Some things break your heart but fix your vision.
What was really in the muddle?
Some real loyalty to Sevar, the first person to ever make a bargain with Asmodia and keep it and protect her literally at all, from Cheliax, to offer Asmodia anything that wasn't pain that was anything she really wanted even if that thing was to help find an approved way for herself to stop existing.
Some real pride in her job, that she chased, blindly, by appearing to herself to continue to do that job. Some real pride in her position, her role...
...maybe mostly it was something like inertia and continuing on where she was, not putting in the effort to think of things, change things, that she just kept on reacting to them as they came. Trying to hold onto everything she had and wanted, all at once, defending it in local reactions as it was locally threatened.
Maybe past-Asmodia even feared, on some level, that if she reconsidered things, she would conclude that she should not stay in Cheliax and help it. And then, past-Asmodia feared, if she concluded so, she would lose her job and her Korva, and confront a remaining terror about whether she would not receive the Gardens again when she went back to Hell.
Fearing instinctively the outcome of her own thoughts, she did not think. And this is muddled, for if Asmodia came to the conclusion that she must do something she really should not do, Asmodia could always just not do it; or, if she really should do it, she ought to think of it and know it.
It is the kind of muddle you get into, when the pieces of yourself do not trust each other in the way that Lawful gods and ilani trust each other.
But even muddled past-Asmodia must have known, even before Pilar told her it was her last piece of cake and Asmodia accepted that oracle's prophecy knowingly, she must have known that it was time for her to die, at the point where Pilar offered to protect her, and Asmodia told Pilar to protect Yaisa and Korva instead.
Obviously Asmodia doesn't care about Yaisa, she was just trying to conceal the real point, which was to get Pilar to protect Korva.
She has done, then, what she needs to do, before she goes; is this Asmodia satisfied with that new strategy's cognitively-reachable-optimality, if not happy with it?
Is there any better way than this? Has Asmodia missed some way to protect herself, to win this whole awful game for the Sevar loyalists and emerge triumphant, at the cost of a day of pain?
...Asmodia still isn't seeing it, and this obviously isn't the first time she's thought about that topic at +4/+6/+4. If Elias Abarco did know a way for her to win, he obviously wouldn't tell her; and if Ferrer Maillol knew, he probably would.
Is there remaining fear, remaining hope, remaining thoughts left unthinked?
Should she try to - escape within Golarion, rather than to the Gardens?
Should she try to sabotage the Project before escaping?
...if she were Good, perhaps, but that way lies too much prospect of pain if she fails.
Asmodia does not like pain. She does not like submission. That is not a good combination of traits in Cheliax, when the only way to reduce the pain is submitting. She was reprieved of that choice, for a time, by Sevar's experimental mercy; and now Asmodia has grown unused to pain and submission, and also suffering and horror and despair.
That, in a way, is why all of this is happening. Asmodia could maybe remember the person she was in Ostenso academy, find it within herself to give up and lose hope and endure, if she had no Gardens to flee to, but Asmodia - does not want to hurt any more.
The prospect of staying and trying to sabotage Cheliax terrifies her, if she's caught; she will hurt, then. Asmodia does not want that, and so she will keep an implicit bargain she made within herself, to be able to think at all, to trust herself to think and be trusted by herself, and not force herself to do that.
And are there more thoughts left unspoken inside herself?
The terror that she is failing her sponsors, and for that will be cast out from the Gardens of Erecura to be pained and shattered in Hell.
The terror that she is failing her sponsors, who are trusting her and relying on her for purposes she doesn't know.
The terror that she is betraying someone, somewhere, who cares about her, who helped her.
And the thought comes to Asmodia, then, that when she first encountered this great mystery, in the Gardens, she had almost nothing out of dath ilan within herself, knew so much less about even the general situation than Asmodia knows now; and past-Asmodia took it then as a Great Mystery into herself, and never really reconsidered that decision.
She should ask the question again.
She should list out all the possibilities, the way Keltham did, the first time he really tried at all to pierce the Conspiracy - well, to be fair to him, the first time he tried to pierce the right Conspiracy, having narrowed possibilities far down enough and been prompted by his environment to ask a solvable question instead of unsolvable ones. She should categorize, analyze, as best as she can without paper -
And just as it was with Keltham, Asmodia doesn't get very far into listing possibilities, before she sees, now that she knows so much more than she did then.
It's obvious if you understand decision theory.
There's so much else she doesn't understand, like everything to do with Snack Service, Asmodia does not know at all what Cayden Cailean is doing here, or how this all ends.
But she knows who both cared about her and had the power to rescue her from Hell, and she knows what else that Will wills: to protect everyone on Project Lawful - well, maybe not Avaricia, possibly, or Maillol or Subirachs, or a fair number of Securities. But most of them.
And Asmodia too.
It would not want her to suffer, that Will, to live on in Cheliax in terror, unless there was a lot she could accomplish by doing that; and Asmodia doesn't see it.
If anything, the further effects of her departure, if she does it right, will protect them all better than anything she could possibly do by fighting on here.
She is content with her decision, then. Is there still fear? Of course there is, because all of this is uncertain, and she is only a small mortal thing to face Reality with nothing but her own mind to help her decode it. Terrible things could still happen to her if she makes one wrong move.
But you never stop having that feeling while you are still in Cheliax at all, and Asmodia is well capable of acting despite that.
And it feels obvious, on an intuitive level, that she is not going to have any better ideas. So she may, perhaps, prepare more spells tomorrow and think this through again; but she feels -
Asmodia opens her eyes, and ever so slightly, smiles.
Keltham goes back to his bedroom, tired, not able yet to sleep.
He - should probably go ahead and think of things, now, he is getting past the point where he feels like he can navigate sensibly while avoiding thinking in words. Keltham is past the Commune and will not use that spell with Abadar again, which was a danger point; he's had the conversation with Merenre, which hopefully goes some way towards Governance arriving at the desired wrong explanations for things -
- he can't not think in words, any more, this is too tiring; and also once he starts talking to foreign delegates tomorrow, he will actually lose some of his ability to back up if he makes a mistake. Everything he's told Governance so far could be backed out tomorrow morning; if Keltham starts signing contracts he can no longer do that.
It's time to think explicitly. Was arguably already time to think before this, right after the Commune. Arguably Keltham should have done the Commune earlier - the trouble with not thinking in words is that then you can't be very strategic, including about when it's time to start thinking in words again.
If you forget all of the supposed reasons for things, and look only at Keltham's apparent behavior, it looks like this - if you are looking at only the important things, and not being distracted by anything else:
- He does not want to come into unfiltered contact with people with high Sense Motive.
- He does not even want Iomedae reading his mind.
- He has warned them to expect his bond with Abadar to be broken.
- He is avoiding friendly trading relationships with Osirion, and only trading with Lawful Evil counterparties warned to expect Asmodean behavior.
- He tried to establish plausible-sounding reasons why he might want to shift alignment to Neutral Evil.
On the plus side, if Keltham has actually gotten away with this, it settles a long-standing literary debate in dath ilan - about whether dath ilani dealing with aliens, who exhibit apparently elaborate reasons to like totally break off friendships and warm trading relations with aliens they now need to invade or sabotage or something, so as not to betray warm relationships, could in fact plausibly fool aliens that way!
Where the two positions are roughly:
(1) "There's lots of plausible reasons for behaviors! Look how hard it is for humans to decode other humans sometimes! The aliens aren't going to zoom in on exactly the right thing unless their own psychology is configured in a way that zooms in on the same answer to the same question! They haven't read our books, and wouldn't know it was a standard trope!"
(2) "Don't tell me the aliens haven't read our books, aliens you could have warm trading relationships with in the first place would come up with the same trope in their own books! They'd see it immediately just like we would, and be like, 'Well there's a very standard tropey behavior you're trying to come up with a smokescreen to hide.' Stop postulating aliens who are stupider than you are just so the plot goes through!"
Keltham did not invent his 'literary symmetry' theory about being forced to betray anyone who was nice to him, out of sheer trope-reading. Or rather, not out of trying to read that trope.
There's a much more object-level trope that started to seem, after slightly more research, like it might really obviously apply here:
Needing to destroy all of the ancient gods, and leave only the formerly-human/formerly-mortal gods - who are currently enslaved by their past bargains, and not allowed to help Keltham in destroying their masters.
Possibly, needing to destroy all of the gods period, if even Iomedae has sworn the wrong oaths; or just, there not being any good way to destroy only some gods, if there's some clever way to kill them all at once, and no clever way to leave Iomedae out of it.
It doesn't make things fit, doesn't cause everything to click perfectly into place, does not cause everything Snack Service did (in the light of other information Ione already knew out of Cheliax) to make perfect sense.
...Sometimes you go with the wrong theory that is making some right predictions, if that theory suggests precautions you need to take right now before doing anything irreversible.
Keltham would, obviously, try to spare Abadar from the slaughter of the ancient gods, if that didn't come at great cost to mortals. But if you can extrapolate from the kind of story this is, it could definitely be the kind of story that requires him to kill Abadar, trading partner of Asmodeus. That sure is a kind of story that Keltham could be in, given how his life is going.
It's not certain, hardly. In fact it would be surprising if the story let him decode things correctly and that quickly, unless the character viewpoint has now shifted off him entirely and the rest of this story is about Carissa.
But sometimes you have to operate even a wrong theory that makes some right predictions, in order to avoid doing things that might be wrong and irreversible according to that theory.
It's weird how Rovagug cultists are still a thing, given that you'd expect the gods to cooperate on stomping them. Mortals are just opaque to gods unless the gods spend lots of effort? Why not pay Nethys to tell you about them?
Suppose, though, that something about Rovagug isn't just a Prophecy blindspot, but some sort of greater attentional blindspot for the gods.
Also in terms of trying to read ahead in the plot, Asmodeus letting Rovagug out of Its vault, under some circumstances, suggests that Rovagug can be directed, possibly, yes, in exchange for being let out of Its vault? If Rovagug is a kind of thing that can do trades at all, then it's a good trade to be let out of your vault, eat all the ancient gods, and then go back into the vault. It beats not being let out of the vault at all.
Keltham is not doing that tomorrow morning, very very obviously.
But he is setting up possibilities in advance for moving to within one alignment step of Rovagug so Keltham can be Its cleric. If, to be clear, that later starts to look like a good idea.
Obviously, a plan like that, if that's actually how things look after more research, would stand a fair chance of destroying this multiverse.
This about dath ilan:
They think their negative utilitarians were pretty neuroatypical people, and possibly committing some sort of reasoning error in several cases if not all cases, for wanting to destroy dath ilan. Sure, it's got some problems, but the problems aren't that bad, most people are retroactively glad they exist; it would be worth doing this forever, even if the Future never got any better.
It's considered mildly infohazardous, and you have to go onto the Ill-Advised Network, to find anybody arguing about how bad a world would have to be, exactly, in order for 'well let's destroy that world' to be the correct tack according to whoever is talking.
Sort of an odd thing to debate, in a way, considering that a lot of opinion differences probably have to do with differences of utilityfunction. But sometimes, after all, people end up valuing different things after arguing about them. So the debates continue and of course never ever settle; and do moderate amounts of psychological damage along the way, on average, except for the 15% of people who actually come out of it feeling better, not in a particularly predictable way. Hence the Ill-Advisement.
Nobody would bother having debates about Golarion.
30% of the population going into endless-torture afterlives is way, way, way, WAY over the line even BEFORE considering how many of them were children.
You would obviously prefer to fix Golarion, especially if you weren't sure where any isekaied people would end up.
But if you are a mortal put into a position like this, by something like Pharasma that didn't bother to consult any mortals about it, because She thought the mortals' objections couldn't hurt Her, and you have a chance to kill Pharasma and no particularly better options than that, you kill Pharasma.
This is a very short sentence in Baseline, metaphorically speaking. Not literally so, but if you read a lot of dath ilani fiction, it's very obviously where the plot of the story is being blatantly pointed, foreshadowed, on the surface of things.
Could it be subverted? Yes, obviously, but you can't rely on that; quite often, dath ilani stories don't subvert a very obvious trope, because the actual plot twist is somewhere else.
And Keltham? What does he think of it? He is not a typical dath ilani.