"That which can be destroyed by the truth should be."
-- P. C. Hodgell, Seeker's Mask.
Asmodia wordlessly hands over some of the paper she usually carries on her.
FUCK KELTHAM AND THE MALFUNCTIONING AIRSHIP HE CRASHED IN ON.
No Asmodia can still salvage this. The other Project members may not be able to solve a problem like this individually, but collectively - with Asmodia fully enhanced and coordinating their work on both of their problems - that's even a trope, Asmodia has gathered, they've gotten hold of some novels written by Lawful Good authors, now. If everybody on Project Lawful unites to back up Carissa Sevar so she can fight at her best - it should be hardly possible for Sevar to lose, not just this battle, but the war, because this would almost have to be the climactic moment of greatest difficulty -
"And, Security, please relay that I'd like the rest of Project Lawful's researchers to spend the next half-hour writing up a description of everything the Conspiracy would be doing and why, according to what they think would be the most likely Conspiracy given their own knowledge of Golarion, but based on only evidence I know about myself." Later, not now, Keltham will think about what correlations and independences ought to exist there and what level of effort he expects to see, after they've produced their work and just before Keltham himself looks at it.
Back to the Abadaran priest. "What sort of trade occurs between the afterlives and Golarion?"
There's a deadly calm about Asmodia now, none of which shows on alterAsmodia's face.
Keltham doesn't know about the extra third-circle wizards they have secretly on hand, to further augment Asmodia, Tallandria, other Project members during their long nights. He doesn't know about the expensive backup wands for emergencies. If they burn all those enhancements now, they can still win.
Pair up people on the Project by similarity of writing styles. Half to start working on their Conspiracy submissions now, in case Keltham demands to check their interim work or their paired partner's. Half to do Asmodia's and Carissa's homework under Asmodia's lead. After a quarter of an hour they all switch. The amount of work every person does will be consistent; and with +4 augmentations to Intelligence, Wisdom, and sometimes Splendour, they will hopefully be able to impress Keltham even with the work they did in half the time.
And then if Keltham comes up with anything more difficult than that, for next time, they're all hosed. So be it. "Failure is always for sale, even when you can't afford the price," goes the saying out of dath ilan. It's a phrase that could also have come out of Hell.
Go to it, Sevar. I've taken responsibility here.
(Asmodia has entirely forgotten at this point that she secretly wants Keltham to win.)
"Almost none, with two exceptions I know of," says Tedas Sedavasen. "Many of the longest-standing agreements among the gods and the organizations each of them commands regard intervention in the Material, and they tend to restrict it. Communicating information discovered or refined in an afterlife to the Material is exceptionally costly. The two occasions I know of where significant trade exists between the Material plane and an afterlife are major interventions by Shizuru and by Asmodeus, respectively. Shizuru backed the Lung Wa Empire for about nine hundred years, with legions of angels, in exchange for the right to choose the emperor's successor, and ceased that intervention when prophecy broke. Asmodeus provides Cheliax with books and other resources mass-produced in Hell in exchange for Cheliax pursuing Asmodean policies, and further allows people to sell their souls in exchange for powerful magic.
Both gods are ancient and powerful, and my understanding is that this is incredibly expensive for them, with the circumstances those rare ones under which despite the high costs such trade is favorable both for the god and for the subject organization in Golarion."
"Okay, let me think a moment..."
Aside to Security, "Please tap Carissa with Owl's Wisdom, and Asmodia with Fox's Cunning." It's occurring to him that, since the Conspiracy could secretly tap them with empowerment like that, Keltham should jump ahead and have it done officially in Ordinary, then adjust his quality expectations upward accordingly. "Also, Wisdom and Cunning taps for Ione, Avaricia, Meritxell, and Shilira." Pity he doesn't have the Ordinary capacity to boost the rest of the entire research group.
Back to the priest. "People do seem to know what the afterlives are like, and I used a spell called Early Judgment to catch a glimpse of my own, a higher-tech city where I somehow knew things were being traded, presumably Axis. For that matter, my god gave me a spell that showed me a pretty horrifying vision of people on fire, which I'm told was Zon-Kuthon's afterlife. Do you know why that information can be sent to the Material, but not information on the order of, say, afterlife-written fiction novels?"
...all right, that is a little admirable in a boy who's never even heard the expression "Hell is the destruction of hope."
Her turn no wait this is not her turn, she is definitely not turning right now.
Asmodia. I authorize you, but not Sevar, to know of the existence of the Shadow Project, and command you to secrecy thereon.
In a further basement carved beneath this fortress's secret basement, there are twenty other researchers who have access to all Project transcripts and technologies, who've been trying to develop refinements of those technologies that Keltham doesn't know about. So that we'll have some edges Keltham can't immediately duplicate, if he goes to Osirion. Abarco can relay orders between you and them.
Abrogail doesn't say anything else. It's not her move.
Asmodia does not need to be told the obvious; she's already relaying orders through Abarco to half of those researchers to carry out Keltham's thought exercise, which any non-shadow researchers can use as inspiration if they fall behind there.
The other half of the shadow researchers are to carry out a variant version of Keltham's stated request, for them to imagine Conspiracies in which the Project Lawful girls are secretly plotting rebellion together against Cheliax. It'll show Asmodia natural statistical properties of imaginary Conspiracies that are indeed imaginary, as imagined by people who know at least a little Law.
"My understanding is that there are several negotiated carve-outs in the general god-agreements governing transmission of information to the mortal plane for information. One such carve-out is for information about afterlives. Another is that it's possible to summon outsiders. There is plenty of speculation about what set of desiderata those agreements were aimed at, but none of it informed enough I'd care to repeat it; the ultimate principle, of course, is that Pharasma's vision governs, and that mutually negotiated nonintervention is cheaper than mutual intervention in most cases but plausibly not with respect to, well, recruiting - all of the gods have an interest in identifying, and identifying themselves to, those mortals who they can compact with.
This is outside my core expertise, and my speculation is informed only by periodic discussions I've participated in about what kind of organizational arrangement would be necessary for such intervention by Abadar to seem worthwhile; He too is an ancient god, and could probably afford it, had we anything to trade Him that He values as Asmodeus values people who want to become devils and Shizuru values peace, stability, fealty and obedience in Her empire."
"Mortal Golarion seems to be providing a lot of value to the afterlives and not getting much in return for it, as I currently understand this whole setup. Would the gods' representatives have a different take on that?"
"Mortal Golarion isn't the kind of entity that participates in negotiations about the allocation of value it produces, and it's not obvious that it could or should be. Individual mortals go on becoming beings of value to afterlives because it's in their own interests."
Maillol winces, and thinks for relay to Carissa Sevar not to do that again. They shouldn't represent Abadar/Osirion as being something Keltham will dislike that much when it's that much of a lie about Abadaran attitudes, especially when Keltham may be on the verge of leaving.
Not a god of fairness, indeed and check. Keltham has, in fact, been getting the impression that Golarion is not being treated by the gods as something they are really interested in negotiating with. He's never once heard any god-arrangement being justified as something that mortals asked for.
"One person I talked to said that Axis was a lot like mortal life. Another said that Axis turned you into a being of pure Law, or maybe pure Lawfulness, though I'm not sure exactly what that word meant to her at the time. I've heard it said that Hell amplifies the Evil in people, Heaven amplifies the Good, and all of these claims actually seem a bit concerning to me. What exactly do people turn into, and how?"
"Most people, in the afterlives, eventually become outsiders -- beings that are closer to being made of pure Law, in Axis, or of pure Lawful Good, in Heaven, or pure Lawful Evil, in Hell. My own humble understanding is that there are many changes in the direction of being more Lawful, more Good, and more Evil which a person would make, as an improvement in their internal processes like a business changing itself to better profit, if they were aware of them, and that simply making all of those is sufficient to make you an entity fundamentally alien to the humans you once were. Some people hesitate to make these changes, and live for many many centuries first; and Axis takes pride in enabling more interesting and recognizable-to-mortals centuries than the other afterlives - but people do still generally become outsiders eventually."
"Okay, but do we know - like, what's a specific example of a bit of Law getting added to anyone in any of those planes? Is there a point where you are given a chance to see it coming and say no? Or if saying no isn't an option, decide that you'd rather walk out through Abaddon first? If what you wanted was mainly to become yourself but more so, these planes sound like they might be a nice place to hang out for a couple of millennia tops before you had to exit the whole local multiverse."
"I have always understood the self-modifications we are discussing to be entirely voluntary and deliberately undertaken, and in fact in Axis purchased. And no afterlife, to my knowledge, bars you from the destruction of your person, though -" earnestly - "if you destroy yourself then you just no longer exist, you don't find yourself somewhere else. If there's something you want, you have to build it here."
"Everyone is, in fact, in so many different places that it's impossible to destroy all of yourself; the worst thing that can happen to you is being transformed while still conscious and existent into something you didn't want to become. It's not so much that you find yourself in another place, though it can in fact feel like that, but that you find yourself in the remaining futures that continued from your past. But my figuring out how to explain that may have to wait for later."
"Hell and Heaven don't run on the purchase method?"
"My humble understanding, with yet more emphasis we've ventured far from the questions I contemplate regularly, is that Hell and Heaven both evaluate the suitability of candidates to be devils or angels, and people work for many centuries to earn an evaluation as a suitable candidate. A priest of Asmodeus might tell you that Hell's evaluation is not so different from how Axis does it, except that we are accepting some bad results in our process in exchange for the simplicity and transparency of having it done in a standard fashion, as a business arrangement. A priest of Shizuru might tell you that if the universe would be overall worse as a consequence of some person's growth in Law, then Heaven will not enable it, and so additional screening is necessary."
"And what happens to people in Elysium?"
"That is a much harder question to answer. The Lawful afterlives tend to have organized churches that don't tolerate, say, different branches in different countries teaching contradictory things about the nature of their god. The Chaotic gods have not prioritized resolving such contradictions. Elysium is perhaps an infinite wilderness populated by flighty beings of simple delights; is perhaps full of dangerous adventures; is perhaps full of places that distort your perceptions and comprehensions in different ways, that you may return from them with a deeper understanding of the contracts inside your mind. - they wouldn't say 'contracts'. It's a beautiful place, I'd bet money on that, and the people there seem happy. I really can't tell you more than that."
...enforcing consistency is not the same as enforcing accuracy, but this Keltham will not argue; if you can make that mistake at all, you are probably hard to correct about it.
"I'd think it would be something of a priority, if you wanted people correctly valuing Axis versus Elysium as a desirable destination, for even the Lawful Neutral priests to be able to tell people how Axis contrasted to Elysium, meaning that you'd prioritize having accurate info about Elysium yourself. Otherwise what prevents Chaotic Good priests from claiming that Elysium has everything Axis does, plus free chocolate cookies?"
"Oh, there's misleading advertising, to my great annoyance. I've seen it argued that the reason the Chaotic gods don't bother clarifying their teachings is that they get to benefit from whatever interpretation of them is most favorable and most compelling to their followers spreading, without it needing to be constrained by truth. But ultimately, if you die and go to either Axis or Elysium, and decide you chose wrong, it's not an irreparable mistake; it's costly, and slow the way mortals mark time, but there are demigods who will ferry you between them, and effect your transformation from one kind of petitioner to another. I am open with Abadar's trainees that it seems to me that Axis, possessing more of the virtues that make men rich and businesses successful in life, is a better place, but that these sorts of things are hard to see from where we stand."
"I have, due to strange circumstances, ended up as the cleric of an unknown Lawful Neutral god whose symbol now adorns the cloak of my representative here. Assuming I'm willing to throw quite a lot of resources at it, is there any fast way I can find out which god that is and get in touch with their church in Golarion, including by going through Axis?"
"The head of the church of Abadar is the Pharaoh of Osirion, long may he live, great may his nation grow, and it is said that Abadar has made a shard of Himself unusually available to the Pharaoh to direct him in the management of Osirion. It is conceivable that if I sent your inquiry to Osirion, and they deemed it worthy of the Pharaoh's attention -- which isn't a sure thing, though a large monetary contribution helps immensely - then He would be able to derive the answers you seek straight from Abadar. Before you tried something that momentous, of course, I'd take every possible smaller step - you could place an advertisement in every newspaper in circulation in Absalom, offering a reward for any information on the symbol. You'll get a lot of claptrap, but hire someone competent to investigate the more promising submissions. You could do the same thing in Katheer, and Goka, and at the Worldwound. A full page newspaper advertisement is 45gp, and reaches tens of thousands of people."
Welp, that's definitely either a seventh-circle priest of the business-god with actual competence, or Conspiracy Carissa, because now Keltham feels like an idiot and there's not many beings in Golarion who have demonstrated the ability to do that to him.
"Bit surprised that Osirion would ask for a contribution rather than a bounty on successful identification. There isn't a standard pricing on this, is there?"