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May 21, 2022 3:06 PM
Vanda Nosseo meets Ars Doloris
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"They can't trade with the outside world until they can get a new connection - which is hard to do, especially quickly, and a lot of bubbles aren't as self-sufficient as they need to be to weather that comfortably. They also have to go purely through allied gods to negotiate a new connection, which can limit their options and risk causing misunderstandings or unideal terms."

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"Are there any isolated bubbles that might need relief sooner than later? We can teleport more teams down."

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"I don't know of any, but that's a good question to ask - hm, probably the Art of Suffering..." She notes that down. 

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"And as long as we're talking about - etiquette and surprises - I don't know if it will surprise you to learn that that's a remarkably concerning name for a church from an outsider's perspective," Nelen says, a little delicately.

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" - Wait, really?"

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"If that's completely bewildering it might be a glitch in the translation magic, it happens sometimes - the word I'm hearing means, uh, the thing shared between phenomena like pain, grief, distress, hardship -?"

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" - Are those your only words for, uh, the sensation caused by things which cause physical bodily damage; losing stuff you care about; major, hm, unpleasant emotions; and difficult to manage life stuff? Like, the words you're using are at least translating as the more negative-connotation synonyms for those."

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"My language doesn't have a lot of options there..." He looks to the others.

"Some people are masochists? And like pain, or some of it?" volunteers Cassiel.

"I have some archaic words - pain-that-grounds-you-in-your-body, sacrifice-for-the-sake-of-service, vengeance-and-hatred-fuel, life-not-worse-than-death - but they've fallen out of use since our species underwent some circumstance changes," says Zanro.

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"Most people like at least some physical pain, or at least don't mind some of it. Finding all pain super aversive is - like, I guess it's not a disability exactly? But it is weird, and you'd have trouble getting the most significant Favors which I guess is kind of like a disability."

" - Guess I should say most people here enjoy some pain? Anyways, there's..." She frowns like someone trying to mentally poke the idea of alien machine translation. "So from what Zanro said - pain-that-grounds-you-in-your-body seems to have translated straightforwardly, but the other three sound janky."

"Physical damage... There's sickening-pain, which is - like, it's pain when you know that thing shouldn't hurt like that, it's the feeling of your legs giving out under you when you try to put weight on them. There's wearying-pain, which is - slow destruction, the pain of bone grinding itself away, the gradual slide into oblivion, that makes you fuzzy and sore. Those are the two common ones for negative connotations? But most words for damage are positive."

"Consequence-pain is more neutral, but it's a bit positive - it's your early warning, the heat before you burn, the exhaustion before you collapse. It's your body and mind coming to you as a friend, telling you to slow down and love yourself."

"Then there's thrilling-pain, which is like - adrenaline, dancing along the edge, and you haven't pushed too far yet but you're tantalizingly close. And pain-to-serve is - like, sacrifice-for-the-sake-of-service has that in its janky phrasing, but it's pain you bear for someone else's pleasure, and you get their pleasure through it, or pain that benefits those you love kinda in general."

"Then there's exalting-pain, which can be like - pain that at first seems destructive, but then you've realized it was building you into your truer self. Pain that changes you. Emotionally, too - like, if you're being a horrible person, and this destroys an extremely important relationship you had, and it hurts and that hurt drives you to do better - the pain you feel then is one kind of that. It's also - pain that means you're growing stronger, like the burn of muscles after an intense workout."

"And sublime-pain, which - would take really long to adequately translate if you don't have that as its own concept - anyways with the Art of Suffering's title, Suffering is a kinda archaic word that centrally covers both exalting-pain and sublime-pain and like, their equivalents with stress or grief or hardship or whatever. The Art herself governs everything related to those, including the negative forms, but, hm - sickening-pain and wearying-pain are ugly, and she'll get mad about those the same way the Art of Architecture would get mad about defacing buildings?"

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"...huh," says Nelen. "It seems plausible, hearing that explanation, that having the setup you have here has substantially shifted your evolution towards generalized masochism?"

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"...Might want to just ask Suffering Herself about that - She'd be able to actually track how it's changed over time, and She's at least as old as our species."

"She's always been extremely tightly associated with us, though - She's our goddess. She won't answer questions on if She made us or if we made Her or if She adopted us, but - there've been stretches of history where She was the only god who wanted our species to keep existing. It's possible we were made in Her image, or that we were always like this and She was made in ours, or that it's mostly cultural, and She's the one everyone worships."

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"I can see how that would have a very deep effect, if she's been protecting you from the other gods for as long as anyone has records."

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"We have mostly trustworthy proof that it's been our entire species' existence - most of the other gods don't like Her and wouldn't lie to advance Her interests. And if you're willing to risk talking to one of the original gods, it's not too hard to get them to confirm that She showed up about when we did, and that She's been very obnoxious about protecting us even from when She was weaker and had none of the allies She does now."

" - I'm not going to tell you not to try to independently confirm that, though if you're asking the original gods, you'll want to send people who are very hard to kill with the understanding that poking one of the original gods is going to predictably get you swatted at, no matter how polite you are. Or find some other way to confirm, I guess."

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"Original gods - some of them are newer?"

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"Yeah. I don't know how we end up with new ones, but it happens - most of the mortal-friendly gods are young gods. We haven't really budged any of the original gods all the way into friendly, and the ones that flipped were mostly near Suffering's age or younger. So like, the Art of Battle showed up about four thousand years ago, and there's an Art that's shown up in the last few decades, the Art of Transcendence. Plus a bunch of others over the course of history. But the original gods are all at least as old as our universe."

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"Is there a complete list?"

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"I'd assume so? But about the same way I'd assume there's a complete list of known plant species somewhere."

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"Order of magnitude?"

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...Hum. "There's, hm, three that are very much actively in favor of humans, another two dozen or so that are kinda passively in favor of us, probably about twice that are neutral, I think about, hm, high two digits or low three digits that are still kinda mad our species exists but only about two or three dozen of those still think this is worth getting into a fight over. And there's somewhere in the thousands but not the hundreds thousands that probably vaguely wish we'd go away, would kill annoying mortals in their territory, and might destroy a mortal settlement in their territory after sufficient disagreements, but wouldn't pursue anyone outside of their borders and would probably not kill someone actively trying to leave their borders."

"The main thing tilting this in our favor is that the Art of Battle and the Art of Suffering are the core of 'actively want mortals to exist,' and competitions between them and other gods are extremely lopsided in their favor, and the other gods are bad at coordinating enough to route around them. - The other god in that category is the Art of Transcendence, so ze hasn't gotten much of a chance to establish zemself in the balance of power here."

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"All right. Thank you very much. What else do we need to know?"

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"...I think I need to know more about you guys to figure that out? What you want here, what your assumptions are, what unpleasant surprises will come up for us from you. I've been guessing at where you're missing context and like, trying to over-explain rather than under-explain, but I'm gonna be missing stuff."

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"Do you think that it would help more to - hear about our previous assignments, or about our life stories, or something else?"

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"...Hm, previous assignments first I guess? Plus like, what does joining Vanda Nossëo mean is something that lots people will have as one of their first questions. So what's happened to those worlds - how has your contact with them affected them, and how have you guys handled diplomatic problems with them?"

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"Okay. This is the most interesting assignment I think - any of us? have ever gotten -" He looks around at the others for confirmation and gets nods. "Also this is a new team so we all had different prior experiences. My last one I was an envoy on a municipal level team visiting a planet called Sarunu. It was one of the most low-surprisal assignments you could get, a planet of nonmagical humanoids in Edda who'd recently invented the steam engine and had occasionally seen some interplanetary traffic but didn't sustain long term relationships with any of the visitors' societies. I was assigned to a town called Atuza and most of my job was explaining that we couldn't take a side on their ongoing dispute with six or seven other towns depending who you asked about aquaculture contamination - they eat a lot of frogs there - and about whether some of them had been praying to their gods, who did not exist, that's common, to inflict various misfortunes on each other, and they were all mad at each other in this weird pattern -" He makes a little illusion. "This one's Atuza, and the green arrows mean having a food supply related grievance, and the red arrows mean there's a family-level feud between major players in the towns, and the blue ones mean there's spiritual conflict, and the white arrows mean they had a border argument, and the black arrows mean there was a relatively recent failed attempt to make peace by swearing brotherhood between the leaders and that fell apart for any of eight different reasons, and - anyway, it was complicated, but only socially, not magically, they don't start you on magically complicated assignments. Is that the kind of thing that helps you?"

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"A little. Did their feuds change after you arrived? And did the aquaculture problem get fixed?"

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