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Mar 26, 2023 8:52 PM
keltham in Osirion; Project Lawful does a pivot
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Given his sort-of-utilityfunction, the way he feels about things, it legit takes noticeably more extreme problems to get Keltham to endorse destroying a multiverse, compared to the average dath ilani.


Children in Hell will do it, though.



It's not really a story that Keltham wants to be inside.


If he decides that it is, in some sense, just a story, or if Keltham decides that he is selfish to the end and this is not his story, there's three obvious signposts marked in this story for exiting it:

Death, for exiting mortal Golarion, going to the city he saw in Early Judgment.

The Test of the Starstone, for exiting mortality itself, and maybe heading away from Golarion after.

Abaddon, to exit this whole multiverse.

...where, to the extent Keltham believes that tropes govern here very exactly, which is something that Keltham is now always tracking as a possibility, he does not feel like the deepest darkest depth of the Trope Hypothesis really endorses the Axis-lets-you-terminate claim.  That was only just now introduced as a possibility, and Abaddon is the multiversal exit he was first told about in the beginning.  On object-level causality, yeah, going to Axis is probably better; but then if Keltham is walking out on this world in the first place, it will probably be because he's decided it's just a story.

Or on the side of ordinary death, it's even been hinted to Keltham that he could still repay his debt to Abadar if he went to Axis, by going to Abadar there directly and explaining mortals to him.  Though, obviously, that's something that Keltham would check.

And Keltham would need to believe very strongly that Golarion wasn't real, for him to not first try to give Osirion more knowledge than he gave to Cheliax, before leaving it.


...he would need to believe it very very strongly, that this was only a hallucination and one where nobody else was real at all, for Keltham to exit this plotline when he hadn't yet aborted his probable child with Abrogail Thrune.



Keltham goes, then, to read the transcripts, of what his girlfriends, what he thought were girlfriends, what were maybe actually girlfriends even under truthspell, what they said to him, and the woman who he'd thought was his.  It's a reason to still be here, if he might be able to get some or all of them back, at some point.

It's stressful and he's tired, but tomorrow everything starts and he should - do this, before then, because he hasn't done it yet, and there might be clues there -


Keltham does not weep, rereading what they said.  He has cried enough, that part of him is tired.


"Super duper not allowed!  Plus you're going to figure it out anyways yourself before that long."

Really.  Keltham does not particularly feel like he is close to having figured everything out, at this point.

"The Most High let me borrow her crown, her artifact headband, for two hours, to see if I could figure anything out.  It did send me manic afterwards, but I told Security to light my hand on fire for five rounds and that solved it.  The mania wasn't permanent, that part was an excuse for my getting a +6 Wisdom headband and to try to get you to not use headbands yourself."

It went mostly past him, the first time Keltham read it.  Not this time.

"But I didn't lie to you about wanting you, or about having a good time in your company, and I worked so hard on the shapeshifting in significant part because it was incredible fun and the best sex I've ever had. 

Not that the bar for that is very high, to be clear, but still."

In significant part, huh.

He should've asked - each of them - if there was anything they weren't saying.  Except, obviously, the answer would've been 'Yes' for everyone.  He would've had to have known the right questions, and even then could not have forced an answer from them.


"It seems to me that it was incredibly stupid to make your project of rebuilding Civilization also your project of having lots of kinky sex with admiring employees."

Yup.  Keltham has by now worked this out, that if he - wasn't thinking of this world as his afterlife, if he was trying to get shit done, he would've been bringing in a lot more existing experts than one alchemist.  Keltham was working on reflexes for - how to run a startup in Civilization, and not revising those to Major Governance Project - and to be fair to Cheliax, the moment Keltham updated to Major Governance Project everything fell apart for them, so it's not like they were wrong.  But Keltham was being, not just wrong, stupid, because you can test hypotheses, and Keltham should have tested the cached thought that you can't teach forty-year-old experts new tricks.  Maybe it was different in Golarion where, among other things, there's a superheated radioactive spell called Age Resistance.

Now he is planning to just teach people industry, as quickly as possible, not try to create - a long-term cultural base of Civilization - he is being a little too hard on his past self, his past self was genuinely trying to do a different thing, in part, build something in Cheliax that was right from the beginning and would serve as a foundation, and bringing in dozens of experts from other countries to oppose Cheliax is not that same thing.

Doesn't change Gregoria being right, in some fundamental sense, Keltham was thinking - not even in tropes, it is not a prediction out of tropes that things would go well for a protagonist like that - he was being, comfortable.  Having fun.

It was supposed to be his thing, that he was selfish, and it's clear why Cheliax didn't call him on it, but.  But.

"I never really tried to explain myself to you, you know, as a person. You never really asked. I'm kind of assuming you don't really want to know, it's not really the point, and it's not really the point on my end either, so I'm not, like, mad about that?"

He was supposed to be selfish.  It was supposed to be his thing. 

"Peranza wasn't in love with you.  She could've fallen in love with you, given the chance, but she was in circumstances she found pretty stressful and didn't have the energy, really."

Their lives weren't supposed to be his problem.  Carissa told him so.  He trusted her.


"Honestly, I really wish that I could tie you to a chair until I was done breaking down every single mistake you made and how ridiculously wrong you are about so much of the world around you, and also get it through your skull that there are hundreds of millions of people around you who are living stories as real and as genuine as yours, and that everything isn't fucking about you, even though the gods, for reasons that are totally unrelated to your actual impressiveness as a person, or to anything you've ever actually done of your own power, appear to be obsessed with you. But I doubt your escorts have the time for that, so if you want to know what you're missing, you're going to have to grow the fuck up and look the fuck around you this time."


Are there hundreds of millions of people around him, actually as real as him?  It's something that Keltham has never, in fact, been sure of, nor should somebody in his position be sure of it, and Korva is not being entirely fair about that; which, to be fair to her, she said she wasn't.

To say that is to also concede that, for all he knows, those hundreds of millions of people, and more souls than that in Hell, could be as real as himself.

He is not quite sure - how to handle the math of that, in this very strange case, to prevent the old problem of your decision theories being dominated by claims about huge amounts of realityfluid somewhere outside you.  Most of the Greater Reality could, must if you define some terms correctly, involve people who don't have much huger amounts of conscious realityfluid around them whose fates uniquely rest on their own decisions.  You don't want all those people screwing themselves over, if they're mortal and uncertain about how there might be huger amounts of conscious realityfluid at stake.  Bad enough to believe in the position dath ilan found itself, where it was just one planet and there were apparently thousands or millions of Galaxies within their reach, waiting to be colonized by them - and the story of dath ilan's universe was far more compact and internally consistent than this one's.

He shouldn't just - throw away all of himself, Keltham doesn't think, on the possibility that the hundreds of millions of people in Golarion might be as real as himself - it doesn't feel, to him, like the math ought to work out like that -

(He was supposed to be selfish, it was supposed to be his thing -)


"Cheliax is the only place I've ever heard of where I can exist as myself, Hell is the only afterlife I can imagine myself going to, Asmodeus is the only god who fits me in any way.  I was similarly honest when I described to you the kind of sex I like, that keeps me in my place.  I've always enjoyed being forced into sex, I was never actually in denial about it, that was a lie to see if we could get you to force me into bed without my saying yes to anything."

"I went to Elysium because of my curse.  They showed me what Hell was actually like for the people in it, and spent a lot of time apparently trying to talk me out of things and telling me how much Asmodeus didn't deserve me.  I came back to Golarion willingly, to serve Asmodeus in this world, and then in Hell."

Because tropes sent him an incredibly improbable person or because a lot of people are actually like that??

It - probably doesn't change anything, unless almost everyone, is like that, but - if at some point it sounds at all reasonable, that any of this could come down to numbers, he's going to need that number.

And swear a cleric of Iomedae to secrecy and ask them about the probability of Iomedae ending Hell anyways in a reasonable amount of time.  Though Keltham would've needed to decide to destroy the world before then based on his guess, and only be considering undoing that decision, in order for him to be not using that information against the people who provided it.

There's a lot of numbers he Ought To Gather, if he was going to risk destroying the world in a rigorous fashion; and he can't gather any of them using somebody else's assistance, that would be turned against them, unless it first works out to him risking destroying the world anyways if he has to proceed on just his own guesses.


"I don't like Hell. I'm Lawful Evil, I obey Asmodeus, I don't mind hurting people, I don't get worked up about how, oh, no, torture, I'd still rather endure a hundred years of it than the twenty minutes of Chaotic Good we've just been subjected to. But I don't like feeling like people are weaker, instead of stronger, when they get hurt, if you don't hit them just right, I don't like the ways that the fear of Hell makes them more pathetic instead of less so - I'm very pathetic, right now, so you can't take any of this as particularly criticism of other people, understand, but I can see it, very clearly, how pathetic everyone is all the time, and I want it to stop, I want people to be like Her Majestrix who it's absolutely illegal to casually call 'Abrogail' by the way, I want to be like that myself, or at least like, a piece that fits in with that, strengthens it, instead of just falling short of it. And Cheliax doesn't produce people like that. It's not really trying, honestly. As long as they go to Hell - and they do go to Hell - it doesn't matter. But it matters to me, and as soon as - we started - I was thinking about how to fix it. I wanted to understand you, I wanted to be like you, it felt like not just everything I'd always wanted from my life but also everything I'd always wanted for the world. Something beautiful, instead of something that we were all - buried under, flinching from."


"I talked with Subirachs, at one point, about how awful it felt to - be doing this to you - I explained that I'd been conceptualizing it as - service to the Lawful Evil Keltham we were hoping to awaken from his Lawful Good upbringing, hoping to make able to understand everything without it breaking him and willing to take it, once he had it. Iiiiii think that like many of my plans was running on willful self-deception but it was how I was thinking of it. I tried - to make as much real as I could - they didn't tell me when you were planning to attack me and drag me off - I ordered everyone else to not pretend with you -

- uh, I did, at one point, on a day you were petrified, have sex with Elias Abarco, I didn't want to, I tried to stop him, and I'm sorry, that I did it and that I didn't tell you even though I couldn't tell you without blowing the whole thing open. Aside from that I actually tried to do what you asked of me, the best I could, and to make sure no one you were sleeping with was - the thing you were so scared we all were -

- I'm not trying to convince you I wasn't incredibly Evil. I was incredibly Evil, I hurt a lot of people. I'm just trying to convince you that I love you, not just in a way where we have feelings we don't know how to describe but in a way where - I tried, to make the thing I was doing bring you joy and not hurt you secretly, except I was lying to myself about everything. 

And to be clear, I still am, probably, lying to myself about some things. Since I'm still Chelish, and this is still my project, and I can only achieve any of the things I want to achieve if I manage not to steer myself off any cliffs of heresy in the meantime. I wouldn't - take the things I'm saying right now as particularly right, about what happened. When you come back - if you come back - I think I'll understand it better, and I'll be able to give you a proper confession. 

In private. Because this is ludicrous."


"But, uh, the parts I'm sure about are - you were what I needed, and I was very happy, and you were making me stronger, and I loved you, and I still love you, and I'll probably always love you, and I hope some day once you've made whatever determinations you need to make, about what's real and how the world works, you'll come back for me."

He doesn't cry, even then.

Mostly because he was paying attention the first time.


"When I ascended to this throne, I promised myself I wouldn't die of old age on it.  That, after all, would mean that I'd played my reign far too safely, and lost out on most of the fun."

"It would be fitting for me to lose my head and crown to the person you could become.  Someday.  Sometime in my sixties, perhaps."

"Not this Keltham, though.  That would be absurd and embarrassing."

Not spoken under truthspell.  Plausibly true anyways.

Either way, Abrogail Thrune can die and rot.


"I'm going to miss you. Don't - hurt yourself - and, once you're ready, come back for me. If you take too long about it I might send additional presents so I can at least rest assured you're not lonely and miserable without a single overengineered sex toy to keep you company."

I'm sorry, Carissa, his brain autocompletes the dialogue of this movie.


Stop.  Rest.  Recover.  There is not that little time.

The 'Scientific Revolution' needs to start tomorrow morning.  It is not the same concept as Keltham not being able to take five minutes to rest, after reading through all that.


And when he is done resting, Keltham turns, then, to look at the magical item on loan from Osirion, the +2 Splendour headband.

After the first day, he hasn't made much of use of it.  Keltham didn't want to risk getting addicted.  There's - pretending isn't quite the right word - there's showing your emotional upset more than you usually would, hoping people don't ask too many questions about your exact pattern of actions, but without signing any contracts based on that, while you try to not maneuver yourself out of later options; and then there's running unnecessary risk of addicting yourself to personality-altering magic while you're recovering from a major disaster...

...was what Keltham had been thinking.

But there is so much less time than Keltham thought, even when he already suspected there might be a clock ticking; he guessed it would be three months, to get the second Project started, for symmetry with the first plot arc, if there was a time limit like that.

And -

"The Most High let me borrow her crown, her artifact headband, for two hours, to see if I could figure anything out.  It did send me manic afterwards, but I told Security to light my hand on fire for five rounds and that solved it.  The mania wasn't permanent, that part was an excuse for my getting a +6 Wisdom headband and to try to get you to not use headbands yourself."


It wouldn't end there, of course.  Once you accept the basic logic, you use your money out of Chelish Project revenues to buy a +4 / +4 headband - from some Lawful Evil merchant, under current theories wild guesses of harm reduction - and get whichever stat you're missing enhanced by scrolls or hired wizards on a regular basis.

And the price?  However much of yourself changes, is lost, as the result of an abrupt and addictive enhancement like that.

If Keltham wanted to stop being this Keltham, if he despaired of being too small and too stupid for a world this harsh, it would be a more appealing option.  But Keltham has always been fond of his self, see, rather fonder than most dath ilani; that's part of what being selfish is, in his own philosophy of that.  Sort of an anti-Pilar, really; Keltham has some internal dissatisfactions, but he does not particularly have any part of himself that he'd want burned out of himself with fire, at all, let alone because he thought that he deserved it.


Three exits from this world.

One exit from himself.


(Though the Starstone probably also exits himself and even more so, which ruins the literary symmetry, as is actually important if there are tropes governing these things.)


Some points, then, that with his skills out of dath ilan fully roused, Keltham no longer needs Owl's Wisdom to face.  For he has been hurt rather a lot more than he ever has in his life before now; a trial like that changes people in many proverbial ways, not all good and not all bad, but proverbially among them is that you start to take the Way more seriously.

Point:  Even seeing the world as a story, it's not a story he looks set to win, as he is.  That's even taking into account protagonist-logic, what's ahead of him is too hard, and he is too small, as he is, for the unaugmented Keltham to succeed at this would not fly even as a story.


(Dath ilan doesn't particularly go for stories about outclassed protagonists triumphing over complicated situations and smarter more diligent antagonists, by dint of punching a few things and feeling a lot.  It's not a genre.  It's not even an ironic deconstructive genre.  It just never occurred to any significant number of people that this would constitute good writing in any form.)


...actually, when you list out that point, it already kind of settles things, doesn't it.  Keltham had other points, on this list, like, point, it maybe made sense to think he could be a Protagonist in Cheliax when it was possible he was in that kind of story but he's clearly not actually in that kind of story.

Point, one month is just not enough time and if he wants to have any chance of pushing Osirion hard during that time he's going to need all of the headband and all of the augmentation spells and Nefreti's wine and whatever exists in the way of magical memory aids.

Point, Cheliax was withholding those aids from him due to their lack of true cooperation with him, because it would have let him pierce the Conspiracy.  If you don't seize advantages like that for the side of Coordination, then how is the side of Light supposed to win, exactly?

Point, Keltham has noticed how harshly he's been punished for, trying to suspend judgment, delay investigating, not reason ahead as fast as possible; and for the last two days he's been trying out the virtue of Speed in place of the opposed virtue of Caution.  But - but Keltham is not sure that it is working.  He's held off on doing anything irrevocable, for any conclusion he's jumped to, except for giving superweapons under oath-seal to the cleric of Iomedae, and that decision followed from considering this layer of reality to be real at all.  But there are contracts to be created tomorrow, and too much of his theorizing is tropes running ahead of any observable causality underneath, and theories that do not feel like they have snapped solidly and terribly into place.


All of which only goes to say, in the end, that if the benefits of cognitive enhancement were costless, you sure would want them, yep, they're not trivial, nope they are not.

Permalink, it says something starker than that.

If Keltham is trying to do this at all - to abort his offspring before it becomes ensouled - to raise up within one month a power to hold back Cheliax ascending -

- to investigate further and without alerting any opposed forces whether all the warnings in books are lies out of Golarion, if all along it was as simple as executing a true-oath with Rovagug to blow up its Vault and have it eat only the Evil gods in exchange for freedom, and the ancient gods did not wish this known -

Actually, no, that flatly doesn't fly.  Ione in oracle-mode warned him directly that the original Rovagug war happened because Rovagug broke prophecy and even the Chaotic gods who fought with it couldn't negotiate instead of fighting.  Nevermind.

And also, UGH.  If there's going to be a lot of tiny hints like that, Keltham sure could use an Intelligence headband and magical memory aids and Nefreti's wine, probably.

...illustrating once again the general point:  There's no sane version of this story where Keltham tries anything, at all like that, without cognitively augmenting, and it flies.  His choices are either cognitively augmenting and trying whatever seems like a better idea once augmented, or not cognitively augmenting and not trying that stuff.

The protagonist who Keltham thought he was, in the sort of story he seemed to be in, could maybe do such grand things, just as he already was, correctly and without causing a lot of collateral damage; but that was not his real story.


And against all that?  Only the point that Keltham doesn't want to do this, that he is afraid of how this changes him, that it is maybe the abrupt end of Keltham and the abrupt beginning of someone else, a kind of death that ending up in another world can't fix; that Keltham never signed up for that or agreed to it and doesn't, really, owe it to anyone; he did not ask for any of this, he did not ask to be here.

He's supposed to be selfish.  It's supposed to be his thing.

Carissa would tell him that he, doesn't have to, and - and she might not have been saying things like that, only to try to corrupt him and damn him to Hell, only to keep him weak and easily fooled by Cheliax.  There is also that Carissa, who Keltham thought was his, who he believed in, who he loved, and that imaginary Carissa made sense as a person and a philosophy, when she told him that he didn't owe some things to anyone.


There was a boy once, out of dath ilan, who alone in his classroom declared that he would take the extra seconds to take off his expensive shirt before he jumped into a pool to save a drowning child, if there was otherwise no prospect of the child's parents' insurance paying for his expensive shirt.

Is Keltham still that boy?  Or has he now - just like everybody around him was very clearly thinking, though not saying it out loud, because that would be impolite, and also, who even needs to say it when it's obvious what you're thinking - has Keltham now grown out of it, just like his parents almost certainly secretly hoped he would?



...actually, can Keltham even do that right now - take that exit - the Splendour headband is on loan from Osirion - he does have a scroll of Fox's Cunning from Absalom by way of Cheliax, which he can use freely, but the Owl's Wisdom he never used during his last day in Cheliax is given to him of Abadar -


It would be a lovely excuse, wouldn't it?  But Keltham has training out of dath ilan in noticing the tempting feeling of Just Not Being Able to do something you really would rather not to be able to do, and he knows to be suspicious of convenient obstacles like that.

If you actually let yourself try to solve that ethical puzzle, it's not very hard.  Keltham could decide what he'd probably do, if he couldn't augment himself right now; and then not do anything to Osirion/Abadar's disadvantage beyond that as a result of being augmented earlier, or follow any cleverer strategies to their disadvantage, until such time as Keltham can obtain augmentation items and scrolls for himself, by way of resources he acquired by trading only with Lawful Evil partners without Osirion's help.


Keltham spends a few minutes, then, thinking of his best strategy and writing it down in a simple cipher that he trusts the Osirians not to try to break without asking him; they would treat an Asmodean the same, Keltham thinks, if that Asmodean were here as part of a bargain with Abadar to teach them, so he is not taking advantage there.

He would, mainly, be gathering resources to use in augmenting himself, is what he'd be doing without Osirian help, along that pathway.

What goods does Keltham have to sell, that he can definitely think of to sell right now, before being augmented?

There's Major Images of dath ilan, things like zoomouts and music and music videos, those are luxury entertainment goods but one where you can easily imagine some eighth-circle casters dropping by for a day to see, and some of those would be Lawful Evil.  Hopefully.

Keltham spends some time listing things out...

(One of those items is that he can Major Image himself a spectroscope and burn a 'diamond' to check its chemical composition, just in case it's something that Keltham can figure out how to easily synthesize all on his own without Osirian aid... although the only clear hard crystals that Keltham already knows synthesis pathways for are 'industrial Al2O3' and 'literally just the tetrahedral crystal of Element 6', neither of which seem like particularly plausible candidates for something as expensive as 'diamond'.  Those crystals should appear as ordinary mining byproducts even if you can't synthesize them, if Keltham recalls correctly, and the synthesis pathways for both chemicals are easy enough that even Golarion's alchemists should've worked them out, they're objectively much simpler than refining spellsilver.

Still worth checking with a spectroscope, in case it's like 'Al2O3 plus a spellsilver contaminant' or something like that...

Arguably Keltham should've tried that earlier too, there's just so many possible things like that to check.  This case is distinguished for his current attention only as being something where Keltham might reserve it to fund his supervillainy, instead of, like metallurgy and most other knowledge Keltham has, being something that only yields profits when shared with Osirion.

If 'diamond' the critical expensive spell component is literally just Element-6 crystals, and also Element-6 crystals are expensively rare in mining operations on this planet, and also Golarion's alchemists have never tried just growing seed diamond crystals in an atmosphere of 1% methane / 99% hydrogen at 800C and 3.9psi - as is objectively a much simpler chemical pathway than spellsilver refining - then Keltham will have no explanation for this state of affairs, except the story authors deciding to drop in a blatant plot device, so that there's a not-actually-plausible story about how Keltham could figure out how to synthesize something very compact and valuable all on his own in less than 2 months.)

And Keltham moves on to the next item, and the next, on his brief ciphered list of ideas that he definitely thought of before he augmented himself using an Osirian-loaned item and an Abadar-given spell.

In time he doesn't have any good ideas left, and then he knows he's just delaying the decision itself.

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