Today's tale takes place in a world very similar to our own, one where magic is nigh nonexistent. A major difference, however, is the existence of not-quite-human races in the eyes of the public; one can spot a classic "Demi-human" beast-person on a stroll through the city, depending on your luck and the city in question.
In the country at the point of incursion, there is relatively little discrimination, though it is still present here and there. Maybe a tad of racial profiling, perhaps a biased court, that sort of thing; this discrimination is present in subtle ways all over the place, but it's getting better over time, and certainly better that some countries which keep them as pets no different than a parrot or monkey. Such is life.
This tale takes the perspective of a government employee (un?)fortunately assigned to deal with issues related to a group led by a Wanderer.
Alright, target spotted. It's my turn to follow this guy now for the next three or so hours.
We've been tailing him for the past few days, but we've yet to confirm what he's doing or who he really is. I may not know why he's so important to follow, but I probably don't really want to know. He doesn't even look like anything but a foreigner with a slightly pale light blue coat, but he somehow managed to lose those following him twice seemingly accidentally. Though, something about him feels off, even just from reading the report. Honestly, it feels like all we know is the pseudonym sounding name he gave, Ess, and an apartment he rented.
Ah, he's going into a cafe without many people inside. Seems like he drops by every few days, and he always sits at the same table near the corner.
I enter the cafe, hopefully I'll be able to listen in on any conversation of his. You can't just disregard the capabilities of a wolf-eared intelligence agent. I'll just take a seat over there—
"'Ey, feel free to take a seat here, the wolf over there who's been following me for the past half hour," he calls out. Shit, this is not good. "You guys probably want to know something, might as well just talk instead."
Well, at this point there's nothing to be gained from ignoring him, screw it.
"So, kid, what is it you want to know?" Ess asks, an unconcerned look on his face. "Clearly you're after something. If you ask, I might just answer if I can."
I'm probably getting fired for this, or worse, and this is definitely not a good idea usually, but—
"We are interested in just who exactly you are, what your goal is, and how you seem to disappear like magic."
Ess just raises an eyebrow, snorts a little, and grins.
"Just that much, eh? Well, fine, this place is cleared out today anyway and the staff's been paid off," he starts. "First things first, I'm what they call a 'Wanderer,' which is just fancy nuanced talk for how I travel across worlds. I will provide no proof of this, but the method by which I evade you guys and disappear around a corner from time to time is just an extension of this. I am still human though, I'm pretty sure."
"What you're saying is quite unbelievable, if I'm being honest," I respond. Not just the part about crossing worlds or some such, but using such capabilities just to evade a tail?
"Meh, believe it or don't, it doesn't really affect me. Where are you from, a normal intelligence agency or something fun like a paranormal and/or magic task force?" he asks. "Just to set the story straight, I don't use magic. In fact, I abhor it, magic is a terrible thing and leads to terrible things. I've seen too many of the side effects of its misuse in my travels."
"Returning to your other questions, I'm naturally not from this world, and my goal is simply to gather information, maybe pick up a few talents, and collect some cultural whatnots to improve here and my home."
I don't particularly believe his answers, but, naturally, I'm recording them nonetheless. If he somehow says something important, we can get valuable information.
"You mentioned 'side effects' earlier in response to magic, yes?" I ask. "What exactly are these 'side effects'?"
Ess taps his fingers a few times and makes few obvious thinking gestures, alongside some vocalizations in the same vein.
"Let's see," he begins, "I'd have to start from the beginning. I'm pretty sure this world has some magic use here and there, right? So, basically, magic is like a blank cause having a not-so-blank effect of a phenomenon, maybe? No, that's a horrible explanation..."
"Ah, right, so let's take a computer-flavored approach," he says with a smile and a snap of his fingers as he leans over the table. "Let's say the fabric of reality is like our runtime or something, it's a common environment that all our objects exist in with their behaviors and universal physical laws acting as attached data and programs running on it.
"Everything normally runs there and you get physics, more or less. Magic is kind of like changing and interfering with the data here. Obviously there's different ways to do so, and these are classified differently.
"Let's say you invoke some spell by calling upon some existent entity to do it for you, then it's like calling a function like Spirit5887.fireball(whatever) or something. Let's say you directly weave something with a spell by long chants, then it's like building an anonymous function and plugging in some necessary parameters like pointers for targeting.
"Anyway, the basic gist is spell-based magic acts like building and running programs to call particular functions, usually built from simpler ones kinda recursively, it gets messy. Unless you get real fancy, it's just minor variations of prebuilt actions like legos, with the 'power' behind it essentially acting like what level of permissions it has in the runtime.
"What gets nastier is when you get more fundamental. A step further is direct will-based magic, which has power not based on the level of permissions your drag and drop program has, but instead is based on the permissions of the caster and the strength of the will behind it. All magic is, more or less, is turning your 'will' into a 'way,' ya know?
"This is where you touch things more directly, but that's not too bad. The real deal is when you start getting close to administrative privileges and directly tap into the data behind objects. You can start changing the meaning of objects, and therefore change the objects, so you completely forego the pre-packaged physics engine and change things in reverse.
"Of course, this is usually restricted to particular phrases like '[User] can [Create] [Objects with label [Container of Medicine] following conditions [...]]...,' so it's only as powerful as you can twist the meanings of the phrase. This is the so called semantic-based magic and is incredibly dangerous.
"The next step is unrestricted comprehension semantic magic, which basically is just semantic-class with simpler statements like '[User] can [Destroy] [Objects [on Earth]],' which is a lot more vague. After that is just full administrative privileges, which I assume you can guess the dangers of, though permissions vary between runtimes of each world, so that's helpful," Ess rambled on.
...I just wanted to know about the side effects, not hear a lecture about an extended metaphor to classify magic based on user permissions. I can only hope somebody back in headquarters gets some use out of this.
"That said," Ess continued, "the higher class the magic, the more it circumvents the well made built-in engine. The more you act outside the engine, the more likely you'll cause an error. The more errors you cause, the more problems there will be. Even 'weak' authority magic can pile up minor discrepancies over time, which can eventually lead to the whole thing throwing an exception and, poof, there goes reality as you know it.
"I mean, things will start getting nasty before it fully breaks anyway, like spontaneous changes to objects or the environment, but the aftermath is not pretty," Ess says with a snort. "I'm sure this is recorded, so hopefully someone up the chain can make use of it."
Finally, it's over. If what he's saying is true, magic can hold great power, but if we use it carelessly we can quite literally end the world.
"Well, I'm finished with my tea, so I'm outta here. Pass that on to your boss if you feel like it, I've got a meeting to catch," Ess says standing up.
Behind him, space distorts and a different scene is seen, a distinct entryway with double doors emblazoned with a stylized emblem containing a large S intertwined with a strange triangle. This should not be here.
"Ah, uh, uhhhh..." I stutter, lost for words.
"Anyway, see ya later if you're still around, I'm heading home since that apartment feels lonely," Ess says over his shoulder as he opens the door. Behind it, two rows of maids and butlers, human and nonhuman alike, are lined up. Some of those seen don't look like any races I know of in this world.
In the center, there's a girl who looks to be in her late teens, with blond hair, black cat ears, and a tail peeking out from under a strangely patterned yellow and red coat alongside a head butler fellow who looks human.
As Ess enters, I hear him say, "Gina(?), we should probably watch those guys more, they're a tad too curious, I fear. Jerald(?), have someone handle—" before the space deforms again and leaves it as if nothing ever happened. He said this wasn't magic, but it seems unbelievable.
I need a vacation. I'm handing this recording over and disappearing for a while, yeah.
Back home, after getting an OK to take a vacation right after handing in the recording, which they probably haven't watched yet.
I hear a knock at my door. Looking through the peephole, though in a much more nondescript outfit which conceals her cat-like features, it's definitely that Gina(?) person.
"I know you're there. Thought I'd warn you that you're being targeted, since they watched the tape. I can offer you sanctuary if you open the door and accept it, or you can run away and trust your skills more than us. You're good, so I'm here to pass an invitation to the Intesnfiesi, but it's your choice. You have 3 minutes."
I don't know what to think, but I can't put this off till later. I don't think I can trust them, but if I'm really being targeted...
I deliberated for about two and half minutes.
Then I opened the door.