all, I don't see why it would have to be another crystaly thing and not a differently shaped thing. If it's not completely new, it's not obvious how it would grow or shrink."

Permalink Eye

"Since the world changing shape was so much of the original problem, I imagine they arranged for the shape to be static when they were designing the cycle. It may very well be possible to create other things, but this system isn't built to allow for it."

Permalink Eye

"And I think having nine sides is - a property this world keeps even through the cycle of destruction, because of us. If you wanted to make something that had a different number of sides I think you would need a different set of spirits, or something else entirely."

Permalink Eye

"How do you guys work?"

Permalink Eye

"What do you mean?"

Permalink Eye

"My world doesn't have elemental spirits, gimme the elemental spirits introduction."

Permalink Eye

"Before the cycle, we had physical form, and could command our elements as easily as moving or breathing. We still retain a... much reduced version of that power. And... there is a sense in which we are the embodiments of our elements. The most important thing for any creator to record in the book is the spirits, because the more accurately we are represented in it, the more easily the creator can work with our elements in making the next world."

Permalink Eye

"Most creators can only work with - imperfect descriptions - when recording things. I'm told Riale leaves behind flawless images whenever he puts his hand to the page. Except of us, because he does not know us well enough yet."

Permalink Eye

"...is flawlessness a natural category?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes. When a creator puts things in the book, some of them write down descriptions, or make sketches; and some of them put their hands on the book and cause sketches or descriptions to appear in it, drawn from their thoughts; and if someone doing the second thing knows their chosen object very, very well, the book will show an image that looks like it could leap out of the page, and every detail of the object will be in the book, even the ones the creator did not personally observe. Most of them learn how by the end of their year. Managing it on the first attempt is impressive. On the first and every subsequent attempt, even more so."

Permalink Eye

"Hm."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm?"

Permalink Eye

"Trying to get it to sort of - snap together. Uh, my magic system trains me to think in terms of the aesthetics of things - for anything more complicated than 'set it on fire' we have to funnel the destruction through a sort of painting of the aesthetic properties of what we want done - and this world is not snapping together for me aesthetically yet."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I'm not the artist I once was, but perhaps I can help."

Permalink Eye

"You - were - an artist?"

Permalink Eye

"Out of all the things I do with my time it seems to have been the only one that needed my heart to work properly."

Permalink Eye

 

"I'm sorry," he murmurs.

And he flips the book open in his lap and puts his hand to the page. A fiery shimmer of light peeks out around him before he closes the book.

Permalink Eye

"Did you just book him?"

Permalink Eye

"I - updated his page. He said that it's important to have as accurate a picture of all the spirits as possible and I should update his page whenever I think I understand him better."

Permalink Eye

"What happens to you if you're inaccurately rendered? You seem to have continuity of memory..." Cor says to the spirits.

Permalink Eye

"We come through just the same regardless of what the creator envisions. But... while it's possible to build a world without consulting us, having good representations of all the spirits in the book makes working with everything else that much easier."

Permalink Eye

"How so?"

Permalink Eye

"Similarly to how representing an object perfectly in the book will let you work with details of it other than what you personally observe, representing a spirit well in the book - no one has ever done it perfectly - will let you work with details of that element other than what you personally observe, and that can be very valuable."

Permalink Eye

"Huh."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not sure it's possible to represent us perfectly," Telarin muses. "With all our missing pieces. But then, maybe a perfect representation of me as I am now would be accurate enough."

Permalink Eye

 

"Your picture filled in a little when I updated it after I learned you used to be an artist," Riale reminds him. "Who you were is part of who you are."

Permalink Eye

...he can't seem to decide what to say to that.

Permalink Eye

Ravkesial pats Telarin's arm. "I'll be glad for you, since you can't."

Permalink Eye

"If it's possible to represent a spirit perfectly, I think Riale might be able to do it," says Telarin. "And I very much wonder what uses that will have. What would a world look like, created with a full understanding of the elements?"

Permalink Eye

"Maybe I can upgrade this one when I save it and you'll get to find out."

Permalink Eye

"What kinds of deficiencies are associated with inadequate spirit representations?"

Permalink Eye

"There was a creator once who had a lot of trouble understanding Camalirea, the spirit of air, and the world he ended up writing had no wind. It didn't last very long. Wind turns out to be important for a lot of things. But usually the effects aren't that obvious or dramatic."

Permalink Eye

"...I can see wind being important for a lot of things but world duration isn't intuitively one of them."

Permalink Eye

"The duration of each world seems to be set by the system at the time of its creation, based on factors including how - basically functional - the world is going to end up being. That world was not very functional."

Permalink Eye

"That seems like a... partially subjective... criterion."

Permalink Eye

"What do you mean?"

Permalink Eye

"A place without wind might be bad for people or even for plants but I don't think it's bad for, like, rocks? So whatever is making this judgment probably cares about people and plants and not rocks, or not very much about rocks."

Permalink Eye

"The - capacity to comfortably sustain human life in the long term, might be a good way to put it."

Permalink Eye

"I feel like being a prism might inhibit that. Population growth."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe completing the cycle will afford it room to grow. Or maybe it wasn't designed with that in mind."

Permalink Eye

"I have a few complaints about the design of this cycle already but if it turns out I have to choose between ending up with an expandable world and saving this one I'm going to be really annoyed. If the world just can't grow then the world just can't grow and interworld transit will have to do, it'd be less - personally frustrating that way."

Permalink Eye

"Fortunately, yesterday interworld transit was invented."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, congratulations on that."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks!"

Permalink Eye

"It opens up a lot of possibilities that were previously not even in sight as options!"

Permalink Eye

"Speaking of which, is it possible there are other shapes bobbing along the sea of chaos?"

Permalink Eye

"...Good question." He glances back at the spirits.

Permalink Eye

"I don't know how we'd tell if there were. But I would be very interested to find out."

Permalink Eye

"Do you think it would be possible to look for them?" asks Ravkesial of Cor.

Permalink Eye

"Uh, yes, by going back to my world and trying from there, I don't have teleportation. Gates require you to actually visit each location."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm. Then they might not be of all that much more use to you than any other world you could find. Although you might be of more use to them..."

Permalink Eye

"And we don't actually know what would happen if you went home with the Blade of the Void."

Permalink Eye

"...might be bad?"

Permalink Eye

"It could be that it would neatly break the cycle and this world would not end at the end of this year and everything would be fine. It could be that it would messily break the cycle and this world would unravel and be consumed by Void and Chaos on the spot. It could be that nothing interesting would happen and you could go and come back as many times as you liked. Although I do think there's reason to expect that if you were outside the world at the end of the year, there might be disastrous effects to you, the cycle, or the world."

Permalink Eye

"...I mean, I did invent interworld transit specifically to avoid being on a dying world. So I'm not terribly thrilled. But maybe the place can be saved. I can send someone else with messages so they can find more dumping grounds and evac sites, anyway."

Permalink Eye

"I will do my best to save the world," says Riale. "I mean, I was going to anyway, but it'd just be so unfair if you succeeded at getting out of yours in a brilliant unprecedented way and then went down with this one instead."

Permalink Eye

"So unfair! Although I'll settle for managing to get mine word that the spell worked."

Permalink Eye

"If I have any say in the matter, you will not end up needing to settle."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Where do you come by all this confidence?" wonders Ravkesial.

Permalink Eye

"I just - don't see any use in giving up before I've had a good try. And my definition of 'a good try' is... pretty thorough."

Permalink Eye

"Pretty serious time limit though."

Permalink Eye

"Well I'm waking the spirits a lot faster than normal, I bet that's going to help."

Permalink Eye

"Happy to be of service."

Permalink Eye

"Being able to find them easily is going to help so much! We're sure about Camalirea being on Highpoint but Highpoint is, uh, a mountain, there's kind of a lot of it. And we don't have Laisanni narrowed down any farther than the province."

Permalink Eye

"I have a lot of range and speed and creepy detecty powers!"

Permalink Eye

"Thank you very much for helping save this world with them!"

Permalink Eye

"Well, you know, why stop at one."

Permalink Eye

"The right number of worlds to save is 'as many as you can get your hands on'," Riale agrees.

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

Permalink Eye

Ravkesial smiles quietly.

Permalink Eye

"Hmm, what else can we do on this trip that's useful... would you like to learn how to fly a swoop while you're here, in case that comes in handy?" he asks, glancing back at Cor.

Permalink Eye

"Sure, sounds fun."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, if you come up I can show you the controls—"

He does that. They're reasonably straightforward. Do this to turn, do this to tilt up or down, do this to go faster, do this to go slower, and this is the control that settles you onto the ground properly after a successful landing but it doesn't work while the swoop is in the air because that would just be asking for accidents.

Permalink Eye

Cor is a quick learner!

Permalink Eye

"And that's pretty much all you need to know to get around in a swoop," he says ten minutes later, "although if you want to do anything fancier than plain flying it's a good idea to practice first."

Permalink Eye

"Is there much call for fanciness?"

Permalink Eye

"Not usually. Especially for you, since you can fly faster on your own and with much less risk of crashing into anything. But if it comes up for whatever reason - the thing is, if you're doing tricks or trying to fit through a small space at speed or whatever, you kind of need to be at the point where instead of thinking 'okay I need to go up so I should pull that lever and then I need to turn so I should...', you think about how you want to move and manipulating the controls happens automatically. And practice is the only way I know of to get there."

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"We don't have anything this... purely vehicular... at home. There's carriages but those involve horses."

Permalink Eye

"Purely vehicular! Yeah, that's a way to put it. Horse-drawn carriages have been getting steadily less popular for a while now, because magic versions are more expensive but take less upkeep and, uh, don't poop in the streets. But anything that wants to get between continents has to fly, so most long-distance vehicles for travel and cargo are soars, and swoops for when you care more about how fast you get there than how much you can carry on the way."

Permalink Eye

"Those are cute names for them. Insofar as I have an aesthetic in this language, which to a surprising extent I seem to."

Permalink Eye

Giggle. "Well, I agree, for whatever that's worth. Evidence that your aesthetic is not wildly miscalibrated relative to local tastes."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. Thanks, language-granting magic sharp object."

Permalink Eye

"It grants languages - or one language, anyway - and flight and spirit-finding powers and... what else, I wonder? Very versatile for a magic sharp object. My book basically only does the one thing. It's a useful thing and has some useful subcomponents but it's still pretty singular."

Permalink Eye

"It's not a very coherent sharp object. My original magic system has that going for it even if it has other drawbacks."

Permalink Eye

"Is it that it isn't coherent, or is it that you haven't found the principle yet?"

Permalink Eye

"I guess 'make me useful to the creator' is sort of a principle."

Permalink Eye

"Complementary, maybe. Move faster, see farther, look deeper, because what you have isn't the thing that sits still and collects what it's given and makes new things from it, it's the other thing."

Permalink Eye

"Complementary, sure."

Permalink Eye

"'Make you useful to the creator' makes it sound like it'll just abandon you the second this turn of the cycle is resolved one way or another, and I really hope that's not the case because it would seem so unfair to loan you superpowers and then snatch them back as soon as you're done playing a part."

Permalink Eye

"Especially with my original superpowers turning out to have such a serious drawback!"

Permalink Eye

"You come across as the sort of person who deserves better than that from your superpowers!"

Permalink Eye

"Thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe once we save my world we can do something about yours. It really does seem like there should be a way to fix 'things being more destroyed than you want them to be' with the power of creation..."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe, but you'd have to fix the spacewarping too."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, it's, uh, less clear how to do that part."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"If we're really outrageously lucky maybe after I save the world I can just casually make new ones and you can move everybody into unoccupied worldshells with useful nondestructive magic systems!"

Permalink Eye

"We are probably not that lucky."

Permalink Eye

"Be cool if it worked though."

Permalink Eye

"Wouldn't it just!"

Permalink Eye

"Maybe after we save the one world I will have room to hope for more."

Permalink Eye

"As soon as I can send someone home to mine I can count - the population, if not the world - saved."

Permalink Eye

"Well." She smiles slightly. "Then I look forward to tomorrow."

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

 

She leans on Telarin and murmurs, "I really hope this one works, Tela."

Permalink Eye

"As do I."

Permalink Eye

Quietly flying toward Highpoint.

 

"Seems maybe lunchtimeish," he comments after a minute. "Thoughts?"

Permalink Eye

"I could eat."

Permalink Eye

He puts his hand on the book and creates two identical trays of food, different from the one he provided for breakfast.

"And that's my repertoire exhausted. Until I put more things in the book. Maybe I'll get a chance at Highpoint."

Permalink Eye

"Assuming you don't have to damage the food in the process I assume you could just walk through a restaurant."

Permalink Eye

"I have to really look at things, I wouldn't want to go into a restaurant and say 'can I stare intently at all your food and then leave' - I mean I can wave my imperial seal and they'll let me do that, but if I'm going to go that far I might as well actually order a meal which they can get reimbursed for."

Permalink Eye

"And then peer intently at other diners' plates. For variety."

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

"At least all my seemingly insane and frivolous behaviour is going to be spread out across the continent so probably very few people are going to see enough of it to write the capital asking 'did you hand out an imperial seal to a madman, and if so do I still get paid for his dinner'."

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

Permalink Eye

"Wandering the city and staying in a hotel and then leaving first thing in the morning is weird but not too weird to seem plausibly legitimate. Staring intently at all the food in a restaurant and then leaving without eating any, less so. I could hint that there was some kind of inspection going on but then they'd be really rattled for no good reason. Better to do something slightly less crazy and avoid worrying anyone."

Permalink Eye

"Could you wander through a grocery store?"

Permalink Eye

"Easier than a restaurant, probably, it's more the sort of place where people do that... but then I'd have a book full of, uh, groceries." Thoughtfully, "I suppose I could practice mixing and altering objects by trying to, uh, cook..."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, you can do that?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah! I haven't done much with it yet but I sort of - built the imperial palace, I put in all the pieces I could from memory on the way from First City to Dawnbrook and then when I had enough," he flips open the book and shows Cor a detailed drawing of the palace. "Couldn't do it all at once, not sure why, either I didn't have enough detail until I filled in the pieces first or I just can't hold the whole thing in my head the right way because it's too big. I have obviously not dropped a copy somewhere to test how good it is but the picture does the shimmery thing that means it's perfect and that's good enough for me."

Permalink Eye

"You should definitely write in a grocery store's contents then."

Permalink Eye

"At the next available opportunity!"

Permalink Eye

"How are you going to find me some messengers?"

Permalink Eye

"Find whoever on the palace staff is least crucial to handling the lack of Emperor, ask them if they'd mind going, if yes skip to next least busy person. There's some people I'd skip regardless. It seems like a plausibly hazardous task so I wouldn't ask somebody who'll be missed more than average, like they have kids or whatever, but would volunteer anyway out of duty, because that's not really fair, not unless everybody else who can be spared has been asked already and said no. Probably it'll end up being Evai Miato or Tifinn Ferrsi - no, Tifinn's girlfriend is expecting - Simm Pavu, maybe. Somebody who's responsible and reliable but not essential to any specific thing and where it won't be needlessly tragic if they get hurt or don't come back. Feel free to adjust my expectation of the risks."

Permalink Eye

"I met Tifinn, he showed me a picture of the Emperor's swoop so I could find you."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, cool. Did you talk much?"

Permalink Eye

"No, I was sort of in a hurry."

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense. Did you see Vira while you were there?"

Permalink Eye

"Possibly but not enough to learn the name."

Permalink Eye

"Red hair, busiest person around?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

"I'd ask how she was doing but I'm pretty sure I know the answer. The answer is 'busy'."

Permalink Eye

"So busy I did not feel prepared to interrupt immediately with 'hi, I fled a dying world and received magic powers in this one'!"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah that sounds about right."

Permalink Eye

"She seemed very on top of things."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, that's Vira. She's... if I'm the person you go to with bizarre emergencies, she's the person you go to with ordinary urgencies."

Permalink Eye

"It's good to have those."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. She's really good at it, too. As you observed."

Permalink Eye

"I did! I am impressed with the handling of my bizarre emergency so far."

Permalink Eye

"When there is an interdimensional oversight agency for the handling of bizarre emergencies, be sure to leave a good review. Unless I end up running it which case I suppose you can still do that but it'd lose a little impact."

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

Permalink Eye

(Ravkesial smiles, not quite in their direction but definitely about them.)

Permalink Eye

"Who's the next spirit?"

Permalink Eye

"Camalirea. Air," says Ravkesial.

Permalink Eye

"Cama was a shapeshifter once, but lost that along with their voice."

Permalink Eye

"That's two things, no fair."

Permalink Eye

"I should tell Cama you said that, they'll be so charmed."

Permalink Eye

"Go for it."

Permalink Eye

"I now realize that I know the names but not the genders of all these spirits," says Riale.

Permalink Eye

"Telarin is a man and I don't mind being rounded off to a woman and Camalirea is whatever they feel like but doesn't mind being rounded off either direction and Laisanni is a woman and Finnehalva is a man and Neriantelle and Ilifalyr are women and Estirie isn't much of anything and Avasendai is a man," says Ravkesial.

Permalink Eye

...Cor pulls out a piece of paper halfway through this list. "Can I get that slower and also the elements."

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

And:

"Telarin, male, Fire;
Ravkesial, female if you have to pick one, Light;
Camalirea, either or both, doesn't mind whichever way you address them, Air;
Laisanni, female, Wood;
Finnehalva, male, Twilight;
Neriantelle, female, Water;
Ilifalyr, female, Ice;
Estirie, neither, Shadow;
Avasendai, male, Earth."

Permalink Eye

"I am not necessarily up on all the things people are doing with gender if the things they are doing don't involve going to a mage and saying 'are there terrible side effects if you destroy certain troubling body parts'."

Permalink Eye

"Well, Cama did shapeshifting and now no longer does that. And I don't mind anything about my shape but I find that some of the attendant concepts fit oddly; there are people for whom gender is a part of their self and I don't seem to be one of them. And Estirie is exactly the shape they prefer to be and - won't fuss about being rounded off, but may be a little more shy than usual. Does that address your question?"

Permalink Eye

"Eh, no, but it wasn't an important question."

Permalink Eye

"It's a long flight and we're unlikely to fill the whole thing with crucial world-saving conversation. You could try asking again."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe later."

Permalink Eye

Telarin shrugs.

Permalink Eye

"Are there terrible side effects? I don't think we have any magic that directly addresses that sort of thing here. It'd be sort of hard to make an artifact for; artifacts don't really do magic to things very much."

Permalink Eye

"It's safe enough for most values of 'troubling body part' if somebody who knows the established spells does it, yeah. We can't add anything though."

Permalink Eye

"There's artifacts for healing but they're not nearly good enough to add body parts. Though they can make subtracting them considerably safer."

Permalink Eye

Nod. "It's not always a gender thing, I had a person come in and demand the removal of his arm."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. That one I haven't heard of."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah I told him to come back in a few months. He did. I made him sign an assertion and I took the arm off and he was so happy."

Permalink Eye

"Notes for future magic system construction: make everybody able to shapeshift," he says. "Maybe not ridiculously cheaply, because it's useful to be generally able to recognize people by their static physical form and it seems plausible that a lot of the structure of society is partly built on that, but if somebody doesn't want their arm or does want a pair of wings or wants to switch sex every day or turn into a rainbow-striped snake on weekends I don't see why I shouldn't accomodate them."

Permalink Eye

...Cor giggles.

Permalink Eye

Riale glances back at him and grins.

Permalink Eye

"What else are you planning to incorporate? - The thing I always wish my magic had was an undo feature."

Permalink Eye

"...for if you did something you didn't want to do? I'm not sure how that'd work - I can imagine it with destroying things, less so with making artifacts, which is what I'm more familiar with. I do think things should be reversible, generally. There will be no 'everybody can shapeshift but you'd better remember your original body really well or else' nonsense on my watch."

Permalink Eye

"Oh good."

Permalink Eye

"If I get the chance to change how magic works when I save the world I do want to keep the one we've already got, it's maybe not what I would've given us but it's good and we've got a lot of stuff built on it and I don't wanna take it away. But I want to add at least a few more things. Personal convenience stuff like shapeshifting... what else do you think is important to include?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm fond of gates. Although presumably you'd want to do them without the world-eating part. They allow a lot of qualitative improvements in trade and communication - there are so many more things it's worth it to walk a block for than to send a caravan or a ship on a yearlong trip -"

Permalink Eye

"A year? Wow. Flight times are measured in days on a swoop, weeks on a soar - I'm not sure I can think of a trip that'd take as long as a month. Bright Isles to the bottom of the world, maybe. You know, I wonder if it's possible to develop an artifact that'd do the gate thing. That would take a year, though, I bet. A year to manufacture, possibly several to invent."

Permalink Eye

"Our planet is a very big sphere and we don't have flying things. The important thing isn't really how hard gates are to invent but how accessible they are to random people."

Permalink Eye

"If - well. A week ago I'd say 'if I suggested it to Kanero', I guess now it's 'if I did it all myself'... if I'd suggested it to Kanero a week ago it'd end up being an imperial project, public gatepairs between every major city, probably set up so each one went the whole width of a street, and then if stitching all the cities together into one big city like that turned out to be a bad idea we'd adjust. Maybe start with just one and then add another one a while later. If they took ages to manufacture that'd be a good way to get them introduced slowly. I'd probably still do it about like that."

Permalink Eye

"Gatesnest had big ones for ships, medium ones for carriages, little door-sized pedestrian ones... it was a city with dozens of neighborhoods thousands of miles apart, it was always daytime somewhere and summer right next to winter. - on a sphere half of the planet is having day at a time, it turns to face the sun, and there are two hemispheres out of step on seasons. Do you even have seasons."

Permalink Eye

"Uh? Yeah, three of them. Chaos, Balance, and Void. Chaos is warm and Balance is middling and Void is cold. I think the agricultural industry divides up the year into a different number of pieces but I couldn't tell you what they're called and it might vary by region."

Permalink Eye

"...well. Some places have climates where the seasons are more sensibly described as 'rainy' and 'not', and on the middle band there's no real seasons at all, but on most places the days get longer and shorter depending on angle to the sun and this has weather consequences."

Permalink Eye

"Days are always the same length but the temperature and brightness change depending on the month. Fire starts out warm and gets warmer, then Light is less warm but really bright, Air cools off a little more and gets windy, then you're out of Chaos and into Balance and Wood is good for growing things, Twilight is just really mild on all counts, Water is rainy and is when things definitely start getting cold, then you head into Void and Ice is snowy, Shadow is less snowy but dark, and Earth is when it starts warming back up a little before the next year starts and you come back around to Fire."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. I guess that's sensible given the givens."

Permalink Eye

"If we lived on a sphere it would probably make perfect sense for the angle of the sun to change! ...that would be so weird though. ...I'm having all sorts of crazy ideas about how to build a world that had a shell with a circling sun like this one but tilty seasons like yours, I hope I get to build a bunch of worlds so I can test them."

Permalink Eye

"If you build more worlds they might need elemental spirits to form their shells," says Ravkesial. "So be sure that your first attempt is as stable you can make it."

Permalink Eye

"You could fit a world in a pyramid. Although I guess you might wind up with some thematic lopsidedness if you did multiples that way."

Permalink Eye

"I don't know if they would need to be the same elements. Or if each face would need to be exactly one spirit..."

Permalink Eye

"You could fit a world in a sphere," says Riale. "And I feel like if that worked at all, the only sensible result would be for it to have exactly one spirit. And it would be so geometrically tidy! The sun would travel in an actual circle! I was so upset the day I did the math and realized that the sun has to go faster or slower on different segments of its journey in order to look like it's always going about the same speed and reach dawn and noon and dusk and midnight at the right times."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I was imagining spirits preferred to be, uh, flat. But yes! Spheres are great! Our sun is fantastically far away though, you'd have to do it differently or alter the size cap on the world a whole lot."

Permalink Eye

"Having a bigger world sounds convenient but having most of that be empty space between sun and continents sounds a bit terrible. I do not know if spirits prefer to be flat. Do they?" he asks the spirits.

Permalink Eye

"I'm not sure. We don't have much - feedback - from our faces of the world, I wouldn't notice if mine changed shape except by looking. But I don't know whether or not a spherical worldshell is the sort of thing we can be."

Permalink Eye

"How do you know that what's outside is void and chaos, anyway?"

Permalink Eye

"We see it when the cycle turns. And - we know - what kind of spirits we are. Chaos or Balance or Void. I think... you might need elements of the right kinds to be facing in the right directions, if you built a new world with more than one spirit. Void facing Void, Chaos facing Chaos, Balance in the middle. But I don't know what other kinds of worldshells are possible. Maybe you can manage one with no spirits at all."

Permalink Eye

"Now I'm trying to imagine a shell-less world with just gates, all around, each one leading back to somewhere in the middle."

Permalink Eye

Ravkesial also tries to imagine this.

"...but what would be - outside of them? Or is that the sort of question I'm only asking because I've never seen a gate?"

Permalink Eye

"Gates are - imagine you have two door-sized planks of wood. You glue them together. You do a magic thing that causes a hole in the middle to be eaten away, and at the right moment, you pry them apart again and take one far away. You don't touch the glue side, whatever you touch it with won't thank you for it - usually we put them on some kind of backing so people don't do it by mistake, or against another gate. The other sides just - keep being one hole. In one out the other. The door part is because we have to do the magic thing on a surface, but if you were designing a world from scratch..."

Permalink Eye

"So outside of the gate-shell would be - glue-sides? Hole-stuff? Or - other gates, maybe, each mirrored on another face... that might actually work, if you could somehow manage to set it up."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"You have good ideas."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe it's a superpower. No, I shouldn't even joke. I am certain it's all you and the alternative would be kinda unsettling."

Permalink Eye

"I have had good ideas before getting weird void powers."

Permalink Eye

"I get that impression!"

Permalink Eye

"At some point you might want to check out the place I got it. Lower priority than messages home and waking spirits though."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I agree. Both that I should check it out and about where it falls on the priority list."

Permalink Eye

"Oh good."

Permalink Eye

"I'm going to end up being so disappointed if I can't make new worlds when I'm done saving this one."

Permalink Eye

"It'd be a great power!"

Permalink Eye

"If that weren't so, I would be much less tempted to indulge in wildly unrealistic expectations!"

Permalink Eye

"And it would go so well with your existing power set."

Permalink Eye

"Yes! If you were the one who ended up with world-creation powers it would be so much less thematic. Although still pretty great."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I dunno, it'd be sort of balancing."

Permalink Eye

"True," he concedes. "I guess we'll see."

He opens the book and puts a few more remembered objects in it. "—Would you like a book to read? I have a much better selection of those than meals."

Permalink Eye

"Did you understand a whole library?"

Permalink Eye

"I put in every book I remembered and I have lived in the palace all my life and I read a lot - I haven't actually tried but I'm pretty sure I got enough of the palace library's selection for the rest to fill itself in when I put the palace together, I could go in and pull one out for you."

Permalink Eye

"Sure, I would appreciate a recommendation."

Permalink Eye

"History? Literature? Magical theory?"

Permalink Eye

"Oooh, magical theory."

Permalink Eye

"Somehow I suspected you'd go for that one."

He appears a book.

"There you go, have fun."

Permalink Eye

"I will." He reads.

Permalink Eye

It's an introductory magical theory book, written in a cheerful, engaging style.

The basic principles of the system it describes are as follows:

A short, simple ritual involving no nonmagical components can imbue temporary magical effects into an object. The simplest effects are things like light and heat and cold and repetitive chiming sounds. Somewhat more complicated rituals get you temporary magical tools, which can be used in further rituals to give things permanent magical effects, including yet more tools, which you can use to give things fancier and more useful permanent effects, and so on, and so forth. To the best of anyone's knowledge there is no upper limit on the number of layers, except for practical ones like 'an eighty-year manufacturing time is probably too long to be worth bothering with'.

Rituals always result in persistent-if-not-permanent magical properties rather than one-time effects: there are no rituals that will turn uncarved wood into carved wood, or stale food into fresh, or anything like that.

You cannot make a living thing into a magical artifact; it just doesn't work. There's some speculation about why, and people have done experiments to narrow down exactly where the line falls between living and dead, but it's a pretty firm boundary even though there are a handful of edge cases (mostly involving plants).

Artifacts primarily affect themselves rather than the world around them. You can make a light-stone but you can't make a stone that causes objects in its vicinity to glow. You can make a self-turning water pump but you can't make a wheel that levitates water out of wells. The major exception is healing artifacts, which are a thriving field of research as people try to develop better ones and see if they can extend the concept into other domains. So far there's been some success in using healing-artifact techniques to develop artifacts that cause plants to flourish.

The entire second half of the book is devoted to the principles of ritual development. It's possible for multiple rituals to have the same result, but not for the same ritual to have multiple different results, so the first thing most people do when getting into ritual development is familiarize themselves with all the existing rituals in their area of study. Ritual development is a process of creation, not discovery: unless you happen to duplicate a previous invention, what you do when you develop a ritual is make that sequence of actions magical when they weren't before.

There's a lot of flexibility in the possible correspondences between ritual actions/components and the eventual result, but it's not completely freeform: the other advantage of getting familiar with the existing rituals in your chosen area is that you're almost always better off tweaking or combining those than trying to come up with something completely new. People with more experience in ritual development tend to be more successful at novel inventions, which many of them ascribe to simply having picked up a better feel for how ritual-building works, but there is a theory - unconfirmed but circumstantially supported - that successful ritual development involves a kind of unseen magical strength that increases as you do more of it.

Permalink Eye

What sorts of things are valid ritual steps?

Permalink Eye

Manipulation of nonliving objects, more or less. Anything that could be a valid ritual target is a valid ritual component and vice versa. Flexibility of timing varies according to a number of related factors including overall ritual complexity, how many different things need to be done in close succession at that stage of the ritual, and how 'messy' the steps are - for example, a step requiring you to rotate a marked disc counterclockwise might call for very precise timing, but a step requiring you to burn a folded paper will be more flexible because the time the paper takes to burn isn't going to be identical every time.

(Part of the skill of ritual invention is in specifying which objects and actions are and are not part of the ritual: thanks to a doubly careless inventor whose name has been lost to history, there exists a ritual for enchanting permanent heat-stones that requires you to be wearing a straw hat for most of the ritual, set the brim on fire while lighting the last round of candles, and then stamp it out and knock over half the candles in the process. It makes really good heat-stones but people don't use it very often, in part because it's hard to perform the frantic hat-stomping step to within tolerances. Also because it's silly. And a fire hazard.)

Permalink Eye

...giggle.

Permalink Eye

"What?"

Permalink Eye

"There is a ritual where you have to wear a straw hat..."

Permalink Eye

—he bursts out laughing. "I'd actually forgotten about that one, it's been years since I read the book."

Permalink Eye

"The poor guy!"

Permalink Eye

"What a thing to be known for. I can't decide whether it's better or worse that we've forgotten his name."

Permalink Eye

"What," inquires Ravkesial, "happened to this legendary hat?"

Permalink Eye

"It caught fire. And was immortalized with its brethren as an ingredient in a heatstone ritual, catching fire and being stomped on and all."

Permalink Eye

 

...she giggles.

Permalink Eye

Hee hee hee.

Permalink Eye

"And that's why it's important to clearly specify your ritual actions and components!"

Permalink Eye

"We have some things a little like that but it's not challenging - if I paint blood all over a workspace and then leave the bucket, I am not going to accidentally incorporate the aesthetic of a bucket -"

Permalink Eye

"Well now I'm curious if anyone's ever managed to accidentally incorporate their bucket."

Permalink Eye

"You'd have to be really distracted. I'm sure someone's lost a toe or two that way."

Permalink Eye

"Well that's a way less humorous kind of accident than leaving the world with the legacy of your burning hat."

Permalink Eye

"A bit, yes."

Permalink Eye

"My world's magic system seems - nicer - than yours. I mean, this specific iteration. The underlying cycle might also come out ahead but it's a much closer call."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, although the simple applications of mine are really quick and easy, I used to cook that way."

Permalink Eye

"—if that were my magic system I think I'd just end up feeling even more betrayed when it turned out to be secretly ending the world—"

Permalink Eye

"I mean. Yeah, that was not fun. Whoops, should not have skipped learning to fry things just because I had sheep blood on hand."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I can imagine. —I realize this is probably not a solution to, like, any of your top ten problems, but when things are a bit more settled I can get you cooking lessons—magic lessons, too, make your own heat-stones, if you don't mind the time investment—"

Permalink Eye

"I do actually know how to feed myself without magic, but sure, that might be fun."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. My instinctive reaction to any problem in my vicinity is 'how do I solve that', even if it's comparatively trivial."

Permalink Eye

"Seems like a useful impulse."

Permalink Eye

"It does come in handy, yeah. Also makes a lot of work for me but on the whole I don't think I can complain."

Permalink Eye

"I think it's very appropriate that when I went into the palace and asked who to go to with a bizarre emergency three people named you."

Permalink Eye

"What, at the same time?"

Permalink Eye

"Pretty much!"

Permalink Eye

"I feel very proud of having lived the kind of life that produces these results!"

Permalink Eye

"I think if you burst into the mage guild and asked who to go to with a bizarre emergency, you might get referred to me, but for it to be definite you might have to add that you were an alien."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, I'm interested in hearing what kind of life you've led that gets you named as the handler of alien-related bizarre emergencies in particular."

Permalink Eye

"I'm good at - explaining cultural things that people take for granted, from a neutral perspective. I did a lot of 'here's a mage from such and such a culture who has learned Gatetalk out of a book but is confused by our customs, send them to Cor'."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, useful skill to have. Want to explain your customs to a real live alien?"

Permalink Eye

"You'll have to tell me where to start."

Permalink Eye

"I haven't noticed you doing anything strikingly odd yet, hmm... what are some of the things you've previously had to explain?"

Permalink Eye

"People are not quiet at night because it is not night everywhere in the city, it is unacceptable to throw fruit at people even if they are not disciplining their children as you would prefer, we will not track down your runaway spouse for you, neither homelessness nor any of its inevitable consequences are illegal so if you want the guy off your front steps your options are to bribe him or invite him in, people are not respecting your prayer hour because we can't respect all of the many religions people in Gatesnest subscribe to, it is considered threatening to brandish knives at people..."

Permalink Eye

"—was someone brandishing a knife at people under the impression that it wasn't threatening or just under the impression that threatening people with knives is an ordinary and unobjectionable form of communication?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, I was doing all this in my capacity as a mage, see, so it was a mage who was doing it. They have knives for bleeding animals - it wasn't mostly sheep there it was something else, yaks, maybe, I forget - and he didn't have very good command of the language and met someone who also didn't and was trying to communicate that he was a mage..."

Permalink Eye

"Ah. Yeah. ...the one about the front steps rings a little oddly to me, I'll admit, homelessness isn't illegal here either but you'd be within your rights to demand that somebody leave your own actual house even if they were just on and not in it, or sleeping in your garden or whatever."

Permalink Eye

"A lot of places in my world have that too but sleep deprivation exacerbates a lot of mental problems and in Gatesnest you are basically not allowed to wake up anyone who felt the need to sleep in public if they aren't in danger or trapping you in your house outright or something, nor evict one from where they habitually sleep unless you have a counteroffer they accept."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Makes sense. People don't often feel the need to sleep on other people's front steps around here, I guess the law would have to adjust if they did."

Permalink Eye

"One thing the Gatesnest law did was make homeless shelters a really popular policy item!"

Permalink Eye

He laughs.

Permalink Eye

"So you don't often find people on your doorstep, and if you do, you catch them when they're awake and say hey there is a shelter over there it's got space and free food."

Permalink Eye

"That's about what happens here but I guess we didn't need to first outlaw the awakening of doorstep-sleepers to get there."

Permalink Eye

"My dad lived in a little town where there wasn't much homelessness at all, everyone knew each other, but it was near a city where you could get people in trouble for sleeping on park benches and so basically the homeless people lived in jail."

Permalink Eye

"—wow that sounds awful."

Permalink Eye

"Yep."

Permalink Eye

"It is so much farther down my priority list than, like, world-saving, but wow."

Permalink Eye

"How does it shake out here?"

Permalink Eye

"Homelessness? There's shelters for people who don't have anywhere to stay, and you can get directions to them from any public office, and I've never heard of them running out of space. It's the sort of thing I would hear about, if it started to be a serious problem, there'd be budget requests on Kanero's desk and he'd talk it over with me..." He sighs. "I really fucking hope I manage to come up with resurrection somehow."

Permalink Eye

"That'd be good."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

"With one world saved, maybe I could hope for more," murmurs Ravkesial. "With two, maybe I could hope for all of them..."

Permalink Eye

"I deliberately didn't wait until my planet was slated to vanish the subsequent week so we'd have the leeway to evacuate, if my spell worked and we had somewhere to go."

Permalink Eye

"You seem to have planned this very well."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"Out of people who could've dropped into my attempt to save the world with a whole extra world in need of saving, I think you're among the best I could've hoped for."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks!"

Permalink Eye

"Most people, even if they could probably handle a situation like this, would need - help. And while I admittedly thrive on helping people, for something this high-stakes I do appreciate someone who - can keep up? That sounds so egotistical but there it is."

Permalink Eye

"I don't mind egotism, I have some too."

Permalink Eye

"I mind my own egotism a little. Other people's only if I think it's more than the evidence supports."

Permalink Eye

"What's to mind about yours?"

Permalink Eye

"Mm... it's really important to me not to - let myself get out of hand, not to let 'I'm brilliant and I can do anything' turn into 'I don't have to care about getting it right because it'll all work out in the end because how could reality dare to oppose me' - so I have to notice when I'm being egotistical and double-check if it's warranted, and that combines well with - being in the habit of softening my more arrogant utterances, which is a good habit to have because most people find arrogance off-putting."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. My ego doesn't - aim that way."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm?"

Permalink Eye

"It sounds almost backwards? I am great because I care about getting things right, I would be failing to be relevantly myself and therefore great if I were sloppy there."

Permalink Eye

"...that's not exactly the thing, it's more... if I believed my own legend to a sufficient degree, I could see it starting to just seem self-evident that whatever comes into my head is obviously the right solution because I'm just that good - particularly since I am very clever and insightful and good at thinking on my feet, it would not be that much of an exaggeration of the strengths I demonstrably possess - and I don't want to get caught in that trap, and I've never noticed myself seriously tending in that direction but if that's because I'm in the habit of checking I don't want to find out by taking the brakes off and running the carriage over a cliff."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. I pride myself particularly on - knowing all the moving parts in my head - I can think on my feet but I don't think of it as me at my best."

Permalink Eye

"I know what I'm made of but - not the way I know a book I've read a hundred times, more like the way I know how to fly a swoop or pick a lock, I'm - a resource I'm good at using."

Permalink Eye

"I like that phrasing. I'm more the book thing."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds like it works for you!"

Permalink Eye

"It does."

Permalink Eye

Riale glances back at him and smiles.

They've been flying in the shadow of Heron River province for a while now, with the ground below transitioning from farms through wild grassland to rocky hills, and the mountain of Highpoint gradually getting clearer up ahead. A tall single peak rising into the space framed by Jeweled Sea and Heron River, only barely touched by the shadow of Rainmere slanting in from the west. Roads spiral up and down the mountainside, lined with all manner of buildings - houses, shops, market stalls, libraries, offices, warehouses, landing pads. Lines of carriages trickle in and out through the foothills, and a continuous swirl of flying vehicles connects the mountain to its cluster of continents, with an occasional arrival or departure on a more horizontal heading.

Now, as afternoon gives way to evening and the Emperor's swoop emerges into that open space, their view expands, no longer blocked by the rocky underside of Heron River province. They can see the peak of the mountain ahead, gleaming in its last hour of sunlight before dusk; off to the left, they can see the Heron River itself, pouring out of the Jeweled Sea in a broad green curtain and down onto its namesake province where it will wiggle along until it forms the Misty Falls all the way on the other side.

And way up on the peak, at the highest and pointiest point, there is another of those spirit-dowsing feelings. This one feels - buoyant. Light and airy and energetic.

Permalink Eye

"Spirit ahoy. All the way up."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh. All right, let's see—"

He slows his flight as they approach, looking for the highest available landing pad. There's one not too far below the peak; he circles around to it and lands. An employee comes out to ask him for a docking fee and he takes a minute to walk her through the process for applying for imperial reimbursement when someone lands at your airdock and waves an imperial seal at you.

Permalink Eye

"Do you have to wake them personally or can I?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm not sure. Would you like to try it?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure, why not, I can get up there pretty easily."

He does that. Looks for a stable standing place to coalesce onto.

Permalink Eye

The sleeping-spirit feeling is in the middle of the highest standable part of the mountain, with enough room for Cor to stand nearby without looming awkwardly over it. Just like Ravkesial did before, Camalirea seems to convert Cor's sustained attention into a gradual increase in opacity.

Permalink Eye

"Hey Camalirea! Wake up!"

Permalink Eye

Camalirea stirs a bit - uncurls - blinks quizzically up at Cor. (There is an iron band around their throat, with a chain trailing from it in a bookward direction.)

Permalink Eye

"Hi. The creator would have a more inconvenient time getting up here than me so here I am. He's in a flying vehicle thataway."

Permalink Eye

...nod. Small, ironic wave.

Permalink Eye

Wave. "I'm assuming you can fly? I can fly but can't bring you."

Permalink Eye

Camalirea nods, and whooshes off down the mountainside in the direction the chain points, rather slower than Cor is capable of.

Permalink Eye

Cor meets him there.

Permalink Eye

On arriving, Camalirea waves jauntily to Riale and then turns to Telarin and starts signing.

Permalink Eye

"The creator's name is Riale; the wielder of the Blade of the Void is Corbelan, who is from another world - Cama says it's lovely to meet you both, and that this is the most interesting awakening they've had in a long time - yes, it's the second day. Esere wrote a world with obvious places for all the spirits to sleep, although some are more easily narrowed down than others. We're off to look for Laisanni tomorrow."

Permalink Eye

"Nice to meet you too."

Permalink Eye

"Likewise. Do you prefer signing or do you want some paper -"

Permalink Eye

He signs a reply -

Permalink Eye

"Signing is more convenient for talking to the other spirits but paper works if the language is easy to write quickly and this one seems fine on that score," Telarin translates. "And with two humans to talk to it's more efficient than usual."

Permalink Eye

Riale manifests an empty notebook and a pen and hands them over. "Storehouse of miscellaneous goods, that's me."

Permalink Eye

Silent giggle.

Permalink Eye

"So useful." Cor applauds.

Permalink Eye

Riale bows dramatically.

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

"I might need a new notebook myself soon, I couldn't bring much."

Permalink Eye

Riale hands him a notebook.

"Okay, I would like to wander around Highpoint for an hour or so looking for interesting things to put in the book and then obtain a place to sleep and sleep there. Thoughts on this plan? Should I get rooms first so uninterested parties can stay there?"

Permalink Eye

"Do you want me to go interesting-things-scouting?"

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, that sounds like a great idea."

Permalink Eye

"What are your interestingness criteria?"

Permalink Eye

"Useful magic probably heads the list - I haven't got much of that yet except some lamps and the swoop."

Permalink Eye

"You got it. Should I meet you back here?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure."

Permalink Eye

Cor goes out looking.

Permalink Eye

The city of Highpoint has a lot of things in it. Many of them are being sold in markets. Magic stuff shows up primarily among the expensive things: exquisitely beautiful jewelry with tiny light-stones set among the diamonds, elaborate clocks with magically accurate timekeeping - but some things are less decorative and more practical, like a camp stove with a heat-stone that cycles through three temperature settings, and a tiny pen that will draw a map of the mainland at any size if you first lay out a paper on a flat surface and draw a recangle to form the bounds of the map... the vendor at that market stall obviously invented them, and is really adorably excited about it.

Permalink Eye

Those things are all interesting! The clock in particular is neat in Cor's opinion. He goes back to tell Riale where to find things.

Permalink Eye

Riale is perched in the pilot's seat of the swoop with the book open in his lap, looking entirely lost in thought. The three spirits are sitting on the wing all in a row.

Permalink Eye

...Cor waits to be acknowledged.

Permalink Eye

Camalirea spots him and waves.

Permalink Eye

"Welcome back. We were talking about altering and combining objects within the book and then Riale said 'I have an idea' and he's been sitting like that ever since."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Well, I found some stuff."

Permalink Eye

"Ha, got it," says Riale, emerging from his reverie.

A somewhat embellished copy of that glass model of the world from the natural history museum in Dawnbrook appears in front of the swoop. Instead of hanging from a chain, the frame has a sturdy round base to stand on; instead of being made of glass and suspended by wires, the continents are made of real dirt and rock and sand and water, and hover unsupported in their places. All the faces are open, and it's nearly as big as the original; it rather towers over the swoop. There is real tiny grass on the Golden Plains, and real tiny icebergs in the Jeweled Sea. It's... extravagant.

"Hey, Ravkesial, want to see the world?"

Permalink Eye

"...what did you do?"

But she floats forward and lets Riale guide her to the model...

...and laughs delightedly as soon as she touches a landmass.

Permalink Eye

Awwwww. "Oooooh."

Permalink Eye

Gleeful bounce. "Hi Cor! Find anything cool?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes I did." He lists cool things and where to find them.

Permalink Eye

"Oooh, nice. And all while I was sitting here with my nose in a book."

Permalink Eye

Camalirea giggles silently.

Permalink Eye

"I wasn't gone that long. And you made such a cool thing. Book cooking should be a snap."

Permalink Eye

"I made a very cool thing and I am immensely proud!"

Permalink Eye

Ravkesial is still climbing gleefully all over the continents.

Permalink Eye

Awww.

Permalink Eye

"It's an impressive achievement," says Telarin. "Manipulating magic inside the book is one of the most difficult things to get right."

Permalink Eye

"I had the swoop in there, and the magic in swoops is very much about - position and movement and stuff? So I just dug into it until I could see where all the bits went. Anyway I think now I should go get us a couple of rooms somewhere and then visit all Cor's interesting things and maybe a food market or two and go to sleep. Who wants to participate in which parts of this plan?"

Permalink Eye

"I'll tag along. Up till the sleep part."

Permalink Eye

Telarin glances at Ravkesial. "I think we'll be staying here until morning."

Permalink Eye

Camalirea shrugs, gestures to himself, gestures to the other two spirits in an I'm-with-them sort of way, and scribbles a note that says Have fun! and holds it up for Cor and Riale to see.

Permalink Eye

Giggle. "Okay. See you later!"

And off to see the magical objects of Highpoint!

Permalink Eye

They are magical!

Permalink Eye

And they go in the book, along with neat bits of architecture and a pretty street lamp and miscellaneous other items. Riale pauses at the map-pen stall to listen to the inventor gush excitedly about its theoretical underpinnings. Apparently it draws from sources as disparate as self-correcting clocks, self-propelling vehicles, echo stones, and certain kinds of obscure ritual implements.

"Echo stones, really?"

"Yes - an echo stone stores sound and repeats it on command; a map-pen does the same thing with the pen strokes that draw the map. I could make a pen that wrote anything, I just thought maps seemed like an obvious place to start."

Permalink Eye

"That's really cool."

Permalink Eye

The inventor beams.

"It really is!" agrees Riale. "And what about the obscure ritual implements—?"

"Oh, one of the late-stage implements for constructing a swoop or a soar is a pendulum that never stops swinging," the inventor explains. "And I adapted partly from the ritual for creating those when I was designing my pens, because in some ways they were closer to what I want than a vehicle."

"Neat!"

"I think the next thing I want to do is make the pens able to change what they have stored, like the really advanced echo stones," he says.

"I look forward to it," says Riale. "Bye!"

As they're walking away from the stall, Riale says to Cor, "You know, making that model of the world for Ravkesial didn't improve my understanding of how to do magic all that much, but I think I've got a better idea of how the previous creator built the system. It's very - hmm - 'elegant' isn't exactly the word... it's - extensible? It's like... instead of building a magic system that does a bunch of specific predetermined things, he built a magic system that you can use to invent things that do things, and in some ways that's less convenient and straightforward, but it means it can grow beyond what he personally thought of. I like it."

Permalink Eye

"And it doesn't eat anything!"

Permalink Eye

"And it doesn't eat anything! I would not have considered that an important qualification in a magic system before I met you!"

Permalink Eye

"Here to help."

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

There are some more magic objects, and then a food market - "anything catch your eye particularly?" he asks, gesturing at the selection. Highpoint is a good place to get food from multiple regions of the empire; there are quite a lot of things, with particularly perishable ones kept in cold-stone-lined boxes.

Permalink Eye

"I'm not picky. Although I don't like meat as much when I can't cook it by magic."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Fruits and grains and cheeses and interesting varieties of bread! He fills a lot of pages, but somehow the book always seems to have more room.

Permalink Eye

"How exactly does the book do unlimited pages?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm not totally sure. I mean, it is a big book, but even so I should be more than a quarter of the way in by now. I think it might be shuffling around which things show on each page, and not showing every single thing unless I actively look for it. And when I actively look for something I can just kind of flip around a bit and there it is."

Permalink Eye

"...can I try or do terrible things happen if it leaves your possession?"

Permalink Eye

"Nothing terrible happens! If I leave it somewhere or somebody steals it, it'll show up nearby when I'm not looking." He offers Cor the book.

Permalink Eye

Cor takes the book and starts paging about inquisitively! Can he find things? Can he open the book halfway in? Can he open to the first page? Last page? If he tries to find a thing that is not next to another thing by turning exactly one page from the other thing, can he?

Permalink Eye

He can find a specific thing if he knows what thing he is looking for! He can open to the first or last page if he pleases; the first page has a nice lamp on it and the last one is blank! He can open the book halfway in and those pages are blank too! It seems to take at least two page flips to find any specific thing, and sometimes more, and the book seems to have some notion of ordering; it takes longer to find something if the book thinks he is looking in the wrong direction from where he started, although if he persists it will show him the thing anyway.

"It's kind of cool watching you do that," Riale comments.

Permalink Eye

"How so?"

Permalink Eye

"Trying to figure out what you're testing just by watching you flip pages is an interesting challenge!"

Permalink Eye

"What're your guesses?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm pretty sure you're trying to find something out about the conditions under which you can find particular things, but it's kind of hard to know what you're trying to do when all I see is the results - it looks like the book wants to keep things in order, but I don't know if that's what you were looking for or if it's just a result you happened to turn up. Did I catch you trying to find arbitrary things by flipping a single page?"

Permalink Eye

"You did! I can't do it."

Permalink Eye

He grins. "Well now I'm very impressed with myself for picking up on that."

Permalink Eye

"Congratulations." Cor can't pull things out of the book even if he tries, right?

Permalink Eye

He cannot do that; there does not seem to be a way.

Permalink Eye

"May I try drawing in this?"

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Sure."

Permalink Eye

Cor flips to an empty page and tries drawing a strawberry.

Permalink Eye

The ink sinks tracelessly into the page.

"Huh," says Riale.

Permalink Eye

...Cor tries writing hello book.

Permalink Eye

The same thing happens. Slurp. Ink is delicious.

Permalink Eye

If he curls up one page so he can write across two at once?

Permalink Eye

Slurp!

Permalink Eye

"...gimme your hand?"

Permalink Eye

...he gives Cor his hand.

Permalink Eye

And if he puts the pen in Riale's hand and uses him as a drawing implement. Strawberry?

Permalink Eye

Riale giggles.

A strawberry takes form on the page. Owing to the limitations of Cor's drawing apparatus, it is not the greatest strawberry this book has ever seen.

...partway through the drawing of the strawberry, Riale blinks thoughtfully and the next bit of line gets slurped instead of lingering.

Permalink Eye

"What'd you do?"

Permalink Eye

"I realized I was intending to help and stopped that in case it was affecting the experiment. And apparently it was!"

Permalink Eye

"Huh. But it didn't destroy the previously drawn strawberry parts."

Permalink Eye

"Nope. So it looks like... you can only put things in the book if you're, uh, using me as a pen, and I'm actively cooperating with the endeavour - but once it's there it's there. Would you like to finish drawing your strawberry?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't have non-experiment-related feelings about my strawberry."

Permalink Eye

Giggle. "Okay." He reclaims his hand.

Permalink Eye

Cor gives back the book.

Permalink Eye

And Riale puts his hand on the page, and images of various objects in their vicinity draw themselves there. The half-drawn strawberry lingers.

"That looks like a reasonably nice inn," he says after filling a couple more pages. "Let's get rooms there."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good to me."

Permalink Eye

In they go. Riale shows his imperial seal. He has to make it glow multiple times before the innkeeper will admit it looks genuine and let them take a couple of rooms for the night.

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"G'night!"

And he goes to sleep and wakes up early in the morning and fiddles with the foods in the book until he produces a palatable breakfast.

Permalink Eye

Oooh, breakfast.

Permalink Eye

"I appear to be an adequate book-cook! Let's go see how the spirits are doing."

Permalink Eye

When they reach the swoop, the world-model is still in front of it, and Ravkesial is sitting on the edge of Golden Plains with her arms wrapped around her knees and a smile on her face.

Permalink Eye

Camalirea waves hello.

Permalink Eye

Wave. "G'morning."

Permalink Eye

"Good morning," says Ravkesial. She hops off the model of the mainland and drifts back to perch on the wing of the swoop.

Permalink Eye

"Morning!"

Permalink Eye

"Are you planning to leave that there?" asks Telarin, gesturing to the model.

Permalink Eye

"It's a little big to carry with us on the swoop."

Permalink Eye

"You can't absorb things back into the book?"

Permalink Eye

"Nope. Maybe you can, uh, void them, with your void blade. Or maybe I can give it away."

Permalink Eye

...Cor touches the model and attempts to void it.

Permalink Eye

The model - sort of shivers, and pulls in on itself and becomes rapidly smaller and less solid and more translucent and wavery and dim, until half a second later there is no model there anymore.

"Oh, cool," says Riale.

Also, Cor now has - something. It's like he learned a very detailed description of the model and then halfway forgot it, so that the information is accessible but only when he thinks about it directly.

Permalink Eye

"...hang... on a second -"

Can he put it back?

Permalink Eye

"Mm?"

He cannot.

...but this new bundle of knowledge is sort of... page-shaped. It feels like he could maybe put it in the book if he tried.

Permalink Eye

"...lemme see the book?"

Permalink Eye

Book!

Permalink Eye

Thinnnng innnnnnnnn book?

Permalink Eye

Thing: in book!

Riale blinks at the page, which now contains a perfect shimmering picture of the world-model. "...huh," he says. "I guess you can put things in the book after all. You just have to - void them first?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, how about that." Does he still have it in his head?

Permalink Eye

Yep. But he can't put it in the book again, he already did that and now the book has it.

"Well, that seems really useful," says Riale.

Permalink Eye

"I'm reluctant to try to cover for your deficit in handling people this way. I guess parallelism is good and everything but it seems unaesthetic for that to be the principal advantage of having me along..."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, let's not experiment with vanishing people away to see if we can put them back."

Permalink Eye

"So what is my thing for?"

Permalink Eye

"...If I weren't already really good at putting things in the book accurately, it would be really useful to have somebody along who could get things perfect every time even if they had to destroy the things to do it. But I agree that that is probably not the point of you. I'm not sure what is. So far we have one thing we're told you're supposed to do, which is 'not destroy the world', and a bunch of things we've observed you can do, and none of them seems like it's quite sufficient justification for needing a person to be attached to this package... I mean, 'don't destroy the world' can't be that hard, can it?"

Permalink Eye

"You'd think. My track record is not great and you'd still think."

Permalink Eye

"Right?" he agrees. "That's sort of ominous now that I think of it, if the implication is that stopping the Blade of the Void from destroying the world is a challenging task in some way, because it's not like the thing came with an instruction manual."

Permalink Eye

"I guess I should not void the facets? Am I going to be tempted to do that?"

Permalink Eye

"I sure hope not!"

Permalink Eye

"Note to self don't do that."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, no kidding."

Permalink Eye

...Cor attempts to void a rock without touching it.

Permalink Eye

Goodbye rock. Hello abstract description of rock.

"That is slightly unsettling to watch. But kind of cool? But slightly unsettling."

Permalink Eye

"It's much more reversible and less of a hassle and has less collateral damage than my normal method of causing things to cease to exist!"

Permalink Eye

"Oh good!"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know if it can get as abstract though. Maybe we will find somebody with weeds and we shall see. Were we going to find me a messenger?"

Permalink Eye

"Yep!"

He gets the swoop in the air.

"It's a few hours to First City from here, and then we can stop and find you a messenger and you can send them and we can continue on to Wildwood."

Permalink Eye

Nod nod. "Is sourcing blood likely to be a constraint?"

Permalink Eye

"What variety of blood, specifically?"

Permalink Eye

"Any mammal is fine. Sheep is customary but not necessary."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, that'll take like ten minutes unless you want enough to swim in, in which case I may have to get creative."

Permalink Eye

"I need like a bucketful, and there will be leftovers but if you try to skimp I might run out and then the design dries while more is fetched and that's no good."

Permalink Eye

"A bucketful will not be a problem."

Permalink Eye

"Good. And for the ash part charcoal works."

Permalink Eye

"All right."

Permalink Eye

"I should start writing a letter for the messenger to carry." He starts that.

Permalink Eye

And Riale flies the swoop. The shadows of the three floating continents slide across the landscape with the rising of the sun. Soon enough, the swoop is out from under them; and not long after that, the dry rocky hills they're flying over give way to flatter, wetter ground, and First City is clearly visible up ahead.

Permalink Eye

Cor writes and draws and finally has a complete letter.

Permalink Eye

When Riale lands the swoop at the palace, someone comes out to meet them as they're settling onto the landing pad. It's the same guy who directed Cor to Vira yesterday.

"Morning, Simm!" says Riale. "I thought you didn't have enough mayhem in your lives without me, so I came back for a visit."

"Yeah, I missed you too," says Simm. "I see the bizarre emergency caught up with you. Hello, bizarre emergency. What can the imperial staff do for you today?"

Permalink Eye

"I am looking to send someone to my home world to notify my guildmates that it's possible to go to other worlds and they should probably do that since our world is ending," Cor says.

Permalink Eye

"For which purpose he will need a bucket of blood and a volunteer. Would you like to volunteer?"

"A bucket of—?"

"Blood, any mammal's will do, better to have too much than too little but it needn't be a bathtub's worth, I don't imagine it'll be hard to come by. And somebody willing to hop over to a world that is currently in the process of ending, with the understanding that it's likely but not certain you'll be able to come back."

"...All right," says Simm. "Is there anyone else you want to ask first—?"

"Since you're the one who came out to greet us I assume you currently have the most free time of anyone in the palace. If you won't do it I'll go find Evai Miato."

"No, no, I'll do it," says Simm. "Where do I meet you with the bucket of blood?"

"Criteria for the location from which you do the sending?" Riale asks Cor.

Permalink Eye

"Decent amount of flat floor suitable for drawing patterns on with blood - so like, no grout, nothing that stains really easily, no complicated patterns with warm colors, definitely not carpet..."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm. Would 'big flat slab of rock, will probably pick up some stains but we can always replace it afterward' do?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure."

Permalink Eye

"That courtyard on the north end with the big maple tree, next to the storage rooms that used to be a bathhouse," he tells Simm.

"I know the one you mean. I'll meet you there in a quarter hour or less."

"See you. And thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"Welcome," says Simm, and off he goes.

Riale leads the way to the courtyard. "The storage rooms are, uh, full of things, but you happen to be equipped with a convenient solution to that problem," he says.

Permalink Eye

"So I am! I can book all the things and you can put them back after."

Permalink Eye

"So convenient!"

Permalink Eye

"Several of them, if you need extras."

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

Here are the storage rooms in question. They have both of the advertised qualities: stone floors, full of things. (Charcoal is among the things.)

Permalink Eye

Cor did not have a lot of room in his pockets when he arrived but he did bring a sponge.

Permalink Eye

"The trust you have from these people is astonishing," Telarin observes when he catches up to Riale. "What did you do to inspire a man twice your age to be ready to make an uncertain journey to a dying world the moment you suggest it?"

Permalink Eye

"Things," Riale says vaguely. "Anyway, he's not twice my age, he's only thirty-one."

Permalink Eye

"Things," says Cor.

Permalink Eye

"I've led a busy life and Simm's known me for all of it, I don't actually know which things had that effect on him. If we'd seen Evai first and you'd asked the same question I would've said 'oh, I caught the guy who burned down her grandmother's house'."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I hope he is actually okay with bringing this letter to my world and not just vaguely obliged or something."

Permalink Eye

"One of the major criteria for which people I'm willing to ask in the first place is 'will they be actually okay and not just vaguely obliged'. It's - they know that when I take something seriously it's because the thing is serious, that when I say 'this guy needs somebody to volunteer as a messenger to his dying world to tell them evacuation is an option' those are the facts of the situation and if I'm asking them to do it then I must have thought it through and decided they're a good pick for the job, and they value my assessment highly because I know the imperial staff really well on both the organizational and the personal level and I'm smart and insightful and have good priorities."

Permalink Eye

"All right then."

Permalink Eye

Simm shows up. He has a large bucket of blood.

Permalink Eye

"You sure about this?" Cor asks him.

Permalink Eye

"Yes, of course," he says. "Someone has to do it, and - when something needs doing this badly and the opportunity to do it comes along, I don't want to be the sort of person who hides under the table and waits for it to leave."

Permalink Eye

"...okay. So, I speak this language for irreproducible reasons; you're not going to be able to talk to anybody at home. I will draw you a map - I'm not sure how exactly I can aim you but I can probably get close -" He draws a map. "You want to be here. Ask for Ranary; if they can't get you Ranary -" he lists more names. "- and give them this letter. I left blank whether or not they should send you back if that's feasible, should I put that you would like to be sent back?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

Cor fills that in. "This is the part where you get down to your underwear and I paint blood on you and draw on you with charcoal I'm sorry about that part."

Permalink Eye

...he snorts, and glances at Riale.

Permalink Eye

"Cor's magic system has many inconvenient aspects and that is one of them."

Permalink Eye

"Well, all right."

Permalink Eye

Cor does arts. He gives Simm the letter and the map to tuck into his waistband. He does more art.

He chants (in his language, so the "I destroy, I destroy, I destroy" part is less ominous).

Permalink Eye

Simm is very patient and cooperative about all this.

Permalink Eye

And then poof he is gone.

Permalink Eye

"I assume he notified all the right people that he was going away for an indefinite interval but I'm going to go tell Vira anyway just to be sure, I'll meet you back at the swoop."

Permalink Eye

"Somebody will send him back soon unless things are disintegrating back home much faster than seems likely," Cor says, and he heads back for the swoop. Then he turns back and voids all the blood and soot on the floor.

Permalink Eye

"How soon is soon, approximately?" he asks, stepping out of the room and refilling it with its things.

Permalink Eye

"Day or two? Depends on how close I got him and how hectic things are and whether anybody's done something stupid like kill all the sheep to prevent people from doing magic."

Permalink Eye

"'kay, I'll tell Vira that."

He goes off and tells Vira that, which takes two minutes, and returns to the swoop.

"Next stop: Wildwood! I'm getting the sense that we'll have to be at least as close as 'right city' before you can start looking for the spirit - but then, I suppose you could just fly there ahead of us and check..."

Permalink Eye

"I can! Shall I?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes please! My best guess is Glittering Meadow, it's a really pretty town in the southeast end of the province."

Permalink Eye

"You want me to wake up the spirit or just come back?"

Permalink Eye

"...I think just come back, the spirits can't go too far from the book and I don't know what happens if you wake them up when the book is too far away."

Permalink Eye

"...yeah, okay. Be right back."

Zoom.

Permalink Eye

Wildwood province is a great big forest. It is not densely populated, so it's easy to find the place Riale was talking about.

The glittering meadow of Glittering Meadow is full of dormant wildflowers, tiny green buds just barely beginning to emerge from the ends of stems or twigs, and a lovely silvery-green grass filling all the spaces in between. The town itself is built half on the ground and half in the trees, with platforms and walkways and ladders and staircases climbing the enormous trunks like unusually orderly ivy. It looks beautiful and picturesque and cozy and athletically challenging.

Riale's guess was accurate: the next spirit is here, sleeping at the base of a tree a short distance outside of town, close to the meadow but not actually in it.

Permalink Eye

He zooms back. "You were close! Right by the meadow."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. I've never actually been to Glittering Meadow, is it as nice as the travel guides want me to think?"

Permalink Eye

"It's nice! I think it'll be really stunning when the flowers bloom."

Permalink Eye

"By which time we'll be across the continent. Well, maybe we'll have time to come back."

Permalink Eye

"I probably shouldn't zoom over there to void the meadow so you can have a look if it doesn't fit our schedule."

Permalink Eye

"They would miss their meadow until I got a chance to put it back!"

Permalink Eye

"They would! Save the world and look at it next year."

Permalink Eye

"That's the plan!"

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

Permalink Eye

Beam.

He flips pages in the book, putting in remembered things. Every one of them goes in perfect.

Permalink Eye

Camalirea watches this procession of pages thoughtfully.

Permalink Eye

"What's up?" Cor asks Cama.

Permalink Eye

He tilts his head consideringly, then picks up his notebook and pen and writes.

Wondering if Riale put any people in the book besides us. Might be good practice to start with someone he knows better.

He displays this message to Cor.

Permalink Eye

Riale glances back and reads it.

"Just Kanero so far."