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Generated: Jul 17, 2021 4:30 AM
Post last updated: Jun 02, 2017 4:21 PM
not some lighter color
Cor and an evil Maitimo
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It's past time to stop. And it's simultaneously too late. Magic is everywhere, there will be defectors against any coordination, and all the clever targeting in the world won't make there be more world.

Cor gives all his savings to a project that's trying to eat away the distance to the Moon, and he gathers supplies and tries something else.

 

A young human man in nothing but a pair of shorts, painted all over in broad patterns with still-wet blood and fine ash, appears on his knees in the middle of an unreasonably pretty city and falls unconscious.

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The inhabitants of the unreasonably pretty city are concerned. They confirm with one another that, yep, appeared out of nowhere, and are more concerned. Soon all of the people around who weren't in uniform (there weren't many to start with) are standing a reasonable distance off (but not going home, they were near when it happened and it's a necessary precaution).

People in uniform approach the unconscious person.

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That's sure an unconscious person with blood and soot all over him! He doesn't seem injured, so it's probably not his blood.

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...huh.

Someone carefully sketches the blood and soot. 

Someone else holds a piece of metal to their eyes and frowns at him and at the surrounding area and says he's probably not a Maia. 

 

Traffic gets peaceably redirected and arrangements get shuffled and they wait for him to wake.

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He wakes up! He looks around.

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Unreasonably pretty city. It has the bit of a feel of a fortress to it - or maybe concept art of a fortress, a bit too surreal and clean and tidy and artsy to be a real fortress. High walls in the distance and narrow windows and thick walls and wide avenues with chokepoints and gates, and also exuberant flower gardens and elaborate woodworking. And someone must have, like, handcarved these cobblestones into excessively pretty patterns.

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Huh. Okay. The place is inhabited, which is not really ideal, but he's alive and proof of concept! They're not going to speak either language he speaks. He's lucky they have things like cobblestones and flowers. ...and that they didn't decide to kill him in his sleep for suddenly appearing in their fortress, that would have been an interesting way to fail. He attempts to look nonthreatening as he sits up. He feels vaguely bad about getting cow blood and ash on the pretty cobblestones.

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There are tall uniformed people who were apparently keeping a bit of distance. One of them closes it, warily. They're humanoid. Awfully tall. Very pretty. He asks a question in a few different languages.

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"Sorry," he says, "I don't know the languages."

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Where are you from?

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Okay that's convenient and disturbing aaaaaah. "Gatesnest."

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Do you know how you arrived here?

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"Magic."

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So you did so deliberately? Were you targeting this city?

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"I didn't aim for this city. I was attempting to find another world but I didn't have very specific expectations about what they'd be like."

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(Prince Curufin confirms he's from a human society not yet in contact with the Noldor, at minimum.)

 

Can you return the way you came?

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"With a lot of prep work, yes."

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It is an honor to meet the people of Gatesnest, then.

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"Thanks. Uh, are you reading my mind."

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Yes. 

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"I would rather you did not do that."

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I understand. You landed in the middle of a war. Can you think of some alternative reassurance that you and your magic do not endanger our people?

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"I apologize for landing in the middle of your war. I have no intention of harming you; I was looking for an uninhabited world and will still probably attempt to find one at some point. Can you stop reading my mind now."

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Certainly. In that case, can we offer you accommodations until we can find someone to learn a language? You can nod your head for 'yes'.

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Nod.

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They start walking.

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He gets up and follows them.

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They walk until they reach a little house! It tries very hard to compensate with pretty for the thick walls and windowlessness.

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"Why doesn't it have any windows?" he wonders.

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The locals, who are no longer reading his mind or at least no longer acknowledging doing so, cannot understand the question!

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"I don't care if you can tell what I'm saying, but I guess I didn't ask if you could limit it to that."

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The locals continue not to understand what he is saying.

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Ah-huh. Into tiny windowless house?

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Yep! One room, with a bed and a couch and table and chairs and and some kind of harp thing in the corner.

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Okay.

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We'll bring meals by. Someone who can learn your language is on the way.

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A ballpark time estimate would be nice. "Thanks!"

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They leave.

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For lack of anything better to do he picks at the harp thing. Pluck pluck.

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After a little while there is a knock.

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Cor gets the door.

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Local! "Curufinwë Atarinke," he says, gesturing at himself.

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"Corbelan. How does this work, do I just talk? Did the people who picked me up generate you a little list of vocab?"

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"Talk? I talk? The people who picked me up talk?"

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"Those are all grammatically correct and the second bit is also true. I'm not sure if anyone picked you up so I'm not qualified to evaluate that one."

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"You talk?" He points. "You? I? I'm not qualified to evaluate that one." 

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"You," point, "I," point, "random passersby I guess -" point out the windows that there aren't.

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"Uh huh. You talk, I talk, random passersby talk. You talk, I generate you a little list of vocab?"

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"It would work better if you wrote it down probably. Very inconvenient that this mode of transit didn't let me bring notes. Or more clothes. I would have needed so many sheep." He mimes writing when he mentions it.

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He can take notes! In a swoopy sort of alphabet. "Wrote?"

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"You are writing. Congratulations. Pretty lettering."

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I'm glad you think so. My father invented it. "I are writing. You are writing. You are writing a list of vocab?"

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"- 'I'm glad you think so, my father invented it,'" repeats Cor. "That would be a more efficient way to get specific words you wanted - I am not writing anything, I don't have any paper. And I have no idea what in particular you're taking down there but it's probably a vocabulary list."

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"I have paper. I am writing -" the grammatical principles and some theories about related word roots - "and a vocabulary list."

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"The grammatical principles and some theories about related word roots. Are the related word roots very useful or is that just for fun?"

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"Probably just for fun. Useful for vocabulary if you don't have any paper."

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"I suppose they could be if you were of a linguistic turn of mind, which you must be since you're the guy who they call to learn languages from suddenly appearing strangers who are fussy about mindreading. I don't suppose you can selectively mindread enough for useful telepathy and not enough for nightmarish privacy violation."

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"Probably. The selectively mindreading works off how you -" structure your thoughts - "for some people meanings of words and other thoughts would be separate, some people they might be close enough selective would be imperfectly selective. Still mostly selective."

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"Structure your thoughts," echoes Cor. "You want 'selective' there not 'selectively'."

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"Telepathy is not nightmarish privacy violation for Quendi, we structure the thoughts so we send only what we mean. You can learn different structures of thoughts and then use telepathy for communication but it is not efficient and we are not reading your mind."

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"Communicative telepathy sounds grand. Why isn't it efficient?"

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It takes months of practice to pick up. "Communicative telepathy is very useful." Humans don't have it and it makes military logistics significantly more complicated.

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He repeats the telepathed phrases. "I did notice this place looks fortressy. How come this house has no windows?"

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If there's fighting in the city it's better for people inside the houses to be relatively protected. There are slits to fire through.

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Repeat. "Who're you fighting?"

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He's called Melkor, or Morgoth. He doesn't leave Angband himself, he sends orcs, which are magically bound to his servitude and ordered to war.

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Translation. "Charming."

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"Yes. If you were looking for a good world you have not found one. Yet."

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"I was looking for a world that could gradually cease to exist without anybody minding, actually."

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"Ah. We would mind. Why are you looking for that?"

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"Nothingness is a magical waste product."

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"Not our magic."

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"Cool. What's yours like?"

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Two kinds. Magic songs work for everybody, including your species, and composing them involves direct I think pseudo-sensory interaction with things best described as ambient magic fields - in the sense of 'magnetic field' not 'corn field'. Magic artifacts Elves make with telepathy and Dwarves make with special equipment made from magic ores their god planted for them and you write very long detailed instructions and then inscribe them and then the object obeys them. Song effects are temporary; artifact ones need not be.

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Cor murmurs along to this - "You have my species here? We don't have yours. Or Dwarves."

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"We have humans and Dwarves and Quendi and orcs and Maiar and Valar."

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"We just have humans."

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"Are they okay? Our humans were not so well off before they met Quendi but the Enemy had been making it worse."

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"Uh, we are having a nothingness problem but we're... fine?"

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"You are out of things to turn into nothing for magic?"

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"Not quite - it's complicated. But if it doesn't stop it's gonna eat the world."

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"Oh dear. Is this an unavoidable feature of your magic or something specific to your society's use -"

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"If it's avoidable we don't know how. It took a while to get this bad. A while and a war."

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"Ah. Should we hesitate then to deploy your magic in our war, even if we can, or are there precautions -"

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"Uh, you don't want to overdo it, but a small amount would take millennia to eat a world or even a really inconvenient fraction of one."

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" - well, dooming the world in a few millennia won't do either."

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"It might give you long enough to find somewhere else to live?"

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"Lot of people wouldn't go. I suppose if we can't find a better way we might have no choice."

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"Yeah, sorry, I did not come equipped for a rescue mission."

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"We aren't losing the war. Just - better to plan for the worst."

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"Yeah."

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"Do you know anything about the distribution of worlds? How many, do they have different magic each time..."

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"I wasn't even sure there were any, I put my affairs in order before I magicked myself away from mine. This is promising though!"

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"It really is!!! What do you need to do it again -"

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"Uh, from here I can't monitor how much worldeating is accelerating back home, so I'm reluctant to do any magic while attached to my current - dump site for nothingness - except very sparingly to the point where it's noise against how much magic other people are doing. I can make a new one but then there will be one here and I won't be able to attach myself to my home world or a new one in a third world without physically going there, which requires doing magic. Apart from that I need fresh blood and fine ash - do you have baths here, by the way - and some other miscellany."

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"We have baths. Once there's a dump site will it keep growing on its own, or only when you do magic?"

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"We used to think the latter. Turns out probably the former, but if I do only a little and no one else is sharing the site it could be a long time before you could notice the difference."

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"A long time for humans is not a long time for Elves."

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"Then you will want to use my magic even more sparingly than I."

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"More matter can't be produced to replace what gets - eaten?"

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"...that would help a lot but not completely solve the problem, and my magic can't do that."

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"We cannot straightforwardly do that but a Vala could. Why would that not completely solve the problem?"

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"Nothingness is not the same as emptiness. Nothingness also destroys - distance. People have tried to use nothingness to make tunnels but it doesn't do tunnels - it does gates, which are great, but work by making there be nothing between point A and B. Our planet is shrinking."

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"Huh. Do you have guesses about whether other peoples can use your magic, or only people from your world - are you even confident it will work here at all -"

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"I would expect it to work but I obviously haven't tried it. I don't have a strong expectation about whether it's human only but you have to attach to a nothingness spread point first thing."

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Nod. "What sorts of things can the magic do?"

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"It's purely destructive but that's more useful than it sounds, you can destroy diseases even if you're not very good at it and you can work your way up to more abstract. And gates."

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"Is a gate how you got here?"

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"No, I did something experimental where I weakened the barrier between worlds, on the hypothesis that there was such a thing, and surprise surprise."

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"There is such a thing!"

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"Apparently!"

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"What are your next steps now that you're here?"

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"Since the place is inhabited and you'd object to it disappearing I stick around long enough to determine what else you've got that might help, bring it home, and try again."

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"Can you set up some people here with your magic before you go, presuming that works?"

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"Not if you don't want the place disappearing. Like I said, you have to set up at a disappearance point. I'm still attached to one at home but I don't want to overdo it."

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"We'll consult on how to balance our risks, then. Doom this world but have access to other ones, some of which might have magic that can reverse what was done..."

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"Yeah, exactly."

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"What happens to people who are in a place that gets - disappeared?"

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"They're gone. Used to only happen as part of really extreme total warfare - set up a point over a town, connect a few mages to it - but it happened. Then one of the disappearance points that was just aimed into the ground, wasn't even over an aquifer, who cares - punched through the planet and obliterated half a city and started a war and then it got a lot worse a lot faster. Things are lighter than they were when I was a kid, there's that much less planet."

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"You said we'd have a few millenia? If we used it only once, and then stopped entirely -"

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"Uh, yeah. We've been using magic pretty indiscriminately for millennia and it took till last year to get through the planet."

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Nod. 

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"I mean I do want to be a little circumspect about destroying an inhabited planet even if it would take a while."

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"Not moreso than us, I imagine, we live here. But it might be worth it to destroy Melkor. I think in a few thousand years we could figure out enough even if we don't find promising other words - that's long enough the Valar might even act -"

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"The Valar is or are...?"

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"The -" creators "of the world."

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"Creators. My world does not have those, far as we know. Well, some people would say we do, I suppose I shouldn't dismiss them completely out of hand."

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"We do. They are angry with us at present but it is conceivable they could be assuaged over the course of a few centuries or persuaded by people they are less angry at to cancel a world-threatening kind of magic."

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"They would need persuading? What, are they angry enough that they'd just as soon start from scratch?"

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"Quite possibly. They are not very good creators."

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"Sounds like they have issues, yeah."

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"If we could evacuate everybody to another world we might do that. Then they would save this one, as it wouldn't be a favor to those they disapprove of. Or we could use our magic to find a way to do it ourselves, or we could hop for more magic and find things that interact well...if we definitely have at least a thousand years I think it's worth it, though it wouldn't be my decision."

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"Assuming your years aren't a lot longer than mine that'll cover lots of magic."

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"Angband. And a few worldhops. Nothing else, though I take it it'll eventually destroy us even if we stop using it."

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"That's the going theory. What's Angband?"

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"Enemy fortress." Accompanying visual.

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"Lovely."

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"Yes. We'd kill some prisoners - irrecoverably, I take it - but they'd agree if we could ask them. And he'd be gone."

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"Is there a non-irrevocable form of death going around?"

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"The Valar can reembody Elves and orcs if they see fit. They rarely see fit with Elves and never with orcs but there's the hope that one day we could do it without them, since it is possible in principle."

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"...my magic can also do non-indiscriminate destruction."

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"In that case maybe we could get Melkor and his Maiar and kill the orcs and prisoners the recoverable way."

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"Maybe."

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"It's promising that our worlds both have magic systems and both have different ones. It'll be more promising if they work for each other now that we've encountered them."

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"Work for each other?"

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"You can employ ours, we can employ yours. Signs that magic's contagious and we should expect if we find ten kinds we can stack them to get things done."

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"Yeah, that would be great."

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"It would!!"

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"You are rather unreal at language-learning. Like, even if I assume you've been nefariously reading my mind you're bizarrely fast."

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"I -" swear? "I haven't been reading your mind. I am just great at languages. It's partially a species difference, even mediocre Elves are much better than humans, and I'm not a mediocre Elf."

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"Swear," supplies Cor. "I know two languages but I'm better at this one."

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"Our world has Quenya, Thindarin, Khuzdul, and a few human languages, our humans speak Taliska. My father was always sad there weren't more to learn. He'd be so delighted at the hopping worlds."

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"Is he dead -?"

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"Yes."

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"I'm sorry."

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"Thank you. Maybe there's magic somewhere that can change it."

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"Maybe! Maybe it will wind up being a good thing I landed on an inhabited planet instead of a dumping ground for nothingness."

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"Presuming dumping grounds can be found we are glad you landed on us. ...most worlds without life might be ones that cannot support it, I'd rather expect you to die in the attempt."

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"My planet's in real bad shape. I gave all my money to the next most promising project and took off, not because I have a death wish but because this would've been a better way to die."

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"Fair enough. How long do you think your world has -"

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"Depends how long the ceasefire lasts and how accurate the projections are. Parts of the planet will probably still be habitable until it can't hold an atmosphere any more."

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"The war started over the accidental city destruction?"

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"Yep."

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Sigh. 

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"It was a nice place." Sigh.

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"There's probably something for it somewhere. Once we can devote all our energy to the problem it might not even take a thousand years - and we'd be able to pick up a project to do something about human lifespan -"

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"Ooh."

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"There are lots of things we could get done if the war were over."

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"At some point I'm going to want to like - evaluate the war."

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"I bet. What do you need for that?"

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"I don't know what you have. I assume warfare is very different here."

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"It certainly sounds it. We have history books?"

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"I can't read your language and it will take me a nontrivial amount of time to learn."

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"I could translate but that introduces most of the problems there'd be with just asking me about the war. Hmmm. I can't recommend you go ask the other side for their version, no one leaves Angband intact and humans don't leave alive."

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"Yeah, that's a complicating factor."

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"We could bring you orcs but you'd need a translator and it would be necessary to kill them afterwards."

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"Not really ideal."

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"Indeed."

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"And time is kind of of the essence. I wonder if it wouldn't make more sense for me to jump again, find a place to put a disappearance site, then come back. Of course if I land somewhere that kills me then we have a problem."

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"Or lands you some place like Angband. Or even some place not as bad as Angband that doesn't want to give you access to the materials for powerful foreign magic."

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"What I brought with me would be enough for one more jump, although they'd have to let me use it."

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"Maybe you could jump home and confirm to them that it works and is at least occasionally safe, and then there can be more than one person trying?"

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"Maybe. The only people who I can think of who would likely listen to me on that are currently working on a more conservative stopgap project, though."

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"You couldn't take it to your -" rulers -" and get people assigned? How does leadership work in your country -"

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"Rulers. Uh, Gatesnest is an international hub. A nest of gates, if you will. It's in a state of anarchy at the moment, it was heavily contested in the war and everybody of substantial importance got killed. I could try another country but it'd look - partisan -"

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"Ah huh."

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"And miiiiight get me assassinated. It is not a risk free proposition."

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"The King says that were it peacetime he would offer to go back with you. That would be interesting."

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"Yes it would. It would not make it risk-free and I would need a lot of sheep but it might help."

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"I expect it would. Regrettably we can't spare him."

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"Yeah, I understand."

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"Are there things you could do with extra - sheep, or whatever - to make a jump safer?"

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"I can try. This is completely uncharted territory, it's kind of - I can design spells to do things but sometimes spells do not work, or do not completely work."

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"How does that work?"

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"The thing with all the blood and the soot is telling the destruction where to go. The fact that the spell knocked me out means I didn't have it perfect and there was some extra, and that's one of the nice side effects."

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"Will it be consistent? Will you be knocked out next time also?"

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"I can step it down if you can tell me how long I was out for. If I do it exactly the same way I'll get the same results though."

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"I'd need words for your timekeeping."

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Cor can supply these! And numbers!

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Then he can tell him how long he was unconscious!

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"Cool, next time I can avoid that."

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"That probably reduces the risk slightly."

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"Not by that much, if I land somewhere without air I'm still fucked, but yes."

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"You can move your - target site - to here before you go if you're willing to hook a local up to it."

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"Magic is actually complicated, it would not be super useful without instructions."

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"Instructions would also be very much appreciated. If there are other worlds it'd be a terrible loss to be stuck without the means to reach them."

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"My point is that would take a while."

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"Could we maybe get the four-hour summary and then have something to work off in rederiving the rest ourselves?"

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"Post-war-evaluation."

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Nod. "Decided what you need for that?"

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"It's probably impossible to do responsibly without learning the language but I really don't have the time. I'm not yet sure what to settle for. I guess if I pick up the thought structuring thing so I can telepathically talk to more Elves without going 'aaaaaaa' that would help."

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"Considerably but it usually takes almost as long to pick up as the language. I could give you the idea?"

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"Yes please."

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"Thought structuring works by -" internally distinguishing things you intend to be public and things you intend to be private, and then developing with practice the habit of automatically sorting your thoughts that way. People usually pick a metaphor or visualization - public thoughts as ones abovewater and private thoughts below water, or public thoughts as if spoken and private ones as if written on the inside of your skull -"the hard part is actually structuring off it, and maintaining the habit."

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"It doesn't sound that hard..."

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"I've never heard of anyone not being able to do it, it just takes lots of practice. I can leave you to it?"

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"I'll need to be able to do it while doing other things, I might as well keep - teaching, if you call this teaching - my language while I work on that."

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"All right. Is anyone expecting you back?"

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"I sent people letters, but they did account for the possibility that this was a suicide mission."

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"And should we be gathering, uh, sheep - is it sheep in particular - or anything else for you -"

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"It doesn't have to be sheep in particular but it does have to be a mammal and the blood has to be pretty fresh."

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"And do you need that or do you have enough to get back -"

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"I can use my own blood and I would have enough to get back but one doesn't make a habit of that."

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" - right, I can imagine. We can arrange livestock."

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"That's why I didn't bring a sheep along, though, having the option is handy."

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"You might have better human medicine than we do, I think our humans often die of relatively minor injuries and I wouldn't want them to risk it."

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"Magic destruction destroys infections. It won't close a wound but it'll keep it from getting really dangerous. That might account for it."

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"Probably. I can see how it gets tempting to overuse."

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"Yep."

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"If the knowledge is widespread, it saves lives, you have to be incredibly willing to police it or it's over -"

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"And it's hard to police, there are innocent reasons to have livestock and matches."

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"Probably wiser not to have the knowledge widespread, if it does work for us."

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"Unless I can find a planet it's all right to destroy."

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"Unless you can find arbitrarily many of them."

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"I'm not actually sure what happens if a point runs out of planet."

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"We don't want to get dependent and then find out that makes magic stop working or everyone get randomly chosen new destruction points or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, yeah, dependency is absolutely a bad plan."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you know anything about what causes ongoing destruction when there's no magic being used - in particular do you know if it'd still happen if there were no surviving magic-users -"

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"It seems like what doing more magic does is both take a chunk out of the disappearance point's surroundings, and increase the rate at which it deletes stuff at other times, but the rate starts out too slow to notice. I definitely don't know what would happen if we were all dead."

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Nod. "If the disappearance point is in the ocean?"

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"It's been done. You lose some ocean. It can still punch through the planet."

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"We don't have anyone living on the other side but I assume subsequent to punching through other bad things happen."

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"Gets wider."

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"Valar would fix it at that point but they'd probably also start intervening directly in Beleriand and that's not worth it."

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"What would they do?"

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"Uh, in the areas they consider their domain they read everyone's mind every long year - a hundred forty four local years - to determine if people have -" rebellious or antisocial or otherwise problematic inclinations "and then correct them."

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"...rebellious or antisocial or otherwise problematic inclinations."

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"Blasphemy! Lack of faith in Eru, the divine creator of the universe! Disobedience to authority! Willingness to break the law! Homosexuality! My father invented some things that would make it tractable to leave and survive without the Valar interfering, and then things really went badly. But now we're out."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Congratulations."

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"Thank you. Anyway. It is a bad idea to attract their attention even though I am sure they could save your world."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not sure it's worse than 'everybody dies' but it is shall we say not plan A."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Some universe might have resurrection of humans."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm more optimistic than I was this morning."

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"Us as well."

 

Someone steps in to bring them dinner. It is an unfamiliar soup and meat and vegetable thing. It smells delicious.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're pretty sure I'm the same kind of thing as your humans and they can eat this?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I cannot discern any differences, though they could be subtle ones. Our humans can eat this."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll call it good." Soup! "I would like some paper and writing material."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I will have them brought!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thanks."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Talk more in the meantime? What's your world like, what did you do..."

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"I did magic! We didn't know it was a problem - we knew the disappearance points disappeared stuff but didn't realize how fast it would get so we just chucked things we didn't want into them, no one was going to miss some rock supplemented with garbage. The world has about a billion people and we're all humans and there's a ton of languages - I know two, the one I'm teaching you and a sort of creole of a bunch of world languages that's spoken in Gatesnest as a kind of trade language."

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"What sorts of things was magic used for?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Healing, demolishing buildings, making gates, weeds, cleaning, it used to be used for weather but we did figure out we shouldn't disappear water in huge quantities even before we knew magic was generally a catastrophe."

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"But no one could measure how much was disappearing per use?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No. You aim them at the ground. After a while they hit molten rock, but no one was measuring very exactly."

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"This sounds rather like a magic system specifically tailored to be hard on humans."

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"Would it be more convenient for Elves somehow?"

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"We find it more natural to plan a few thousand years ahead and have more tools to solve coordination problems."

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"Just the telepathy, or...?"

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"We can also bindingly commit to things in an easily verifiable manner."

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"Huh."

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"It's the way Melkor enslaves his soldiers. As soon as they're old enough to talk he has them bindingly commit to obey him."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow that's intensely fucked up."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am glad we agree on that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It is sort of a catch-22 that I would have to take your word on that."

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"We could get you orcs, it'd just be the recoverable kind of lethal for the orcs."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I mean I have to take your word for the existence of the oathy thing. Unless the orcs would voluntarily confirm that for some reason, I guess."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe if you found the right angle on them? Not if they thought it'd be helpful to us, certainly."

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"I'm not really a skilled interrogator, let alone in whatever orcs speak."

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"Then I wouldn't expect it to come out in conversation, no."

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Sigh.

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"Should I give you some time to think about who you might want to talk to and so on?"

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"Can you check my thoughts thing?"

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"You mean by trying to read you?"

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"Unless you have another way to do it."

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"We do not." Pause. "I can tell you're there but I'm not getting specific content off you."

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"Hiding I'm there is a separate thing? -" Now he's not there.

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"There are lots of things -" access to your senses - osanwë is often used to look through someone's eyes, knowledge of their presence, thoughts, memories, sensations. "That changed it."

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Translation. "Good. Hopefully I can keep it up."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yep! That'd make communication substantially easier!"

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"Not that I am not incredibly impressed with you but I would like to be able to communicate with more than one person! So yay."

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"Lots of people should have a passable grasp, I've been forwarding them instructions. But it does seem like it'll be easier for you to investigate things if you can talk to everyone."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, who-all else is interested?"

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"All of the linguists I know are of course delighted, the King and his advisors are probably getting updates for more -" pragmatic - "reasons, couple people are paying attention specifically in order to notice if anything's messing with my head - can't be too careful with foreign magic -"

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"Yeah, I suppose you have a similar taking my word for things problem if I assure you I can't suddenly do anything nor do I know how to do anything subtle and mental. Some people can - delete memories, is the most common thing - but it's discouraged."

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"The Enemy can do that. Delete them, add fake ones. Only to people in his custody, not at range, thankfully."

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"I definitely can't add fake ones, that wouldn't be in keeping with the magic-is-for-destroying-shit theme."

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"Which we're also taking your word for but in a much weaker sense, the story's oddly crafted to conceal memory-tampering of all things. I'm not really worried, but the King's paranoia has saved us all several times over, I'll let him have it."

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"Sure, I'm not like offended or anything."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh good. We'll probably be a bit nervous when you draw up your ritual blood but we won't stop you, there's no reason to think there's anything to your mission beyond what you said."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It will be completely harmless except for the associated, uh, world-destruction."

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"Which we cannot complain we were not warned about!"

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"It's been rather a theme!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am optimistic we'll get it figured out."

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"Hope so!"

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People come by to draw up a bath. 

"We have running water and we have hot water but we don't have hot running water," he says regretfully.

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"We don't have hot running water either."

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"Valinor did but we found the price a bit steep."

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"I don't blame you!" He hops into the tub and starts scrubbing off dried blood and smears of ash, shorts and all. "I could also use clothes when I'm done."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Melkor is the worst of the Valar - I wouldn't try to wield your magic to destroy the others even if it didn't have such awful costs - but none of them belong anywhere near incarnate peoples."

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"Noted."

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"They- " paroled  " -Melkor. See, a long time ago he captured and tortured lots of Elves and bred them into orcs and enslaved the orcs and bred other horrible monsters and ran around causing as much horror and suffering as he could, and so the Valar captured him and imprisoned him, and then after a while he said he was sorry so they let him out."

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"'Paroled'," Cor supplies.

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"They said they were keeping an eye on him but he planted a bunch of evidence of treason on the part of various parties in order to start a civil war and they didn't notice. They did notice when he killed the King and sacked the continent and torched our libraries and ran away with our most valuable magic treasures but by then it was a bit too late."

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Nod.

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"So you went and chased him?"

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"This continent was lower-tech, one thing the Valar did was teach us science and we'd invented many things they hadn't. Orcs had overtaken it, were capturing and enslaving everybody. We didn't have the means to kill him yet - still don't, we're working on it - but we came here and took the continent back and -" besieged - "Angband and bought time. To find a solution. Which perhaps we now have, though it's itself a very buying-time kind of solution."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Besieged. And yep."

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"Leaving involved stealing a fleet of boats. The Valar were very angry about that. - I'm not in favor of stealing boats but we'd asked to buy or borrow them, and asked them to teach us how to build our own - they turned us down because of the mass" psychological conditioning to obey the Valar - "and if we'd gotten here a month later tens of thousands more would have been dead or worse."

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"Psychological conditioning to obey the Valar." Clothes have appeared by telepathic suggestion. He gets out of the tub and gets dressed.

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"The thing I previously mentioned, not an additional thing on top of that."

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"I figured."

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"We can give the boats back if it's ever safe to return to Valinor."

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"Sounds like that might take a while."

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"it's been three hundred years."

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"That is in fact a while."

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"Even for Elves."

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"How old are you?"

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"Eighteen hundred years."

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"Dang."

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"Elves live as long as the world, unless evil or accident find us."

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"Nice deal."

Permalink Mark Unread

"In many respects."

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"Mixed bag in others?"

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"The people we didn't arrive in time to save are still in Angband. Sometimes he gets bored of one and releases them to - remind us - but not often."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And they're not thrilled about living as long as the world? Well, there's a shorter-lived world available..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They don't believe they're out. He breaks up the torture with vivid hallucinations of release, or of rescue, that always turn out to be a lie - he can do time dilation, sometimes it's ten years subjectively before the scenarios reveal themselves for lies, he makes every microexpression or question or situation a cue that it's about to unravel, the ones that come out intact at all generally prefer not to die only because then they'd wake up in Angband even sooner, and the others act - almost normal - until something sets them off and they murder their family in their sleep."

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"I'd, uh, offer you a prisoner to talk with but once we realized he was doing it for our reactions and the effect on -" morale -"we started killing them on sight."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Morale."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Same with the orcs. He'd try sending unarmed families of orcs out to settle on our lands. They'd refuse to go back, say they'd been driven out of Angband. If we let them stay, then eventually they get remotely ordered to commit massacres. So - devote endless resources to guarding little villages of innocent pending disasters in our own territory? Or cut down families holding their little orc babies? Morale."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Can't adopt the orc babies who can't talk yet?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's not safe to have children from oathed species in a war zone, the Enemy can osanwë them and coax them into swearing to things."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are Elves just not having children?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's correct."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess if that works for you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"This is not a good world to bring a child into."

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Nod.

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"Even once the war's over we'll probably make sure we have a world for them which won't be eventually destroyed."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Seems reasonable."

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"It's not a luxury humans have. We try to" incentivize "ours to wait until they're stable and can support them, but 'wait until the war is over' not so much. At least the Enemy doesn't bother human children."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Incentivize. Why not?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Can't make them swear to things. He tried manipulating humans, earlier, but - well, we were better at it, and that was when he could interact with them directly."

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

"Eru dropped humans on the world at the start of the war with no knowledge. They had a language, that was it. Enemy found them, taught them stone buildings and scared them with monsters and tried to build a -" community ritual practice around a particular narrative about the deities? - 

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"...religion?"

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"Religion based around worshipping Melkor. Then he fabricated evidence that the monsters apparently killing -" ostensibly random -"humans at night were some nearby Elves and led them to war against the Elves and so on. Eventually we made contact with them and - Elves are not inherently suited to governing humans but we thought it was important enough to put a lot of effort into picking up and we offered them citizenship and they overwhelmingly went for it and now when new human tribes show up worshipping our enemies we can say 'that sounds nice, we pension human citizens off at 26 and after that you can spend your time however you like'. They don't end up spending it worshipping Melkor."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ostensibly random. What unsuitedness do you have?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Because of oaths we didn't have law enforcement beyond 'can you swear to tell the truth and clear this up for us, and if appropriate swear to avoid reproducing the circumstances under which you acted wrongly'? We're more cooperative - hard to say how much of that is the Valar's mind control - likewise with being more pro-social - we have much lower rates of mental illness and disability - we had an economy structured on the assumption people'd spend fifty years learning the skills to do their chosen careers -"

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"This doesn't take much of your lifespan but it still sounds annoying."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We derive a lot of satisfaction from deep expertise - anyone who can sew a tapestry can also make the loom and gather and spin the thread and collect the plants for the dyes, anything you do you do in perfect awareness of all the tradeoffs that went into the materials at every stage. Elves don't find it annoying. Perhaps even long-lived humans would."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess I can see the appeal but it seems an onerous requirement."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If someone made beautiful tapestries in ignorance of the materials we wouldn't decline to display them. In practice Elves with thousands of years of experience are also faster and more able at many of the crafts we prize, but we've gotten better about making sure people with the talent can get instruction suited to their patience."

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"Fair enough."

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"It has improved significantly over the years, we're happy with it now."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Cool. Is that why you pension off humans, we're never good enough at anything?"

Permalink Mark Unread

" - a substantial portion of humans are not good enough at things that they can reliably earn enough money to support themselves and their families by doing those things unless we tamper aggressively with the markets, and if the desiderata is that they all have enough to live on it makes more sense to do that directly. Some of them don't do things. Lots of them do, just less constrained by putting food on the table."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Cool. What do they do till they're twenty-six?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Mostly the army. That's the other justification for pensioning them, it's safe work now but that could change very fast if the siege ends."

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"And you only want the younger ones in harm's way or something?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We want nobody in harm's way, but once they have kids it's particularly horrible. And we owe them for taking the risk, so generous pension policies."

Permalink Mark Unread

"In my world lots of people have kids younger than that."

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"Army's set up to make it - difficult to pull off - and they're encouraged to wait. We found that older people have much lower rates of child abuse, neglect, medical complications during pregnancy..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh, okay."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Mind, I'm not the policy person, you could get more specific answers from them. I've met maybe a dozen humans and only because I showed up to pester them about their languages."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm getting that sense from you, yes. If I want visits do I have to make up neologisms?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think you have 'might save the world' privileges."

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Cor laughs.

Permalink Mark Unread

"But don't let that deter you from inventing neologisms."

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"I shall make a note if any come to me."

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"It's very nice to meet you."

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"You too!"

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"Have anyone in mind to talk to? I don't want to rush you, the time-sensitive is all on your end, but..."

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"I don't know who, uh, exists. Besides that you have mentioned a king."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have a king, we have a whole council of advisors to the King, we have regional governors who are the commanders of the relevant detachment of our army, we have ambassadors from the Dwarves - they don't have osanwë, though -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"How inconvenient of them. Uh, I'm going to cheat and attempt to derive information from who you suggest I meet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You should talk to the Dwarves, Dwarves are great, I can translate and value the integrity of my translation over any conceivable political consideration. You should probably talk to the King, I think this is the kind of thing Kings are for. I have no idea if talking to his advisors or subordinates is a good use of time, probably depends how good you are at people-skills-y things like drawing inferences from how people talk about their chain of command? It also matters here if you're trying to check for 'we're lying to you' or 'we're importantly wrong'."

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"I'm not very people-skills-y but I'm - verbally intelligent in a way that might matter? And both."

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"Then you might as well talk to everybody, it's certainly important enough."

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"All right." He drinks the last of his soup.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Now? Tomorrow?"

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"Now's fine."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Who first?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, I assume all these people are currently more scheduled than me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Interdimensional visitors with world-endangering magic have a marvelous way of opening up peoples' schedules."

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"Fair enough. I've never met a king before."

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"We have the best one. All future kings will disappoint you." He stands.

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"Really."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I might be biased, he's my brother. But not very biased, he's not my favorite brother."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Who's your favorite?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably Tyelcormo. When our father died he spent several years reminding me to eat and sleep."

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Nod.

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"I have six, so I'm rather spoiled for choice."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm an only child, am I missing much?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I value it. It's nice to have people who are just - yours."

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"I'm not sure that part's automatic."

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"Yeah, fair. It's true for us."

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"Cool."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Shall we head over to the palace?"

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"Lead the way. Is it far?"

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"Not especially." He opens the door. The guards outside are already melting out of the way.

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Follow follow.

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Palace is in the center of the city.

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Cor only trips twice.

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And he walks him past lots of uniformed people and -

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"Hello!" he says in Cor's language, not quite perfectly.

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He corrects his pronunciation. "Cor, this is Nelyafinwë Maitimo, King of the Noldor."

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"Pleased to meet you. I'd bow but I might break my nose."

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Spell side effect, or is it just you?

Permalink Mark Unread

"Just me - should I be talking aloud or doing the thoughts thing -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Talk aloud! I will talk where I can but -" I don't breathe in languages like some people, I haven't got it down yet.

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"You're still way ahead of where I would be, so."

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I can cheat at the memory part, I have a magic artifact that makes mine nearly perfect. I can't cheat the grammar. Or the pronunciation - Macalaurë and Curufinwë have a downright magical ear for that -

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"Oh, neat artifact."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's so useful. That's my favorite - that and attention, I having one for following lots of things at once -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Have one. You have an artifact for attentional capacity, you've been having a surprising day."

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"He can't be helping himself," he says to Cor.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Can't help himself. I can't help myself, you can't help yourself, he can't help himself."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And a good thing he can't or I'd have had a less enthusiastic audience for my attempt at lessons in Senserke."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And this urgent project would be further delayed. Please sit down." It's a throne room, with conference tables sort of flanking the throne.

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Plop.

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"How can I be most helpful to you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...exhibit difficult-to-fake signals of trustworthiness and epistemic responsibility?"

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I'm optimistic on convincing you we're not mistaken. We have good information - we need to - and Melkor's never offered anything even resembling a defense of his actions and they're not really the kind that could be defensible in the right light.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I've been getting that impression, yeah."

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The atrocities stopped when he was imprisoned last time. He has a few lieutenants who should also be destroyed, but it's not a distributed organization, and there's every reason to think that with Melkor dead it wouldn't be an organization. We anticipate and are prepared for some deadman's switch-type consequences of destroying him, but we don't think there's any meaningful respect in which the war would drag on, or some more important thing be destabilized.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can't really imprison anyone. My magic can do 'dead', 'burnt', 'erased from existence'... not really 'imprisoned'. And it's progressively harder to do more abstract things, I once annoyed my teachers by asking questions similar in character to 'but can I destroy somebody's freedom."

Permalink Mark Unread

If you could destroy someone's oaths then we could get orcs loose.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...oooooh."

Permalink Mark Unread

Easy to test without bothering any orcs, too, we could swear to minor things.

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"I like this plan. It does require me to either have a point here or use the one at home but it's worthwhile in its own right and also then you wouldn't have to kill the orcs to let me talk to 'em."

Permalink Mark Unread

If it works they might be perfectly tolerant of living among Elves but they also might, even once freed, want to help Melkor to protect their families or hate Elves because we murder their children or something, I can't guarantee that deoathed orcs can be safely sent off to live happy civilian lives. But maybe.

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"Possible I could send them home with messages, aren't any Elves there."

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- that'd work, yep. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Suddenly orcs appear in Gatesnest with letters for the moonshot people! 'Hello, moonshot people, here is confirmation that the weirdo's long shot worked!'"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Moonshot?"

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"Next most plausible idea - well, from my opinion on plausibility rankings - was 'gate to the moon'. This has a lot of - secondary necessary steps, like 'figure out how to breathe on the moon long enough to hook into a point there' and 'figure out what to do after the moon has been eaten' and 'avoid horrible tide-related disasters' and so on, whereas if my thing worked it'd just work - wasn't anticipating that the place'd be inhabited but even that might be more beneficial on net than not - but if they figure it out they can buy time."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't think our moon is big enough to be at all useful for that but maybe your world has a very big moon? Anyway, getting the orcs out of here so they can't report to the Enemy that we have new unprecedented magic, inspiring him to try something, is a good solution."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Our moon is smaller than the planet - even than the planet is now - but still pretty big. I don't want to send many orcs, I'm hooked into the moonshot disappearance point but if something about their project changes and they need to stop using it I won't exactly get the memo, so I should use magic only very sparingly. A test on oath destruction, repeat on one or two orcs, send one or two orcs."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nod. "So you know, it will involve killing orcs to take one or two orc captives."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm assuming you do that all the time anyway. Am I wrong?"

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"No."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I just came out of a very ugly war zone. I would rather avoid personally killing anyone because supposedly doing so lowers some inhibitions but I'm not going to be really precious about it. Besides, I'm told they're recoverable."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Especially if we can erase their oaths. Does your magic system destroy chronic pain, by any chance."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was working on that when the war hit, I hadn't quite got it. Unless it has a physical cause like a kidney stone, I can destroy the hell out of kidney stones."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know the cause. It might be physical." Orcs are created by raising successive generations of Elves in constant torturous pain; subsequently the pain is innate, so all orcs are being tortured all the time. Not in a way that makes them less functional, it's just -there.

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"...tricky, if not impossible, but maybe. Should save it for when I have leeway for experiments though."

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He nods. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can get underway on designing the spell for oath-busting once I know enough about oaths - any detail could be helpful in avoiding side effects."

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"Hmm." You have to swear oaths by speaking aloud. You can swear them to a deity - Vala or Maia - which gives that deity the power to release you - or to a general audience, which means no one does. If you do not specify a time frame an oath is active forever. Ambiguity is resolved by the understanding and intent of the speaker, but a slightly strange understanding of 'intent': if I swear 'I will not lie to you', intending primarily to get you to give me magic instead of to bindingly commit myself to future honesty, I am absolutely bindingly committed to future honesty. I intended to make it understood to you that that was what was happening, and so that is what happens. If you swear in a language you don't know, then the oath will not affect you until you're apprised of its contents and the fact you made it. Same if you swear while barely lucid, which is why torturing people into oaths is only moderately effective, or if you swear as a young child, though I think the Enemy has you repeat it as you get older in order to avoid this problem somewhat.

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Cor writes this down in a bulleted list.

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You can swear to alter states of mind, with some constraints. Orcs swear to hate Elves and that mostly works; swearing to forget something happened doesn't usually work well; swearing to believe everything someone says has wildly unpredictable results from 'collapses in internal confusion' through 'just finds that person super trustworthy'. If you make an oath that absolutely proscribes a course of action, you'll find you just literally can't take it; your body won't move to complete the steps. If you make an oath that demands a course of action, you merely find it overwhelmingly, distractingly tempting, and gradually you lose the ability to have desires or preferences outside that course of action.

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"It is... possible I can't de-oath somebody without making them not an oathgiving creature any more."

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...huh. With orcs that's obviously worth it. With Elves... I can probably find a volunteer but I think they'd consider it a genuine sacrifice. We know how to be safe with them and they're useful for credibility.

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"I can try but - the way spell specifications work is more 'describing an aesthetic to the magic' than 'issuing complex specific instructions'. The destruction-only part is hard-wired or it'd be very... uh, it's kind of like writing an evocatively descriptive paragraph? You will get a thing that is metaphorically by the same artist of the same subject in the same color palette as what you had in mind, if you know what you're doing, but maybe from a different angle or with a different... paintbrush... I don't know anything about painting, that got away from me... uh, anyway, it makes it hard to leave precise exceptions, if you're weeding a farm you go 'imagine a farm with no weeds', not 'imagine a farm with only that one weed over there' because if you do the second thing the magic might go 'oh you mean those three weeds? we're doing a "some weeds" thing, right?' and - yeah."

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Nod. Will it consider marriage to be a weed? Elven marriage is a binding of two souls for all eternity.

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"That sounds aesthetically different, more 'leave the flowerboxes alone' than 'protect farmer's daughter's favorite specific dandelion that she named Sunbeam', yeah."

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Giggle. Okay. I'll ask around and find you somebody to try it on.

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"I can't guarantee the marriage thing, it's just somewhat likelier to survive than poor Sunbeam."

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"We'll try someone not married who will not be sad if it happens they can never marry."

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"Cool. I can get going on spell design now if there's nothing else I should know about oaths or aesthetically nearby things."

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He glances at Curufinwë.

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"I'm not sure what else might be relevant. Valar and Maiar and Elves and orcs can all make oaths. The state of having made an oath doesn't feel like anything. If you cannot progress towards achieving something you sworn to do you can pursue other things you care about normally. You can't derive new information by swearing oaths; I couldn't swear to hate traitors and thereby learn which person in a battalion was a traitor, or anything like that."

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"When I said any detail might matter I meant it, if I get it wrong by a little I spend a few hours knocked out and if I get it wrong by a lot I start harming the subject and/or losing toes."

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Nod. "You make an oath by saying 'I swear'. 'I promise' doesn't do it. It survives death and reembodiment."

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"What counts as 'cannot progress', how gradually is gradually, how are prospects for fooling oneself about whether a step advances a thing you swore not to do, are there any customary aesthetically-contributory rituals around swearing things, what's the thing where they can be released like, how good is the time limit thing can you use that to derive information if you don't have very good time sense..."

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"In general you cannot take any voluntary actions which progress something you've sworn not to do. Gradually - unless there's a narrow window of time in which the task has to be accomplished, years. If there is a narrow window it intensifies very fast. Never heard of anyone successfully fooling themself about that but it's not terribly safe to test. There are customs; you make oaths in public, loudly and clearly, Elves like them to be well-composed, sometimes you repeat previously-made ones at key moments, you might hold a sword or a pen or a work of art or a banner as appropriate. You can derive information from the time limit. Being released is - a Maia or Vala to whom an oath was addressed acknowledges that they're releasing you, no specific phrasing needed, and it doesn't affect you anymore. You could derive information about whether someone was really that particular Maia or Vala that way."

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"Are time limits about time or can they be about contingencies?"

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"You can do contingencies but then you need to know whether the contingency was met."

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"Can you be fooled?"

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"Yep. Oath is back in effect if you figure out that you were, though. And if you swear two incompatible things that are operative simultaneously you just collapse in horrible agony."

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"The horrible agony thing is very, ah, aesthetically important."

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"Good to know. Swearing to contradicting things results in horrible agony until they somehow cease to contradict or someone puts you out of your misery. - you might suffer while dead, actually, if the oaths made demands that were possible to act towards while dead."

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"Are there many things you can do while dead?"

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"Think things. Tell or refuse to tell Mandos, the Vala of the dead, things."

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"Fair enough. I'm thinking this is a two-sheeper. If you want the sheep to live. I can do it on one if you would like a dead sheep."

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"I'll have someone bring - probably cows, actually, we don't have a lot of sheep."

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"Never bled a cow myself, cow might survive! Cows're big."

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"We will hope for the best for the cow and the experiment."

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"Just don't send your favorite cow that some farmer's daughter has named, I have a terrible track record with things farmers' daughters have named."

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"I can ask the farmers if they have sentimental daughters! They probably do, our human birthrate's really high."

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"How high is really high from the perspective of a species that hasn't had any kids in centuries?"

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"All right, admittedly we'd think it was striking if they occasionally had one. But it's about six on average, the population doubles every twenty-four years."

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"Okay, yeah, six is a buncha kids, especially if they don't start till their late twenties."

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"Are there various social and cultural things in your world that produce lower birthrates, we could try changing some cultural conditions -"

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"I don't really know the causality on that? - Magic can be used for abortion and sterilization, I assume if you have those you do them some other way."

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" - we don't have those. Well, Elves do, humans don't."

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"...well, there you go, then, people who are more pregnant or fertile than they want to be at home go to a mage. Except now that everything is terrible, I suppose."

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"Having kids they don't want in a dying world."

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"Yeah I think I mentioned I did not come from a pleasant time and place."

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"Well, hopefully soon we can send orcs with the news that there's hope."

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"Hopefully. What else should I know about oaths?"

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They can both volunteer more trivia about oaths! 

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"Alrighty. I can work with this. Who's my proof of concept test subject?"

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Maitimo waves someone in. She's brown-haired and smiling nervously. "Lhinniel," he says, and then in a language that's not Quenya, this is Corbelan, who can perhaps erase oaths.

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"Hi, pleased to meet you."

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I haven't actually made any oaths, should I just swear not to eat apples for the rest of the day or something?

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"It might take me more than a day to compose and set up the spell, but that's the general idea. You're okay with maybe not being able to make oaths afterwards? I can probably leave it so you can get soul married but I can't guarantee that."

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Yes, the King said. I am not likely to marry anyway, it's fine.

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"Okay. So not eating apples or whatever else and give me a couple of days."

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She says something in a language he doesn't speak which is presumably an oath about apples. The King nods. 

A couple days, a couple cows, and do you need anything else?

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"Fine ash. Less-fine ash ground up is okay and it doesn't need to be ash from anything in particular."

Permalink Mark Unread

That's straightforward. Okay. I think you should change your - disappearance point - to here. We're going to use this to destroy Melkor, so there is going to be one in this world, and five years' less time for us to solve this problem in a millennium seems like a good trade for some more time for your world right now.

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"Okay. You have some place I can go to that you don't need for anything other than maybe garbage disposal which doesn't have anybody living on the far side?"

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As far as we know there's no one living anywhere on the far side but we don't have a way to be certain. We have places we don't need for anything.

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"Uh, why would there be nobody on an entire half a planet?"

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I don't think there are even plants on it, I don't think they ever got around to designing it. I'm not sure how gravity works there.

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"I'm confused."

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"I think before the disaster their planet was spherical, with gravity pointed inwards? Is that right?"

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"It still is sort of spherical it just has some space-warping puncture wounds. Gravity still points inwards."

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"Ours is flat. Gravity is, well, down. Does some weird things at the edges, we have no idea what it does on the bottom."

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"...huh. That shouldn't affect a disappearance point, I think, and is convenient for the nobody living on the other side thing."

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"The Valar have said no one lives on the other side, and aren't except Melkor in the habit of lying, but if there were a way to check I would like to, eventually."

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"About how thick is the planet? Me or a handful of people using the point would take a long time to get through a sphere of this gravity but if it's only a hundred feet thick or something..."

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"Much thicker than that but I couldn't give you numbers." He makes a face. "Melian would know."

The King sighs.

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"Do you have a lower bound?"

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"Dwarves have dug down about a mile."

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"...I will not singlehandedly eat a mile down from a good-size circle very quickly but if something disastrous happens when it does break through..."

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Might be safer to leave it in your world with fewer unknowns, yes.

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"Can you ask this Melian person? For reference the diameter of my planet when it's not riddled with holes is eight thousand miles ish."

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The complication is that were she fully informed Melian might try to have you assassinated and I can't think how to get an answer without offering some information. We can try.

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"I would rather not be assassinated. Why would she want to assassinate me?"

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Wouldn't trust us not to use the magic against her if we had it. We've never warred with them, it'd be grounded in - general paranoia rather than specific grievances. I am happy to swear we would not employ magic in such a way.

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"Possible I should hear out the general paranoia if there's a way to do that without being assassinated."

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Humans aren't allowed into Doriath but they'll sometimes entertain conversation at the borders. I don't expect they'd assassinate someone who came to talk but I don't, ah, very strongly expect that.

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"Is there a way to prevent that?"

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We can send you with security but honestly if Melian's willing to start a war over it she could kill you anywhere within range of the border.

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"...great."

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I can send some Dwarves with the question, but we won't have a timely answer that way and may not get one at all. 

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"And it'll have to go through translation." Sigh.

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Destroying oaths only works if they are a thing and work as described, right?

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"Uh, yes, I'm gambling here that if you wanted me dead you'd pick a different way to do it."

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So after the experiment you'll have confirmation on that point, and then I can swear not to withhold relevant information and answer questions you might have about Doriath. I know what they'd say if they were willing to talk to you, it'll be approximately as informative as going there yourself.

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"Okay, although that doesn't help with respect to the thickness of the planet. I'm not joking about this killing me if you're telling substantial falsehoods that I use to build a spell, by the way, that'd be a hell of a way to lose your only mage."

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Doesn't help with the thickness of the planet, no. I didn't think you were kidding.

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Cor sighs. He starts spreading out paper and sketching.

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Elves come in and out and have conversation in Quenya or telepathically. Eventually he is told there are cows available.

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"Won't need them till I have a design, but good to know."

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Elves continue to work and speak and plan and have meetings around him. They all have long braided hair. 

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"Dinner break?" he eventually wonders.

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"I'll have someone bring food right over."

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"Convenient."

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"I suppose. How does that work at home?"

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"Well, you can get food delivered but it's a luxury, most people cook for themselves or eat at restaurants." He has the habit of publicizing what he means to say.

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"In Tirion before the war there were food carts everywhere, you'd go for a stroll at lunchtime and pick up things. Here we have -" rationing often enough to be hard on enterprising food cart vendors.

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"That sucks. Is there rationing right now?"

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"This year's been all right."

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"If I'd come here for any other reason I'd offer to go fix blights or whatever." Sigh.

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"Doesn't sound worth it." Curufin thinks that if different worlds have different magic systems we shall be omnipotent sooner or later, we'll get the blights then.

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"Yeah. I just really miss being able to do magic casually. Some things are really elaborate - getting here was, the oath erasure will be - but I could also just - perfectly roast a chicken leg by dropping a little sheep blood on it and chanting, say. Since it does burning and you can just back off a little on how much burning."

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Maybe if it eats a whole planet nothing happens subsequently and once uninhabited worlds are found your world can return to casual use and we can employ it for disease control.

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"Maybe."

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I am a bit nervous about finding out but that's just all the more reason to have collected absurd amounts of magic by then.

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Nod. "Hopefully most forms of magic don't eat planets at all."

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Ours don't! They're very slow, though, not particularly human-suited.

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"Oh, does singing a magic song take all day?"

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"No, but writing them takes decades."

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"I don't sing especially well but it would be nice to have some magic I could use casually."

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I'd be happy to teach you a song - there's one for walking on water, one for making it rain or making it warmer or making it colder, one that causes the people around you to fall asleep, there are mood ones for therapeutic contexts...

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"...I'd probably better not try to walk on water. I'd trip and quit singing and drown probably. Temperature songs sound neat."

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Please don't trip and quit singing and drown, it'd be an awfully disappointing way for our one shot at interworld contact to end.

And he sings a song that makes the room warm.

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"That's really pretty."

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"Thank you!"

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"I will need to hear it a couple times to have any hope of reproducing the tune let alone the lyrics but oh well."

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I can sing it several more times. I suppose learning our musical notation is not the best use of your time.

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"Probably not. Does it do a fixed target temperature or just 'warmer', will you cook us if you sing it over and over?"

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"It's not strong enough, the heat would dissipate, but if we were in a sealed space maybe."

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"Gotcha."

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"We use song for war, though not that one specifically."

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"What kinds of war things do songs do?"

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"Make you stronger and less fatigued and luckier, better reflexes - or does the opposite for your enemy -"

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"And they don't just do the same thing? Or they do?"

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"There's a freeform way of competing for control of a song. It'd be easier to show than to explain. And Elves sing better than orcs."

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"I'd believe it!"

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"Orcs are - designed to be the opposite of us to a degree that is sometimes a strategic disadvantage."

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"Is it an advantage in any way?"

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They breed faster, and don't have control of it - that's an advantage for the Enemy, he can get thousands of them in a single Elven generation. They don't have osanwë, which is a disadvantage for coordination but means they can't spread accurate information easily or have interactions with each other outside the Enemy's control, I presume he did it on purpose for that or some related reason. The pain might make them more resilient when injured in battle, but I think that one is mostly just for its own sake. 

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"Bleah."

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"We don't go to war lightly."

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"What's the long term plan assuming all goes well - I buy a few millennia and kill a god and we find more magic which conveniently stops disappearance points from growing -"

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"I don't know how widely I want it distributed here, it seems rather catastrophic in the wrong hands, but we eradicate diseases and do good things for crop yields and offer humans sterilization and then we send delegates searching for more worlds and more magic systems and hopefully find some that complement each other well and handle their impending dooms if any and get a better picture of how many worlds there are and within what ranges they vary. Do something about the Valar, eventually."

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"Do something?"

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Depends substantially on what tools we have - I don't know whether to reverse all their edits or not, in cases where people didn't agree to editing but wouldn't agree now to have it reversed - depends whether we can make everybody safe from them without killing them, depends whether we have resurrection good enough that killing people becomes more - putting them aside until we're even more powerful -

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"I'd want to be very careful I didn't lose track of who was being put aside."

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He touches his necklace. I remember every subject of mine who has died in this war. I could remember another million, though it looks like perhaps I won't need to.

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Nod.

Was there going to be food?

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Food is brought!

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Mmm food.

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Elves are glad he likes it.

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And then he goes back to coming up with how to draw oathlessness in blood and ash.

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He is not interrupted.

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When he starts yawning he gathers up his papers and heads doorwards.

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Some people are waiting to escort him back to his house!

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"Are you here as bodyguards or to make sure I don't go skipping off?"

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So you don't get lost, actually; there shouldn't be danger inside the city, and you're free to go anywhere you like.

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"Okay, lead the way."

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They take him back.

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He sleeps! He wakes up! He solicits breakfast!

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He gets breakfast!

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And before lunch:

I think I've got a spell that will work. ...Does this thinking things in public thing work if no one was already paying attention to me.

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I caught that! You can aim at specific people if you want to make sure they're paying attention to you.

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Noted! Where is my cow and ash and workspace?

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He sends a mental map.

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I could get used to this telepathy thing. Off he goes. Okay, I need the cow restrained so it can't kick me for cutting it - this is why we mostly use sheep, you can breed sheep to be very docile and too small to ruin your day - and something to cut it with and something to catch blood in, other than that I don't strictly need anything other than the blood and the ash and the subject, but she might be more comfortable with my painting her if I did not have to do it with my bare hands, a sponge or rag or something is ideal.

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I can arrange all of those things! Osanwë is great, I'd get so much less done without it.

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The design I've got calls for marks around her mouth and neck, up to her what her tolerance for getting symbolic substances on her clothes is, I can be professional about it.

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Oh, Elves don't have the human taboo on nudity, if it's more convenient for her not to wear a shirt I am sure she won't mind.

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It is, yeah.

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I will let her know. 

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Thanks!

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And his supplies and cow-handlers and test subject arrive! She is topless and no one in fact seems to think anything of it.

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Convenient! "If this were a sheep I'd cut here," he says, pointing at a cow location, "does that seem right to you?"

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Cow-handler thinks so.

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He hefts the bowl to get an idea of what it weighs, cuts the cow, collects blood. Tells the subject where to stand, sponges designs on her, and then continues on the floor, spiraling out.

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They watch interestedly.

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He sits at the outer edge of the spiral and double checks everything against his paper sketches.

Then he closes his eyes.

"There is no oath. There are no oaths. I destroy. It is not; they are not. I annihilate. It is not; they are not. I erase. It is not; they are not. I void. It is not; they are not. I nullify. It is not; they are not. I extinguish. It is not; they are not. I shrink the world into one without this oath, without these oaths! I destroy, I destroy, I destroy!"

There is the opposite of a flash, a sudden blink of darkness - and Lhinniel can eat apples.

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She tries it. She giggles. 

       Check whether you can still make oaths, he instructs her.

She swears off apples again and then tries to eat one.

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She can still eat it!

Permalink Mark Unread

Looks like it does make them stop working, then. Marriage I can't conveniently test - do you happen to know, now that you've done it -

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"I don't get feedback exactly, but seeing as I'm still conscious I'd be surprised if I'd failed to except it."

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She smiles and eats another bite of her apple. I like your magic! It's very dramatic. And we can free orcs, that's really something.

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"It's got its drawbacks, among them 'sounding incredibly evil' and 'eating planets', but yep!"

Permalink Mark Unread

Maybe the Noldor'll find a way around those, they're good at that. Apple bite. It does sound kind of evil. You can't do it with gentler emphasis?

Permalink Mark Unread

"Alas no, it is very much about the 'I destroy' thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

Huh. What powers it, is it like there's - a personality?

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"There's not a person, but you could conceptualize it as having a personality. A really really destruction-happy personality."

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Giggle. So are you going to kill Morgoth?

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"Possibly!"

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Would you have to paint him in blood for that?

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"It'd help but not being able to do that isn't prohibitive."

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh good. I don't think he'd sit still for it. I'm not even sure he has a physical form.

       Sometimes he does, someone else says. Orcs sometimes think of him. All black and spiky and scary - he'd love destruction magic -

That would be a catastrophe.

       I am sure we have lots of precautions to prevent it.

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"I'd certainly hope so, given the givens."

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The King's good about that, she says, finishing her apple. Very paranoid. 

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"Good for him."

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It must be dangerous to be an important person in your world, if anyone can kill anyone from far away.

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"It's not that easy, and most people aren't mages, but yeah."

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Cow-handlers remove the cow.

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"Thank you!" Cor calls after them.

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Of course! 

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"Should I be cleaning up here or will someone else handle that -"

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They'll get it, says Lhinniel, you can get working on Melkor!

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not sure the two trade off directly but I have no janitorial yearnings."

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I wonder how they got janitors in Valinor, they didn't have money. Maybe they messed with some peoples' heads to make them want to be janitors.

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"Could not begin to speculate. Did you not use to live there?"

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Oh, no, I'm not Noldorin - black or red hair means they used to live in Valinor, brown or silver means we're descended from a different group of Elves who declined the invitation to Valinor in the first place. It seemed too good to be true, and we were right. Well, 'we' - I wasn't born back then - 

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"Ah, gotcha."

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Cleaning crews come.

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Cor goes back to his little house to await orc capture and have lunch.

Permalink Mark Unread

He stops by with lunch! That's impressive magic. The Valar can't do anything about oaths.

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"Thanks! It only does one thing but it does it pretty well."

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You don't say. I hear it didn't do marriage, but presumably it could, say, divorce people? If they wanted?

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"Uh, probably?"

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That might delight some people.

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"Yyyyes I can imagine. When I can be a little less circumspect with my magic use perhaps."

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Oh yes, definitely, it's waited centuries in most cases and isn't worth it at all until we have a renewable source. But - Elves can get married unwillingly -

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"What the fuck?"

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Ah?

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"How does that happen?"

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When Elves have sex they get married.

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"That is also stupid!"

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"I agree wholeheartedly!"

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Sigh. "Yeah once I can do nonessential magic I can figure out Elf divorce."

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"I have not forgotten there are higher priorities but it'll be appreciated."

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"Thanks for letting me know."

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"Sure thing. Do you have more questions now that you can confirm oaths work as described?"

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"Gonna want you to confirm orc translations - the language barrier probably means people who aren't you won't want to swear so I can understand -"

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"Not until they've picked it up, at least, yeah."

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"In theory, I could pretend words meant different things."

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"It's the sort of thing we warn little kids about. Never ever ever swear anything in a language you're not fluent in."

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"Yes, but as your sole source of information I could corrupt your understanding if I were an asshole."

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"I don't think you could get it past me, honestly."

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"Probably not. Etymology or something."

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"If Maitimo thought you were an asshole then I might be doublechecking my word roots. But he doesn't."

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"Based on what?"

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"Oh, he just has uncannily good instincts for that kind of thing."

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"Huh. Sounds useful."

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"I can only imagine how the civil war would've gone otherwise, yeah."

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"I am curious about the civil war."

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"This was four hundred years ago. Melkor'd been paroled for - nearly a thousand? And he spent the time making a study of everyone in Valinor and how to cause as much of a catastrophe as possible when he made his move. So he started - planting evidence, starting rumors, shapeshifting and having suspicious conversations in earshot of people, managed to convince some people that my father, who was the King's heir, was planning to have them killed when he took power. My father barely knew they existed and all he ever wanted with power was to get us out of Valinor. But I don't want to be entirely unfair to them, they had convincing evidence - they took it to the King who told them they were safe, warned the Valar something was up but didn't know what -

- so they started planning to kill my father before he assumed power or overthrow him once he did. And that it was arranged that we'd hear about, so then we genuinely were worried about them, and so the false rumors could subsequently be supplemented with true ones. And when the King was murdered one of the paranoid people declared himself King and had some force to back it up with - and he had my father assassinated and there was fighting in the streets -"

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"Did this person have some claim to the throne or just some followers?"

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"King's son by a different woman. Legally no claim, but - not just random."

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Nod.

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"Anyway it looked like Melkor was going to get exactly what he wanted, thousands and thousands of people dead and none of us in any state to get to Endorë. And then the next morning we woke up to peace and pardons all around and a restructured chain of command and orders to get moving and it was over. Maitimo killed a total of twelve people."

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"...surgical."

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"About the best you could do, under the circumstances. They might even be back by now."

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"Thought that was really rare?"

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"Twelve in four hundred years is about the right amount of rare."

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"Mkay."

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"We don't have channels of communication with Valinor, they might not, I don't know. But they might."

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"No channels at all?"

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"If we swear things before the Valar they become aware of them, and sometimes if you hang out at the seaside praying to Ulmo for six months he'll answer a question - Ulmo's the Vala of the seas. But no meaningful ones. We're not allowed back. For the crime of rebelling against the natural order and bringing disruption to Valinor."

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"Maybe I'm too used to gates."

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"They seem like they'd change things substantially, yeah."

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"Before the invention of gates we had carrier pigeons?"

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"When we send ships they sink them. We admittedly haven't tried carrier pigeons."

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"They kind of require more initial communication, you have to get them from where they'd be sent."

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"Tyelcormo might be able to make do without that but he'd do it by making them people. And then sending them off to get probably shot is more of a problem."

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"...he can make birds into people?"

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"He can talk to animals. And when he talks to specific animals for a while the way they structure their thoughts gets more - personlike."

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"How does he do that?"

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"I have no idea and find it very upsetting. No one else can do it."

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"Huh! A mystery."

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"Perhaps you'll be the one to sort it out."

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"I don't think I have any special advantages at that. When I started learning magic we were inducted into the mindset of working with subtraction-only power by listing things we'd want to destroy if we got good enough to do unprecedentedly abstracted things and 'ignorance' came up but that's really very very unprecedentedly abstract."

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"And might have disturbing side effects!"

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"Possibly, yes!"

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"I'd still go for it, but the King would glare at me very scoldingly."

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"Your mind as-is is a valuable resource for communicating with mindreading-squeamish aliens!"

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"But omniscience!"

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"I know, so tempting."

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"You wanted to meet with a bunch of people, did a chance to talk with orcs end up obviating that?"

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"Not completely but substantially. Might as well fill the time before meeting orcs though."

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"Okay! Who next?"

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"Dwarves sound neat!"

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"Dwarves are great!" And he leads him out.

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Follow follow.

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Dwarves are, it transpires, short and hairy and friendly; they start talking rapidly to Curufin as they approach. He translates over osanwë: they are concerned with market solutions to the tendency of magic to destroy the world. Also they're pleased to meet him, does he have opinions about market solutions to the tendency of his world's magic to destroy the world?

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"Uh, it seems like that depends very much on whether we actually have the correct math now of how much destruction individual acts of magic produce, which, we thought we did before and turned out no."

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How had they been trying to track it? 

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"We knew by looking at volcanoes and some non-empirical guesswork - I don't know the details - how far down the magma was supposed to be. We couldn't distinguish between upper magma and lower magma, though, so after the holes got that deep we were just assuming the same rate held until one went all the way through - no one looked at it during the period of time it must have hit the crust on the far side."

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"And the rate had been the same up to that point?"

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"Close enough that it could have been genuine variance in how thick the crust was in different places or undocumented uses of magic. Early on in a given disappearance point's use it does not noticeably grow on its own at all - if it's wide enough; there are some ancient narrow ones that weren't used very much, fell out of use, and weren't checked up on, which were discovered to have grown since then once we knew something was up and checked. Wide ones appear to just disappear things on a per-spell basis. We knew it wasn't a renewable resource but we thought we had a lot of it."

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They are sympathetic; pricing it right sounds really hard and enforcement even harder. They are curious about his world's technologies and its governments and how gates are used for trade.

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His world has the printing press and steam power and steel and clockwork and assembly lines! He knows a lot about gates for trade; he lived in Gatesnest, a sort of distributed city-state. There are horizontal gates to drop things through and vertical ones to walk or ride through, in all sizes - "although they'll get bigger eventually; they're based around disappearance points that are used in a very controlled fashion and then disconnected - but the rate will be tiny."

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Dwarves are fascinated and delighted and have followup questions as fast as Curufinwë can translate them. This one wants to know whether there's a universal trade language and how it developed and this one is curious how straightforward immigration affected governments and this one is really excited about steam power.

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"Gatetalk isn't universal but it's really common! People who grew up in Gatesnest or spent a lot of time there picked up bits of nine, ten, maybe eleven major languages and creoled them all together. Senserke, the one I'm speaking and am better at, was one of them, so there's some Senserke words in Gatetalk but it's not one of the more dominant contributors. Immigration seems to cause cultures to - speciate more on things that aren't directly relevant to trade? If you want to live in a cosmopolitan hodgepodge you live in Gatesnest itself, or a place like it, there's a few other nesty places; people who don't want that tend to wind up in places with personality or that are at least really inexpensive. More on a city level than a country level. Country politics is probably also affected in some way but I'm not sure how."

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Curufin is maybe favoring the Dwarf who wants to ask about the creole of eleven major languages, who now wants to know if he speaks any of them and if he knows which of a dozen different grammatical rules that sometimes supersede other ones in creoles behaved the same way on his planet and what made a language a dominant contributor and so on and on and on. The other Dwarves still get some questions translated: they now want to know how straightforwardly gates are made and whether their making is policed and by who and which city types thrived most. Steam power one has steam power questions.

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Cor can speak Gatetalk but doesn't know that much about it except by examining it via his own fluency. He doesn't speak any of the other ten contributors. He knows how to make gates; it involves traveling to both locations. There are rules about making them because having disappearance points in the sorts of places one may want to make gates is hazardous. He knows only vague things about steam power.

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Eventually the tide of questions will slow to a sprinkle of questions and the Dwarves will courteously offer to answer any questions he has.

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He would like to know things about Dwarves, and how these Dwarves came to be here among these Elves, and what they think of these and other Elves and orcs and Valar and whatnot.

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Dwarves live in underground cities and they vary from Elves and humans mostly in having a much wider variety of family structures and a much wider variety of governments and a general suspicion of governments and a fondness for things which can be achieved through trade and a intense dislike of mindreading and mind-altering magic which Dwarves are all thankfully immune to! They came to be here because they run businesses here, mostly shipping businesses, though they're also sort of ambassadors in that they are willing to sell predictions about how things will go over with their governments back home. Elves are all right and the Noldor are better than Doriath, which used to hunt Dwarves for sport. 

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Uh. Wow. On the hunting thing. What is there in the way of mind-altering magic?

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The Enemy does it to prisoners, supposedly. He doesn't try to take Dwarf prisoners, they only know that secondhand. Songs do it, some artifacts do it (Dwarves can't get the mind-enhancing artifacts either). Oaths can do it. Dwarves think oaths are kind of terrible. 

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"They seem like they could get that way, yes. Once I can do magic more freely I can get rid of them for anyone who wants them gone. What kinds of things do mind artifacts and songs do?"