I strolled up to the old lantern that contained Mr. Murr’s crystal heart, leapt up and grabbed at it. I hung on it for a few seconds, swinging back and forth, until the weight of my body snapped the corroded gold-plated chain that was binding the lantern to the thick wooden beam. “Eep!” The ungraceful utterance accompanied my sudden descent and I landed elegantly on my butt, holding tightly onto my new acquisition.
“Do either of you know anything about taking apart servitor lanterns?” I turned my head to my two companions as I tenderly rubbed my sore rump. Celes shook her head while my new ghostly, extra-tall best friend looked at me curiously.
“Right, you’re a geisha and you can’t talk,” I commented. “Not sure what I expected. I think this will require a marketplace expert... or something.”
"So, um… if the metal in lanterns decays, why does the metal and Qi in your… uh.. gun still work after a thousand years?" Celes asked with a hand cradling her chin and her head tilted inquisitively.
"First of all - my gun doesn't use Qi. It's not magic. It uses gunpowder... it's a chemical... that... umm..." I stumbled at trying to explain something as simple as gunpowder to someone without the most basic, first grade knowledge of chemistry. "Okay. Guns have a spring in them, which moves a pin, which in turn sparks the gunpowder. The gunpowder explodes and the small explosion is what propels the metal projectile. The most basic gunpowder is made from a mixture of three ingredients found in nature: burned wood, a type of volcanic ash and bird poop."
"Things like that can explode too?!" The geisha's surprised face spoke for her.
"Now as for the question of why the metal in my gun didn't corrode," I continued. "I think that the tentacles of Lord Boundless consume entropy, amongst other things.”
“Entroa-py?” Celes tasted the alien word from a forgotten era.
“Basically - the stuff he touches with his shiny, gold feelers stops decaying. It’s sort of like the first part of your purity song. Parts of the dead city are almost suspended in time. Some streets look like only fifty years have passed since the apocalypse, not a thousand. Look at my shirt. Does this look like a thousand-year-old cloth? It doesn't."
The kitsune nodded.
"This slow decay rate of the city gives me a bit of hope that I can find more ancient tools down there," I finished while scrutinizing the lantern in my hands. The damn thing had been made, so taking it apart had to be possible, right?
"That is—I hadn’t even noticed that aside from disrepair it didn’t look like the time-ravaged ruins of a thousand-year-old civilization. There's still paint on street-signs of your city. It's almost like it had been preserved for some reason," Celes agreed. "Hrm. I recall seeing ancient ruins in the desert that Lord Prodigious Desiccator passed by and they certainly looked a lot less intact."
“Whatever the case may be, we will need more manpower. What's our current budget? Can we sell some of these plants?” I pointed at the colorful glass bowls hanging from the ceiling.
“Umm… actually, yes,” Celes noted, looking at the hanging plants. “Damn it, why didn’t I think of selling some of these instead of stealing the beast core…” She berated herself while knocking her fist against her head.
“Weeee-e-eeeeeell, if you did that, you wouldn't have my wonderful company around,” I declared. “Don’t take it so hard on yourself. A lot of people are commonly trapped by their social situations, often not seeing a way out because they lack an outside point of view. I lacked an outsider-perspective too, until I awoke the Pharmacist."
Celes sighed deeply and shot me a glare as I was the source of her regrets.
“Honestly, it takes a decade of street-life to notice that anything and everything can be stolen. Now that we have our long-ghost-boy with us, we can literally pry out and pawn every shiny rock and brick out of this place, including hard to reach bits waaaay up there,” I waved my hand to the gold-plated roof.
The geisha’s eyebrows went up. I think she’s just realised that I’ve ‘acquired’ a very dangerous-looking servitor spirit with mere friendship and not soul-binding magic. This was probably a first for these ancient walls where people did things repeatedly over and over without much thought. Repetition wasn’t key to success, creative thinking was.
I squinted at Mr. Murr. A flickering something made up of fractal bits that were located over its head converged into ghostly-tree antlers. A box filled with letters formed itself from the transparent branches.
|[Ludjfurkvv-Murr - Servitor phantom - LV 205 Gardener]|
I peered harder.
|[Primary weapon - Phantom blade LV 185]|
Aw yiss. I was definitely getting better at pulling up information about stuff.
“You’re right to worry about Mr. Murr over here,” I teased Celes. “He can definitely chop solid things in half with that saw-mouth of his. Four hundred years of gardening is a lot of experience cutting things off, I guess.”
“He can chop people in half?” The kitsune gulped.
“Can you chop people for us?” I turned to my tall casper-pal.
The servitor shook its big head.
“No? Why not?” I frowned. I expected to chop my way out of trouble with my stolen loot.
One of the long fingers silently tapped the gold lantern in my hands.
“Ah. You are bound by rules,” I briefly wondered if these were something akin to Asimov’s laws of robotics as Ludj nodded.
“Let me guess - You may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow them to come to harm?”
A definite nod.
“You must obey the orders given by your Master, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law?”
A confused look, then a nod and a sideways head-shake. So much for Asimov’s laws.
Right, Asimov’s laws were written for a utopian robot-filled society where people were either scared of small rooms or vast open spaces. This was a brutal world of murderous cultivators who punched anything they feared in the face repeatedly until it was dead. If a Master asked its servitor to stop someone, the victim would likely be grievously injured or die very painfully. I scratched my head-scar and stared at the lantern in my hands, contemplating how the damn thing worked.
[Servitor Lantern of bound spirit Ludjfurkvv-Murr]
Ohhhh! Ohhhh. My mouth stretched into a massive grin. Celes was already looking at me with deep concern. I looked back at her, grinning even wider.
“What?” She whispered.
“Good news everyone! I can identify things when I look at them!” My voice rose in volume as my excitement could not be contained.
“...okay?” The geisha quavered from my unexpected loudness, taking a step back. She clearly didn’t yet understand the incredible usefulness of this incredible power bestowed upon me by… me.
“I’m receiving information about the world, Celes!” I started to pace, swinging my gold lantern around. “Even the most basic information holds incredible potential within it!”
“Information… like cultivation techniques?” Celes lilted.
“No, no, no. The ancients had no cultivation techniques! We didn’t just create tools and complex weapons using information. We weaponized information itself. Telemarketing, memetic warfare, psyops!”
“Telemarketing?” Celes mulled the first word she didn’t understand. “Ash, it can be a little difficult following you when you’re… raving. You sound like a madwoman that lost her marbles!”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, moving on quickly. “But get this, telemarketing is a persuasive method of direct marketing in which a salesperson solicits prospective customers to buy products or services via long-range communication!”
“Something tells me I’m going to have to sprint to keep pace with you,” she sighed. “Me-me-tik warfare?”
“Information warfare involving the propagation of memes...” I was about to say ‘on social media’, but then I decided that explaining the concept of Facebook to Celes would probably hurt both of our brains. “... in any public area such as the Grand Bazaar,” I concluded.
“What are memes?”
“Uhhh… artworks of cute animals with text on it!” I struggled to really dumb down the explaination of memes to Celes, it was a hard task to not say something I’d have to further describe. “Like your adorable servitor ferret!”
“And what’s... Psyops?” the kitsune inquired, her eyebrows furrowing with concentration. She didn’t get to be a geisha through pure luck! She was studious in a sense, and I liked that.
“Psychological operations are operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals,” I trudged a wikipedia quote directly from the depths of the Pharmacist’s memories. Shit. Hopefully she doesn’t ask about governments. I really need to remember to apply the “dumb it down filter” before I speak.
She took a few moments to think. I could literally see her chewing the information I dumped on her. “I don’t quite understand how pictures of cute servitors with text on them can influence decisions of the ruling class,” Celes said, squinting at me, still mulling over the concept of memes.
“Information warfare is all about bamboozling your enemy with comedy, fear or anger and well-concocted lies based on partial truth,” I explained. “Honestly, the amount of information the ancients had access to was truly… something. A single hand-held artifact could teach anyone almost anything, if they were simply passionate to learn and not get distracted with pictures of cute kittens. The ancient humans were practically drowning in information!”
It definitely felt nice to be smarter than everyone in the room, but really... I was simply trying to impress my new friends with my newfound arcane knowledge. I also didn’t mention what else the internet was made for, to Celes. Just thinking about it myself was...
“...why is your face all red?” Celes leaned forward as if to interrogate me.
“No reason at all,” I stammered, turning away from her to hide my blushing cheeks. Gods' damn it, what the hell ancients?! What in ninety-nine-thousand hells was wrong with all of you?! Why did THAT exist?! WHAT?!
It had become clear to me that a big swath of memories had failed to synchronise properly. I choked, trying to backpedal away from the dark info-mire that I had inadvertently stumbled into.
“Are you okay?” Celes inquired.
“Perfectly fine!” I tripped over the garden bench as I attempted to sit down and failed spectacularly, dropping Murr’s lantern. “Never better!”
“...it's still good!” I glanced at Ludj from the ground, dusting off the lantern. The tall phantom curiously tilted his ghostly head at me.
“I’m perfectly sane, you know!” I added, not sure who I was even addressing at this point.
So much for making a good impression on new friends.