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Generated: Apr 26, 2018 9:47 PM
Post last updated: Dec 20, 2016 1:48 PM
the burden of command
Saddest Gregor in Fairyland
Permalink Eye

Drowning gets almost samey after long enough.

She floats limply under the lid of the tank, airless and aching and weak and everything but thirsty, and her wings are under too and can't breathe for her, and she drifts from minute to minute without bothering to open her eyes.

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An unfamiliar external presence communicates with her in a wordless arrangement of concepts: Do you need help—?

Along with the primary content of the message there are several attached implications - the speaker is present in the room with her, they have only just arrived here, they are concerned for her well-being, they are very confused.

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She opens her eyes.

- it's not safe here, she tells the mortal, you can't help me, you have to get out if you can.

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The mortal is sitting in a stone canoe hovering three feet off the ground.

I can leave easily. I can easily take you with me. May I?

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I would rather not be here.

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Now there is no tank around Promise - now a substantial amount of the water around Promise is also gone - now the canoe is under Promise; she falls into it along with some of the incompletely deleted water - now Promise and the mortal and the canoe are all very high in the air - now they're higher still - and teleporting overland in long line-of-sight leaps, blink blink blink blink blink -

How far away should we be from where I found you?

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I don't know how hard he'd look. Probably not off-continent.

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Blink blink blink they're over an ocean blink blink they're over the opposite shore. Lots of lovely green hills.

Do you know if it's safe to land here? Is there anything else you need?

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Nowhere's actually safe but this doesn't look like an immediate disaster.

I want my tree but I couldn't do anything with it if I had it.

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I don't know what you mean.

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I'm under orders. If you set me down I can just lie there not being tortured till they forget my name though.

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...orders...?

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She lies curled up in the canoe, not moving except to breathe and sometimes involuntarily cough up water. This is Fairyland. I don't know how you're moving around like this since I didn't think mortals had magic but you look like a mortal - fairies if they learn people's names or feed them, usually the first thing if it's both fairies, can give the other person enforced orders.

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I'm not allowed to give out my name but come to think of it I guess you could feed me and then let me go if you have any mortal food.

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I am theoretically able to create food, but I have never done it before so it will take me some time. I am also able to directly alter the magical properties of things but I need to touch them in order to understand them well enough and it would be very reasonable of you to prefer that I not do that.

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He doesn't say anything further immediately.

(He's coaxing ileyi to produce something in the 'edible' genre—it clearly doesn't matter if it's any good but it's not clear how foodlike it has to be; paper probably will not do—)

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Would it count if it was just my hair maybe.

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Yes, I believe so.

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Okay.

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So he reaches out and carefully touches her hair, and only her hair, as lightly as possible—

What are the properties of this person? How tractable are the unacceptable ones?

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She is immortal: trivial to damage, impossible to kill.

She is attached to a tree that loves her very much, back on the continent they came from. That tree and any trees grown from it will do as she likes.

She is subject to the mastery-vassalage system and feeding her or learning her name confers power over her or vice-versa. She has a name. It's Alisyrrabel.

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Becoming a part of this system is so much more upsetting than he thought it would be, and he thought it would be very upsetting

I free you from all of your orders - I did not realize that inspecting your magical properties would tell me your name but in retrospect I should have guessed, I'm sorry - I have not yet learned if I can change whether you are subject to this system at all -

And he finds this system deeply, powerfully horrifying, he is barely holding himself together, having this kind of power over someone makes him wish he could die. He doesn't mean to include that part but he finds himself entirely unable to separate his reaction to the system from thoughts of the system.

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She twitches with a gasp, though not in such a way as to bring him into contact with any nonhair parts of her. She heals miscellaneous injuries to her person with sorcery.

"- if you forget my name it'll go away. Wouldn't have worked with food, works with a name."

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—ah. Language magic. Useful.

"I don't currently have a way to deliberately forget things but it is good to know it will not last forever. I apologize for - communicating extraneous things. Is there anything else I can do to help?"

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"What else can you do?" she asks, rearranging herself more comfortably in the canoe.

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"I have a very generally powerful magic which takes time to accomplish anything complicated. I can closely examine the properties of myself and anything I touch; I can move or create things with some difficulty, copy or alter things more easily, and destroy things even more easily than that; using this boat, which I built using creation and alteration magic, I can fly and teleport, and also move between worlds but that functionality is poorly tested and may be flawed. I have assorted other capabilities that are harder to succinctly describe and which I have very little practice with."

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"- so the way you were talking to me earlier isn't exactly mindreading?"

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"I copied a communication power. It only transmits what is voluntarily sent, in either direction."

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"Okay. Good. ...could you get a cutting of my tree -?"

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"Yes, if you can clearly describe its location and surroundings to me."

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"It's got leaves the shape of my wings but smaller - when I left it was nearly a hundred feet high, probably hasn't grown that much since then - it's in a forest where it's always autumn and usually afternoon, a half hour's flight from a river - is this helping -"

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"Yes. A sent image would also help; an approximate direction and distance from here or from the place where I found you would help as well."

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She's got the image, vivid and beloved, huge tree with its branches all afruit with haws and hanging heavy over a clearing scattered with fallen leaves from its neighbors - "It's north of where you found me, maybe a little west, a bit more than a day's flight."

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"I can go to your tree and retrieve a branch. I don't expect to take more than a minute or two. Would you prefer to come along or stay here? On the way there I will need to spend a moment in the sky above the place where I found you, to orient myself, but on the way back I can teleport here directly from your tree."

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"I don't want to get near Thorn's court. Not even if I put my ears out and turn invisible."

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"Yes, I thought so. In that case, I can go as soon as you are out of the boat."

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She flutters out.

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He teleports to the sky above the place where he found her, high enough that the air is uncomfortably thin - he glances over the side of the boat - he teleports to above her tree, same elevation - he teleports down so that an extended branch is hanging over the boat - he erases part of the base of the branch so that the rest of it falls into the boat - he teleports back to Promise. It takes about fifteen seconds total.

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...she takes the branch and basically hugs it. "Thank you."

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"You're welcome."

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"...so what were you doing there in the first place?"

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"I am trying to get back to my own world after being stranded in a different one. I don't have a way to go there directly, but I have a way to move between worlds at random and I think I have a way to backtrack to worlds I have already visited. My first jump landed me in that room with you; I haven't tested backtracking yet and I don't want to until I am sure there is nothing more I can do here, in case backtracking fails and I end up stranded again with no way to return."

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"...I can make gates. I only know of them going to the mortal world though, and thought there was only one of it."

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"There are at least three worlds and probably four if the world containing mortals you expect not to have any magic is separate from this one."

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"I think it's separate. I could try to gate wherever you're trying to go anyway in case it works though."

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"I would appreciate that very much."

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"...I should see what's around here to see if it's a good place to plant my tree and make a gate."

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He nods.

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She goes for a flight around the vicinity, clutching her branch.

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The nicknameless mortal sits quietly in his hovering stone boat.

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She comes back a bit later. "I don't see any immediate neighbors or signs of large courts farther off. Probably as good a place as is findable without staking it out for a month. Do you have a nickname? I'm Promise."

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"I don't have a nickname like that. Unless 'Prince' counts, I suppose."

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"It'll do. I'll put your gate over there, but it might take as long as a week to settle even if it works."

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"What targeting information does the gate need?"

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"Geographical specifications."

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He sends the Lake of Gold. A glittering round lake, too bright to look at directly by day, breathtakingly beautiful by night, surrounded by the multicoloured peaks of the Godscrest Mountains that stand three times higher than any natural mountain on the planet.

"Will that do?"

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"Should be specific enough."

And she marks two points with lights and - "It's settling."

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"Thank you," he says quietly.

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"Least I could do."

And she finds a nice spot in a valley and makes more lights in grids over the area and examines them.

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Prince sits quietly in his boat.

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Eventually she finds a spot where she likes the look of the light grids. She covers it more thoroughly, investigates the results, dismisses the lights, stabs her branch into the ground, and does magic to it.

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Prince sure is sitting quietly in his boat.

(He's double-checking his immortality again, and trying to construct a plan to retake his empire. It is going to be a bit troublesome. He'd have to get close enough to touch Nirue in order to know exactly what her protections are, and without knowing that he can't know for sure that any given method of killing her will work on the first try; and he is as certain as he can be that his immortality will hold against anything she could possibly do to him, but that's not entirely certain enough... also, even if she can't harm him, she can harm lots of other people and certainly will if he provokes her and then allows her the opportunity.)

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The branch roots and stretches up and up and up.

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(Purely in tactical terms...

But how do you even ask someone about something like that? 'Would you like to use your terrifying power of command to help me retake my empire?' What possible reason could she have for saying yes? And why would she ever want to go anywhere near Reihar Nirue? For that matter why would she want to be anywhere near him any longer than necessary?)

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Treeeeeeeeeeeee~

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It's good that he has been able to help her.

...he's probably not going to be able to rest until he's done something about this place, is he.

One thing at a time. His duty to his empire comes first. But if the first person he saw after dropping randomly into this world happened to be being tortured... it's clear something definitely needs to be done, and it's possible he is in a position to do it.

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The tree gets big enough that she can make it fruit and have some food.

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That also seems good. She should have good things.

...he misses Ruava.

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The tree grows. At one point she does another grid of lights above its crown before growing it higher.

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It's interesting, and he almost wants to ask her about her magic system, but he is very unsure of how or when or whether to talk to her in general and he should really be thinking about tactics.

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Eventually she goes and tosses a rock through the site of her gate. It lands in the grass. She goes back to the tree and gets it big enough that she can fit in the trunk, then looks over her shoulder - "Will you be okay if I get some rest - you should be fine if you don't give your name or eat anything but if you do get hungry my haws are safe for you now."

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"I don't need to eat or sleep. I will be fine. Thank you."

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"You're welcome."

And she ensconces herself in her tree.

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(He triple-checks his immortality. Does it protect him against the vassalage system? Well, evidently not completely, but it's possible that the mental protections would hedge out orders. He tries to draft a revision to those, but he can't quite seem to put together one that satisfies him.)

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She emerges some twelve hours later.

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"Hello again."

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"Hi. Have you been checking your gate?"

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"No; I was distracted. Things are going to be somewhat complicated when I return home and I want to make sure I am appropriately prepared."

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She goes to check for settling. It hasn't. "Complicated?"

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"I am the heir to a world-spanning empire, and as far as I know I vanished from my own bed without a trace one night and have been gone for at least two years. My father, who is horrible, currently rules that empire, and now that I have the power to take it away from him it would be unconscionable not to; but he has a friend who is a powerful mage, and the moment she notices my return I'm sure she'll guess that I am now a threat to their comfortable lifestyle, and I don't know exactly what she will do at that point but it won't be good."

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"Oh. What can she do?"

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"She is a Wood mage; their domains of power are themselves, other people, and living things, and their basic power is lifeshaping. She in particular collects and tortures people as a hobby, and has powers suited to that lifestyle; she can selectively disconnect someone from their body and senses, or put a suicide ward on them so they are unable to kill themselves. I'm sure there's plenty more. In particular, I know she definitely has magical protections against at least some forms of possible attack but I don't know which ones."

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"Did you very much want to have the gate stay open - I suppose you wouldn't want to give her name -"

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"I would not need the gate if I wanted to return here, and no one other than me can operate my teleporting boat. You are welcome to close it immediately after I leave. As for giving her name... I've been considering it. I - couldn't think of a way to ask if you wanted to help. And I wasn't sure I could bring myself to interact with the vassalage system any further."

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"If I have someone's name they can't hurt me."

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"Reihar Nirue."

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"Thank you."

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"I want her to stop being able to hurt people. I want people to stop being hurt."

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"Are you in a very big hurry because I'm - I - I might need a little while - I don't even know where to get paper around here -"

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"...I am not in a very big hurry, no. I've waited several years already and it's more important to do this right than fast."

He creates a stack of paper and holds it out to her, then belatedly asks, "...what for?"

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"Drawing."

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Fountain pen. Pot of ink.

"I got very good at creating writing materials while I was working out how I was going to construct my immortality. Eventually I took a break to construct a mental notetaking power rather than continue sorting through piles of paper taller than I am."

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"That sounds neat." She collects up the drawing things. "Thank you."

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"You're welcome."

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...she draws. Trees with twisty branches covered in vines and mushrooms and leaves curled against the wind.

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He sits in his boat with that face on.

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"Are you okay?"

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"...that depends what you mean by that."

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"I don't know."

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"...I am not happy but being unhappy does not impair me significantly."

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Nod.

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Slight shrug.

Sitting in boat with face.

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Drawing plants.

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His tactical notes are starting to go in circles. He goes back to trying to refine his mental defenses to definitely cover orders.

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Eventually Promise puts her drawings in her tree and then makes it generate and pinch off a box, with which she flies off. She comes back with some seeds in the box. She plants them and starts growing them.

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The design work is not going so well that it can't be interrupted. He floats slightly closer in his stone canoe.

"Do you want any help with that? I think making plants grow quickly would be a fairly straightforward application of my magic."

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"Faster than I'm doing it?"

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"Potentially, yes. I've never done it before so I don't know for sure."

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...She puts up a grid of those lights over a plant. "Try it a little and I'll see if it does anything to the harmonics?"

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He gets out of his boat and goes over to the plant and touches it. It sprouts vigorously. The effect on the harmonics is negligible, no more than if the plant had decided to start growing like that all by itself for inscrutable plant reasons.

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"Cool," she says.

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"How grown would you like them? And what is harmonics?"

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"Till it flowers. Harmonics are a feature of places which affects sorcery; the lights are for checking them."

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He grows the plant some more. It flowers. He moves on to the next one.

"What can sorcery do besides grow plants and make light?"

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"Healing. Temperature. Purify water, candy dewdrops, turn people into animals, the opposite of healing, fire, transmutation."

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He nods thoughtfully and continues to grow plants.

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Promise grows plants too since she can do more than one at a time. "Sorcery doesn't work in the mortal world but I don't know about other ones."

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"It has an interesting set of capabilities but I can't see how any of them are immediately useful to me."

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"Turning fairies into animals is a standard incapacitation since we can't die, and sorcery and some kind magic doesn't work for transformed people."

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He nods. He grows another plant.

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"No idea if it would work on the Wood mage."

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"I would be inclined to suspect it wouldn't prevent her from using her magic even if the transformation was successful, and not inclined to rely on it even if I expected it to."

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"Orders work everywhere but it's not a great idea to try to keep a powerful hostile vassal unless that's one's specialty."

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"I am not inclined to try to keep her."

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Nod.

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Plants.

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When they are all grown to the point of usefulness she harvests some and also some leaves off her tree and goes inside.

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He lets his flying boat settle onto the ground, over where there aren't any useful plants growing, and he sits next to it and thinks about magic and strategy.

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Promise comes out a couple hours later and embiggens her tree some more and sits in the sunshine and draws.

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He is sort of curious about the drawing but he can't imagine that it's any of his business whatsoever.

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She doesn't volunteer any information about it.

She goes back in her tree and comes out in a new dress made of leaves that she has apparently just now sewn and flies off and comes back with more seeds.

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"Should I help grow those too?"

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"If you like." Plant plant plant.

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There's not much else to do, at least not that he can get anywhere with. He grows plants.

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Over the next few days Promise decompresses and gets her tree to apartment-sized trunk status and eats and draws and explores and usually says hi to the prince when she comes out of her tree and asks him if he wants a candied dewdrop (it's safe if she makes them) and maps the harmonics and checks the gate.

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The prince accepts candied dewdrops. He does not otherwise eat or drink, does not appear to sleep, and occasionally goes for a short walk around the immediate vicinity but never strays out of sight of his stone boat and usually spends all of his time sitting beside it thinking apparently-depressing thoughts.

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Finally, one day the rock she tosses doesn't land, it vanishes.

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"If you are certain you don't want to help me, I should go through immediately. If you haven't decided, or expect that you will want to help me after more time has passed, I should wait."

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"What would you want me to do exactly?"

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"That would depend on what you were willing to do and what you expected to be able to accomplish. In the simplest case, you could approach Nirue, order her not to do anything, and then leave, and I could do everything else."

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"You should probably think of a nickname for her - I don't think there's anyone else around but if there were -"

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"I... can't think of anything offhand."

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"...are there lots of 'Wood mages' or mostly just her?"

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"There are multiple Wood mages but only one that would be 'the Wood mage' in this context, I suppose."

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"So we can call her that. What would be something more complicated -?"

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"Much as I hate to entertain the thought, for the sake of the stability of the empire it might be a good idea to try to command my father to cooperate with some less violent transfer of power than showing up and immediately murdering him."

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"...is this actually a more horrible thought than immediately murdering him?"

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"I am... not pleased... about the existence of fairy vassalization."

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"It's not good. But it's not really good that mortals die, either."

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"If I could arrange for none of my people to die, I would, but something would still need to be done about my father and I'm not sure he'd thank me for turning him into a mouse and keeping him in a cage for the rest of eternity."

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"I don't know how to do any animals besides sparrows and toads and snails."

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"The mouse was mostly figurative."

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"Oh. Well, if sorcery works there I guess we could ask him."

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"I would not necessarily expect a useful response."

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"What do you mean?"

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"My father... doesn't just want power, I think in some sense he depends on it. Faced with a future in which he will certainly never be Emperor again, I'm not sure he will be... functional enough to have preferences about whether he spends his time dead or imprisoned. And it's possible that he would prefer death to being vassalized and commanded, and nearly certain that if that's so he won't voluntarily admit it."

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"Why wouldn't he admit it -?"

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"...Because that would be - I'm not sure how to explain. I don't exactly understand how my father thinks; it's just that I have a lot of practice at predicting him."

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"Also you seem very nice but I don't actually have a way to know you're telling the truth."

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"What would be a way to know that?"

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"I don't know if there's a safe way for me to see for myself and do not anticipate you would like the way that doesn't involve it."

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"If I'm accurately guessing your meaning, you are correct; I would not. But the welfare of my empire is the important thing."

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"Is there a safe way I could see? I wouldn't need to see much, you're already not ordering my cooperation..."

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"...I'm not sure there is. I can think of possibilities, but... once I return, I have to retake my empire as quickly as possible or my father and the Wood mage will react to my presence and whatever they do is certain to be harmful to someone. And I am not sure I can suggest a plan to you that would definitely take you into my world alone and bring you back out again unharmed with confirmation of the things I've said."

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"...I have the impression that if you could arrange to forget names you'd have done it already so you probably can't just let me have yours long enough to verify -"

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"Yes, you surmise correctly."

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"Orders not to do something that one wasn't going to do anyway are not very intrusive. I could come up with a wording that just prevents hurting people, would that be enough?"

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"To contain the people I need to deal with...? I doubt it."

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"I don't want to seem ungrateful or anything."

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"Your concerns are entirely reasonable."

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"I'll close the gate for now in case we think of something?"

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He nods.

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She shuts the gate and goes about her business.

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He - tries to think of something.

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So does she. It doesn't work that well.

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Yes. And they don't have forever to spend thinking about it.

"I haven't been able to think of any good alternatives," he says, next time he sees her after a few hours of trying. "Have you?"

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"You'd know better than I would if there's some way for me to corroborate - no I haven't."

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"So."

He lapses into a pensive silence.

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"Do you want to just tell me the whole story, maybe it will seem very unlikely to be made up -"

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"I can do that," he says. "With plenty of historical context. It goes back sixteen centuries, to when the last gods destroyed each other and their home continent in a war. At the time, the empire of Eianvar spanned most of the northwestern corner of the remaining continent, far away from the southern coast where all the exciting destruction was happening, and therefore it was one of the least badly affected countries. But the event was still disruptive enough to fracture the empire into multiple warring pieces, which fought one another and conquered everyone else and then fought one another some more and lost some of their holdings and started over, and this cycle went on for approximately one and a half thousand years, until the latest heir to the original piece of the empire—I should think of a nickname for him, on principle—"

He pauses briefly.

"—let's call him Justice, decided that he preferred a more orderly world than the one he found himself in. He reconquered the rest of his fragmentary empire, turned loose the most recently acquired of the outlying territories and established sane diplomatic relations with them, and restored peace and good government to the extent he was able to do so, which was considerable. His reign was long and prosperous. Then, as mortals tend to do, he died of old age. His eldest son - let's call him Clover - inherited the empire. Clover was irrationally terrified of usurpation, and in his desperate attempts to avoid it, only brought it on himself; he tried to have all his living relatives killed, was incompletely successful, and provoked a civil war which my grandfather, a survivor of the purge, eventually won."

Another pause, ordering his thoughts or perhaps trying to nickname more of these characters.

"Grandfather, given what he'd just experienced, was understandably not very confident in the wisdom of continuing to pass the position of utmost power in the empire from parent to child. He spent years thinking about the best possible way to transition to a more stable form of government less dependent on the competence and moral character of his descendants. And just as he was about to implement that plan, his son, my father, had him assassinated and claimed the throne."

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"...even the fairies who have families do not work anything like that, that's confusing."

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"Humans like to have an expectation that their children will be well provided for after they die, so there is a social custom that after someone dies their children can have all their belongings, with the eldest getting first pick of the things that are difficult to subdivide. This works better when their belongings do not include rulership of a continent-spanning empire."

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"...in breeder fairies one's children are pretty much just more vassals, as far as I know."

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"It is very common among humans for close relatives to also be close friends. Not universal, but very common."

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Nod.

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"So. My father and his friend the Wood mage have ruled the empire together since I was a small child. My father is not only an unpleasant person with unpleasant hobbies, he is also very bad at ruling the empire, and the Wood mage is most of the reason why it has not already fallen apart. He holds all the power in name, but she holds much of it in practice. Early on, I noticed that I was the only person in the world both willing and able to rescue it from him without bringing about yet another civil war. I've been studying law and history since then, learning as much as I can about how the empire ought to be run, so that if and when I ever inherited, I could fix all the things he broke. And then one morning I woke up stranded in a strange, empty world, with no idea where I was or how I had come to be there, and I acquired the local magic and spent a few years alone there constructing my immortality and this boat. The first trip I took put me in that room with you."

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"It's a good thing you didn't land somewhere somebody would've tried to catch you."

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"Yes. Although it's possible they might not have succeeded. I have an unusually fast and effective means of running away."

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"If they'd said 'hello, I'm Blossom, what's your name,' without touching you -"

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"Then it would depend on whether they managed to say that without sounding suspicious and whether the first thing they said afterward prevented me from teleporting away."

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"They'd usually start with 'stop'."

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He shrugs slightly.

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"You have no idea how you got to the empty world?"

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"None at all."

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"If I did unreservedly agree to help you what would you want me to do -?"

Permalink Eye

"I would want to neutralize my father and the Wood mage as quickly as possible - if being ordered to stop worked unproblematically on the Wood mage I suppose you could ask her for confirmation at that point, but I might not want to rely on it holding her indefinitely; she is the sort of person around whom it pays to be more cautious than you can reasonably imagine you might possibly need to be. You would be free to talk to my father while I made political arrangements. I haven't worked out a specific plan for that part yet because it depends on things I am only going to find out when I get there, but if you do end up commanding my father through a peaceful transfer of power, it shouldn't take longer than a few weeks at most. Afterward, if we managed to extract a coherent preference from him and it ran in that direction, I might not object to keeping him imprisoned indefinitely rather than killing him, but it's possible that the political situation would be best stabilized by at least the appearance of his death."

Permalink Eye

"...is it safe for me to go partially and very briefly into your world to see if sorcery works there?"

Permalink Eye

"If the gate opens onto the eastern shore of the Lake of Gold, you're very, very unlikely to be seen. The lake is too bright to look at during the day and difficult to navigate at night, so people mostly don't cross it."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

She turns invisible and leans into the gate.

Permalink Eye

That lake is really fucking shiny.

And she's still invisible.

Permalink Eye

She leans back.

"Sorcery works."

Permalink Eye

"That seems useful."

Permalink Eye

"Relevantly it means I can open and close the gate from either side instead of just this one."

Permalink Eye

And therefore she can easily be on the other side with it closed, right.

"I see."

Permalink Eye

 

"You obviously don't think fairy orders are too horrible to use ever or you wouldn't be inviting me to help at all and you could make me and you're not but I don't know if that's actually for ethical reasons or because it would be harder to make use of me if I were hostile and you haven't given up on not needing to do that yet - you seem very nice but -"

Permalink Eye

"I feel that fairy orders are too horrible to use ever, but I judge that in the case of the Wood mage I can't afford not to if I have the option, and in the case of my father the potential benefits are too great to ignore the possibility. If you do not agree to help then I do not have the option. Not only for ethical reasons but also because if I did that I would be unhappy enough to cease to function."

Permalink Eye

"...they're not that bad, by themselves."

Permalink Eye

He shakes his head. "I have no reason to doubt you about that, and yet."

Permalink Eye

"They are pretty much never found by themselves, since there wouldn't be much point to ordering people to do things they were going to do anyway, but still."

Permalink Eye

"I doubt I am going to be argued out of this emotional reaction."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

 

"Do you still require further assurances?"

Permalink Eye

"...I might need longer to think. I'm sorry."

Permalink Eye

"I can wait."

Permalink Eye

 

She shuts the gate and goes back in her tree.

Permalink Eye

He sits by his boat and tries to do something more useful than panic.

Permalink Eye

It would be very convenient if Promise's ethical opinions were such that rescuing her from Thorn and getting her her tree entitled the prince to one free assassination, that having exhibited an objection to strangers drowning other strangers and her being without something it took him a few seconds to fetch he could be safely issued a license to kill.

Her ethics are not thus, so she has to think.

What would have to be true for this to be an elaborate deception -

- for one thing he'd have to believe he wasn't actually obviously in the right, that his actual case was weak and he needed to make up for it with not even particularly lurid allusions to torture. He's not optimizing for sounding convincing or urgent, though.

That flash of horror when he rescinded her orders would have to be fake, composed very quickly, composed without knowing anything about her or even fairies in general besides that she'd been held by someone who hurt her -

It's possible he's a mindreader and lied about that to tailor his pitch but she was not exactly thinking very clearly when he originally rescued her so she couldn't have been originally filtered for the purpose even like that.

Okay, he's not lying; could he be wrong -? Unlikely; if his story is true-as-he-understands-it he was paying attention and he seems very - meticulous.

She writes herself in circles for a bit, decides to sleep on it, does that, wakes up, eats haws that taste like safety all alone in her very own tree -

- comes out and says, "I'll help you."

Permalink Eye

 

"Thank you," says the prince.

Permalink Eye

"Do you have a plan for finding out what if anything about the situation has changed since you were there?"

Permalink Eye

"I can use my communication power to ask my friend," he says. "She is the Wood mage's... project. Which puts her in a position to know a lot about what goes on at court."

Permalink Eye

"What if she's not there any more?"

Permalink Eye

"It is very unlikely that she wouldn't be there, but if she isn't, I don't have an alternative source of information. The best I could do in that scenario would be to guess where the Wood mage was likeliest to be and go there as quickly as possible."

Permalink Eye

"Are there any things I might not commonsensically know not to do which would cause you to order me?"

Permalink Eye

"...I'm not sure what you mean."

Permalink Eye

"We're going to walk into a high stakes situation that I don't know very much about. Is there anything I should know so that you don't have to suddenly issue an enforced order under emergency conditions."

Permalink Eye

"...I'm not sure I know enough about what you do and do not know to compose a useful summary. But in any case if I issue an emergency warning it will not be enforced."

Permalink Eye

 

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"Mortals can die, which you've heard and seem motivated to avoid. No one knows not to give their names, or use other people's; I would prefer if you accumulated as few as possible and used them as sparingly as possible, but you may still end up learning some by accident. I can offer you an explanation of how magic works in my world, but it doesn't narrow down to a list of capabilities nearly as easily as local magic seems to."

Permalink Eye

"Those were examples. What kinds of things does your world's magic do?"

Permalink Eye

"Some, not all, people are mages. There are three base elements and three combined elements with which a mage may be affiliated. The domain of Earth is the self, and their basic power is earthshaping; Light's domain is other people, and their basic power is lightshaping; Air's domain is the world, and their basic power is airshaping. Earth and Light make Wood, whose basic power is lifeshaping. Light and Air make Fire, whose basic power is fireshaping. Air and Earth make Water, whose basic power is watershaping. Every mage is affiliated with whichever of those six options best suits them personally, which is usually one of the first three, and has that element's basic power plus an assortment of other powers associated with that element's domain or domains. Earth mages can work magic on themselves, Light on others, Air on inanimate objects and sometimes plants and very rarely animals and never people."

Permalink Eye

"Are things sometimes magic by themselves?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes in the sense that Air and Air-derived mages can enchant objects to be persistently magical. No in the sense that magical things are not naturally occurring in my world; they are all the work of mages."

Permalink Eye

"Any of them likely to surprise me?"

Permalink Eye

"Magical objects? I don't expect so. Most common enchantments are subtle, practical things, like a bucket that fills itself with water or a lamp that gives light without fire or a box that keeps its contents warm or cold."

Permalink Eye

"Will this take long enough that I should bring food?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't expect it to, but it's possible."

Permalink Eye

She packs up some food.

Permalink Eye

That seems to be everything.

Permalink Eye

 

"Do you want to go invisible and inaudible?"

Permalink Eye

"Hmm. Yes."

Permalink Eye

Now they both are and the boat too.

Gate's open, says a line of fairylights.

Permalink Eye

So he goes through, in his boat.

And sends to Ruava, Do you have a minute?

Permalink Eye

Korva! Been a while.

(And in the implications - she's a little distracted, and surprised both by the means of communication and by hearing from him at all, but she's quick on the uptake and doesn't need to pause to express surprise before handling whatever interesting new trouble he's bringing her.)

Permalink Eye

I have assorted magical powers, this communication ability among them, and am accompanied by an immortal fairy from another world who can give magically enforced commands to anyone whose name she knows. Where is Nirue, and what do we need to know before seeking her out?

Permalink Eye

In her rooms, in her house, thoroughly occupied and staying that way for at least another hour. You should be fine assuming you can get here without starting a riot. I'll catch you up after.

She refrains from explicitly including the implication of what Nirue is occupied doing. Korva will undoubtedly figure it out.

Permalink Eye

...

He sends to Promise, I asked my friend where to find the Wood mage, and learned that the Wood mage is currently at home, torturing her. I am going to teleport there now.

And then blink, they're outside Nirue's bedroom window, and blink, they're inside the room. There is plenty of space for the boat there. It is a large room.

Permalink Eye

And in the room is a bed, and on the bed is a grinning woman, arms red all the way to the elbow, playing with her favourite toy.

Permalink Eye

Ruava looks almost more like an abstract sculpture than a person. It's hard to believe a mortal could survive like this, but her heart is very visibly still beating.

Permalink Eye

If I tell her to stop your friend might die, she'd drop anything she was sustaining.

Permalink Eye

Can you come up with a better alternative quickly? She is likely to notice us with her lifeshaping senses as soon as her attention drifts, which may not be for a while but I would rather not rely on that.

Permalink Eye

I could heal your friend myself but only with longer to look at her - I can guess at wordings but they are all probably risking your friend's life if I guess wrong about how active the magic is -

Permalink Eye

I judge that it would be very uncharacteristic for the Wood mage to do anything to my friend that would cause my friend to die instantly at an unexpected interruption. She values my friend's life highly. We'd have time, I don't know how much but at least a few seconds, even if the Wood mage's active attention is sustaining something crucial. Can you work with that?

Permalink Eye

Few seconds doesn't let me do the healing myself but lets me tell the Wood mage to do it which will work if she won't use a simple wording to hold your friend hostage-scale-of-twenty-minutes.

Permalink Eye

There is some risk that she might but all things considered I think it's an acceptable one.

Permalink Eye

Promise takes a breath and waits for a moment when the Wood mage's hands are not actually inside any open wounds and cuts her spells - though not the prince's - and says, "Stop. Heal her."

Permalink Eye

...she is stopped. And then she is healing Ruava, everything going very neatly back into place, bone and muscle and skin -

Permalink Eye

She lies there limply, in perfect health, breathing but doing nothing else.

The leash, she says to Korva.

Permalink Eye

He gets out of the boat - explains to Promise, The Wood mage has my friend's mind partly disconnected from her body, and rather than have you command her to restore it I am going to do that myself -

He touches Ruava's shoulder and looks for any incompleteness in the healing - there is none - and he finds the intangible magical leash that is cutting off Ruava's ability to operate her body, and erases it with epru -

Permalink Eye

She gasps and opens her eyes, and smiles.

Permalink Eye

This is one unhappy Wood mage.

Permalink Eye

Yes, well, if all goes well she will soon not have that problem anymore.

He touches her arm, above the blood, and looks.

There is an intricate tangle of wards - he's right, trying to kill her from a distance would have been a nightmare - but the wards can't protect themselves, and so epru does away with them neatly, and a moment later Nirue crumbles into a small pile of dust.

Permalink Eye

Ruava sits up, wrapping herself in a blanket.

"Hi," she says to Promise. "Nice to meet you."

Permalink Eye

"...hi."

Permalink Eye

"I lead an exciting life."

Come out come out wherever you are, she adds over Korva's communication power.

"I heard I shouldn't introduce myself? Do people do something instead of names where you're from or is it only a problem at the interface?"

Permalink Eye

The danger from the Wood mage is over and I can be visible and audible again for now, he sends to Promise.

Permalink Eye

Right. She cancels his spells too. "We do nicknames. I'm Promise."

Permalink Eye

"I have been 'the prince' thus far for lack of better ideas."

Permalink Eye

"Shortly to be the Emperor, I assume," she says. "And let me guess, I was 'your friend'."

Permalink Eye

He nods.

Permalink Eye

"What the fuck happened to you? You look like misery incarnate."

Permalink Eye

"How long has it been?"

Permalink Eye

"...ah," she says, in dawning comprehension. "Yeah. Three years. That'll do it, huh?"

Permalink Eye

He nods again.

Permalink Eye

"All right, let me get dressed and then we can talk strategy."

She unwraps her blanket and goes to find her clothes, not particularly bothered about showing her skin to people who have seen under it.

Permalink Eye

Promise sits on the windowsill.

Permalink Eye

The prince looks at his hands as though searching them for signs of misery.

Permalink Eye

The prince's friend puts her clothes back on, ignoring stray smears of blood, and shakes her hair out and perches on the edge of the bed, well away from the small pile of dust that was once a Wood mage.

"So," she says. "What have we got? Magically enforced commands, invisibility, whatever you did to get rid of my leash, making people fall apart into little piles of dust - why did you do that in particular, out of all the ways you presumably could've killed her, not that I'm complaining—"

Permalink Eye

"My magical powers come in nine - elements, I suppose, of which one is epru, and that does erasing or lessening of things. If I had erased her completely it would have made a loud noise when the surrounding air leapt to fill the resulting void. So I... lessened some crucial things about her physical structure."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, and numbers two through nine?"

Permalink Eye

"Ileyi, creation, heat and light and sound and motion. Poetically 'Sun'. You'd like it. Rilte, reflection, to copy and alter and extend, poetically 'Moon'. Soryo, cycles and balances, dynamic stability over time, poetically 'Tide'. Tsaer, edges, boundaries, joining and separation. Beshenn, structure and permanence, resistance to change, poetically 'Ward'. Poai, poetically 'Life', mostly what you would expect from the name. Kiina, identity and personality, poetically 'Heart', mostly much less terrifying than you would expect from that description. Naharr, 'Chaos', theoretically capable of anything but prone to doing more than you asked it for and more dramatically the more you asked of it. Most of those three years were spent using ileyi and rilte to make a stone boat and then gradually turn it into a flying teleporting stone boat that can move between worlds, but the first half a year was spent constructing myself a form of immortality as complete and convenient as I could make it. The invisibility - and inaudibility, and a handful of other things - are Promise's magic, from her own world."

Permalink Eye

She turns her attention to Promise. "Invisibility, inaudibility - anything else broadly applicable to the situation at hand?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know very much about the situation at hand. I could have healed you myself if I'd had longer to look at you. I gated us here. I can do lights," she does some lights, "and temperature and grow plants and turn people into animals and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"The current Emperor - I'm just going to nickname him 'Disaster' because he is one - will be much easier to deal with than Dusty over there in terms of direct danger, but much trickier in terms of political fallout." She glances at the prince and adds, "Things have been... not great... since you disappeared."

Permalink Eye

He winces slightly.

Permalink Eye

"The situation looks approximately like this: Disaster inspires almost no personal loyalty in anyone, and in fact most of the common people of the empire will be outright relieved if the prince openly usurps him, but it's not the greatest trend to continue and there will be opposition from members of the imperial court who like their fucked-up lifestyles and want to keep them. So ideally we go for something subtler than that. Magically enforced commands seem like a useful resource, but I'm not sure if they're a perfect solution, because if it becomes commonly known that you did that it sets an even worse precedent than a straight-up coup."

Permalink Eye

"This is nearly irrelevant by comparison but we make something of a point of abiding by self-chosen nicknames even of people we really really hate so I'm not going to call somebody 'Disaster' if he didn't call himself that and there's something else available."

Permalink Eye

"That's fair. Okay, my best guess at what he'd pick for himself is 'Power', and if he ends up in a position to disagree I'll happily switch. Back to politics: He's going to more or less have a meltdown when he realizes that his vanished son came back with the power to casually destroy him at any moment. Luckily for us, the first place he'll look when he inevitably tries to strike first is right there," she points to the pile of dust. "He has other mages but none of them are half as terrifying. So we can definitely afford to negotiate, I just don't have high hopes for Power being even slightly reasonable about how to respond to the change in circumstances."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, I made similar predictions," says the prince. "Our options include killing him immediately, trying to talk him into abdicating, forcing him to abdicate with fairy orders, imprisoning him with or without also transforming him into an animal..."

Permalink Eye

"I can't actually decide whether imprisonment or death floats better politically," she says, tapping her fingers on the bedspread. "Could go either way. I wish we had - anyone at all outside this room we could trust." Glancing at Promise, "I don't suppose you have a way to resurrect the dead?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm not actually confident it's impossible, fairies don't die at all so it probably hasn't been seriously tried, but I certainly don't know how or have a guess at how long it would take to develop."

Permalink Eye

"We'll come back to that, then. ...ooooh, I just had a really bad idea." Her tapping fingers go still for a moment, then she shakes her head. "We'll come back to that too. Okay. So we go find Power - I can do that part, it won't be remarkable to see me in the palace the way it would with the vanished prince or a mysterious winged woman - and we, what, grab him and flit off to a nice mountaintop and explain to him that he's completely fucked so he might as well play along and live? That'll go over so well."

Permalink Eye

"Is this one of those bad ideas that would be an excellent idea if it worked, which it is very unlikely to do?"

Permalink Eye

"That is exactly the kind of bad idea it is, yes."

Permalink Eye

"Then I'll trust your judgment about when and whether to suggest it. In the meantime, do we have a plan better than 'whisk my father off to a remote location and threaten him'? Because that does not seem like a very good plan."

Permalink Eye

"Well, don't look at me, I only know how this works in fairy courts."

Permalink Eye

"I'm thinking, I'm thinking," says the prince's friend. She glances over at the prince. "You need a real nickname, by the way, I actually can't bring myself to call you 'Prince' in casual conversation. I assume you haven't thought of anything better or you'd be using it. Something after a poem you like? That one book, you know the one - Rainchime, Lightfall?"

Permalink Eye

"How do you just pick those out of the air like that?" he wonders. "It's been days and I haven't thought of anything that good... hmm. I think I'll go with Monument."

Permalink Eye

"And I'll be Sunbeam."

Permalink Eye

 

 

"...six languages, a library's worth of literary references, and you went with that?" he asks, sounding faintly horrified.

Permalink Eye

"It does suit me."

Permalink Eye

...

Permalink Eye

"Anyway, now that we've got that cleared up."

She looks at Promise again and says as an aside, "Feel free to ask clarifying questions if you're lost and don't want to be, by the way, I know the two of us talking is not the most externally comprehensible thing in the world and being from a different world probably doesn't help anything."

Permalink Eye

"It seems like I'm mostly missing personal stuff that's not any of my business rather than things I really need to know. I'd offer to leave but you may start discussing uses of fairy orders at any time."

Permalink Eye

"Monument has that fancy communication power if I want to address him privately. But yes, uses of fairy orders."

She looks thoughtful.

"Could you, if you had to, make someone who was having a breakdown act like they were fine and everything was normal? He's... not really a great actor, if that makes a difference."

Permalink Eye

"I can with sufficiently precise wording exert arbitrary control over voluntary actions but if his voice would crack or he'd tear up or something I can't do anything about that."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, so that's a potential practical issue with the 'force him to abdicate' plan, because he will absolutely be having a breakdown. More in the vein of rage than grief, I think."

Permalink Eye

"If he'd be genuinely unable to control his tone of voice, whatever."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. So. We try to talk him into abdicating, and when we can't... mm. How applicable are fairy orders to the problem of imprisonment? We really can't afford for him to escape and sneak off somewhere and scrounge up an army and go to war with us, and it's going to be just about the only thing on his mind."

Permalink Eye

"They handle that very neatly and I learned from the best."

Permalink Eye

She glances at Monument, reads something in his posture or expression not visible to the unpracticed eye, and looks sympathetic.

"Okay. So we can imprison him. ...Are there any failure conditions for fairy orders? Do they wear off after a thousand years or something?"

Permalink Eye

"If it's name-based they wear off if I forget the vassal's name. More recent orders take full precedence. They are almost wholly governed by wording and not intent so I have to be careful."

Permalink Eye

"Mmm. Could be better, could be worse."

Permalink Eye

"...he would keep trying to escape for hundreds of years until it worked, wouldn't he," sighs Monument.

Permalink Eye

"Your father is a really inconvenient person."

Permalink Eye

He almost smiles.

"That's one way to put it."

Permalink Eye

"Fairies do routinely keep vassals for hundreds of years but I haven't actually done that."

Permalink Eye

"And, by implication, these fairies do eventually lose their vassals?"

Permalink Eye

"Forever is a long time."

Permalink Eye

"Yes. But if precedent suggests that we're going to keep hold of him for a few centuries and then he's going to get loose and go back to doing what he does best - that being, fuck everything up and torture people a lot - then we should really just kill him."

Permalink Eye

"It would be a lot harder for him to get loose without any other fairies around to rescind his orders, especially since it would mean I wouldn't update them often."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. If we can assume that other fairies aren't going to show up. Can we assume that?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't think we can. The danger to my people if they did..."

Permalink Eye

"Literally no fairies but me know that there are worlds other than Fairyland and the mortal world at all and that's been stable for millennia. Are you planning on lots of contact with Fairyland?"

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

 

"Let's go with 'not lots, no'."

Permalink Eye

"Then I think there will probably be enough time to kill him as a precaution if it ever looks like fairies who might for some reason be interested in stealing him away millennia from now enter the picture."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, reasonable. It's just that there's something of a difference in... tone... between 'killed as part of a coup' and 'killed as a precaution after being safely held for centuries'."

Permalink Eye

"Perhaps we'll be better equipped to deal with public opinion centuries from now."

Permalink Eye

"I'd hope so!"

Permalink Eye

"That I really can't help with."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Okay. So we find him, we kidnap him, we do our best to convince him to abdicate, he won't go for it but we don't lose anything trying, and then once he's dealt with in whichever way, Monument goes back to the palace to tell everybody he's in charge now and I guess you," she nods at Promise, "go home."

Permalink Eye

"Will you be able to teleport to Fairyland if you want?" Promise asks Monument.

Permalink Eye

"I haven't yet checked, but I believe so."

Permalink Eye

Nod. "Sounds like that works."

Permalink Eye

"Off I go in search of the soon to be former Emperor, then. See you soon."

Sunbeam hops off the bed and walks out of the room.

Permalink Eye

 

Are you really all right?

Permalink Eye

No, but I fake it pretty well, don't you think?

Permalink Eye

...thank you. For - helping. I could do all this by myself but I am very glad I don't have to.

Permalink Eye

Anytime, my prince.

Permalink Eye

 

"I think we should get back in the boat and find an appropriate mountaintop while she looks for my father," he says.

Permalink Eye

Promise flutters into the boat.

Permalink Eye

He gets in the boat likewise.

Blink, they're high over the city, level with the surrounding peaks - blink, they're on one of them - blink, they're on a slightly lower one a little to the south, and can no longer see any signs of civilization in any direction. Just rocky slopes and beautiful trees, and a glimpse of a gilded river.

"This will do."

Permalink Eye

Out she hops. The scenery is pretty. Pity she didn't bring any paper.

Permalink Eye

She could try asking Monument for some.

Permalink Eye

"If we're gonna be here for a while I kind of want to draw the landscape."

Permalink Eye

He creates paper and drawing utensils.

Permalink Eye

She sketches.

Permalink Eye

They're beautiful mountains. If this was Fairyland they'd be a famous landmark.

Monument has that face on again.

(He has realized that when Ruava finds his father she is going to contrive to get him alone. There are only so many ways to do that, and she is probably going to use the obvious one.)

Permalink Eye

Promise hasn't realized any such thing. Promise is drawing the pretty mountains, striking even for Fairyland - she's heard that the nature bits of the mortal world are very drab but this is somewhere else so it stands to reason it's pretty.

Permalink Eye

It is good that Promise has things she can enjoy.

If he was - more okay - he thinks he might try to tell her about the history of the Godscrest Mountains, but he really can't spare the energy for anything unnecessary right now. Perhaps another time. They have forever.

Permalink Eye

Draw draw draw.

Permalink Eye

So. He should focus on the things that are not unnecessary, like figuring out how to prevent his father from accidentally or deliberately revealing his name to Promise.

It seems like the only viable means of preventing it is to ask Promise to use orders. Of course, the real danger of Promise learning his name is that she might try to use him for something, and if she has plans in that direction then asking her nicely not to learn his name won't actually help anything. But she seems both too ethical and too practical to try something like that, and Ruava evidently agrees. And he is not so carefree lately that he can afford an extra source of stress.

 

"If I give you my father's name, can you prevent him from telling you mine? Will you?"

Permalink Eye

"I can tell him not to, pretty comprehensively, and yeah, if that's important."

Permalink Eye

"It's moderately important."

Permalink Eye

"Then yeah. I won't even have to come up with my own wording for it."

Permalink Eye

He nods.

"His name is Siurek."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"When Sunbeam calls me to fetch my father it's likely that I will have to go very abruptly," he mentions. "So if I vanish without explanation, that is almost certainly why."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. I assume if I follow that river I'll find my gate, if you don't come back?"

Permalink Eye

He looks around until he locates the distant gleam of gold. "Yes. There is only one source of golden water in the world."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

Unhappy waiting.

Permalink Eye

Got him, says Ruava, with a wonderfully precise image of her surroundings. They're in the Emperor's quarters, plenty of room for a suddenly appearing boat, and Siurek has not actually touched her yet but this could change at any moment—

Permalink Eye

Blink, and Korva and the boat are there - he grabs his father's arm and blinks back to the mountaintop and blinks away again to fetch Ruava, leaving Promise alone with the Emperor for a few seconds.

Permalink Eye

"Wait," she tells him.

Permalink Eye

And then he's back, with Ruava.

Permalink Eye

She's wearing her birthday dress. Ice-white and glittering, wrapping her in rainbows. It's stunningly beautiful and makes her look like some kind of ethereal spirit.

Permalink Eye

Pretty. "So far I've only told him 'wait', I thought you might want to hear the wording for the rest of it."

Permalink Eye

"Good thinking."

Permalink Eye

He nods.

Permalink Eye

"Do not cause me to learn your son's name, at any degree of remove or by any medium or proxy," Promise tells Power. "Assume for that purpose that I may be supervising if you do not have positive information about my whereabouts."

Permalink Eye

...neatly done.

Permalink Eye

"You may speak," she adds.

Permalink Eye

He tries to yell at his son by name, fails, and settles for just growling incoherently.

"Hello, Father," says Monument.

"What in the gods' name do you think you're doing, boy—"

"Saving the country. From you."

"Nirue will have your guts! I'll watch!"

"I very much doubt it."

...and now, belatedly, Power is afraid. "What - what did you do to her?"

"I killed her."

Power apparently needs a minute to process this information. Monument waits.

Permalink Eye

Promise goes back to sketching until they need her to let Power do something.

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"...You're lying," he says finally.

"I assure you that if Nirue yet lived, we would not be having this conversation."

"How...?"

"For your purposes it would be reasonable to assume that while I was out of the world I became a god."

Another long pause. Then, "...so there's nothing left for me."

"You have the option of peacefully abdicating and then spending the rest of eternity in prison. A reasonably comfortable prison, even."

"Nothing."

"It's unfortunate that you see things that way."

"You are a stain on the family name."

"I imagine your father thought the same of you, if he had time."

"Is that a threat?"

He sighs. "No. I've come to the conclusion that I can't threaten you."

"...what?"

"If I kill you it will be because you aren't safe to leave alive. If I imprison you, the conditions of your imprisonment will depend entirely on similar practicalities. I'm not going to make your life more unpleasant merely because you annoy me. That would be petty."

"What are you?"

"An adequate Emperor, I hope."

"...fine," says Power. "So you're usurping my throne but you're going to be nice about it because my best efforts have failed to raise you with a spine."

Monument inclines his head in acknowledgment.

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Power broods for a moment. Then: "...your girl over there, can she do this to anyone?"

"In what way could it possibly advantage me to answer that question?"

"—Kadiran Ruava," he blurts.

Monument's eyes widen in shock, then narrow in anger. "You are a child," he says furiously. "The very moment you conceived of the idea that you might still have a way to hurt someone—" He cuts himself off and struggles to regain his calm.

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- it takes Promise a second to connect name to person but the moment it occurs to her to do it, it's too late. "Hush," she tells Power. "Apply the form of my earlier order regarding your son's name to all other persons whose names you know." She looks at Monument. "Is there anything else I should patch before I let him talk again?"

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"—sorry, I need a moment," he murmurs.

Power looks like he would laugh if laughing were an available option.

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"It's really kind of a good thing for you that neither of us is even slightly vindictive," Sunbeam says to Power. "I mean wow. I don't think I've ever seen him that mad."

She perches on the edge of the boat and swings her legs idly; her skirt swishes, glittering like a thousand tiny prisms in the sunlight.

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"I like your dress."

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"I hate this dress," she says cheerfully. "But it's lovely, isn't it? Do you want it?"

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"...sure, I can alter it for wings if you don't want it."

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Swish. Sparkle. "If you want more lovely clothes in approximately your size that I never want to wear again, I've got lots. It was a thing."

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"I'm accustomed to the leaves but I'd just as soon skip stitching a whole new wardrobe from scratch, yes."

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"Then you can have mine. I'll be glad somebody's getting some good out of it."

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Meanwhile, Monument calms himself down.

Anger is not useful. Anger is not productive. Anger does not serve his goals. He already knew that his father was outrageously, pointlessly, often counterproductively horrible. This doesn't change anything except insofar as it provides evidence in support of the idea that Siurek is too dangerous to leave alive.

So.

"...As far as I am aware," he says, "there are no remaining avenues by which he might cause material harm through speech alone. At least not while he is still here with no one to talk to except us."

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"Until any other witnesses exist you may speak."

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"What a fucking waste," says Power.

"I could say the same to you," says Monument.

Power eyes his son thoughtfully. "How did you kill her?"

"What business is it of yours?"

"Indulge me."

He sighs. "I made her crumble into a pile of dust with magic, is that what you want to know?"

Power scoffs. "Pathetic. You don't have the stomach to take a life with your own hands."

"You and I both know that's not true," Monument says quietly.

"That girl was trash. You think I haven't figured out that you were doing her a favour?"

"And yet, the fact remains. Whether we like it or not."

"Doesn't count," he dismisses. "You didn't take it, she gave it to you."

"I find your perspective abhorrent, as usual."

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Promise is clearly missing some context here.

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"You know," says Power, "maybe I will help you."

"If you are planning a clever betrayal, understand that you will not be given the opportunity to carry it out."

"Yes, you've got your leafy lackey here to make sure of that, don't you? No, no. I said I'd help and I meant it."

"I'm listening."

"I'll go along with whatever political horseshit you cook up, as long as you promise me that when you kill me afterward, you'll look me in the eye and do it yourself. No magic, no having your new friend tell me to drop dead."

"...why."

"Because if the only thing left to me is the chance to haunt you, I'll take it! And it'll do you good to act like a man for once!"

"When you had your father killed you weren't even present!"

"I knew you'd be too much of a coward."

"If you doubt for one moment that I can fulfill your request, you really don't understand a single thing about me."

"I understand enough to know you will never be anything other than a disappointment."

"...all right," says Monument, "I had expected that you would have a breakdown over your sudden powerlessness, but I concede that you do, in fact, still have the power to hurt me. Congratulations. I accept your offer."

"I don't believe you."

"Oh? And now which of us is the coward?"

Power snarls. "Don't just—stand there with that look on your face—"

"Ah. So you want to not only hurt me but see me be hurt. That might be harder to arrange."

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...leafy lackey?

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"Is this what you've been like this whole time, underneath—"

"Yes. It's remarkably satisfying to finally be able to speak freely in your presence."

"And until now you were, what, afraid of me?"

"Yes. We both know that you'd have killed me at the first sign that I thought you unfit for the throne."

"Unfit?"

"You don't care about the well-being of your subjects, which I acknowledge is not a metric you've ever thought to judge yourself on, but you also don't even care enough about your own sybaritic lifestyle to do the work to maintain it. If you didn't have friends willing and able to do your job for you, the empire would already have collapsed."

"That's not true."

"Isn't it? Would you like me to get my notes? What do you think I do in my rooms all day? I study the functioning of the empire."

"So you're taking my throne out of - pity for the common man?"

"If that's how you'd like to put it."

"And then what? Rule the world forever as its immortal god-emperor, serving your people without thought for yourself?"

"Approximately."

"You are such an unbelievable waste," says Power disgustedly. "Do you know what I'd do with that kind of power...?"

"I could guess."

"Isn't there anything you want?"

"I want to live in a world where no one ever has to suffer. I will settle for the closest I can get."

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"You disgust me."

"The feeling is mutual."

"If you're going to depose me in the name of your visions of peace and prosperity I want you to live out the rest of your immortal reign knowing you murdered your father in cold blood."

"And that's a bargain I'm content to make if it means my reign can begin more peacefully than it might have."

"Be less content."

"I've been hiding my pain since I was six years old. It's not a trivial habit to break."

"Make an effort."

"Is this really what you want? You'd rather die while inflicting maximum emotional damage on everyone within reach than live a peaceful eternity without the power to torture anyone?"

"So far I've barely seen evidence that you have emotions!"

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What a weird person.

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"You may find this hard to believe, but I don't actually want to kill you."

"Could've fooled me."

"How is it you've lived half a century in this world and you still haven't noticed that people sometimes have benevolent motives? I may not like or understand your worldview but I am at least aware that there are people who think that way."

"Maybe you do have benevolent motives, but here you are, continuing the family tradition just the same."

"The parallels have not escaped me."

"Then why do you keep insisting you're nothing like me?"

"Because I don't want to be anything like you! I reject your worldview, I reject your aesthetics, I reject your priorities, I reject your approach to governance! I am removing you as Emperor not out of any personal ambition but because it would be unconscionable not to!"

"What use is a conscience?"

"If I were the type to pursue what I personally want at the expense of what I think is right I would have killed myself when I was eight."

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...that's childhood for mortals? Maybe? Promise is not sure how children.

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Power recovers from his shocked silence after a second. "You're pathetic."

"You're a monster."

"I'm a man who knows what he wants."

"I hate you," Monument hisses, tears welling in his eyes.

"Then why don't you kill me already?"

He shakes his head angrily. "You offered me your assistance in securing the safety of my empire and I will have it!"

"Well, would you look at that," says Power, impressed. "Maybe there's a spine in there after all."

Monument takes a deep breath and blinks to clear his eyes. "Will you help me or not."

"Swear you'll kill me with your own hands."

"Done."

"Then I'll help you." Power smiles sharply. "Because you're finally starting to make me proud."

Monument shudders.

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The entire concept of parenting makes even less sense to Promise than it did before she saw an example.

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"Time to do politics," says Sunbeam, swishing her skirt. "All right. I'll catch you up," she says to Monument, and there follows a silent conversation presumably conducted over Monument's communication power.

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Monument gradually reverts from openly upset to the look of distant unhappiness that seems to be his default.

At the end of a few minutes, he turns to Promise and asks, "What are our options in securing his cooperation? I believe in the sincerity of his offer - although it would be good to verify that as well - but I would prefer not to risk him changing his mind."

"Some conscience you've got," snorts Power. Monument flinches slightly, but ignores him.

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"I can order him to do or not do things, 'things' can include more or less constrained use of his judgment. I don't think I should tell him to use his model of yours, it doesn't seem very good."

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"I would appreciate it if you prohibited him from lying to me so I can verify that his cooperation is genuine," says Monument. "And yes, I agree with that assessment."

"How does it feel, wielding absolute power? Starting to see why I like it so much?"

"On the other hand," says Monument, glancing at Power, "your model of my judgment must have something going for it, because I don't think you would be trying so hard to provoke me into torturing you if you thought it was possible to succeed."

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Promise sighs and tells Power, "Don't lie, by omission or commission, to him or in his hearing, unless he expressly invites you to and then only for the reasonably implied duration of the invitation."

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"Well?" says Monument.

"Meant every word," says Power.

"Thank you," says Monument. "So. I plan to have you reintroduce me to your court as though you are overcome with joy at my return."

"Aren't I just," says Power.

"After that you will announce that since you don't enjoy the minutiae of governance anyway you are retiring to a nice estate north of the mountains and leaving me with all the hard work."

"And what happens when my friends look for me there?"

"Most of your friends will be busy answering for their assorted crimes, but I do intend to give you some time in a nice estate north of the mountains, where you will not be allowed to torture anyone but will otherwise be supplied with every luxury. If you still insist I kill you, we have thought of five different ways to make it look like a plausible accident afterward."

"You'll make a fine Emperor at this rate."

"I am disappointed to have earned your good opinion."

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"How complicated it is to ensure that people he meets hear a convincing lie will depend a lot on how good he is at lying."

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"They're very plausible lies," says Power. "I don't think I'll have much trouble. It'll be sudden, but so is my son appearing out of nowhere with unimaginable otherworldly powers." He pauses. "And if if I see a chance to betray you, I'll be tempted... but I don't think I will."

"Dare I ask why not?"

"You're family."

"You had your father assassinated!"

"I never told him I wouldn't! He was a passionless obsessive who never cared about anything in the world except his fucking empire, and you look to be going the same way, but when I tell you I'll do something I mean it, because you're my son and I love you!"

...

Monument seems at a loss for how to respond to this information. Power looks like he isn't sure whether to regret bringing it up.

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...families: weirdest fucking thing of all time.