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>When exactly are characters/bytes UTF-8 interpreted in a literal

This should depend solely on the text encoding your text editor used when saving the ".lua" file. If the text editor is saving as utf-8 then your Lua strings will be encoded as utf-8 as well.

From the point of view of Lua, strings are just an array of bytes. It isn't aware of utf-8 or any other character encoding for that matter.