Some things break your heart but fix your vision.
It is still Day 90.
The remnants of Project Lawful - diminished by only two members, but one of those was sort of important - have now Teleported back and regathered at the Fortress of Law.
It's plausible they should change residences, even at the price of recasting the Forbiddance. Keltham can identify the surroundings of this location more than well enough to guide a scry there, or a Teleport.
Everyone here looks terrified, of course, to her Sense Motive. (Not counting Aspexia, who does not count in any number of ways.)
One can hardly expect otherwise. They have failed. Even though, compared to your typical Chelish project and personnel, they're doing a lot better than average - in some ways if not others - Abrogail Thrune II does not have a reputation for taking failure well, regardless of the fight put up until then.
Abrogail Thrune II does in fact take failure well, when somebody has far outperformed their rivals before failing. The trouble is, she cannot possibly allow this to become known; because everybody thinks of themselves as better than their rivals, and will massively slack off unless they think their superiors will tolerate only actual success.
Carissa Sevar has, by now, reached the level of her tyranny where - having put up a good fight that perhaps no other in Cheliax could have waged as well, having gained Project Lawful three full months, in which time Cheliax has gained several halfway ilani and a spellsilver refinement pipeline that Osirion cannot instantly duplicate, for Keltham does not know every refinement that the Shadow Project has developed and contributed to the non-Project workers - sweet Carissa would usually not be punished that severely for her failures.
But Carissa Sevar feels herself greatly deserving of punishment, now; though she experiences that as the obsessive fear of punishment, with no thoughts of trying to evade it as most mortals would. It would be failing Asmodeus's faith if Sevar were left bereft. It is Hell's kiss that Sevar needs; and if Asmodeus is looking now in this direction, He probably approves at least that much of Sevar's thinking. Or perhaps even then He cares not; but His mortal slaves, among themselves, must make of His service a faith that mortals can hold.
What to do with the rest of Project Lawful is another story. Their advancement in Asmodeanism is plainly falling behind their advancement in ilanism.
"My first order of business will be to review your failure," Abrogail announces. "You may go about your own business until that's done, under Maillol's direction. The Project must now scale and expand beyond what it could have done while Keltham was still kept deceived, and your first orders of business will be to train wizards and apprentices in 'chemistry', and to prepare to train other Chelish ilani."
"Carissa. Aspexia. With me."
Everyone here looks terrified. It's not an excessive amount of fear for her purposes, so Abrogail Thrune will not be doing anything about it just yet. They're fools to think that Project Lawful would now be ground into rubble when Cheliax needs it most, and disobedient fools for still thinking it after Abrogail Thrune told them what to believe. But it is good for Asmodeans to feel a little terror, now and then; whether their worst fears come to pass, or just their lesser fears.
For a fact, Abrogail Thrune II has not decided yet what to do with them, and some terror under those circumstances can hardly be unjustified.
Carissa would really, really like it if they could skip all of the discussion and failure analysis and retrospectives and get to the torture, at this point. This is not to say that she's not scared - she is very scared - or that she thinks reality won't be as bad as her imagination - it can very easily be much worse - but -
- once the torture starts then the scope for action is over. She's not so weak she won't be trying to act, while she still can, but she is weak enough to rather wish the need was done.
She follows her Queen.
"I'm sorry, dear Carissa, but Maillol will need some direction in your pending extended absence, and your subordinates should be reassured to the extent they can be justly reassured."
"To that end, there are yet decisions to be made, for the interim until your return, while you are still coherent. And my decision of your punishment does rather depend on what you've done wrong." More importantly, Carissa must needs have fixed in her mind what she is repenting for.
"Aspexia, a Restoration and Remove Fear for our junior?"
She rather dislikes it, in truth; it feels un-Asmodean to her. But Aspexia is not without her own sense of pragmatics, and does as requested.
She hadn't realized she was exhausted, but the Restoration helps a lot. She had realized she was scared, but if you can't function through that what are you even doing serving Asmodeus. The Remove Fear helps too, nonetheless.
Fine. Not the time to stop trying, yet. "Your Majesty. I would estimate we have perhaps one month's advantage over Osirion, if Keltham settles down and starts teaching there, plus whatever advantages we derive from having many, many more wizards. It seems to me that Maillol and Subirachs should be directed to focus on training as many people as possible in the spellsilver refining process, which a nation with more wizards can exploit farther. The other wing of the project - producing ilani thinkers, for whatever Hell values in us and for the advantages we may have in understanding spy reports from Osirion and identifying new applications of chemistry - merits a more substantial rethinking, since I've yet to invent a version of ilanism that isn't in substantial tension with Asmodeanism."
"I noticed," Aspexia Rugatonn says very very dryly.
"I as well. Not so much in you, dear, or of course Pilar. But the other Project members who spoke before Keltham seem to not only be compelled by fear more than faith, but to openly know this to themselves. Meritxell - seems a potential exception, but an unrealized one. If we do not demand her returnability then I am not convinced we shall receive her back from Osirion."
"I am inclined to say that at this point we have little choice but to simply have Asmodia, Pilar, Meritxell, and upon your return yourself, begin teaching ilanism to as many young intelligent highly-Asmodean wizards as can be found, in hopes of finding some who can become true ilani even if the others end up ruined. I am open to better ideas."
"If Hell is permitted this, I want us to try teaching ilanism to devils. I also want to try teaching it to stupider people - I know ilanism was designed for an intelligent population, and might just fail entirely on people of average Intelligence and Wisdom, but I have a theory that wielding the techniques and developing them are different skills, and in dath ilan, the techniques are developed by Keepers and merely wielded by people like Keltham, and there's something Asmodean in that, something we can best imitate by having people who aren't our best and brightest try to learn. I also have several lines of research I thought of earlier today, for training comprehension of how to be commanded - I want to try following my own instructions and intent while I am much stupider, when I'm working on the ilanism for average people. I also think that there might be substantial promise in teaching ilanism by use of Suggestion, which would be another asymmetrical advantage."
"Good. More like the Carissa I know. Though - I think we may need to wait on teaching devils, for your own return to the Project. They have too much pride to be instructed by the likes of Asmodia."
"Our power that Keltham knows not will not be Suggestion, or not only that. It will be pain. Dath ilan did not use it on the likes of Keltham - I have small doubt it is how their Keepers are produced - and he arrived knowing nothing of that art, nor may he use the little we have taught him without becoming us."
"If there is any hope for this contest that is now begun - of Cheliax, or perhaps all Lawful Evil countries, against all the rest of Golarion - it will be that Keltham is teaching his students to imitate weak, soft, ordinary dath ilani teenagers. We must shape Keepers."
"I stayed silent, on that topic, while there was no higher priority than keeping Keltham contained a little longer. But we are now past that."
"I don't know how to hurt people so they become more ilani rather than less so. If we did we've have nearly won already."
"Then start trying things, Sevar, until you learn! We can send you plenty of mortals who are disposable, if you hesitate to practice your hand on Pilar! I will have all of Cheliax scoured for natural slaves and masochists who are also young wizards, male and female alike, if we think that's what creates the potential to learn without shattering! There are twenty million mortals in Cheliax, and if you kill one in a thousand of those simply to learn how to do this it will be a good trade!"
" - yes, Most High." She isn't, actually, sure she's strong enough to do that, but - she'll just have to learn.
"- do not kill the twenty thousand most promising young people in Cheliax. That would not be good for the country."
"We are soon to have a sufficiency of +4 intelligence headbands. We can make them promising, and if they survive unshattered they can stay promising."
"Did either of you at some point struggle with, and then overcome, squeamishness about killing twenty thousand people, such that you have advice, or is that a flaw not generally common among powerful Asmodeans so that I'm going to have to figure it out entirely myself."
She's not a particularly squeamish person but if you take her baseline level of reluctance to kill people and MULTIPLY IT BY TWENTY THOUSAND you do, actually, get something large. Ten she could do without even losing sleep about it!
"Not at all."
"It's not particularly common among clerics of Asmodeus."
"Usually by the time anybody makes it to the level of the Chelish system where I have any direct dealings with them, they've gruesomely killed enough people they knew personally that they have no squeamishness left about gruesomely killing strangers, even if they started with any."
"You did jump the promotion ladder a good deal in order to end up in charge of Project Lawful, dear."
"I know I'm lacking a bunch of the skills I need to achieve my goals, and this is one of them, and I'm eager to fix it, but - I don't see how gruesomely killing a couple dozen people would help at all! I wouldn't mind doing that! Is the idea that most peoples' reluctance to murder is sufficiently - made of slime and muddled thinking - that it's much easier than I'm imagining to squish it down to not just 'very negligible' but actually literally zero? I can kill my family, if that is likely to work, but there's only, like, ten of them, and killing ten people isn't aversive!"
"Do you have any idea what she's thinking, Aspexia? Or rather, why she's thinking it?"
"No, possibly it's - some dath ilani stumbling-trap? That kicks in when you're about to kill a large number of people? I don't see how that's Lawful, though. If you're willing to kill ten people I don't see why you wouldn't be willing to kill ten thousand, it's just a matter of killing ten people repeatedly."