Tumunzahar makes Menegroth look like a contract project. Which, the Dwarves assure her, it was. The stonework is astonishingly careful and beautiful, silky to the touch up close while from a distance it gives the impression of stretching on forever above, a sky of stone with crystals for stars. Vast natural cave systems are connected by dozens of perfectly smooth, gently sloped broad stone pathways from which the fall, if she fell, would be several miles down. There are handrails. "We use those to move materials carts," someone explains to her, "we're not going to be reckless."
There's an amphitheater, a place where a hundred of the stone walkways twine around to create space for a hundred thousand people to sit in close proximity, and someone is giving a lecture or a demonstration at the base of it, the seats closest to him filled with eager, tiny, bearded Dwarf-children.
And they spiral down, and down, and down, past waterfalls and egg-sized gemstones left half in the rock and halls of crystal. Everything grows gradually more ornate and more perfectly maintained and the clang of hammers fades behind them. "People say," her guide says, "that we only have a council instead of a single King because there were nine winners of the competition to design the throne so we couldn't just select one person to sit it." And they push open the doors to reveal, indeed, nine thrones so elaborate it would be hard to choose between them, and nine squat bearded people sitting them.
The children have beards. That's interesting. Loki inclines her head politely to the nine enthroned people. "Hello. I am called Loki Odinsdottir."
"Yes, and neatly laid out too."
"Not very much detail, but apparently you're the people to go to for information intended to be generally disseminated."
"We're here to solve problems that are difficult to solve through trade - like the defense of our people against enemies, investment in avenues of research that benefit no one presently alive, or, yes, the sharing of information that needs to be publicly known. Travel between realms might be our domain, or someone might think of a clever way to fix that with trade, in which case it'd be off our plates." He smiles.
"Sounds like a good idea to have people designated for those sorts of things. Well, I don't know if the accident that sent me here can be reliably replicated, but I'm planning to figure out how to go to and fro with passengers at will in the next fifty to two hundred years with sorcery."
"Sure. Any objections if I use illusory visual aids?"
So she starts with the galaxy. "According to Melian, the stars in your sky are actually fake because the Valar had trouble putting real stars together correctly by their deadline, but beyond that there are real stars of the same sort known to my realm, which are enormous spheres of burning material, so vast that they can continue to burn for billions of years. Most planets are spherical, and orbit suns at distances many times greater than the diameter of the planet. This particular planet is a cylinder, again because the Valar took too long to figure out something. This is a galaxy; most stars are in one because matter tends to cluster together on scales like this. My realm is here." She zooms way in, cheating on most of the intermediate detail, until she's got a scale model of the Asgardian solar system, then zooms in on the planet, which she can show in substantially fine grain. "It has a lot of knowledge of other realms and high technology, but for aesthetic and social reasons mostly pretends not to have the tech and not to have met the other realms; we're in regular contact with only a few. To get between them we use a magical artifice called the Bifrost," she zooms in and shows that, "which can send or bring a small party from other planets. I was going to travel to a place called Midgard," she dismisses the Bifrost, shows Midgard from space, "for a period of a few years, with a companion; instead, I landed on the ice -" She pulls out her map, highlights that, "with some Elves, who were crossing into this continent from Valinor." Are they following her so far?
"They didn't have any very palatable options, but, yes, the journey was not pleasant. Other ways of traveling between realms are in ships that can traverse the space between planets and stars; there's a wide range of those, ranging from ones that take a while just to get to a planet's own moon," she presents Midgard's moon, which is particularly striking, "to those which can cross significant fractions of the galaxy in hours or days. With sufficient magic, technology, or both, outright teleportation is possible; that's what I'm planning to do. There are techniques that work a little like the Bifrost without being anchored to a specific item, opening a path that circumvents conventional space to allow easy transit between chosen points A and B. There may be other classes of transit method I haven't heard of or am forgetting. Some of these methods might not behave well if implemented on a cylindrical planet which came to exist before its sun did and is under false stars, but the teleportation spell I'm working on should be fine."
"Depends on the realm. The most common sort of realm is one that hasn't been developed enough for anyone to bother inviting it to the broader stage. Midgard is one of those; occasionally things relevant to other realms happen there - a species my planet is at perpetual low-key war with built a base there, we went and drove them out, I could take a vacation there as long as I didn't disturb anything overmuch. There are realms like Asgard, which know about the galactic state of affairs but mostly reserve active contact for a handful of relatively like-minded or similarly-advanced realms - with exceptions for a few scholars or occasional diplomats. And there are various circles of outright galactic influence, which have all kinds of policies and habits as regards other realms, various interstellar squabbles, etcetera. It is not common to travel to other galaxies; my spell will be able to do it - it has to get to another reality - but it's hard to scale up and hard to see much about where you're going before you get there to know where might be a good place to land, so no significant contact is in place that I'm aware of."
"The regular people wouldn't make the cut for a typical galactic-scaled realm in search of new friends, probably. The Valar and Maiar, however, would - they'd get people wanting to talk to them and trade favors with them as soon as anyone noticed they could do things like construct cylindrical planets. The thing is interdimensional transit is not a solved problem, and Melian made it sound like this whole dimension was completely empty before Eru started making things; so nobody but me from my reality has had a chance to notice you."
"I've met several people who've met them and do not tell suspiciously inconsistent or suspiciously consistent stories about their properties," Loki says. "And met one Maia in person myself, which seems like broadly the same sort of thing and would serve to make my point about the appeal of this planet to onlookers even if that were it. Ulmo in particular apparently replies to questions, albeit not in a timely fashion, and someone is going to ask him something for me. That's the extent of my evidence, though, I haven't even confirmed the world's a cylinder myself because I don't see well enough to detect that by looking. I haven't met any Men yet, let alone interrogated them about religion, but it's on my to-do list."
"Hmm. In that case - I'm not at all sure that our interests would be served by trading between the Elf-gods and anyone who would desire to trade favors with them. It sounds like, unless someone stumbles across this world in the manner you did, that is unlikely until you solve cross-dimensional travel?"
"Not necessarily; it is unlikely that anyone from my dimension will show up thus - though that's one possible origin for Ungoliant, she could also be a Maia - but reportedly there are real stars which may have further inhabited planets of their own in this reality, and maybe somebody up there has invented space travel very, very fast and is already on their way for who knows what."
"Maybe. I'm not planning to personally import anyone I don't think I can manage and if necessary evict, but I can't do much about spaceships from your this-reality neighbors and may or may not succeed in controlling the information itself once I'm back in my reality."
"It may have been developed; it is not scaled up or systematically exploited. I wouldn't know about it if someone across the galaxy from me had invented a spell just like the one I'm working on and vacationed in thirty different dimensions at whim. I do know that there are no imports or immigrants advertised as such in the way that there are things from many planets. Anyway, I do have what is likely a genuinely unique advantage in spellcrafting."