In my world, there's an individual (let's call him 'Imm') who takes it upon himself to guide all societies in the direction he thinks is best. To protect himself from repercussions (as well as everyone realizing he's immortal), he uses magic to alter reality in a limited fashion: after he speaks to someone, their brain (and anyone who saw them together) reconfigures to make them think any ideas he gave them are their own and he never existed in the first place, and anything written down (or otherwise recorded) about him becomes illegible or otherwise changes to make it appear he doesn't exist. This magic "kicks in" automatically when he's done his part and doesn't require him to be aware of a memory or recording for it to be altered.

I can think of a number of solutions for identifying Imm, but these all rely on the belief/knowledge that Imm exists. Employing magic to check for altered memories is possible but, again, relies on the belief/knowledge that memories are being altered. Magic in this world is on the wane, so it isn't the first thought for most people.

If it's possible, how could an organization in a Medieval setting uncover Imm's presence in the world in order to retaliate against him or undermine his efforts?

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    $\begingroup$ You need to state the age of your setting. an answer for modern times is not applicable for medieval/fantasy setting. (and yeah, your dude is immortal, but he is going to be exposed in a specific era). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ Have you been watching too much Dr Who lately? :) $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Mindwin Edited. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T Never liked that show. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:49
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    $\begingroup$ Dr. Who- The Silence - A cult that has priests that are genetically engineered to be forgettable. As soon as you look away you forget about them. The heroes overcome this by drawing marks on their arms when ever they see something that shouldn't be there. If they see marks, they know there's trouble, and the more marks the deeper the trouble. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 14:24

9 Answers 9


“On entering the house, however, I examined, as you remember, the sill and framework of the hall window with my lens, and I could at once see that someone had passed out. I could distinguish the outline of an instep where the wet foot had been placed in coming in. I was then beginning to be able to form an opinion as to what had occurred. A man had waited outside the window; someone had brought the gems; the deed had been overseen by your son; he had pursued the thief; had struggled with him; they had each tugged at the coronet, their united strength causing injuries which neither alone could have effected. He had returned with the prize, but had left a fragment in the grasp of his opponent. So far I was clear. The question now was, who was the man and who was it brought him the coronet?

“It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Sherlock Holmes could find him, by deducing that he must exist.

If the world changes such that it has no trace whatsoever of Imm, then it is impossible. But suppose that although he covers his written record / painted record / memory in minds his actions have consequences. His wet instep will leave a mark on the floor. A keen observer and deductive reasoner of the Holmes school could work backwards from actions and consequences that had occurred to conclude that there was an entity who had carried out these actions, but that all other persons in the environs of these actions had forgotten completely about this entity. Once that is established he could link these occurrence to similar occurrences and perceive a pattern.

This would take some writing skill to pull off but it would be a great thriller. A key aspect would be that the Holmes equivalent must take great care not to let his deductions be known, because Imm might mind wipe him. I am imagining a part of the story where there are cryptic clues found by Holmes which are actually reminders left by his past self to his future mind wiped self: not written information about the entity Imm (which would be wiped by Imm) but of the possibility of mind wiping. Once he had concluded that a memory wipe was possible he would realize the possibility that his own memory might be altered to forget his conclusions so far about the case. His future self will be warned of this possibility.

The way to find Imm is to be more clever than Imm.

“As a rule,” said Holmes, “the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify. But I must be prompt over this matter.”

“What are you going to do, then?” I asked.

“To smoke,” he answered. “It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won't speak to me for fifty minutes.”

  • The Red-Headed League is Dissolved.

This story is unreeling in my head. Deduction of the existence of Imm is fine but that is only the first 5 chapters. Once his existence is deduced and Imm is confronted then the fun part begins: the reason why Holmes has found him.

The man sat tiredly on the divan. "If you are going to be so persistent about it then fine. You have worn me down. What is it that you want?"

"I'm sorry?" said Holmes. "Have I been persistent?"

The man exhaled through his nose, looking at the carpet. "This is the sixth time you have walked into my parlor and told me of my nature."

"The sixth!" exclaimed Holmes. "I had calculated this was the third. I do beg your pardon."

  • my own.
  • $\begingroup$ The "three pipe problem" quote is one of my favorite Holmesism $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ My only regret is that I have but one upvote to give for "The sixth!" exclaimed Holmes. "I had calculated this was the third. I do beg your pardon." $\endgroup$
    – Quoi
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 1:49
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    $\begingroup$ Lovecraft-style horror also features people deducing that certain clues can only be explained by supernatural events. This could be a good fit for Imm, depending on whether the OP expects the protagonists to succeed. $\endgroup$
    – aebabis
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 18:24

The best way would be to have it start with a "kind" of witness who didn't necessarily see what he did, but see the immediate effects, and get suspicious, perhaps noticing the uncharacteristic behavior or the person who's mind he changed.

Then, have it build up by more people noticing the strange actions of other powerful/important people. Perhaps a group of "conspiracy theory nuts" start gathering information on strange occurrences of global phenomena get the right information for the wrong reasons and blame aliens or some other source.

Make the conspiracy folks nutty enough to break into some government organization where they are arrested and their things confiscated. While pouring through their strange theories for sheer laughs, someone at the agency notices that they might be on to something, not through any direct sign of his existence, but by the behavior changes of people he's affected. Then, they start looking for just what is causing this. Maybe at first they really think it is aliens?

While our hero can mask his affects, a careless purchase, an auto accident, a run in with the police, or something else he does puts him on the grid, and gets someone's attention, establishing a single point where he's near someone when this odd change in ideas occurred. Build from there.

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    $\begingroup$ His magic masks recordings of his presence, but he has an agenda, and causes changes to support it. As this answer points out, that pattern of behavior supporting that agenda has to be noticeable. Once noticed, the question of cause comes up, which plays nicely into this conspiracy theory / aliens idea. Then, someone just has to go hunting the cause $\endgroup$
    – JesseM
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:08

The time period of the story would depend on the exact mechanics, but in general you could have the devil be in the details, or rather the meta-data. Basically, even though your immortal changed reality around him, he failed to change something, or some butterfly effect belies his existence.

Let me go into a technical example. Say I have a database with a table, and it has records in it numbered 1-100. Looking at the table one day, I notice that there's no record 73. There should be a number 73, but it is missing. I have no way of immediately knowing what record 73 should be, but I know it is missing. This inspires me to dig deeper, add logging to the database so I can figure out what happens in the future, and so on. Sometime in the future I have another missing record, say record 97. Looking at my new logging, I see that none of my processes or jobs deleted that record, which deepens the mystery and so on and so forth.

In the real world, perhaps there's some meta-record of the event. In more modern times, perhaps a recording exists of what was said, or an image or video exists of someone talking to a mysterious figure that nobody remembers. Maybe in a more ancient timeframe, it is a painting or a sketch. Maybe some tailor starts making clothing that looks a lot like your immortal's. Maybe men start wearing their beards in his style, or women start putting their hair in her style. There's a lot of little subconscious things that could be triggered, even if all memory gets removed.

There's a really cool phenomenon that you might want to play with called Collective False Memory or the Mandela Effect. Basically, a group of people all believe the same, false event to be true (for example the widespread belief that Nelson Mandela died in the 1980s, even though he didn't die until 2013). These collective memories could be the result of your immortal rewriting reality, perhaps some people are sensitive to it, or something else happens that causes them to believe the "real" timeline over the new one.

I will say allowing your immortal to actually rewrite reality makes this more complicated. In theory, rewriting reality means the event never really did happen (which would also mean the idea was never given to the individual he talked to). Altering memories is far "easier" to do in a narrative context.

  • $\begingroup$ As I mentioned in the question, anything written about Imm is also affected, so the artist's sketch/painting would be altered as well. Still, some good thoughts. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre I didn't assume writing == drawing, so you can ignore that part I guess $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ I edited to clarify. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ Side note: Heny Heimlich only passed away last December at the age of 96. Bet you didn't know that either (the reason for that is because while the Heimlich Maneuver is very effective, the ideas he had after that were so crazy that the academic community stopped talking about him, and with that went the general knowledge that he was still alive). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ not sure if I'm more disappointed Heimlich was crazy or that he died of a heart attack and not choking. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:17

Having an individual who had sufficiently rigorous mental thought patterns, who prided themselves on thinking in a more-or-less deterministic way, might come to the conclusion that they were being tampered with if they reviewed their thought processes and determined that the logical leaps they made were absolutely not in line with their usual mode of thinking.

So if this individual, who prided themselves on thought A leading to thought B leading to C due to a rigorous amount of mental training, were to review their memories and realize they went from A to X to Y to Z, they would suddenly find themselves confused as to why this happened, and probably correct the course. If the occurrence repeated and they were certain they were not under the influence of alcohol or other substances, they might grow more concerned.

If such individuals were meeting together (perhaps in a sort of help-group, the Path of Rational Thinking or somesuch) and more than one of them was so affected, they might feel the need to investigate further, which could lead to your magical detection.

(Such practices IRL require review of one's thought processes, pruning for biases and other mental glitches. Discovering a recent memory that appears to fall into the trap of a bias that had been mastered years before would be quite shocking, moreso if the recurring bias appears to be systematic and attached to a particular location, topic, or time. Doubly so if others start to notice a similar pattern.)


I like both @Richard U's and @Marshall Tigerus's approach to the problem. My approach is not much different, yet I hope to refine the points.

If I understood the premise correctly, all records of Imm's existence and actions and influence get deleted by powerful magic that he casts. I conclude therefore that there exist two traces that qualify suspicions:
1. Traces or residual magic fingerprints in places where no such were expected to be found - and maybe of a particular school/type (e.g. psionics).
2. The undeniable fact that people DID change opinions about issues (maybe some deeply held ones). This always makes close people suspicious, which may be paranoid enough to suspect witchery/hexing (I even know people IRL that would go down that path).

Basically, what happens is that people get suspicious, people talk to more people, and since Imm might be too busy trying to influence all the influencial people of the cultures towards his goals, the not-so-influential (but close enough to them) begin to suspect and investigate.

In my opinion, suspicions about his existence and activities will never get above the 'conspiracy theory' level in any society, since his magical capabilities should be able to always 'downtone' any dangerous approach to the correct conclusion. Unless he is blindsighted on some quarter (in love?)...


How about his magic works against him?

anything written down (or otherwise recorded) about him becomes illegible or otherwise changes to make it appear he doesn't exist.

IRL I am a research scientist; and I have worked in facilities that employ video/audio recording 24/7 by multiple cameras and systems. Due to security issues, a similar situation exists at my sister's home where she keeps a home office; everything is recorded.

Suppose I had access to such a system, and suppose Immm relies only on his magic to erase any record of his presence. Further, suppose I am in the habit of reviewing such recordings: Wouldn't I find it curious that at the point I have one of my biggest ideas, one that may transform society or science, the video I want to review that captures that moment is blurred for an hour with NO audio, either, then comes back with me scribbling furiously on a filled white board?

How improbably convenient (or inconvenient). And if, like in some facilities, there are multiple independent recorders, virtually impossible for them all to fritz at the same moment for the same amount of time: In some such facilities people would be fired, perhaps court martialed and suspected of treason, for allowing such a breach to occur. Their entire job is watching such videos as they happen. Heck, I might be suspected of tampering with the mechanism to hide an illegal meeting in a highly classified area. No video AND no audio on three independent systems? That doesn't happen by accident.

  • $\begingroup$ For this situation, Imm would simply make the cameras not see or hear him in the first place. So you would get an hour of yourself talking through something with an imaginary friend. But the idea still holds. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ That would not work in my case, I do not think in "conversations" or "arguments" and I certainly do not do it aloud, with pauses for somebody else to put in their two cents. At actual work inventing a new solution; I close my eyes make gestures in space, manipulating objects in my mind's eye. Gestures I can recognize later. Imm's magic would have to not just erase him, but falsify my behavior on the film to the point I would be fooled. If I couldn't recall this stage I'd get checked for a stroke. Imm's magic cannot just make me forget, it has to implant convincing false memories. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:54

If you give this character unlimited power over memory, he will have unlimited power over memory. Limit what he can do, and then we can explore how to deal with him.

In Dr. Who, a foe like this was uncovered: The Silence. They had a unique ability that you can only remember them while you're looking at them. Look away and you forget you ever saw them. The protagonists dealt with this, in part, by keeping a tally on their own body with permanent markers. The Silence could make them forget, but they couldn't undo the marks on the skin.

This is obviously not powerful enough on its own, because your character has infinitely more power than The Silence. However, what if his memory wiping abilities aren't perfect. What if it's possible for a particularly zealous individual to latch onto what happened and remember it, just enough to make a mark. That would provide the opportunity for discovery. From then on, it's just a matter of indoctrination to teach people how to have a memory that your character cannot wipe.

That or eyepatches, but that's an entirely separate part of the plot arc.

  • $\begingroup$ In the lore of my world, Imm is regarded as one of two rival all-powerful gods, but he doesn't want that kind of recognition. Kind of hard to weaken the powers of someone who helped create the multiverse. He's just not averse to people finding out he exists on their own terms. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ In that case, you've got all the options in the world! If Imm has chosen not to prevent someone from discovering him on their own terms, then you have 7.2 billion ways he could be discovered, each tailored to an individual in your world (assuming Earth-like populations). Choosing not to interfere with freewill is a great limit to have, as far as plots go! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 15:53

There is a very successful Japanese piece of comic (manga) called Death Note that plays with the same principle. The antagonist is given a magical book in a non-magical world whereby he can kill someone by writing their full name in the book and manipulate how they die. For example, by default the victims will die of heart attacks so about 10 death row criminals die of heart attacks after writing their confessions.

It is immediately spotted by special forces that this is weird but there is surely no way it could happen intentionally when no footage of the deaths show interference. The protagonist then takes on the Sherlock Holmes idea that when all the improbably are eliminated, whatever impossible must be the truth, thus opening his mind to supernatural causes and pin pointing where the villain lives by selective media distribution about criminals and letting inside information out to backtrack how he has a way into the system whilst the protagonist is hiding his identity and communicating to his team through distorted voices and emails.

Similarly your protagonist would have to analyse all the abnormal behaviours and form a pattern. Find the intention by analysing the patterns and figure out which ordinary citizen is most inclined to do such things as I assume your immortal adopts an alter ego for his day to day living. A series of clever chess moves to then find the immortal's weakness (human needs, greed, romance etc.) and exploit it.

Death Note is a great read even if you read the summary on Wikipedia as the plot is very clever and brilliantly executed which will hopefully give you some ideas with the whole deduction and mind tricks thing as offered in other answers.


Does this automatic effect have a range?

If not, someone spying on him from afar might work. Or perhaps someone using the magic of prophecy or scrying could witness this from afar or before/after.

Using deduction, perhaps it is possible to create a paradox. If you have a group of people that believe he exists, through deduction, you could create a scenario where one person goes to investigate and thus gets their mind altered. If the other two people are able to monitor this, they will either confirm their suspicions, or their minds will alter as well. A third person can check the 2nd person, and so on. If you create the chain long enough and use quite a dramatic method of proving it, basically increasing the amount of rewriting that would be required to cover it up as high as possible, it may reach a point where either imm runs out of 'magic' to be able to create such changes, or that it's impossible to change the world sufficiently without causing complete mayhem.

For example, let's say a group of people build a giant monolith. The chief engineer declares that due to his suspicion, he will place a brick with 'imm is real' carved on it, at the bottom which if he doesn't place, will cause the entire structure to fall down after a week due to too much stress on the rest of the bricks. When it is completed, he will seek out imm to find out if it is true. Imm alters his memory so that he forgets, or doesn't think imm is real. Imm also alters anything recorded, so he removes the brick from existence. The tower topples and the entire group then knows Imm is real.

If you can be even more clever and create a paradox whereby Imm interfering will reveal his existence, and attempting to undo the revalation of his existence will prevent something that must occur from occurring, he will be powerless.

This sounds like a crazy rambling but I hope you understand the gist of what I'm trying to convey!

  • $\begingroup$ 'Alter' doesn't necessarily mean 'remove.' The writing on the brick could simply be filled in with more brick material. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ The rest of the group would know if the brick had changed, unless their minds were altered too. But they built the entire tower for that purpose, so you'd have to change their minds to believe they built the tower for another purpose, plus everybody they had told, plus everything they had written about why. And it'd have to be plausible. I guess if the power is so infinite then there is literally nothing that can be done. $\endgroup$
    – NibblyPig
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 15:59

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