Oct 28, 2021 11:15 AM
some dath ilani are more Chaotic than others, but
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And he departs.

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"I have a shopping list," she says to Elias, turning around.

 

         "Do you now," he says.

"I'm going to need to be prettier. Every count's heir I've ever seen was stunningly beautiful. Don't you dare comment on my looks, I'll stab you. I'm going to need to be prettier. And I want a headband, and an allowance for crafting."

         "I don't actually know how much the inheriting daughter of a Count of - I mean, presumably they get their allowance from their county, which you haven't got -"

"Well, maybe you should get me one." That's absurd but Elias looks unsure if it's absurd, which is very satisfying.

         "Is this what gratitude for the extraordinary indulgence of your god looks like?"

"Gratitude? He wants a return. And I'm going to be perfect. - can I have the other girls' souls?"

          "No," says Elias Abarco, with the first certainty he's mustered in a while. 

"Some kind of option on them? Equity?"

          "You aren't worth a damned thing yet, kid."

"Asmodeus noticed me," says Carissa Sevar, but a rather different Carissa Sevar than she was ten minutes ago. Also she's about to have a panic attack but she's pretty sure she can glare Elias out of the room before that.

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Keltham wakes up, still feeling a bit muzzy.  What a long and complicated day he has had, full of surprises!  For a moment he envies the women in his research harem, who just get to hear lots of new and exciting knowledge and got raises and a sex-flavored mission and didn't have to compose new lectures or try to figure out Golarion.  Not that it's bad that their lives are less stressful than his, just, it would be good if his life was also less stressful than his life.

Maybe he'll put in a bit less effort into his first shot at wizardry than he was previously planning, so he'll have brainpower to spare for his date with Carissa after that.  After dinner?  After a light dinner.  He shouldn't be either hungry or overfull while, you know, that stuff is going on.

His life sure is complicated these days, full of structural uncertainty and random assorted difficult decisions.  But Keltham's not going to let that faze him!  Dath ilan raises strong minds!

But before he continues on to prove that yet again, he's going to lie here in bed with eyes closed a little longer, waiting for the muzziness to go away of its own accord.

And then he'll either head off to find somebody for wizard lessons (Ione?) or maybe join people for dinner, depending on how long he actually slept, because once again he forgot about that part where he is no longer wearing a wristwatch.

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Elias leaves.

She should not assume she's alone but she doesn't have that much more stamina for maintaining composure. She kneels at her bedside in a distinctly imperfect posture for prayer and hides her face in her hands and trembles violently until it's possible to think about something other than the apparent deficit of air in this room. That takes a couple of minutes.

Asmodeus noticed her. And Asmodeus has instructions for her. And Asmodeus does not want her to sell her soul, which - 

- okay, this is the most trivial feature of the situation, but it means she does not get permanent undispellable arcane sight, and she was really looking forward to that! And all of the other girls are going to have it! She's going to be falling behind in magic lessons and have no way to explain why. Not that she's ungrateful, but - Asmodeus could've given His instructions and also taken her soul -

- presumably that's false, actually, presumably it's actually important for some reason that Carissa keeps her soul, she doesn't understand and she shouldn't expect to understand, the reason here is not going to be in that space where a human thinking about it really hard can comprehend it, it's going to be in the space that a human can't make any sense of at all.

But there are some features of the situation that she ought to be capable of comprehending, or no one would have tried to tell her things. 

Asmodeus noticed. He noticed that she was trying to build the true philosophy, the version that they would have come up in dath ilan where everyone is smarter and lawfuller and carefuller, if they were also Asmodean, and He thought it was worth directing her to do it properly. And His direction was -

- she should write it down before she forgets -

She stops praying to do that. 

Serve Me well in this world and you shall be raised high in it."

"Remember that you are not Irori.  Do not think yourself likely to succeed in perfecting yourself without divine aid."

"Acknowledge the desires in yourself that have no place in Axis, and accept that your rightful place is in Hell."

"Come to Me in Hell without thought of other choices, as mortals once did in the days before they were cursed with their own wills, and you shall be among the most treasured of My possessions."

And written down, it's kind of weird, and she puzzles over it for a little while -




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She was trying to build Asmodeanism as smart lawful humans would have been able to generate it, able to understand it, able to build a society around it. But she was getting it wrong. "You are not Irori". What an odd thing to say, she didn't think she was Irori - well, maybe her vanity in fact got itself pointed that direction without her conscious attention - but she's not sure the problem is the vanity, because in the same breath she was promised to be raised high in the world, if she serves Asmodeus well in it, and among his most treasured possessions -


"Acknowledge the desires in yourself that have no place in Axis..."

 

- the problem is the Lawful Neutral. Keltham is Lawful Neutral. Keltham has taught her everything that she now understands, about the true theology, about what it would mean to have free will and know what to do with it. But Keltham is Lawful Neutral, even if he thinks he's evil, so his conception is a lawful neutral conception, of how things work. 

And Carissa belongs to Asmodeus, who is Evil, and so she's supposed to be designing the evil version of that, not the neutral one. 

 

Carissa has not actually put a lot of thought into what Evil is. Pretty much everyone is Evil, because that's how Pharasma sorts them. Doing big ambitious things in the world is Evil. Keltham's probably going to start reading Evil at some point because he did something Pharasma objects to, he's not in the two percent most Good people and pretty much everyone else goes to Hell. But - when she says Keltham's Neutral she's not actually talking about what Pharasma has to say, she's talking about something else? Keltham assumes they're all getting paid. Keltham would be deeply upset if he learned they weren't getting paid, and it's not because it affects him in the slightest. His sense of - honor, fair play, however he contextualizes it - rules out slavery, rules out assassinations, rules out tricking people - they're jokingly betting on whether Keltham's a sadist and she bets he is but he didn't jump at punishing the students, he fretted that he had no idea how to do it in a way that improved their understanding of the subject material and was worried he'd teach them wrongly to be afraid of school -

- she's not actually sure which parts of that are Lawful Neutral and which parts are dath ilan. But they stand out, as ways that an Asmodean is not. As ways that the ideal Asmodean theology would not be. And when she was trying to build something shaped like Keltham, Asmodeus Himself reached out and conveyed - that's too Lawful Neutral to be the truth. Give me the Evil version.

 

Well. Carissa can do that.

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Carissa has spent a lot of time worrying if she is loyal enough but almost none worrying if she is Evil enough. She's not squeamish. She doesn't refuse to report people out of misguided sympathy for them. She has whipped students who get bad grades, and practiced deadly spells on weeping prisoners. She is definitely going to go to Hell, and it did not really occur to her to specifically worry about how evil she was within the very broad category of everyone who gets sent to Hell. She hasn't heard of anyone getting in trouble for not being Evil enough. She hasn't even been threatened, now, with getting in trouble for not being Evil enough! 

 

...and maybe that's the point. Because there's a kind of Evil built of pure, sharp, selfishness, the choice to be concerned with yourself, and not with any of the other idiots populating the world, the thing she told Keltham, Evil as prioritizing the self. She thinks she's perfectly adequate at that, if she does say so herself. 

The devil wasn't like that. The devil saw her, spoke two minutes to her, and wanted to personally rip her into pieces. Because it'd be fun. Because, having seen her whole, destroying her would be more of a treat than destroying some other person. And there was a different, though she hopes no one noticed it, when she stepped into his circle and threatened him back. He was threatening her because he felt like it. She was threatening him because she'd noticed that if she didn't learn to play she was going to lose very very fast. 

She is pretty sure, in hindsight, that every Evil thing she's ever done has been the first kind, the weaker kind, the Evil of choosing Carissa Sevar over every other person in the universe. She feels entirely unapologetic about all of that Evil; certainly no other person in the universe is choosing Carissa Sevar over themselves. And if they were, that'd be stupid and contemptible of them. 

And Asmodeus is saying that that's not enough. Well, it's clearly enough to get into Hell. It's not enough for the nature that devil possessed, not enough for her to actually succeed at the problem she has somewhat audaciously set herself, of explaining theology better so people aren't afraid of not understanding it any more than they're afraid of not understanding math, so they glimpse the outlines of the big, real thing there, even if that's all they glimpse.

'Acknowledge the desires in yourself that have no place in Axis'. Mainly it's the ...desire to be on the winning side, coupled with the conviction Axis isn't it, but she's pretty sure that's not what He means. What was it the devil said to Elias?

She should write that down too, she's going to need to use it to argue for a headband.

             "Asmodeus's Queen and her slaves need not concern themselves proactively with Carissa Sevar's descent into cruelty, wickedness, and the darkness of her own soul; but if Carissa Sevar seeks to indulge of her own accord, she is to be prioritized for support as though she were the inheriting daughter of a Count of Cheliax."

It's embarrassing, but she never until this point considered that prominent leaders might be so cruel and wicked because they specifically got training and theological education in it, because it is part of what it means to be a servant of Asmodeus. Probably you can't offer that to the whole country because it won't run well if everyone's going around trying to develop their capacity for cruelty and wickedness. But you can offer it to the person who is trying to reform all of Asmodean theology.

All right, what's an action plan for learning cruelty and wickedness and the darkness of her own soul. Possibly it makes sense to start by observation? She watched Contessa Lliratha and knew that she wanted that, wanted to grow up to be that, with an intensity that would have carried her through murdering lots of innocent people, which isn't quite the thing, but it's a start. ...possibly it makes sense to start by asking. She has specifically been told that she can get support, if she only asks. 

 

There's another thing she needs to master, here. The other thing the devil had that she didn't was presentation. Carrying himself in the world like he did things for his own reasons - and of course they were Asmodeus's reasons, he said it outright, but - but he carried himself like he was enjoying every minute of it. Carissa carries herself like she's loyal and competent and pretty sure she is getting a good grade, and that's not how to get a good grade in wickedness. There's a reason Asmodeus said 'the desires in yourself that have no place in Axis', rather than just 'acquire some desires that have no place in Axis', and she doesn't think it's because she has a secret kink for torture, she would've noticed that. It's because that's a way you can relate to Evil, not as some habits of mind for the defense of the self under threat but as the delight of the self in pursuing all it pleases, and in serving those who have even more power to do that -

I am ever your obedient servant, she thinks at Asmodeus, though it feels a lot scarier now that she knows there's a minute chance he's paying attention. 

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Is there an available wicked thing to do? She could - 

- oh shit, she's late for Keltham's magic lessons -

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She can hurry off to those and worry about this later!

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If magic lessons take anyone to the library at any point, they're going to encounter Ione Sala, who has now been healed in flesh if not in spirit.

Very shortly after being healed, Ione Sala discovered that as soon as she gets a couple of dozen steps away from the library, she starts to feel a pull, a faint tingle, which she can intuitively feel would start to weaken her abilities after a time, and eventually rip her soul out of her body.  She's going to need sleeping arrangements set up in here, or in a room connected to here, or for somebody to make her a bedroom that's also a library.  And it doesn't feel like books are enough to make a place a library; people would need to be able to wander into her bedroom and read books there.  Ione also knows that she needs to occasionally read some of the books, and get new books sometimes.  They have to be books she actually wants to read; she can't just be doing it out of duty.  Otherwise she'll die.

Oracles get curses, don't they.

...this curse isn't entirely a bad thing.  It feels like Cheliax would have a hard time making there be a library that's also a torture chamber, and force her to enjoy reading books while she'd rather have her soul torn away so that the pain stops - like it would be hard to torture her to death over years in a way that satisfies her curse.  Maybe she couldn't easily be maledicted either, with the grip that libraries now have on her soul?  Is her curse one that takes her straight to Nethys's afterlife, is that why it feels like the curse would tear out her soul and not just kill her?  Nethys - she's trying not to think thoughts like this, but they still bubble up in the back of her mind - Nethys may have a different attitude from Asmodeus about making sure that His own slaves, so long as they worked hard and did their best, get protected from sufficiently painful fates?

No, she's being stupid.  Nethys wants her to be less afraid of Asmodeus and Cheliax, obviously, so that she doesn't treat them as having equal power with Nethys to threaten her and force her obedience.

...she wishes she hadn't thought that, it's going to make Cheliax trust her less after the next time they read her mind.  The problem is that Ione is now living in such strange new circumstances that she doesn't know yet which paths of thought will lead her to dangerous places before she starts to think them.  She does have to think now, and figure out what Nethys wants from her using her own wits.  Nethys can't give her specific instructions because anybody Nethys touches goes mad.

Ione has been taught since childhood that nobody really cares about her or ever would care about her, except for how she's of use to them; especially the gods, who could help, but don't.  It's pathetic to think that Nethys would give her that curse because Nethys cared about one tiny worm that didn't even ask to be His cleric.  Lots of mortals in the world die agonizing slow deaths and Nethys doesn't protect them.  Asmodeus is the only god who has enough use for mortals in general being competent, not just a few favored clerics, to make sure that children in Cheliax get an education.  And while it has occurred to Ione that this is propaganda, it has also occurred to her that it cannot just be a complete lie.  It's not like Nethys gave her any oracle levels, or helped her in any other way, before she was in a position to be useful to Him.

But it's still - a little warm - to have a master who took real, visible steps to protect her against the worst that other masters can do.

So she will do her very best for Nethys, as she has been thoroughly incentivized, which will include (Ione is very aware that she must think this and believe it as sincerely as she can) being very, very, very obedient to the Chelish government and not inconveniencing them at all, so they don't separate her from Keltham and replace her with an imposter.

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Time for alternate_physics-reduced_capital_infrastructure-autarchical_personal_productivity-fantasy*!

Keltham exits his room, looking for any sort of local personnel or security personnel who can tell him which people he needs for magic lessons, or failing that, how to find Ione and ask her.  He'd ordinarily boop Carissa about that but Keltham is aware that Carissa herself might also want to nap before tonight, even if her day hasn't been as exciting as his.  If Keltham doesn't run into any visible security personnel, he will head towards the library to see if he can find somebody there.

(*)  A ten-syllable recursively-compounded term of Baseline that a literary author would use to describe the most important quality of Golarion magic from the standpoints of its effect on the plot: enabling one person to do important things without a huge supply chain** or a larger group that implements the effects.  Dath ilan has separately recognized a fantasy trope for phenomena that treat mental qualities as primary, but their literature doesn't tie up mentalistic!magic tightly with economic!magic; you can have one without the other.  Keltham has noticed that Golarion 'magic' is mentalistic!magic as well as economic!magic, but the economic!magic aspects are currently much more on his mind.

(**)  Literally "supply graph" in Baseline; using the inflection of the word "graph" which implies that, while ultimately causal and hence acyclic when unrolled over time, the graph is highly cyclic when its inter-time-slice dependencies are projected onto a single time-slice.  If you said the literal words "supply chain" in front of a dath ilani, they'd do a double-take and ask what the ass kind of supply graph looks like a chain.

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About half of the research harem has trickled back into the library; they have their spellbooks out and are negotiating trades of spells now that there's all this spellbook ink available. (It's expensive enough that no student has ever had half as much as she wants, but not so expensive that Keltham wouldn't find it deeply weird if his research harem didn't have enough of it, so now they do.)

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Ione is there too, of course.  She looks neutral.  Nothing she could possibly put on her expression is anything that should be on her expression.

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"Hi, all!  So I've been thinking about ways to teach me magic before I get magic goggles and among my potential stupid ideas is if anybody can both see magic and create a visible illusion that follows whatever magic does?  Though, uh, I'm thinking I should try things the completely normal way before I try anything more complicated than that.  So what's the normal way of casting one's first spell?"

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The normal way is that you visualize it from the sketches in the textbook, and spend a while meditating and trying to get a feel for the fact there's magic at your fingertips, and then you do things with it and get told what happened when you made that motion, and then you try to get it to shape into a cantrip. Which often takes weeks, but not always, if you're really smart and have prior exposure to magic.

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All right, let's try this the most direct possible way.  Keltham internally contains a Read Magic cantrip (and a Guidance cantrip) and can feel the structure, which looks the same as the sketches in the textbook.  That's useful for the visualization part.  Keltham will then meditate and try to feel magic at his fingertips, like when he cast Resistance and Greater Detect Magic and the truth spell before - he was paying attention -  as he holds his hand over a copy of Read Magic built up over somebody else's spellbook.  He will try doing things with any magic he thinks he might be feeling, and be told what, if anything, happened when he made a motion.

Possible hypotheses to distinguish include:

- Keltham, as a being of dath ilan untouched by gods, will prove to have zero magical aptitude and unable to affect the magic in any way.  (Seems unlikely if he's a cleric and cleric spells look the same as wizard spells.)
- Keltham will have unworkably low wizard aptitude, as a result of coming from a heritage that has never selected on itself at all for facility with wizardry.
- Keltham, having not come from a heritage in which wizards have had more access to contraception for however many generations, will do great at this.
- Keltham, having the mighty mental disciplines of dath ilan at his disposal, and having played a fair number of subtle perceptual computer games, will do great at this for reasons having nothing to do with genetics.
- Keltham will make a perfectly normal amount of progress for a Golarionite cleric with 18 Intelligence and zero prior magical exposure.
- The first ten minutes of testing will not be enough to distinguish any of these hypotheses, because they're going to initially produce flat failure and that would've been true for any realistic sort of human being.

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Keltham can feel magic at his fingertips same as anyone, when he's touching someone else's spell-scaffold. It feels like holding your hand near a flame, except instead of heat his fingertips report the sensation of being dipped in honey.

 

The first ten minutes do not distinguish any of the other hypotheses because, yeah, you can't get it in ten minutes. 

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"I've heard the record is half an hour," says Meritxell. 

"I heard it took Nefreti Clepati an hour."

"She was eight, though. I think the records are people starting older, like Keltham."

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"Do you know which part of this is - the critical step, the one that's time-bound, for most people?  Being able to manipulate the magic, being able to manipulate it predictably, being able to manipulate it precisely, being able to manipulate it fast enough, being able to perceive the magic well enough to change manipulations in response to how the magic is changing, being able to remember the shape..."

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"I think closest to - being able to perceive it well enough to change manipulations in response to how the magic is changing? - once you're competent with the very very basics you end up usually blocked on figuring out the order of operations that lets you build a stable structure and holding it all in your head at once while you execute on it, but I think when you're learning the very basics the spell's too simple for that to be hard and you mostly screw up by - overcorrecting when it's a little out of line, thinking it's still working when it's not, poking it in a bad place because you don't know what's going on so you're fumbling around -"

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"All right.  I'll try focusing on perception.  Is this - a case where the standard advice to just meditate and learn to sense things, is as good as it gets, because people tried to tweak the instructions and couldn't get them to work any better?  Or should I be trying to apply standard principles like - forming hypotheses with my eyes closed, guessing, and opening my eyes to see someone's illusion of what happened?"

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"People've tried different ways of teaching it, but they also wouldn't have been trying that hard at making it take an hour rather than five for bright students, children's time isn't worth very much."

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"My time may not be worth that much either, if how fast I learn wizardry isn't a bottleneck on any critical path - which I suspect it won't be - but I'm also standing in a room full of potential experimenters.  So, like, why not, you know.  Is my clever-idea of an illusion trick something we can try?  Oh, language note, the Baseline idiom for clever-idea carries the connotation that clever ideas often aren't."

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"I would say 'brilliant idea', to carry that connotation," Meritxell says. "There's no reason not to try the illusion but we can't see magic and maintain a separate spell at the same time, we'd just have to show you after the fact."

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"Sounds like it'd burn through illusion spells fast, if you lost the illusion spell each time you used the Detect Magic cantrip again.  How many illusion spells here do we have prepped, that y'all have spare to spend on brilliant ideas?"

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