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Skill increased: Library Magic lvl 30!

New Virtue: Bookish Instinct!

Bookish Instinct: Through focused meditation, you can learn the qualities of the book you’re looking for, so long as it exists within the library, and so long as the quality is part of the current schema. The more qualities of the book you know, the easier it is to learn more. If multiple books have the specified qualities, you will learn how many books there are with those qualities, and may meditate to distinguish them.

It took four days to get there, far longer than I had hoped, but still far faster than anyone could have reasonably expected of me. As usual, the distance between 20 and 30 was far, far greater than the distance between 10 and 20, but I was aided somewhat by the fact that I had the foremost experts in Library Magic actively teaching me, and by the fact that I was doing actual, useful library work.

Most of the first two or three days after the reset were fully devoted to the schema, working out the meaning behind the specific paths, untangling where the interleaving was occurring, and trying to find the places that the schema ‘diverged’. Once there was a skeletal schema in place, the bulk of the librarians shifted their efforts to the collection and reading of useful books. This process started with the ‘staples’, books that were almost certain to be written and published in the future and were largely consistent across timelines (and could thus be compared with one another). New editions of old books were one of the most common staples, but to my surprise, the librarians also had people writing books specifically for the Library.

“Doesn’t that hurt the Library?” I asked Raven one night. We’d begun having little chats in her home after dinner, the same as we had on my first full day, though not always focused on the Library.

“It would, if we had any active hand in it,” said Raven. “There’s a whole field of Library-responsiveness, which is actually one of my specialties, in part because I was there for Uther’s initial experience with it. We use the word ‘hurts’, but what we really mean is that there are changes in the Library structure or schema that make it more difficult for us to use.”

“Okay,” I nodded. “And I’ve already picked up from Majom that one of the principles of intervention is that any response to the Library should be systemic rather than specific.”

“Point intervention was the first thing we tried,” said Raven. “I can’t remember who came up with systemic intervention as a solution. Perhaps it was Vervain.”

“Hrm,” I said. The Dungeon Master explaining the rules, perhaps? Or just the wizened wizard knowing too many things?

“There are thought to be two reasons,” said Raven. “First, systemic interventions, by which we mean reshaping the world, are less likely to require further intervention.”

“Feed a man a fish, teach a man to fish, sure,” I said.

“Excuse me?” asked Raven with a frown.

“Oh come on,” I said. “How did that one never make it over?”

“I refuse to believe that everything Uther ever said was plagiarized from Earth,” said Raven with a frown. “Explain the expression?”

“It was the shortened form,” I said. “Feed a man a fish, you keep him fed for a day, teach a man to fish, you keep him fed for the rest of his life. It’s partly about dependency and self-sufficiency, but it’s also about permanent solutions rather than temporary ones.”

“Then yes, it’s apt,” said Raven. She cleared her throat. “Uther had a similar saying, actually, but it was with regards to keeping a cow fed.” She looked off to the distance a moment. “At any rate, yes, the Library tends to have less of a negative reaction to fundamental changes to the world, for whatever reason. Assassinating a king will cause substantial changes that are slow to fade, but fomenting revolt will usually cause only a ripple, so far as we can tell what causes what.”

I pursed my lips. Obviously, at the highest level, the Dungeon Master was responsible for the difficulties inherent in using the Library. But on a lower level, there was probably some governing rule or intelligence to what caused changes to the Library.

“Have you heard of i-factor analysis?” asked Raven.

“Um,” I said. “Freshen my memory? Sounds familiar.”

“Impact factor analysis,” said Raven. “It’s part of entad studies at Speculation and Scrutiny.” She held out her hand, and a book appeared in it, courtesy of one of the entads she wore -- the same one that Bethel had copied all the books from. As with most of the books I’d seen her pull out, this one had a number of fabric bookmarks in it. It reminded me of Amaryllis going crazy with Post-It tabs. She cleared her throat and began to read. “‘Once the metric has been applied to a sample population of entads, it becomes clear that i-factor follows a power law, with high i-factor entads being more and more rare as i-factor increases.’” She paused for a moment, skipping ahead. “‘However, this difference is not accounted for by distribution of effects alone, and in fact appears to only be fully explained by a combination of usage restrictions, timing restrictions, and identity restrictions. These restrictions occur in various entads at exactly the rates necessary to ensure rough adherence to the power law, despite the distribution of raw effects following its own quixotic pattern.’” She looked up at me. “Translated, there’s some apparent force at work which limits entads such that they can’t be too strong, and it’s not along the lines you would expect. Given our recent conversations, I believe I have a better understanding of what that force is. It’s the same force that decides on exclusions, the same force that sabotages attempts at using the Library, and likely the same force that’s responsible for the designs of the schema. It’s all interconnected. You can explain a lot about schema responsiveness by just looking at i-factor. I actually think that I might start working on a new i-factor metric for timeline changes, which seems like it would explain a lot, but I’d have to include caveats about what’s actually ‘important’.”

“Eh,” I said. “I mean, yes, I do agree that you can see the Dungeon Master’s fingerprints in a few places, but so far as I’ve seen, his style is to farm things out or create some organizing principle that acts as an immutable law. Amaryllis thought it was odd that Aerb’s technological development was so far behind Earth’s, and yes, there are factors that you could point to for that, but most of the answer is that the Infinite Library is staffed by librarians who are actively working to prevent technological advancement, and that kicks the can further down the road to the four-factor explanation for why technology is typically disastrous or misguided, and then that probably has some explanation as well, like meme-eating entities, infovores, or something else.”

“So you don’t think that he directly interferes?” asked Raven.

“No, he definitely does,” I replied. “He’s a meddler. But … okay, can you imagine sitting there and designing a billion entads?”

“Yes,” said Raven with a nod.

I smiled. “Right, of course, but you probably wouldn’t want to, not if you were more concerned with small-scale groups of people. You would instead figure out a way to automate it, or if you couldn’t, you would get someone else to do it. Right?”

“I suppose,” replied Raven. “But what does that mean in relation to the Library and the ways that we’re forced to interact with the world to keep it useable?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Only that perhaps there are rules, just rules that we haven’t discovered yet, or that might be theoretically undiscoverable from our position.”

“‘We’ and ‘our’ so soon?” asked Raven. She gave me a faint smile and a raised eyebrow.

“Oh,” I said. I shrugged. “I don’t know, being here has been … good, I guess. Miraculous took some getting used to, but it at least makes the meals interesting. The people here have a sort of obsessiveness that I identify with.”

“They’re trying to save the world,” said Raven, tilting her head to the side a bit in the same way that Maddie used to do, but just a touch less exaggerated.

“Yes and no,” I replied. “I mean yes, they’re perpetually trying to save the world, but most of the people you’ve recruited here have this, I don’t know, this frisson toward what they’re doing. There are people who very obviously love the schema for the schema’s sake, who care about the books and the timelines, and all sorts of other stuff. They’re excited. It’s nice.”

It was how I’d usually felt about DMing, especially in the planning stages. I would be sketching out a small village that the players were going to in the next session, and lose myself in adding detail and embellishments, putting in an inn and giving it some history, thinking about the people who lived there and what they were like. And then, of course, the party would breeze through it with barely a thought, not knowing or caring about all the stuff in the background, but that was okay, because it wasn’t really that much about the game, it was about the act of creation. (Besides, if no one saw the things I had planned, they could get recycled later.)

“Are you going to miss it?” I asked Raven, who had gone quiet.

“No,” she replied. “Maybe if I had been a junior librarian, but no, I took it upon myself to lead the efforts here, to keep things on track and the inner devils away, and that’s taken too much time and effort. I’ll be glad to be gone, frankly, now that I’m needed elsewhere.” She sat in silence for a moment. “That’s the first time I’ve said that out loud.” Her eyes met mine. “Don’t tell anyone.”

“Of course,” I said. “Are they going to be able to keep it together without you?”

“I dearly hope so,” said Raven. She stood up from where she’d been sitting. “I’ll leave you to your meditation then?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m narrowing it down. I might go get the first one tonight, actually, if I think I have enough to go on.”

Raven nodded. “Let me know if you want company. Usually we do teams of two, but you’re considerably more well-equipped and well-trained than the average librarian, at least when it comes to physical prowess.”

In reality, I was better at Library Magic than almost anyone in the Library, with very few exceptions, both because of my advanced rate of learning, and because of my unique virtues that gave me substantial shortcuts. The meditation virtue wasn’t quite a card catalog, but it meant that I could learn what was on offer, rather than doing the usual method of making guesses and then going into the stacks to look around in the right general area.

Meditating was painfully slow, and slowed down more whenever I thought about how slow it was (because it meant that I was derailed from the actual meditation), but I had a good deal of information on the book(s) that Amaryllis was writing, courtesy of some conversations that she’d had with Raven before we left, and the necessary pieces that I didn’t have had slotted into place, coming as epiphanies in the midst of meditation.

A Cypress Waits, First Printing, by Amaryllis Penndraig, was eight and a half inches tall, five and three quarters inches wide, written primarily in a font called Carrington, set at 11 point. It was written in Third Empire Anglish. It consisted of three hundred and one pages, with 80,931 words. There were 2,988 full stops. The right margin on right-hand pages was 68 em. Two copies had been printed, both at the same time, with issue following soon after, all on the same day, 26th Akkers of 528 FE. The subject matter, per the Library’s reckoning, was ‘Personal’. The most common proper noun was ‘Juniper’.

I knew all this, and much more, before I ever laid eyes on the book.


The vestibule had day and night, with light coming in through the hole in the dome, but the same couldn’t really be said for the Library itself, as there were no windows, and not so much as a hint of anything shining through from beyond its walls. It wasn’t too uncommon for teams to go through the Library at ‘night’, especially during crunch time, but the librarians had settled on working during the day as the default, and so there was less in the way of hustle and bustle as I went through the open door in late evening, grabbed myself a torch, and set off to find Amaryllis’ book.

The Library had hazards. There were places where, in accordance with the schema, the books went vertically, stacked on top of each other, sometimes precariously. Similarly, there were places where the floor went at such a steep grade that you were climbing rather than walking, and the books around you weren’t necessarily put in the walls with an eye toward keeping them in place. There were places where the hallways became more like tunnels, usually large enough for a human to squeeze through, but it was possible to get stuck or trapped. Beyond that, while the Library typically segregated out physically hazardous books, it was imprecise in how it did this, and I had been told, repeatedly, that I should run the other way if I ever smelled ammonia. (Fire, the other big hazard when you had a billion books in close proximity, wasn’t a natural occurrence, but it did happen from time to time, and was one of the few things that called for an immediate reset.)

I walked a full mile until I got to where A Cypress Waits, First Printing awaited me. The shelves went sixty feet up to the ceiling, and it took a bit of climbing to get up there. I had to make footholds and handholds by pushing books off, sending them fluttering down to the floor below me. My everburning torch was slipped through my belt, giving me terrible light to see by, which made the climb all the more difficult. I finally found the book, right where the schema and my intensive meditation had said it would be, a relatively slender book whose color was the same glacial blue of Amaryllis’ eyes. With a sigh of relief, I half-climbed and half-fell down to the library floor, landing among the books I’d knocked off.

Not wanting to waste time, I set the torch on a shelf to give me light, and began to read.


Juniper,

I hope that you’re able to find this book, otherwise none of what I’ve been doing will mean anything to anyone.

I don’t know if you’ve thought about what it’s like being outside the library. I’m going to be here, in this future that won’t matter, until the end of the world. It’s been a few months now, long enough that I know you’re not coming back, which means that what I’m experiencing right now must be the future that the Library is predicting, rather than actual reality.

It feels real to me.

If we assume that the entirety of Aerb and all its connected planes are a simulation running on some vast computing substrate, there would be a few different ways to implement the Library.

The first, most costly method, would be for the Library to do a complete simulation of Aerb for however many years it takes until there are no books. Such a simulation would have to take into account planar clairvoyance and travel, which would mean simulating all of the hells and every connected plane, save for the Library itself. However much computing power it takes to run the simulation, running the Library this way would increase it by several orders of magnitude, because hundreds of simulation-years would get added on each time anyone went into or out of the Library.

The second, less costly method, would be to somehow generate all of the books without actually having to simulate the world itself. My computer programming is lacking, given that I haven’t invented computers yet, but I can imagine stopping the simulation and generating a horde of book-writing homunculi to extrapolate from what was available. They would need to be clever homunculi, able to keep all of their books internally consistent and consistent with each other, and they would need to be powerful, capable of peering into the inner thoughts of frozen people and understanding as much as everyone who ever wrote a book understood, but I have to imagine that would take considerably less computing power.

The third, extremely cheap method would be to not actually generate any books until they’re read by a real person in the Library. After all, the Library is so vast that most of the books in it will never be read by anyone, so an efficient implementation would simply have the book-writing gremlins on standby, waiting until the moment the information is needed. Perhaps, if they have the ability to see the future, they would write all the books that people will read ahead of time. That would reduce the number of books needed from millions or billions down to hundreds.

But as I’ve said, it feels real to me. Perhaps I’m some book-writing gremlin, only pretending to be Amaryllis because Amaryllis would have written a book, but I would have no way to prove that to you one way or another. I can only tell you how it feels.

I’ve done my best not to let the fact that I’m living in a doomed timeline affect my outlook or my work. I took what you said to heart and have proceeded with the understanding that the Dungeon Master is challenging me, rather than shutting me down completely. Raven understood that I would probably write a book, and cautioned me against specific attempts at using ‘future’ information to bootstrap. She issued no particular warnings against writing books in general though, and gave me some advice on how best to go about writing something for you, and while I won’t be writing with the intent to give instructions to my past, alternate, or unsimulated selves, I will be chronicling what I’ve been doing.


Summarizing a three hundred page book would be difficult enough if it were a coherent narrative, but what Amaryllis had prepared for me was a combination of journal, research notes, political observations, and management log. It was all impeccably organized, of course, but I got the sense that it wasn’t a book written “for” someone, it was a book that was compiled from notes that had been made to serve some other primary purpose. That made sense, I supposed, because Amaryllis was busy with her work and dedicating a significant chunk of time to make the book more fully-edited wasn’t a good use of her resources.

Some highlights:

  • The first group of tuung had hatched, and were undergoing accelerated training. The enhancements to my companions had apparently remained in my absence, even though I had no access to their souls along the soul-lines, which meant that Bethel was able to leverage her enormous magical powers to generate huge amounts of spare time, which then went into massive, spatially compact sub-structures. She apparently didn’t take much enjoyment from having what was effectively a small town inside her, but she went along with it. She had merged with Ropey shortly after I had failed to come back, which put her on a more even keel, at least according to Amaryllis.
  • Pallida joined the Council of Arches, filling the empty seventh seat. Amaryllis didn’t seem terribly pleased about it, but given the fact that four of the seven members were needed for a quorum, it was necessary. Fenn had died, leaving that seat permanently empty, and I was ‘in the Library’, which took out another. That should have left five of the seven, but reality wasn’t so kind.
  • Grak had insisted that if I was going to be permanently absent, he should be allowed to take his share of the gold and return to Darili Irid. Amaryllis had reluctantly agreed, and they had all made a trip together (Bethel excluded). Amaryllis described a mausoleum, with the stale stench of death hanging in the air. After Grak had laid the gold down and warded it, he had attempted ritual suicide by cutting through his neck with his axe. Amaryllis had stopped him before he could kill himself, but things had been a little bit fraught. Eventually, Valencia had intervened and arranged another dwarf as krin for him, but she had also insisted that Grak no longer live in the house, as it was “contributing to his depression”. He refused to attend Council sessions.
  • Amaryllis had moved ahead with her Earth exploitation endeavors, perhaps emboldened by the fact that she was living in a “doomed” timeline. She engaged in some ethically questionable television testing using volunteer tuung and worked out several solutions to the Couch Potato problem, but none that she thought would survive reverse engineering. She had labs set up within Bethel for other projects as well, most notably for growing plants, with screening procedures and tests for anomalous properties. Beyond that, she was working on incremental improvements to existing Aerbian designs, and building factories on the Isle of Poran to put out better products than were available anywhere else.
  • Valencia worked closely with Uniquities, and eventually a plan was put together for a “lessening” of the hells. With me gone, her progress had mostly stopped, meaning that she didn’t have enough killing power to fully depopulate the hells, but surgical strikes against key players in infernal politics managed to make improvements in the conditions of the mortals trapped there without inciting a full-on infernal unification. (She also married Jorge, our contact from Uniquities, five months after they’d first met, which, uh, might have been explainable without her using her powers, maybe. Amaryllis agreed that either way, it was inadvisable.)
  • Solace changed back into her five-year-old crantek body, with the addition of small horns, but aside from that, sequestered herself within the bottle, coming out for Council sessions and little else. Somewhat surprisingly, she was able to find some common ground with Heshnel, despite their places on opposite sides of the Second Empire. Heshnel eventually moved into the bottle with her. Amaryllis characterized it as being a relationship founded on a mutual belief that the “doomed timeline” was, if not pointless, then at least not worth putting maximal effort into.

Once I had gotten as much from it as I thought I could, I stuck it into my pack and headed back toward the vestibule. I had a long night of meditation ahead of me.

When I’d first gone looking for the book that Amaryllis had written, I had tried the meditation with her name and a general time range alone. It had come to me, like an epiphany, that there were dozens of books matching my request. Initially, I had thought that Amaryllis had done a larger print run, but no, the books were spread out over time, two copies each year, from 528 FE to 596 FE.


Raven set the copy of A Cypress Waits, First Printing down, then pinched the bridge of her nose.

“This is a problem,” she said.

“You knew that she was going to write a book,” I replied. “It’s my understanding that you helped her with it?”

“I gave her some broad guidelines and information, yes,” said Raven. “I knew that she was going to write a book, and I didn’t want her to pollute the Library like the Second Empire did, nor did I want her to waste time and effort because of the Library, but this … this is a complete guide from her, to herself, about the future, and there are so many of them. It’s going to be a massive distortion.”

“Me leaving was already a massive distortion,” I said.

“No,” replied Raven. “Generally speaking, pulling people into the Library, while it might drastically change the future, doesn’t count against us, at least not by itself.”

“Oh,” I replied. “Why?”

“As with so many things, we don’t know,” replied Raven. “We know that attempting to change the course of history through systemic measures is better than point measures, and we know that choke points are more favorable than stable periods, but there’s so much that we don’t know about what the Library does or does not respond to, which is one of the reasons we are, as you’ve pointed out in the past, conservative.”

I frowned, trying to work out a theory. “Okay,” I finally said. “Can I put forward a potential mechanism?”

“Sure,” said Raven with a shrug. “I’ll only be mildly upset if it’s something that we missed.”

“Well, okay,” I said. “Imagine that you could simulate the entirety of Aerb and all of the planes, aside from the Infinite Library itself.”

“That’s simulation theory, yes,” said Raven. “We had thought of that. It was one of the first things that Uther considered.”

“Okay, so, imagine that you have the ability to run the world forward a thousand times, or a hundred thousand times, or … whatever. Enough that you could do statistical analysis on it. For that to be useful, the universe would have to be non-deterministic, or at the very least, your simulations would. From there you would be able to make some measure of a person’s impact on the world, because you would be able to simulate the universe with them, and then simulate the universe without them, and look at the differences in what’s statistically likely to happen.” I grabbed a nearby piece of paper and made a little drawing on it, one of a simple bell curve. “Do you ever meddle in elections?”

“Not typically,” said Raven, which wasn’t a no.

“Well, imagine that this graph is election outcomes,” I said. I drew a line roughly in the middle. “Let’s say that 51% of the time it’s candidate A, and 49% candidate B, with negligible votes for third parties or write-ins.” I tapped the paper with the pencil. “So, let’s say that I get ejected from the Library, and I went to change that election. The Library could then run a second set of simulations, which would give a statistical distribution of the election, and maybe a third set of simulations where I was ejected from the Library roughly the same as I went in with no future knowledge, and compare all those against each other.”

“You would only need two sets,” replied Raven. “One set where you were altered by the Library, one where you weren’t.”

“Sure,” I said. “And you would also have to compensate for the fact that I went into the Library but came out without memories, which would drastically change what I would do even absent any actual change in knowledge, so … right, anyway, you could compare your data sets and then look at the election, and your measure of how much it had changed would be a measure of the impact that the Library had on actual reality, regardless of what actually happened in reality. Right?”

“Right,” Raven said slowly. “I’ll admit that it’s novel, but I’m not sure that it’s useful, given that we can’t actually run such simulations, or know what it is we’ve changed.”

“Oh, I’m not suggesting that the simulations are actually run, you could do practically the same thing with good enough predictors that took into account enough information,” I said. Despite myself, I was getting a bit excited. It felt like I was close to cracking open something important. “You wouldn’t need to simulate the entirety of reality unless you actually cared about all of reality. Obviously the hypothetical change detection process wouldn’t just care about the outcome of a single election, but you could have the equivalent of a market basket or something like that. And the important takeaway is that it doesn’t actually matter how much you change the future, it only matters how much you alter the probabilities of the events. And my guess is that domino effects are on your side, in terms of accounting.”

“Domino?” asked Raven.

“Uh, causal chains?” I asked.

“Ah,” she said. She folded her arms. “It’s a theory, certainly.”

“But you don’t think it’s right?” I asked. “I’ll admit that there are a lot of questions about implementation, which I’ve kind of hand-waved away, and which is probably really important, but it roughly fits with the general rules that you’ve outlined. One of the reasons that iteratively grabbing information from the future is bad is that it massively swings probabilities, because it’s creating information from nothing, at least from the Library’s perspective, which would be a huge improbability without the Library’s help. Just shooting some politician in the head to swing an election is, basically, moving the needle from 51% to 0%, but working behind the scenes to help secure the victory with a groundswell of support might look more naturalistic and map more cleanly to the winning percentages.”

“Okay,” said Raven. She shrugged. “Let’s say you’ve convinced me. What do we do with that information?”

“Well, for one thing, we can definitely advise Amaryllis,” I said. “We can become our own predictors of what is and is not probable to have happened without future information, and act in accordance with the highest probabilities for how we would have behaved. I mean, you still need to deal with the butterfly effect, but --”

“Butterfly magic is excluded,” said Raven, cutting in.

I stared at her for a moment. I had a skill in my soul, Butterfly Magic, which was excluded, but I didn’t actually know what it did. “Explain the butterfly effect to me?”

Raven gave me a curious look. “Butterfly mages were capable of altering probabilities,” she said. “They usually traveled with cages of butterflies and released them at specific times and places to attain the effects that they wanted in ways that weren’t obvious to anyone else.”

“Okay, that’s what I thought,” I said. “I was using the phrase colloquially, it’s an Earth expression that must have been used as the basis for the magic system.” It sounded like something out of my ‘make idioms into magic’ phase, but I didn’t remember it. “Regardless, you would have to worry about all the effects, and the effects of the effects, and so on. Assuming that the Library does care about probabilities, then it would be a matter of the specific way that it cares.”

“I’m against giving Amaryllis that book,” said Raven. “I’m against giving her any of them. Even if I’m not going to be head librarian for much longer, I have a duty to this place, and it could be a valuable asset for you, just like it was a valuable asset for Uther, once he got a handle on it. If we hadn’t gone from two years left to one hundred twenty left, I would probably order you to stop reading them as well, but they might have information in them that’s too valuable for us to ignore.”

I didn’t particularly like her saying that she would order me, but we both knew that I wasn’t really her subordinate here, as much as I had been trying to pretend that I was for her sake.

“I’m going to go out and find the others,” I said. “I think given how long it takes me to get the metrics and then translate that into a physical location using the schema, I can do one a day until it’s time for the shift change, but there are still things that I need before we go. Have you had any luck in locating a book that can teach me Spirit?”

“I’m working on it,” said Raven, grimacing slightly. “That far in the past, prior to the printing press, there are far, far fewer books, but there are also more languages, some of them no longer spoken. I might have to divert your meditation, if we can’t find them the old fashioned way, but we would still need enough to go on.”


A Cypress Waits, Seventh Printing, 535 FE:

Juniper,

Another year passed, another book for you. I don’t know how many of these books will end up finding you, if any. They are, in some ways, messages in bottles, cast out into the ocean with a faint hope that they manage to reach someone willing to read.

Because of this, I’ve tried to organize these books with the assumption that you haven’t read the others. I’ve also done my best to cut things down to the essentials, though I imagine that the early years will remain the most important, given how wildly things will diverge with you back in the picture. I find myself reducing chapters down to pages, and pages down to paragraphs, then paragraphs down to single sentences, until finally the sentence gets removed too, and it’s like it never was.

These prefaces are, or have become, an indulgence. This is my yearly time to reflect on you. I stopped making the morning modifications to myself earlier this year. It surprised me how strong the trend toward the old baseline was. You were the love of my life, and you slipped through my fingers like sand. I know that you probably don’t want to hear that, given how little time has passed for you, but I’ve spent seven years in this doomed timeline now, nine if you count time in the chamber, and I think that I deserve to speak my piece.

I think about going into the Library, from time to time. There are librarians still left in the world, going about their business, and now that we’ve reached an agreement with the Doris Finches, I think I might be able to find them. I don’t know what I would find in the Library though. Perhaps it would be oblivion. In my nightmares, I step into the Library to find it littered with bodies from some calamity that came and went seven years ago, and your body is among them, not divinely protected after all. I wake up sweating and crying, and Pallida holds me until I fall back asleep.

We’ve accomplished so much that I’ve had to increase my ambitions. The Republic of Miunun has joined the Empire of Common Cause and become an economic powerhouse, the leading light of what people are calling the Golden Wave. We’ve managed to keep the greater threats at bay, though I don’t know whether that’s because the Dungeon Master is going easy on us, or because our clever solutions were just that clever. I very recently made a play for Anglecynn, and I’m still waiting to see how that pans out. My identity has been public for a long time, and I’ve been gathering allies for even longer. It’s the first time I’ve felt nervous in a very long time, which should tell you something about how well things have been going. The rest of this book goes into detail, naturally.

I miss you. I wish that you could share in my triumphs. I’m hopeful that the other me, the real one, will get that some day. There are things that I wish I could say to her that I would only say in confidence, and this book can’t possibly be considered secure. No book can, so long as the Library exists. We could have done one-time pads, if I had thought about it, and I could certainly figure out an encryption scheme that I would understand, but I don’t think that’s a particularly good use of my time, nor do I think I would take the advice in the spirit in which it was intended.

As for you, Juniper, know that I love you. There’s a part of me that wants to be soppy and romantic, and say that I’m doing all of this for you, but of course the truth is that I’m doing my best to keep my world alive and I would smash your head in with a hammer if it would accomplish that. You always liked that about me, didn’t you?


A Cypress Waits, Twentieth Printing, 548 FE

Juniper,

Twenty years is longer than I expected to last. I was nineteen when I signed up for this, and now I’m nearing fifty.

This was finally the year that Pallida left. As a natural consequence of that, the Council of Arches can no longer make a quorum, meaning that we had effectively no power over the Republic of Miunun anymore. As with Pallida leaving, it was a long time coming. The tuung citizenry tried to get us to stay, first with pleas and then with threats, but there wasn’t much to hold us there any longer. I’ll be taking a portion of the profits from their industry in perpetuity, which was cause for some tension, but I put years of my life into developing the Republic, and I consider that money well-earned.

We’re in Anglecynn now. They’ve been calling me the Returned Queen for quite a while now, but it appears possible that we might be able to make that name a reality in the future. Anglecynn is five hundred years overdue for a rewriting of the constitution, and I’m the best candidate for the position of monarch. That would give me an unprecedented amount of power within the Empire of Common Cause. People might be more frightened if I appeared to be building a dynasty, but I’m childless, and beyond that, I’ve managed to appear scrupulously fair in both my political and business dealings.

That said, my personal life is in shambles. I have hard-working, competent staff, but few close friends. Solace barely speaks to me, or to anyone else, and she’s made offhand mentions of Zorisad Yosivun, which would be likely to kill her. Valencia is still in the process of fostering whatever children the state will allow her and Jorge to take in, with her side career as a killer of infernals only occasionally relevant when they’re caught violating the Compact. And Bethel, who helps me write these, has ascended to the level where she doesn’t get much from our conversations (a list of entads, their sources, and effects is in appendix B).

I don’t want you to think that I’m not happy. If I’m remembering you right, you might blame yourself for leaving me in this situation. The truth is, neither of us was fully aware of what it would be like for me to inhabit a doomed timeline, nor did we think it would last so long. I will say that my happiness is muted, more satisfaction at the way my plans have fallen into place than actual joy or contentment. It’s sufficient.

The following is for my younger self. She’ll know how to decode it. I’ll leave it to her whether or not to share it with you.

Ynrr soonrgmvm msu dmyennlds sappprcs ouu. Gmv qcwm syngit mbr kfpuponq uvi qcp pmrdofisermp. Uuua rff yep kgml mfqpe. Msif sqcyu ucqt ip orv cegtmgvcusy nsir mtmgff ird fiptnfu ou attrod ew. Xesbody ron vwwc tao egpa zanb mw xex dao dou. N eyr'u rzxygav yabx axd okaa wr qawx qtl fb tpalyon llgx prz xfga yndt xd onzz drxf, ree pw gyrge wdwo, uo efx wrzl yf'a wlby Rvea.

I hope that you’re well.


A Cypress Waits, Thirty-second Printing, 560 FE

Juniper,

Barring a complete rewriting of the foundational agreements that created the Empire of Common Cause, I’ve ascended as high as I can possibly go. There’s more power to accumulate, but it seems it will have to be through careful maneuvering and political frog-boiling rather than any moves to bigger and better things.

I hold three positions: Queen of Anglecynn, Secretary General of the Empire of Common Cause, and Commander of the Imperial Defense Force. The anolia can’t see my skill as a soul mage, likely because it comes from your soul, not from mine, though I try not to use the skill very much, given how much of a liability it might be. I’ve also spent a good third of my life in the time chamber at this point, making me fifty by the records, seventy by my own accounting, and with the body of a thirty-year-old.

Time is going to catch up with me soon, as my soul succumbs to senescence. I have another few decades before it happens, but I already feel twice doomed, a doomed woman living in a doomed timeline. Unfortunately for us, Valencia is growing old too, and the Compact with the hells won’t outlive her. I’m starting to understand how you feel about death, how you might prefer torture to oblivion. There are practical reasons to prefer oblivion; I know too much, and hold no illusions about resisting the devils and demons as they try to torture or coerce it out of me. I’ve had Valencia as a friend for long enough to know better.

I’ve lost faith that these books are of any practical use to you. The only sign of the Dungeon Master that remains in this world is in the abilities that we were gifted with, and in Bethel’s link to Earth, but the gifts are entirely static, and the backpack’s functionality is, to quote Bethel, ‘stale’. The rejection notes from it still come back on yellow legal pad, still in your handwriting, but they only say ‘no’, with no customization. The timeline isn’t just doomed, it’s been abandoned by the closest thing to a true god we ever had. I suppose that’s still useful, as it offers some way to measure whether and how the Dungeon Master interferes, but I’d be hard-pressed to believe he hasn’t thought of that.

How can these books be of any use when the whole universe is just going through the motions? How can we depend on them when there’s no narrative in this doomed world? Everything around me exists only for the purpose of producing written works for you, a small fraction of which you’ll actually see. The Dungeon Master has no greater purpose for this world, and apparently sees no point in actually being here.

My prediction, should you actually read this book, is that things will diverge so quickly and so wildly that almost everything written here is functionally useless.

The following is for my younger self. She’ll know how to decode it. I’ll leave it to her whether or not to share it with you.

Ynrr soonrgmvm msu dmyennlds sappprcs ouu. Gmv qcwm syngit mbr kfpuponq uvi qcp pmrdofisermp. Uuua rff yep kgml mfqpe. Msif sqcyu ucqt ip orv cegtmgvcusy nsir mtmgff ird fiptnfu ou attrod ew. Xesbody ron vwwc tao egpa zanb mw xex dao dou. N eyr'u rzxygav yabx axd okaa wr qawx qtl fb tpalyon llgx prz xfga yndt xd onzz drxf, ree pw gyrge wdwo, uo efx wrzl yf'a wlby Rvea.

All my love.


A Cypress Waits, Final Printing, 596 FE

Juniper,

The title is, I’ll admit, on the pessimistic side. I might be able to eke out another few years. I can see into my soul though, and I’ve seen the clear signs of deterioration. There are memories that have simply vanished, skills that have gone soft faster than they should have, and a pallor that hangs over the entire thing. If I’m not dead this time next year, then I probably won’t be in a state to write another book for you.

I don’t know how much longer the world has left either. Our policy of Void Beast redirection has come to a head much sooner than thought. Sixteen of the elemental planes are completely gone, impacting all manner of magic, and two of those happened in the past year. Unrelatedly, it seems that the infernals are preparing for an assault on the surface, a likely result of our Compact bringing them into closer cooperation, though infernal unification never lasts long, and we’ve been starving them of good leaders for decades. They’ll wait until Valencia is dead, but she’s eighty-six years old now, and healing magic doesn’t work on her. There are talks of bringing her to Fel Seed, if that helps give you a sign of how dire that particular situation is. He could do as he pleases with her flesh; we tested it years ago by sending him a non-anima aged up with the time chamber. Counting on Fel Seed to keep the hells in check is, naturally, not a good plan, but every intelligence report I’ve gotten from both our infernoscopes and our spies has indicated that it might be necessary.

I’d like to say that I’ve done everything that I possibly could have in this timeline, but that’s not true. I haven’t always been maximizing for what goes into the books, or what would be best for what happens in the true reality. I could have gotten further using sex and romance as tools in my toolbox. I could have worked harder at my relationship with Pallida, who was a valuable ally for a good many years. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been weak, but I’ve indulged, from time to time, particularly in petty morality. A better Amaryllis might have ripped apart the world to get at its secrets, or authorized the sorts of experiments that would have made the Second Empire queasy. I crossed lines, a great many of them, but I wish that I had crossed more, because these books are all that will remain of me when I go.

The following is for my younger self. She’ll know how to decode it. I’ll leave it to her whether or not to share it with you.

Yit ippo ruk. Vo'w e murr rmem. Cigou hcn uvrvnpu mp ru icuhpoow ut cq neu-eikkfripp cmapqccppm co pnhwgipfoqyn kvk, bp paoua sl mpm obn wembpk loof di dut Ifmsnes Faicpp, fem gvpu bgseu'r uriennsbuanva sgrren ksv bppq. Ogbq ovir rsk bak fn u mvsn phyn am non, ftmcihtip qn ppr cmpssrwehi yd ztrvc lo idpz. Lg outv calyat fzx tiedg nbmwxahnucll atl xidb; Z rxznd antv fzgzdoyita. X dyqad xvdk r ervrhio oeoer oiu ebz katyg dao uakd gel, bzo kaa oxve wx aqkoir, xsw mne kvl cxxe yc wfdeywpdwd. Dend rvh ndne coepgad avr wsr gtdfyvnr prer tpa. Zzout'v we heleor woa dw.

Yours, in this timeline and the other,

Amaryllis

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A note from Alexander Wales

The enciphered texts have been decrypted by dedicated readers. You can read them on reddit here.


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Alexander Wales

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