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Generated: Jun 02, 2017 4:22 PM
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 disappear 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 my parents 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."

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"Oh, yeah, dependency is absolutely a bad plan."
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"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 Eye
"Congratulations."
Permalink Eye

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

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

"Some universe might have resurrection of humans."

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

"Us as well."

 

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

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

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

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

"I will have them brought!"

Permalink Eye
"Thanks."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

"What sorts of things was magic used for?"

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Would it be more convenient for Elves somehow?"
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Just the telepathy, or...?"
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Huh."
Permalink Eye

"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 Eye
"Wow that's intensely fucked up."
Permalink Eye

"I am glad we agree on that."

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

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

Permalink Eye
"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 Eye

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
Sigh.
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Can you check my thoughts thing?"
Permalink Eye

"You mean by trying to read you?"

Permalink Eye
"Unless you have another way to do it."
Permalink Eye

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

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

"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."

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

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

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

"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 Eye
"Oh, who-all else is interested?"
Permalink Eye

"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 -"

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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

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

"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."

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
"It's been rather a theme!"
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Hope so!"
Permalink Eye

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.

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

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

Permalink Eye
"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 Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye
"Noted."
Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye


"'Paroled'," Cor supplies.
Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye
Nod.
Permalink Eye
Permalink Eye
"So you went and chased him?"
Permalink Eye

"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 Eye
"Besieged. And yep."
Permalink Eye

"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."

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

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

Permalink Eye
"I figured."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Sounds like that might take a while."
Permalink Eye

"it's been three hundred years."

Permalink Eye
"That is in fact a while."
Permalink Eye

"Even for Elves."

Permalink Eye
"How old are you?"
Permalink Eye

"Eighteen hundred years."

Permalink Eye
"Dang."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Nice deal."
Permalink Eye

"In many respects."

Permalink Eye
"Mixed bag in others?"
Permalink Eye

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

"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 Eye
Permalink Eye

 

"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 Eye
"Morale."
Permalink Eye

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

"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 Eye
"Are Elves just not having children?"
Permalink Eye

"That's correct."

Permalink Eye
"I guess if that works for you."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
Nod.
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Seems reasonable."
Permalink Eye

"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 Eye
"Incentivize. Why not?"
Permalink Eye

"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 Eye
Permalink Eye

"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? - 

Permalink Eye
"...religion?"
Permalink Eye

"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 Eye
"Ostensibly random. What unsuitedness do you have?"
Permalink Eye

"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 -"

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

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

"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."

Permalink Eye
"Fair enough."
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

"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."

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

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

"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 Eye
"Huh, okay."
Permalink Eye

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

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

Permalink Eye
Cor laughs.
Permalink Eye

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

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

"It's very nice to meet you."

Permalink Eye
"You too!"
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

"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'."

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

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

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

"Now? Tomorrow?"

Permalink Eye
"Now's fine."
Permalink Eye

"Who first?"

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

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Really."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Who's your favorite?"
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
Nod.
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Cool."
Permalink Eye

"Shall we head over to the palace?"

Permalink Eye
"Lead the way. Is it far?"
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
Follow follow.
Permalink Eye

Palace is in the center of the city.

Permalink Eye
Cor only trips twice.
Permalink Eye
And he walks him past lots of uniformed people and -
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye

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

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

Spell side effect, or is it just you?

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

"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.

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

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 -

Permalink Eye
"Oh, neat artifact."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
Plop.
Permalink Eye

"How can I be most helpful to you?"

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

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

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 Eye
"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 Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"...oooooh."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"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 Eye

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.

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

- that'd work, yep. 

Permalink Eye
"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 Eye

"Moonshot?"

Permalink Eye
"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 Eye

"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 Eye
"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 Eye

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

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

"No."

Permalink Eye
"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 Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"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 Eye

"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.

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

He nods. 

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

"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.

Permalink Eye
Cor writes this down in a bulleted list.
Permalink Eye

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.

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

...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.

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

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

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

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

He glances at Curufinwë.

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"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..."
Permalink Eye

"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."

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Can you be fooled?"
Permalink Eye

"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."

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

"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."

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

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

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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

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

"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."

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

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

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"...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."
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

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

They can both volunteer more trivia about oaths! 

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

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.

Permalink Eye
"Hi, pleased to meet you."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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

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

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?

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

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.

Permalink Eye
"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?"
Permalink Eye

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.

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

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.

Permalink Eye


"I'm confused."
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

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

"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."

Permalink Eye
"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..."
Permalink Eye

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

The King sighs.

Permalink Eye
"Do you have a lower bound?"
Permalink Eye

"Dwarves have dug down about a mile."

Permalink Eye
"...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..."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Permalink Eye
"Is there a way to prevent that?"
Permalink Eye

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.

Permalink Eye
"...great."
Permalink Eye

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. 

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

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

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

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.

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
Cor sighs. He starts spreading out paper and sketching.
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Dinner break?" he eventually wonders.
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Convenient."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"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.
Permalink Eye

"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.

Permalink Eye
"That sucks. Is there rationing right now?"
Permalink Eye

"This year's been all right."

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

"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.

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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.

Permalink Eye
"Maybe."
Permalink Eye

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.

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

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

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

"No, but writing them takes decades."

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

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...

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

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.

Permalink Eye
"That's really pretty."
Permalink Eye

"Thank you!"

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

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Gotcha."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"What kinds of war things do songs do?"
Permalink Eye

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

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

"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."

Permalink Eye
"I'd believe it!"
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Is it an advantage in any way?"
Permalink Eye

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. 

Permalink Eye
"Bleah."
Permalink Eye

"We don't go to war lightly."

Permalink Eye
"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 -"
Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye
"Do something?"
Permalink Eye

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 -

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

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.

Permalink Eye
Nod.

Was there going to be food?
Permalink Eye

Food is brought!

Permalink Eye
Mmm food.
Permalink Eye

Elves are glad he likes it.

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

He is not interrupted.

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

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Okay, lead the way."
Permalink Eye

They take him back.

Permalink Eye
He sleeps! He wakes up! He solicits breakfast!
Permalink Eye

He gets breakfast!

Permalink Eye
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.
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
Noted! Where is my cow and ash and workspace?
Permalink Eye

He sends a mental map.

Permalink Eye
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.
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
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.
Permalink Eye

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.

Permalink Eye
It is, yeah.
Permalink Eye

I will let her know. 

Permalink Eye
Thanks!
Permalink Eye

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

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

Cow-handler thinks so.

Permalink Eye
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.
Permalink Eye

They watch interestedly.

Permalink Eye
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.
Permalink Eye

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.

Permalink Eye
She can still eat it!
Permalink Eye

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 -

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

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.

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

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

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

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

Giggle. So are you going to kill Morgoth?

Permalink Eye
"Possibly!"
Permalink Eye

Would you have to paint him in blood for that?

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

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.

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Good for him."
Permalink Eye

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

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

Cow-handlers remove the cow.

Permalink Eye
"Thank you!" Cor calls after them.
Permalink Eye

Of course! 

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

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

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

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.

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

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 - 

Permalink Eye
"Ah, gotcha."
Permalink Eye

Cleaning crews come.

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

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Uh, probably?"
Permalink Eye

That might delight some people.

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

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 -

Permalink Eye
"What the fuck?"
Permalink Eye

Ah?

Permalink Eye
"How does that happen?"
Permalink Eye

When Elves have sex they get married.

Permalink Eye
"That is also stupid!"
Permalink Eye

"I agree wholeheartedly!"

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Thanks for letting me know."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"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 -"
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

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

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

Permalink Eye
"Probably not. Etymology or something."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Based on what?"
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Huh. Sounds useful."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"I am curious about the civil war."
Permalink Eye

"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 -"

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

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

Permalink Eye
Nod.
Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye
"...surgical."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Thought that was really rare?"
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Mkay."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"No channels at all?"
Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye
"Maybe I'm too used to gates."
Permalink Eye

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

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

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

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

"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."

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

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

Permalink Eye
"How does he do that?"
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"Huh! A mystery."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

"And might have disturbing side effects!"

Permalink Eye
"Possibly, yes!"
Permalink Eye

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

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

"But omniscience!"

Permalink Eye
"I know, so tempting."
Permalink Eye

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

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

"Okay! Who next?"

Permalink Eye
"Dwarves sound neat!"
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
Follow follow.
Permalink Eye

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?

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

How had they been trying to track it? 

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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.

Permalink Eye
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."
Permalink Eye

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.

Permalink Eye
"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."
Permalink Eye

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.

Permalink Eye
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.
Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye
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.
Permalink Eye

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. 

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

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. 

Permalink Eye
"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?"
Permalink Eye

They think all kinds of things but they really aren't the people to ask, being immune.

Permalink Eye
Fair enough.
Permalink Eye

Dwarves get along fine with orcs though they're not reliable trade partners because they don't have fixed places to live except Angband. Dwarves disapprove of Angband and of the Enemy, obviously. 

Permalink Eye
"It seems awkward to hang out with orcs while having this disapproval of their rather enforced supreme leader."
Permalink Eye

Oh orcs don't like Melkor either because he keeps sending their children off to be pointlessly slaughtered by Elves.

Permalink Eye
"I guess that would help, assuming they're allowed to talk about that socially."
Permalink Eye

If there aren't any Elves around and they don't have orders to do anything in particular they're pretty much just normal people.

Permalink Eye
"Cool. I'm planning to de-oath a couple."
Permalink Eye

They approve. Oaths are such a terrible idea.

Permalink Eye
"They then can't stick around, for intel reasons, but they can go to my world and bring 'em news."
Permalink Eye

Dwarves are vaguely down on interworld kidnapping but it's better than executing them which is otherwise what the Elves would do.

Permalink Eye
"It is not a perfect solution especially since my world is disintegrating but letting people know that getting out of it is a thing they can do is a big deal."
Permalink Eye

Makes sense.

Permalink Eye
Do the Dwarves have any advice on more people he should talk to?
Permalink Eye

What is he trying to get out of talking to people?

Permalink Eye
"Getting my bearings, hearing different perspectives ideally without being assassinated in the process."
Permalink Eye

Dwarves won't assassinate him. Melian probably wouldn't? Maybe if he's obviously inclined to give the Noldor magic and she thinks it's a bad idea. Or if he looks himself inclined to bother Doriath. The Enemy would certainly not assassinate him.

Permalink Eye
"The worldeating thing would, if nothing else happened, eventually bother Doriath."
Permalink Eye

That seems like the kind of thing Melian would object to if she can't make it stop, which she might be able to.

Permalink Eye
"Which would be useful but asking might get me assassinated if she decided that was safer, is the impression I get?"
Permalink Eye

Yeah the Iathrim are really terrible at game theory that way. The Noldor are better at it.

Permalink Eye
"Good to know."
Permalink Eye

(Dwarves are the best at it). Curufin giggles translating this.

Permalink Eye
"And how does that manifest?"
Permalink Eye

Well if he wrote the Noldor and said that he had a question for them but it was only worth asking if he could be guaranteed he wouldn't be worse off for asking, then they'd swear to that and probably abide by it even if not sworn to it. Dwarves wouldn't swear to it because ewww but they'd totally abide by it, even more certainly so than the Noldor, who might be tempted if it were something really tempting to act on.

Permalink Eye
"Whereas if Melian got a letter to this effect she'd..."
Permalink Eye

The Dwarves debate this for a minute. The debate is between 'get confused and not answer' and 'respond saying that she will always do what is in Doriath's interests'. They can't really say very confidently, none of them have met her. They only know her by reputation.

Permalink Eye
"Well, I suppose at least she wouldn't commit and renege. You don't happen to know how thick the planet is, do you?"
Permalink Eye

They have dug a couple miles down. It is thicker than that. You could probably figure it out with math. They set to trying that. They conclude it's thousands of miles thick probably unless the Valar cheated with gravity.

Permalink Eye
"Uh, they must have cheated at least a little."
Permalink Eye

The edges are supposed to be weird but they don't know if the main part is.

Permalink Eye
"Yeah that'd be the sticking point."
Permalink Eye

They debate other methods of checking, but fruitlessly.

Permalink Eye
"Are you sure you have dug below the lowest natural elevation?"
Permalink Eye

They are sure of that!

Permalink Eye
"Yeah then I don't have any other ideas besides 'ask somebody who'd know' or, like, 'gate to a vantage point where you could see it' which has sort of a bootstrapping problem."
Permalink Eye

At least Melian finally learned to read so writing a letter is an option.

Permalink Eye
"I suppose it's technically possible she would just consider it harmless trivia!"
Permalink Eye

Did he hear about how Melian got her husband.

Permalink Eye
"Hasn't come up."
Permalink Eye

Her husband was King of the Lindar and had slipped away from his guards to meet his boyfriend and instead got lost in the woods and ran into Melian and that was the last anyone heard of him for two hundred years, when he reappeared totally enamored with her and has been her devoted husband ever since.

Permalink Eye
"They take their editing away homosexuality thing really seriously, huh."
Permalink Eye

Dwarves are confused. Curufin has to clarify. "They don't have gender," he says, "their telling didn't have gendered pronouns, I added them."

Permalink Eye
"Oh. The comment stands but now I'm curious about the lack of gender thing!"
Permalink Eye

Uh, about a third of Dwarves can get pregnant and if that's what you're looking for it's not rude to ask but asking in other contexts would be pretty weird really. They don't really understand what other species get out of having genders and they have no idea what the Valar get out of mindcontrolling people into having gender preferences in dating.

Permalink Eye
"Eh, it's mostly cosmetic. - Not the Valar's thing I don't know what their stake is either."
Permalink Eye

"There are no activities between two men or two women that result in marriage and the Valar disapprove of intimacy outside marriage. It's not a rule here, but of course there aren't many of them, since if the Valar caught it they'd have edited it."

Permalink Eye
"Do they care in species that don't have soul marriage or has it never come up?"
Permalink Eye

"Hasn't come up, humans started existing after we left and Dwarves - well, one of the Valar made Dwarves so he at least can be assumed not to care when it comes to Dwarves."

Permalink Eye
"You have to assume these things? There isn't a formal summary of Things Valar Think Are Their Business And Their Detailed Opinions?"
Permalink Eye

"There's all kinds of formal writings but the Valar think weirdly, it takes effort to derive their opinions from their explanations."

Permalink Eye
"Fun."
Permalink Eye

"I just wish we'd gotten out sooner."

Permalink Eye
Nod.
Permalink Eye

"Anyway. Anyone else you want to meet -"

Permalink Eye
"I... think I have no urgent conversational needs till orcs show up."
Permalink Eye

A while later a guard tells them that orcs have been brought. 

Permalink Eye
"Thanks. Is there any reason we shouldn't explain why I am going to paint substances on and around them and chant before I do it?"
Permalink Eye

"Enemy could be reading their minds."

Permalink Eye
"...he could also do that during or after the painting and chanting."
Permalink Eye

"Yes but then all he'd know is that we have a way to break oaths, which involve speech in a foreign language, as opposed to having a full explanation. I suppose there's nothing to be lost by telling the orcs that we're going to free them of their oaths."

Permalink Eye
"I mean, if I want them to actually deliver letters as opposed to appearing terrified and bewildered in downtown recently-war-torn Gatesnest to be promptly arrested for obstructing traffic, they will need an explanation."
Permalink Eye

"The letters can't have the explanation?"

Permalink Eye
"I have never been arrested but I don't think they make a habit of confiscating and reading people's papers, we'd be gambling on someone being curious about their spontaneous presence or what they look like enough to get intrusive. Also, like, the poor orcs, getting kidnapped by Elves is at least in the realm of possibility - I have to assume - but they're going to land in Gatesnest and everything's going to be weird and spacewarpy and human and absolutely no one will know their language."
Permalink Eye

"I empathize but you should assume anything said in their presence while they are here may as well be said directly to the Enemy."

Permalink Eye
"...what exactly do orcs actually look like, let me calibrate how alarming they're going to seem."
Permalink Eye

He sends a mental image.

Permalink Eye
...sigh. "Okay, I will settle for explaining that they're going to be de-oathed and then, uh, pleading after that to end the cycle of violence and hoping they get the hint when they land among people with whom they have no previously established cycle, and they can wear signs."
Permalink Eye

"Thank you. Sounds good. I don't expect they'll be violent on arrival."

Permalink Eye
"Hopefully they will also not destroy their signs or letters."
Permalink Eye

"Harder to guess." 

 

The orcs are being held in a stone building. They are restrained and blindfolded. There are two.

Permalink Eye
"Why the blindfolds, is what I look like a secret too?"
Permalink Eye

What you draw on them and the floor.

Permalink Eye
"They're going to feel what I draw on them. I suppose I could add extra stuff in a dummy substance."
Permalink Eye

"And it'd be harder to guess the whole pattern from that. I assume bits aren't very useful."

Permalink Eye
"Bits are almost totally useless. The whole spell would be if I hadn't already used it, I painted metaphorical oathlessness with the fanciful use of swirls and it was me enforcing the metaphor, it's a reproducible thing now but it wasn't the previous afternoon."
Permalink Eye

"Huh. So the first casting requires a mental extension of the metaphor and then after that it's catalogued and just works?" We should be quiet, we're close enough now -

Permalink Eye
It's sort of like very quickly establishing an artistic convention. What, is the Enemy as good at languages as you?
Permalink Eye

No one alive is as good at languages as me but they can take the memory and play it over a million times and maybe that amounts to almost the same thing.

Permalink Eye
Okay. I could try chanting over osanwë? It's not completely out of the question that thinking it works if there's telepathic protocol involved, although it doesn't normally.
Permalink Eye

Does anything bad happen if it doesn't work?

Permalink Eye
Nope. Unless I take so long trying it that the blood dries.
Permalink Eye

Then go for it, I suppose.

Permalink Eye
The dummy substance should be water, so it doesn't confuse anyone who's trying to copy the spell. At least for the dimension jump if not the oathbreaking.
Permalink Eye

I'll have someone bring it.

Permalink Eye
He nods. He sighs orcwards. Have they been told yet that we're going to break their oaths?
Permalink Eye

No. I can do that now if you want.

Permalink Eye
Yes please.
Permalink Eye

So he tells the orcs that they are going to remove their oaths of servitude to Melkor.

Permalink Eye
I was expecting more of a reaction.
Permalink Eye

I doubt they believe us, and they're magically obliged to hate us.

Permalink Eye
I suppose. Should we be set up to send them away as soon as the oathbreaking is done? Signs and letters and all, everything but painting the blood? Will the Enemy be able to distinguish vanished and dead?
Permalink Eye

I doubt the Enemy could distinguish vanished and dead, no.

Permalink Eye
I will want a little time to talk to them but can't make very good use of it with infosec concerns so giving the Enemy less opportunity to interrogate them as soon as this proves abruptly more interesting seems probably worth it.
Permalink Eye

Agreed. What do you need to have that all set - materials for signs? Anything else?

Permalink Eye
And maybe some people to make copies of the letter I want to write while I'm doing the spell paintings.
Permalink Eye

On the way.

Permalink Eye
Poor orcs. Cor writes fast.
Permalink Eye

People can copy letters.

Permalink Eye
And one sign per orc and then Cor takes up blood and soot and water and paints orcs and the floor for oathbreaking. They have to be put two diagram radii apart so he can do them separately; he doesn't have a combined version.
Permalink Eye

Someone moves one tied orc across the room.

Permalink Eye
Paint paint paint. He can at least chant for both at once. He destroys he destroys he destroys. Osanwë chanting works fine.
Permalink Eye

Orcs - twitch. A bit confusedly. 

 

One of them starts crying.

Permalink Eye
- what's the matter with that one are they sad or just stressed out or -
Permalink Eye

I'm not actually reading their minds, would you like me to -

Permalink Eye
No I was hoping you could read orc body language better than I can. I suppose you could ask them what's wrong.
Permalink Eye

He asks that.

 

Sobbing orc pulls itself together but does not answer.

Permalink Eye
...okay. Well. I hope they are okay in my world. He gets underway painting that, plus water on orcs so the design can't be derived.
Permalink Eye

Elves watch. Some of them sing, quietly.

Permalink Eye
Cor pins letters to signs. Puts signs on orcs.

Chants. It's different in details but still mostly the destroying/erasing/annihilating/etc. thing.
Permalink Eye

When he's done chanting orcs vanish.

Permalink Eye
And he fixed it so he doesn't fall unconscious!
Permalink Eye

Elves sigh in relief when they vanish and someone sets to cleaning up.

Permalink Eye
"With any luck I have now saved my world, thanks."
Permalink Eye

"One down, unknown number to go!"

Permalink Eye
Giggle.
Permalink Eye
Permalink Eye
"The letters, which I think should get to the right people inside of a couple days, said to send someone to tell me if I need to stop using the point I'm attached to even for essential magic, and gave a general idea of what I might end up considering essential, so I can start reasonably thinking about how I can help you then."
Permalink Eye

Nod. "Do you want to move up to the palace in the meantime? It doesn't have windows either but it does a better facsimile and you could wander around talking to people more easily."

Permalink Eye
"...how do you facsimile windows?"
Permalink Eye

"I'll show you!"

Permalink Eye
"Lead on!"
Permalink Eye

The palace has pretty glass windows with a few feet of space and then an exquisite landscape painting or tapestry on the other side; it takes very close inspection to determine that the window doesn't in fact open onto stunning valleys and forests. There's even a crisp wind if you open the glass - "enchanted, of course," Curufin says.

Permalink Eye
"Wow."
Permalink Eye

"We do whatever we can for morale. Hard to hold up for four hundred years of war even under the best conditions."

Permalink Eye
"Yeah. One was bad enough."
Permalink Eye

"In Valinor I think any of us would have traded our coercive safety for an endless war in a heartbeat. I still would, but - with more awareness that it's really one hell of a price."

Permalink Eye
"It's not even though, if you die you go park with a Vala back there only you're disembodied or whatever."
Permalink Eye

"- now that there are prospects of somehow getting our dead back I might agree. But being disembodied, unable to sense or interact with the world, for all eternity seems only slightly better than ceasing to exist."

Permalink Eye
"...my point is they're in Valinor at the time, it is not an endless war traded for Valinor, it is a temporary change of pace followed by more, worse Valinor."
Permalink Eye

"If we die, yeah."

Permalink Eye
"Yes, I was assuming the war had casualties."
Permalink Eye

"There are fates much worse than death. But yes."

Permalink Eye
Nod.
Permalink Eye

"King's free to talk with you if you'd like."

Permalink Eye
"If he's the person with whom I should talk magic strategy, sure."
Permalink Eye

"He'll probably bring in other people as well." He leads the way to a conference room.

Permalink Eye
Follow follow.
Permalink Eye

King! "I hear Gatesnest now has the good news."

Permalink Eye
"Assuming the orcs make adequate news-bearers, yeah, which they should."
Permalink Eye

"What's the plan when you get return word?"

Permalink Eye
"Depends on what the word is. Maybe I can keep using the point - it's aimed at turning into a gate to the moon, it's not helping eat the planet - maybe I need to attach to a different one but they can find a good world to put it in, maybe none of their scouts come back and we have to put it here even if we don't know how thick the world is..."
Permalink Eye

Nod. "And then how hard is it going to be to stop Melkor?"

Permalink Eye
"I am assuming he will not let me paint him."
Permalink Eye

"He's so uncooperative that way."

Permalink Eye
"It's possible to destroy things without individually painting or it wouldn't work very well for weeding or pest control, just, more complicated. I will need to know things about him like I needed to know things about oaths."
Permalink Eye

"I can have people compile comprehensive lists for you. Will it take a few days to develop, like the oaths?"

Permalink Eye
"Longer, probably."
Permalink Eye

"How much longer?"

Permalink Eye
"Uh, month or two, longer if he's complicated in some way? Less if I'm suddenly inspired, this part is arty."
Permalink Eye

"Maybe I can have Macalaurë come sing inspiring things. The Valar are slow-moving, I don't expect he'll react to the news we have new magic that quickly."

Permalink Eye
"The real sticking point is the details thing, I have to work around the fact that you probably don't have perfect information on a guy you've been at war with for hundreds of years, even without me in the picture there's every reason to obfuscate."
Permalink Eye

"We should maybe have some other people empowered to do magic before you attempt it. Or to attempt it instead, if you could teach them enough for that to work."

Permalink Eye
"I see your point but we don't know how thick the planet is and destroying a god is going to be big - I guess I could send someone to Gatesnest to hook into the moon gate point, if word is good."
Permalink Eye

"I am confident enough that there's no one on the other side to prefer risking it to risking being without magic. Unless you think it might be big enough to just eat our planet whole, in which case better wait on other worlds."

Permalink Eye
"I don't think it'd eat the planet whole all at once but if it went down two miles and then started going sideways - a hole thousands of miles deep that begins to expand sideways can do so visible amounts over days -"
Permalink Eye

 

"Better wait, then, yeah." Sigh. "We might want to evacuate even if we're using a disappearance point elsewhere, it wouldn't surprise me if he has something rigged to take the continent with him. Less Doriath."

Permalink Eye
"Uh. Yeah, that's the sort of thing you'd want to avoid."
Permalink Eye

"I don't know how to avoid it but we can send everyone nonessential south and have the ships ready for everyone else. I don't suppose 'any contingencies of Melkor's' is a thing you can destroy?"

Permalink Eye
"Uh, probably not and even if I can it's vague enough that we're in losing toes territory."
Permalink Eye

"I'd rather lose a toe than a continent but if it's not possible it's not possible. We could try to flip a Maia, get more information, but anything like that risks the Enemy finding out we're planning this."

Permalink Eye
"How would you go about doing that?"
Permalink Eye

"We've got Angband besieged, we're in range, we can talk to them. Find someone who isn't sworn to immediately tell Melkor anything of interest to him - some of his servants are more 'helping out whoever's the biggest guy around' than loyally devoted to the cause -"

Permalink Eye
"If you can pull it off it might be worth it for the extra detail, not just because then I get to live but because if I get it wrong enough it won't work."
Permalink Eye

"If it's likely to be lethal it should really be someone who can come back from being dead, rather than you, but the point still stands. I'll - think about how to pull that off."

Permalink Eye
"It'll take longer for it to be someone else - they can't just be artistic generically they have to know the forms in use. Maybe you have a painter who's good at artistic conventions the way Curufinwë is at languages, I guess that would do it? I don't know how much of a problem taking longer will be."
Permalink Eye

"The war's been going a very long time but I do expect he'll react to the sudden manifestation of new capabilities on our part, and Valar are slow to react but we can't rely on that to an arbitrary degree. How long would it take you to develop a way to do the oaths thing remotely, now that you can do it at all?"

Permalink Eye
"A few weeks maybe. It'd represent a greater expenditure of power."
Permalink Eye

 

"So. We need enough information to kill Melkor, ideally without killing whoever does it - I'd trade a life to have him gone a week sooner but there are additional complications involved in making the risk fall to someone who's agreed to let me make those trades with their safety, and most things which decrease the risk to the caster also increase the odds of success. - there's additional reason not to have you be the caster, though, if a lethal failure occurs we need someone around knowledgeable enough to try again. Melian could answer questions, but giving her enough information to make her likely to answer also runs a substantial risk of tipping her off that we're doing something which endangers Doriath. Melian can usefully be thought of as a safety-of-Doriath maximizer with unclear beliefs about how much of a risk the Enemy poses her and excessively pessimistic beliefs about how much of a risk we pose. Alternatively, we could try to convince some of Melkor's hangers-on who are there for convenience to join us in exchange for sparing them. But we don't know what oaths they're under, and it'd take valuable spell invention time to develop a way to deoath them remotely."

Permalink Eye
"- in case it affects any of this I am not sure that even an Elf mage who died doing a bad spell could come back. If I died of this I would not leave a corpse - or at least not a whole one."
Permalink Eye

 

" - that does affect it. If it eats the soul we're presumably gone as thoroughly as you. We could use humans who aren't also needed for spell consulting, though. Maybe elderly ones. I suppose they'd learn more slowly. Can you make confident predictions about whether you have enough information to not die before you cast the spell?"

Permalink Eye
"Not especially, as long as there could be something substantial enough missing or wrong."
Permalink Eye

"All right. Are there additional considerations to balance here."

Permalink Eye
"Maybe but I won't know about them till I get a messenger. Or don't."
Permalink Eye

 

"I think my preferred way to balance the considerations raised up to this point is to have you rush a version of Melkor-killing based on everything we presently know - that'd take a month, right? - to have for use if the Enemy decides to make a move and suddenly everything for a hundred miles around catches magic fire."

Permalink Eye
"If he can do that why, uh, doesn't he?"
Permalink Eye

"I don't know. Candidates include 'this is more fun', 'he's worried that'd inspire the Valar to intervene', 'he is building up to it', 'it wouldn't be aesthetically satisfying', or 'there are things he anticipates being unable to do once he controls the world and that we're making substantial progress on'."

Permalink Eye
"You've been having a war with this guy for hundreds of years and do not have an idea of how he strategizes?"
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"Since we besieged Angband his strategy has been to occasionally send orcs in easily-overcome numbers, to have a lieutenant go get the humans to start a religion and hunt down and exterminate nomadic Elf tribes, to occasionally use his Maiar in small precision operations to try to take Elf prisoners, to release fucked-up Elf prisoners, to offer us a parley, and to breed bigger scarier monsters. That is a complete list of all of the things he has done."

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"Huh."
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"I know that 'he seems to just be trying to be evil' is a simplistic view of one's enemies popular in many contexts where it's inappropriate, but."

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"Yyyyeah that's weird."
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"We sent some people to the parley. He was offering us a year to evacuate the continent and a Silmaril to hold the position we evacuated to, and this was the week we besieged Angband and before we had any expectation of successfully holding it. He betrayed the parley and tried to take them prisoner and ended up killing them all, of course. I shouldn't have let anyone die for additional confirmation that he was terrible but - it is sometimes useful to have a concrete example in persuading other Elf and human nations that whatever terms he offered them he does not mean."

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"A Silmaril?"
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"The delay in leaving Valinor was caused by a nasty little trick of the Valar's, which is that Elves who live there long enough become partially dependent on the magic that sustains the continent. And by a separate concern that I'm inclined to call incompetence rather than a trick, which is that they hadn't invented the Sun and Moon yet and Endorë was entirely dark. So my father invented a way of containing Valinor's magical light and restructuring it for our own use. It would have sufficed as a light source for the continent and prevented our gradual decay-by-way-of-dependence. They are three gemstones called the Silmarils, and they were a rather extraordinary undertaking and have many other uses. Melkor stole them; he wears them on his head, apparently, despite the fact they burn evil things and are probably singeing him constantly."

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"Melkor is a weirdo."
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"A competent enemy with his capabilities would probably have destroyed us, so I've never really thought to complain. But - yup."

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"Why isn't he competent?"
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"Maybe I should say 'a competent enemy who wanted to destroy us, and had his capabilities, would have destroyed us'. The Valar in general are - extraordinarily indifferent about how long things take, and I think Melkor, given his conduct in Valinor, prefers fomenting internal strife and chaos and evil which then bring about his desired ends to directly going about them, and most of his magic takes a long time to build up to flexible, powerful use."

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"So he's killing time as evilly as possible before - something?"
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"Probably, yes."

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"Eugh."
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"I won't look back on these four centuries very fondly. But - I think we can do this. I think we can end it."

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"Uh, anyway, there's a small manageable risk in a rushed spell that I'll get too artistically accustomed to using certain metaphors or something and won't be able to do as good a non-rushed version but that seems like a reasonable tradeoff."
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"I think so. While you work on that we'll work on avenues of getting more information."

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"Okay. What should I know to start out?"