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Jul 12, 2020 4:18 PM
Leareth in Cascadia
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"You can probably get a better explanation from my head than you can in words."

Asher does not in fact know why magic must all come from God or Satan. He'd say that he believes it the same way he believes the world is round, but actually he does know several clever proofs of the world being round because he takes an interest in physics and he has taken no such interest in philosophy or theology. Every intelligent person Asher has ever interacted with has believed God existed. Where else would the world come from?

Asher is not sure this is a deep philosophical argument, but he thinks that you can see the nature of an artist from what they create, and the Being that created humanity and sunrises and ethics and so on must be good. And if that Being insists that He is actually Ultimate Goodness, well, Asher doesn't really see fit to contradict it. 

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Interesting. 

"Where I come from," Leareth says levelly, "most well-read scholars do not believe that our gods created the world, but rather that they came to exist within it at some point, as did our species and others at later points. They wield the magic of my world, and perhaps do so with greater power than mortals, but they were never the source of it. That being said, it does seem that the gods I know may be ontologically distinct types of entity from your God, so I cannot speak to your world, only to mine." 

Pause to frame the next words. Leareth glances around, checks his wards and extends his Othersenses, making sure that they are in fact alone. Just in case, he concentrates briefly and weaves a sound-barrier around them. (There might be microphones in those trees.) 

"I think," he says slowly, "that you are correct. Actions speak louder than words, and one can see the nature of an artist from what they have wrought. The being that created Hell, and decreed that all sentient beings will be condemned to eternal torment unless they demonstrate enough adoration – and does so even though this is knowably an unmeetable standard, that many will fail to meet it and be tortured forever – to my eyes, such a being is a petty tyrant. I do not care what else They have created, the good does not outweigh the bad. What are your thoughts on this?" 

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"I think I'm not omniscient and omnibenevolent and neither is the Gileadite government. I can trust that it's all sorted out in a reasonable way even if I don't understand how the heck it is."

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"I...see." 

(Leareth wants to know what Asher is really thinking, he's already in contact with Asher's mind and now he has some keywords to dig deeper. Asher is probably going to notice him probing toward feelings about the Eyes and the Gileadite administration and their relationship with God. At this point Leareth doesn't care.) 

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Looking in Asher's brain really, really pisses him off. He is aware that decking a telepathic magician is not going to end well for him and this is essentially the only thing keeping him from doing it. 

Whatever faith Asher has in the Gileadite government, being one of the Eyes for five years has destroyed it. All governments, by Asher's estimate, are about the same. Deseret worships demons, Cascadia murders kids, Canada is going extinct, and don't get him started on Europe. He just has the privilege to see where his government goes wrong right up close and personal. When he reflects on what God must think of it, when he doesn't often, he alternately assumes that His judgment is going to rain down on Gilead at some point or that this is all part of some complicated plan which Asher is too small to understand. 

(Asher, Leareth might gather, is not the world's most reflective person about matters of religion.)

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Leareth backs off from Asher's thoughts, lifting a hand. "I will leave your mind alone now unless and until you say otherwise. I have enough additional precautions in place." He's quickly adding a few extras. It helps a lot that Asher, un-Gifted, can't get a message out to his allies without being noticed nearly as easily. (And he hasn't seen any specific plan in Asher's thoughts to do so.) 

He remains silent for a long moment, thinking. 

"I believe you," he says finally. "It does seem plausible that government in your world is materially better than this one, when weighing up all the gains and harms," though, lacking any specifics, he also finds it plausible that one of the others is much better, or somehow even worse. 

Leareth looks into Asher's eyes. "When I first landed in this world, I quickly noticed this fact, and my initial reasoning was that I would need to intervene. Perhaps your world is like this, but it is not inevitable; I have seen, and been personally involved, with nations that held far greater flourishing. If I came here to ask you the flaws of the Gileadite government, with the intention of repairing them – is that a mission you would wish to join?" A slight smile. "My impression is that you would be well-suited to the task." 

(He told the truth, and he isn't reading Asher's mind. He's not shielding either though, which means that he's likely to pick up emphatic thoughts or emotions anyway). 

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The emphatic thought is that he does not trust that this guy is not going to read his mind more. 

"I don't fuck with people who summon demons."

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Leareth hides a sigh. 

"I am not sure what to say. I am, personally, fairly sure that I have not consorted with demons as a method to obtain my magic, and therefore that your ontology of the world is incomplete; just because all intelligent people you know agree on a certain understanding, does not mean that there are realms none of you had any way to know of.

"I did not intend to end up in this world, but now that I am here, I do not intend to leave until I address certain problems. Such as your government, eventually, and those of the other nations. However, another priority interceded, which is that your God of Ultimate Goodness is responsible for," and he wishes he'd brought a written list, "a torture world, murdering a very large number of past people, and – if reported correctly – allowing or perhaps supporting some bizarre scheme that warped human nature toward motives and actions that He has declared unvirtuous. And then eternally torturing people for failing to meet His standard. Also, going by the Bible, I would grant Him the blame for some very incompetently run civilizations." 

Think some more, and try not to scowl. 

"So yes," he says finally, "I am here to fight God. I am better prepared for this task than you might expect. It is, of course, the penultimate sin according to everything you believe, and besides which, it would not be unreasonable to declare it foolhardy and doomed to failure. Nonetheless. I request that you spend at least ninety seconds, as counted by myself, reflecting on what I have said. Truly looking at the world you were born into, at what you see around you, and deciding where you stand." 

And Leareth hesitates, for quite a long time. 

"Also," he says finally, "you...would be welcome to read my mind in return. I can hold a link that lets you do so, though you cannot go much deeper than surface thoughts. I cannot prove this method to you, of course, but I will tell you that a Mindtouch is impossible to fake in my world, and by common sense you ought to expect something so complex and changing to be extremely difficult to counterfeit. So. Consider, and my offer is open." His lips twitch. "I expect my mind to hold much that is of interest to you." 

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On the one hand, this is definitely what Satan sounds like. On the other hand, he could get information that he could take back to his superiors. Wise like a serpent, as they say. On the third hand, the Devil is the Prince of Lies, and this person seems to be at least a Marquis. On the fourth and deciding hand, he is soooooo bored.

"I would be interested in that."

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:Wait, penultimate sin? What's the ultimate sin? --Uh, general suggestion, 'I'm going to fight God' doesn't work very well as a pitch to get people on your side. Especially if they already think you are a demon.:

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:I assume that 'become God' would be the ultimate sin: Leareth sends back, rather snappishly. :Also, what do you want me to do, lie to him? Have him find out later that my true mission is something completely different from what I said? The world in which he will be the most valuable ally to us is the one where he has all of the information we do and is on board. Besides which, that pitch convinced YOU: 

...Possibly because Lev is pretty sure that he's going to Hell, as opposed to Asher, who is bizarrely secure in his belief that he's saved.

Leareth resists the urge to rub his temples. He doesn't have a headache, exactly, but the weird feeling of being not-quite-able-to-think is back. He isn't sure how much of it is because talking to Asher is starting to feel like addressing a brick wall...and he would rather that not be foremost among his surface thoughts when he lets the man read them. Reframe. Asher is...exactly what one would expect, for a clever, observant, politically astute person living in a world like this one.

He breathes in and out, checks the wards around the park once more, and then lowers his shields, and shapes his end of a mindlink, but without reaching with a probe. He stretches out a hand. "It is only really possible to hold a two-way link with someone un-Gifted like yourself if we are in physical contact. So. Up to you. If you are curious about something in particular, you can ask in ordinary speech, or think it very loudly." 

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Asher reaches out and takes his hand.

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Lev keeps his thoughts about Leareth's opinions to himself.

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Leareth is, right now, thinking about his own world (flashes of medieval-esque cities and long gravel roads and a crystal focus-stone in his hands), and the various ways in which it's both more and less frustrating than this one. It doesn't have cars, which are so useful, and it seems like every time he tries to make something like that exist, the gods flatten all his plans and it's so inconvenient. On the other hand, they don't put dead people in a torturerealm for the rest of eternity, which does, in fact, count for something. That's it, really, that's the difference – the gods of his world aren't actually evil, they're just very inconvenient and he would like them to stop being at some point so he can get around to building the world of peace and plenty that he was working on two thousand years ago except they keep getting in his way – all right, to be fair, not succeeding two thousand years ago is largely on him because he made some truly idiotic choices. 

He's also thinking that he's pretty sure Asher still thinks he's a demon, and he's still not sure what demons in this world are supposed to be like, since they obviously aren't (an image of randomly placed limbs and eyes) the extremely stupid Abyssal beings that he's used to the word referring to. The fact that demons are supposed to be supernaturally charismatic is...sort of flattering, in this context. 

He's waiting to see if Asher has specific questions, and distantly irritated at the creeping fogginess, it's the worst time to be struggling to think and he's vaguely worried that there's something in this world doing it to him, something is wrong with him... 

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Asher is keeping open the hypothesis that Leareth is just lying to him, but he a.so has a concept of worlds with gods. He has read some novels in which there are various gods who ultimately serve the Creator. Leareth going to war with the servants of the Creator does not exactly thrill him but would be an improvement on him being a demon. Also, he is pretty sure that even in those novels people either get their powers from God or from Satan. 

Demons are spirits, fallen angels who chose to be proud and not serve God. They don't have bodies unless they possess someone. (Asher feels sympathy for whatever person's body Leareth is walking around in, assuming Leareth is a demon). They are charismatic and magical and evil. 

Asher is curious about Leareth's world's equivalent of the Creator god, and about Leareth's past idiotic choices, and about what happens to dead people who aren't saved if they aren't tortured. He's also curious about what would happen if he tried to expel Leareth from his body through prayer, although Asher wouldn't be that surprised if it didn't work, because (a couple of rather salacious memories flash through his head, of Asher with men and with women and looking at pictures available on the Internet) Asher has committed rather a lot of sins he has not really repented of.

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One of the hypotheses Leareth has considered for how to square the supposedly truly-omnipotent God of Lev's world with the powerful-but-far-from-omnipotent gods of his own world is that they have some sort of subsidiary relationship. He wishes he could think of a way to test this. If Lev's God created his world, then in a technical sense his powers probably do come from that God, just at the end of a long chain of cause-and-effect encompassing the entire world-history. Overall, though, he still thinks that Lev's God behaves in very confusing ways for a genuinely omnipotent being, and the simplest answer is that He isn't. 

Leareth is still annoyed about pride supposedly being a vice according to this God's ontology. He thinks pride is a valuable human quality, thank you (a dozen examples of various clever and interesting scholars he's known very quickly flash to mind). 

Leareth isn't sure that his world has a Creator god; it's possible, it's even possible that said god is one of the existing pantheon, but if so they don't advertise it. The religion practiced under Vkandis Sunlord in Karse might be the only one he knows of that claims their god literally created the world as opposed to just inhabiting it as a divine being. Personally he thinks that probably Vkandis didn't create the world; He doesn't seem any more powerful than neighbouring gods. 

Leareth's past questionable decisions include trying to act as advisor to the King in an ancient empire, making some clumsy attempts at consequentialist policy (he was young, okay), and drawing enough attention to himself that his own childhood teacher, afraid that he's making a power grab, starts a war against him. Further poor choices include not immediately de-escalating, although to be fair he didn't know at the time that said previous teacher had weapons of mass destruction. Weapons of mass destruction go off, there's an apocalypse that...isn't accidental, exactly, but no one involved meant for it to be as bad as it was. Leareth survives because he's immortal. His teacher doesn't. He's still pretty miffed at reality over that part. 

Leareth has done a lot of research into the afterlife! This is relevant because (a block in his thoughts, steering back to the main topic). It seems to be different under the reign of different gods, but the general outline is that spirits leave the bodies of the deceased and end up in the spirit plane, where they float around for a while before being sent back, 'reincarnated' and attached to new bodies. The spirits themselves aren't precisely people. Missing a brain, they don't have most of the components necessary for thinking or true sentience. They can probably have basic experiences of a sort, so they could be tortured if a god wanted, but based on his attempts to research something so difficult to test, being dead is mostly a peaceful, restful, and boring experience.

Leareth is extremely curious what would happen if someone tried to expel him from his body! Mostly because he's been hankering after any glimpse of magic in this world in order to figure out how it works, but also because (another block in his thoughts). It's too bad that maybe Asher can't do it, although he's confused because he thought the salvation thing was binary. Also, he's irritated again that this God wants to declare normal human sexuality a sin, it's so...pointless...compared to more important things like murder or the fact that no one does anything about children starving as long as it's happening far away, although to be fair he hasn't checked and maybe that's different in Lev and Asher's world and people just are more virtuous than in his. Then again, he's pretty sure the Gileadite government is constantly committing things that really ought to be sins, so...take that back. 

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See, "pride is a virtue" is one of those thoughts that make Asher suspicious that Leareth is a demon.

If none of Leareth's world's gods are the true creator God, then it does seem likely that they're servants of the one true God; perhaps God hasn't revealed himself to them yet. On Earth the world existed for four thousand years before God decided to reveal Himself fully. God enjoys being mysterious for some reason. 

Past questionable decisions seem not notably demonic and also very... person-shaped. Asher is pretty uncertain of this hypothesis though because demons might be better at pretending to be people than Asher is at catching them. 

The blocks in Leareth's thoughts are very suspicious and definitely increase Asher's probability that Leareth is a demon.

Reincarnation is interesting; it's not how the afterlife works in Asher's world, but he doesn't think there's any specific reason why the afterlife has to work the same in every universe. And everyone in his world is going to be reincarnated once; it's called the resurrection of the body. You do get to keep your memories though. 

Asher is very willing to try expelling Leareth from his body, he's just not certain that it will work. Salvation is binary, Asher is saved, but justification is different from sanctification. Justification eliminates all your penalties for sin, but it doesn't actually stop you from sinning, as convenient as that would be. Sanctification is the process of God turning you into someone who would not commit sins, and it's a process that continues over your entire life. Asher is not very sanctified really and it is possible that God does not wish to give him the ability to expel demons.

Murder, people not doing things about children starving as long as it is far away, and the Gileadite government are all definitely ongoing problems. Asher agrees that sex is not one of the most important sins and it is silly how people treat it like one, although probably he is not aware of the true horror of sexual sins because he keeps committing them. (This is not a thought he is particularly upset or guilty about. Asher does not, in general, seem to be a person who is particularly interested in guilt.)

Asher seems unusually adept at holding several contradictory hypotheses in his mind and noticing what he would predict from each of them, and working out the implications of one hypothesis without necessarily accepting it.

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To his own surprise, Leareth finds himself smiling slightly. 

:You know, I am not much in favour of guilt either. Also, it is interesting that you think I could be a demon even though I am obviously not aware of it in my thoughts currently, and we are discussing the topic. If this is a thing which your Satan could do, then I suppose have no way of knowing for sure that I am not a demon: 

He frowns, and thinks for a while. :I can lower the block, if you wish. It is a deliberate protective mechanism but one that is under my voluntary control. You will perhaps not find the contents behind it especially reassuring, however, I do in fact wish to know to what extent you find them points in favour of my being a demon – you are obviously very clever and skilled at reasoning from evidence. I would like to test this if possible, since if I am somehow a demon then this has implications: He pauses. :Would you like me to lower the block now?: 

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:I should feel guilty, probably, I just don't. Not that sanctified yet, I guess. --I have no idea how your magic works, remember, you could have two layers of thoughts one of which you're not showing me. I think demons are pretty much always aware that they are demons. I am curious about lowering the block but if you're a human you probably don't want to show me and if you're a demon it's calculated to be the maximally persuasive lie.:

With his mouth, Asher says "Satan, I command you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to leave my presence with all your demons, and I bring the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ between us."

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Nothing happens. 

Leareth isn't surprised that it doesn't work. He is, however, surprised that he can't sense anything whatsoever. No flows of magic. No flows of anything, with any of his Othersenses. Nothing budges in the glow of Asher's life-force or the very faint traces of living plants around them, which is all his mage-sight can ever pick up on in this world. Even if Asher isn't sanctified enough for it to work, he should've thought it would feel like something – that God would at least reach in some tiny finger of god-energies and check. 

:I do not want to lower the block, exactly, no: he sends. :It is a protective mechanism – in my world, there are many who can read minds, and I cannot always assume my shields to be the strongest – but it is also an area of some...vulnerability...for me: Though not exactly the obvious convincing-lie that a demon would come up with. 

:I am relieved that you think a demon would know they are one: he sends, :since figuring out whether I could be one – whether perhaps all mages in my world are – sounds very confusing and fraught. That being said, I do wish to know why you believe what you believe, and in particular think it likely to hold also in another universe. If your God is the overlord of my world and its gods, I could imagine it being the case that mages there are either granted our powers by God or by your Satan, and I am not sure how to distinguish those hypotheses from each other or from the one where my world is truly separate and under its own laws: 

Leareth rubs the back of his neck. Honestly, he's wishing that he felt supernaturally convincing; instead, his head hurts and he feels strangely and urgently in need of a nap. Which will have to wait. 'While Asher is reading his thoughts' is really the worst time for them to mysteriously stop working. He wants to mull on the right question to ask regarding how sanctification works and how God turning a person into someone who can't commit sins squares with free will, which is apparently also very important to God. He wants to figure out how the one resurrection of the body would work and what it implies. There are a lot of questions. 

:I am not sure that I want to fight your God: he sends finally. :I am still in the information-gathering stage. Mainly I wish there to stop being people tortured in Hell, and I am having difficulty obtaining clear information about your God's goals or why it seems that He is on board with Hell existing: 

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:You could get your powers from demons without knowing but you wouldn't be a demon without knowing, I don't think. And I imagine powers that come from demons would be... kind of obvious? God is not trying to trick you up. Healing people or getting prophecies from God or, I don't know, manipulating the weather so there aren't famines are probably good. Human sacrifice is probably bad. --Uh, the second two things are hard, can I gather up concepts I understand and dump them into your brain.:

 

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Lev is scrolling through social media on his phone. He did not really anticipate that rebelling against God would be this boring.

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:Yes, that would be fine: 

Leareth is thinking about kinds of magic in his world. He's spent a lot of effort perfecting the kind of magic that manipulates the weather to prevent famines, or revitalizes the soil when it stops producing, or transports goods long distances when there's a famine in one regions but others have some crops left over. In the Eastern Empire he estimates that over the centuries he tried to stay involved before giving up on it, the work he initiated saved somewhere between five and twenty million lives. Then again, there was some amount of human sacrifice involved – mostly in the early days after the Cataclysm, when nothing worked and it was that or let the chaotic weather kill all the peasants' crops and leave tens of thousands of people starving. Seems like a wash overall.

He doesn't have the Gift of Healing now but he has in some of his lives, and he's directed scholarship into lifesaving magics as well, as well as the more general background cause of preventing disease through sanitation. Prophecies... Well, there is the Foresight dream. Unclear where the gods of his world are going with that one – sticking him in a captive dream-set with a youngster from a stereotypically moral kingdom who's destined to kill him in the future, give them the next decade to argue about ethics...

Also, the gods of his world haven't exactly been on board with his humanitarian work. (Flickers of memory, a dozen suspiciously unlucky failures of various projects, or deaths of his past incarnations.) So he's not sure how to feel about the implications of them being servants of the larger God. 

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Asher attempts to pass along to Leareth the Kalam cosmological argument.

Assuming Leareth isn't just lying, it seems like Leareth is probably drawing on demonic magic, which is Not Great. Human sacrifice, Asher is pretty sure, is demonic.

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Leareth...is trying to figure out whether the Kalam cosmological argument is actually watertight. Or whether he fully understands it. He needs to go off and mull on it at some point when his mind is fully working

:I am not sure Occam's Razor – that is a wonderfully useful term, by the way: he's posited a similar arguments but he didn't have a good word for it, :in any case, it is a strong heuristic, but I am not sure it is strong enough to fully determine this argument. I am also...not sure it is fully known that free will is the only thing that has effects not fully determined by its causes. I will think on it: 

He frowns. :If the reason blood sacrifice works in my world is demonic in origin, then it is built in on the level of how magic works at all, and not with specific mages. There are schools that abhor it, and mages who never touch it their entire lives, but they could, their Gifts are the same as mine: 

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