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Generated: Jul 17, 2021 4:32 AM
Post last updated: Jun 06, 2017 4:42 PM
as if you were blind
au
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He's a sweet kid and she should maybe ask if he's okay. But he looks fine. 

"Good luck," she says, and disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Cor gets to work on his Melkor-destroying spell!

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Was she useful? 

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Oh yeah, very, lots of highly aesthetic detail.

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Oh good. Scared us pretty badly - didn't do anything but send you the information, right?

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Was she supposed to? She wished me luck... how did she scare you?

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She was not supposed to do anything else. She showed up at the gates - we've got protections against Maiar meandering around our city, obviously - and swore to some nonsense and said she'd speak directly to you. I didn't think she'd murder you but -

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I am unmurdered.

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Hadn't escaped me. Does the new information help you evaluate whether what we've got will work -

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It could have told me one way or the other but instead it confirmed 'maybe'."

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Figures. All right. Good skill.

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Way ahead of you.

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He watches Cor's progress and absorbs his downtime and suggests Elon presents for Ranary and positions his people to evacuate once Cor has something.

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Cor is delighted with his boyfriend and makes test paints when he has the idea of dripping blood and is all set after just a few weeks.

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"We've got to get Sauron too but I don't think it's worth delaying on Melkor to have something for him."

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"I'll need separate intel."

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"Orcs have some and will have more once Melkor's gone."

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"I guess if I deoath some they won't have to hate Elves any more, even."

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"Won't that be interesting."

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"I guess. The ones I sent to my world didn't have a lot of time to explore the possibilities of not hating Elves."

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"I vaguely expect them to hate us anyway, we do kind of routinely kill their families. Maybe once we have resurrection."

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"I don't want to deoath tons and tons of orcs, so ideally find some who'll give credible Sauron information without that or at least definitely will cough up afterwards."

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"Yep, we're on it."

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"Good." Kiss.

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Kiss!!

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"I love you."

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Snuggle. "I love you. I'm - so so happy you found us."

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"Me too! When are we expecting evac to be all handled -"

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"Two more days. Should've started sooner, sorry. We're running a sort of skeleton operation and I didn't want it running like that for too long if the spell took a while."

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"It makes sense, it could have taken longer if I didn't have the dripping blood idea and went with something more conventional."

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"Hopefully he'll just be gone with no chance to retaliate. But if he does - we can at least limit the casualties." Squeeze.

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Nod. Snuggle. "Well. I hope it works, that means I get to keep all my toes. And stuff."

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"If you die I will find a world that can fetch you back and make them do it."

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"I know you will." Kiss.

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Kiss!!!!

 

 

A few days later they're evacuated.

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Cor paints. Cor chants.

Cor keeps his toes.

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And it's over.

 

He is distracted managing lines of communication for twenty minutes and then he hugs Cor and cries.

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Cor delightedly snuggles him. He is too happy to cry.

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Four hundred years - felt like the best we could hope for was to drag it out more, drag it out forever...

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And now you don't have to.

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I love you.

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I love you too.

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The composers will struggle to come up with sufficiently exciting titles.

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I'll cope.

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I bet.

Kiss.

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Kiss!

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He enjoys his delightful boyfriend. He brings some orcs who he expects to be cooperative once deoathed.

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Deoath deoath deoath.

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Orcs sure do have tales to tell about Sauron.

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How useful. He takes notes on the translation as he gets it, questions small details in shades of meaning in the words.

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His translator seems to delight in this line of questioning.

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Of course he does.

Cor gets to work on a Sauron spell.

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Cor is doted on and brought presents and encouraged in spellmaking.

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Being doted on is lovely. He shows off his progress.

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"You're astonishingly good at this."

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"Thank you!"

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"Have an estimate -"

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"Not as long as the first one took, I'm using a similar motif - I guess dripping blood is going to be the Maia destruction convention -"

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"May we never again need it!"

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"Hear, hear."

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"The Valar are dangerous but - not in a way that'd require that, I don't think."

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"I hope they don't decide they'd better squish me for being theoretically able to squish them, or something."

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"If we were still there, maybe. Here -" Sigh. "They had better not."

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Nod. Lean.

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Lean. 

 

It was such a nightmare. And then followed with the war - I feel vaguely as if I've lived ten whole days that really belonged to me.

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Which ones?

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When we left, before we got here and realized how bad it'd be. And here, since you killed him.

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Well then. There will be lots more. Days and weeks and years all for you.

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Snuggle. 

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Snuggle!

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And he waits for Cor to be ready -

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Art is done.

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"Take care of your toes."

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"I will." He wiggles his toes at Maitimo.

He kills Sauron.

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He is so so loved and adored.

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Marvelous.

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Gonna start dismantling everything for peacetime. Maybe have something people can enlist in instead of the army, if they want the - cross-ethnic and cross-species exposure and the immersion and the advancement opportunities - but it can be building infrastructure or making magic items...

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You can send them to help colonize the south continent.

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Oooooh. I shall.

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They'll appreciate it!

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Kiss!!

Game of Governor tomorrow?

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That sounds absolutely perfect.

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Then the next day they can play. He does not let Cor have anything easily but he does indulge in staring delightedly at Cor more often.

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Cor likes being stared delightedly at but not too much to ruthlessly stomp Maitimo's plans.

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He is, as ever, captivated by this, but this time he does not immediately sweep Cor off to bed. "Come here? I need to tell you something."

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"...yeah? What -" He goes and tucks himself under Maitimo's arm.

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Snuggle. "I love watching you think. It's - I watch thinking the way other people watch - sports, or something, and you're so lovely at it and it's so elegant and sculpted -"

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Giggle. "That's sweet."

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"A few days after I met you I realized I'd been wrong about something really important. I'd - hurt people and I hadn't needed to, because I'd thought that - being willing to hurt people went hand-in-hand with being willing to get done the sort of things I needed to be able to get done, that they were the same skill, that you could be a good and soft person or a dangerous and cruel one. It, uh, was less obviously stupid in context, I hadn't met anyone else who could match me at 'dangerous' without compromising at all on anything else."

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"- I would not have pegged that in particular as my unique skill but, yeah, I have that."

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"You have a lot of unique skills. That was the one that, uh, I hadn't even realized I could have."

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Cor squeezes his hand. "What happened?"

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Lean. "The civil war - I killed Findekáno's parents. I had to, there was no way to do it without that. I think he agreed, actually - but you can understand things you can't forgive - I needed him. He would have left. So I kept him, I made him swear to stay."

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"- uh."

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"I did tell you it was horrible. I can explain my reasoning in more detail if you're curious but it's, uh, really not the important thing."

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"You needed him like - how -"

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"Like before the war."

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"Why did... you need that?"

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"People were dying on my orders all the time, or worse, the stakes couldn't have been higher and it wasn't ever going to change and I was shit at this job, I wasn't ready for it - I don't think anyone could have been ready for it - and there was one thing that had been right in Valinor and it was gone but I could sleep at night as long as I had the facsimile."

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"I may need to talk to him."

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"Of course."

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"What's the oath exactly -"

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"Not to hurt me, and to obey orders which are not unconscionable."

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"How much does unconscionability cover -"

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"Can't use him to hurt other people, mostly, or obviously anything that damaged the war effort. If you want to deoath him I expect he'd want that."

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"...yeah. I should do that before - anything else probably."

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"Mmhmm. I'll get you the stuff."

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"Where is he?"

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"This floor, across the courtyard -" Mental map.

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Nod. "He can go once I'm done, if he wants." - not really a question, although there is a token upward inflection.

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"Of course."

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Cor goes.

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Maitimo's other boyfriend is in a nice guest room that looks out on the courtyard. He raises an eyebrow at Cor.

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"I'm here to deoath you."

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" - okay."

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"...assuming that is welcome."

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"Yes, very much so."

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Cor waits for his supplies, looking pensively at nothing.

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Cor's supplies get delivered.

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He paints. He chants.

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He shivers. " - thank you."

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"You're welcome.

I didn't know."

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"He said he was going to tell you. I am a little surprised he did."

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"He did. I think eliding over some detail, but he did."

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"Do you want detail?"

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"I might need it?"

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"Elves don't keep our hair short because it hurts."

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"Everybody around would have known that, wouldn't they."

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"Yes."

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He sighs. "I would be happy to answer questions but you might have to ask questions, I'm having a bit of a hard time generating a summary."

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"Yeah. Sorry. Do you want to leave? I could walk with you, I don't want to keep you."

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"I am not sure if I want to leave. I guess I could leave the palace without being inaccessible."

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"Yeah. If you do want to go there's the south continent colony, I'm sure they'd be delighted to have you. Teach them magic songs and stuff."

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"I am sure I could find things I'd enjoy, it's more - wanting to be sure there are steadying forces here."

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Nod. "I'm not sure what step two is. Step one was de-oathing you, so I did that, now I'm - thinking."

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"Yeah. So maybe I'll - get a place on the edge of town, but not leave - I don't want you to feel pressured to stay -"

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"I'm not sure yet. He didn't - try to make me, or anything."

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"His motivations don't make enough sense for me to guess at whether he had a sincere change of heart but I think he absolutely had a sincere change of behavior."

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Sigh.

I think I do need details. He made it sound like you were - sort of a souvenir of happier times so he could do his job without disintegrating, but the conscionable orders limitation didn't sound very limiting and it's been a long time.

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He could more or less arrange whatever he wanted, yeah. Cooperation with unifying our people and making it obvious the civil war was over and dead, I didn't mind that. It's hard to imprison an Elf, we - disintegrate - you can partially manage it by having someone swear not to go too far, or to be back at a particular time, or not to want to leave in the first place. He did sometimes have me swear mind-altering things. Always with a fixed duration, usually less than a day. 

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Sigh.

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I think it was good for his mental health, somehow. Maybe just by channelling all the self-destructive impulses into one place, maybe because he'd work harder on everything else, feeling guilty - I could usually get what I wanted - I picked policy things and felt - adequately compensated, most of the time. I could have died if I'd wanted to.

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I guess 'not worse than death' is something. It's a different something for different people, I think, I don't know where it falls for you.

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It wasn't even very close to worse than death. - I realize that's the answer to a different question.

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Yes.

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It's probably a very, very low bar, for me.

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How bad did it get?

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- when my sister was missing was probably the worst stretch, he wasn't worse but I had less with which to handle it. Fifty years of just - feeling numb and trying to be interesting enough he wouldn't be tempted to get a reaction out of me.

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Get a reaction out of you -

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- nothing we hadn't done consensually back in Valinor. Except the hair.

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That's not a very reassuring boundary.

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If how you feel about it turns on how bad it got, you should probably leave. It got bad. 

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It turns on - something like a combination of that and how he talks about it? I -

I don't think that people who have done terrible things should just never be happy again, the question is whether 'ever again' is like, soon or not.

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What are you thinking time would do?

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It's not that I expect it to do something in particular. The question I personally need to answer is whether I can stay and so what matters is - would I be in danger, has he changed enough that even if I would be safe anyway I can condone how he is now and still love him instead of just hanging around out of vague principle, how much does it ultimately bother me that every single person here knew loosely what he was doing to you and didn't warn me or help you...

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I'm sorry for not warning you, wasn't allowed. He stopped hurting me once he fell in love with you but he didn't want it to come out during the war.

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I don't blame you for not warning me, I blame - everyone else - if I knew somebody's boyfriend went around constantly injured, knew they were being abused, and then the somebody picked up a friend of mine, or even a total stranger - there's reasons you don't tell people 'leave him' even when oaths aren't in the picture but they don't apply to tipping off new people.

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Yeah.

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I guess it's just barely possible they were all stoically refraining because I was needed for the war.

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Or because you're safe, what with having the magic, or because they rationalized my hair away two centuries ago and have forgotten by now exactly what they thought when they first saw it, or because they assumed you knew, having seen my hair yourself...that's not it, though. People believe the King entitled to do as he pleases, by virtue of being the King, because that is how they were taught things work. - not even taught by Maitimo, it precedes him.

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Uh.

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I know. I - you'd have seen through it even raised with it, but most people aren't like that.

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Even if someone can't reason out of it on a principled level I'd hope there'd be 'what if the king, or the next king if something happens to this one, happens to take a liking to me or someone I care about' -

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Well, they're not into men, see, people who are like that deserve whatever they get.

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It's not like he asked me.

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- he didn't insist, though, did he - presumably you'd have turned him down if -

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Yeah, if I were straight, I would have explained that. How much would that have mattered - not with me in particular, in general -

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To my knowledge he's never wanted anyone else. I don't know. 

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So you were an acceptable target because you'd been together happily before. Grand.

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I was an acceptable target because of the war, they weren't worried for themselves because they're all normal. But - yeah.

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...Cor has paper on him, of course. He starts making a little outline.

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He sings to himself quietly.

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Eventually the little outline says:

1) unmeliorated useful background horrible [wrt gay, wrt kingship]
2) counterfactuals with me
3) nature of appeal of Vague Bad Things
4) motives now

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I'll be here if you need anything else from me.

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Thanks.

Let me know if you need anything or think of anything you want me to know.

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Of course.

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Cor goes back to his room to think.

He thinks for a while.

He goes looking for Curufinwë.

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In his office. "Cor!"

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"...hi."

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"Congratulations!"

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"Uh, thanks, but that's not what I'm here for."

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"Oh?"

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"If someone I considered a friend - or a total stranger to be honest but that's not the point - if a friend of mine took up with somebody who was awful to their last significant other, current or past, I would warn them."

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" - seems reasonable."

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"I'm the only person around here who bought the line I was fed about Findekáno's hair, Curufinwë."

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"I don't know what line you were fed. Findekáno is a political prisoner who the King at least likes it implied that he's sleeping with. I don't know what the arrangement between them is privately."

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Sigh. "I am trying to figure out whether I can live here and a part of that is whether everyone here is - culturally incompatible with me."

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Nod. "Like Valinor and us. I don't care who you're into, if that's relevant."

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"That's... helpful but not really the... Findekáno was being kept under completely unconscionable conditions, which did involve sex. Maitimo fessed up and I have de-oathed Findekáno now and I'm thinking my way through everyone else and it would be just hilarious if I had to tell Maitimo 'I can overlook all the rape and the torture and the mind control but I can't get over the fact that everyone in your city overlooked it while you were still doing it'."

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"Wow. 

I'm glad he cut it out. I'm not sure what you think people should have - started another civil war?"

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"I know the whole point of kings is you don't vote on them but it implies a lot of coordinated ignorance that I didn't hear anything about it at all."

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"He did in fact tell everybody to be friendly and helpful and say absolutely nothing that might endanger the war effort, but at least to me he didn't say anything specifically about Findekáno. Do you mind if I talk to him -"

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"To Findekáno or your brother? Either way go ahead, I know people are having multiple conversations all the time and would have specified if I didn't want you osawnwëing people while we were talking, let alone separately."

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"My brother, I don't actually know Findekáno."

Kind of chancy picking up the kid while doing things he'd be furious about and arranging for him not to hear.

 

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I know. It was stupid. I got what I wanted but there was probably a sense in which I was gambling.

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Probably a sense in which you were gambling?

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"What would you have said if I had happened to wonder about the haircut while I was hanging out with you instead of while I was with Maitimo?"

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"That they settled the civil war by really aggressively signalling that Maitimo's authority was uncontested and the hair thing was part of that, it means - I don't know if there's a human equivalent -"

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Definitely gambling. I'm sorry.

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Uh huh.

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"I don't know if there's a human equivalent either."

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"They're both sufficiently attentive to public image that I don't tend to infer things from their public presentation except about what they want us to know."

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"I guess."

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"Are you okay?"

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"I'm... unharmed. But troubled."

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Nod. "We're working on immortality now. We'll send it south if that's where you end up."

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"Hopefully you would also send some south even if I weren't there."

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"Well, yeah, but these are going to take about a year of engineer effort each, they'll get distributed internally first by default."

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"Fair enough."

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"No one should die. But it's easier to get people to put in long hours for their neighbors, their friends..."

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"Completely understood. I can't think of an obvious way destroying things could even help with that."

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"I remain excited about the potential for worldhopping and stacking things until we can just cheat."

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"Me too."

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He goes back to his interrupted notes.

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Cor takes that as a dismissal. Goes back to his room and thinks more.

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No one interrupts him.

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Eventually he sleeps on it. Wakes up.

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Someone brings breakfast.

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That's nice of them.

And after breakfast:

Busy? he asks Maitimo.

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No.

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If you want to come up I have some questions. Or I could find you.

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On my way.

 

He knocks a minute later.

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Cor lets him in.

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"Morning."

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"Morning. So this has been... complicated."

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"Yeah, I can imagine."

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"I'm... curious what you think I'm thinking."

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" - I imagine you are trying to decide how you feel about the person I actually am and how much information you have about the person I actually am."

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"That all the detail you have?"

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" no. Uh. You would have appreciated more directly having the 'I tortured him' information - I knew that at the time, too, just couldn't make myself say it - maybe I should've written a letter - you're deeply freaked out about everyone letting me get away with it -"

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Nod.

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"That's another thing I didn't really mind until I met you. It is horrible. I'll figure something out. Your society might rub off on people - just having it around as an example -"

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"It's not really why we're decentralized but it doesn't hurt."

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"And it could probably be fixed without going fully decentralized but on the other hand that might be the fastest way to kick it, and Elves are very slow about social change."

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"I've noticed that. For example, you collectively rejected the Valar's entire project and I haven't heard any alternative rationale presented for the thing about gay people."

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"I think at this point it's literally just 'ewww, weird'."

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"Ewwww, weird, they deserve whatever happens to them as a consequence of being weird? I dunno about that."

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"There's cultural residue of the - understanding we were raised with - but it mostly is just 'I don't want to think about that'."

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"People."

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"They didn't torture anyone. Just let themselves forget about it."

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"Yeah." Sigh. "Uh, I have a list. One item on my list is actually that I'm weirded out by how you - used - the background assumptions about what being King entitles you to, about whether gay people have it coming, etcetera - you obviously have a lot of influence and you can afford to spend it towards personal projects or you wouldn't have hit on me and arranged for everyone to support the version of reality that allowed that."

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"Yeah. I thought I was entitled to that, I could have changed how people felt about it and I didn't because I found it comfortable and reassuring. They thought being gay was horrible but they'd forgive it from me. Felt like - a kind of loyalty that wasn't all about the war."

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"Can you elaborate on that?"

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"I enjoyed the fact that people would overlook my conduct. It was more reassuring the more objectionable they found it, because it was a - stronger signal that they really were unconditionally loyal to me, and I liked that they were unconditionally loyal to me. I didn't consciously encourage the prejudice - and it's gotten substantially better than it used to be - but that's part of the reason I didn't push much harder, you know, find the most competent closeted people I knew and offer to protect them in coming out and living openly - I could have done it if I'd put everything into it. I don't think it was badly spent on the things I spent it on instead, but I could have done it."

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"Is the unconditional loyalty thing just... useful or..."

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"No. But, uh, I think I could get the thing I get from unconditional loyalty out of - conditional loyalty that's conditional on the kind of person I am, coupled with being a good person."

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"What's the thing you get out of it?"

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" - safety, comfort, a sense I can stop walking such a narrow line - that I can let whatever I am show and I won't lose everything for it - that's why conditional loyalty coupled with actually being a good person works, while conditional loyalty along with my willingness to play nice doesn't meet this desire at all - flexibility, the confidence that no matter what gets thrown at me I won't be scrambling to put together another coalition -"

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"Do you think you can do actually-a-good-person to the point where you'd have all that?"

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"Well, see, before I met you I didn't think so. But now - yeah. I can. On my own, even, if I have to."

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"That's - good. Uh, how long is it likely to take?"

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"To stop being all right with hurting people? I got there weeks ago. To - experience everything the way you do, to not even want the things I gave up because my way of getting them hurt people - I don't know. Maybe a year."

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"Another list item is in fact the nature of the appeal of - poorly specified badness."

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"In order of how much they contributed... helped distract me from grief and powerlessness over whatever the latest horror in the war was, channel for feeling self-destructive, if I find someone fascinating then I will find the way they think and react under pressure particularly fascinating, and I kink on it. I can't tell you that I would never have found anything remotely appealing about hurting you, but I don't now."

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"Is that ascending or descending?"

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"Descending."

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"And you don't now because... war's over?"

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"Because it was horrible! I had all these justifications for not thinking about that, or thinking about it as a trade-off with other things, and then I just - couldn't -"

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"...couldn't not think about it?"

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"And couldn't tell myself it was a trade-off except insofar as I'd set up my brain to let it be one."

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"You got all this from - what, playing Governor with me?"

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" - that and having a prospect of the war ending and having to think about what I wanted my life to be like now that there was more than a ghost of a chance I could actually live it, and - when I meet someone I get a model of them, very quickly, and my model of you was just - better than me at thinking about this - and no matter how I tried to explain it I could just reason right out how unconvinced you'd be - started thinking all the time about it, trying to explain it in terms you'd understand - and they just weren't there, once you looked straight at it it was just horrible..."

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Cor hugs him.

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Slightly surprised hug.

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"I'm... curious what would have happened if you hadn't had the luxury to - time the news -"

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"I don't know. I would have been - a lot less credible in claiming that I'd meant to tell you soon anyway. And - and the telling you is important. I was tempted to just stop and let Findekáno leave and maybe get himself deoathed down south and pretend it hadn't happened - it'd be so much easier - the only thing to gain by telling you was that it was the only decent thing to do - 

- anyway. I don't know. As long as it was after Melkor died I think I'd mostly have just - explained the same - before then I would have been concerned entirely with the revelation not torpedoing the war effort -"

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"It doesn't have any bearing directly on whether I ought to have killed Melkor - I guess I might have been scared, if I'd found out badly, that would have been a problem -"

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" - yeah, that would have been, if you tried to leave -" squeeze. "Findekáno thought I should wait until after the war to ask you out. I should have. I would if I met you now, but that was before I - thought everything through."

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Nod. "Then if I'd found out before you decided to tell me it wouldn't have seemed - personally threatening -"

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"Yes, exactly, you'd have been upset in general but not scared. And wouldn't have - felt like you'd consented under false pretenses -" headshake - "I am sorry for not waiting."

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"Well. Fortunately you got to tell me under - stable circumstances."

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"I strive to provide a reassuring finding-out-your-boyfriend-tortured-and-raped-people experience."

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"- people plural -?"

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"No. Never."

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"Careful with your declension there then. - Are there ways it could have shaken out where I would've been in danger -"

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"- if you found out while Melkor was still around and refused to help I can imagine committing to hurt you if you didn't help."

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Sigh.

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Hug. Sigh. "I love you, Cor. I'm so sorry."

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Hug.

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"Do you have - plans that are independent of what I do next -"

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"Demilitarize, start pressing on various social progress things, import and translate books that you or someone else recommends as - transmitting good values. Work out a more distributed chain of command now that we can afford it. Talk with Huan about maging to scout, send aid south."

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"My world is not uniformly great on social progress either, it's just different and Gatesnest was cosmopolitan enough to do a sort of common-denominator thing."

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"I'm not expecting it to be a panacea, just that - there exist books which would be a good influence if widely read."

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"If they were - interpreted right, yeah. If people are going to read A Romance of Red Mountain and go 'wow, those people deserved the scorn of their community, it's a pity they didn't listen to their sensible advice to stop dating' - less so."

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"Some of them might do so, it's weirdly sticky. We'll look into it."

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"What are your more contingent plans like?"

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"Uh. If you're going to be around it would be a horrible waste not to give you things to do - the interworld magic-collecting, once we have that to get working on, but we don't yet and there are some candidates for the interim - I think I promised you some titles - if you are going to leave, and I know of people who have a crush on you but have chosen not to tell you yet, would you like me to tell you or wait for them to -"

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"Uh. That probably depends on stuff?"

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"Well. If you want to leave do tell me contingent stuff and then you can leave with a list of more respectable admirers."

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"A whole list, huh?"

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"You're amazing, Cor." Sigh.

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"I'm not accustomed to listsfull of people thinking so!"

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"Maybe they just usually don't tell you!"

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"I wonder why." He squeezes Maitimo. "I will stick around for the time being."

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Squeeze. "I will find you exciting things to do. - I'm not bribing you, see, just avoiding criminal underuse."

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"You may find me things to do, wouldn't dream of insisting otherwise."

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"...what?"

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"Just being delighted about you. As one does." He looks like he wants to kiss Cor and thinks better of it. "Do you want to do refugee stuff or demilitarization stuff or vet and teach mages or supervise teams that are classifying magic items we found in Angband -"

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"I'm reluctant to mage anyone new until there's more of a well-understood consensus about when and how to use magic in light of its world-eating properties, except maybe Huan since he'd have such a scouting advantage."

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Nod. "Is a consensus shaping up? What would a good one look like?"

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"I haven't been closely corresponding with the colony. It'll probably be like, 'definitely no cooking, some healing spells in case of life- or lifelong-ability-threatening illness that Elf magic can't fix instead, killing gods is okay if it comes up, keep de-oathing to a minimum and find a way to disincentivize swearing stupid shit in order to get de-oathed and have some reliable record of who has been de-oathed'."

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"Makes sense."

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"So getting them access to magic songs that do healing is probably a priority."

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"We can send some representatives who know all ours."

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"And who've picked up Gatetalk, ideally."

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"Or can pick it up quickly, yeah."

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"Shouldn't be a problem for Elves, although I can't promise the refugees are building very pretty places."

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"Maybe I will send a blind Elf."

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"Are there those? I suppose it would be odd if there weren't."

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"There are! Rarer than in humans but in wartime not as rare as we'd like. Osanwë helps a lot, you can often borrow someone else's eyes for things."

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"Ooh, useful. If that's as amenable to practice as I expect."

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"It is! Some humans do it just for the benefits to vision."

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"Now I'm curious."

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He frowns in concentration and this is what can be seen through Maitimo's eyes right now.

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"Wow. I have pores."

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"More fun outdoors. From the tower I could count the bricks on Angband's walls. When Angband existed."

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"Why'd you build that close?"

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"It's a hundred miles. Farther and it'd be hard to direct operations without relays and I dislike relays, stuff gets lost along the way."

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Nod.

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"Might have been good for our mental health to be farther, though." Sigh. "All over now, everyone's safe."

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"Mm-hm."

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"May I kiss you?"

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"...yeah."

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Kiss.

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Kiss.

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And then he reluctantly gets to work.

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Cor, presumably, will be given things to do.

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He'd be such a bad king otherwise.

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Cor does things. He gives Maitimo hugs and kisses but is a little shy about other stuff.

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Maitimo doesn't push it. He transitions the army into a organization for humanitarian and infrastructure projects - "I'd say we need some standing army to deter Doriath but I actually think the Enemy being dead should suffice there -" and he ask Huan about scouting (Huan will scout if he can take Tyelcormo) and he forwards Cor some requests for divorces in case Cor wants to come up with a spell for that and he is meticulous about not pressing the kisses even though he wants Cor very badly.

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Cor delegates divorce spells to Ranary. She divorces some Elves. Bringing Tyelcormo seems like a bad idea? Because planets found scouting might... not have air, and stuff?

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Huan acknowledges the logic but is significantly more reluctant to scout without Tyelcormo. 

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"It is extremely likely that he could bring you exactly once whereupon you would die," Cor says to Tyelcormo.

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"Yeah, I realize. I am super in favor of not dying, but it's the - wrong aesthetic - for him to go alone." 

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"You can't convince him it's, uh, planetary fetch? Or something?"

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Snort. "If he didn't have to draw the diagrams on the other side to come back."

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"That part is kind of unavoidable."

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"Can they be painted in advance for the return trip, or does that not work?"

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"I guess it would work if he didn't land in water and get rinsed off, and didn't stay long enough for it to dry."

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Pause. "Apparently having to redo the diagrams is okay if it's a contingency plan."

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"If he can determine whether a place is habitable in a minute or two then yeah he can use the same painting to come home as to leave."

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"Then he can scout."

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Huan makes an agreeable sound.

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"Alrighty then. I will figure out how to adapt the designs for a dog body plan. Might also have to be a lot of blood to be clear on a shaggy surface."

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Nod.

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Cor figures that out. He brings Huan to the empty planet and mages him there.

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And Huan goes off scouting. Most planets are empty. 

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Which is sort of convenient.

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Very!! If they have no atmosphere they don't even have to be too meticulous to make sure they're actually empty. 

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Well, yes, although that does mean that mages can't go hook into points there. Since they can't survive there. Let alone chant.

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Huan didn't realize that. They can't even hold their breath and chant over osanwë?

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"I think having no atmosphere is actually more of a problem than not being able to breathe for other reasons like being underwater. Pressure and so on."

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Huan will keep looking for planets with atmosphere. Also maybe the engineers could come up with something for that.

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Like an airtight suit of armor. Some people are looking into it.

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Cool.

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Cor's boyfriend awards him titles and chaste kisses.

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Maybe today less chaste kisses.

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Oh?

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Kisses are nice.

"- I maybe want to know more things about what you kink on and how that might be relevant."

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"I was very satisfied with our sex life before my confession."

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"...that's good to know but not what I asked."

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"The thing is power. Doesn't have to all run in one direction, definitely doesn't have to be - nonconsensual - I'm fine without it, but that's what it is."

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"I don't think I can model it from that description."

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"Hmmm. I'm really not sure how to - I rule a continent, I could have whoever I want, I want you, the fact the first two things are true improves the experience for me."

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"I guess that could motivate some things."

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"I could maybe sort things in terms of what if anything I get out of them, if you have things in mind."

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"- for certain values of 'could have whoever you want' that's not necessarily true. I could've left."

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"You can any time. It's more an aesthetic thing than a descriptive one."

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"So most of the fun is that we're, like, in your palace surrounded by people who answer to you and it is by your whim that I am having a pleasant afternoon? Except for the part where I am very dangerous."

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"Yes. And all of that is fun including the part where you are very dangerous. It would be less fun if you were not dangerous."

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"Findekáno wasn't allowed to be dangerous."

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"No, see, he was, and then a civil war happened."

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"I did mean after that."

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"After that it didn't matter what was fun I had to have all the power or everything might collapse on me."

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"I'm trying to figure out why it was - fun enough to do at all - to handle a captive like you did."

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"The watching-interesting-people-under-pressure, the power things are still fun when it's all one way if less fun, the - self-destructiveness of it - and I told myself he wasn't that unhappy -"

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"...I'd expect it to be more challenging for you than most people to fool yourself about that."

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"I knew exactly what was going on in his head but I don't - experience depression if I model engaging with someone who's depressed -"

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"...no, but you were telling yourself something about his experience, not yours."

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"It's easy to think that once you understand what someone's thinking you understand what they're experiencing, I mean."

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"...still don't get it."

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"Even though I'm pretty good at understanding people, the thing I'm good at understanding is - what they want, what they're thinking, what they're looking for, and therefore I can miss or deceive myself about things like baseline happiness, especially if someone's trying to be less legible to me."

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"Hm. Okay."

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"I was much happier in our relationship in Valinor when he was also happy with it."

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"And then that was out of reach so you were - exploring what you had left?"

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"Yep."

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"I assume you are already aware that I would be damn hard to induce to put up with that kinda thing on any level and you could not walk it back if you tried."

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"I promise I will never."

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Kiss. Good.

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Kiss. If there are things I can do to make you feel safer...

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I don't feel frightened so much as cautious on principle. And - curious about you in general.

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Nod. 

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Apparently his principled caution and his curiosity are both satisfied enough for now.

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But did the conversation leave him in a kissing mood.

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Apparently.

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Oh good! See he has this boyfriend who loves him very very much.

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Oh good.

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What are you planning to do? he asks Cor a few days later.

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I'm staying. At least until and unless Elves being awful about things gets too grating.

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All right. In that case I think I'll take a couple years' vacation. Take care.

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Enjoy. Let me know if you need anything.

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I certainly will. - maybe have Ranary check you for mind-control every occasionally? I don't think he would, but in your place I would have a plan for if he did.

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...is there a good way for her to check that?

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Ideally go out of range with you and take off potentially-magic jewelry.

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Okay, thanks.

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Take care.

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I will.

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Maitimo does get him more jewelry. His own necklace to replace the borrowed ones, something that stacks with it for memory and has a detachable charm that makes one require less sleep.

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Cor schedules picnics with Ranary once a week. They go for walks outside the city and he takes off all his jewelry and accounts for himself.

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The jewelry does only the advertised things.

 

 

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Good. Then there will not have to be confrontations about it.

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They would be such unpleasant lethal confrontations and he is blissfully ignorant that they were being checked-for.

 

 

Huan finds a planet with people! Humans, looks like, and occasional winged humanoids.

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"Ooh, I want to go."

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"I bet you do! Maybe take an Elf for translation - and be very very careful -"

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"I could bring Curufinwë?"

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"I bet he'll have the time of his life." Hug.

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Hug! Recruitment of Curufinwë. Travel to place.

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Place has humans! And weird architecture - looks like they like to build into the ground and then hollow it out around their buildings, so the cities are hardly visible aboveground except for little ports everywhere that seem to contain a mechanism of lowering the inhabitants to city-level. There are fancy floating lights everywhere. There are winged humanoids just flying around.

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Gosh. Cor will look around in fascination and speculate on things while Curufinwë works on the language.

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Curufinwë listens to conversations and mutters things to himself and occasionally bounces and eventually says that he has the language well enough to go say hello, shall they go say hello.

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Yes. Cor thinks that building looks promising as some sort of official something - "although I can't promise it's not the guild of architects or something -"

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Up to the building they go!  He doesn't have the writing down yet. He bounces Cor translation.

"Excuse me, what's this?"

        "This is the Center for Surface Affairs, can we help you?"

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"What things does Surface Affairs handle?"

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"I don't work here - trade negotiations with other cities and with the aliens, probably?"

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"Aliens?"

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" - what, do you live on a hillside? Even then I think you'd have noticed the aliens. They're the ones who put out the sun. And then rained apology letters for it."

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"Gosh, we really need to get out more. Thank you." I think Surface Affairs sounds promising!

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Giggle. I agree. Put out the sun - I definitely saw a sun, did you see a sun -

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I saw something definitely sunish!

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Maybe there's a distinction I missed. Probably not though. 

 

Into Surface Affairs they go. 

 

There are some Elves there.

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Gosh. What an uncreative planet.

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Yeah. Where are all the really alien aliens!

"Hello," he says. "We're - sort of tourists. Do you have a brochure?"

      The guy nudges his colleague, who squints at them studiously for a minute. "Yes," he says, and hands Curufinwë a brochure he can't read. "Or do you want the Quenya one."

" - uh. I will take a Quenya one also."

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Cor peers at the Quenya one; he doesn't know much Quenya but it's not zero.

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There shouldn't be a Quenya one what the fuck. My father invented these letters why would aliens have them.

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...aliens have been very quietly spying on you for a long time? ...abducting some Elves so there are Elves here?

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...the last time period from which aliens could have abducted us without us noticing would be before we had written Quenya.

This planet, says the pamphlet after some preliminaries about the name of the species and the city, joined the multiverse when their star got eaten in an accident and the Elves put them in orbit around a new one and taught them summoning.

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Wow.

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That sounds like a fairly useful power level.

 

The pamphlet explains summoning. Visitors are encouraged to summon only under supervision and reminded that the afterlife won't work for them.

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Supervision from whom?

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The local Safe Summoning Authority! Also complaints about daeva should be addressed to the Ganymede Circle Police, mailing address such-and-such.

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If we don't have a better prospect I'd go talk to the SSA but I want some way to talk to the - organizing authority of whoever's handling things like 'put planets around new suns' -

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Yes, rather. 

"Do you know who put the planet around a new sun?"

         "Oh, Loki."

"Loki."

        "Yeah." Helpless shrug. "I think she's princess of someplace?"

       "Asgard and Jotunheim," says his colleague, consulting the internet. 

        "There you go, then."

"Is there a way to get in touch with her?"

      "You can write the Elves and most Elf-affiliated people c/o Ambaróna open channel but I think there's hella spam filtering."

"Can you rephrase 'hella spam filtering'."

      "They get lots of mail."

"Thank you."

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"What's the process for - new planets?"

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"Uh, we got this demon named Cam who apparently rolls out summoning in new places as a bit of a specialty, he hung out for a couple months getting - local subtleties - and then worked with our governments to get it universal and get us to ratify relevant treaties and so on. But they completely ignored us until they accidentally ate our sun, I think there's a prioritization thing going on?"

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"I suppose that makes sense..."

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"How many worlds are there?"

     "Oh, it's probably infinite. There are seven hundred something dimensions registered but some of them have thousands of inhabited planets."

"If Cor's dimension has thousands of inhabited planets they're probably all in a bit of a tight spot. Unfriendly magic system."

    "Demon could check that. World about to end is the sort of thing that gets people like Cam and Loki involved."

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"How do we let them know?"

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"You write something c/o Ambaróna open channel, and you say concisely what the problem is and how to contact you. You could also get a ride to Ambaróna and try to make your case directly, we've got daily teleporters from Eramel - other side of the planet but we've got fairy service there hourly."

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"Would it need to be in Quenya?"

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"No, they have translation magic. I think the mailing label needs to be in a language the demon knows to conjure for but that's it."

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He writes My home planet is being devoured by out of control magical byproduct and our current means of evacuation to a friendly neighbor relies on that same magic. c/o Ambaróna.

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"How long's the wait, do you know?"

        "I think they check it on the half-hour?" Consult with internet. "Yup. And then some time for filtering and escalating if appropriate."

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"Seems reasonable."

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The people can recommend them sights to see in the meantime. They sightsee.

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Sights! Seeing!

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And then an Elf appears with a pop not very far from them, holding a little plastic model of Cor. "Hi!" she says. Cor can understand her fine. "I'm Larya, I'm following up on the request for aid you filed with us -"

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"Uh, hi, nice to meet you. What else do you need to know?"

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"Have any reason to believe your species has immortal souls or are constituted of things other than your bodies?"

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"...no."

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She looks at Curufinwë. "Your grace. Melkor dead, Sauron dead."

        "- yes, both."

"Are people going to die if we don't fix the - magical byproduct problem today."

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"There's evac in progress but it's bottlenecked - the planet is still habitable in many places and should remain that way for months, maybe a few years -"

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"Okay. That's all just to make sure you're at the right level of escalation. People who are just made up of their bodies can be resurrected, so preventing anyone from dying is important but less critical. Melkor and Sauron are - bad news -"

       "We noticed -"

"And also can do bad things with interworld access if we don't immediately handle them."

      "This is a recurring problem?"

"Ohhhh yeah. Nine of them now. Ardas are a theme. There are variations on the theme. You're a low-tech one, I can tell by the outfit - you're not genderswapped, I can tell because it's you - uh, were your Valar super into mass mind-control."

      "Yes."

 

She kind of freezes.

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"Is that not, uh, typical?"

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" - no it's not it's a variant. Um. - you're from the world that's in a state of emergency, right?"

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"Yes."

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" - we will. Handle that first. What's the population, what's the nature of the magical byproduct -"

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"The world population was about a billion before our recent horrifying war, there were millions of casualties in that and in the magical byproduct disasters. Doing my magic requires being attached to a disposal site where destruction is dumped, annihilating both matter and space; we thought it was proportional to spells done but it turns out they start growing - or shrinking, depending on how you look at it - on their own past a certain point. There are some holes in the planet and gravity has noticeably fallen."

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"Annihilating space meaning that you can't just - fill the holes?"

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"That might stop them from getting wider if you dumped enough stuff in. Constantly."

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"Are you evacuating to the Arda or somewhere else -"

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"To the south continent, yeah, but they're not very dug in if you have a way to do something else."

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"We could just get you your own planet, yes, find or terraform a nice one and move you all there and set it up with infrastructure. Who should we talk to about that?"

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"Uh, me or possibly the Setup Volunteers."

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"All right. Would you like to come back with me to Ambaróna for the onboarding process and to help us set up a good planet for evacuation."

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"Sure. I'm Curufinwë's ride home -"

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" - he can meet his alternate universe versions and get caught up on modern technology. If that's all right with you -"

     "Sounds great. What's wrong with my Arda -"

"I will look that up and get back to you."

      "...ah huh."

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"Should I be concerned?"

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"There is some cause for concern."

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"What, do the Valar come over and mind-control everybody even people who don't live in Valinor -"

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"No. We think the Enemy is unusually subtle, too, and people who never went to Valinor plus all the ones who did end up - way more fucked up than the normal versions. Usually when we find an Arda we just give his grace's family access to everything and -"

       "I don't think the Valar fucked with us enough to make us untrustworthy."

"They did."

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"Who's we, anyway?"

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"The interdimensional organization I work for. I work for a Maitimo but mine doesn't have a sex slave. And, like, wouldn't, because he is not evil."

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"He, uh, cut it out with the sex slave thing."

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" - that's good. Less awkward if we don't have to make him. But still - usually we just hand them the multiverse, and they hate it if we don't do that, but when they have that poor judgment we can't."

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"Hmmm?"

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"...it's not going to go over that well, but, uh, I guess if you're the ones who have the multiverse to hand out it's your prerogative to an extent..."

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"We know it's not going to go over well. There's - somebody who specializes in mostly getting along with them anyway. If you want to make the case for doing something different I can make sure it gets forwarded to the right people - evil Maitimo's alts really hate him, it bothers them to see their - talents - appropriated to get their people to go along with appalling conduct -"

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"He cut it out. Findekáno went on vacation. Can you give him the multiverse?"

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"The Findekáno? Yeah, they're fine." And she teleports them and drops off the Curufinwë and now they are in her office. "The one who was a victim of the other evil Maitimo was not super in a place to run multiverse operations but if yours is we'd be delighted to have him."

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"He might want to finish his vacation first, I'm not sure."

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"Are you familiar with computers?"

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"No."

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"All right. If it's okay with you, I am going to tap you with this Allspeak wand, which will do magic translation, and then I have papers for onboarding new dimensions and we can go through them. Does that work?"

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"That sounds fine unless the translation magic is complicated in some way."

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"It is not. - if you have dyslexia or dyscalculia it will fix it and it's a little weird if you are illiterate."

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"Neither applies."

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Tap!

 

The paperwork asks what polity he is representing and in what capacity and how they got here and what their lifespans are like. The disaster/emergency relief paperwork asks about the scope of the disaster and the timeframe for aid and the kind of aid and lists possible kinds of aid in case there's something they were unaware was an option. 

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"...my planet was not formally unified before we started evacuating and all the polities are a little up in the air..."

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"That's fine." She makes a note of it. 

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Capacity: interested party/volunteer interworld agent. Transit: native magic. Lifespan: eightyish? Scope: entire planet. Timeframe: months to a couple years, might suddenly accelerate beyond projections if projections are mistaken. Teleporting everybody out and giving them a planet and some starting supplies sounds good.

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"How'd you encounter your Arda?"

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"I invented the native magic world transit spell and tested it and that's where I wound up."

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"And this magic system was successfully used to kill a Melkor and a Sauron -"

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"Yes."

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"Also by you?"

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"Yeah."

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"Wow."

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"Thank you, I'm rather pleased with myself."

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"You should be. If you don't mind being our on-call person for that, we don't have a good way to kill them remotely. We don't even have a medium way, all our ways are a real hassle."

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"I don't mind - especially if you can keep supplying us with more empty planets for magic byproducts to eat - but it might cause tension if I'm running errands for you while you're refusing my boyfriend access to lots of stuff. Another mage will be able to use my spells now that they're established if you want to avoid the conflict."

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"...your boyfriend?"

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"Maitimo. I suppose if there's lots he'll need a nickname or something."

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"- yes, he will. Why don't I call in whichever Maitimo is available, and also Tireh who does outreach to evil Ardas, and we can discuss handling of the new evil Arda." She types some things. "If you're all right with that."

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"Sure."

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All channels get notification that there's a new magic system which handles Melkors and Saurons, and the successful killer of Melkor and Sauron is Maitimo's boyfriend. Evil Maitimo. Evil Maitimo's godkilling boyfriend is a bit defensive of him, but very courteously so.

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Tireh does not expect to have particularly special expertise at handling an Evil Maitimo's boyfriend? Her entire job qualification is "not getting what the fuss is about boyfriend related things". She will come in when it is time to actually talk to New Evil Maitimo.

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Fair. Does a Bell want to be present, though, as representative of the peal position against executing evil Maitimos.

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Sure.

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A minute later they pop in. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

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"Hi. I'm Cor."

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He introduces himself - "and this is T'Mir. Congratulations on killing Melkor."

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"Thanks."

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"We, uh, very badly mishandled the last evil Arda, and want to do better. We're eager to hear how you think we should do that."

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"I assume if you were flexible on the not letting him have stuff thing you would probably not describe it to third parties as settled policy."

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"By default we don't give people the power to destroy planets. There is very thorough vetting."

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"...uh..."

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"Their magic system destroys planets," Larya says.

      "Is the evil Maitimo a mage?"

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"No. Still though. I assume you will go on calling him an evil Maitimo internally whatever I say but do you have to do it in conversation with me?"

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"I apologize. It would be - nice to have a solution that didn't involve handing a person with a past of questionable judgment extraordinary power, but if your assessment is that that's the most constructive thing to do we won't dismiss that out of hand - you seem to have had the cleanest war, that definitely counts for a lot -"

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"To be fair I think that has absolutely nothing to do with my Maitimo's personal character and is mostly about the fact that I can paint things and chant a bit and then they cease to exist."

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" - that sounds like a great magic system. Shame about the drawbacks - though we can find you empty planets easily."

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"That will be great, then we'll only have to worry about badly constructed spells eating our toes."

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"Demons might help there, too!"

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"Good for them."

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"Do you have recommendations for contact with the new Arda?"

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"...You could just not? Uh, you seem to like me fine even though you haven't interrogated my criminal record even slightly, you could go through me."

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"We like to get them making immortality necklaces, there are never enough flat Elves for that. Aside from that - yes, we could just not. We did that with the other, uh, challenging Arda and it did not go well but with a point of contact it might be less of a concern."

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"Immortality necklaces sound great, I shall take home the recipe. Didn't go well like, what, they didn't figure out how to kill their Melkor alone and horrible things ensued -"

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"Ah. When we arrived we were concerned that Melkor and Sauron might have a deadman's switch, as they often do, and confronted them since the point of a deadman's switch is that people who look about to kill you should be told about it. But what they had instead was an interdimensional escape plan, and they fled somewhere too dangerous for us to follow. So he was displeased with us. Also other Findekános approved removing that one from the situation, which Midnight complains about as 'kidnapping'. Then we left them alone and Midnight resented every civilian death that our resources could have prevented and was eventually approached by evil aliens who thought he might be a useful ally in destroying us."

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"...wow. Uh, then what?"

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"He thwarted the evil aliens and stole some magic."

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"...from... the evil aliens, or..."

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"From us via the evil aliens."

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"And uh, what makes the aliens evil?"

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"They were an expansionist militaristic subgroup of a race of parasitic slugs that crawl into your head through your ear canal, access your thoughts and memories, and control you completely."

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"...gosh."

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"Yeah."

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"So he... received stolen goods. Okay."

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"We badly mishandled it, as I said."

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"I'd appreciate it if you did not repeat the mistake."

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Nod.

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"He was all excited about exploring other worlds since my magic system can do that, though. Huan was scouting for us when he found you."

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"It's not like 'don't rape and torture people' is an exceedingly high bar."

      "I think you'd all benefit from getting a bit of distance, honestly," Larya says.

"We don't go near it- that's half the problem -"

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"I told you he's cut it out. Are you planning to have him on - indefinite, uh, world-arrest - when he stopped of his own accord? Or relax about it in a few hundred years or something?"

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"He can have all the same things the King of any preindustrial society would get. And after a few decades of demonstrated reliability they'd get more stuff."

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Sigh. "I guess that's fair."

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"I'm assigning a couple people to set up a new planet for you all and then relocate people once you approve it. Anything else -"

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"Can I have the hopping between worlds thing that doesn't involve painting blood all over myself and nibbling at our disposable planet?"

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"We can assign a teleporter to handle transit to and from your world and vet some people for a wished-on teleport, yeah."

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"...okay." Sigh. "Do I get to name my world?"

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"Of course! You can name the Arda too, if you want, mes all think of the same things and by now they're all taken."

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"My world can be Disappear. I'm not sure what distinguishes the Arda besides that I went there and you have a serious flinch reaction to its - category, though."

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"Yeah, they usually end up named in theme with a neighbor. And words relating to light, when applicable. 'Shadow' is the other evil Arda."

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"Flashdark wouldn't translate well, probably."

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"It's kludgy by Allspeak's attempt. 'Dark' isn't taken?"

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"Not specific enough."

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"Well. 'New Arda' is disambiguating for the moment."

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"Okay."

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"Anything else before we get you a teleporter?"

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"I don't think so."

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"If you ever feel like it'd be a good idea to take a bit of a break, or get some distance, from your boyfriend, there are organizations here that can arrange anything you might need, and it wouldn't get our attention or become relevant to dimensional politics or anything unless you wanted that."

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"I am sure you mean well by that."

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Sigh.

 

A teleporter shows up to take Cor home.

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"Curufinwë has his own way to get back?"

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"His alts can give him a ride, yeah."

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"Okay." And home.

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"You seem to have lost my brother and replaced him with somebody else?"

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"Uh. There are a bunch of different Ardas. He went to talk to some more Curufinwës. This is a teleporting alien who gave me a ride home. The other Curufinwës can give ours a ride whenever he's done."

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" - a bunch of different Ardas. Well. I wasn't expecting that - is everyone all right or did you need to kill some more Melkors -"

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"They will show up and let me know if they need more killed but there are none running amok right this minute. I didn't get a lot of details, they were mostly talking about how to get my planet evacuated. They can find us a new one, so that's neat."

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"Oh good - who is 'they' -"

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"Uh, this interdimensional organization... which doesn't like yous from this... varietal of Arda. Apparently the Valar being into mind control is rare, there's one other like here and they don't get along with that Maitimo. So instead of whatever fast-track arrangement they might have for common types you're getting standard preindustrial monarch treatment. But also an immortality necklace instruction set, they have that."

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" - okay. We're allowed to keep exploring on our own?"

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"They didn't try to forbid me. And they said they can find us lots of empty planets even if their loaner teleporter doesn't care to help with exploring."

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"- all right. We're not worse off. What are they doing with the - other me who is like me - and presumably didn't fall for you -"

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"They said they badly mishandled it, there was a story about how some evil aliens stole some magic from them and then tried to ally with him against them and he betrayed the evil aliens and took the magic but they didn't follow up with 'and that's why we're friends now!' so I assume things are still vaguely awkward."

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"Well. It'd be - graceless - to go around pouting about how you torture one boyfriend..."

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"I told them you cut it out, they said if you demonstrated reliability for awhile you'd get more stuff like any preindustrial king." Sigh. "And they made a point of telling me that if I wanted to get help of some kind it wouldn't affect interdimensional politics."

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"I guess that's thoughtful of them."

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"Yeah."

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Hug?

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Hug!

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"Sounds like they're busy and won't mind if we find some worlds ourselves. Once we've done what we can to help with resettlement, at least. And if it's convenient for them to insist preindustrial kings collect all the magic themselves and demonstrate being responsible with it - fine."

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"I'm kind of curious about the other you but I don't know how to get there." He glances at the teleporter.

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" - I could take you to Shadow for a visit if you like."

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"Do you wanna go, Maitimo?"

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" - yeah, that sounds interesting."

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"Do you need to square away anything here or should we just head out?"

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Pause - "all set."

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"Yes please," Cor tells the teleporter.

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Pop pop pop pop pop now they're on another Arda. It looks very nearly identical. "I'll wait here," the teleporter says.

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"Thanks."

Now where is Other Maitimo.

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He asks. Other Maitimo is, it happens, in his palace, and also goes by Midnight for peal purposes. 

"I'm from an Arda like yours -"

      "- he'd be delighted to meet you."

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Cool.

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" - hello."

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" - hi. This is Cor, I haven't picked a nickname - I don't know them all -"

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"I can send you everyone I know. Hi, Cor."

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"Hi Midnight."

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"What can I do for you? Aside from the people -"

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"I appreciate the people."

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"I was mostly just curious - it's sort of disconcerting to meet an interdimensional organization which will be happy to find my people a new planet and seems to largely have their shit together but can't, uh, work with you - they do seem interested in not repeating their mistakes -"

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"In standard timelines instances of me go to a parley with Melkor and get captured and spend fifty years in Angband. They are remarkably good at covering for it, but they have. A thing. Around -"

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"...still."

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"Oh, I'm not impressed. And instances of me shouldn't be their only source of interpersonal capacity anyway. But that's why."

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Nod.

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I can share the interdimensional teleport. They'd be annoyed if you had it, but it might be worth it at least for emergencies anyway. Let me know.

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Nod.

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For emergencies my magic system does that.

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If you already have a version then I wouldn't particularly recommend it. Dealing with them in good faith is valuable - just, so is having a way to leave your own world.

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Yeah. It takes a while and requires materials but it will get one to other worlds, that's how I got out of mine.

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Oh?

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I'd sooner not share it around, the magic is eating my home planet.

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We're Materia-adjacent, we have nice flexible magic. I'm entirely curious.

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My magic is purely destructive. Fire, death, annihilation, that sort of thing. Good for curing infections and I can de-oath people and I killed our Melkor and Sauron with it. Doing it requires being connected to a disappearance point, which destroys matter and also space around it. The disappearance points got faster unexpectedly and my planet has a few puncture holes now, which is why as a last-ditch I tried a spell to slightly destroy the barriers between worlds on the hypothesis there might be such a thing. Landed in my Arda.

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Wow.  - wait, are you a Bell.

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A what?

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- Ardas almost always have an interdimensional visitor drop on them and it is almost always a Bell. Mine was a Bell's daughter. And they are characteristically good at magic and like saving the world and so on. The peal would probably have noticed...

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I talked to a Common You for a while and was not asked if I was a Bell, what is a Bell?

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Set of alts. Like Maitimos except with more variety in origin stories. And - less variety in inclination towards unhealthy coping mechanisms, though the standard-timeline ones do commit kind of a lot of murder. I don't get the notes, I don't know all the Bell identifying traits - Cam is a Bell, Loki is a Bell, Tireh is a Bell but we're sort of playing I-don't-know-if-you-know-if-I-know...

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I have not met those people. Do you mean standard timeline Maitimos or are you saying my alts commit a lot of murder -

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I was referring to standard timeline Maitimos. Cam and Loki have both committed a lot of very defensible murder, I think the other ones mostly refrain.

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How do I tell if I am this thing and what happens if I am?

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Then you get all the goodies, Bells really like other Bells. I suppose you could go read up on them and if you find yourself going 'yep, that's right' stop by again and ask someone to check?

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I wasn't given any reading materials.

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I will ask my Findekáno to bring us some peal history for public consumption.

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They said the other Findekános carried him off, did he come back?

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No, one of the standard Maitimos committed suicide and his Findekáno, who the Valar had straightened, decided to come be advisor/liaison. He's the reason we finally have healers.

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Oh good for him.

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He's been so helpful.

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There's a pop. "Hi!"

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"Hi! This is my new alt and Cor who might be a Bell and wants to read about them."

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"In a few cases the public summaries do not include relevant reasoning but here you go."

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"Thank you." He starts in.

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This is a pamphlet from Cube, where Isabella Marie Swan (Butterfly) is loosely running a planet having freed it of evil aliens with the help of a guerrilla team of good aliens, made fast friends with the local Maitimo and when he got arrested kept the local Curufinwë company in his efforts to end death, which he has now done. This is from Edda, where Loki touched the Tesseract, got sorcery, landed on her Arda, dueled Sauron, taught Elves modern technology, tried and failed to kill Melkor with that, and developed interdimensional transit so she could go get the Tesseract again and rip him to shreds. This is from Elendil, in Warp, where Boots landed on an Arda, hacked her magic system to fix up the Arda, offended the Valar in the doing, and eventually fled for an Earth where T'Mir was a political prisoner, having saved several billion lives by smuggling their worlds the warp equations that would qualify them for galactic membership. This is Gem, empress of Mîr having saved her world and its adjacent Arda...

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"I see a theme, although it is odd that they're mostly girls."

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"Cam's war does not have a friendly accompanying pamphlet. Kib's is in there somewhere."

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He finds Kib's.

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In his world babies just appear. In a past life he invented storks to go scoop 'em up. In this life (and before he'd realized the dreams of a past life were that) he landed by magical accident on his Arda, ended up dating the local Maitimo and Findekáno, dreamed back his husband from his first life and went to go find him and got approval not to drop the boyfriends, found out Melkor was smuggling servantmakers and got captured in the war against him and recovered and now governs federated Stork with his husband.

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"How do they check if I'm a Bell?"

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"I think there's a standard set of questions. I can write the network -"


He does that. Cor read about some Bell adventures and thinks he might be one. Midnight thinks so also.

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I wish I had come to the meeting instead of just being on standby. Where is he now?

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Shadow.

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She pops in to just outside the palace and says she's there to see Cor.

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They let her in.

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"Hello. I was on tap if your conversation with the peal Maitimo you met needed a Bell but at the time it didn't seem to. We really should start waving Boots at everyone who drops usefully on an Arda just on principle. Is Cor short for something?"

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"Corbelan."

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"Do you know what I mean if I refer to 'the three questions'?"

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"Yeah."

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"Boots can check this sort of thing automatically with subtle arts without doing anything else but I have touch telepathy -"

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Cor steps back.

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"You're probably a Bell, congratulations."

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"Huh."

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Snort. "Do you still love me?"

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"Why would confirmation that saving the world is a persistent tendency make me love you less?"

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"Cause my alts fucked up with yours? I did not expect a no."

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Hug. "It sounds like my alts fucked up too."

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Hug.

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Sigh. "Most of them wanted to just sort of execute Midnight. We objected."

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"I mean, if you're going to deny my humans magical medicine because you don't want those resources anywhere where I command them - execution at least only kills the people you have a grievance with -"

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"There are a lot of worlds deprioritized relative to others for a variety of reasons. Ardas usually get special treatment because they're diplomatic known quantities. This one was instead unusually difficult."

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"I understand that. But still."

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"It would be aggravating. Well. You have a Bell and we're not much inclined to listen to standard Maitimos wanting to limit a Bell, although we should have Boots check him for mind magic just in case."

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Nod. "Can you override them or - I'm not clear on how the command structure here works -"

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"Elves coordinated by Maitimos run Vanda Nossëo. Bells run Mîr and Elendil. Those are the three major multiverse organizations and while they collaborate closely and personnel float between them without explicit trade arrangements there are none of you formally involved in the organization of Mîr and only one of you in a liaison role in Elendil."

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Nod. "Well. Nice to meet you."

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"You too. Cor, come back with me to Warp for double-checking with Boots?"

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"Sure."

Pop.

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Maitimos look at each other. "Cor is great. I had to stop but - I didn't have to contort myself, just - find things I wanted more -"

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Nod. 

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Cor is back with a fancy computer a half an hour later. "Did you know there is a version of your dad who is this big?" He hovers his hand. "With wings."

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"I did not. That is - wow. Is he happy?"

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"Seems like it! A me adopted him, which is slightly weird. He performed brain surgery on me. This is a weird day."

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"Yes, yes, it is. Uh. Why brain surgery-"

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"So I can control my highly secure information manipulation gadget." Wave.

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"This is going to be so much fun!"

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Giggle. "Yep. Uh, Midnight, is there anything in particular you want me to poke them about -"

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"They've gotten significantly better, we can learn magic now which was the major concern. Uh - other places in good standing get regular interworld shuttle service..."

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"I will figure out how they've got that set up and get back to you."

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"Thank you. Take care."

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"I will."

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"How are we getting back-"

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"I can teleport now. Got that one the fast way, all the other spells are going to be really tedious."

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"Oooh. Okay."

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Many pops. They are home.

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"Have I mentioned that I love you."

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"You should probably remind me sometimes."

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Scoop. "Oooh. However can I do that?"

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"I bet you'll think of something."