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Generated: Dec 19, 2019 11:58 PM
Post last updated: Sep 30, 2016 7:08 PM
Touch and go
artifact annie has really terrible timing
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The mood in the city varies - by person, by moment - from ebullient to vindictively gleeful to bleakly despairing. The Feanorians are coming. The Feanorians are coming and either the horrors of the last few decades will be avenged or a new one will join the tale, if anyone remains alive to tell it. Perhaps the Feanorians are keeping track. 

 

The King of Sirion is one of the optimistic ones. He wears the Silmaril around his neck and watches from the towers by the shoreline and waits for the people who murdered his sisters, his parents, his whole people, to come and to die. The Silmaril bathes Sirion in stunning, sparkling, light.

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Someone spontaneously appears in the middle of a path. Someone might trip on her. Or slip in all this blood. The sources of the blood at least seem to be self-repairing? Oddly quickly, even with the Silmaril present?

She's a human. She's dressed in outlandish clothes that seem intended for much colder weather than this. She's still alive and whimpering.

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They are startled! By the blood, by the oddly quick self-repairing, by the sudden appearance. People crowd around and murmur anxiously. Someone should go - fetch a healer - they're all wearing white, in the probably-vain hope that the Feanorians will spare them accordingly - a hope made more vain by the fact some other people have worn white hoping to get close enough for a shot at the foe -

 - someone goes off to do that -

 

- there are trumpets in the distance -

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She flinches when the trumpets go off, starts screaming hoarsely. Since she is substantially less injured than she was thirty seconds ago this is a weird time to start getting louder about it.

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Well, perhaps she is quite reasonably afraid that the Fëanorians are going to come and kill everyobdy, because they are definitely going to come and try to do that. People ask her - can you walk, you should get out of the street, they're coming - 

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Confused pained whimpering noises.

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Can we carry you -

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She mumbles something in a foreign language.

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She doesn't look like a Dwarf but they try speaking aloud. "They're coming, they'll kill you if you're here, we've got to get you to the healers, they might not kill people in the healers, or you could just hide..."

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"- I, I don't know what you're talking about -" She's got enough of her bones knitted back together that she can sit up now.

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"The Fëanorians are coming. They're going to sack the city and kill everyone because we have -" gestures, she can't possibly have missed it - "and we can take you to the healers or you can hide but it doesn't look like you can fight them -"

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"I really really don't know what you're talking about but healers okay where -"

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The army arrives before they've gotten her to the healers. It's out of human eyesight but not out of human hearing - the clashing of metal on metal, the screaming - "here's the healers keep your head down -" 

It's on one of the cliffsides, so they have a view of the city and can go where they're needed. Through the window it's possible to see the fighting. 

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She doesn't need the window. And can't see.

She curls up in a corner, almost completely healed now. Shrugs off her coat and shakes.

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The fighting moves further into the city. The attackers are stabbing everything in their path. They are astonishingly good at it, like they've practiced almost nothing else for five hundred years. Blows bounce off their armor. People are screaming. The attackers are pushing towards the tower of the King.

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By now Annie can actually pick out their leader.

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Okay so that's five or six things wrong with her at least.

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They would be delighted to spare the healers but after the third person to stab them after pretending to be a healer they stop doing that. Some part of her shrieks in agony but most parts of her have been shrieking in agony for five hundred years anyway - this isn't real this isn't real she's going to wake up and Thauron will be laughing at her and say 'see how easy it was to reduce you to our level' and she's going to fucking kiss her because that will at least mean it isn't real - 

 

- they force the entrance to the tower, the King's guards are incompetent, what was he thinking - 

 

he jumps -

 

- the Silmaril plummets with him into the sea and the oath has no opinions about what the House of Fëanor needs to be doing here and she numbly, wearily, despairingly, tries to open her eyes back in Angband, and fails, and then goes to tell the healers they will not be interfered with.

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The bloodstained completely uninjured human in the weird clothes in the corner, eyes unfocused, twitches when Rirosseth speaks.

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Oh, a new hallucination-character she's supposed to pay attention to. She does, because she is clinging to reminders that this isn't real. She puts her hand on the hilt of her sword again - "name?"

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"- Annie."

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"Where are you from."

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"...N-noregr? I don't know where I am."

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"Where's that, how did you get here -" everyone's leaving her such a wide berth that they can't use their healing halls for healing, except a couple people who are trying to assess whether they stand a shot at killing her, she grabs the new hallucination character and pulls her out into the street -

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Annie stumbles but doesn't resist. "It's next to Sviar? I got hit by a van and at least five artifacts hit me and one of them put me here -"

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"What's a van, what are artifacts, are these locations coastal or inland, temperate or tropical or mountainous -"

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"Like a car but bigger, coastal, far north and cold and mountainous."

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"I've never heard of a car either."

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"...it's a vehicle."

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"...okay. Have they heard of the Enemy in Noregr?"

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"...no?"

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"Valar, Eru, Beleriand, Valinor - have you met any Elves or any Dwarves -"

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"I don't recognize any of those names and no everybody where I'm from is a human. ...Everybody on the whole planet."

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"You've mapped it enough to be sure? Okay. Entertaining the premise here, we've got to evacuate this world, is yours a good place to evacuate it to? We've also got to move - can you ride -"

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"I have never been on a horse in my life. I have never been near a horse in my life. Um, I guess it might be an okay place? Depending how many people this is and where they went - I don't know how you'd get there -"

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"How did you get here?" Lírnith is coordinating their retreat. It is not too complicated to coordinate because there is no one left here in any state to resist them. Lírnith is sending her the names of the dead. Once upon a time she would have appreciated that, and for a long time even after she stopped being able to care about things like that she would have appreciated that her sister kept doing it. She is past appreciating either of those things. It isn't really Lírnith anyway. Amras isn't really dead. 

 

She stops dead still in the street, shaking, unable to maintain her train of thought. There's so much blood everywhere -

 

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"I think one of the artifacts sent me - do you have those here -"

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"No, no we don't. What's the hook, if there's no way to save anyone -" distractedly, not really looking at Annie -

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"...huh?"

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She is no longer paying attention to her. She is still dragging her along. 

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Annie trips along after her.

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And after a minute - "...Nelya - what - I need you to get yourself together, everyone in the palace is dead except the princesses, they're six, they're a mess, entertaining the premise for me what do you want me to do -"

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"Kill me -"

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"...entertaining the premise far enough to make strategic decisions but not far enough to form preferences based on it, then -"

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"Someone would probably find the kids before they starved -"

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"Nelya."

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"Sure, let's take them. Let's take Annie too. May as well round out the ticket with some hostage infants -"

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"Half-mortal, they're six and this high -"

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"I don't care, Laurië, everybody's dead -"

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"And I actually have to fucking come to grips with it, so stop it with -" with the coping mechanism that is the reason you are still alive - "...would you like me to coordinate our retreat, commander."

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"Yes."

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She starts singing.

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Annie's knees buckle and she shrieks.

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...she does not immediately make the connection, just shoots her a confused glance and keeps singing.

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Annie doesn't stop shrieking until she's out of breath and then she gasps for it and sobs, dangling from Rirosseth's grip, unable to stand.

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"What's wrong now -"

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Can't answer too busy being in debilitating agony!

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Probably should kill her. No, most people don't want to die even though they'd be better off. ...render her unconscious? Is that even safe to do with humans -

 

- the person clinging to her in debilitating agony is causing a cascade of flashbacks, she's trembling violently, she'd better - she puts a hand around Annie's neck -

 

- if Annie were an Elf she'd now be an unconscious Elf, she has no idea what it'll do to a mortal, she collapses on the ground and begs Melkor to make it end -

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Annie passes out.

Briefly.

Bruises bloom on her neck and fade again almost at once and she wakes up and lapses at once into anguished sobbing.

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Well that probably means it's not dangerous to do, she can just hold her like that -

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- yup, she can keep pace with the healing.

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She has everybody coordinated. She raises an eyebrow at her sister and then wearily helps her sister drag her hostage onto a horse. There are a lot of dead to sing for. They ride. They sing. 

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Annie does not scream while unconscious.

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It's a long ride back to Amon Ereb. They don't take it in one go, because of the children. The children are terrified and silent and wary and probably imagining that they, too, will be strangled and kept unconscious if they are difficult. She has no idea how to correct that. She sings them to sleep when it's night. They do not sleep themselves. 

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Annie, quite passed out, has no comment on this.

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They return home. They get the children a room. They get the children a meal. People stare at her, but only a little bit. It's been a week since she's slept. There are black spots swimming in front of her eyes. Lírnith declines to take over for keeping the hostage human unconscious, so she sits against a wall and holds her and tries to stay awake a little longer. Eventually she fails.


When Annie wakes up she is cradled in a sleeping, bloodied, fully armored mass murderer's arms and there is at least momentarily no singing within human earshot.

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Annie touches her throat, catches her breath.

Assesses her surroundings.

...leans her head on the armored mass murderer's shoulder and sighs and tries to organize her thoughts.

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She won't be helpful; she's sleeping. The fortress they are in has thick stone walls and this corridor is empty.

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Uninterrupted downtime is actually really helpful. Annie doesn't have very many clues but she has some and she can pick through them and also her fucked-up emotional state without being in mysterious artifact torment or trying to answer the bewildering questions of Sword Lady.

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Sword lady: has no bewildering questions. Occasionally whimpers in her sleep.

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Poor Sword Lady.

Annie will lie here quietly for four hours or until somebody starts singing, whichever comes first.

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There are people singing, but out of human earshot from here. 

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Then neither she nor her mysterious artifactual torment can detect them!

She gets hungry. She starts carefully trying to extract herself from Sword Lady.

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She doesn't wake.

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Annie investigates the layout of the place and tries to see if any of the things she can sense are clearly recognizable even through the sense as food.

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There are kitchens downstairs and recognizably-food things.

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...she ventures cautiously down the stairs.

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She is sitting with the children! She is trying to coax them to have some soup. She looks up at Annie and looks weary and vaguely relieved. "Oh, good, you're not-  Nelya was scared to let you wake up because you kept screaming and couldn't tell us what was wrong -"

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"I - don't really know what it was. It hit once before but didn't last as long then. Sometimes an artifact drawback is a random thing hurting."

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(The children look at her curiously but don't move or speak.)

"Artifact drawback?"

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"I was hit by at least five and possibly more artifacts which are a thing my world has where if you touch them they permanently grant you one benefit and one drawback. I think one of them sent me here. Can I have some soup?"

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"Of course. ...is that why Nelya wanted you. I was trying to think how the Halls to -"

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Annie takes some soup. "How to what?"

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"If she were sane she would want me to stop her from staggering off with an unconscious girl she abducted from the site of a city we sacked, because - well, no one else is going to stop her and if she were sane she'd be horrified -"

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"- is she not?"

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"Not sane? No, she isn't, but I wasn't expecting her to be that particular kind of insane and I wasn't looking forward to confronting her about it. 'you accidentally travelled between worlds' is a much better reason -"

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"...compared to what?"

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"...you're pretty and we're already thoroughly damned? It would be profoundly out of character but I didn't have abundant alternate theories so I needed to at least make sure except she would have absolutely fallen apart -"

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...Annie makes a valiant attempt not to indulge mental images. "Oh. Well. I'm from another world and I don't think I can get anyone there like she was saying but I don't know what all my effects do yet. At least they don't seem to be mutually fatal."

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"Can we help you, um, I don't know, catalogue them? Mutually fatal, is that a thing that happens?"

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"It's not impossible in principle. If one, say, makes you need to sleep for twenty hours a day and another one makes you insomniac? I don't think anything I've noticed should interact like that. I could be missing things though, I don't know how many artifacts there were, just how many drawbacks I've counted."

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"How do artifact drawbacks work?"

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"Depends on the artifact. I'm blind, and deaf except for words - I think maybe I don't have a sense of smell either, which means that's probably one thing and not two or three, I wasn't sure before I tasted the soup and noticed the smell thing. Something I haven't identified yet makes me collapse screaming but at least it's not water, there's one where it's water. I'm really really uncomfortably warm. I've heard of other ones - there's a popular one that makes it so you can't keep secrets from whoever your favorite person is, the twenty hours of sleep a day one is real, there's one that makes you go around cursing at the top of your lungs all the time, there's one that makes you terrified of shoelaces..."

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"Okay. And the teleporting between worlds, is that a drawback or a - benefit -"

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"I'm assuming drawback. If it were a benefit I'd expect to be able to control it or something."

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Nod. Sigh. "Uh...you must want to know what's going on, yes?"

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"...it'd be nice."

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"...does your home world have Valar?"

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"No."

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"So the Valar are - the beings that created the world, and they are very powerful and incomprehensible. There are fifteen. Fourteen live on their own sealed-up paradise continent where no one is allowed to go or leave but which is otherwise quite nice, and the fifteenth one is nearing completion of a six-hundred year campaign to take over the world and torture and enslave everyone and fill the world with her mind-controlled servants, called orcs. We fought her. We lost. Pretty much everyone's dead and now we're just waiting around for her to pick us off when she's so inclined."

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"...what did the place I landed in have to do with that?"

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"So there are three powerful - magic things - they're called the Silmarils - which my mother made, and which could have stopped the Enemy and won the war. And more than six hundred years ago when the Enemy stole them and the other Valar were positioning themselves to make a claim that the Valar were the rightful owners, my whole family swore an oath - a magically binding oath, humans don't have those, Elves do, if I swear something I literally cannot break my word - to kill the people who withheld the Silmarils. 

 

And for five hundred years that was just the Enemy and that was fine because she needed killing, but then some idiot stole a Silmaril, and we told them that the oath bound us to go after them and they wouldn't give it back, and - you can resist an oath. You stop caring about anything, you stop feeling anything except intensifying psychological agony, but you can...for a time...until you've stopped caring about peoples' lives, and then you have no further reason to resist, and then you act."

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"Yes, it was astonishingly unforgivably stupid and evil, I know, I've known six hundred years, doesn't help us any now."

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"That must have been what they were gesturing at when they explained why they were under attack - did they think they were going to win, what do the Silmarils even do that they wanted them so badly -"

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"Healing and light, by default, we could have killed the evil god with them but no one else knows how to use them for that - and we'd teach them, obviously, but it's not 'oh, you enter the secret password' it's 'oh, you decipher from what remains of my mother's notes the magic that she used to do it and then you adjust it and it'd take ten years of research to get anywhere'."

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"Oh."

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"I don't know if they thought they were going to win or if they just didn't care because everyone in the world is dead anyway -"

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"...they showed me to the healers because they said I might not get killed if I was there."

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"Then probably thought they'd win." She shakes her head. "The King was really young, he was only three the last time this happened, he must have had advisors who could have told him that we've spent six hundred years at war and are really good at it but I guess he could still just have miscalculated..."

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Annie gets some more soup.

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"Anyway. Don't know if you saw that part but the King jumped off a cliff into the ocean with the Silmaril, which means as far as the oath is concerned no one's holding it and so the oath - stopped. It'll come back if someone acquires it again somehow. We did check, couldn't find it on the shore."

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"I can't see and my weird magic replacement sense has a range limit and he wasn't in it."

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"...okay. Well. That's what happened. ...these are the King's daughters. They haven't told me their names, maybe they'll want to talk to you on account of you not being a mass murderer."

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"Hi," says Annie to the girls. "I'm Annie."

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They watch her cautiously. One takes the other one's hand. They do not offer their names.

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...oh well.

"Um, I probably can't evacuate the world. If it turns out I can't evacuate the world what do I... do."

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"Uh, pick how you want to die, I guess. I'm sorry."

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"We probably have some time left. Ten years, maybe even fifty."

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"...mm."

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"...yes, we're mass murderers not capable of expressing anything resembling the correct affect or emotions surrounding having just been magically coerced into a massacre, yes I just told you Nelya's not sane, no we're not wrong about any of this, no it's not really safe to verify but no one will stop you from trying."

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"It's not particularly that I don't believe you. I just don't... know what to do." Pause. "Can I have some paper, the language thing cuts through the deafness thing and I - would like to see if I can read."

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"Yes, sure." She doesn't move. After a few minutes someone comes in with paper.

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"...how'd you know to bring paper?" Annie asks the paper-bearer.

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"Uh, the princess asked?"

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"...maybe you just have much better hearing than humans?"

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"We have osanwë. We can communicate mind-to-mind over great distances."

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"...oh, that explains what they were doing before they tried talking."

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"Yeah, osanwe doesn't have a language barrier - if you didn't have time in Sirion to learn the language, is that another artifact thing?"

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"Yeah. I didn't know what language to speak here until I heard it but then I knew how - I can do it with languages from my world I've heard of too - I didn't notice it until I could understand someone who spoke this to me." She apprehensively tries writing a word out on the paper - sags in relief. "I can read too. That's lucky, it could've been spoken only or just not beaten the blindness..."

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"Does this sort of thing happen to people often?"

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"No. Usually even if you touch an artifact by accident there's only one of it, and you only do it on purpose if you know what it does."

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"And they universally have a benefit and a drawback?"

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"Yeah. Although some of them it's sort of arguable if the benefit is really good or the drawback is really that bad."

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"Nelya sent people back to where she found you to look for things that could be - the relevant artifacts, I guess. Didn't find anything."

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"I don't think they came with. And it could've been bad if they had and someone had touched them."

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"Yes, I'm starting to gather. The horrible pain one especially - unless we could weaponize it -"

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"I don't have any qualms about causing the Enemy horrible agony if we could figure out how. She tortured my sister for fifty years and we never really got her back."

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"...I don't know what it comes with, I don't know what the trigger is - there's one where it's water and at least I don't have that - and you'd have to get the Enemy to touch it."

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"Yes, I'm not saying we could do it, just that if there's anything at all that'd justify it this would be it."

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Annie is done with soup now. She sighs. "What's your name? And your sister is - Nelya? -"

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"I'm Lírnith in the language we're speaking, my native tongue and our native names were illegal for five hundred years before the kingdom enforcing that law fell. My sister's Rirosseth, but Nelya's what we called her when we were kids and sometimes it - cues her better? It's complicated."

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"...complicated how?"

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"In between torturing people the Enemy gives them hallucinations of being rescued or escaping. She can do them very convincingly, edit your memories if you're not convinced and try it again, she can make subjective centuries go by in a year... Nelya said once there's been ten? Eleven? Rescues that turned out to be a game. She thinks she's still a prisoner. She thinks she's going to wake up. At this point she hopes it's all a lie, because if it is then she didn't lead people who trusted her into horrifying war crimes. She - tries to act in ways she'd endorse if things were real but lately that's been getting harder and harder.   She keeps telling me that if it were real she'd just want to die."

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"Oh."

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"Yep. It's - she can pretend most of the time, for a long time no one except me even knew."

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"- if she just wants to die then -"

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"Elves can't. Not in the sense she wants to."

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"Can't?"

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"You can destroy our bodies enough we can't sustain them, but as far as anyone's ever heard of there's nothing you can do to stop us from having conscious experiences - and if you're dead you're either all alone or in the Halls which are reputed to be terrible. At least this way sometimes she's asleep."

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"The Halls?"

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"One of the Valar collects the dead. And brings them back if they are worthy. Mass murder obviously disqualifies you, so it's just - waiting, alone, forever."

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"- but -"

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"No one deserves that?" Shrug. "No one deserves to have been born to an Arda but here Eru put us all. Except you, I suppose. Welcome to the sculpted horror show of our idiot gods."

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"Who's Eru?"

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"The god who scripted everything in the first place. She directly intervenes sometimes but don't think we haven't tried prayer."

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"Oh."

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"Sorry."

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"So why are the children here -?"

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"The king of Sirion? Had two sisters. They were seven, I think, when we sacked Doriath - that being the last city where this whole nightmare played out - and somebody in the middle of the fighting took the kids outside and we guess they ran away into the forest and starved and I figured this time I would make a different horrible mistake. They're safe here. The enemy doesn't bother us - why would she, we practically work for her -"

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"...oh."

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"It is likely the Enemy will follow up in Sirion  now they're defenseless. Or has already."

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"If you'll find it cathartic to yell at me or something you can, I understand..."

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"I don't really want to yell at you, it doesn't seem like it would help anything."

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"It wouldn't. I don't do a lot of self-flagellation for the same reason, but lots of people still find it - emotionally reassuring on some level -"

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"What was the oath exactly -?"

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She closes her eyes. "If I speak the original language will you still understand me?"

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"I think so."

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"Be she foe or friend, be she foul or clean,

brood of Morgoth or bright Vala,
Elda or Maia or Aftercomer,
Man yet unborn upon Middle-earth,
neither law, nor love, nor league of swords,
dread nor danger, not Doom itself,
shall defend her from Fëanáre, and Fëanáre's kin,
whoso hideth or hoardeth, or in hand taketh,
finding keepeth or afar casteth
a Silmaril. This swear we all:
death we will deal her ere Day's ending,
woe unto world's end! Our word hear thou,
Eru Allmother! To the everlasting
Darkness doom us if our deed faileth.
On the holy mountain hear in witness
and our vow remember, Manwë and Varda!

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"I suppose that's the generic 'she' and you don't get anywhere if a man has them."

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"Yeah, you can't rules-lawyer oaths that much."

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"Suppose it would have been unrealistic for me to think of anything you didn't in six hundred years."

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"I don't mind if you try. But - yeah, we've tried. The major loophole if you can call it that is that we're only obliged to harass anyone who is currently in that moment holding a Silmaril, so the minute they surrendered it or we got it back it'd be over and we wouldn't have to - but at this point we have a reputation, people don't trust that they'd be okay if they surrendered and they'll surrender and then keep trying to kill us -"

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"...how did you get a reputation saying that people wouldn't be okay if they surrendered, if they would?"

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"Aforementioned dead kids, and general tendency of people to assume the worst of their enemies, and we don't show orcs quarter but we don't have a choice on that one."

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"Those are the mind-controlled servants?"

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"Sworn to obey her. She sometimes gives orders like 'carry no weapons, go and make a nice peaceful settlement near some Elves, don't fight back unless they kill you and your children' - but if we don't do anything about them she can, remotely, at any time, give them different orders and they don't get a choice."

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"...ah."

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"They swear as soon as they can talk."

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"...no loopholes in that either?"

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"Sometimes we'd find some, try to work with them, then she'd learn and change what the next generation swore."

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...nod.

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She wakes up.

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"- Rirosseth's awake." Pause. "My weird sense goes through things. It's kind of creepy really."

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"Well, it's good to know about." 

This is Annie, her world's magic system comes with powers paired with drawbacks and the unspeakable agony is one of the drawbacks, still don't know the trigger, she's also deaf and blind but can read and write and hear words, I gave her the history, the kids haven't introduced themselves yet.

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She stands up, takes the armor off. 

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"It goes maybe a hundred yards crisply and fades from there."

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She comes in to find them. "Hi, Annie! I'm lucky Lírnith was here to explain things, that must have been an absurdly confusing situation to awaken to. Rirosseth. It's good to meet you properly."

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"Lírnith's been very helpful."

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"As much help as anything is, at least, right?" She looks at the kids. "Hi."

No answer. 

Permalink Eye

"They didn't talk to me either."

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"When Elves are out fighting," she says to them, "and we need to be very sneaky, we can osanwë to tell each other where we are. Dwarves can't, so they use hand signals." She draws her hand to her chest. "That means 'give me some space now'" - different gesture - "and this one means 'be close to me'."

The children look at each other.

 

One of them copies the give-me-some-space gesture. 

"Annie," she says, "would you like a tour of the fortress?"

Lírnith stands too.

Permalink Eye

oh help it was complicated enough being in love with you when you weren't being sweet like that with terrified children

"Sure."

Permalink Eye

So the three of them leave. She falls in beside her sister. "I confess I don't actually have much of a tour planned. There's a courtyard -" gestures - "and lots of empty rooms, now, if you want to pick one..."

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"It might make sense to put me a ways away from everyone else because my magic sense thing goes through walls and people might want more expectation of privacy?"

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"We can do that."

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"...okay. Am I correct in thinking that you're just sort of - keeping me around in case my otherworldly powers turn out to be more useful than just occasionally making me collapse and letting me talk to people -?"

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"If you have somewhere else you want to go you're not our prisoner."

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"I really don't."

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"I don't think the Enemy knows that there are other worlds and I don't want him to find out. And yes, if you turn out to have any magic powers - or if anyone from your world comes looking for you -"

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"If anyone comes looking for me it will take a minimum of several days and probably much longer. There's someone who's got an artifact power to analyze other artifacts without having to touch them, but he has to sleep twenty hours a day and they won't know which one to start with. If the one that sent me here turns out to be controllable or consistent or reversible or something it'd have to wait until he found that out."

Permalink Eye

"You were out for almost a week. I checked a couple times if you were not-in-unimaginable-agony but you always were -"

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"It happened one time before that almost right after I landed but it was just a few seconds then..."

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"If it happens again is there something you want us to do instead -"

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"...did you have to actually stand over me the whole time, that sounds awfully labor-intensive, there has to be some other way to keep me knocked out."

Permalink Eye

"You heal really fast,  and most ways of continually doing enough damage to keep you unconscious will kill you if we're badly calibrated about the healing or if it runs out of power or anything -"

Permalink Eye

"But maybe you could just, I don't know, tie something around my neck -? It won't run out of power, that's not a thing artifact effects do, if I have a healing factor I just have it now."

Permalink Eye

"Then that should be safe enough. I think."

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Nod. "It's at least more likely to actually be a trigger thing than a random thing, I think a random thing would probably have similar durations each episode - I was, I was going to study artifact statistics if they would've let me into the department -"

Permalink Eye

"Let you into the department?"

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"The university I went to has an artifact studies department - it's one of the best in the world because of the guy who can analyze the artifacts - but it allows access to some dangerous artifacts so they won't admit people unless you get in range of a mindreader to be checked out for what you might do with that, once a semester - so I was undeclared until I could see if there was a way to get around that. It's otherwise pretty easy to avoid the mindreaders because they yell all the time."

Permalink Eye

"There's no - not that way of verifying intent?"

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"Not that they use that I'd found out about before I got hit by the van. I didn't even want to touch any of the university artifacts, I just wanted to do stats, I would've been fine if they let me major in artifacts and didn't give me a key to the room, but..."

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"So you have - disabled ordinary senses, a new special sense, the agony fits, the teleporting to a new universe, the languages..."

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"And I'm too hot all the time - if you have anything for me to change into that's less bloody and lighter that would be good, it's - I can't actually tell how cold it is here but there's no snow so probably hotter than I'm dressed for even without the artifact effect and me having left my coat behind - and um - and the healing - and I'm probably missing some stuff with odd triggers."

Permalink Eye

"We can find you something lighter. I'm counting four bad things and three good ones?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm not positive that blindness and deafness are together. There's at least one artifact in existence that does blindness all by itself."

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"Okay." 

 

Someone brings lighter clothes.

Permalink Eye

"Where should I go to change?"

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"Hmm - right, sorry, we haven't had humans around in a while. The - I think everyone who was living in the north wing was dead, there's a guest room there..." She sends the location over osanwë.

Permalink Eye

"- okay."

Annie goes there. She changes clothes and then comes back out.

Permalink Eye

They are leaning against the wall and speaking silently. 

Permalink Eye

 

She's not sure how you interrupt or don't interrupt or - what - a telepathic conversation. She shuffles around awkwardly a ways away. She definitely does not point her face at them because why would she do that what color is Rirosseth's hair she bets it's pretty -

Permalink Eye

"Do you need anything else? We were thinking we should probably go check on the kids - actually, if you're up for it, you could check on the kids, since you can do it while giving them space..."

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"I can check on them. Um, I don't have very good facial expression reading so all I'll really be able to tell is where they are."

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"Do you want to borrow our eyes? I'm glad the other sense can compensate but it sounds - I can't imagine not being able to see farther than a few hundred yards, or without enough fidelity for facial expressions..."

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"You can do that? - I think I have the fidelity for facial expressions just not the practice."

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"Yes, osanwë can share senses - sight better than sound, because most people triangulate off sound and find it fairly disorienting -" she attempts to send her how to see through someone else's eyes -

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...are Lírnith's available because Annie wants to look at Rirosseth.

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Sure, she'll let Annie look through her eyes.

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oh no she's pretty (of course she's pretty) (the scars are heartbreaking but she's so pretty) oh no

"- wow, you have way better vision than I ever did."

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"Elves have much more acute senses than humans, yeah. But our environments not being exceptionally pretty bothers us, so it's a mixed blessing."

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"That does sound like a hassle."

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"I wish you'd arrived in time to see a real Elven city."

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"I don't have much aesthetics through the weird sense and don't know if that's practice or just not something it has. I guess I could've looked at it with help."

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They both shudder. Here is the room where they left the traumatized girls. They do not go in.

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And where are the traumatized girls?

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They appear to be searching the kitchen for food things and hiding them.

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"...hiding food around."

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"Well, I think we should let them, if it makes them feel safer - we're not going to run out of food -"

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Nod.

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"Do they have their own rooms -"

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"Yeah. I've been singing them to sleep - I'll stop if they want, but they haven't given any indication either way - perhaps you can invent a hand signal for that, too..."

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"- I know some actual sign languages."

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"That would probably be more applicable than Dwarven military communication signalling."

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"Yeah. Should I teach you first or them?"

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"I don't want to interrupt them right now."

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"Okay. Uh, in Norden Sign 'go away' would be -" She gestures. "And 'stay close' would be -" Gesture.

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"Is there something for 'sing'?"

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"Yeah -" Like so.

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"They're half-mortal, I don't know how quickly they'll pick it up, but that'll help a lot."

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"Are Elves really fast with languages too?"

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"My mother could be conversant in a day and fluent in a week, in anything. I'm about half that fast, mortal adults are really slow usually-"

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"...compared to that yep."

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"Compared to their own lifespans. We tried to fix mortality - could have done it, if we'd had a little bit more time -"

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"- more time to what?"

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"For the relevant researchers to stay alive. Our magic system is powerful but very, very slow - complicated things can easily take a mortal lifetime - my mother might have been able to do it in a few decades but she was killed very early in the war, my sister could have done it but not that fast but - she's dead too -"

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"Oh."

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"Everyone's dead. Two hundred fifty thousand of us crossed the ocean to fight this war and there are - maybe seventy people alive now."

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"- in six hundred years nobody's had kids, or -"

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"Not in wartime, no."

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"Oh."

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"That's another Elf thing. We - this is no world to bring a child into."

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"I think most humans don't consider the fitness of the world for children before having them," nods Annie.

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"Well, they also don't get a choice. Elves can't have children except by the deliberate will of both parents."

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"...in my world we have medicine to prevent it if we want but it's not totally perfect."

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"...if you'd gotten here a century ago she'd be delightedly asking you how to do it so we could reverse-engineer it, we find it very upsetting how they don't get a choice, but now there's only a handful of mortals who aren't slaves of the Enemy and we have no resources to develop new medicines anyway."

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"I don't know how to do it, I'm not a doctor or a pharmacist or anything. I think it involves messing around with hormones somehow..."

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"Well, luckily it doesn't matter."

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"I guess."

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"Kids still looking for food?"

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"Yeah."

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Sigh. "Thanks. I might go sing for a while."

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She reaches out almost as if to touch her, stops three inches short as if hitting a hard wall, smiles faintly. "See you later."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Love you."

Permalink Eye

"Love you."

Permalink Eye

Love you. "...is there anything I should be doing, or, I don't know, books -?"

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"There are books. I can have someone show you where - you can read any language too?"

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"Probably."

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"Okay. If not you can ask her to read things to you."

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"Thanks."

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"I can imagine this is horrible and overwhelming."

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"Yeah."

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"Let me know if there's anything we can do."

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"Under the circumstances you're being really hospitable."

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"The circumstances being 'we're mass murdering scourges of the continent who kidnapped you because you have interesting magic'?"

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"...I wouldn't have said that."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. But you can, I don't want you to think you have to appease us to be safe here."

Permalink Eye

"It sounds like most of the problems around here are because oaths are a thing. I'm not really used to that and haven't totally decided how to think about it."

Permalink Eye

"They certainly don't help anything. ...wait, no Elves in your home world?"

Permalink Eye

"No, just humans, the whole planet."

Permalink Eye

"Most people from worlds without Elves don't have the habit of keeping their thoughts private. It's easy to pick up but has to be taught -"

Permalink Eye

"...keeping their thoughts private?"

Permalink Eye

"Osanwë is communicative, not hostile, you can't use it to read anything that the person has mentally demarcated as private. But people who've never met Elves don't usually already know how to do that. But all your thoughts are private, just like if you'd grown up somewhere where osanwë was a thing. And the mind-reading artifacts can't work the same way, from what you said of them..."

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"...they don't."

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"They wouldn't really work for the purpose they're using them for if they did."

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"Yeah. I... guess this could be an artifact benefit? Which has been letting harmless osanwë through but not mindreading?"

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"That would be a really good one. Like Dwarves but more convenient."

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"Dwarves?"

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"Are immune to all mind-affecting magic."

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"There's more of it besides osanwë?"

Permalink Eye

"Enemy can do a lot of things. And there's songs for it, too, and the other Valar can tamper with your head but they don't without permission..."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Well. I hope my artifact holds up if it has to."

Permalink Eye

"We might be able to check, Lírnith does not know anything that'd definitely count as mind-affecting but she can put people to sleep, speed up their perceptions of the world around them, stuff like that, if your artifact protects against those then you'd know it likely protects against mind-affecting ones too." 

Permalink Eye

"...okay."

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"You don't have to check if you'd rather not."

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"It's better to know. I just - didn't know that you would've been reading my mind all along without the artifact."

Permalink Eye

"I'd have told you how to do private thoughts if you weren't doing them already. All my mortal allies knew it. Inconveniently for us, as it turned out, because they betrayed us to the Enemy, but -"

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"Oh."

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"I - don't think the Enemy can read my mind, it's the only thing she doesn't control absolutely, I wouldn't let you go along not knowing -"

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"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"You're welcome."  

 

A person comes to show her to the library.

Permalink Eye

And Annie goes to the library and looks at books.

Permalink Eye

And she goes to her rooms and changes and showers and scrubs away at her skin until it's numb and badly scratched, like always, and then sits there and stares at the ceiling, like almost always lately.

Permalink Eye

And she, within range of mortal earshot of the library, picks up a harp and starts playing.

Permalink Eye

And now Annie is screaming on the floor again.

Permalink Eye

The person who brought Annie to the library notices this and runs off to find a Fëanorian and finds Lírnith first. 

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She stops and rushes up to see if she can help.

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Annie's catching her breath and slowly sitting up by the time Límith gets there.

Permalink Eye

"Happened again?"

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"Yeah." She picks up the book she dropped and smooths out its pages.

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"Do you know what triggered it?"

Permalink Eye

"No idea. I was paying attention to the book, not anything around me - maybe I should go around with more situational awareness till it's figured out -"

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Shudder. "Might be a good idea. I'm sorry."

Permalink Eye

"It's, you know, it's over when it's over."

Permalink Eye

"And that is really really good, but still."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

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"Let me know if you need anything."

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"Will do. Thank you."

Permalink Eye

And she goes back to playing.

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Ohshit.

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And this time when she'd notified - "do you have a reaction to music?"

Permalink Eye

 

"Maybe? Second time it happened you were singing - I didn't hear anything the first time but I wouldn't would I -"

Permalink Eye

"...suppose not. That's going to be really inconvenient - I wonder what the range is -"

Permalink Eye

"...I guess we could test that? If there's usually a lot of music around, enough to keep me out for a week -"

Permalink Eye

"We sing for a week straight when people die, it's the mourning process. We didn't know, or obviously we'd have - do you want to test range, I take it it's very unpleasant -"

Permalink Eye

"It... is. Do you happen to know how close I've been to music while still okay so we can start from far away closing in instead of the other way around?"

Permalink Eye

"There are people singing right now, other end of the fortress."

Permalink Eye

"...so I guess I could just go in their direction really slowly and you could drag me away if I fall over?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure, that's probably a good way to do it."

Permalink Eye

So Annie goes in the direction indicated, slowly and gingerly - then flinches back.

"It's not all or nothing, that's something."

Permalink Eye

"I wonder if it's a distance or a volume thing."

Permalink Eye

"Well, it's definitely not that I have to hear it, but it could still be how clearly I'd hear it if I could hear."

Permalink Eye

"That seems almost unfair. ...if you borrow my hearing, by which that singing is perfectly clear -"

Permalink Eye

"Testing -"

She doesn't flinch!

"Okay, so it's really really not about whether I can perceive the music."

Permalink Eye

"I can ask them to go quieter, then you can see if that lets you get any closer -"

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

Can you sing more quietly? We're testing some of Annie's magic.

Permalink Eye

And when she has the go-ahead Annie picks her way forward a bit, and does get noticeably closer before twitching back (and falling over).

Permalink Eye

And getting dragged out of range. "Okay. So it's responding to something like 'what a human would hear', though actually hearing it doesn't matter, and if we get you a soundproofed room - it'll be underground, but it sounds like you won't mind if it's chilly? - then we can sing enough to stay sane without torturing you."

Permalink Eye

"Chilly would be great, I pretty much feel like I'm baking. ...Uh, I think I noticed another thing."

Permalink Eye

So she tells some people to set up a room that used to be for food storage and is as dungeon-like as any Quendi living space gets and is drafty and insulated by lots of stone from the castle above it. 

"Oh?"

Permalink Eye

"I guess it's skin-contact touch range? I only noticed it when you grabbed me. I think I could transfer the effects. I don't know if they'd be in their pairs or what the pairings are of course."

Permalink Eye

 

"Oh. 

 

 

 

And one of them is the teleporting - unless that's the one that makes you allergic to music I think most people here would take it -"

Permalink Eye

"...I think I could take them back. And I think I could give them out by drawback, so we could find what goes with feeling too hot and so on, process of elimination..."

Permalink Eye

"Couldn't take the teleport back, not if the person teleported - can you take them off yourself, or just other people -"

Permalink Eye

"Well, the teleport won't go with feeling too hot and feeling too hot will go with something useful," Annie explains. "I definitely can't take them off myself."

Permalink Eye

"...okay. I should get my sister."

 

 

Permalink Eye

Is Annie suddenly apprehensive what why would that be. "Okay."

Permalink Eye

"Do you not want her around or something -"

Permalink Eye

"No, no, it's fine."

Permalink Eye

"I didn't mean to scare you when I said when we met I was glad to have a kidnapping explanation - she used to be a good person -"

Permalink Eye

"It's really okay."

Permalink Eye

She comes. "What?"

Permalink Eye

"I can transfer effects. Skin contact range, I didn't notice it until Lírnith pulled me away from the music. Which is what I'm allergic to. But only to human earshot range. Even though I can't actually hear it unless it has lyrics."

Permalink Eye

"That is ...a weird way to delimit, but okay - you can transfer them - we can evacuate people -"

Permalink Eye

"I still think that one's a drawback not a benefit. Which means no two people could guarantee they'd be in the same place - everybody might wind up in a different world - and there's no guarantee they'd be nice places, although it is usually taken to be a consistent law that an artifact effect will never kill you outright all by itself."

Permalink Eye

"Would dropping you in the ocean count as killing you outright, though -"

Permalink Eye

"Nope. It would probably not drop you deep enough to kill you with water pressure, or in water that would kill you with hypothermia right away, but theoretically swimmable ocean that just doesn't happen to be anywhere near any land to swim to, that could happen."

Permalink Eye

"Well, everyone who stays is definitely going to die, but - if it's paired with healing or something that'd make it a lot safer -"

Permalink Eye

"I was thinking the safe thing to do would be to hand out the controllable drawbacks temporarily and see what goes with and match as much as we can that way first."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good. So the benefits are healing, new sense, ability to hand out the artifacts you've touched, probably the mental opacity thing, languages, and the drawbacks are blind+deaf, music allergy, overheating, the teleport, and - does that mean blind and deaf are probably separate -"

Permalink Eye

 

"No."

Permalink Eye

"It doesn't?"

Permalink Eye

 

 

"There's, there's another bad one, psychological effect, if I hand out powers by drawback it won't affect anybody."

Permalink Eye

"...okay."

Permalink Eye

"...um, who should I try stuff on."

Permalink Eye

"...I'll ask for volunteers."

 

She does. She gets one.

Permalink Eye

And Annie hands out powers by drawback.

Warmth: no obvious correlate at all.

Music allergy, once they can get everybody to quit singing long enough to test it in case it depends on the species of the effect bearer: healing.

Blindness: packaged with deafness and the sense of smell loss after all. Comes with the weird sense.

Permalink Eye

Everyone is very disappointed that the healing comes with the music allergy. ...the warmth not having a correlate means there's another drawback too, one they haven't noticed yet, right? In addition to the one she's not discussing in much depth.

Permalink Eye

Yeah it does. At least one. There could be lots of hidey ones.

Permalink Eye

Fantastic.

 

So they can't make many inferences about what goes with the other ones. There's mental opacity and the power-handing-out itself to account for, and one more without discernable effects...they ask their people who'd want a teleport to a random world. Most people do, but - not quite yet. Once the Enemy comes for them. 

Permalink Eye

Okay.

...In the meantime the healing might do old injuries and it does not seem likely that removing it would reinflict them. If Rirosseth or anyone else would like to borrow it for just a short musicless period.

Permalink Eye

"That's a good idea, but."

Permalink Eye

She has flashbacks when touched.

Permalink Eye

Oh.

(Substantial fractions of the contents of Annie's brain tear themselves to shreds because Rirosseth must never ever ever come to harm.)

"Um - maybe if you were sleeping or something? It doesn't feel like anything, healing..."

Permalink Eye

"I can handle it, I would just - need to be prepared. Maybe tomorrow."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"...you okay?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm fine."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe the drawback or drawbacks we're missing will make itself manifest."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you, Annie. This is very good news even if we can't have it all puzzled out instantly."

Permalink Eye

"You're welcome."

Permalink Eye

And the next day she will be able to poke Annie's finger with hers for healing. She looks like this is absolutely terrifying.

Permalink Eye

Oh no poor Rirosseth oh no. Annie does her very best to hold still and look unintimidating. Healing goes.

Permalink Eye

Hand grows back. It is very weird to watch. Scars fade away. She is trembling slightly. 

Permalink Eye

Annie holds her hand quite still so that it can be poked again the music allergy does not need to be a persistent feature of Rirosseth's life (oh no oh no oh no shaky unhappy Rirosseth nooooo).

Permalink Eye

"Thank you. That was a good idea." Fascinated flexing of the returned hand. "It doesn't hurt you or anything, does it?"

Permalink Eye

"No? It doesn't feel like anything."

Permalink Eye

"Then what's wrong?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm fine."

Permalink Eye

"I see. You know, I used to -" she shakes her head. "Never mind."

Permalink Eye

- used to what? But Annie has been told to never mind so she doesn't ask.

Permalink Eye

And she gives her sister something that less three inches of air would be a hug, and then goes off to try to coax the children into the library.

Permalink Eye

Annie goes and writes things (they are in Noregrsk) and reads things and works out a way to sort of draw by using letters.

Permalink Eye

The kids are persuadable into the library. She reads to them.

Permalink Eye

Do they want sign language lessons, later?

Permalink Eye

They do! Can Annie provide?

Permalink Eye

She can!

Permalink Eye

The girls are attentive and more cheerful and only occasionally shoot wary glances at Rirosseth.

Permalink Eye

...well, this isn't really unreasonable of them but Annie hasn't the slightest idea how to address it so. Just sign language. It turns out she can see people in brief flashes, when they make signs - their hands and any parts of the body they also move or touch to complete the sign.

Permalink Eye

Then she will see flashes of two kids and Rirosseth as they learn to sign a wider variety of useful things.

Permalink Eye

...it's really hard not to look at Rirosseth in the moments she can see her.

Permalink Eye

And it's much easier to read Annie when she's paying normal visual attention to her.

Permalink Eye

Well Annie is trying very hard not to be obvious BUT IT IS SO HARD. ...here look she butchered the Noregrsk alphabet into tengwar correspondences we can spell things now.

Permalink Eye

The children haven't been taught how to read yet. She realizes it would be racist to mutter under her breath about the Thindar and their appalling priorities so she doesn't. But the girls need to learn to read, reading is delightful.

Permalink Eye

Reading is very important yep.

Permalink Eye

At some point she stops signing. Lírnith? Want to come take over for me?

Permalink Eye

Sure, why -

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Just please come. 

 

She is trembling violently.

Permalink Eye

"- are you okay?"

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

 

Okay don't answer Annie will just be freaked out over here while writing words for the kids to sound out.

Permalink Eye

the kids should go get some fresh air in the courtyard why don't they do that 

Permalink Eye

Okay.

(what happened what's wrong aaaaaaah)

Permalink Eye

She comes in. "Do you want me to calm you down Annie'd have to go away -"

Permalink Eye

"I don't care what you do to me."

Permalink Eye

And she looks at Annie - "what happened, did you confess your undying love for her or something-"

Permalink Eye

"What -" no she was being very discreet - "I didn't say anything -"

Permalink Eye

 

"Fuck you," she says, "I hate you I hate that you keep doing this I wish I still had emotions strong enough to contain how contemptible it is can't you just fucking end it can't you just stop spinning yourself new faces what do you even want you have it I will never be of any use to anyone I care about ever again I am broken you won now just please, please, stop -"

Permalink Eye

 - "Nelya. Nelya -"

 

Permalink Eye

"Stop calling me that. My sisters called me that and they're not here, they're safe, you will never get your hands on them -"

Permalink Eye

should she leave

she should probably leave

Lírnith has some thing she can do if Annie is not around and probably knows what she's doing so Annie should leave

Annie leaves.

Permalink Eye

The thing she can do is sing her sister calm, which she has advance permission to do conditional on being real and on Rirosseth looking about to hurt herself and so as soon as Annie is out of range Rirosseth is calm. She still thinks this is the contrived means by which Thauron is going to end this excruciating hallucination with rape but she is not upset about it at all, she is so very calm, and Lírnith is too because these things are self-affecting, and she walks with her to bed and sings her calm until she sleeps and then -

 

- fuck -

 

Annie, are you okay -

Permalink Eye

What happened?

Permalink Eye

 

Uh. So. The ten or eleven hallucinations of being rescued? The Enemy had a favored way of ending them and seguing back into Angband, and it was - situations being contrived such that she needed to get over the touch thing, do I need to expand on that -

Permalink Eye

I won't I wouldn't ever I can't -

Permalink Eye

Yeah but she doesn't even believe you exist she recognized the setup and decided we're all definitely hallucinations and she doesn't need to pretend to take this at face value anymore. 

Permalink Eye

I need to not be hurting her how do I not be hurting her.

Permalink Eye

She's not hurting right now you can explain what happened -

Permalink Eye

Artifact effect, I didn't say anything I really didn't - I was too scared at first and then it seemed like it would be a distraction and then it seemed like it wouldn't be good for her to know -

Permalink Eye

It wouldn't be good for her to know but she's good at people, she wouldn't fail to notice for very long, she probably just pieced it together on her own, not your fault....

Permalink Eye

Should I go somewhere else, is there even anywhere else -

Permalink Eye

What does this effect do, what does it feel like -

Permalink Eye

Like the very most important thing in the world is that she not be hurting and especially that I not be hurting her, I can't think around that, I need to not hurt her.

Permalink Eye

She's not hurting. You're not hurting her. I calmed her down and she's now asleep and we need to figure out what to do but you're not hurting her, she's okay, she can stay that way for as long as needed if it's the only way you can think -

Permalink Eye

Deep breaths. Okay.

 

Pretty much as soon as she got into the crisper part of my weird sense I was, um, in love with her, very suddenly. Since she wasn't the first person I encountered it must be filtering by something but I have no idea what, it could be anything, some artifacts have divinatory contingencies but it could be anything. I, I don't need anything in particular from her not if it's going to hurt her, I can't hurt her, I'm not going to touch her unless she needs a power -

Permalink Eye

...can you push me the power and then remove it, or will I very much object to having it removed once I've got it -

Permalink Eye

...I think I'd object to having it removed if it didn't freak her out. But that could just be me freaking out about mind altering magic even when all it's doing is reversing previous mind altering magic, I don't know if the effect self-protects outright. And since it does freak her out I'd get rid of it in a heartbeat if I could. I can try on you if you want but I don't know what it filters for, I don't know if it'll stick you on anybody.

Permalink Eye

...could try it without anyone around, or without any men around if we assume it's at least trying a tiny bit on the compatibility front - though in a way it'd be more useful if it did temporarily work so I could send her, show her it's not the same -

Permalink Eye

I have no idea how hard it's trying on the compatibility front, I was bisexual to begin with.

Permalink Eye

She was gay before - stuff happened, she had a secret girlfriend who died a century ago - anyway, let's try it and then remove it regardless of what I say about it, unless you expect I'll actually fight you if you try.

Permalink Eye

I - don't know how likely you are to do that?

Permalink Eye

I am pretty sure I wouldn't but you're the one with the heavy-duty mind-affecting magic. 

Permalink Eye

Well, I guess if you don't have a sword then attacking me would involve touching me and I can remove it anyway? And I'll heal?

Permalink Eye

...okay. I will aspire to not make that necessary.

Permalink Eye

Okay. If you want to try it you can try it.

Permalink Eye

What I want is to figure out whether we should push it to her, but yeah.

Permalink Eye

How would that help.

Permalink Eye

Enemy couldn't do it. Ergo, she's out.

Permalink Eye

But didn't she want it not to be real -

Permalink Eye

Yes, but it is real, and she doesn't prefer to believe it's fake given that it's real.

Permalink Eye

...okay.

Permalink Eye

It might be a terrible idea but the current situation is also kind of terrible and it might be less terrible than that, I'm not sure. You could take it off again if you don't want her to be - madly in love with you, or whatever -

Permalink Eye

Her hand didn't un-grow after I took off the healing power, if she winds up in love with me - or someone else, I have no idea how it filters! - then that might stick whether she keeps the effect or not.

Permalink Eye

Okay. Well, when she wakes up I will tell her what I know and she can figure out what she wants. It might take her a while but she'll get there.

Permalink Eye

Okay.

Permalink Eye

Do you actually like anything about her or is it just 'this person is the magically-enforced center of my universe'.

Permalink Eye

It's kind of hard to tell when my first impression was 'oh look the magically enforced center of my universe is stabbing people'!

Permalink Eye

Okay, fair. 

 

Not that I expect it to come up but could she, like, convince you to stab people for her, or is it not that kind of -

Permalink Eye

This is one of the reasons I was scared because it would take some doing but not all that much and she's not even really in control of herself because of the oath and the artifact effect has no fucking clue how to handle things she technically only wants me to do because of the oath if they come up.

Permalink Eye

Okay. And all of this is causing you continuous considerable distress or just when you're reminded of it or - when you offered to go away somewhere -

Permalink Eye

I can kind of play bits of it off each other and a lot of the time I can get them to balance and think normally on top of that. And not hurting her beats the crap out of wanting to be around her no contest.

Permalink Eye

Are there things I can do to make it easier to - get them to balance -

Permalink Eye

...like what?

Permalink Eye

I don't know, telling you things about her, ensuring you don't end up murdering people for her - what I did earlier was make her calm, we both hate it but sometimes without it she'll just shatter so she's told me to, under certain conditions...

Permalink Eye

Knowing things about her is probably helpful. Not murdering people for her would be good. I don't think there's anything that you could say that would keep me from trying to defend her if people were attacking her - and if I were not totally useless at stabbing - but depending on what the oath is like and how much I can blame it for things I could probably ignore other inducements.

Permalink Eye

The oath is awful and without it there is no way she'd want anybody stabbing people for her. Well, orcs, but - I could try to show you what she was like before the oath and the torture but it might just make you sad.

Permalink Eye

Maybe? I don't know.

Permalink Eye

Let's do this first. Here she is.

Permalink Eye

"How long do you want to keep it, if you don't say to take it off sooner?"

Permalink Eye

"Minute or two? It won't feel like anything if I don't have one, right? But we should figure out the benefit while we're at it."

Permalink Eye

"Right. Do you have a way to check opacity without singing?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, I could neglect keeping my thoughts private and ask someone if they can read them, but Rirosseth's the only person I'd feel really comfortable letting do that. If it's not that one it's the ability to give-and-remove, probably, right?"

Permalink Eye

"Probably."

Permalink Eye

"...if we're pretty sure it's the mental opacity I'll ask someone to try reading my mind, if that's the best way to know."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Annie holds out her hand.

Permalink Eye

She takes it.

Permalink Eye

Thing: happens.

Permalink Eye

"Oh, Eru." she whispers, and starts crying. 

Permalink Eye

"What - what happened - who -"

Permalink Eye

"No one, apparently, but the oath is gone."

Permalink Eye

"- opacity," Annie guesses.

Permalink Eye

"Incredibly powerful - even the Valar can't tamper with oaths - oh, oh, it's over, it's over -"

Permalink Eye

"...do you want to keep it or see if it stays gone if I take it off?"

Permalink Eye

"...why don't you check if it stays gone - I'd take the tradeoff in a heartbeat but -"

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Tap.

Permalink Eye

"...nope, still clear.

 

 

That means we can rescue orcs. ...unless the attachment-thing also sticks when the artifact is removed, I suppose, then we still sort of can but it's more complicated - their oaths don't let them do anything to get out of them so we wouldn't have permission -"

Permalink Eye

"It'd be easier to decide if we had any clue how it filtered..."

Permalink Eye

"Well, it permits at least the incompatibility level 'she's a mass murderer who not only can't handle anyone touching her but also will assume anyone who wants to is a hallucinatory Thauron', so that's not promising. I guess if you decide you would have gotten on with my sister if you'd met her before the oath we could be optimistic that it filters at least a little and just fails to account for oaths and trauma?"

Permalink Eye

"Aren't orcs going to have pretty high concentrations of oaths and trauma?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, yes, they are. ...in fact, just a rescued orc bonding to a non-oath-blanked and not-reachable orc would be a sufficient disaster."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Ugh. I'm just - so tired of killing people and for a second when the oath snapped - 

 

- ugh, telling Rirosseth about this is going to be extremely complicated -"

Permalink Eye

"...because I can only transfer by touch?"

Permalink Eye

"No, because - the whole narrative she's expecting is 'somehow, circumstances contrive to make it necessary that she pursue a relationship and then it turns out to be with Thauron.' And 'hey, you can make the oath go away you just might have to take this artifact that will make you fall in magic love -'"

Permalink Eye

"It might not stick her to anybody. Unless it's reciprocal, which it might be."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. And it's worth it even if it does, it just - do you want her to be magically in love with you, if that is what it does -"

Permalink Eye

"I - yeah -" Annie wraps her arms around herself. "If I manage to think of it as neutral otherwise, I don't want it to happen if she wouldn't want it to -"

Permalink Eye

 

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, nonmagical would be better, but that's not happening."

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry. I can't imagine how traumatic this all is, and how unfair to you on every level -"

Permalink Eye

"It is not the best week I have ever had."

Permalink Eye

"Do you want a hug?"

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

Hug. "Normally when things are really hard for someone I sing for them, but. Um."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, I guess you could go off somewhere and I could borrow your ears?"

Permalink Eye

"Seems less useful at soothing than hugging you, but maybe we can try it on some later occasion."

Permalink Eye

Nod. Sigh.

Permalink Eye

"I keep having this impulse to defend my sister to you which is ridiculous because you are apparently in love with her but - I guess it's like - it's not reasons, it's -"

Permalink Eye

"- I don't understand."

Permalink Eye

 

"Hmm. Imagine someone was madly in love with you, but it was because they'd dreamed their whole life about someone with your face shape and hair color? It feels - about that arbitrary."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"I don't know if there's anything I can do about it but it's - yeah."

Permalink Eye

"- it was sweet how she taught the kids hand signs when they wouldn't talk."

Permalink Eye

Squeeze. "Thanks. Uh. I feel unfair even saying this but I think you being in love with her would hurt her less if it were for actual reasons."

Permalink Eye

 

"I can try but could you have phrased that in literally any other way."

Permalink Eye

"Sorry, what's the problem part -"

Permalink Eye

"It is just about impossible to think clearly around the possibility of hurting her, you could have said she would rather it or it would have startled her less or it would've been a mitigating factor or - or something - unless the idea is that I should make things up because right now the artifact really wants me to make things up -"

Permalink Eye

"Fuck, I'm so sorry. Okay. So, tell the artifact you can't lie to her, lying to her solutions will just fail to work because she'll notice. I'm sorry, I'll be more careful -"

Permalink Eye

Shiver. "Okay."

Permalink Eye

"She's okay. She's going to be okay. She is better off for having you in her life, there will be ups and downs but this is so much better than just numbly waiting for the end."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"And she is a wreck and it is honestly insane to be in love with her and it's fine if it's just a magic thing that definitely would not otherwise be a thing, that's okay, we'll figure it out."

Permalink Eye

"You can tell me about what she was like before if that would help -"

Permalink Eye

"It might." Sigh. "It's probably worth trying."

Permalink Eye

"...I might just wind up crying but possibly productively, so."

Permalink Eye

"Crying because that person is dead and totally irretrievable, or -"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah - grieving? I guess? It might depend on how much I'm anchored on her-now and not her-over-her-lifetime -"

Permalink Eye

Nod. "I - did a lot of grieving. The worst part was when she was still in there and we couldn't rescue her -"

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

"My cousin found out. Forty five years in - it's complicated, they hadn't arrived until just then. And she said 'what have you done to rescue her' and I said 'there is absolutely nothing that wouldn't just have been throwing away more lives' and we had the worst fight and she - went off and rescued her, I - I don't know if I could have but maybe it would have been better to die trying - sorry, this isn't what you asked about -"

Permalink Eye

"It sounds maybe important anyway."

Permalink Eye

"They'd chained her to the face of a cliff and used magic to keep her alive while she just - hung there. She begged my cousin to kill her and then the Valar decided to be helpful and send a means of rescue instead- it's when she lost the hand - and she came back and she put herself together so convincingly you could almost buy it and she - actually, I think I need to back up -"

 

 

The departure from Valinor, the succcession dispute, the ships, the first battle for Beleriand, the no-longer-eliding-the-politics rescue, Rirosseth surrendering the crown she'd wanted her whole life and uniting her people behind that horribly painful choice and taking them all east -

Permalink Eye

Annie wrings her hands and intermittently sniffles and listens.

Permalink Eye

Dwarves! Oh, she can tell the story of how Rirosseth became best friends with the Queen of the Dwarves and got a magic helmet that made the bearer nigh-indestructible and sent it to aforementioned cousin as a present - "they were lovers but it's kind of a secret and I don't know how the artifact feels about -"

Permalink Eye

"...the artifact is pro-monogamy but it's not going to make a fuss if I don't run into the cousin and worst case scenario Rirosseth would have to issue clear preferences about me getting along with the cousin?"

Permalink Eye

"And also she's been dead for a century so it's not going to come up except in 'degree I have to talk around it'."

Permalink Eye

Nod. "You don't have to talk around it."

Permalink Eye

That's about all the happy anecdotes she can manufacture out of the Beleriand years - she can do heroic ones, there was that time this other idiot of a cousin seduced some mortal vassals and then stationed them on the front lines of the war and the Bragollach happened and they got trapped and Rirosseth who'd been indignant about the whole thing to start with singlehandedly rode out and rescued ten thousand people and fed and sheltered them in besieged Himring for a year -

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

It was an eventful year, they fought a lot of Balrogs, here's what a Balrog is like, and some dragons - those looked like this - Rirosseth had gotten scary good with her left arm, by then, and orcs would run when they heard she was coming, and it'd been a year of constant living nightmare but they'd come out of it alive - okay, that's all the even vaguely positive Beleriand stuff, it was all downhill from there.

 

Her sister's given name is Nelyafinwë Maitimë, and she hates it, becuase Maitimë means 'beautiful' and Thauron loved calling her that. And the Nelyafinwë - well, here's the story behind that, and here's a tiny Rirosseth explaining to her sister - "it makes people sad, my name, and I'm kind of mad at mom because she could have not given me a name that makes people sad, but I don't think she understands things like that, and it's too late to explain, she can't change my name, so I'd just make her feel guilty by telling her - you don't have to be this careful with most people but you kind of do with mom - anyway, so I just invented all these ways to make sure it almost never comes up, and now you're old enough to understand and you can help me get away with it -"

Permalink Eye

...tiny Rirosseth. Tiny socially nimble Rirosseth.

Permalink Eye

Rirosseth decided Tirion needed indoor plumbing, and here is how that went! Rirosseth decided the procedures for road maintenance were utter lunacy, and here is how that went! Rirosseth was bored in paradise, though it didn't manifest until she became aware there was anywhere where she was actually needed - Rirosseth decided to try to help the Valar be less incompetent, Rirosseth wanted to leave Valinor as soon as she heard that humans were going to start existing and were going to have a rocky time of it, Rirosseth was so obviously qualified to be Queen but her old-fashioned grandmother wanted her to marry and raise children before taking on such an all-consuming job, because she couldn't do it during and it hadn't occurred to the Queen that she might not be planning to do it at all...

Permalink Eye

Annie is probably going to cry about this at some point but at the moment it's just nice -

Permalink Eye

She's kind of crying. Also the kids have been out in the courtyard a while, she should probably get them dinner - thank you for listening - 

Permalink Eye

Thank you for telling me.

Permalink Eye

Children are retrieved and fed and reassured - not that they ask, but they look anxious - that the grownups in their life are all stable and competent and loving. Luckily they can't see through lies as easily as her sister.

Permalink Eye

Annie stays put in her room and processes and she does cry some and then she writes some more and then she needs dinner too.

Permalink Eye

Dinner is still available!

Permalink Eye

It's convenient that way.

And then Annie goes to bed because wow what a day.

Permalink Eye

Yeah.

 

 

Permalink Eye

She has awful nightmares, wakes up sobbing and screaming and clawing at her mattress - she can't sleep with blankets, too constraining -

Permalink Eye

Which Annie can't notice from being holed up underground well out of range, dozing.

Permalink Eye

In the morning the calm has worn off entirely and she curls up in a corner and cries until her sister brings her breakfast and then cries again once her sister leaves.

Permalink Eye

When Annie ventures out for breakfast she asks Lírnith how Rirosseth is.

Permalink Eye

"...I think she wants some space."

Permalink Eye

"Okay." Annie can do that. She eats and goes back to her room where she will be out of the way.

Permalink Eye

Sorry.

Permalink Eye

It's okay, whatever she needs is okay. Thank you.

Permalink Eye

She brings her sister meals. She tells the girls that Rirosseth isn't feeling very well. It's not a lie. Rirosseth barely moves. 

 

...but she has a knife, and doesn't have it out, so there's that.

Permalink Eye

Annie frets but confines herself to asking Lírnith how she's doing no more than once sometimes twice a day even when the answer gets repetitive. She teaches the kids sign language and she reads books.

Permalink Eye

One of the girls tells Annie, once when no one else is around, that her name is Eliel.

 

And signs a question: why hasn't anybody rescued us?

Permalink Eye

Annie doesn't know, and says so.

Permalink Eye

But they haven't tried and secretly been killed?

Permalink Eye

Annie doesn't think so.

Permalink Eye

Annie gets a smile.

Permalink Eye

She can tell the difference between smiling and not smiling! She has that much practice now! She smiles back.

Permalink Eye

And after a few weeks she comes downstairs normally - a bit thinner, but not frighteningly so, and apologizes for being sick and almost-hugs her sister.

Permalink Eye

Annie gives her room. It counts as giving her room if she's a hundred yards away, right?

Permalink Eye

Yes. That works fine. Annie can stay a hundred yards away except when Rirosseth wants to hear her sister sing and Annie has to go farther, or when eventually she asks Lírnith - have her come see me -

 

- you can't tell her that you're in horrible pain and will be miserable for the rest of forever. You just can't, she can't think around it. If you understand that -

 

- I haven't lost my capacity to parse words.

Permalink Eye

She wants to talk to you. 

Permalink Eye

Really?

Permalink Eye

...well, she asked to talk to you?

Permalink Eye

...close enough. Okay.

And Annie goes and finds her.

Permalink Eye

"Hi, Annie. I apologize for freaking out at you."

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry I upset you," Annie murmurs.

Permalink Eye

"Sounds like it was really, really not your fault."

Permalink Eye

Well that's kind of inarguable. Annie shuffles her feet a little bit.

Permalink Eye

"Are you doing okay? What do you need?"

Permalink Eye

"I-I'm holding up, you don't need to worry about me."

Permalink Eye

"And in that spirit I completely ignored you until I was capable of worrying about you without it harming me."

Permalink Eye

"...okay. But I think I have a stable equilibrium going. Psychologically I mean, in the long term I suppose I need the evil god dead and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"Do you have a plan to accomplish that?"

Permalink Eye

"No, not really. I could maybe send her to another universe but then another universe would have her in it."

Permalink Eye

"They might be better equipped to handle him - then again, they might just have more people - would your world have stood a chance -"

Permalink Eye

"It... depends on some details of how she works and whether artifact stuff would actually work on her. And whether we could solve some coordination problems. And there's billions of people."

Permalink Eye

"And she might be able to get artifact things to work for her - we could send for help. Send everybody out, hope somebody lands in a universe that could handle her and that has the means to get back..."

Permalink Eye

"That could work."

Permalink Eye

"If we still had an army of half a million I would be outright optimistic it'd work eventually."

Permalink Eye

"If there's that many different worlds and they all have magic, maybe, yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Magic or just lots of inventions."

Permalink Eye

"If non-magic can do it at all, I guess maybe it could."

Permalink Eye

"Or, like, one world has a way to travel between dimensions but not natively anything else - and they'd have to be helpful, I guess lots of worlds might hear about a lost war against an evil god in a neighboring dimension and go 'well, that's terrible -"

Permalink Eye

"Probably. But you might not need many of the people there to be helpful, just a handful."

Permalink Eye

"I will ask people if they're willing to try."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"I was expecting there to be a contrived reason why I specifically needed to - and for the love one to come into it - no -"

Permalink Eye

Headshake. "That one's just there, doesn't enter into the strategic considerations at all, I'm handling it."

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry."

Permalink Eye

"It's not your fault."

Permalink Eye

"I've never found that very - relevant - to whether I want to fix things but this one I really really don't think I can fix."

Permalink Eye

Nod. "I'm not expecting you to."

Permalink Eye

"What's it - like -"

Permalink Eye

 

 

"Are you sure you want me to describe it."

Permalink Eye

"Even if it happens to pattern-match perfectly to the thing I'm expecting it to, that won't be worse than just expecting it anyway."

Permalink Eye

"- if the thing you're expecting is that it be specifically a sex thing it really isn't, I mean, it was but then I found out you got flashbacks when people touch you and now it's not."

Permalink Eye

"That's convenient. And - the thing I am expecting is that some reason will come up where it'll win the war or something if I can only - and I can - or was able to the last times, I don't know, I'm probably getting worse -"

Permalink Eye

"I can't think of a way that would happen."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"Is that all you wanted to know?"

Permalink Eye

"When did it happen?"

Permalink Eye

"Right when you got in the sharper sphere of my weird sense."

Permalink Eye

"Fantastic. Am I going to make it worse if I'm sometimes up for interacting and sometimes not, compared to if we just - avoid each other all the time -"

Permalink Eye

"Sometimes is fine."

Permalink Eye

"'Fine'?"

Permalink Eye

"...and better than nothing? It's - sort of hard to map regular words onto things that are about how my brain reacts to you-related stuff..."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds kind of horrible, is it kind of horrible?"

Permalink Eye

"...it is very intense? It is not uniformly horrible."

Permalink Eye

"What would you-before-it-happened want people to do for you-once-it-happened -"

Permalink Eye

"...I'm stuck like this, there's no removing actual artifact effects the way I can remove ones I give out. I don't think I would have wanted to stand very much on any particular principles that would feel inconvenient after the fact, given that. Pre-Van-Accident-Annie isn't going to turn up and wonder what I've been doing with her stuff."

Permalink Eye

"The Valar - object to people being gay, among other things. They'll correct it for you if they find out. I - thought a lot about what I preferred if that happened to me and it wasn't 'go forth and be straight.' But. If you don't want to search universes for a way, using our admittedly kind of terrible mechanism to do that, and you don't think you would have wanted that..."

Permalink Eye

"If a way to undo it comes up I'll take it but that's actually only because it bothers you."

Permalink Eye

"You don't - prefer not to be in love with a mass murderer who can't handle being touched and thinks you're a malicious hallucination even independent of whether I like it?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know what removing it would look like. I don't know what it would do to me, I don't know if I'd be able to contextualize my memories or recalibrate my emotional intensity scale into something useful or ever fall in love again or - maybe I'd do it even if leaving it didn't bother you if I knew exactly what would happen and it was all okay, but I really don't like mind control and adding more of it solves a different problem from the one I actually have."

Permalink Eye

"...fair enough - recalibrate your emotional intensity scale? So, everything's just much stronger -"

Permalink Eye

"Not everything, but some things and I've gotten surprisingly good at shuffling around which things."

Permalink Eye

 

"How does it interact with - presumably you'd be horrified by us if it wasn't in place making you like me -"

Permalink Eye

"Well, it doesn't make me like Lírnith and I do anyway."

Permalink Eye

"That's actually quite helpful, thank you."

Permalink Eye

"You're welcome."

Permalink Eye

"If we could do something about the evil god, what does a good outcome look like for you? How can you be happy?"

Permalink Eye

"...that's not something I can answer independently of knowing what you want."

Permalink Eye

"Um. Pretending that the evil god dies and everything, I would move our people south and - take a couple centuries to put myself back together and then go figure out what we could do to help humans build stable states? They have much more trouble with it than Elves do, because their leaders keep dying and half the time there's a horrible war when they do. You're - you're going to die even without Melkor helping..."

Permalink Eye

"...yeah, humans die. Democracies tend not to have succession wars, you could try that."

Permalink Eye

"I can try suggesting it. ...the point is that, if, this were permanent, and the evil god was dead, then - I would definitely benefit from having someone around who can - be a check on me and think of things I wouldn't and expect better of me and so on, it wouldn't - involve touching - but it would be close to the way I can imagine having a relationship in the future - but I'm just not going to be ready in time -"

Permalink Eye

"It's kind of unlikely that my healing factor is anywhere near good enough to make me immortal. There are actually artifacts that do it but they've all got awful drawbacks, way worse than the music allergy, I think even worse than Elves react to the idea of the music allergy."

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"And you could've gotten some unknown artifact that does it with some unnoticeable drawback but we're Doomed so how likely is that, really. Anyway - I don't have a picture of what I'd want from the next century if the evil god went away. I wouldn't mind spending it with you, but it wouldn't be -"

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"It wouldn't have to be."

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"Well then, lovely, let's just defeat the evil god I couldn't even scratch with an army of five hundred thousand and then we can be happy until you die."

Permalink Eye

"...sounds nice."

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"I am sorry."

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"You didn't put the evil god there."

Permalink Eye

"No, I did not. I tried - we tried - Lírnith said she told you why we came in the first place -"

Permalink Eye

"I've gotten a pretty comprehensive history between her and the books, yeah."

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"The oath part doesn't make much sense to me but everything else does."

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"If I tried convincing my sisters not to my mother was going to die of grief and I didn't think we could win it without her. Might even have been right about that, but - she died anyway. If I didn't try convincing them and just refused myself, then I'd lose any power to steer - and that, too, ended up not mattering, because I still couldn't deter her from burning the boats and then was too insane to try to rule."

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"- why would she have died without it -?"

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"Elves die of grief. My mother - was a very broken person who under the right conditions could do some good things anyway, and one of her things was an absolute terror of everyone abandoning and forgetting her, and the Queen'd just been assassinated and the library burned, all her notes, all her work, and she was dying of grief and we were - sort of delaying it, by being there for her, but not really more than delaying it, and then the oath - well, we sold her our souls, she didn't have to worry we would abandon her now - she pulled through it -"

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"Oh."

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"I knew at the time it would be personally disastrous, I just had no idea how many other people I could hurt..."

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"I probably wouldn't have guessed people would be quite that stupid about the Silmarils either."

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"It was stupid even without the benefit of hindsight but - yes, it was all so avoidable -"

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There really aren't any non-touching things that fill the gap of comforting hugs so Annie draws quite a blank but she nods slowly.

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There really aren't any hugs that hug away hundreds of thousands of people dying, either. She shakes her head. "Does the magic - not let you be mad at me -"

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"I'm - not really sure. It let me be scared of you, I was for a while, but that might be different."

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"I don't want you to be scared of me."

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"I'm not any more."

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"I treated you pretty badly. I try really hard not to act any differently towards people than I would if I thought they were real but - if I'd thought you were real I wouldn't have just dragged you along with no explanation -"

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"...I mean, if I'd had to try to decide whether to go with you or not that would have actually been horrible under the circumstances so I don't mind, considering."

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"...didn't think of that. Does that - generalize, if there are other things where your drawback won't let you think straight, or now that you have more information can you do more steering -"

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"Having more information and not being in a total panic helps a lot. Uh, I probably wouldn't be able to do anything like intelligent prioritization if it seemed like you were in danger or something?"

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"I'll keep that in mind. It's a good thing your abilities are touch-range -"

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"Is it?"

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"I mean, I don't think it can possibly come up again but if someone gets another Silmaril the oath'd - eventually erode 'not wanting to ask you to blind the whole city for me' just as much as it'd erode 'not wanting to kill people' and as it stands there is not much you can do to protect me from fights and that's probably good."

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"I'm not sure blinding the whole city would even contribute much because that does come with the weird sense. I guess you could shoot at them from out of range or something. Why can't it come up again?"

Permalink Eye

"The other two Silmarils are still in Angband and the circumstances that made it possible to steal one are unlikely to arise again, and there aren't even any major civilizations left the Enemy could hand one to for the entertainment value of watching us fight."

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"Oh."

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"Were you imagining it was something nicer than that?"

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"I was sort of hoping for something more airtight than 'unlikely to arise again'."

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"I'd love that, but - no."

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Sigh.

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"Could always just - throw ourselves at the Enemy and hope we die - but it could in fact be worse than that -"

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...shivery unhappy Annie.

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"Are you going to be - not okay, if I die -"

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"...well, you keep existing if you die, sort of, right, I might be able to hold together off that?"

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"Yes. I do."

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"...so I guess I'd try to function well enough to, I don't know, go try and persuade Mandos to be better at her job or something."

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"...that would be excellent."

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"I don't know that I'm very persuasive though."

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"And she's a tough nut to crack, I tried for a very long time. Does it help if I have a preference that you be okay if I die?"

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"...I don't think so, or if it can it requires more sophisticated nudging my thoughts around than I've learned to do yet."

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Nod. 

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"I mean, I guess it is pleasanter than you not caring if I'm okay or not, it just doesn't seem to actually produce an expectation that I could successfully be okay."

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Nod. At least it wouldn't be for very long, she doesn't say. "If there are things I can reassure you of that do help in that way, please tell me about them."

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"Thank you."

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"Is there anything else?"

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"I don't think so."

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"Thank you."

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"What for?"

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"Explaining to me what's going on in your head? Not forcibly overwriting mine, which I take it you could do if you wanted?"

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"I couldn't, not really - even if it were known to work like that -"

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"I'm glad."

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"Anyway you're welcome." And this seeming to have been a dismissal she gets up.

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She shivers a little and stares at the ground.

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...and Annie can't hug her so she goes.

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...everything okay?

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I think so. Or like, as okay as seems reasonable to expect. Are you going to tell her about the oath thing soon, I didn't bring it up, I don't know how.

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Yeah, me neither, because it fits the thing she's so scared of - I might wait until it looks like someone's got a Silmaril again, unless there's reason to think that won't happen in your lifetime -

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She seems to think it's unlikely.

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I'd think so too but we are doomed.

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You aren't doomed very quickly and I'm a human and probably not immortal.

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Well, at some point in your life we'll have to raise it with her - uh, if it does reciprocals and can't come off how horrible is it going to be to be her for the rest of eternity once you've died?

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...bad.

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So maybe that's not such a good solution. ...we could just sit on her. Oaths don't pull you if there's nothing you can do about them.

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...if that were doable why hasn't anyone done it before?

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Well, we were also oathed, and being sat on would be horribly traumatic for her and possibly kill her but that's still maybe better than putting her in magic eternal love with someone who's going to be gone-forever-dead or letting her kill other people.

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But it was just your family who was oathed. Why hasn't anybody else stopped you before?

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Some people tried at Sirion. But - some people wanted us to get the Silmarils back, because then we could have a shot at Melkor again. And - they fought with us for five hundred years, they'd find betraying us really really hard even if they thought it was the right thing to do - could you stab her, even to save her from herself -

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No but I'm magicked.

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I think enough centuries of someone repeatedly sacrificing their wellbeing and happiness for your sake and caring about you and making you feel loved and valued does - something similar, for a lot of people. 

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Oh.

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Shouldn't, but does. She was - magical, back when she was in one piece. 

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I believe it.

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Anyway. Let's not tell her just yet.

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Okay.

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The girls get fluent with sign language. They ask Annie more questions. They sometimes warily ask the Elves questions. Rirosseth gives off every impression of being an ordinary centuries-old warlord in a dying world who is not insane or oathed at all. She sometimes tries to smile at Annie but she's not very convincing.

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She doesn't have to be all that convincing to "look" like she's really smiling, to Annie, but Annie is not especially easily fooled about intent.

The fact that there exists intent-to-make-Annie-experience-being-smiled-at is still something though.

Annie shows up when Rirosseth makes it known that she can be nearby and otherwise gives her about a hundred yards' berth and she looks after the kids.

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Who eventually ask her - "why are you here?"

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"I had a magical accident. It did a bunch of things and one of them was send me to this world. I don't have anywhere in particular in the world I want to be that isn't here, so I'm here."

Permalink Eye

Nods. "Do you like it here?"

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"I miss a lot of things about my world but I can't send myself back."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. 

 

 

What things do you miss?"

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"Well, my world doesn't have an Enemy, so that's nice. And it has better technology than here by a whole lot. And I miss some people."

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"I miss Sirion. It was nicer than here."

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"I wasn't there long enough to know what was nice about it."

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"There were a lot more people and they were less - despairing. They kept thinking they might find Valinor in time."

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"Find it?"

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"When the Valar got mad at grandpappa and his family they surrounded Valinor with enchanted islands so no one can reach it with boats. Everyone's been trying since before Mother was born - that's how grandpappa and grandmamma met - to get past the enchanted islands and beg the Valar for help."

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"Sounds like the Valar made that really hard, which might mean they won't help even if somebody asked."

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"Oh."

 

"Well," Eliel says, "people thought they might so people were happier than here."

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"It is pretty somber around here."

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"Because everybody's going to die. And we're half-Elves so no one even knows what happens when we do."

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"That sounds especially scary."

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Nod. 

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"Where I'm from everybody's a human, and people have managed to have all different ideas about what happens to us but most of them are pretty silly."

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"I'd like being a human," Elian says. "They're happier and busier than Elves."

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"All of the Elves? I haven't met very many but I didn't think they were all always this solemn."

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"It's because there aren't any new Elves," Eliel says. "They're all older than the war, and sad."

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"They mentioned they don't have kids when there's a war."

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Nods. "People were mad when our parents did."

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"They wanted you to be born in a safer time."

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"But now Dad's dead so we just wouldn't have been born at all."

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"Yeah. Most people who could be born are never born."

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"I'm glad we were, though, I like being alive - at first I thought they were going to kill us if we slipped up and said something wrong, or bored them, or cried too much -"

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"They brought you here because they didn't think you'd be safe if they just left you, and they want you to be safe. They're very scary but that's not because they want to be scary, it's because Elves have oaths and oaths are a problem."

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Nods. "No one knows if half-Elves have oaths but grandpoppa said just never ever swear any no matter what."

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"That is a pretty good policy."

Permalink Eye

Nod nod.

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She comes in. They go quiet. She smiles at them. "I knew your grandpoppa when he was very very little, he was my cousin's son. He is very right about oaths."

Permalink Eye

Huh. Annie had no idea they were related.

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"Then why'd you -"


(Eliel elbows her sister.)

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"That's a very good question. I was wrong, and scared, and made a very bad choice."

Permalink Eye

 

"And now you're stuck forever?"

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"Yeah."

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...twitch.

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And after the girls run off to the courtyard to try to catch leaves falling off the trees before they hit the ground, which Rirosseth says is good luck in Valinor and probably not here but it's still fun - 

- "you okay?"

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"I'm okay."

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"I'm not really stuck forever, in Mandos you can't act on oaths so they don't bother you."

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"I guess that's one good thing about it then."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Dead orcs are all - stuck forever - but they aren't currently suffering, except psychologically."

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aaaaaaaaaaah

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"I'm upsetting you."

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"It's not you, it really isn't."

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"Okay." She goes outside to commend their leaf-catching, and eventually join them, giggling. 

Permalink Eye

That is so hopelessly adorable. Annie can't really catch leaves unless they happen to land directly on her but she can sit here and hopelessly adore Rirosseth.

Permalink Eye

There's a long winter. Everyone except Annie settles in around warm fires roasting nuts and telling the children lessons in the form of stories. Chemistry and math and metalworking and music and magic songs when Annie's far enough away.

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Annie remembers, uh, maybe three fifths of high school chem and less of high school math, but from a much more advanced world! ...The math is not actually that much of an improvement, although comparing notations is diverting.

Annie makes snow angels and is almost not too hot.

Permalink Eye

She gives it six months of solid consideration before she says "I managed to work out circumstances that made hugs tolerable, if it would improve your life if we could do that."

Permalink Eye

 

 

"Um? What are the - how does it make them -"

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"The main thing is that you need to not move at all and I need to have complete enough freedom of movement and - and you need to do exactly what I say, which I feel sort of coercive even mentioning given love magic, but that's - what makes it feel like I'm sufficiently choosing things -"

Permalink Eye

 

 

"And tolerable definitely actually means that and not, not something I would actually think was awful that you're rounding up to tolerable."

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"No. It's scary but sort of satisfying. If I thought this were real I would definitely want to be able to do that."

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"I can hold still and do what you tell me to do."

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"Okay. My room?"

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Nod nod nod.

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Here is a very-austere-by-Quendi-standards room. Here is Rirosseth wearing four extra layers.  "Lie down -"

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Annie does that.

Permalink Eye

And if Annie can be very very still then she can lie down next to her and lean in very very carefully and breathe very deliberately.

Permalink Eye

Annie can be so still.

Permalink Eye

Okay. Okay. 

 

 

She is scared but it is tolerable-really-actually, she doesn't want to die even a fraction more than usual.

Permalink Eye

There is a limit to how imaginative Annie can get while remaining firmly in the reality where Rirosseth doesn't actually want to touch her, and holding perfectly still without squirming at all, and being ready to do anything Rirosseth tells her to do at once, but it is not zero imaginative.

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And she asks her to move, a little bit at a time, until here is a view and a posture and a facial expression that doesn't give her any flashbacks - of course, next hallucination there will be even fewer things that qualify - and then she holds her quietly and firmly denies herself permission to cry. 

Permalink Eye

Annie is absolutely perfectly compliant, although the facial expression part is slightly difficult.

Permalink Eye

Once upon a time that actually would have been terribly appealing in its own right. She holds her for an hour and then says thank you and goes off to have a panic attack somewhere it won't scare Annie.

Permalink Eye

You're welcome.

Annie does not know about the panic attack so she just goes off to write and sigh dreamily instead.

Permalink Eye

Good. 

 

 

They talk about how to make it known but definitely not known to the Enemy that they can teleport people to probably-random other dimensions. They cannot think of a good way to risk it. They can teleport orcs, maybe, though not in any real expectation it will help, and when the Enemy does come everyone present here will line up for it as better than death. Using it to try to get help - they need more information, they have no way of getting it...

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Annie doesn't have any sudden epiphanies. She does think that if somebody's going to be flung into another dimension then even if they're an Elf they might want the language thing. Whatever drawback goes with it is at least not conspicuous to her, so it's probably safe to try and see if Elves can notice it more easily or something?

Permalink Eye

So they try pushing the language thing.

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