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Post last updated: Jun 15, 2022 7:41 PM
crisis of faith
keltham in Osirion; Project Lawful does a pivot
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 Some things break your heart but fix your vision.

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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.

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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.

Usually.

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.

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"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.

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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.  

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"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?"

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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.

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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."

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"I noticed," Aspexia Rugatonn says very very dryly.

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"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."

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"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."

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"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."

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"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."

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"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."

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"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!"

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" - yes, Most High." She isn't, actually, sure she's strong enough to do that, but - she'll just have to learn.

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"- do not kill the twenty thousand most promising young people in Cheliax.  That would not be good for the country."

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"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."

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"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!

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"No."

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"Not at all."

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"It's not particularly common among clerics of Asmodeus."

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"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."

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"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!"

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"Do you have any idea what she's thinking, Aspexia?  Or rather, why she's thinking it?"

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"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."

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"Now I'm wondering what happens if we ask Asmodia this question."

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"I think she dislikes killing ten thousand people and also dislikes killing ten people, which seems to me to be a more Lawful though less Evil stance, and will do either of those if sufficiently threatened."

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"No, I mean, does it trigger some strange dath ilani trap inside her?"

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"How could we tell, if she disliked killing small numbers of people as well as large numbers?"

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"If she's doing the thing I'm doing, you'd have to pay her precisely a thousand times as much, to be happy about killing ten thousand people as ten people, or - no, that's wrong, because what do you even do with that much money - you'd need a threat that's a thousand times worse. If she's equally averse to killing ten people and ten thousand, or if she's twice as averse to killing ten thousand, then that's not the - possible dath ilani mental trap I'm experiencing."

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"That makes more sense.  The answer then is simple:  When you require no payment to slay ten mortals to Asmodeus's benefit, but would rather pay a copper yourself to do it, you'll pay then ten gold to slay ten thousand."

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" - right. Well, in that case, then, I will just work on getting to the point where I'd gladly pay a copper to slay ten mortals to Asmodeus's benefit. I'd like to say of course I'd do that but I think actually I wouldn't be glad, I'd just be bothered a very unimportant amount, and as the numbers get bigger the failure gets magnified."

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"Let us turn then to Project Lawful.  I begin by noting that they performed well above the competence bar I would expect from others of their previous rank, training, experience, talent -"

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"- openly announced that they thought Cheliax was a horrible place and they wanted to defect, humiliating us in front of Osirion -"

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"- confusing Osirion -"

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"It seemed to me that Osirion had a rather good idea of what was going on, in fact!"

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"That is a separate issue about which I shall be having a pointed discussion with some senior intelligence officers.  It was not Carissa's assigned responsibility.  I am raising the question of whether to continue Sevar's policies on punishment pending her return."

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"I'm frankly against it.  Asmodia's insolence is reaching a point that I must consider intolerable, especially if Sevar is now having her own thoughts on corrigibility.  She all but openly - no, she did openly declare that she wanted to leave Cheliax and defect to Good and was awaiting Keltham's rescue.  In front of me.  Without looking particularly scared."

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"They were, and are, outperforming.  We continue to have any priorities besides Hell's pride."

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"They're a pack of trope-sent, trope-empowered special cases from whose outperformance we can conclude little or nothing.  It's possible we'd be better off if we'd been disciplining them all properly this entire time."

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"Tonia is not outperforming Gregoria, and neither of those seem trope-empowered."

"...admittedly that sounds stupid in light of what Keltham has now told us about adequate sample sizes, but still.  One sample is better than zero, he also said."

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"Tonia has been barely punished because hardly anyone on Project Lawful ever gets punished for anything, whether on the Chelish regimen or the Taldorian one!"

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"Tonia's thought transcripts show that she was more frightened -"

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"Has the thought occurred to you, Abrogail, that Asmodeus's way involves inducing ACTUAL PAIN and not just FEAR!"

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"I suspect I understand the topic better than you do, frankly."  It's going to cost Abrogail a lot of personal time, indeed, because Sevar needs to be actually punished and not just afraid, and nobody else in Cheliax including Aspexia can use torture to do anything complicated, which leads Abrogail to have a rather poor opinion of their grasp of mechanics.  "I'll be blunt, Aspexia, Cheliax needs the Project and short of my personally excruciating every one of them I have zero confidence in the ability of any of your priests to preserve their usefulness by anything more than sheer luck."

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"This is not a sustainable state of affairs, Abrogail!"

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"Then somebody in Cheliax who is not ME needs to learn how to do things with pain other than scare people with it!"

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"What's wrong with everyone on Project Lawful being terrified the same as everybody else in Cheliax?"

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"I'm not terrified, you're not terrified, and our respective overpriced headbands are very far from the only reason why the two of us are the best thinkers Asmodeus has at His command!  I agree, dath ilan almost certainly uses pain to train its Keepers!  You know what I bet they don't use?  Fear!  When have you ever seen a devil powerful enough to bear a name show themselves afraid of anything?"

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Aspexia passes a weary hand across her brow.  "If we are this much in disagreement among ourselves, the issue will wait.  Temporarily.  On Sevar's return and further debate."

"There will be that debate and there must be changes made.  Outperformance or no, the Project is visibly not on course to successfully produce Keepers of Hell.  It is on course to produce more Peranzas who will need to be kept under tight Security watch every day of their lives lest they flee."

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It seems to Carissa, not that she's going to interrupt a conversation between the Queen and the Most High, that Carissa more or less licensed everyone to be heretics as long as they were good at their jobs, which was the correct tradeoff with Keltham around, but that means there's a lot of low hanging fruit just in teaching ilanism without licensing everyone to be heretics and having them visibly led by heretics. 

 

She does want to handle that personally, though; it seems like Maillol or Subirachs might not quite understand where she intends to draw the line.

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"If Carissa thinks she knows what to do, let us give her a chance to try it."

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"I am pessimistic and would see other experiments tried in parallel.  We have delayed far too long already on addressing this matter, and must now play catch-up more vigorously than hoping Sevar's next idea works."

"But for Sevar's current slaves to be left to her own attempts, at first - yes, fine, the hierarchy of Hell is layered for a reason.  But be it clear, Sevar, that if others do better than yourself, in this, you will no longer be the leader of Hell's would-be ilani."

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"Understood." She genuinely doesn't think anyone can do better than her at this, but perhaps that's arrogance; if it is, then better to learn that as quickly as possible.

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"The remainder of the Project's less-than-perfect performance is a matter for the Crown, I think, not the Church."

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"Good.  I have many other matters to attend to this day."

Aspexia turns and stalks off, towards the edge of the Forbiddance where she can leave.  She is not, in fact, in a particularly good mood right now; matters have not gone well for Asmodeus, and she is not content with only Sevar paying a price in pain for it.  Possibly she needs to submit her own self to Gorthoklek to properly regret her own inadequacies - she should not have tried to pose as Nefreti's true annoying self, Keltham would not have known any better and the pretense of omniscience was something he could all too easily test - but that is best left for when the day is otherwise done.

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"Go, Sevar, and tell your subordinates that they are not to be smashed to rubble.  Give them due warning, if before you asked something else from them, that the heresies of Project Lawful will be less licensed by you after your return.  Instruct Maillol in how to manage matters in your absence, such as he may require.  Then you will attend upon me in Egorian, to discuss in more detail how you and yours fell short of perfection."

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" - yes, your Majesty."

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Day 90 / Osirion

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They land in the heat of a summer day in Sothis, right outside the gleaming Black Dome that is the shell of the giant beetle Ulunat. It towers over the city; it'd be tall even in dath ilan.

 

And suddenly there's the sensation of - being plunged into ice cold water, or flung through the air at terrifying speed, or being scoured by a blast of energy -

 

- and the accompanying sensation of something darting around the scouring forces, tugging, pulling, cushioning -

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And then Keltham is at the Worldwound, at the place where he first arrived in Golarion, though it isn't cold, and a Chelish woman in shiny metal clothing is standing across from him.

 

"Abadar paid me to convey a message to you as soon as you left the interdicted zone," She says.

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The flash of hope/despair about being out, into the next layer of reality, fades as soon as she starts talking.

"According to you, is the whole thing with the Osirians part of another elaborate lie or not?"

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"- not. You departed the interdicted zone about half a round ago for Osirion, accompanied by forces of the Osirian Risen Guard and a dozen adventurers they hired on short notice. They hope to protect you while you reorient, recover, and decide what you want to do in Golarion. Abadar, who chose you as His cleric, can convey other instructions to them if you wish."

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She feels like - the same sort of thing - that was his god talking to him.  That makes everything worse, so that Keltham has to exert an additional effort and dissociate further from his emotions to continue emergency functioning.  She's now tied the credibility of gods to the credibility of Osirion, and if that breaks when he exits this layer of reality, Keltham isn't sure where to go from there.

Well.  She doesn't have to be an allied god.  But if this style of communication can be initiated by non-allied deities, why suppose he ever talked to his own god of Coordination at all?

"And the supposed message from Abadar?"

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"Abadar can speak directly to mortals, and desires to speak directly to you, but doing so causes severe, debilitating headaches, lasting hours, with the length depending on the length of the conversation. Long enough conversations would also cause brain damage but he stops them short of that point with some safety margin. You can request to speak directly to Him rather than to me if you prefer it; Osirion will protect you while you recuperate. 

I can communicate with mortals at less cost to them, because I was once a mortal, and have access to an aspect of myself that comprehends the world as mortals do. 

You may now know this, but Abadar desired it communicated unambiguously anyway: Asmodeus does not trade fairly, Asmodeus's Church does not trade fairly. They abide by the word of their contracts, but seek to write them to the disadvantage of those they contract with. Hell is a place that most mortals strongly prefer to avoid, and a place where there are not fair or free transactions, and He predicts that aiding Hell is not something you'd do fully informed. Almost any other country on Golarion is a better place than Cheliax for you to teach and work, except Nidal and lower-confidence Irrisen, Wanshou, Bachuan or the Underdark.

When you first arrived in Golarion and thought of Abadar in a way mortals rarely understand to think of Him, Abadar paid Asmodeus to have his mortals not torture you, not arrange for you to be never able to speak with Abadar's Church in Golarion, and not impede you in departing if you so chose. If in your assessment Abadar in so doing left you worse off, He wants to pay you the difference; He also wants to pay you to teach His church. "

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So Asmodeus was never, from the beginning - on this layer of reality - never intended to deal fairly, was paid not to - break him -

"Doesn't sound like I was worse off, no.  Sounds like I owe Abadar, if anything is true - do you have a complete and consistent account of why I arrived in Golarion and why next to Carissa and why Snack Service says the decision theory of everything is complicated -"

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"No. Not this facet of my attention, at least, though we're operating in an environment where I wouldn't be very surprised to learn I figured it out and had to avoid taking any actions that were a product of having determined it, and so chose not to have most of Me know it. 

I have guesses, and can share the information I have in case it permits you to make the inferences that'd figure it out. Abadar paid for this conversation to be confidential, so if you do figure it out, and don't prefer that I allow myself to know that, I won't. However, Osirion knows what I know, here, and you can also ask them, which would be less expensive for Abadar."

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Aaaaggghhh.  Keltham is increasingly of the opinion that the existence of any decision theory more complicated than 'just do things' is a tragic flaw of mathematics.

And time here is expensive, great, somebody should've told him that right away and maybe attached a quantitative estimate of gp/second.

"You Erecura?"  As formerly-mortal goddesses go, the Lawful Neutral one seems a more obvious guess than Iomedae or Milani.

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"Iomedae, Lawful Good goddess of ending the Evil afterlives."

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"Right.  Of course that's what Lawful Good does around here -"  He's wasting timemoney.  "Is there an existing plan on that which I should be fitting into instead of doing my own thing there, and if so, what's the existing timeframe on finishing up."

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"Plans leveraging your world's capabilities are likely to work out much faster than the plans from before you arrived. If you need an army, powerful spellcasters, rare magic items, a spy network, ask my Church. Be aware that Cayden Cailean deliberately acted to weaken my spy network in Cheliax, under some possible explanations of why He did that you shouldn't take Me up on that, consider checking with Him first. I consider it unlikely He's been compromised and is no longer pursuing the destruction of the Evil afterlives."

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"Hah.  Funny.  I don't think I realized I'd become - actually homesick - until I ran into local Civilization again."

"I don't know if whatever overcomplicated decision theory will allow me to take you up on it.  But thanks for the offer either way, Iomedae.  Real or unreal, the thing you appear to be is all right."

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There's the sensation of being embraced and held tightly, by someone who is not wearing a suit made out of metal; the scene fades, and the sensation fades more slowly than that, and then he's sitting on a wooden bench inside an antechamber of some kind, surrounded by worried uniformed Osirians. 

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He's got a headache but a mild one, like he'd spent too long in the sun while not drinking enough water; and he can tell, somehow, that it could have been a lot worse.  "According to your view of reality, is it completely normal and unsurprising that Abadar would pay Iomedae to -"

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Have another cleric circle, Keltham.

 

(It feels like a sudden rainstorm that clings to your skin and then soaks into it, rather than dripping off it; and with it a sense of divine presence, like when he prays for his spells, but more attentive, more specific, almost possible to parse as emotional: pride, and approval, and worry, and protectiveness.)

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...Keltham will now wait an additional couple of rounds to see if he has any more queued messages, like from Irori or Nocticula or something.

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No other gods or demigods or demon lords immediately interfere with him.

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Some internal-introspective sensations, that Keltham has only started feeling over the last three months, have now grown stronger.  He can guess that was another cleric circle he just got.

The timing of that event, just as Keltham asked his question, would be more reassuring if he could be sure that none of the players in this game such as Nethys were not playing clever games with exactly timing things.

"Sorry, just got a vision purportedly from Iomedae paid for by Abadar."  Keltham is not going to say out loud immediately that he now has another cleric circle; he has started to acquire some of that security mindset which advises to just not reveal capabilities information unless there is a reason and a good one.  "Is that something that would be a totally plausible and probable thing to have happen according to your own understanding of reality?"

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"Yes, Abadar told us He planned to arrange that months ago, though I imagine the contents were renegotiated more recently," says another robed man, who wasn't present on the expedition into Cheliax. "The formerly human gods can communicate with mortals more easily and more safely, and Abadar considered it likely that Iomedae would end up considering the message worthwhile by Her own values, and so charging Him less for it."

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"I - am not entirely sure what I need, right now - and maybe presume too much in thinking that my credit is good, here - but if you don't have other plans, other ideas - I think I need - something like - a library with uncensored reference books, and a bedroom, and realistically food of any kind, and privacy in which to feel emotions, and I haven't thought this part through very clearly but if this place has a spare headband of Splendour just lying around then I may do better by borrowing it for a time."

"Unless you think that Cheliax is likely to attack immediately in which case I should - just get a Lesser Restoration, and probably some other cognitive boosts, and then hurry and decide whether to -"

He can't finish the sentence.

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"Our prediction markets are down to about a 3% chance of an attack today. We can get you all of those things, and if we're wrong, interrupt you later."

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"- what else have you already got besides prediction markets, was the entire thing with Cheliax needing my knowledge to refine spellsilver a lie -"

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" - we have no idea how to emulate what you had Cheliax doing with spellsilver, and that's despite having quite good intel on the Project - anything you put into a contract, or on a market. We have policy prediction markets, after someone wrote a paper proposing them a decade ago, and they're small, and haven't yet proven they work better than my personally guessing, though they should work better and they're more legible to Abadar so we do them anyway. We're 90% sure that the value of your knowledge to us is in excess of ten million gp."

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Keltham considers the prospect of reteaching everything himself, winces, almost immediately sees a possible alternative.  "Allegedly one of my ex-employees now resides in the Temple of the All-Seeing Eye, which I'd guess to have something to do with Nethys and Nefreti Clepati, do you know where -"

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" - it's here in Sothis. We'll send an inquiry, though Nefreti may have her own plans, she usually does."

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"Right, well, I have no idea how traumatized she is, but considering that she just got more rescued and less told her world is a lie, it's possible she'd substantially underbid me on starting to tell you things you ought to know immediately to start organizing your own acid-making and spellsilver refining, and search for candidates who can be trained in further researching it.  If that's something you want to start today, rather than waiting for me to recover, and it'd take some of the time pressure off me too."

"Not saying her name because privacy principles, ask Nefreti to pass your message to her."

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"Understood. Your room is ready. The reference library and food are there already; the headband of Splendour should be there shortly. Do you want the spell, in the meantime?"

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"No.  A headband I can freely put on and take off again seems wiser."

That they selected his books, by the implicit sound of it, and had months apparently to do that - is not great - but, still, it's a place to start.

"Let's go, then."

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Day 90 / Egorian

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For some reason, the specific stupid thread Carissa's brain has decided to race off on the instant she arrives in Egorian is wondering what the Palace Security think of her. Presumably they mostly don't; her project was secret, after all. It's Pilar (unintentionally) and Paxti (intentionally) who ended up the faces of Project Lawful. 

"Her Majesty requested me," she says. "Carissa Sevar." 

The Remove Fear has worn off. 

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This produces an immediate (barely visible) scramble of fear and respect and people standing further upright in the presence of CARISSA SEVAR.  Last month's set of (now somewhat outdated) rumors hold her to be the secretly declared heir to Abrogail Thrune's throne.

"You shall be escorted at once," says the senior Security, and with a wave of his hand designates his least liked, most disposable subordinate to do it.  The fool was babbling last week about Carissa Sevar being sometimes allowed to wear the Crown of Infernal Majesty; perhaps the idiot will bumble into asking her about that directly and he'll be rid of him.

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She doesn't ask what they heard. Clearly it was inaccurate.

 

 

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She will give herself the pin-Glibness to be cheerful and at ease, walking to wherever one gets sent to await the Queen, because it'd be horribly embarrassing if anyone reported, later, that she looked scared. 

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Good decision!  People dignifiedly... basically run away from her... when they see her in the hallways.  Anything that could visibly scare Carissa Sevar would have them fleeing outright through the halls, terrified that Cheliax and perhaps Hell itself stood on the verge of destruction.

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Well, they might. It's up to Keltham. 

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Carissa is directed by further Palace personnel to what looks like a very ordinary secular torture chamber, such as you might find in a wizard academy, or in the castle of a non-devout noble, or in any large business concern of Cheliax; though one in which all the furnishings are of Palace quality.  It has a comfortable place for the boss to sit and a less comfortable place for a subordinate to stand, as torture chambers used for managerial purposes often do.  Plenty of bosses in Cheliax consider a torture chamber an appropriate place to have a chat with a subordinate in trouble, though it's usually more ambiguous than this about whether torture is in fact impending.

The Security who brought her there obviously doesn't think Sevar is meant to be the victim here; he flees as soon as he's dismissed.

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......on some level she was definitely expecting to descend for subjective hours through the darkest void into a pit of flame that Abrogail keeps in the basement.

 

 

 

She's pretty sure she's not disappointed, because that would be insane. 

 

Abrogail is definitely making a point, she's just not sure what that point is. 

Maybe it's 'this isn't a sex thing'??

Maybe it's 'I'm obliged by Asmodeus's instructions to punish you exactly as much as you've earned?' But it's not like there's a standard punishment code for 'while wearing the Crown of Infernal Majesty as a personal loan from the Queen, fail at a task of incredible importance to her and to Asmodeus which was literally your one job. Or, well, there kind of is, and it's 'execution'. Maybe that's the point Abrogail is trying to make?

 

 

At this point it flashes across Carissa's mind, and is then immediately obvious, that Abrogail is probably here already invisibly, reading Carissa's mind because she likes doing that. She resists an urge to flail her arms around trying to bump into the Queen. Why does she even have that urge. Why is being a mortal like this.

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Abrogail is in fact fucking busy.  There's a lot to do as regards a possible war with Osirion.

Carissa can wait ten minutes in this very ordinary torture chamber, which is, hopefully, meant to convey the idea that Carissa will be paying fully for her sins in an ultimately stable and trustworthy environment.

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She'll spend them trying to figure out what the fuck Nefreti Clepati meant that if your plans are too complicated your pants end up across the continent. Across the continent in - Oppara? Mendev? Vigil? Does Vigil count as across the continent? Whose pants? Keltham's? But he's on another continent! Maybe the pants are a metaphor?

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Abrogail Thrune will in due time stride into the torture chamber, visibly, in an ordinary way, and seat herself.

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She's not taking that as much evidence Abrogail wasn't here earlier reading her mind. 

 

 

She kneels. 

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"I'd suggest you remove that expensive clothing and garb yourself in a penitent's smock."

"My time is valuable, so you can get started on explaining your own fault analysis while you do that."

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Nnnnnnnot a sex thing. Almost certainly not a sex thing. STOP THAT AND DO YOUR JOB. 

 

She starts to change her clothes. Keeps looking at the floor, while she does. 

 

"There were a number of day-of failures - would probably have been better to take a longer route around the slavemarkets entirely and just tell him straight-up that we were doing so, even though alter-Golarion has slave markets the sight moved Keltham the wrong way, would've been better for there to be a suspicious delay between Ione getting the book requests and sending the books over than for her to be in the bathroom, which is a weaker update towards Conspiracy but a stronger update towards a mindreading one, even though we actually didn't learn there was an emergency by mindreading him -

- but I actually don't think those are the interesting ones - I think if we'd played the day nearly perfectly we'd still likely have lost, and I think it was an operation complicated enough that there were going to be some day-of failures and the plan shouldn't have counted on them being none of them. I didn't allocate enough resources to inventing an immersive set of history, literature and theology for alter-Cheliax two months ago, as soon as we got out of day-to-day emergency mode and had any slack at all. I did a lot of things to a standard where it'd pass immediate inspection, but that was, obviously, something the Conspiracy could do from Keltham's perspective. It would've been worth the costs, though they would've been substantial, of hiring twenty more full-time writers and having an amount of content that was not obviously something the Conspiracy could do. An advantage of the initial Cheliax is basically Taldor plan over the complex alter-Cheliax we ended up going with is that we could've literally just showed him lots and lots of genuine verified Taldor history with some words changed. I knew that at the time, it was part of how I suggested it, but I underappreciated the cost when we started switching away from that. Going even farther back, we should've literally claimed to him he'd landed on the Taldane worldwound contingent and we were a Lawful Neutral country that had nothing to do with Cheliax, but I'd have had to think of that off no context in the first five minutes. 

 

I had concluded tropes weren't real or weren't operative, after Keltham had some nice healthy romances with no elaborate backstories behind them, after he himself concluded that, after it became obvious he was nowhere near kinky enough for Pilar and all the reasoning from her being a 'romantic option' wasn't right. Tropes - are real and are operative, aren't they. If I'd noticed that I wouldn't've announced the yearlong pause plan aloud to anyone until Keltham was safely petrified."

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And Carissa's thoughts and feelings, as she speaks?

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Thoughts and feelings what are those she's a PROFESSIONAL she has been asked for a FAILURE ANALYSIS not for INTERNAL SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCES.

 

She's terrified, and off-balance, and embarrassed, and really angry that any of those are emotions that brains will persist in producing when the only important thing is obeying Abrogail or technically Asmodeus. And she misses Keltham already. A lot. She wants him to give her a hug and say nice things to her and probably no one will ever do that again unless she makes them.

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"I, most obviously, failed in not giving the Project a minimum budget instead of a maximum budget, even in the midst of a war with Nidal.  I should at the very latest have done that when Keltham perfected his method of acid synthesis and it became clear that his world's ideas had been made to work here.  That perhaps might have encouraged you to think of ways to spend more money, before it was too late to spend it."

"A disadvantage of the plan to have Cheliax be literal Taldor is that he might have expected our country to possess a massive central capital with great walls, which would have required us to reject provisions of the Project Lawful contract breaking down revenues by geographic region, which Keltham might have found suspicious much earlier on.  Similar difficulties apply to claiming ourselves to be the Lawful Neutral country of Taldor, though I suppose we could have also simply denied that any such things as contracts and oaths existed and declined to offer him anything of the sort.  Again, that might have engendered suspicion."

"I think I would not, faced with a sudden Keltham myself, have told him that we were Evil, at all, or that our god was Asmodeus, or our afterlife Hell; that, I think, is the basic act of foolish honesty from which everything else spiraled.  You had already showed him Tongues, he could have demanded a casting of that spell and then examined words' meanings in other languages, as he eventually did."

"If I'd already told him that our country was named Cheliax, I would have later confessed to him that a better place for him would be Taldor, a richer country on which we were with good terms, and arranged a Teleport to someplace claiming to be that.  That could have been done after you had a little more context.  It would then have been possible to send Keltham on tours or scry-tours of other countries with escorts claiming to be of Taldor, and he could have asked after Taldor's reputation and heard nothing of remark.  Any questions about Cheliax would have been the exception rather than the rule."

"I could have thought of that, once the matter was reported to me.  I could have thought of that again after the Zon-Kuthon godwar began and Keltham's real importance became clear.  Told him that Cheliax lacked the power to properly defend him or support him, while the war with Nidal continued, and that we were arranging for Taldor to host him.  I did not in fact think of it.  In retrospect I should have done what Keltham called a 'pre-mortem', visualizing out in detail how the whole thing might fall down in time, asking myself at the end of that imagination what I could go back in time in do.  Certainly, once Keltham explained the principle in so many words, I should have done that."

"I don't think I'd have done the fake Taldor transfer even if I'd thought of it.  It would have presented different complications, not fewer.  I'm not sure there was any way to satisfy Keltham once he started looking, and the path we chose seems well-chosen for extending the time before he did."

"Going on my rereading of all of Keltham's thought-transcripts, I think you are attributing too much power to tropes and too little power to ordinary causality.  What set Keltham off seems to have been Cheliax's presentation about a massive nationwide push on spellsilver manufacturing, which made him realize that we were taking him seriously and that a set of sudden demands for verification would be something we'd have to meet.  That should have been presented to him after he was statued, not before.  Without foreseeing the particular disaster - as may not be done in a world of shattered prophecy - it signaled to Keltham that things had changed.  It was a disruption of his status quo.  And that is the general act that we should have avoided until after he'd been petrified and unpetrified.  It wasn't your announcement of the plan to the Project that invoked tropes, it was our presentation of the fake plan to Keltham that changed the way he was looking at things."

"I failed to see that, too, and so did Asmodia, but you are the one person in Cheliax whose job it was to think of that."

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That hurts, but in the way where it's true, and correct, and she's glad she heard it and she wishes they could get to the torture instead of having to endure more of this and she's aware of exactly how weak and stupid that is. "I didn't think of it. I was busy with the logistics of the pause; he seemed at first to take it as reasonable of us, and as a boost to his pride, I saw no further cause for worry."

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She actually does feel angry, then.  "That is a manager's-first-project sort of mistake, Sevar, that one thing seems to be going well and it consumes all your attention, and you've never had a project before, and never watched it FAIL before, and you don't understand in your guts and liver why you should go on being AFRAID OF FAILURE!"

There's fire, then, and an end to a smock's brief honor of being worn by Carissa Sevar.

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She wants Abrogail to fix her so she doesn't make mistakes anymore. 

 

She is aware that this is literally impossible and that even devils make mistakes. She still wants it. 

 

 

"I wasn't - scared enough -"

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If she's still TALKING and THINKING then she's NOT ON FIRE ENOUGH.

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Some Time Later

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...Abrogail will in fact give Carissa Sevar a hug, during a pause in her punishment, and tell her that the Queen cannot, in fact, think of anybody else in Cheliax she could have assigned to this, that would in fact have done better.  Carissa must still expiate the ways in which she fell short of perfection, and pay for those actual outcomes she obtained in what was her assigned task, for that is Hell's way; but these punishments are aimed to burn away her sins, not her pride.  She is still above others, did better than others would have, and while her performance does not (yet) merit her to be a Duchess of Nidal, it suffices for her to be a para-Baroness at least.  Higher ranks must needs wait until she has demonstrated her ability to produce stable Asmodean ilani, though, as is now her next one task.

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She knows. That no one could've done better. It's just, she's the only person who can do any of the things on her to do list, so she doesn't consider it even partially reassuring, that no one else could've done this.

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...if she's still not REASSURED then the TORTURE WILL CONTINUE UNTIL HER MORALE IMPROVES.


(Why is Carissa like this.)

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Day 90 / Osirion

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People from one human-populated planet would rarely count as neurotypical on any other human-populated planet.  To say this requires some measure on the human-populated planets across the multiverse; but if you pick a sensible such measure, the truth of the statement should be obvious enough on priors.  Begin, say, from 50,000 years ago in dath ilan's history; most descendants of that primate species can interbreed with each other, if they're still extant and haven't deliberately shaped themselves otherwise.  Thellim's world of "Earth" branched off no earlier than that - quite a bit later, in fact.

Keltham looks human.  He can interbreed with humans.  He is in fact human.  But Keltham, in several ways, does not work quite like a Golarionite expects humans - or their related mortal species - to work.

Dath ilan, from the perspective of most human-populated worlds, has some unusual problems.  Dath ilan has noticed those problems at all, but they don't know those problems are unusual or unusually severe.  They have nothing else to compare themselves to.  The dath ilani don't know that their failures are not part of the plan, any more than they think of themselves as being unusually good at coordination or decision theory, or their planet having above-average intelligence.

Every human-populated world that is alone in its neighborhood of the multiverse "dances like nobody is watching", you could say.  If a planet is embarrassing itself in some regard, compared to the average descendant of that 50,000-year ancestral branching point, most such planets have absolutely no idea.  If you ask the inhabitants to guess where they fall on the unseen spectrum of world-branches, they will have no more-sensible guess than 'Probably we're somewhere in the middle?'

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Dath ilani know they have a problem where a lot of them aren't very happy a lot of the time.  Their current approach is to have a societywide norm that unusually unhappy people shouldn't have kids, and, to a lesser extent, that unusually happy people should have a lot of kids.

But that takes time, so for now, the dath ilani carefully tweak their environment to make it possible for as many people as possible to be happy within the framework of their current genetics.  This takes a lot of tweaking and a lot of work, and the dath ilani don't particularly realize there's anything odd about that; they don't have other human worlds to compare themselves to.

The dath ilani carefully raise their children in an environment free of spoilers about sex existing or how it works, so that young adults may have the pleasure of discovering that for themselves, among themselves - in an effort to preserve every bit of that rare stuff that is fun.  They relegate pornography to the Ill-Advised Consumer Goods Store, because if a dath ilani reads a book about interesting people having incredibly interesting and exciting and fun and complicated sex, they will start to hold their own sexual encounters to the same standard, before they would naturally have become bored.  Why wantonly burn up the time remaining until ordinary sex starts to seem repetitive? - so thinks dath ilan.

They're aware they have a problem, an aspect of reality that isn't as good as it could be.  Of course they're aware.  Dath ilani, by their nature, and by comparison to an average human world descending from their 50,000-year ancestor, are aware of dissatisfactions like that to an incredible degree.  Their world is so optimized not least because any visible problems bug the crap out of them.

The dath ilani are aware they have a problem where it's hard for people to be happy, and they're applying all of the heritage-optimization pressure they can spare from more important matters to solving it.  They don't know they have an unusual problem.  The dath ilani don't know that their average species-cousin gets bored less quickly, or can much more easily become happy.

The dath ilani don't know that their cousins experience emotions, in general, more strongly than dath ilani do.  The difference is more pronounced for positive emotions, but it's true about negative emotions too.

How'd it happen?  Nobody knows, at this point, they screened their history.  Obviously the change didn't happen on purpose.  Probably there's something like a balance, inside minds, some sheerly neural relative weight of cortex and thalamus; and the ancestors of Civilization selected on themselves for intelligence without paying proper attention and obeisance to that balance.

So dath ilan dances, less happily and excitedly than average, like nobody is watching.

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Here's another not-so-little irony of Keltham's life, one that he'll probably never have a chance to learn now:  When Keltham reached age 20, and Civilization first revealed to him the subsidy it would pay to him to have kids -

- as is kept obscured, until the socially-usual childbearing age of 20, for obvious-to-a-dath-ilani reasons; you don't go around telling eight-year-kids that secret prediction markets expect that Civilization won't want more of them, or not enough to pay for it.  That could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And then if you tell the other kids that Civilization probably does want more of them, the silence is conspicuous for those who aren't being told.  Judgments like that aren't final to begin with; sometimes, indeed rather often, kids turn out differently than expected.  These are not confident prediction markets.  It has not been found to be fun for kids, if you tell them that unconfident prediction.  This too is information-that-harms-the-hearer, better not to know if you're not a Keeper.  And the only way to be silent about it to some kids, is to be silent about it to all of them -

- Civilization would have told Keltham that they did, in fact, want more of him.  He's shifted honorably-selfish away from altruistic, yes, and that's a little weird; he's noticeably less reflective than the average dath ilani, and that's bad; but he also experiences emotions more strongly, has stronger drive, than the average dath ilani, and that matters a lot.  This organism is made happy more easily; he's happier than you'd expect for a self-conceived misfit.  It would have outweighed his selfishness, in the eyes of what Civilization had voted on as its future targets; and the possibility would not have been lost on Civilization that maybe that higher-selfishness business was correlated with the happiness part.

It's definitely the sort of interesting mindstate where, if nothing else, you'd like him to have four kids out of sheer curiosity, to find out if the traits stay correlated in his children.

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There are dath ilani who would have gone through everything Keltham just did, and felt nothing but a distant sadness about losing Carissa, after having barely managed to connect to her in the first place.  They might have walked through the entire thing Exactly Correctly, not because they are that disciplined, but because their emotions were never strong enough to knock them off their Way, or even push on them too hard.  On being told it was all a lie, they would not have dissociated from a single one of their emotions, even if it felt relatively awful, because it was so rare for them to feel anything even that strongly, in their lives.

They'd feel that same distant sadness, maybe, on turning 20 and learning that Civilization wanted no children from them.  A lot of people like that need to not have kids, if you want to create space for people like Keltham to have four kids experimentally to see about fixing that problem.

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Keltham feels unusually strongly, for someone of dath ilan.

By the standards of Golarion-outside-of-Cheliax, not so much.

After having previously dissociated some of his emotions to run in emergency mode, Keltham isn't able to cry, even in private, until he puts on the Splendour headband that's found for him; knowing, as he does so, that he might well end up never wanting or able to take the headband off again.

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Afterwards, Keltham consumes the food brought for him, skims some books in the library.  He tells them that tomorrow he'll probably want to talk to an expert on theology and afterlives, who can at least point him at which books to read.

He asks for a Sleep spell (technically Deep Slumber).  He doesn't really feel like trying to go to sleep naturally.

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Day 91 / Osirion

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Keltham awakes with his mind feeling numb, dissociated, distantly sad.

He looks at the Splendour headband, which he did manage to take off last night before asking for the Sleep spell.

Keltham decides - not to put it on, just yet, for a while.

There's a saying out of dath ilan, "You can face life without drugs, but there's often no point in trying."  In context, it doesn't have exactly the import that the bare words sound like, because it's an instance of a proverb-template about how "You can X without Y, but there's often no point in trying."  That proverb-template in turn is intimately paired by rhyme and prosody to a successor proverb: you probably should try at all, like once or twice, just be willing to give up if it turns out there's no point?

Keltham is going to try not to get addicted to Splendour immediately and in the middle of a major life crisis.

He prays.  He asks for two Comprehend Languages in case he needs them for reading books in other languages.  He asks for two truthspells.  He keeps his Owl's Wisdom.  He leaves the rest of his list blank.  If his god is back in touch with him, his god should be able to fill the list as his god sees fit.

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Commune, fucking finally. 

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Some new and unfamiliar spells that Keltham will see about identifying, in substantially increased total quantity.  No Sanctuary, no Vision of Hell, no Protection, no Enchantment Foil, no Spell Immunity, no Summon Monster III.  Cool.


He - sort of wants to eat breakfast around people - and at the same time doesn't know anybody or trust anybody and the only person, now, that he could even arguably eat breakfast with, is, like Ione Sala, maybe possibly Asmodia if she could be rescued.

Frankly, what he wants is to eat breakfast with Iomedae.


Keltham leaves his bedroom to find out what's up around here.

He doesn't forget to bring with the pin of glibness.

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The palace of the Pharaoh of Osirion is not less luxurious than the Palace at Egorian of Cheliax's Infernal Majesty. It is stylistically pretty distinct. 

The vacation destination Kelsey has visited that most strongly felt to her like the correct aesthetic for the palace of the Pharaoh of Osirion.

 

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Osirion has not made a lot of changes to impress Keltham - they're not making errors about the organization of their society on purpose, and if they are making errors, they want him to know about them to help them correct them! But they have ensured that all of the concubines are dressed the same as the male palace staff.

They're not planning to hide that that wasn't how it worked yesterday, just, maybe it'll help get off on the right foot. 

 

The Palace is mostly full of open, half-overlapping courtyards and balconies. The sky up above is the eerie, magically-lit Dome interior, not the sky. 

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There is a small packet of notes for Keltham; each of them includes some money, for his trouble reading them. 

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Micropayments!  Keltham is happy for all of 2 rounds before he remembers not to be.

Decor seems very standard, very prosaic.  Sky effect is interesting.

What do the notes say?

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Keltham:

 

We met yesterday; I am Prince Merenre, a sixth-circle priest of Abadar and the pharaoh's primary advisor on economics research and, lately, the Keltham Situation. I'd like to extend an invitation to join me and my wife Ismat, who developed a system for training non-wizards to craft magic items, for breakfast. Today is not particularly better for us than any other day this week.

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The next letter inquires as to the intellectual property status of the things Osirion stole from Cheliax through espionage on the Project. All spending and profits related to that are enclosed for his review, and they haven't spread it onwards.

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The final letter has a list of all of the Palace servants, concubines, royals, Church operatives, etc. who did not decline to participate and the prices they listed under Fairness this morning for Keltham to grab them in particular for an hour of questions if he happens to want to talk to a not very selected person. There are hundreds of people on it. Many of them listed negative prices because they think Keltham grabbing them in particular would be really cool. 

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...feels like the next story-arc of unreality is supposed to be the one where they imitate Civilization and like he's finally home at last, and he has to notice all the smaller notes wrong with that; which will be harder to detect compared to the louder notes in Cheliax, now that he / the reader have been alerted that Conspiracies are a thing.

Who's got the largest negative price?  Keltham is contemplating trying the most predictable action possible, to see what the next layer of Conspiracy prepared for that.

There was probably something clever he was supposed to do to have the character Korva Tallandria with him at this point, who'd be very useful for figuring this out.  Like, not get her almost sent to Hell.  That was probably the flag event he missed.

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Largest negative price: seventh circle cleric of Abadar Temos Sevandivasen put 1250gp.

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Okay, you know, sure, let's try that one.

Keltham was planning to ask a lot of questions about theology and afterlives anyways.  If there is some kind of bizarre metaliterary mirror-universe business going on, he'd like to know about that part immediately, actually.

How does this guy feel about breakfast, and then maybe helping Keltham spend a bunch of time in a library trying to figure out what's up with the universe?  It can go on longer than one hour to make up for any time Keltham spends eating or reading instead of just asking questions directly.

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He is willing to do that though he actually just arrived in Sothis last night so he isn't an expert on the palace library. 

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Well, does he have a negative price for a quarter-hour, then?  Keltham does need somebody who knows the palace library well, he's pretty sure, but Keltham doesn't want to miss whatever it is he's supposed to find out here.  So maybe just breakfast.

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...Keltham realizes he's making an expression he copied off Carissa, and wipes it off his face.

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Sure! 500 for a quarter-hour.

 

They can have breakfast brought up to a table on one of the balconies overlooking one of the courtyards. Temos Sevandivasen looks exactly like the fake-priest of fake-Abadar Keltham met yesterday.

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"So, you look exactly like - somebody with a very similar but not identical name - that I saw in a scry of Absalom yesterday.  I'm actually going to just say this out loud, because if it crashes local reality I think I'd actually be happy with that outcome."

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"I generally work from Absalom; I came to Sothis yesterday afternoon following a suspicious interaction with a Chelish agent. Our best guess is that they intended to use a real conversation between the agent and myself to get information to feed you, and then they had to alter their plan on the fly when I refused them, but you probably know much more about that than we do; it's indeed why I was so desperately curious to meet you."

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How totally logical!

...Keltham actually does remember, then, something about Carissa saying yesterday that she used the Queen's overpriced headband to make up an entire theology.  Which, sure, very legitimate rationalization for this, in retrospect.  Maybe the point of this part is to raise his alarm level and then defuse it with a totally logical explanation.  That's to signal to the reader that most things about the pseudo-Civilization will seem to make sense at first and won't just have outright transparent flaws on day one.

"Well, they got your appearance off the brief encounter, and then I had a long conversation with, I think, actually, my girlfriend, and her version of Abadarian theology which was basically that Abadar was about running business concerns.  I assigned her a research-level math problem to do while 'we' were talking, and at one point also tickled her, because I was suspicious that what 'you' were saying was something she could fake, but she was apparently wearing the Crown of Infernal Something Something at the time and was able to juggle all of that simultaneously."

"You should send her a bill for using your name and likeness.  I'm genuinely curious about whether she'd pay it."

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" - I'll try, if no one can think of a reason that's a terrible idea. I'm not sure just from the description 'running business concerns' whether it's something where there's genuine Abadaran theology or not? From my own background I'm much more concerned with the applications to governance but there are merchants who've made progress on theology related to running a business that captures wealth in an Abadaran fashion and not through coercion or deception or things that end up amounting to it."

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"I was trying to verify that I was talking to a genuine priest of Abadar - who I did not know at the time was" supposedly "my god, and that you were hearing my actual questions, and responding to those in ways that only a priest of Abadar should've been able to do.  Except that their version of Abadar was supposedly just about, economics, supply-demand stuff.  So, for example, after I asked 'you' about women not being able to own property in Osirion, and 'you' said that women had relatively more rights after Abadar took over and Osirion was slowly moving in a generally Chelish direction there, I asked 'you' to say something economics about that.  'You' gave an extended analysis of how different combat rules in Avistan had resulted in fewer men, an oversupply of women, and that had invalidated mating strategies where women held out for marriage."

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Temos isn't very readable, but in a different way than Chelish people; it's like he's very deliberate about the steps between hearing something and deciding how he feels about it, so his response is faster than the eventual arrival of his face at a trouble expression. "There might be something to that. Nonetheless I find myself objecting that it's not the answer any true priest of Abadar would have given you; it is too purely descriptive, and we would struggle to refrain from referring you to a dozen different papers about theoretical models of filial piety, in the course of trying to give you a proper answer."

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"What's the actual situation there, relatively briefly?  I've got - a number of high-level questions and should go through them breadth-first before going deep on any of them."

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"About Osirion and sexism? Osirion is unpleasantly sexist, the Church less so than nearly every other social institution in it but still enough to appall you, probably, if you're accustomed to places that treat men and women no differently. I wouldn't raise a family here, wouldn't really even live here. I don't have a fundamental values disagreement with my colleagues in the Osirian church, I don't think, we just have very different instincts on some questions that are hard to answer."

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"Have to say, if the representation I got of Osirion was basically true - that women can't own property - among my first instinctive reactions there would be to tell them I'll only be teaching Osirian women, so as not to distract the men from their important work of owning property and being allowed to participate in the economy."

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"I might be misunderstanding what you'd hope to accomplish by that but I don't think it'd work. Among other obstacles, women in Osirion overwhelmingly cannot read or write, and that is in fact the main sense in which it's true they can't own property; the sort of educated woman with independent means of support or a supportive husband who'd be able to attend your classes also is able to meaningfully participate in the economy in every other way."

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"Well, breadth-first, I do remind myself.  Deep dive on that can wait.  Trying to figure out what I'd preferentially ask somebody from Absalom, besides a non-local view on - whatever the ass people here are doing - okay, the Starstone.  Were people possibly lying to me about that?  Because the version I got, Aroden came across a giant glowy rock that could've been used to produce, like, a hundred of Iomedae, and put up a huge warded magical containment fortress around it so that only worthy people could get through, one of whom is the god of crime and one of whom is a guy who did it on a drunken bet.  Is there a sane version of this story."

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"People weren't lying. People who speculate a lot about this kind of thing speculate that existing gods have some kind of veto power over new gods ascending, and the protections Aroden placed either prevent the existing gods from interfering with the ascension of new ones, or satisfy some negotiated condition that allows Aroden to aid the new gods - which would of course now not matter, as Aroden is dead - or that the deaths of most who try in fact power the ascensions of those who succeed, or that Norgorber and Cayden were concessions in exchange for Iomedae, or that the Starstone in fact can ascend a fixed number of people - or a fixed number per period of time - such that rationing it makes sense."

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"Hmmm.  Now that is interesting."

Obvious thoughts that Keltham isn't going to go into, because breadth-first examination:

- If the Starstone is being rationed, why Cayden Cailean and Norgorber?  Just the first ones through when the winning ticket came up?  Has anybody kept a record of number of Starstone-entrants and deaths between ascensions?
- Aroden was ascended by Starstone, but seems to have been much more powerful than Iomedae.  Did he get more of what the Starstone can offer, if the fortress rations it?
- What if Aroden was trying to create as many human gods as possible such that Cayden and Norgorber being potential successes mattered more than their future alignments or domains?

"Somebody supposedly an oracle of Nethys - who may have actually been that, if the person who showed up to take her was the real Nefreti Clepati, which she proved by predicting a fairly random future fact - told me that Earthfall shattered prophecy for the second time, with the first time being Rovagug, and that after Earthfall the gods took the last fragments of twice-shattered prophecy and made a prophecy about a Lawful Neutral god who'd use the Starstone to make Golarion their domain and then contain Rovagug forever.  Which Aroden saw coming, changed himself to match the conditions of, and then Aroden's death shattered all prophecy in Golarion forever.  Is that plausible?"

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" - we don't have much in the way of records from the time of Rovagug, but the fact there was a war with lots of gods on both sides is suggestive that something was interfering with prophecy, usually you see them pay each other to sit it out. I've never heard the claim that Aroden specifically tried to be the god the prophecied Age of Glory was about as opposed to, well, being the god the prophecy was about all along. It is true that Aroden's death shattered prophecy and that everyone thinks that's permanent, and Abadar - and for that matter Asmodeus - are acting like it's long term, making long-term investments in new methods of intervention on Golarion."

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"People in the Conspiracy - the face Cheliax presented to me - seemed to think - well, maybe it was just that Carissa seemed to think - that unleashing Rovagug was game over, that it would inevitably destroy everything.  Is that conventional mainstream academically-respectable theology?  I would think that if the last set of gods managed to seal Rovagug, and all the gods who fought on Its side are now dead, and there've been some new gods since then, you'd expect that releasing Rovagug would just end with It being sealed again?  What do people think they know and how do they think they know it?"

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"I don't know much about Rovagug. To my knowledge there were not human civilizations on the face of Golarion when Rovagug first reached the world, and that if there had been, the war that sealed him would probably have killed them all, and possibly just killed every living thing on the planet's surface. There are new gods but that doesn't mean that the aggregate strength of all the gods opposed to the destruction of the world exceeds what it did at the time; the new gods are mostly very weak, compared to the ancient ones, and I don't know if the ancient ones have more or less power than they did then; it might be that the expended resources they have never since regained, not even now. No one has good information on this; it is expensive for the gods to communicate their secrets, and it's hard to imagine under what circumstances any Church would consider this information decision-relevant.

There was a prophecy that some threat greater than Rovagug would appear eventually, and that Asmodeus would unleash Rovagug, hoping that Rovagug would consume that enemy and then be possible to contain, or that they'd weaken each other, and that instead Rovagug would consume everything and that's how the universe would end. But prophecy's broken, and I don't know if that one was ever very definite."

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...you'd imagine not, since otherwise Asmodeus would be taking an action known to Asmodeus to lead to failure?

Huh, there's a flash of anger in Keltham's thoughts at the mention of that god.  Keltham may actually be angry here.

"Anything else in the set that includes Rovagug, the Starstone, and Pharasma?  It sounds like those are three known things from outside the local universe.  Is there a fourth?"

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"There are many other Outer Gods of a class with Pharasma, supposedly, but their concerns are so alien to us that they mostly cannot even be comprehended, and Pharasma prevents them from doing whatever they'd do with this star system and these souls and these afterlives if unimpeded. The Starstone's not from outside the local universe, it was created when several gods sacrificed themselves to slow the moon that collided with the world when Earthfall happened."

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"I thought I read a version that - something else was coming and the gods collided a moon with it to try to stop it, but that didn't work, it just smashed through the moon?"

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"The account I'd heard was that an underwater civilization on Golarion tried to pull an asteroid down onto Golarion to destroy a surface civilization they were at war with, thinking they'd survive it. They miscalculated, and it would've destroyed life on the planet; the gods moved the moon to deflect it, and then sacrificed themselves to slow the fragments in their collision with the world. But 'something from outside the local universe' played no particular part in it except in the sense that all asteroids are from very far away. It was initiated by a Golarion civilization, deliberately.  

 

There are many other examples of things from very far away impacting Golarion, of course. Famously something landed in Numeria long ago and the gods put up a bubble around it; no one who enters is ever possible to communicate with or get information about again, including in an afterlife. And I've heard it claimed Baba Yaga is from another universe."

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"If you pull down an asteroid that's massive enough and fast enough to shatter a moon on impact - a reasonable civilization wouldn't expect to survive that impact in the first place, that's not the kind of calculation that's easy to screw up if you can redirect asteroids at all.  And also you wouldn't expect the asteroid to have a core piece left over that turned people into gods when they touched it.  And the whole thing sounds like maybe agents weren't choosing optimally, which makes it sound prophecy-shattering, which you wouldn't expect random asteroids to be.  You can imagine entities from Outside sending in something like, an uplifter.  Or maybe a poisoned gift, a Starstone that uplifts cooperative civilizations that will eventually trade with you, who'll be grateful for the help, but if the local civilization starts fighting over the Starstone instead of just using it on everyone, it's also very easy to weaponize - we've got a whole subsection of literature about that, how aliens might send us gifts cleverly meant to destroy us -"

"Sorry, going depth-first again.  What's known about the larger universe that includes Outer Gods and not just, it sounds like maybe this whole local region of reality is inside a bubble that Pharasma is maintaining?"

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"I have never heard of any indication that Earthfall involved problems with prophecy except that the algothulls died and didn't expect to, and I think you... might be operating from a wrong conception of what kinds of mistakes civilizations make when they're smart enough to avoid them.

There are also other examples of the death of a god leaving magical residue that enables other entities to ascend, there's a famous case in Tian Xia, so my understanding was always that the death of the gods in Earthfall left the magical residue that made the Starstone, which is what you'd expect to happen insofar as you have expectations about that anyway.

I don't know anything about the Outer Gods beyond that there are entities like Pharasma, which are not comprehensible or wise to try to comprehend, and Pharasma maintains this universe and largely discourages their intervening here."

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No, sorry, even for Golarion, 'in order to strike at your enemies, redirect an asteroid towards your planet, using careful orbital calculations, which on arrival will be going fast enough to blow right through your moon and shatter it' is a bit much.  A much smaller moon than dath ilan's, presumably, but still.  You need a certain basic level of competence at doing calculations like that in order to redirect asteroids and get them on target at all.

"Are there any known instances of helpful interventions from beyond, any signs that we have friends out there?  Or is it all things like - something landing that has to get enclosed in an anti-infohazard barrier, Dou-Bral getting inverted to Zon-Kuthon, possibly the Starstone -"

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"We don't have friends out there. That is the closest thing to a consensus that exists about the Outer Gods."

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...oh, right.  There's another way to guess that prophecy was broken during Earthfall.  Keltham was rationalizing too fast on account of Ione having told him where his answer would end up.  There are multiple pieces of evidence here, he'll probably find more later.  He doesn't need to leap on individual points as decisive arguments.

"Abadar paid Zon-Kuthon to go into the Plane of Shadow for 'as long as the sun was in the sky'.  The book I read presented it as a surprise gotcha when Earthfall blotted out the sun.  If the gods knew about Earthfall, Abadar wouldn't have chosen that term or been caught be surprise... actually, that sounds like Zon-Kuthon maybe knew about Earthfall coming... counterargument, maybe the agreement wasn't meant to last any longer than it did and both sides knew that..."

"But, yeah, I buy that we don't have friends out there.  Just to be explicit about it, though, any known inhabited other stars, alien species?"

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"Yes, it's believed there are lots. Abadarans like publishing papers about how to have trade relationships with them in principle but it's probably too dangerous in practice, absent Abadar's specific assurance it's safe in a given case."

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"Believed there are lots?  How do you end up believing but not knowing?"

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"Well, every planet in our star system is inhabited by aliens of one stripe or another, and sometimes distant stars wink out, or behave oddly as if being altered by some deliberate intent, and some petitioners in Axis are not from Golarion, though we don't have enough communications with the other planets around our star to rule out that all of the mortals with souls live on different planets in this star system and the other star systems have only gods and mindless beasts and whatever sent the thing that landed in Numeria. I would be very surprised by that, though."

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"Are there other entire planes, like this one in having mortals in them and their own set of star systems, that are not this plane, but part of Pharasma's bubble and connected to Her afterlife system?"

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"There could easily be, but I haven't encountered specific evidence of that."

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"You'd expect the afterlives to know about it if there were aliens from lots of different planes showing up, they'd know whether they remembered constellations consistent with being in the same galaxy as everyone else."

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"It's not at all obvious to me that people would remember constellations in such a fashion as to usefully figure that out, especially since in many worlds the stars might not be visible, or everyone might live underground. But even if Axis did know whether all of the aliens come from the Material Plane and demiplanes originating from the Material, the gods are prohibited from sharing all the secrets of the universe with us; we cannot simply pay Axis for a book of all they know of the universe, even if we could afford it."

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"They literally can't tell you how large your universe is.  That seems like a bit much, frankly."

"So, yeah, what's up with the prohibitions on afterlives telling the mortals - just about literally anything, it sounds like - whose idea was it, is there a reason?"

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"The explanation I always found made the most sense to me is that, for any god, at least when prophecy yet endured, there were a hundred words that they could speak, that would turn all mortals to their service; and the gods who did not approve of mortals being so manipulated bargained for communications to be too limited for that, which means limited indeed."

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"And there's no carveout for telling mortals... how to mine spellsilver, or make huge quantities of acid, or the other things they'd need to know to lead better lives than this.  Question mark?"

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"Abadar would almost certainly sell us information about industrial processes if it were permitted for Him to do so."

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"Is there a known reason why that prohibition is meant to be protective of mortals?"

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"It might be a concession as part of a deal that was overall beneficial to mortals but I think if it were, in itself, beneficial to mortals, then Abadar would be handling your arrival here very differently."

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"Because Abadar cares about mortals' welfare?"

On reflection, when Keltham was casting out his thoughts, seeking the god-of-Keltham, he did not, in fact, specify that his god should care about any such thing, only the forms of Coordination.

Keltham, at that time, had not thought much of being told to care about other people, rather than just trading with them honestly.

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"Abadar cares about trading fairly with mortals. What we do with our share of the gains from trade is up to us. He's the god of our having more resources and more capacities, not of us employing them in any specific way. But, if He had some way that was not very costly to Him, to make us much better off, He would do it, anticipating that we are the kind of people who, when we've grown up, when we're richer and stronger, will repay Him the favor, as the fair-trading gods do among themselves."

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"But he's not, like, sad about people going to Hell."

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"I would assume that He objects to most instances in the real world of people going to Hell but if people, fully comprehending what Hell is, decide to go there for some benefit to them, and get the promised benefit to them, I wouldn't imagine He objects to that, no. Nor do I."

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"Why would he object to most instances in the real world of people going to Hell?  Because everyone ought to go to Axis, and not Hell or Elysium?"

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" - no, because they're not making an informed choice and if they're promised a benefit they might not receive it. Elysium is fine, why would Abadar object to people going to Elysium?"

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"From Abadar's perspective, what if anything, in this regard, differentiates going to Hell from... let's say, getting sick and dying of a painful disease?"

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"Your question seems obvious enough to me I wonder if I'm misunderstanding it. Abadar prefers, for all entities which have values and priorities, that they deal fairly and be dealt fairly with; that they prosper through creating wealth, and have more resources with which to attain what they value. If an entity prefers not to get sick and die painfully, which nearly any entity would, then presumably they'll expend some of their own resources on preventing that, and if they didn't prevent that, they didn't have enough resources, and that's worse than the world where there was more abundance. 

If an entity for some puzzling-to-you-or-I reason preferred to get sick and die painfully, or had lots of resources but didn't disprefer getting sick or dying painfully enough to spend the resources on that instead of on other things they valued more, then that's - fine? It is no concern of ours, if other peoples want other things, so long as they're the kind of people who deal fairly; in a sense that's why dealing fairly is so important, because it permits us to grow wealthier alongside entities very alien to us with concerns very different from ours. 

If an entity dies and goes to Hell because someone falsely told them that Hell was a really nice afterlife where they'd have a lovely time, that is anathema to Abadar. If they die and go to Hell because someone truthfully told them that you go to Hell if you murder lots of people, but they really wanted to murder lots of people, because they valued the products of those murders more than they disvalued going to Hell - fine. If they die and go to Hell because they want to - fine."

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"Well, Iomedae said that Abadar wanted me to explain what - I was thinking - back then - when I contacted Abadar without having any idea who I was reaching out to.  Roughly, that, but with math.  And I owe Abadar, so I'll get that done.  It's not something I can do in a day, but I'll get it done."

Breakfast is gone.  Keltham doesn't really remember eating it, but there was food on his plate and now there's not, so he must have eaten.

"If we call it here, did you get your money's worth?"

That still matters a lot, to Keltham.  It's just that other things have started to matter too.

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"- yes, I did." He looks troubled. "There are many Lawful Good followers of Abadar, Keltham. A common reason, among humans, to follow the god of trade and prosperity and fairness, is because you want the world to be better, and you assess that trading with Abadar will give you resources you can use to achieve your own ends. Abadar sees that, and approves of it in us. Wealth means - fewer dead children, fewer suffering people, fewer people going to Hell - which looks like much less of a good trade, when safety and wealth and power can be attained in other ways."

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"Other people joining this multiagent dilemma just have to consider which side they can most benefit given their comparative-advantage and who they should make a little stronger.  I'm trying to figure out what the final gameboard should look like when it's over."

"I suspect I already know the answer to this, but I'll ask anyways.  In all of the negotiations between gods, that decided all this setup, was any representative of humanity - of the mortals - ever invited to the table, without their having become a god themselves?"

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"I doubt it very much. We, uh, wouldn't actually understand what was going on, and we'd be damaged by attempting it. It's the awkwardness inherent to Abadar's efforts to trade with us; He tries very hard, but actually cannot meet the standards of mutual comprehension and legibility that gods have among another. There are similarities to trying to do right by your two-year-old, or your horse."

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"Sure.  There's one god of cooperating with agents who cooperate with Him, even if those agents can't understand Him well enough to make their cooperation conditional on His cooperation."

"And then, to the other gods who were never human, we're just a sort of object that they can arrange in ways that suit their utility function."

"We're like that to all of the ancient gods, really.  It's just that Abadar's utility function is about unconditionally treating agents the way you'd treat them if they actually could negotiate with you."

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"Most everything out there in the universe is going to be very, very alien to us, and have no concern for us as we have none for them. Trade is - a way to have wealth and abundance and mutual benefit even though that's true.

 

....also I think the ancient Good gods do care about humans more than that summary captures, but I'm not really an expert on the ancient Good gods."

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"I wish, alongside a lot of other wishes, that I could from dath ilan bring in a few hundred thousand novels from the Trade With Aliens genre.  I think you'd enjoy them.  Though you'd probably disagree some with dath ilan, about where the average author draws the line about 'aliens you should not trade with'.  It was a Lawful Good civilization, not a Lawful Neutral one."

Different authors drew that line in different places, as produced millions and millions and billions of discussion-board comments about whether a line was being drawn in the right place.

Keltham can't recall hearing of any books about whether to trade with Hell.

Well, to be fair, if that did exist in dath ilan, it would be far in the depths of the Ill-Advised Consumer Goods shop and Keltham wouldn't have heard about it.

"I need to find somebody who indexes the palace library and then do a lot of sporadic reading, on topics including ancient Good gods.  Possibly see you around, I don't know how long you're staying for - you're usually in Absalom?"

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"Yes, though it's not a long trip, you wouldn't have to pay me much to make it if you want me specifically again. My actual specialty is in strategies for land reform, likely not relevant to the most immediate of your plans."

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"Civilization's end-state was to charge an annual fee for the value of the land before it was improved, or for the scarcity value of underlying resources being extracted if those resources were scarce, which conceptually was the rent of everybody in Civilization and in practice was used to run Governance.  I was pretty upset as a kid about how it wasn't just being paid to me directly.  If you want to know how the pricing schemes worked, I can describe them with another five minutes I'm happy to take.  If you already know where you're going and the big problem is getting Golarion there, I can't help as much."

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"I'd say getting Golarion there is the harder half of the problem but I will definitely take five minutes of your time to explain the details of how that's implemented, if it's on offer."

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Doesn't require much thought from him, if he's talking to somebody who already knows some of the math.  Everybody in dath ilan knows how this works and why.

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Then Temos Sevandivasen will depart this meeting practically glowing with delight, despite all the concerning stuff in the middle there.

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Keltham does remember at the last minute to quickly inquire, before he goes, about Asmodia's warning that he needed to ask about early, that it was illegal here to say some things about the Pharaoh.  That seems like something it might be wise to ask somebody from Absalom.

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"Osirion, like most places, fines people for publishing false material on religious questions, which in Osirion means material out of line with the teachings of the Church of Abadar and churches allied with it, and Osirion bans evangelism for Chaotic and Evil gods.

If you want to get a sense of what people get up to in places that don't have any such laws, I'd check out Holomog, which doesn't, or have someone send you books from there. There are many genuine benefits to less restrictive laws, but also Holomog has an active cult of Asmodeus that teaches that he is unfairly maligned, is actually Chaotic Good, Hell is awesome, and devils just like trolling people to make their lives more interesting. Balancing the different public interests here strikes me as genuinely hard. Absalom is freer than Osirion, I like that better, and if you like that better too we'd certainly be delighted to host you."

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"Am I liable to get in trouble or burn a lot of political capital by asking people to explain the rules?  Even if I ask in some incredibly naive and alien fashion that, I don't know, takes for granted that men and women sometimes pay each other for sex?"

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"No. You're an alien, they know it, and I'd be very surprised if they took offense about it. They will meticulously make sure you're never alone in a room with a woman, and be offended if you circumvent them about that, but they'll be happy to explain why if you ask."

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"I'll be asking, yes."

"Good skill in Absalom, and if a weird girl with cookies appears to you there and tells you to do something nonsensical, I would strongly advise doing it."

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"I'll keep that in mind, though whatever Cayden Cailean's doing, I can't say I am on his side. When Cheliax came to me looking for help deceiving you, I told the man I'd pay him 80,000gold and extend the Church's protection if he wanted to defect. Playing along more than that does, to speak bluntly, feel complicit, to me."

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"Consider me to have been told that, and to have nonetheless repeated my advice about the cookie thing."

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Day 91 / Ostenso region

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"I would like to propose opening a prediction market on whether, if I get my own thirty useful idiots to train, I get farther than Asmodia on producing ilani. To be judged by Sevar, if she comes back, or Subirachs, if she doesn't."

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Obvious things not being said aloud:  That if Avaricia wins that contest, or if Sevar can be lured into judging it unfairly, the obvious next step will be to see whether Avaricia got further than Sevar in producing ilani of a more Asmodean bent.  As would naturally be judged by the Most High.  Who might tend to disagree with the Queen of Cheliax on the subject of whether Avaricia's ilani were in fact more useful than the ilani trained by the Queen's favorite.  A disagreement like that, under these circumstances, would naturally tend to be resolved by giving Avaricia her own project section independent of Sevar.

Maillol has very little patience for the part where he first has to decide on this terribly reasonable-sounding appeal to merely open a prediction market which act then seems to put him on Avaricia's side in having fired the opening spells of the battle, or alternatively makes him look unreasonable for denying such a small request blah blah blah why can't he just fight demons.

"Don't bother with the prediction market, Avaricia.  Just go ahead and try it.  You write up the specs on the useful idiots and Cheliax will see about getting you some.  I've also been given to understand that our primary desideratum is producing more Asmodean ilani, and if you feel up to that challenge, the Most High would be the natural one to judge the results, if you end up with any results worth presenting.  Shall I just go ahead and set that all up directly?"

"I'm quite certain that's what Sevar would tell me to do, you see."

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"Oh, I actually wrote up the specs earlier, in the course of writing up some thoughts on chemistry instruction. I'll pass them along now, in that case. I commend your alacrity." She hands over a sheaf of papers.

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"Here's your already-approved budget, Avaricia."

"I wish you exactly enough fortune to get your own Project section not under myself or Sevar, and no more fortune than that."

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Day 91 / Osirion

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Keltham's first priority in investigating this library is going to be mind-reading magic, mind-controlling magic, mental disciplines or spells or magic items that defend against mind-reading, disciplines or spells or items that defend against mind-controlling.  Also known side effects of using headbands, how do people actually check that their headbands aren't cursed, that sort of thing.

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Headbands being cursed: not really a thing. Of course, any magic item can be made to look like a different magic item, so you could make a headband that was a disguised Necklace of Strangulation or something, but there's no references in any of these books to subtle curses where the headbands alter your cognition slightly but undetectably, and it's not in anyone's threat model in fiction or nonfiction.

Mindreading magic: Detect Thoughts, second circle. A Will save protects against it. There are magic items of it; they're not even that expensive, though they also wouldn't read anyone powerful who was trying not to be read. 

Mindcontrolling magic: oh boy is there a horrifying variety. There's Suggestion, and Triggered Suggestion which you don't remember until you hit the cue for it, and Demand which is Sending with a concealed Suggestion, and Lesser Geas for binding someone to obey your orders for days at a time, and Geas which works on more powerful people, and Dominate Person which lets you puppet someone else at unlimited range as long as you're on the same plane as they are, and see through their eyes, and spells that cause permanent disorientation and the inability to reliably act on your intentions, and Euphoric Tranquility which does what it sounds like, and Overwhelming Presence which makes everyone who enters your presence prostrate themselves on the floor convinced they're in the presence of a god.

Baleful Polymorph renders you permanently a mindless animal.

There's memory modification.

There's a reference to a ninth circle spell that turns you into a book of all of the thoughts you've ever had, and lets people read and edit them, though it's in a work of fiction and it's not clear if the spell is a real thing or not. 

 

The best protection against mind control, outside an artifact helmet like the Crown of Infernal Majesty, is the spell Mind Blank, which is eighth circle so good luck if you're not an eighth circle caster and don't have one to make you scrolls or cast it for you. Protection from Evil helps against mind control from Evil creatures and casters. Enchantment Foil helps in general, as does Spell Immunity. Nondetection, which also comes in an amulet, is useful against divinations unless the person casting them is very powerful.

A lot of adventurers at least in these works of historical fiction seem to deliberately pass through an antimagic area routinely just so they can notice if any spells fucking with them are active, though that won't detect past memory modification and requires there being one around. (Some wizarding academies have them for research reasons, and there's apparently several hundred square miles of wasteland where magic doesn't work as a consequence of an ancient war.)

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No such thing as cursed headbands, according to this layer of reality!  Lovely.

That amulet sounds like a priority, yes.  Any such thing as items for Protection from Evil?  Also does anybody know whether Protection from Law on top of that would interfere with the Abadar link?

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It shouldn't; gods aren't really affected by mortals throwing on lots of mortal protective magic. There aren't items of Protection from Evil or Protection from Law, though it's possible if they post a request some wizard who has figured out how to do it will reveal themself. He also might just want Spell Resistance, which protects against any magic being cast on him that he'd rather wasn't; there are items for that, though they're very, very expensive. 

They can get him an Amulet of Proof Against Detection and Location. He's also unscryable inside the Dome; magic generally doesn't work across the Dome.

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When Iomedae drops a vision on him, does she just get all the contents of his mind?  Does Abadar get all the contents of his mind every morning when Keltham prays?  People here may take it for granted but Keltham comes from a world where people are used to more mental privacy than that.

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Gods do not learn everything their clerics know when their clerics pray to them, though it's unclear if this is impossible or just outlandishly expensive. Visions like the one he got are very rare, but - probably Iomedae could've in fact learned the contents of his mind, when she was doing that?

 

 

The person pointing him around the library volunteers that Abadar would, presumably, have told Her not to do that, even if She doesn't not do that for Good reasons, which she probably does but he would want to ask a representative of Her church about that.

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Sounds like, say, Urgathoa, can decide to drop a vision on Keltham, read his mind, and there's nothing anybody can do about that.  Or Asmodeus.  Is he wrong?

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.....Abadar might be able to stop them doing that but there sure is not mortal magic that could stop that, yeah. The vision part might not even be necessary.

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Cheliax at one point claimed to Keltham, apparently with Snack Service involvement though that would be easy enough to fake, that Rovagug cultists were coming to kidnap him and would have the info to make it to his bedroom.  Maillol - a fifth-circle priest of Asmodeus - supposedly, that is - said that Rovagug wasn't party to noninterference agreements.

How smart is Rovagug.  Is It known to suddenly mind-control people.

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....not very smart, and yyyes but only when they lived in the scar created in the world by its imprisonment.

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There is a puzzle here that Keltham doesn't get about why Rovagug-release cultists still exist - if even the existence of Rovagug cultists is known true, never mind that particular case.

Presumably, nearly all gods are opposed to Rovagug cultists, and ought to be able to coordinate on some sort of exception on their usual nonintervention rules to squish Rovagug cultists, and gods can read minds.

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...gods can't meaningfully read minds. Keltham is such a deeply unusual case that it's conceivable a god would burn the astonishing amount of resources and share of permitted-intervention required to read his mind and make sense of what they found, but that's not, like, a feature of the world that can be extrapolated to any case that occurs more than once in a thousand years.

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Detect Thoughts is a 2nd-circle wizard spell!  Snack Service seemed to practically be reading everybody's mind all the time!  And isn't Nethys supposed to know everything, why don't the other gods just pay Nethys for the information?

...you know, never mind, new library investigation topic.  How did Nethys, Irori, and Erecura become gods?

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Nethys: the books actually disagree on whether He was mortal, if so whether He was one singular mortal or whether He's rather understood as the end-state of a process many mortals have undergone, and whether He actually counts properly as a god. If He was mortal, He probably became a god through doing a magic ritual which made Him able to see everything in the universe, which simultaneously made Him divine and fragmented Him into trillions of pieces and drove Him mad. Or maybe He broke into trillions of pieces and then some tiny fraction of them ascended. Or maybe He just saw into another plane where He was already a god and let that god possess Him but the process drove him mad. Or maybe, whenever someone seeks omniscience, they are added to Nethys, and that's why He's mad. 

Hard to say, really.

He definitely is attested to have backed the first pharaoh of Osirion in defeating Ulumat, maybe while still mortal (if He was mortal) or maybe while as a god. In one version of the story He ascended from the defeat of Ulumat. He also tried backing the Naga Pharaoh and immediately drove her permanently and irrevocably insane. After she burned all His temples and (in some accounts) all his worshippers He was more hands-off with the visions.

Irori pursued mental and physical perfection. Gods were more perfect than mortals so in the course of becoming more perfect He became a god. 

Erecura stole the secret of divinity from Pharasma, who punished her by sending her to Hell, or maybe Erecura literally was the secret of divinity, which grew a will of its own, or maybe Erecura just realized the secret of divinity in one of Her visions and then could not be separated from it, and took it with her into Hell seeking Hell's protection from Pharasma, or maybe Erecura foresaw that the secret of divinity would be needed in Hell, and took it there, defying Pharasma, or maybe Erecura is Pharasma's aspect of defiance and hubris, now acting independently from the rest of Pharasma somehow, or maybe Erecura is Pharasma's daughter after Atropos, or maybe Erecura is just a devil who made all that stuff up to make Herself more mysterious.

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Golarion has theories about reality like fans have theories about fiction.

Let's zoom in on that Irori business.  That monk of Irori said some things suggestive that there is yet another god meddling in Keltham's affairs for some reason.

How'd he do it.  Did he leave a step-by-step guide.  Has anybody else done it.

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He was a high-level monk. He did not leave a step-by-step guide. Over time, powerful monks become meaningfully less like mortals, their bodies less able to affect the state of their minds. Maybe if you take that process far enough you become something more like a god. His followers have sought to follow in his footsteps, but none have yet succeeded.

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Okay, maybe in Golarion it's like totally normal for somebody to do something and then nobody else can do the thing for the next... this book doesn't even say how long except that it's been at least two thousand years... but in Civilization that's not normal.  Keltham can't help but find it a bit suspicious when combined with the whole Starstone business.

Are there by any chance stories about very advanced Irori monks suddenly vanishing and not showing up in the afterlife?

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There are a couple references to some who attain enlightenment and then leave to wander the universe and are never seen again?

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Yes, this again reminds him.  Didn't Carissa say something about Aroden searching the universe for thousands of years and not finding anything?  What does the library think is Out There?

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There are definitely a lot of worlds out there with people on them. No one knows what Aroden was looking for but it's generally agreed He didn't find it. 

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Humans?  Nonhumans?  Do they know how to mine spellsilver cheaply?  Is there any trade going on here?

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This library does not answer the question of what Aroden found when he spent thousands of years searching. 

 

There is not any trade going on here.

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That's really bizarre, library.  Even if Interplanetary Teleport is 9th-circle, you'd think there'd be, like, people occasionally taking 100 pounds of spellsilver in one direction and coming back with 100 pounds of diamonds, because they're relatively cheaper or more expensive on planets.

(Keltham has 'figure out what diamonds are' on his menu, but he's expecting it to be complicated and has been previously focusing on spellsilver.)

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Osirians think it'd be incredibly cool to trade with other planets, if you could figure out which ones would trade with you. You cannot just go 'a habitable planet around that there star' to target an interplanetary teleport.

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But if the aliens - on other planets, or other planes - aren't showing up to Golarion to help, then their planets are all disaster areas of their own.  And if the desolation is that uniform, it's probably maintained by divine mandate in the places prophecy still holds, every plane except this plane, or every planet except Golarion - the scope of prophecy shattering isn't clear.

Or the aliens, if they're more advanced, aren't a kind of thing that cares about the mortals on Golarion.  Or the gods are preventing them from helping...

Anybody seeing a flaw in that reasoning?

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....'desolation' seems like a very strong word for Golarion, which is a pretty nice place to live. If everywhere in the multiverse were like Golarion that'd be really good news.

 

It does seem that the aliens do not have easy interplanetary transport themselves or else don't want to trade with Golarion, or else can't. 

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...possibly due to lack of prior literature analyzing the Great Silence, the Osirians do not seem to have grasped the concerning aspect of the reasoning, 'Well, this here planet of Golarion looks possible to fix, though, if we did fix it, the obvious next course of action for Golarion Civilization would be to launch trade and rescue missions to all these other planets and hypothetical other planes, none of whom are already here with trade or rescue missions for some reason.'


Speaking of planet-destroying threats, does the library have any more info about Rovagug.  What It is, where It came from, why people think the world will be destroyed if It gets out of the Dead Vault, that supposed prophecy about Asmodeus letting it out, what international agreements are in place to stop Rovagug cultists like the ones who supposedly went after Keltham, why the cult hasn't been just been stamped out already...

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According to the Windsong Testaments, just after the current incarnation of reality came into being, Pharasma took her first step off the Seal in fear of something chewing and gnawing beyond her perception. Her next steps led to the birth of the first deities and one of the new gods stepped forth beyond Pharasma's first fearful step, and in so doing would be transformed and absorbed by that fear. None can remember whether that fear became Rovagug or was Rovagug in the first place In the earliest days of creation, Rovagug was tasked with burrowing through the Abyss.

As mortal life began, Rovagug gnawed his way out of the deepest Abyss and jumped across the Astral Plane to invade the Material Plane. He consumed seven worlds, but as they had no names nor histories, their taste was dull, and he only put up a token fight when the other gods drove him back to the Abyss.

After Asmodeus killed Ihys, Rovagug sneaked into the Material Plane again and fed on the world where the murder took place. As its inhabitants died in agony, Rovagug revelled in the taste, and he proceeded to destroy countless worlds. During this period, he rampaged through Axis in the greatest calamity that ever befell the Eternal City, laying waste to many districts which have never recovered to this day.

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Sarenrae decided that Rovagug would have to be defeated, and gathered under her banner an unlikely collection of gods: Abadar, Apsu, Asmodeus, Calistria, Dahak, Desna, Dou-Bral, Erastil, Gozreh, Pharasma, and Torag, along with a number of other gods from more remote parts of the world.

Many gods died in this battle, but their names have been forgotten; certainly the gods who sided with the Rough Beast will never be remembered.  Calistria lured Rovagug to Golarion and distracted him while Torag and Gorum forged the shell of the Dead Vault and Pharasma imbued it with potent wards against escape. Sarenrae then sliced open a rift in the Windswept Wastes on Casmaron on Golarion's surface, sending Rovagug stumbling into the Dead Vault. Dou-Bral impaled him with the Star Towers that prevented him from hearing prayers, and the archdevil Asmodeus bound him with a key crafted by Abadar that only the Prince of Darkness could turn. Sarenrae then repaired the rift, leaving behind a smooth scar and instructed her followers to avoid it. Rovagug's defeat marked the end of the Age of Creation.

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According to the Concordance of Rivals, when the End Times come, Rovagug will be freed by a desperate Asmodeus in the hope that he will consume the other apocalypse. Indeed, Rovagug will devour the rest of creation before consuming himself, leaving behind only Groetus to turn off the light of the cosmos and a Survivor to rebuild it anew.

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Rovagug's cult is illegal almost everywhere; however, sometimes some people will independently decide that the universe should be destroyed, and will tend to become cultists of Rovagug. No matter how frequently or harshly a society stamps them out, some new ones will tend to show up; to some tiny insane fragment of Golarion's populace, 'the universe should be eaten' is apparently a popular stance.

Also, some countries refuse on principle to make any religions illegal. Sometimes this is used as a pretense for their neighbors to invade but it's not so much more powerful than other excuses to invade that the countries that do it have been wiped out already.

 

No one knows what exactly would happen if Rovagug were freed. The best case scenario is probably that the gods are able to reimprison him at the cost of merely the destruction of one or two of Golarion's continents and everyone on them. More horrifying scenarios involve Rovagug getting into Axis again, or just succeeding at not being reimprisoned at all and running off to eat lots more worlds.

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...Keltham will turn his attention to (real) (on this layer of reality) geopolitics, trying to figure out the landscape of countries who ought to hear his lectures or go in on a counter-Cheliax alliance to actually build Civilization.

And then to magic, browsing books of spells to see if he can spot any obvious ones that Cheliax decided not to tell him about.

Does this library have books of standard commercially available magic items with prices, like a catalog or something?

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Yes, absolutely!!


(There are a lot of spells Cheliax decided not to tell him about.)

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Amulet of Proof Against Location and Detection, 35,000gp.  Contains a warning that amounts to 'basically does not work for crap against powerful casters'.

Mantle of Spell Resistance, 90,000gp or so if you can find somebody to make you one, special commission.

...it's funny how prices that would've once made Keltham want to run screaming into the night make so much less of a difference, once he's not sure the money is real.  It seems like - computer-game money, now.

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Okay.  His brain is full.  Enough library.

Keltham needs to - find out if they located Ione Sala, and were able to get starting info from her, or if he's on the critical path delaying everything.

He needs to find out how much time it takes to learn to cast wizard spells in here, because he feels naked without Prestidigitation.

...he feels like he needs to put the Splendour headband back on, and he's going to ignore that part.

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They located Ione Sala. She is willing to sell them what she knows, and he should take as much time to rest and reorient and learn about Osirion as he'd like. Everyone is very concerned about him and the general advice for someone in something resembling his reference class would be to go spend a lot of time at a monastery or something not trying to transform the world.

 

It doesn't take that long to learn how to cast cantrips in here; they can get him a tutor this afternoon, if he'd like.

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Most people in his reference class may not be called upon to wipe out a large circular area of Cheliax at any random time in the next week.

He'll take the tutor, please.  How long does it take to learn to cast from third-circle wizard scrolls in here?

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Depends a lot on the person, but if he makes it a priority and has the best tutor they can get him (he does) he should have it down in less than a week.

 

Osirion strongly expects that the actual worst case scenario here is that they teleport someone in to Cheliax with a peace treaty they wrote up before Keltham arrived, and tell the Queen she can sign in the next five minutes or the country is destroyed, and then she signs. Obviously they can't send that person if the Pharaoh doesn't actually prefer destroying Cheliax to taking other available actions, here, or if Keltham would help with the threat but not the followthrough, but He does, and Keltham would too under the relevant circumstances, and Cheliax will know it. So Cheliax is almost certainly not going to actually get exploded.

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Yes.  A logic which relies entirely on Keltham ignoring that logic and being ready to actually destroy Cheliax, because Keltham is Lawful, presumably the Pharaoh is Lawful, and obviously there are going to be truthspells involved.  No?  So Keltham is, indeed, ignoring that logic, and proceeding as if he may need to destroy Cheliax at any random time in the next week, and not relying on Cheliax offering to do anything else which is not that; since, if Keltham relies on that offer, and ends up not prepared to destroy Cheliax, Cheliax will not so offer.

Keltham will go try to learn to cast cantrips within the Black Dome, then.

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It's sort of like learning how to retie your shoes if all your muscle memory got erased. It's kind of annoying, but the tutor is in fact very good, and has a very detailed and precise set of exercises for getting used to the different way that magic moves.

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Keltham will at one point think of Carissa tutoring him in Spellcraft, send the tutor out, have a sobbing fit for about five minutes, wipe off his face, invite the tutor back in, and resume studying.  Not being able to use Prestidigitation is very inconvenient, including when you need to clean up your face or your clothes have gotten sweaty.

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He has it down, though inconsistently, after a couple of hours. The tutor says he's a quick study, and apologizes for the inconvenience of the Dome. 

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Weird thing to apologize for if you're not the first Pharaoh or, possibly, Nethys.

But Prestidigitation that works half the time is good enough, so long as he's not fumbling the catch of the cantrip.

He forgot to eat lunch - oh, Keltham is probably going to want a Ring of Sustenance at some point, and that takes a week to kick so he should probably put one on soon.

...what does he need to learn in the way of 'etiquette' to meet Merenre and Ismat?  The note did say specifically 'breakfast' but Keltham wouldn't be surprised if they'd also do dinner, or afternoon snacks, or -

- actually nevermind his brain just screamed at him.  He should not actually try to meet with Merenre or Ismat or study etiquette today.

He'll next review the note about intellectual property that Osirion copied from Cheliax.  Does it look urgent?  What's up with that?

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Abadar has been copying Osirion all contracts and all prediction markets related to Project Lawful. Most of the time these didn't have intellectual property concerns, but there were a couple of prediction markets on which of several spellsilver approaches would pan out fastest. Osirion has no qualms about espionage against Cheliax because Cheliax would do it to them but they don't want to have stolen anything from Keltham, and are happy to pay him whatever seems fair. They were not able to make spellsilver cheaply off just this information by itself anyway; they didn't have enough detail on the Prestidigitation technique.

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Not urgent, then.  It wraps into whatever else Ione Sala can give them.

Who else has bid on his time?  Keltham is too tired to read and doesn't want to be alone with his thoughts.

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New request since this morning: a different Prince has bid six thousand gold to be taught Baseline immediately. 

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...by casting Share Language (Baseline) from scroll outside of the Dome?  6000gp is enough play money to still get Keltham's attention, he could buy some useful things with that and own them, but not if this is a bid on literally being taught the whole language over the course of months.

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Oh, he thinks it'll take him about three days. Maybe two.

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...Keltham's not seeing it.  But three days is a lot of Keltham's time even at the 6000gp level.

What's this Fe'Anar guy's bid on Keltham spending an hour sketching the technical basics of Baseline, and then Keltham can cast Share Language (from a scroll to be provided him) (outside the Dome because otherwise Keltham can't cast that high), up to 6 times over the next few days, on somebody else who can teach Fe'Anar all the particular words etcetera?

Also Keltham has not had time to learn any 'etiquette', and might need some sort of legal release form or whatever saying he's allowed to not know it.

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- 1000gp for the diminished version. Keltham can get an etiquette waiver.

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Not as attractive, obviously, but it requires less brainpower than a lot of things, so sure.

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"The same offer goes for any other languages spoken on your planet of origin, obviously, and for dialects, if you know any, and I'll also pay for literature or poetry, if you remember any, or brought any with you, or think you can coax Abadar to give it to you out of the Vault on the grounds it's just returning something you already had. Why is it called Baseline?"

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"It's the language everybody can be assumed to speak, as a baseline on which to build other ideas and concepts.  For example, all the phonemes are a minimum distance away from each other that guarantees people with slightly less acute hearing can understand it when spoken under slightly adverse conditions.  In-between phonemes that are possible to pronounce, but potentially difficult to hear correctly, are then reserved for constructing 'conlangs', constructed languages, many of which use 'Baseline' as a baseline but add new short words using the expanded phoneme set.  The only one of those I know is 'Default-Conlang' which has a lot of subtle in-between syllables, so that children will hopefully grow up to be able to distinguish 'conlangs'; you can teach your child a different conlang but it ought to be conlang-phoneme-complete."

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"Huh, is the idea that it's free Law if you've got everyone teaching their child languages with phoneme-differentiation in mind? That's brilliant, now I'm annoyed my children are all grown, maybe I'll do it to the grandchildren. How did you get the language to that state, I assume it didn't start that way. Did you do a bunch of deliberate consonant shifts?"

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"No Law-Chaos judgement built into the universe, no magic, no afterlives just the equivalent of turning people into statues until we can heal them later, people just do it so their kids can learn conlangs when they grow up.  I assume our language got synthesized de novo, but for unknown reasons Civilization sealed off all its history, so I don't know the story of that.  It's held in fictionalized standard fanon history that there was a huge fight between all the conlang fanatics in the world over how to design it.  But compared to Taldane the difference is very stark, it's very obvious that Baseline was designed and Taldane just happened."

"For example, grammatical Baseline - not all conlangs - always has exactly one legitimate parsing.  There's no homonyms, no cases of two meanings with the same sound.  If you stick to a subset used for emergencies and basic social interactions, there's no two sentences that sound the same even if you run all the phonemes together and eliminate spaces.  The most common words are short and long words are used more rarely.  All digits are single syllables that sound completely unlike each other and are written using very clearly distinguishable strokes.  That sort of thing."

"Taldane would reduce most of our people who care about language properties to frothing incoherent horror and madness."

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" - no, they'd love it, if your world only has constructed languages. It'd be like a palace-raised child seeing their first tree. Language as a carefully optimized spellform is beautiful; language as a thing that grows anywhere, among everyone, men and orcs and demons and angels and deep sea creatures, is also beautiful. In Taldane, scientific words tend to have sibilants, because we borrow them from Nex, which like most of the fringes of the Keleshite Empire speak Kelish inflected with their own native tongues. Our shortest words are for things that have been around for a very, very long time. Pig. Bread. Cow. King. Tree. Sky. There's a whole history written there, what things people needed words for first. 'potatoes' are a long word in Taldane, and in Osirian, because they're a new food, introduced from Arcadia about a hundred twenty years ago. In Narragansett, spoken in Arcadia, it's 'nuna', because it's a staple. 

 

I'm not saying that you shouldn't optimize a language. You should, and it's beautiful, and I want you to teach me it immediately. But your people who care about language properties wouldn't be horrified, to see a thing growing in the wild they've only ever built in a lab."

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"We've got lab-grown versions of those too.  The fictional nonsynthetic language used by a common alien species in our stories has an imaginary history extending over 60,000 years that was built by thousands of conlang designers working in parallel to extrapolate a reasonable history, and then turned into a real language when some children were raised to speak that as well as Baseline.  I don't speak very much of it but I can say 'Yo let's equalizeassetprices', we come with intent to peacefully trade everything worth trading, or 'Take us to your Keepers', bring us to your most Lawful people who can bargain with true oaths.  Those aliens were expensive to create, but so many authors use them that the license is now practically free."

"But their language doesn't have homonyms because that's just crazy, like, nobody thought aliens would put up with that."

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" - yes, that seems like exactly the kind of mistake that clever people trying to invent a language that evolved without seeing any languages that evolved would make, obvious from our side but not from theirs. Sitting in the palace trying to extrapolate trees won't get you anything even remotely resembling a tree, though I'm sure it gets you something fascinating in its own right, and I'll pay you for that too. 

You might think with thousands of people someone would notice that alien language ought to be crazy and if it doesn't have two dozen features that seem crazy you did it wrong, but it's so easy, when you've grown up with the world all around you, to underestimate how much creativity would be required to invent it; I'm sure they were doing their best, and I don't expect I could've done it well either. Well, today I easily could, but not if I'd grown up in your world.

 

I actually wonder what share of the obvious errors are a consequence of the difficulty of extrapolating history, versus a consequence of the difficulty of extrapolating linguistics specifically. How long has it been since your rulers banned your history, did they permit notes on the relative frequency of wars and migration and epidemics and transitions in staple crops and durations of rule or did they ban that as well?"

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"Screened off the entire thing, nobody except a handful of people at one pole of the world have any idea now what was happening some unknown number of decades ago.  All the old cities were put into long-term storage.  Nobody can look at any old books."

"I expect more people than a handful know why we had to do that, but I don't.  We're told that a false analogy is getting a pessimized message from aliens with unshattered prophecy, that was allowed to spread in an untracked way, resulting in everything needing to be causally screened off, but that this is not what actually happened."

"Anyways, you want Baseline's type system or what?"

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" - wow, that must've involved killing more people than Aroden's death managed. I disapprove, obviously, but on some level I'm impressed your rulers had the capabilities to carry out a crime on that scale. Yes, I do want Baseline's type system."

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"I'd be surprised if the number of casualties was greater than like a dozen people who fell off a ladder while mothballing a city, but I had this conversation in Cheliax and don't want to repeat it here sooo..."

Baseline!  All of the rules are known to Keltham explicitly!  They have zero exceptions!  No word is both a noun and a verb!  You can infer the syntax tree in a single forwards pass!  Words agglomerate using explicit agglomeration-markers!  Anything beyond two levels of recursion gets handled by explicit matched parentheses!  If you can learn an actual human language in three days you can probably learn the basics of this in an hour.

The writing system is designed to be displayed using a small set of LED lines, or alternatively to be writable in quick handscript, or alternatively to be readable in fine calligraphy full of sweeping curlicues that look like something Fe-Anar might invent just to be pretty, all using the same underlying shapes.

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Thankfully for everyone involved, he is too distracted by learning all Baseline's grammatical rules and asking questions about the design constraints that motivated them to get into an argument about how many people die when their rulers tell them to evacuate their cities and farms for secret reasons, or in the ensuing civil wars.

It doesn't even take him an hour. He does not need things explained twice.

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Keltham will have time to chant Baseline's Central Cheating Poetry then!  Where the Central Cheating Poetry of an ahistorical/synthetic-style conlang is the stuff that rhymes and scans because you built the language to make it do that.  It's often how conlang designers fill in final details after all the syntactic constraints and other purposes are laid down.

Baseline's Central Cheating Poetry is mostly homilies of rationality that Civilization wanted people to be able to keep in mind even under moments of stress, plus some other proverbs they deemed central to themselves.  "Your strength in the Way is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality.  I notice I am confused; therefore something I believe is fiction."  "You can move faster if you're not afraid of speed."  "Anyone can kill anyone but they probably shouldn't."  "In life's name and for life's sake."

There's important Central Cheating Poetry about accepting reality and accepting costs already sunk and losses already accrued.  Keltham will say those later.  Sorry.

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He listens intently and immediately starts remixing them. "You can move faster if you're more confused by fiction than by reality? Your strength in the Way is you can move faster? I notice I am confused anyone can kill anyone! Therefore something I believe is fiction." 

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"Full points on syntax, semantics not so much."

It's a less impressive feat when Fe-Anar is doing it in a language that actually has a type system, ya know?

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He's still confused by the claim anyone can kill anyone but if Keltham is unwilling to explain it he'll just have to wait for the person with Share Baseline to try.

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Okay, so Fe-Anar is now speaking to Keltham exclusively in well-formed Baseline, has mastered all the phonemes, only needs to be told any word once, and can be told whole translated sentences and infer back the words.  This is probably impressive and not just because Baseline was designed to be easier to learn than Taldane?  Keltham doesn't have any reference points here except that if Carissa could do this she probably would've.

However if Fe-Anar wants to pass as a native Baseline speaker to Keltham, he's going to need to learn some mental distinctions that influence voice tones, now that Keltham thinks about it.  Some aspects of pitch in Baseline aren't controlled by language design, they're allegedly free emotional expressions that have nonetheless settled into informal troughs.

The way that Fe-Anar is doing the rest of this perfectly makes it stand out that Fe-Anar, for example, sometimes uses an implicit tone of voice that sounds like... he's instructing reality what to do as if it were a person, or pronouncing a conjecture like it's a flat statement of fact, or saying an ought-statement at a pitch that makes it sound like an is-statement.  You can do that to make metaphorical points, but Fe-Anar seems to not be doing it on purpose?

Keltham apologizes for not being able to state explicit generative rules here.  He can just tell that some inflections sound wrong, state why they sound wrong, and say the sentence over again the way a dath ilani would.

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Yes, that's how learning a language always is; you can't actually make all human behavior explicit even if you have put lots more effort into trying than anyone else. He is delighted to pick it up the slow way. 

 

 

But seriously, he wants to know once he has a bit more Baseline fluency, why is there poetry making the claim that anyone can kill anyone.

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No economicmagic, no conceptualmagical medicine, no alternatephysics saying important people are mysteriously harder to injure, dead people with uninjured brains can be stored indefinitely but not brought back right away by Civilization's current capabilities, and everybody is way too creative.

Like there's probably some people who can't kill some people?  A three-year-old is going to have a hard time taking out the Chief Executive of Civilization.  That's why it's spoken with the 'this statement is literally false but in a way where it's mostly true and the exceptions are important' inflection, rather than the 'overt trolling' inflection, which would sound like "Anyone can kill anyone but they probably shouldn't."

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"Huh [surprised, dubious, questioning].  <Conjectural inflection>It'd be hard to have government if most people could kill most other people.</Conjectural inflection>."

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"...okay so it's not just Cheliax that thinks that.  It's hard to have terrible governments if a majority of people can outfight any minority that tries to tyrannize them.  All Golarion governments are terrible, and would thus not last for upwards of thirty seconds in dath ilan."  [Inference rather than observation; submitted for further challenge.]

...if you can't read off these inflections, or infer them from obvious-to-a-dath-ilani context, you might think that Keltham was a lot more confident of what he was saying than he'd sound like to someone in Civilization.

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"Causing everyone to leave their farms and cities can only be done with a Governance that can outfight its population better than Cheliax can." [Confident, submitted for argument.]

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"Too many simultaneous replies.  Please hold while I order them."  [Humorous.]

"One, it can't be done that way even if Governance can outfight its population.  That would be a negative consequence presented only in anticipation of the other's output change, 'threat'.  Which people would ignore because they don't want their predictable decision to offer a reason to threaten them."  [Unobserved, confident.]

"Two, one of the few facts passed down is that, when it was said this must be done, all of Governance quit and was never allowed in Governance again, to show that they took it seriously and didn't expect to benefit themselves."  [Reported, confident.]

"Three, I'm much more of a cognitively-diverse nonconformist, 'rebel', than the average dath ilani, and it's never occurred to me that I ought to go trespass in an old city that somebody presumably had a very good reason for hiding."  [Direct observation.]

"Four, farms are huge mechanical operations operated by one person in a hundred.  They would just change out the machinery once it had been redesigned, not give up the farmland."  [Effective certainty.]

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"One of the facts in your banned history books is that people do not actually ignore threats, that is not how people work.[Unobserved, confident]. Some people would bravely ignore the threat and then they would be executed in front of everyone else, and the government would go on down the line until they ran into some people who had realized about themselves that they did not actually ignore threats. [Unobserved, confident]. Your government can just lie to you about whether all of Governance quit or not, if all the books and records from the time are banned. [Effective certainty.]

It is possible that instead of mass executions dath ilan did mass Suggestions which produced an entire population that would not go look at cities so long as someone told them 'someone had a very good reason for hiding this city', but that is not a result that can be achieved without powerful mind-control or mass executions. [Unobserved, confident]. If we go ask a hundred Lawful people in Osirion, at least twenty of them would go try to dig up an old city if this would not be punished severely. [Effective certainty.]"

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"I'm not getting it.  People did a really huge amount of work and spent a lot of money to preserve those cities, they had some very strong reason I don't know, why would I wreck all their hard work and probably endanger everybody on my planet?"  Inflections of puzzlement are much the same in Baseline as in Taldane.

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"To find out what's there!"

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"...a bunch of old cities?  I'd understand if you were curious about why we had to do that, but what's inside the cities is just going to be, like, people's old tableware.  And museums with all of our lost art and history from the last thousand years or whatever, I guess.  I'd go look if that were costless, but it's not costless."

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"I would go to learn their languages myself. My wife would go to see their art. My son Masaharta would go to hear their music. My son Merenre would go to learn how economics was invented and whether the path we are on is the best one or just the one we ended up at by chance.

My son Telcar would go because the government told him not to."

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"There's one particular preserved city that's supposed to be super super forbidden, for no declared reason, and my guess is that one is just a trap for people like your son.  Possibly where they manage to cleverly make their way past all the defenses, search the city, learn some plausible incredible secret, and get to go home and be smug about being the only ones who know, and never realize how obviously they were being manipulated.  Not that I'd be saying this out loud if I were still in dath ilan, of course."

"For the rest of that, sure, that's all very reasonable if it's free.  Do you also - just eat cookies, 'cookies', because they're tasty, and not consider that you're supposed to pay for them?"

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"What does super super forbidden mean, they kill you more slowly?[Sincere best guess expected to be wrong]. The reason you pay for cookies is because another person's labor produced those cookies in anticipation of a market and there would be no cookies in a world where we steal them instead of paying for them.[Common knowledge]. It is not because if someone says something is costly you should care about that."

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"No, that they tell you very emphatically not to do it.  We literally never do the 'torture' thing."

"So to me it feels obvious that you want to be the sort of planet where, if something weird happens, people can successfully coordinate, 'coordinate', to deploy an appropriate weird response, in much the same way that you want to be a planet where people can produce cookies and not have them get stolen.  There should be some procedure for figuring out whether you need to bury all your old cities and then everybody does that, which includes sensible aspects like firing everybody in your government, occasionally sending somebody on a one-way trip to the pole of the world where they report back using codes on whether the real reason seemed legit, that sort of thing.  If there's no possible procedure which does that then your world is defenseless against any problem requiring that response, and probably lots of other problems too."  [Attempted chain of valid inferences with overtones of moral inveighing.]

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"To me it seems - to protect against some classes of danger is to make yourself more defenseless to other classes of danger. [Assertion with defense of it upcoming.] A strong king protects against external threats, but risks becoming a tyrant.[Common knowledge]. A compliant populace protects better against some problem where you need to ban all of the past, but protects worse against some problem where the government decides to ban all of the past not acting in the interests of the people. A society that is inhospitable to people like Telcar is more likely to be making errors that being Telcar prevents. A society full of Telcars will of course barely be able to solve any problem that cannot be solved by shooting it or running off to live in the wilderness or overthrowing the government. There is no society that is defended against every possible direction of danger.

 

So then there is only the question, how frequent are good reasons to ban all of history, compared to how often will kings manipulate the populace to that end when it weakens the people? I think probably one king in ten would do that if he could, maybe one in five. Certainly Cheliax is attempting it. So good reasons would need to be frequent indeed, for that trade to seem wise.[Attempted chain of valid inference]."

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"That stakes Civilization's survival on never being wrong in advance about how often some weird situation actually comes up!  Instead of having a weak government so that it can't become tyrannical, we have a somewhat stronger goverment with emergency weapons behind locks not controlled by the same people who can use those weapons, and run the Annual Oops It's Time To Overthrow The Government Festival to rehearse the motions needed to overthrow it if required.  We don't have a population that goes along with anything the government says, we have a population that will tell the government it will go along with weird things but only if the whole government quits and we use a paper-cryptographic-protocol, 'mathematically trustworthy procedure everybody can carry out using paper', to recreate a new government entirely from scratch in a way that would be very difficult for a conspiracy to manipulate.  You can optimizedly-design being able to defend against more situations instead of just saying, oh, well, I guess there's a tradeoff, let's stake everything on guessing the right side of the simply-formed tradeoff."

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"If you have a population that will not go look in the hidden cities because they were told they should not, you have staked everything on guessing the right side of the tradeoff."[Confident.]

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"Not seeing why.  Life goes on, people continue earning money and spending it, almost nobody dies for real and nobody ever gets 'tortured'.  What goes wrong if we don't look in the hidden cities and should have?"

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"What goes wrong? [Rhetorical].

Your government is lying about the frozen people and if they come back, everyone dies for real.

Your government is lying about no one gets 'tortured', you have afterlives and they are bad, or some are bad and you don't know enough to avoid those ones.

Your people had invented something much much better than 'life goes on, people continue earning money and spending it', but some powers wanted to stamp it out, and now instead of trading with every star you are stuck poorer and they will do it again if you rediscover it.

This is the eightieth time it has been done to your civilization, by some power that wants you at your current level of strength but not bigger or stronger. 

You are ruled by a secret cabal of aliens that are mind controlling your government and you do not learn it. Maybe also they eat people, if you do not mind being ruled by a secret cabal of aliens.

There is some terrible threat to your world that sealing away history means you do not know of, and might now unleash.

Your world does have gods and magic, but in sealing away history, you ensured that only a small ruling elite will know of them.

You would have been able to figure out Cheliax much much faster, if you had known how history is. Oh, I wasn't supposed to talk to you about that. [Apology]."

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"...I think our people could legitimately not optimize for their True Dead ending up in worlds they'd decrypt faster if they knew the hidden history.  That seems like a legitimately hard call.  By the same token, you could say that there is an afterlife in dath ilan, which most people didn't know about and our Keepers probably did infer in a very general way, namely, people like me ending up places that turned out to be here.  It's not Hell, but I'm not having much fun right now.  And Civilization did the correct thing about that by cryopreserving almost-everyone so that they almost-entirely wouldn't end up in places nobody could predict."

"I think - this is hard to describe.  Our world's physics, 'laws of reality', is much more closed, 'systemically closed', than Golarion's physics.  We know all of it, it is a single equation.  It is contrary to the character of that physical law for us to easily trade with other stars.  There's - when I came to Golarion, I didn't worry about the correct things, because Golarion was such a different place.  If you were suddenly transported to dath ilan, you wouldn't worry about the correct things either."

"Civilization thought of possibilities like your worries, as appropriate to dath ilan rather than Golarion, and defended against them.  There is a powerful beacon far away where it would not be easy to destroy, emitting an invisible force akin to light but wider.  That beacon, it's been passed down, marks the moment when history was erased, and sends signals spaced in a way that makes it easy to identify when that moment was.  There is only one beacon like that, not eighty, and it's very loud so we wouldn't miss the others.  If somebody said we had to erase our past again and destroy the beacon, I think people would be a lot more suspicious at that point.  That's the point where it starts to look like somebody is trying to hide something, or fool future generations, and not just respond to a strange threat in a way where they're happy to let you take all the precautions required to make sure nobody's fooling anybody."

"I think the basic idea you're missing here is possibly something like - the degree to which it's possible for a huge number of people to make a decision, and know that it was their decision, using paper-cryptographic-protocols and so on.  You think in terms of a small number of people being able to command the rest.  Not in terms of an argument where everyone evaluates it and comes to the same answer because everyone has been trained in the same rules of generally valid argumentation, and then people can act in unison from there."

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"People want very many weird things! If aliens came to Golarion with an alien mind-virus, even if everyone were sure the decision was theirs, the decision would not be close to unanimous, even if they followed the same rules of reasoning. It is true that they don't because all people except me and my wife and some of our smarter children are idiots. But even if they did, some would say 'submit to the aliens' and some would say 'destroy the aliens' and some would say 'unleash Rovagug' and some would say 'have sex with the aliens' and some would say 'screen off our history' and some would say 'evacuate the planet', and they would not agree, even if they followed the rules of arguing, any more than gods agree even though gods follow all the rules of arguing."

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"Presumably your 'gods' don't disagree on questions of fact, they just have different utilityfunctions, things-they-want.  That's not a disagreement, it's just having different utilityfunctions."

"We're not 'gods' but we try not to fall too far short of 'godhood'."

"Disagreeing about whether 2 + 2 = 4 doesn't make you a cognitively-diverse nonconformist, it makes you bad at math."  (This scans but in the way of a real rhyme, not Central Cheating Poetry.)

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"Yes, that is the word I was looking for. People on Golarion have different utilityfunctions so you would never get them to agree on screening off history, even if you made them all into gods."

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"Apparently some people in Golarion will go to Elysium, get Hell scried to them, and willingly return when resurrected, to serve Asmodeus in Golarion, and then in Hell.  Pilar said that under truthspell supervised by Osirion."  (Keltham says this in Taldane, it'd be too weird to try to use all the loanwords in Baseline.)

"Dath ilan is just straight up legitimately not that cognitively diverse.  You want to brag about having more cognitive diversity here?  You win.  I'm not sure it's been good for your planet, but you win."

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"I actually don't know if Asmodeans count. They are all lied to until the part of their brain that notices lies is ignored like a boy who always cries wolf. If you raised them somewhere else they would not be like that."

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"I really would have thought I'd given some of them enough training in noticing self-deception to snap them out of that.  Pilar noticed that she didn't want her family to go to Hell so her curse very sensibly arranged for them to get kidnapped by Osirion, atoned to Lawful Neutral, and killed so they'd be in Axis.  So she was seeing things but - she herself, whether she wanted to go to Hell - and Carissa -"

"Can you leave the room until I come out again to say it's okay?  I need to have a brief crying fit and the last one lasted five minutes, this one will probably be less."

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"I can do that." Probably there is some weird alien thing where it is fine to say "I'm going to have a crying fit" but not to cry??

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It seems perfectly straightforward from a dath ilani perspective.  Keltham is not trying to conceal the fact that he's in emotional distress.  He's trying to not expose Fe-Anar's wordless perceptions to the sight of somebody in distress that Fe-Anar can't help except by leaving him alone; and, yes, maintain his masculine gendertrope's pride against the wordless update that Fe-Anar couldn't avoid making if seeing Keltham directly.  Also Fe-Anar is not Keltham's girlfriend.

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"Back."

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Osirian men would in fact be far more reluctant to weep in front of their wife than in front of a stranger, but it does seem like the kind of thing where aliens might be different. 

 

When Keltham comes out, Fe-Anar has cornered a servant and cast Tongues on them and is chattering at them in Baseline.

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"You know, theoretically your time's up, but I'm not going to stop because I'd rather not think about other things, and also I just can't resist at this point seeing how far you can get on sounding like a native."

Keltham will start repeating everything Fe-Anar says the exact way a native speaker would say it, if they had Fe-Anar's general personality instead of Keltham's.


(A dath ilani can totally tell the difference between these two personalities!  They're very distinct!)

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Keltham is GREAT and Baseline is BEAUTIFUL. He also thinks this about Osirian and Taldane and Kelish and Hallit and Tien and Adlet and Sylvan and Protean, to be clear, it is not really specifically a compliment to the designers of Baseline, but today they have filled his life with delight for which he wishes he could repay them.

 

(The servant will anxiously scuttle away.)

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"...why did that person run away?  I wouldn't run away if I'd suddenly found myself near an alien, for much the same reason I actually would look inside a Preserved City if that was costless."

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"Because he's worried he'll do something wrong and offend the alien and get into trouble, probably. I think you're actually moderately difficult to offend but people aren't going to assume that."

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"'Actually moderately difficult', not 'actually moderately difficult'."  (Correction towards more colloquial word choice and intonation, with no simple mapping onto distinct Taldane phrases.)

"Are women here going to pretend they like me, because otherwise they're afraid they'll get into trouble?"

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"- if you marry them I guess they're reasonably likely to do that? Honestly you strike me as too young to get married and I would not recommend it."

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"'Frankly you strike me', not 'honestly you strike me'.  Dath ilani don't lie often enough that they need to say when they're being honest, but they conceal things often enough to say when they're being frank."

"People here are immune to concerns about other people getting upset with them, or won't try to hide or alter their apparent feelings around people, unless married to them?  That sounds like the literal opposite of how I think things should work."

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"Women will lose standing and respect from their peers and superiors if they're being friendly with you, so they'll probably only do it if they are strongly motivated to by internal concerns and not by fear of getting in trouble. The one context in which social pressure points in the direction of more friendliness for women is towards their husbands, if they are married, so if you married a woman here then you might reasonably worry she was subject to social pressure to pretend she liked you. You can of course avoid this pretty easily by not marrying anyone until you are older and wiser."

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"Definitely not marrying anybody from Osirion until I'm at least older and wiser enough to understand the gendertropes, which is the standard library of terms that can compress descriptions of gender, which is the thing that people's personalities make of their sex, which is the axis along which almost everyone in dath ilan is born either male, which is what I am, or female, which is the shape males match."

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"Yes, that seems like definitely one prerequisite! Also you'll need a stable income, which shouldn't be that hard but me paying you to teach languages won't count to most families, and many women will have concerns about the harem in Cheliax. I'd generally say having a harem in Cheliax is outright disqualifying for marriage but you're going to be very rich and that compensates for most disadvantages."

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"Wow, you're tactless.  It's not clear that I still should see myself as having a harem in Cheliax, Abrogail was all like 'everything you value here will be waiting when you return to us reading Lawful Evil' but she was not under a truthspell when she said it."

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"Well, formerly having had a harem in Cheliax is still fairly disqualifying for most people because what if one of the girls turns up here with your child, that's a complicated situation for a marriage to navigate if you're the kind who'd take her back. [high uncertainty] I'm really not a good person to give marital advice, I only have one wife myself."

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"Signed a contract requiring them to use Alter Self, which Lrilatha said was effective in preventing pregnancy, having a child, so that should work if they're actually bound by contracts and Lrilatha couldn't lie - does that match your understanding?  I mostly don't want to talk about this, but should check that part."  He needs to send back a message requiring them to use Alter Self one final time - Carissa was so happy, when he - he's just had a crying fit, Keltham is not really okay with himself having another one so soon after, so he won't, this time.

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"Cheliax will obey their contracts, unless there's something sneaky in the wording. I.....don't know what to make of the idea of having women shapeshift until they aren't women but I think my objections are not that it wouldn't work."

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"I'm confused.  They weren't shifting during sex - well, Meritxell, but she was shifting into other women, it was her thing - they were shifting male afterwards to prevent pregnancy."

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"- in the Osirian conception, the core thing that makes someone a woman is the capacity to bear children, and the core thing that makes someone a man is the capacity to sire them. There are also differences in personality traits and virtues and aptitudes and so on, but in Axis - where no one can bear children and no one can sire them - those are smaller than, say, the differences between different species, and it certainly wouldn't make very much sense to have laws about them. So in the Osirian conception, a person who shapeshifts frequently enough to ensure they cannot bear children isn't - exactly meaningfully a woman. They have departed from womanhood to be something else."

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"Wait, so a woman can own property, here, she just needs to learn Alter Self and shapeshift frequently enough that the system doesn't classify her as a woman anymore?  Or is it that only men can own property, so if I make second circle and change to being a woman once per week, the government can declare I'm no longer a man and take all my stuff?"

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"....neither of those, but closer to the first one? Spellcasters can get classified as the head of an independent household, even if they're women, and widows past childbearing age can get classified as the head of their household, even if they're not spellcasters."

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"Also, does your society have, like, one gendertrope.  Or two gendertropes, I guess.  In dath ilan there's a lot of different ways to be a man or a woman or, like, do your best to resign from the system because you are a cognitively diverse nonconformist."

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" - well, if you are a man and want to resign from the system you can cut off your genitals, I suppose? Being a cognitively diverse nonconformist doesn't really strike me as strong enough reason for that but perhaps it is my turn to have underestimated how much people vary."

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"No, I mean, this is dath ilani male-coded clothing I'm wearing and I maintain my hair in a way that looks dath ilani male.  I could stop doing those things and people in Civilization would still be able to identify me as probably having male genitals unless I did a lot more work, but they wouldn't assume that I'd behave in a masculine, 'masculine', way."

"There's a way of being a woman where you try to maintain a high sex drive so you can keep a harem of men you like, the haremmistress gendertrope.  There's a way of being a woman where you don't have sex and marry a man who's married to a different woman so that you can get snuggles without fucking, the asexualnonsingularmate gendertrope.  There's a way of being a woman where you don't like people drawing inferences about you just because you're female, which is the singleton nonbinary gendertrope held in common across all sexes.  Uh, 'singleton' is, there's only one object that exists inside the class for that object."

"It sounds like Osirion has one feminine gendertrope, and if you don't fit it, they stop thinking you're a woman.  Which, like, I'm pretty sure if I was a woman, I'd go off the standard gendertrope here just so that I could own property?"

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"I don't actually know where the source of this confusion is but I suspect it of being somewhere very distant from the conversation that we're having. It is true that in Osirion women do not ...marry multiple men....because then the paternity of their children would be in question, and it's bad for children to not have a father who is committed to providing for them, it strongly predicts dying of starvation as a baby."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...should've noticed earlier that this conversation was probably heading towards a Golarion doomfact.  It's not easily possible in dath ilan to have enough children that the mother's job alone couldn't support them, unless she had an unusually low-paying job or she tried for like twelve kids or something."

"I'd ask if being able to test for a handful of genetic markers narrowing down paternity - 'genetic' being the tiny storages of information inside people that implement 'heredity', the way children resemble their parents - would solve that problem.  But, unless the explanations I got in Cheliax were lies or not typical of Golarion, I suspect the answer is, no, there's some huge tangle of people being insane in a way that you can't change by changing the facts.  Sort of don't want to go into that, because it was - something that Carissa would always take the responsibility of explaining to me."

"Unless it actually is just testing for genetic markers to determine the father, in which case I could think about if there's some simple way to do that at your tech and magitech level."

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"That seems like ....a good thing to have that many people would pay a lot of money for? I don't know that it would solve the problem you perceive because I don't think I exactly understand the problem you perceive, but I don't see an obvious problem with a woman having two husbands if they can afford to check which is the father and both have agreed in advance that the responsibilities of the father attach to them if the spell indicates it's them. I don't think it'd be a very popular arrangement but I don't see why people who want the option shouldn't be able to buy it. 

People mostly do things for good reasons and changing the facts does change how they behave, but - a lot of facts are connected with other facts, and people don't change instantly."

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"Yes, much of the childhood training I got in being able to propagate updates more quickly and change my mind faster does make more sense to me as a vital necessity of a stable Civilization, now that I realize that, in the absence of this training, people will spend ten years acting like second-circle wizards can get pregnant by accident."

"Once I know the differences between Osirion and Cheliax, I'll just update on them.  I won't complain about how facts are entangled with other facts, I'll just propagate all the updates I know how to propagate.  You can move faster if you're not afraid of speed."

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"I guess now I should try to explain gender in Osirion and associated facts to you but I'd really rather someone else do that because it sounds really unpleasant....maybe less so if we do it in Baseline so I can practice my Baseline. Do you want me to do that."

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"Realistically, that should not happen to me today."

"You wanna go back to telling me about how dath ilan's government just had to be secretly awful?  Got a lot of that in Cheliax too, only, in retrospect, without nearly the emphasis on how they thought there was any possible alternative to that."

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"That sounds like much more fun, yes!"

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"In the absence of gods but the presence of talk-control I'm actually not sure how I'd organize a society to not be ruled by tyrants. If you have any one powerful person, they can be talk-controlled. If you have no powerful people, you will be invaded. You could maybe do random selection of rulers for one-year terms, though I think that just gets you rule behind-the-scenes by some group of people that doesn't get turned over ever year, presumably the Keepers. Maybe the best you can actually do is tyrants who have to pretend not to be, which is what it sounds to me like dath ilan has."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The talk-control we know about is not instant.  Supposedly even if you matched up a ninth-rank Keeper against an ordinary dath ilani they would still take two minutes and anybody else watching would notice the conversation being very weird."

"But, look, you're still angling at this from way too much of a Golarion perspective where you control a handful of top people and suddenly you control the society.  If anything runs dath ilan, it's the prediction markets that say which observable outcomes we'll get in ten years if we do something a particular way, and the Legislature negotiates which outcomes we're steering toward.  The designated-desirable-outcomes are a matter of public record.  The prediction markets are things that anybody including me could bet on.  If the Dark Conspirators want to actually steer around Civilization they need the prediction markets to be making bad predictions, presumably about the roads not taken because on the roads actually taken you can see the predictions not coming true.  And then the bids get revealed after the fact, and people would notice if their own bids were not listed so you can't understate the bids in one direction, so you'd need there to be these huge mysterious opaque bidders coming in and bidding against all the people who did acknowledge their bids, to claim overly pessimistic outcomes on the roads you wanted to steer away from - you see the problem here?"

"Maybe you can take over Civilization in the sense of getting an Achievement Unlocked on how you theoretically control the minds of the Nine Legislators, but that doesn't actually get you anything, so far as I can tell.  The Legislators can't say to steer for a weird outcome without everyone noticing.  And Civilization has definitely ever thought about somebody trying to take it over via breaking into some computers, shaped raw causal processes, and making the prediction markets too pessimistic about all courses of action other than the way they want Civilization to go."

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"Like the prediction market of whether the dead will return, where you noticed exactly that kind of suspicious activity. Anyway, if you control the Keepers and the legislators you can declare things like that you're going to screen off all of history! I find it hard to believe you couldn't also declare things like that you need to launch a massive secret project almost no one is told about, or remove all works of fiction that might enable someone to learn the gods are real and contact them, or that you need to invent and refine talk-control, or that you need to make a bunch of specific people who are criticizing you decide to freeze themselves.

As far as I can tell, any high-rank Keeper can go to the home of a critic who is particularly troubling to them and in two minutes of conversation convince that person to commit suicide. That is sufficient power to cover up a lot without manipulating prediction markets, even setting aside how you can use it to manipulate prediction markets in a way that's not very obvious. Especially if talk-control works over mass media, you can do far more than that."

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"I'm sure there are massive secret projects we're not being told about.  You can tell this because of how I think this is a totally reasonable thing to do, so long as they're prosocial secret projects with valid rationales.  I would be horrified and disturbed to know that Governance was not running massive secret projects, because there are clearly going to be some things like that and somebody needs to do them and if Governance isn't doing them then what are we even paying for."

"If the gods are real then, yes, you'd want to remove all works of fiction that would let somebody contact them.  This also seems like a totally reasonable thing to do."

"And there was, yes, a famous creepy incident where the Keepers negotiated with a dissident faction and then their leaders told all of their followers to go into cryonic preservation, but obviously the dissident faction took no precautions whatsoever against talk-control because the dissident faction was stupid, and that all happened in public where everybody could see how creepy it was because the Keepers were stupid."  [False statement illustrating what the truth must be by contrasting to it.]

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"At some point you are just conceding, yes, we are a tyranny that has and routinely exercises the power to crush dissidents and ban the speaking of true important things that would dramatically change the life priorities of many of our subjects, and we like it that way."

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"The dissident faction in question was one that wanted to destroy all life before it could colonize the stars, so that we wouldn't spread the possibility of suffering through the universe, and the fact that our Civilization is not so constructed as to entertain the possibility of crushing them was why our Keepers had to negotiate with them secretly - using obvious protocols for avoiding known possible levels of talk-control, like exchanging notes written on paper with delays built in that an intermediary person rewrote - and told the negative utilitarians something, struck a deal with them, that made them voluntarily ask their followers to voluntarily go into early cryonic suspension in exchange.  I can now guess that one of the things they were told was that Truly Dead people just end up somewhere else, like I did, and I can see all kinds of possible excellent reasons why the Keepers would not tell everyone that."

"In dath ilan we pay children who are still young enough to give into threats, every time we threaten them into doing something, every time we have to slap their wrists or threaten to slap their wrists, it goes into their bank account for later in life, so that we'll never do it lightly and will notice it every time."

"In dath ilan we have to persuade our dissidents who want to end all life, to voluntarily go into early cryonic suspension instead of hanging around trying to end all life, in exchange for a bargain the terms of which I do not know, because we don't have the kind of Civilization that would just kill them."

"I am not terribly well acquainted with Golarion, but I know that this is so far advanced ahead of anything you have here that, yes, I can see why you just wouldn't believe it.  But then say you don't believe it!  Say that you think I was just trapped inside another Conspiracy lying to me my whole life!  Don't take the world I'm describing to you, that is obviously far ahead of Golarion on tolerance of dissent, and try to redefine it as tyranny!"

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"Dath ilan actually doesn't sound ahead of, say, Absalom on tolerance of dissent to me. There are no things I'll be arrested for shouting in a public square in Absalom, and a lot of things I would be arrested for shouting in a public square in dath ilan. There are no books that I will be prevented from writing and distributing in Absalom, and a lot of books I'd be prevented from writing and distributing in dath ilan. Absalom does not violently suppress Rovagug cultists. Osirion wouldn't suppress people who were just trying to have lots of children who'd agree with them the universe should be destroyed and not actually planning the actual release of actual Rovagug. It wouldn't negotiate with them because there'd be nothing to negotiate because they could under our laws just go living their lives as long as they weren't actually trying to do a violent crime.

You just said 'If the gods are real then, yes, you'd want to remove all works of fiction that would let somebody contact them.  This also seems like a totally reasonable thing to do' and that is a degree of social control that no Golarion society except perhaps Nidal attains. Rahadoum bans all the gods and all their followers, but they don't ban works of fiction in which the gods are described. 

In many respects dath ilan sounds lovely. I have conceded that perhaps the degrees to which it is an unusually oppressive tyranny is in fact better than many other possible ways it could be - for example, if you do have a problem with aliens sending you mind-viruses. But I am not redefining anything, when I name it an unusually oppressive tyranny with unusually little tolerance of dissent."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What, exactly, is an example of something you think would get you arrested in dath ilan if you shouted it in a public square where shouting was otherwise permissible, rather than a place where the people living there had designated it as quiet?"

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"'Iomedae is a powerful alien entity which can be contacted by shaping your thoughts towards Her in the following fashion'. 'Before we screened off history, there was a war in which thirty million people were killed, I have the documentation proving it'. 'There is a secret government project to' - followed by the details of any government secret projects."

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"Right, so, I sure would get the heck out of that square, and then, yes, I'd want that person removed from my city, or rendered psychiatric assistance, as appropriate depending on whether what they were saying was {true, false-but-lying} or false-but-honest."

"I think you have a fundamental presumption about governments acting in bad faith by default which dath ilani straight-up do not share.  The thing where I don't rush out of the public square is if they shout, 'There is a secret government project conducted in bad faith which you can verify by looking at the following details...' and then, they're probably crazy, but you maybe hang around and look up those purported details on the Network, so that your society can maintain its theoretical ability to remove bad governments.  Somebody shouting about a secret government project that the government was trying to keep secret for a good reason is just an asshole, no different from telling somebody about a surprise party their friends were going to hold for them, or the ending of the book they just started reading."

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"I agree that the reason dath ilani would arrest and exile this hypothetical person is because of the presumption of dath ilani that the government is operating in good faith. Would it resolve our disagreement if I said that dath ilan has unusually little tolerance of dissent and unusually much tolerance of the exercise of power to crush dissidents, compared to Golarion societies which are trying not to be tyrannies, because of the presumption of dath ilani that the government is operating in good faith?"

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"Think I'd first like to see how a woman selling sex was treated in those extremely free Golarion societies, maybe inquire of them how they'd handle knowledge of the Outer Gods starting to propagate, count the ratio of people imprisoned to people free and interview some people who'd actually been arrested about what they'd been arrested for, maybe offer them a truthspell about whether somebody had demanded a bribe from them.  I am frankly skeptical that Golarion can get freedom right when it is too poor and too stupid to get anything else right."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is the argument that while, in principle, Absalom's laws are much less restrictive, in practice Absalom is sufficiently underresourced in enforcing its laws, and sufficiently unpredictable in a very weird case, that it's easier to end up exiled unjustly from Absalom than to end up exiled from dath ilani cities? That seems true, though it still seems to me that it's important that Absalom is not the only city that does not have laws about evangelism and bookwriting, and it'd be very hard to end up unjustly exiled from all of them, so the problem somewhat reduces to making travel cheaper."

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"You know, now that I think about it, I'm sure on reflection that somewhere in dath ilan there is a city full of people who are just excitedly analyzing all the markets and figuring out all the secret government projects and slapping hands with each other as they figure them out, because the people there want to hear about it, and their access to the markets and so on has some kind of monitored trading condition that prevents info there from leaking out to the rest of Civilization, which doesn't want to hear about it."

"But, like, if they're calling down the gods on the rest of us, then yes, that is a condition under which I'd agree with a secret government project to go in and preemptively cryopreserve them all and hide that fact from the rest of Civilization.  In fact, I think that's a much more important capacity for a society to have, now that I've seen a society where gods are running loose.  Before I would've said that was an unreasonably-improbable-hypothetical."

"Civilization is doing fine without gods."

Permalink Mark Unread

"As far as you know, not living in one of the places where people know what the government is doing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If the government was doing something wrong they'd obviously tell the rest of us and collect the huge bounties we'd pay out retrospectively for their assistance in having done that!  I project with great confidence that this is, like, totally that city's motto, that they're a check on Governance that way."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You don't even know if they exist! You should not feel sure they're being a successful check on the government!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"If they don't exist it's because all the people like that decided that any other people advertising themselves as that would be obvious traps and did their own homework instead!  But mostly I'd guess with great confidence there's a city like that because they'll think some people ought to check collectively rather than individually, even given the surety that assuming Dark Governance half of them are Governance plants, and they'll generate a random number and look for a city of fellow - 'conspiracy-theorists', would be the obvious Baseline term to coin - with 80% probability."

"Like, there's some cities you realize will exist as soon as you think about them, and they actually exist, like, 90% of the time, or so."

"To be clear, this is not how the actual checks on Governance work, those are designed by Very Serious People and Cunning Masterminds Having Way Too Much Fun."

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Some Time Later

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"There is a saying out of dath ilan about conversations like these.  It goes, 'Some conversations have no natural endpoint, and so you can only decide to say, "It is complete because it ended here."'"

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"Oh, I was assuming at some point my son would send in his guards to drag me off you, but that works too."  His Baseline is more or less fluent, at this point. "A pleasure meeting you, Keltham of dath ilan. I hope dath ilan is not secretly Evil, and also I hope we grow up to surpass them."

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"No, we should hope they were secretly Evil.  'Bad news about the past is good news about the future.'  If you learn that some hidden problem obtained about the otherwise observationally fixed past, that's good news because the past's quality level is not thereby changed so you can fix that problem and get a better future than previously expected.  If dath ilan was secretly Evil, surpassing that quality of living standard in Golarion will be much easier, because dath ilan had that standard of living despite being handicapped by being Evil."

"Your Baseline is functionally perfect in syntax and pronunciation, it's just missing vocabulary size, non-rule-controlled intonation, common phrasings and proverbs, and, if you genuinely wanted to be able to pass as indistinguishably native, making the sort of technical arguments that dath ilani would make.  Vocabulary you can get off Tongues or from Share Language (Baseline) that I tap somebody with, common phrasings have to come from me and I don't have them mentally stored in a format that lets me rattle off a complete list, perfect intonation is going to require at least listening to me talking for long periods and possibly continued active correction, and argument form is full-blown being as 'Lawful' as we were.  How do you want to play this?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll pay for your time at today's prices if you think of more things you want to teach me, or argue about, up to a total of 40,000gp, which is all of my money."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You seem kind of noticeably intelligent compared to most people I've met in Golarion and for that matter me.  Counterproposal, what if you followed me around while I was teaching things and tapped people with Communal Share Language (Baseline), so I could teach in Baseline, which would converge towards you being able to share the whole language, because every time I said something in Baseline not covered by your version, you or other people would query it and then you'd also know that part?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I would be delighted."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Am I correct that you're the sort of person where, if I asked whether we're friends yet, and the answer was no, you'd just tell me no and not feel particularly uncomfortable about it either?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There's only any other sort of person because most people are not very smart."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Right, so, I'm pretty massively traumatized by the Chelish gaslighting operation and rather a large part of me does not think that anything on this next layer of reality is real.  It seems to me like inside that layer of reality we are forming something like a friendship, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to let myself feel that, because my brain is constantly firing warnings of the form 'Hey if you start liking this guy he's also going to turn out to not be real, and then that will hurt when you inevitably find out that this layer of reality was also a lie and you have to leave it.'"

"Wanna try forming a friendship under those somewhat adverse conditions?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That doesn't bother me. The more significant barrier is that I don't have a confident read on whether I respect you intellectually yet. I really enjoy talking to you, and you frequently surprise me in intelligent and interesting ways, but I don't know how much of that is you knowing lots of things I don't know and how much is going to persist once I understand the world you're from. I'm also slightly worried you're going to declare war on Hell or something and it'll be politically complicated for me to participate in the war on Hell in light of how my son is an aspect of Abadar, who I bet is constrained in going to war with Hell though it's actually possible He's just patiently waiting for us to make Him an offer."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...good point.  I am probably going to be all kinds of theologically and politically complicated, yes.  And thank you for appreciating the point where I am just a punk kid waving around a lot of knowledge developed by a Civilization greater than myself."

"I'm not going to expect you to participate in the destruction of Asmodeus if there's prior political constraints about that, it's not a requirement of friendship with me.  Frankly I mostly expect, at this point in the development of the story, that I end up having to do it alone, in the end, because if not then it's weird about the story development that ripped away all of my previous friends, and I can read the foreshadowing in the Good gods talking about decision theory being complicated."

"See you around, Fe-Anar, I've hopefully tired myself out to the point where I can eat something and then sleep again.  Perhaps we'll end up as friends eventually."

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"Oh, I absolutely plan to participate in the destruction of Asmodeus! I wouldn't miss it! I just expect there to be a bunch of annoying intermediate steps. Also, I've decided I do like you, on the strength of your having concluded you're going to have to defeat Asmodeus on your own, even though I think you're wrong about that.

See you around, Keltham."

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Day 91 / Egorian

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When Abrogail Thrune turned 16, shortly after she became a second-circle sorcerer, she looked at the Chelish Empire, which she intended to rule someday, falling around about herself; the provinces of Andoran and Galt, that should have been hers, already lost by her incompetent uncle.

Abrogail knew that as a second-circle sorcerer she could not take the Crown of Infernal Majesty from Infrexus.  Even executing a compact with Asmodeus would give her two more circles at best.  Infrexus had held five sorcery circles in his late forties, won of the Worldwound and a few years' adventuring, when he executed his own compact and took the throne.

So Abrogail went to Hell, living.

She compacted with Hell to set devils to fight her, and heal her when she fell, and put her to sleep when she had no magic left and needed to regain it; and punish her for failing, for losing, to make sure that when she fought she did so desperately and in that state of stress that is conducive to absorbing magic.

She wanted to make it to seventh-circle, so she could be ninth-circle after executing her infernal contract.

Abrogail tried.  She tried really really hard.

But when even her will broke, Abrogail was only sixth-circle still, and so is only eighth-circle now.

It's a very efficient way of leveling.  If you ask why not everybody does it, it's because that would shatter almost any mortal's mind like glass.  The Thrunes have a touch of Hell in their bloodline, from which their sorcery comes, but even among them, the reason why only Abrogail did that is that only Abrogail could.

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Carissa Sevar, probably, is not going to be fully functional until she has a +6 intelligence headband.  There are not any of those going spare even when you are Abrogail Thrune.  They have owners, from whom a headband like that cannot be taken without killing them.

So Carissa Sevar has now been tasked to make herself a +6 intelligence headband.

With a slimy devil wrapped around her, not at all like a lover's caress, a devil summoned and bound by Abrogail Thrune.

The devil is of a kind that Hell sometimes tasks to forge magical items.  It cannot advise mortals on how to craft.  The devil is not forbidden however to monitor them in their crafting, assess their general level of performance, or apply motivation.

Carissa Sevar is being hurt, quite badly, at the end of any thirty-minute period in which she has not exceeded her previous best performance in crafting.  Any time she escapes punishment, of course, that sets the bar higher for next time.

When Carissa's magic fails her, she is put to sleep; when woken, set back immediately to work.  Her Ring of Sustenance means she needs no food, no water, no other surcease.

It would shatter most mortals like glass, but then, Carissa Sevar is not most mortals.


It will hopefully prevent Carissa from thinking and feeling for a time.

It will hopefully be punishment enough that Carissa stops feeling unpunished.

Failing that, Abrogail is curious about whether Carissa can be brought to her fifth or sixth circle this way before even her will breaks.

Permalink Mark Unread

It would have been entirely reasonable, when the project Carissa has been heretically running for the last three months exploded due to Carissa's inadequacies, for Abrogail to have her sent to Hell, to have her mortal frailties scraped away for as many thousands of years as it required. Abrogail is not more merciful than that; wanting more mercy than that would be unAsmodean, and offering it would be very unAsmodean. 

 

Carissa is grateful, for whatever not-merciful impulse has her here, instead. Her mortal mind, which is very stupid and pathetic, does not fully comprehend how much worse it could be, but that is an error, the kind of error she can actually feel herself growing out of when she has time to work on being more ilani. 

 

She is also grateful that there is no opportunity for her to think, or feel, or grieve. In the absence of space to process it, the part of her brain that believes that Keltham loves her and won't let anyone hurt her has taken up residence in the back of her head, where it occasionally whimpers sadly, like a kicked puppy. She has mostly successfully pushed his blank, lost, bewildered face out of her memory. It is over; it never was; it was always pretend. Maybe someday it will be real, but if it is, it will be real the way Hell is real, the way pain is real, the way nothing else is really real.

 

She's making fast progress on the headband. She would not say that this is because she is in peak form. She keeps having auditory hallucinations, usually of Abrogail, sometimes of her mother, sometimes just of people screaming. Abrogail says that she is not good enough to become half the things she wants to be. Her mother says that she should've worked harder on baby Carissa, that maybe she could've turned out better. The screaming people don't really have anything to say. She thinks she's not constantly screaming, her voice would give out, so probably that's a hallucination. She's developed a habit of hurting herself to focus; it's barely even pain, next to the punishments after each section, but it helps. it makes the world a little more stable, a little clearer. She wishes, sometimes, that Keltham had never come to Golarion, that she'd never left the Worldwound, though this is a stupid thing to wish because these weaknesses were still a part of her and would still have to be burned out of her, and it could, in fact, hurt more than this.

 

She does not wish to be turned into a statue, not even briefly. She is pretty sure she won't even if, when she finishes the headband, they give her another one. She is pretty sure she won't even if there is nothing else for the rest of time. 

She's only pretty sure, though. 

 

 

No. 

She's entirely sure.

This is the road to everything she wants, everything she's ever wanted; she is not so weak that, with that road laid out in front of her, she will fall apart rather than walk it, just because it hurts. If she wants to change things, she will have to be stronger than anyone has ever been; this is the way to get there. Abrogail will have set her a task that makes stronger those Carissae who could ever, possibly, be strong enough to get anything they want. Abrogail has never made her weaker; Abrogail is not, at what must be unimaginable expense, setting her to this path so that she'll discover her weakness and collapse of it. Abrogail is doing this so that she will grow strong.

Permalink Mark Unread

...it's not actually an unimaginable expense?  Binding a devil to do this is straightforward, it's just that, for most people you'd want to temper, they'd be too weak to benefit from a devil's help.  But if imagining that she's worth a great expense helps Carissa, Abrogail hardly finds it in her own interest to correct the misapprehension.

...Though, actually, having the Queen of Cheliax take ten minutes of her own time to bind a devil for you is probably 'unimaginable expense' by most people's standards.

Anyways Carissa seems to be doing fine.  Abrogail will turn visible so she can whisper in Carissa's ear that she's being a good girl and Abrogail is proud of her, and then head back on out.

Shouldn't be more than a week or two on the +6 headband, it looks like.  Though, at the rate Carissa is burning through this task, she might need to be given another crafting job afterwards to see if she can be brought to fifth circle.

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Day 92 / Osirion

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Keltham wakes up and remembers where he is.

He puts on his Splendour headband so that he can cry, and hopefully maybe get that part done with for the day.

He doesn't pray.  Keltham has hardly used any of the spells he got yesterday, though he got them identified.  And also -

He's not thinking about that right now.

Keltham will go to the library, and read more catalogues of magic items, and send word to see if Merenre and Ismat want to have breakfast that morning, when dawn is past and clerics are done praying for their spells.  Does Keltham need some sort of etiquette waiver?

Also Keltham isn't quite sure where Prince Fe-Anar falls into the Osirion scheme of things, but to be explicit, Keltham is fine if Fe-Anar wants to join the breakfast and Share Language (Baseline) people and have all Keltham's and Fe-Anar's conversation be in Baseline.

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Merenre and Ismat would love to get breakfast, and they're fine with Fe-Anar, who is Merenre's father, being present. Keltham can have an etiquette waiver. (Osirians are at this point under the impression that etiquette waivers are an important dath ilani political technology). 

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"I guess the only thing I'm really touchy about is Khalil, who will be disappointed if the alien can't be polite but he'll live, and I don't have to bring him up in detail when he won't even be at this particular breakfast," Ismat remarks to Merenre on their way.

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"The etiquette waiver does not oblige you to invite him to breakfast again if you can't stand him. I think you'll like him, though. My father does, and my father's not overawed very easily."

Permalink Mark Unread

"He's the only speaker of his language on the planet! If it can be done easily that's how!"

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"I do like Baseline and was prepared to put up with practically any personality to get it but he has other positive qualities too! He's very arrogant and very stubborn and very mad about all of Golarion all the time ...also more traumatized than I'd have thought Asmodeus would've been allowed to do. Didn't we pay for a not-traumatized cleric of Abadar to teach us."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Asmodeus transmitted the terms to his followers who are too Chelish to really comprehend that you can damage people if you don't even torture them, is my understanding, from speaking to Abadar of this. It was in the outcomes-distribution specified."

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"Well, that was a fucking stupid specification."

 

They arrive at breakfast.

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Keltham will actually activate the glibness pin, for this, because while Fe-Anar probably doesn't count, Merenre and Ismat sound like people to whom Asmodia's last advice may apply.

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Here's Keltham, looking notably more neutral than yesterday.

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"Good morning! I'm Ismat, I believe you've met my husband and his father already though."

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"Keltham out of dath ilan.  Not my best morning, but any morning you walk away from is a good one, to pervert an old saying.  Salutations Ismat, greetings Merenre, hi Fe-Anar did you already tag them with Baseline?"

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"I did! They were not paralyzed, awed, and profoundly distracted by the magnitude of the design effort at all. Don't have children, they'll only disappoint you.[humorous]."

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"It's interesting, but I'll confess not really a priority, compared to other features of dath ilan like how it doesn't have the plague."

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"It'll be either a virus or a bacterium, and if you learn how to make vaccines you can plausibly shut it down.  Cheliax seemed to think that would cause a population explosion and cities would get more crowded until the level of epidemics went back into equilibrium, unless I could develop contraception, which would have to be usable by people of Intelligence 7, or I could develop better roads to enable fewer less-crowded cities."

"Aside Fe-Anar, that was Very Serious intonation, endaside."

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"It'll cause a population increase, but on a pretty long timescale, I'd think, relative to how fast a lot of things are going to change if spellsilver's lots cheaper. I think Cheliax may have been telling you that because they're Evil."

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"Possibly.  You'd think Cheliax would be interested in anything that made them stronger in the short-term, if they were thinking that short-term themselves... well, it's possible they'd have asked for anti-plague measures next, we were prioritizing spellsilver."

"You've called this meeting, have you got an agenda?"

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"I really just wanted to meet you, and to introduce you to Ismat, who may actually be the most important person here if spellsilver gets cheaper, as she's developed a method of magic item making which doesn't require the creator to be a spellcaster themselves."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Mm-hm! Cheliax has wizards but we've got me. Not many of me trained up yet though. I might have to pivot away from doing my own crafting if I need to be working on teaching a class of fifty."

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"And here I thought the plot was going to call for me somehow matching Cheliax despite their purportedly vastly greater number of wizards."

"My -"

"Carissa Sevar developed a method of speeding the production of +2 and +4 headbands, like an Armillary Amulet except 2-3 times as effective because specialized, made up of individual pieces speeding up individual stages of the process so that a dozen different wizards can work on them in parallel while trading the speed boosters amongst each other.  Now that she's developed those, presumably other wizards can make them too, though they'd need higher Spellcraft than the third-circle wizards she was boosting.  It roughly quadruples their working speed, as of the prototypes.  Carissa was fourth-circle but has Spellcraft at about seventh-circle or so, she can use spellsilver from seven feet away if that means anything to people who aren't me."

"Ismat, what's your method?  And is Carissa's boosting technology likely to apply to it, or do we just have to take a different route and scale it to hugely more people?"

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"I can only do jewelry, specifically, I studied the ways jewelry differs before and after being enchanted back when I did blanks for casters to have at. I - don't see an obvious reason why you couldn't divvy up the work on a pin or an earring like that? The items would take slots, but you could just have a specialized crafting getup, half what I'm wearing is crafting-aimed already." She's wearing quite a lot of jewelry.

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"With wizards doing it, Carissa thought it wasn't effective to have multiple wizards working on the same item, so a single wizard works on all stages of the item, but they trade off stage-assisting items among each other as they individually reach particular stages of their work on the headband.  Each wizard only uses one assisting item at a time."

"Does your method allow nonwizards to specialize in a single aspect of a headband and move from headband to headband in the process of assembly, so that they can master that single stage of item crafting?  How does speed compare to nonwizards, are there Intelligence requirements, are there math requirements, does the person have to go through a stage of learning to sense magic the same as if they were learning to construct a spell scaffold?"

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Ismat can go on about the process she uses and teaches! Her ability to scale up has been inconvenienced by moving into the Black Dome - she can craft in it, it didn't take that long to readjust, but it makes the commute between home and storefront awfully inconvenient for her or her employees, whoever's traveling. But she has a list of things that might be amenable to more optimization pressure, and can rattle off the story of how she started making blanks for casters and tried watching them when they started working on the blanks to see if there were any steps she could simplify for them, and so on and so forth.

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...it probably beats trying to match Cheliax's number of wizards using Osirion's number of wizards.  The human-learning delay time on scaling this manufacturing process sounds nontrivial, but they can parallelize that with getting spellsilver manufacture set up in Osirion at all.

Merenre is the advisor to the Pharaoh on the Keltham situation.  If they don't mind Keltham asking, what is the Keltham situation?

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"The Pharaoh is intended to give Abadar what the once-mortal gods have - an aspect which can comprehend and communicate directly with mortals, when it's worth the cost. Theologically speaking, we teach that the Pharaoh is Abadar, as much as any facet of a god is that god - a very specialized facet, obviously, because this particular facet is run on a mortal mind, and sometimes it's more aspirational than concrete, but the idea is that Abadar having the capacities of the mortal gods is very valuable both to Him and to us. 

As such, we learned three months ago that a mortal in Chelish custody was a very new soul with impressive knowledge and comprehension of Abadar's domain and what He cares about, a comprehension Abadar didn't think He'd seen among mortals before, and that Abadar had paid Asmodeus to not mind control that mortal and to let that mortal leave freely, and very shortly after that that a godwar had started over that mortal. The Pharaoh was subject to the interdict, as an aspect of Abadar, and while we did run a small department which could in theory have learned of your presence in Osirion via a non-Abadar route and enabled us to try an extraction, they didn't get there through information that wasn't downstream of any divine communication.

At the same time, we got a spy report out of Cheliax that was, frankly, very confusing and that we assumed was mostly made up. The claim was made that if anyone in the Palace in Egorian had anything good happen to them, a girl with vivid pink hair would show up and offer them cake. - this was among many other claims, like that every devil in Hell knew the name of the Project Lawful girls, and that Project Lawful turned people into girls, and that Project Lawful was a time travel project to convert Taldor to Asmodeanism thousands of years ago, that were similarly not credible. But the cake one was cheap to test, so we tested it. Send someone whose wife was imminently expecting a baby to an inn just outside the palace, to celebrate. Cake Girl indeed showed up, at the appointed time. - we intended to kidnap her and offer her money to defect. She was a powerful spellcaster, and shrugged that off, and ate the cake with us, and left. 

At that point we gave all the rumors of Project Lawful substantially more credence. At the same time, bidding markets in Hell were sending a specific set of souls up to extraordinary prices. We looked into it. We pieced together much of what was going on - though the group that had no knowledge of Abadar's interests here did not have enough information to conclude this was worth provoking a war with Cheliax over, and recommended against.

Abadar communicates mostly with the pharaoh. He can do so more cheaply, and there are precisions to His visions which it's best for the pharaoh to have firsthand. But one thing Abadar can do relatively cheaply, and convey relatively cheaply, is see markets. So He's been keeping me updated with the bid-ask spreads from the project's public-to-you and secret-from-you prediction markets, and I've been responsible for figuring out everything happening on Project Lawful and preparing Osirion for the time when you'd learn the truth and leave."

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"...secret-from-me prediction markets?  I don't know whether to be proud or annoyed, and will maybe delay that decision pending hearing about what secret prediction markets."

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"The one that saw the most movement was about which girl would be the first whose mind or loyalty breaks."

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"Did it ever pay out?"

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"Twice. Pilar and Peranza."

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Keltham draws, heavily, on the glibness, and even so, knows it probably doesn't look quite right.

"I doubt it succeeds, especially since they'd know this was a very likely time window.  But I request a scry, regular version fine, on Peranza, at the government's convenience."

"Unless you already know what really happened to her."  She - did seem to - Peranza was together enough to tell Keltham goodbye, even if that was scripted for her - or was that another illusion?  Illusion according to this level of reality, that is.  Or Dominate Person - would there have been signs Keltham could see, if Dominate Person was being used on Peranza - according to this level of reality -

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"We've tried scrying her several times since the market resolved and have been unable to see anything. Our best guess is that she was executed and is in Hell; the other major possibility is that she was petrified and stashed in an unscryable location. Her soul changed hands in Dis for about a hundredth of what it was purchased for, which seems more consistent with 'she was in Hell and worth less than expected' than that much market movement off some communication from Golarion about the betrayal, but we don't know for sure, and can't rule out that Hell has noticed Abadar can see them when they try using markets and is trying to feed us false information."

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"Snack Service said not to - jump to conclusions, take actions, I haven't reviewed exact words - until I knew the real story about Peranza including a fact that only one person there knew enough to deduce. I check that this person was not an Osirian who promptly solved the riddle and reported to you."

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"It was not."

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His employees were being mindread, which mostly rules out only one of them having access to a key fact.  Unless Security read it from them and didn't propagate it to anyone else there, including Abrogail or Aspexia.  That's possible but a hit to probability.

Obvious candidates for the one person:  Abrogail, Aspexia Rugatonn, Pilar via Snack-Service-thought-protection, that monk of Irori.

"Does Osirion have plans, thoughts, about what happens from here?  I suppose as protagonist, 'protagonist', I could try to make all of those decisions myself, but I am still unfamiliar with nonfake 'geopolitics'," a word with no Baseline analogue.  "In a more realistic setting you'd've made your own plans about what to do after I arrived, if you've had three months to plan."

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"The impression of the away team that got you was that you're in pretty bad shape and we should plausibly give you weeks or months of recovery time, even in light of the stakes. Ione's agreed to teach some people Prestidigitation chemistry. We'll still end up behind Cheliax on that front, because we have many fewer wizards, but we can make the gap narrower, and I think Cheliax is in the long run going to run into some barriers to trying to develop themselves. This might change if our spies in Cheliax indicate they're making more progress than we thought they could. 

We're arranging to have groups of researchers from other countries immigrate to pick up the Prestidigitation techniques themselves, negotiating details with Ione now, so that the set of free people working on this is larger than Cheliax's, though we're trying to do that very quietly right now, so as not to provoke a countermove. 

Our best guess about what's going to happen is that Cheliax is going to be faster to start benefitting from very very cheap spellsilver, because they had three months' head start, and they'll have a tough call to make soon about whether to try to leverage an eroding initial advantage into some conquest or into being harder for the rest of the world to roll over. I don't know how they'll navigate that. Going to war with us is a reasonably likely possibility; so is withdrawing from the Worldwound so the rest of the world has to scramble to recommit forces we don't really have and logistics networks we haven't built there. Iomedae's been trying to prepare for that possibility; Her Church hasn't actually told us what specifically the plan is, but I think there are several of them and it's not a one-stroke winning move for Cheliax even if it'll be a very costly problem. 

In the longer run, once you've recovered, we want to pay you to improve our curriculum for teaching the principles of Law to the general public and to teach us on disease control and crop yields and textile manufacture and economics and whatever else people want to pay you the most to teach because it seems the most valuable."

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"Taking weeks or months to finish updating would lack dignity... that word doesn't have any Taldane translation but maybe 'pride', 'dignity', the part of your self-image where you think you're not completely unskilled at Law-aspiring thought and you want to live up to the expectations you have of yourself.  I'll be aiming for tomorrow.  Maybe day after tomorrow since I also have to orient to Golarion as it appears on this layer of reality."  Part of Keltham is tired, now, and would just as soon speedrun whatever part of the game this is.

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"If you don't wake up the day after tomorrow all better are you going to have a fit about that?"

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"That, too, would lack dignity.  If I'm still not functional the day after tomorrow I will accept that situation, assess that situation, and figure out what to do with that situation."

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"Well, I'm not going to try to talk you into taking longer than you need, but I don't think your help's going to be that much less valuable to us in a month compared to the day after tomorrow."

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"I would not assume that to be the case.  Cheliax is making an assembly line - outside-item-assisted way of rapidly producing - intelligence headbands, currently at the +4 level, because that is how they turn spellsilver into having even more and better wizards.  If they can master enough Law to get started on the invention of science and technology in general, ways of understanding and manipulating the world, then, no, you may not really have a month."

"I do not think, at this point, that you move quietly for fear of provoking a countermove.  I think you call together every Lawful or Good country in the world, have them send all of their brightest people here or to a facility located in neutral ground - possibly inside the Ostenso nonintervention zone, if the god who originally set that up can force Cheliax to agree to that.  Intelligence 19 teenagers wearing +6 intelligence headbands, brilliant accomplished researchers who are not past their useful working lifespans."

"Cheliax didn't allocate +6 intelligence headbands, I think, because that level of resource commitment would've tipped me off that I had the political pull to demand - scries on other countries, Greater Teleports - as I eventually did.  Though, to be clear, that was mostly me being stupid.  What I should've done shortly after the supposed godwar was demand that Cheliax fill a bag of holding with the unfiltered contents of a Chelish library.  I mean, I did not know, fundamentally, that I was facing a Conspiracy on a level where it would be defeated by a test like that, but - it would have ruled out some Conspiracies and that is what I should have -"

"Anyways.  I do not need to be fully functional to do politics, 'politics'.  That does not require my full intellect the same way as teaching epistemology, Law-inspired skill of figuring out what's true.  If you're not the one making decisions like these, I should talk to whoever is, and get things rolling on the criticalpath, today.  Uh, criticalpath, the path through the graph, connected lines, with the greatest minimum time to complete, such that the time to complete the criticalpath is the time to complete the whole project."

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"Until we've learned how to make spellsilver cheaply, we cannot afford to give anyone a +6 intelligence headband. We certainly can ask countries to send talented researchers here to learn from Ione, which is what I just explained we have done, though none of them have native intelligence 19, obviously."

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"This is not really a situation where you get to scrape up whatever resources you can 'afford' and hope you win with those.  'Reality doesn't care what you afford.'"  (It rhymes and scans perfectly in Baseline, in the way of Central Cheating Poetry.)

"Asmodia gained her first apprehension of the Law by borrowing Aspexia Rugatonn's headband for two hours while Rugatonn was getting two hours of sleep, if I'm not - mixing up those stories the wrong way, I haven't checked transcripts - anyways, do you have any artifact headbands of your own that you can let people borrow for two hours, to see if they can gain a first apprehension that way?"

"Though - now that I say it - Asmodia must have been a unique success case who they could never duplicate again.  I can't imagine that one experiment working out great for them, and then they never try it on anybody else?  Though Asmodia also said she was disloyal and they knew that, so maybe it does work and they didn't try it again for that reason -"

"Anyways, do you have an artifact headband that people can borrow for two hours while the usual owner is sleeping?"

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"Nefreti might. I'll ask her, though I'd expect her to have already volunteered any help she feels like offering. I do think that drinking her wine ought to be helpful to people for this; it doesn't do precisely the same thing as a headband, but it improves performance on tasks that require Intelligence and Wisdom."

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"The wine works for me, I usually have some every day."

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"How long does it last?  How much does it cost?  Does it stack with headbands or the spellform enhancements?  Is there any quantitative way of comparing the effect to headbands?"

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"Nefreti's lasts more than three hours, it stacks with headbands - or whatever other enhancement, mine are the earrings - but I wouldn't expect it to stack with something that just made you better at a particular skill unless it did it indirectly like my jeweler's loupe."

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"It's one gold for a drink, if I recall. The general principle is that two things that enhance Intelligence won't stack with each other, but something that enhances Intelligence and something that enhances an intangible nearby thing, like the wine does, or enhances - luck, ease, like Ismat's loupe -- do. Of course, Cheliax has access to the wine too, this isn't a relative advantage, though I think it'd be much more inconvenient for them to send people to Osirion to buy it and if they have their own casters make it it'll be weaker. The spell isn't hard to cast but the effects are tiny if it's not someone as powerful as Nefreti casting it. 

 

The obvious way to compare to a headband would be to ask people drinking the wine how much more they'd pay if it worked like a headband, but I don't know anyone to have tried that."

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"Not really cheap, but yes, that sounds like potentially the sort of thing we should be stacking for everyone.  Except possibly myself, because Nefreti Clepati is not allowed to help me in any way, theoretically, so I'm not going to be drinking her wine, she might stop making it."

"I'll push again on talking with the planners and decisionmakers on this, today.  Looking back, my behavior in Cheliax did not make sense, even on its own terms, because I felt embarrassed about pushing harder on issues like that.  And there's aspects of this that you may or may not have thought about, for example, that it will probably be to our advantage to buy a large number of intelligence headbands from Cheliax."

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"Can't you just ask if you drinking the wine will make her stop making it or not? - I don't think you can get an etiquette waiver for the pharaoh."

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"Sure, I could try asking if I'm visiting Ione anyways, which is also something I was thinking of trying to do today."

"I've been advised that the pharaoh has sufficiently good augmented reading-people skills that it verges on Detect Thoughts.  If that's true, it sounds like I should in any case not be meeting him in person and just - working through the equivalent of whatever you have for a text channel around here, like transcribing words that get sent back and forth after a short time delay."

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"I'm not sure why you don't want him to get a look at you, but sure, I guess writing's sort of like an etiquette waiver, you could go through - hm, not his wives, his husband maybe or one of the advisors."

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"I actually think it'd be really valuable for you to meet and speak to the Pharaoh. The fact a Chelish person tried to warn you off it makes me think more strongly it's a good idea, honestly. Do you have a price in mind to be comfortable speaking to him directly?"

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"Asmodia stated under Osirion-supervised truthspell that she wasn't loyal to Cheliax.  And I do not want my mind read anymore.  I am happy to communicate with people in ways that don't result in my private state of mind being revealed.  We can pass each other notes under a doorframe."

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"I don't know what Asmodia's deal is but I do not think she was acting in your sincere best interests when she claimed to you that the Pharaoh has 'sufficiently good augmented reading-people skills that it verges on Detect Thoughts'. He's hard to lie to even without Abadar's Truthtelling up, but I think there's a pretty dramatic difference, morally and pragmatically, between 'can generally notice being lied to/misled' and 'has effectively Detect Thoughts'. Lots of people in Cheliax also have spectacular Sense Motive. 

If not for my concern that Cheliax told Asmodia this for some reason, or that whatever actor she serves in this drama doesn't share our interests, I wouldn't really have any concerns about you communicating with the pharaoh only in writing, though, so we can start with that."

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"All right.  And I probably should get started on talking to people."

"I did not really have this situation in mind when I built my contract with Cheliax but I did put in provisions related to us parting ways.  They need to account for the spellsilver they refine as income to the Project, they need to account for the headbands they build as if they were being sold to the Chelish government, and the defense against them understating that price is that I can buy those same goods from them at the price they state.  Modulo various other provisions, they can always keep at least half of it for themselves, they can package up goods and price the package to prevent me from adversarially sniping fairly priced goods that were key to a larger supply chain, etcetera etcetera."

"The point being, unless there's provisions in there with effects I do not understand, as your own legal experts might know about, either Cheliax has to cause a lot of income to accrue to the Project in terms of selling themselves spellsilver and headbands, some of which I can withdraw for myself via the Project repurchasing some of my shares, or they may try underpricing them, and in that case we come in and buy half of it from them.  I'm trying to think of whether I'm sufficiently mad at them that we'd come in and buy half of their production even if they do fairly price it to the Project, just to deny those resources to Cheliax.  But I'd just as soon let them make the first asshole move on Project contract treatment, so that I can tear into them using other provisions with a clear conscience."

"Assuming, of course, that Carissa Sevar does not successfully model my thinking that way."

"It doesn't really seem like the sort of thing that can wait or that requires me to be at full brainpower."

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"That makes sense. We can get you some lawyers with expertise with Cheliax to look at the contract in more detail now that they can ask you questions, and figure out how they might try cheating you."

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"How did you already have a copy of - because Abadar.  Right.  Well, if your lawyers didn't catch anything on a first pass that substantially ups my probability that we can get some mileage here."

"Merenre, I'm sorry to keep pushing on this, but I need to know my next step for being with people in a specific place and time to plot the next iteration of... Project Lawful Neutral?  If I'm not supposed to talk to you about that, then I need to know who to talk to and where to find them.  I didn't push like this in some conversations in Cheliax, and that, in retrospect, was an error."

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"The next step is asking Ione, Nefreti's representatives, and the representatives of the allied countries that are sending people here to learn from Ione when they can make it here for an emergency meeting. Many of them will need to arrange a teleport, but I'd expect we can plan something for tomorrow."

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"Are all of those allied representatives just - putting themselves into the presence of the Pharaoh's Sense Motive?  Do they have reading-blocking skills or do they just not care?"

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"He mostly just uses this ability to give people good presents. And I'm pretty sure it's still my brother and not the pharaoh coaching Merenre on what to get me for my birthday, so he doesn't even do that obsessively."

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"Sorry, I still have trouble reading Osirian intonations.  Fe-Anar, that was a joke not a literally true statement right?"

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"No, that's true, measuring by instances of use he mostly uses his uncanny people skill to give out presents.  And matchmake. See, if you have a reputation for being impossible to lie to, then people mostly don't try."

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"...that's really not what I would expect to be true about somebody running a country, the way that countries work in Golarion.  I would expect the Pharaoh to be meeting with representatives of foreign countries and determining their intentions.  Or is the Pharaoh just not - the analogue of the Chief Executive of Civilization, but more like - the old retired executive who serves as an advisor to somebody else?"

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"There's a ruling council for day to day management of the country, but He absolutely does receive representatives of foreign countries, and use His impressive sensibilities to pick out thoughtful and sometimes pointed presents for them."

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"I too think he should get a real job.[Kind of serious but not at all reflecting a consensus position.]"

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"Many people in Golarion have good Sense Motive. It is very usual to go out of your way to avoid being around them if you are a random person who doesn't want to be caught up in important doings, but no one would send a diplomatic representative who felt uncomfortable being seen by someone with particularly good Sense Motive."

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"Problem being, I am not a 'diplomatic' representative, and I have not learned whatever defenses they have."

"Is the trans-regional meeting to pull together a new Project a matter for the management committee, or one where I need to worry about staying out of totally-not-mindreading range of the Pharaoh?"

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"If you think this is a matter of such overriding importance that never mind whether we'll default on our debts in six months we should pour everything we have into it, then the Pharaoh will need to be present."

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"I hadn't particularly modeled that as a live option for clerics of Abadar.  Does Abadar not just immediately decleric you if you borrow money you're not planning to pay back?"

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"I imagine He would. Also it'd cause immense longlasting harm to the financial system and to Osirion, and a lot of people would starve to death. That's why the Pharaoh needs to be in the room for discussions about taking emergency measures - because no one else has the right to weigh those tradeoffs."

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"I will see what I can do about avoiding tradeoffs like that, and would mostly expect to succeed if other countries in Golarion are also taking this at all seriously.  Though it won't particularly help credibility, or so I imagine, if I have to hide behind a door and pass notes around - are the representatives likely to have high Sense Motive?  Is there no standard defense against this thing?"

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"The standard defense against people having good Sense Motive is to be good at concealing your facial expressions. The pharaoh could promise not to take any actions based off inferences He makes from looking at you?"

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"I'd buy that from Iomedae.  I'd buy that from a Keeper.  If the Pharaoh is such that he has that for sale, I'm frankly impressed."

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"He's an aspect of Abadar. That's the whole point of everything we're doing, as this country, to be able to wield Law like the gods do while not being subject to the constraints the gods are."

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"How does the aspect thing work, exactly?  Did Abadar overwrite part of the pharaoh with better math the way Nethys is said to accidentally overwrite people?  Because I thought that the whole point of this was that my Civilization knew things about Law that Abadar otherwise had no way of communicating.  Is the pharaoh, like, 10% made out of Abadar, 1%, does he have a particular new brain organ that does a thing..."

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"None of those, he's just selected based on having the best grasp of how to align Himself with Abadar, and then communicates with other shards of Abadar as much as that's permitted, and it's permitted more as He becomes more shaped like part of Abadar. ....I would also have confidence in Aspexia Rugatonn with this commitment, if that's a helpful comparison."

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"Not as much as one might hope.  I would not feel particularly comfortable right now with Aspexia Rugatonn using a Detect Thoughts item on me but promising not to use the knowledge for anything, even assuming that she otherwise keeps her compacts.  There would be, for example, the question of what happens if Abrogail turns around and reads her, or Asmodeus, for that matter."

"But I'll take it under advisement.  If there was some way for him to not read me in the first place it would be a lot more helpful."

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"You could....wear a veil?"

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"Body language.  Tone of voice."

"Separate topic.  How do you think I am on safely leaving the Black Dome, for example to visit the Temple of the All-Seeing Eye?"

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"We can send you with security that ought to be adequate to get you to safety from most possible attackers. There's nothing we can do if Achaekek shows up or something. In combination with an augury, I think we can be looking at less than a one in a hundred chance of something horrible happening, but it's hard to get it down much lower than that."

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"Achaekek?"

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"A powerful servant of the gods which kills those who aspire to divinity, supposedly. It was much scarier before prophecy broke, because it'd just occasionally show up, eat a helpless child who apparently had a great destiny."

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Was he that obvious?  Probably yes.  There's all kinds of possible reasons why somebody in a palace library would ask a bunch of questions about the Starstone, but possibility isn't the same as probability.

"And people wonder why I don't want anyone reading my mind," Keltham doesn't say, because maybe it's a bluff.

"I suppose that could be part of the reason why Aroden put up defenses around the Starstone, though it'd be pretty impressive if that could keep a god out," Keltham says instead.  "I probably want to visit Ione today, I don't actually see the danger diminishing with time, as other countries hear about my being here.  How do I set that up?"

He's also been advised to visit Sothis's slave markets quickly before they can clean them up.  But it doesn't seem a wise thing to do to his brain, and - it does not necessarily - it may not, at this point, affect any of Keltham's other decisions, what kind of slavery exists in Osirion.

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"Let me speak to the Palace guard. I expect they can escort you any time starting twenty minutes from now."

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"...if I asked for the ability to wander around Sothis, stop in at a bookseller or two, would the Palace guard consider that also feasible?"

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"I don't think that adds much to the risk, and it is of course your risk to take."

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"I'll probably do that then.  But I should maybe get an explanation of the whole weird treatment of women thing, before I set out, in case I accidentally end up married to Nefreti Clepati."

"I apologize, but something about this conversation seems to be very not good for me.  Not sure why.  I'll go - look over the list of people who volunteered to answer questions for money, and pick, I don't know, one of the palace concubines maybe.  Then set out for the Temple of the All-Seeing Eye after that... no, poke around Sothis first, being seen going to the Temple of the All-Seeing Eye might alert somebody and then it'd be more dangerous to wander the city."

"I would also suggest having me talk to a Very Serious - to somebody on the regional management committee about the Project v2, before the international representatives all get there tomorrow, but it's your administrative region."

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"I can send someone this afternoon to explain to you who to expect, what their interests are, and so on." He is very concerned about Keltham and not particularly concealing it.

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Keltham isn't going to say anything reassuring, or even misleadingly reassuring-sounding.  He doesn't lie, and defeasibly prefers not to deceive; if he must deceive he prefers smaller deceptions to larger ones.

He'll give them the brief dath ilani departure courtesies, and then depart to check over his list of question-answerers.

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The most generous bids are all from priests of Abadar, but not all of the bids that offer to pay him are; there are some smaller-sum offers to pay him ten gold, from a palace concubine, or six silver, from a palace cook, or a baby dinosaur, from a palace three-year-old.

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...he will check later on this word that translates as 'dinosaur' to make sure that's not an actual dinosaur.

Keltham will select a concubine who wants to be paid five silvers.  He does not want to be paid himself, and worry about whether he's delivering what the other person thought and hoped they were buying.

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Someone will send for her! ...Keltham will be meeting with her on one of these beautiful balconies overlooking a courtyard full of fountains and overlooked by some other balconies, if that's all right.

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"If I'm tagging along for this too then we could do it privately as that counts as chaperoned."

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A sensible person might worry that they'd get less straight answers from a palace concubine if there was a prince standing nearby.

This would rely on the person in question having grasped the concept of 'power distance' on any intuitive level whatsoever.

Narrator's voiceover:  Keltham hasn't.

"...you know what, sure.  It seems like a waste of your valuable time, but I guess it's more of me speaking Baseline, if you haven't run out of Share Language yet."

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"I haven't!!!"

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- if Keltham has still not grasped the concept of power distance at all, then he might be slightly confused when the woman whose bid was accepted walks into the room, takes in Fe-Anar, and immediately and gracefully kneels. 

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"I'm going to give you Share Language (Baseline) so I can pick up Baseline vocabulary while Keltham talks to you," he says cheerfully, and taps her through her sleeve. "It's a very good language! They invented it themselves!"

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"Keltham out of dath ilan.  Why'd you suddenly kneel, 'kneel'?  If all women have to do that every time they enter a room, I'm giving up on Osirion and moving this operation to Rahadoum."

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" - it's because that's the Prince Fe-Anar, uh," she struggles for an honorific and isn't turning up any, "powerful-person. Men would kneel too."

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"I really hadn't read Fe-Anar as the type."

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" - as a prince? You can tell from the robes, they're more expensive than other peoples' and not standardized like the priests."

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"Wait, so people are also supposed to do that with, like, Merenre?  What do people have to do when the Pharaoh walks by, flop all the way onto the floor?"

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"...well, yes, powerful-person."

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"You don't have to speak Baseline.  The spell is that so I can speak Baseline to you, and Fe-Anar can listen and pick up my intonations, and signal me any time I use a vocabulary word he doesn't recognize so I can define it and add it to his set."

"Would I be correct if I conjectured that Fe-Anar has multiple times tried to get people to stop doing this to him, and been shot down every time?  'Shot down', ignored / counterargued / dismissed."

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She'll switch back to Osiriani. "I don't know, sir."

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"It's bad for everyone's Law, if they stop following all the rules just because the rules are arbitrary and stupid. So it's a bit rude to tell them to and I only do it when it's really, really wasting a lot of time."

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"Law is exactly not doing stuff that's arbitrary and stupid, unless you like really want to or something.  I'd ask if Pharasma has a way to submit bug reports - that's stories about an error in the system and what you were doing when you got the error - for her alignment system, but I'd guess going on the general tenor of Golarion that the answer is no."

"But, not the primary topic!  I have, at this point, gotten somewhat different stories on women getting some sort of weird treatment in Osirion, from sources that included my Chelish girlfriend, a seventh-circle priest of Abadar who was actually an illusion being operated by my Chelish girlfriend, a couple of books that were secretly edited by people acting under the orders of my Chelish girlfriend, and some brief confusing conversations in actual Osirion suggesting that a lot of what my Chelish girlfriend said was actually true."

"So, like, what the actual ass is going on here?  What are they doing, what's their stated reasons for doing it, and why do women put up with it?"

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"Women can become pregnant, and men can't. I assume you knew that and it's not the answer that you're looking for, but it'd be an unkind abuse of your time, if trying to sound clever I neglected to say that part first."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, we definitely want to start with the basics here, yes.  My home dimension has pregnancies, they take nine months and afterwards you want to breastfeed the kid for a couple of years."

"It doesn't have involuntary pregnancies, because everybody has constant contraception running and two people need to deliberately turn it off in order for anybody to get pregnant."

"I do not think, however, that removing all the contraception from my home dimension would cause women to stop being able to own property."

"If we then further reduced everyone's income by a factor of 100, women would still be able to own property."

"If we reduced everybody's Intelligence by 7, and deleted everybody's knowledge of math, I'd still expect that women would end up able to own property, because, like, why wouldn't they."

"So I'm guessing that it has something to do with magic and gods and afterlives, somehow."

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"I'm actually not sure it does, sir. Say you have a farm, and in that farm, they live off grain that grows by the river, and only men are strong enough to pull the plow and plant the grain. Boy children are valuable, as they'll grow up to be able to work the farm; girl children aren't valuable, because they need to eat and they can't grow grain. If that family has twins in a year when there's not enough grain, they'll expose the girl, and raise the boy. He's a better investment. Right?"

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"Why not take the same logic further?  By hypothesis, girl children have less value than boy children; so kill all the girl children all the time."

"Seems like a more sustainable long-term strategy if boys could, in fact, get pregnant."

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"They'd rather not kill their girl children, because people don't like killing their children and also it's Evil, so they won't do it unless it's a year where there's not enough grain. But yes, if there's been a famine, then when those boys grow up they'll have trouble finding wives, and that'll make having girls more appealing, and that balances out, though where it balances out depends on how much women can contribute to the production of food, and it's different in different places. 

...anyway, what you can do with girl children, if there's more than one farm in this story of ours, is marry them out. Girls are a luxury; farms that are producing an excess of grain, because they've got better land, or better luck, or a smidge of magic, can afford them. They're not very much of a luxury, they come close to earning their keep, and of course people do want wives, and heirs, so if they're running a little bit of margin, on the grain, they'll look to take a wife. In places where a woman is an economic liability, her parents will pay her husband to take her from them. There are also places where a woman is an economic asset, and her husband pays her parents for her, but we're not talking about those."

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"So if I can improve ironforging and steelmaking techniques and produce sharper plows that can cut the land easily enough for a woman to push them, the entire current system of gender relations is upset?"

Carissa would like that not thinking that.

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"Yes, sir. There are other things going on, but they are all things that built up around the fact that women are weaker than men, and that they're frequently pregnant, and that under normal conditions at least where I grew up, it's less in a family's interests to keep a daughter alive than a son."

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"Where I come from, people with -1sd thinkoomph, sd is square root of the average squared deviation from average, thinkoomph is a broader metric that includes Intelligence and Wisdom and some other things, tended to usually be less economically productive and earn lower salaries than people with +1sd thinkoomph.  We didn't, like, exclude the -1s from owning property.  In your terms that'd be Intelligence 14s or 15s, who are less productive than Intelligence 18s and 19s."

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"- so our farm hasn't gotten around to 'owning property' yet, sir. It's got a man, and his wife, and their children, only they married out the daughters, so their sons, and their sons' wives. In most places, the land is actually owned by a noble far away, who everyone pays tribute to, and no one in this story can own property.

But perhaps the Pharaoh has come to Sothis, and declared independence from the Keleshites and told all their nobles to go back to Qadira, and told the farmers, that land you work, now it is not owned by distant nobles, but every farm is owned by the family that works it, and the head of each family can go to the temple of Abadar, and get documents of ownership of their land."

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"Back up.  'Property' doesn't just mean land, it means - the clothes you wear, the food your land produces, some of which you trade for shoes - shoes, foot-clothes - can women own that or is it just that they can't own land?  Or did the faraway 'nobles' also own all the food crops and shoes produced, and if so, how did anybody get shoes?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The nobles own the food-crops, sir, though if they have any sense they leave you enough to survive on. They own the livestock, I think, in most places that have nobles.

The house makes or trades for clothes to wear and those I don't think the nobles usually take. If they're reasonably well off, the woman has shoes, though there's certainly no court she could go to, if her husband for some strange reason took her shoes from her. Even if they're poor, she has her wedding jewelry he gave her when he took her as his wife, and that's hers; if he steals it from her or makes her sell it all their friends would condemn him, and warn him he might not make Axis, conducting himself like that. In modern Osirion she could go to a court if he took her wedding jewelry. 

When people say that women can't own property in Osirion, they don't mean that she does not wear clothes, and they mostly don't know about the wedding jewelry, that's not a custom in other places. They mean that the land and the foodcrops are legally owned by the household, as are any profits they've saved from last year's foodcrops, and that the household is headed by her husband, except in cases where she's been widowed without adult sons or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Because the men are physically stronger and formed a collective faction that violently subjugated the women, and women here are not well-coordinated enough to stab all the men like that in their sleep?  I guess that's harder if you literally don't own knives... no, you've got plows, you should have other sharp objects?"

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"If we stabbed all the men we'd starve, sir. Because of the thing where grain farming requires male strength levels."

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"Okay, I'm not seeing a way out of that one.  The last time I had this conversation I was under the impression that, okay, you just went to the afterlife, but if killing people is Evil and then you go to Hell, that's not much of an option either, is it."

"I'd say, see, it reduces to afterlives after all, except that in dath ilan where afterlives don't exist... no, in dath ilan, if you're this far back in technological time, you know you're dying the True Death at the end of your life no matter what.  So you might as well stab the man exploiting you and die immediately instead of living a little longer while being exploited."

"Okay, it is about the afterlives and the alignment system.  That checks."

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"Women often also don't want to kill their husband because their children need a father, and they don't want their children to starve and then to never see them again. The afterlives are important, but it would be a hard thing, to say goodbye to your children forever even if you know they'll go to the Boneyard and won't be tortured there or anything.

Even if I were sure of Axis I wouldn't kill my husband unless he was a danger to me or the children, and I'd probably try other things first."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Does your husband have the power to grant you the ability to own property?  Or if not, does he track that - your shoes are yours, within the larger property system that says they're his?  There's such a thing as the right choice for a man to make, even in a situation like that.  And if he's doing his best, or trying to a reasonable degree, you stab the people who do maintain the system, not your husband who's doing the best he can."

"Actually, I think you could probably get pretty far just stabbing the worst quarter of men every fifteen years?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

Usually when clerics of Abadar have plans to tackle sexism they are incredibly annoying plans that presume that everyone involved is just being a rational economic agent and not hurting people for their own benefit because they want to.

 

This one has unusually interesting plans to tackle sexism! That seems promising!

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Do not do ANYTHING with the anomaly.

Do not ADD CLERIC LEVELS to it.

Do not make anyone AROUND it a cleric.

Do not drop FOUR ORACLE LEVELS on anyone especially if they are going to CONTINUE hanging around the anomaly.

Otolmens is TRYING to get the anomaly back in the anomaly containment zone and MEANWHILE all of the gods should LEAVE IT ALONE even if it is NOT IN THE ZONE RIGHT THIS TIME-UNIT.

Permalink Mark Unread

If Otolmens murders the worst quarter of men in the world, then there'd be no need to try to convince this random Abadaran to do it.

Permalink Mark Unread

Otolmens will CONSIDER it if Calistria can arrange for the anomaly to go BACK IN THE ANOMALY CONTAINMENT ZONE.

Otolmens can figure out whether a mortal is a 'men' without TOO much effort.  Can Calistria define for Otolmens which quarter of men are the WORST ones?

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"- well, I can't speak for anyone else, sir, but if people figured out who the 'worst quarter' of men were and came to my house to kill my husband and sons, I'd stab them."

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"A very reasonable attitude, if your husband is not, like, making you work, keeping the stuff you make, and then not letting you trade it for things that you are then allowed to keep.  If your husband is like that -"

"Oh wait.  Is this a perverted thing?  Uh, perversion, making sex more complicated.  Like, the Osirian equivalent of 'masochism'?"

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".....no, sir. I mean, obviously while you're trying to make your marriage work you can end up in lots of weird places, but a normal young woman is not thinking, 'oh, I hope my husband's cruel to me', she's hoping he's reasonable and hardworking and makes her rich and doesn't hit her without provocation."

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"Okay, I was about to ask if I was coming at this the wrong way and the whole system was voluntary and maybe you could just opt out by cutting your hair in a locally stereotypically masculine hairstyle and then you'd be allowed to have your own money.  But that is again sounding like the women are being forced by violence into a system where they're not having fun and they'd prefer a different system."

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"Well, it depends on the different system. Sarenrae's church fights for women's concerns in Garund and Casmaron. They say things like that we should raise the minimum age of marriage, and if a man was poor when he married but is rich ten years later he should be obliged to buy his wife more wedding jewelry, and that a man shouldn't be allowed to take a second wife if his first one says he's lousy. Those would all be popular, if you asked women.

If you ask whether we want things to be like they are in Avistan, where everyone's a whore - no. I've talked to women who want that, but - only two of them, and I've done orientation for hundreds of new concubines."

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"I wish everyone in Avistan was a sex worker.  I had one girlfriend who'd name a price for anything in either direction and the rest were like 'oh no if we're ever financially legible to Keltham we'll be in the same referenceclass, "category", as women who get pregnant and die in the street even though we are all at least second-circle wizards who know Alter Self!'.  Though I suppose that all could have been a lie, and if it was I will be annoyed even considering everything else they lied to me about.  I'd just arrived from another dimension and had barely any idea what a gold piece was worth and nobody in Cheliax would tell me whether sex here was valued at like one copper or a thousand gold pieces or what!"

"Sorry, none of that is your problem.  But I'm not getting what the connection is between 'can own things' and 'is sex worker'.  Is the idea that if women own things, they will inevitably realize they can trade sex for money?"

"Sidenote Fe-Anar, most men and women in dath ilan have both paid for and sold sex at some point, the word 'sex worker' actually means a professional good enough to make a living at it, but I'm repurposing it to mean 'has ever been paid for sex' since Baseline doesn't have a native word for 'whore', end sidenote Fe-Anar."

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"So, in Osirion, most women will only lie with a man if he's married her. There are prostitutes, they're not illegal, but there's not many, and you certainly can't bring them to parties, and they're not a very appealing substitute for a long-term romantic relationship. So if a man wants a serious relationship, and regular access to a woman's bed, he'd better make himself a good candidate for marriage and then go persuade someone to marry him. 

Marriage is a lifelong commitment. A man promises to provide for his wife and for any children she bears him, to pay for treatment if she's sick within whatever his abilities are, to provide her with a home and protect her and her children from danger, and to greet her with love. In return, a woman promises to obey her husband, to steward his money wisely and raise his children well, to be faithful to him and to greet him with love. 

Some marriages break down, and the couple ends up living separately or barely speaking to each other. But still, they are bound by these promises; and a woman can go to the Osirian state if her husband isn't providing for her family, and get money drawn out of his bank account if he has one, and get him prevented from remarrying. 

Because of all this, it's actually very rare, for even a girl-child to be left outside to die of exposure when she's born. You marry someone who can provide for your children, and then your children don't starve; that is the whole promise, here, that if you refrain from recklessly having sex without the safety of marriage then you won't have to watch your children starve.

 

In Avistan they don't do any of that very much. Some girls will have sex with you even when you haven't married them. Because some girls can do that, no girls can hold out for a lifelong promise to provide for them; why would a man offer them that, when he could just go have sex with all the girls who'll offer it for free? No one would get married, so they made a sort of fake marriage that you can break at any time, and they all do that. Women are, in a sense, freer. They aren't chaperoned. Because no man will provide for them, it's more important for their families to figure out how they'll provide for themselves, so more of them are financially independent, though also many, many more of them starve, or are killed by a man they trusted and shouldn't have, or die of an abortion. Many of them feel that there's something wrong, something missing, that things shouldn't be like this, but those ones simply don't lie with anyone at all; they can't find any men who'd be worth trusting. 

Our society demands virtue of men and virtue of women, and constrains them so that they can't do whatever they like but they won't go hungry. Avistan demands no virtue of anyone, and they do as they like, and they kill the babies that result and then they go to Hell, or Abaddon, or the Abyss, and it just doesn't sound like a very good trade, really. If you say the wrong things about women's liberation people think you're proposing they raise their girls into Avistani whores -- by which I don't even mean they pay for sex, just that they offer it outside of marriage -- and they'll hate that idea and stop listening to you."

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"...so it's a conspiracy by the women themselves, to prevent competition between women and maintain sex at an artificially high price, allegedly for the sake of raising children because otherwise why would any man pay to raise a child, and the men are also trapped in that, it sounds like to me.  The husbands beat the wives.  The wives, I assume, beat any woman who tries - what I'd consider normal dating.  Check?"

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" - you don't beat someone, if she's gone around sleeping with men, you just stay away from her. It'll ruin her life, but not because anyone did anything. I guess you'd tell your sons not to marry her, because she has terrible impulse control and is probably infertile?"

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"And then she ends up in an awful 'afterlife', which is, I suppose, what underpins the whole system, what Pharasma arbitrarily defines as 'Evil' or 'Chaotic'... Calistria is 'Chaotic Neutral', not because she's doing something contrary to decision theory, but because decision theory itself as correctly applied by female sex workers is opposed to Asmodean/Osirian power relations which are 'Lawful Evil' and 'Lawful Neutral' respectively..."

"You know, Cheliax tried to sell me on a bunch of sexual behaviors like that being 'Evil', but apparently that was a false advertisement for 'Evil' and they were actually just 'Lawful'?  I guess that makes sense, Abadar wouldn't have 'clericed' me if he wasn't on board with my 'sadism'."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - no, sir, whatever they do in Cheliax is definitely Evil. Marriage is Lawful, it's - structuring your life around a promise made to protect the long-term interests of both parties. Cheliax doesn't have that, because they don't want people promising to protect and care for one another."

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"They were pretending not to be Evil, or rather, they were pretending about what Evil was.  Supposedly, Carissa was going to obey me and wanted to obey me, and - wanted me to be in charge, wanted me to be cruel to her and hit her, I'll have to check the transcripts for what she said under Osirion-verified truthspell but it sounded like - maybe that part was not a lie - and I had qualms about this - 'qualms', a sense that something violates your deontology, 'deontology', simple rules you obey instead of calculating out the exact consequences of things - which is why I did not buy her from Cheliax when Cheliax offered her to me and now I do not have her, which, I don't even know, now, if that was good or bad.  But it sounds like basically the same thing you have in Osirion, except that, at least the way they presented it, Carissa wanted to be hit, and wasn't trying to corner me into that relationship via a monopoly on sex enforced by ostracizing women who try to go on dates and preventing them from fleeing your country by not letting them earn money or own things."

Keltham can now talk about this without having a crying fit.  Good for Keltham!  He will probably be fairly recovered by tomorrow at this rate.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't think that's the thing we have in Osirion, sir. If you retain the option to get bored or meet someone better or get angry with her and leave her as soon as you feel like it, then that's nothing like marriage. Osirians would have told you that you could take this woman as your wife, if she desired it and you desired it, and that she would obey you and be faithful to you, and if hitting your wife worked out well for your marriage then by all means you should do so, and in exchange you would be committing to protect her, to see that she didn't go hungry, to arranging her shelter and medical care and supporting the children."

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"I would have done that anyways."

"It would not need to be enforced upon me."

"Fe-Anar, and - your name was on the price-list sheet but I don't remember it - please excuse me and leave me alone for a few minutes, I will come out when it's okay for you to come back."

Never mind that part about not having a crying fit!  But nobody could blame Keltham at this point!  He is still definitely doing better than yesterday.

Permalink Mark Unread

They'll step out into the hallway, then.

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It's a bad one.  Keltham wants to scream, or maybe just let out a thin wailing sound, but he does not have a Silence spell chambered and the area does not look particularly soundproofed.  Possibly he should start carrying around a Silence scroll?

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"Sorry about the delay.  Let's resume?"

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"Yes, sir."

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"Fe-Anar, what's 'sir' mean in Osirian?"

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"It's a generic, uh, title used to indicate respect and importance."

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Not worth arguing over.

"So I think I have a basic model of what went wrong."

"I am very sure, going on how my whole society worked, and also the way I feel, that I would not need this -"  Baseline, of course, does not have a word for blasphemy.  "- awful setup, to be convinced to take care of my kids."

"Why?  Because, though we don't know our history any more, dath ilan would not have had this setup.  Dads who didn't take care of their kids, just had fewer kids, until there were fewer dads like that."

"You set up a situation so that men who didn't care about their children could be forced to take care of their children anyways, you set up a way for men like that to be reproductively competitive with men who just cared, and that, in fact, was a mistake."

"Over in Absalom, where, as I understand it according to some things people have said in Osirion, men and women are not forcing themselves to behave this way, do you know how many surviving children the average man or woman has, on average, including all the men and women who just don't have kids in the first place?"

"Two."

"And do you know what the number in Osirion is?"

"Two."

"Any other number and the population quickly goes to zero or infinity.  But that's not what actually happens, if the number goes up or down, what happens is that there's fewer people working better land so that fewer of their children starve, or people more crowded in cities with more epidemics, until the number goes back to roughly two."

"That's what all of this awfulness bought you, in the end.  Two surviving children per man, two surviving children per woman, on average."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...but in Absalom, sir, that number is bought with tons of dead children, and abortions, and in Osirion it isn't, and that seems much better."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Osirion's population is actually growing, and has been since independence. It's three, close to four surviving children per woman."

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Keltham did not understand why woman-whose-name-he-forgot was mentioning 'abortions' in the same breath as 'dead children', unless Fe-Anar has a contagious misapprehension about the Baseline meaning of the term and she is trying to say 'dead infants', since neither fetuses nor infants have qualia.  Or maybe she was expressing 'abortions' to include dead infants, and distinguishing dead children?  That would make sense, but why is abortion even a bad thing on these relative scales?

Keltham is in the middle of expressing a different important-seeming thought, and fails to chase down this slight note of confusion because he does not know exactly which slight notes of confusion are important and he has been feeling them almost constantly throughout this conversation!

"I'd say 'good for Osirion' except for the part where that's not actually a figure of merit, Civilization could easily have ten kids per couple if we wanted there to be five billion people in twenty years, but that is not in fact a desideratum."

"So I can guess where the next arc of the story is going at this point.  Turns out, everywhere on Golarion is awful in different ways, 'Lawful' is not, careful reasoning, and 'Good' is not Light, Golarion probably doesn't have a concept for that, and somehow I'm supposed to build Civilization out of that from scratch rather than being given an overly convenient existing base to build on anywhere.  The gol ilani need their own territory, aren't able to fit into any existing system, they're recruited from the misfits of all the existing regions -"

"What's horribly wrong with Lastwall?  Iomedae seemed cool.  For that matter, the god I prayed to is not a god who would countenance anyone not being allowed to keep stuff they make it and trade it with others."

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" - what's He supposed to do about bad husbands, sir, smite them with lightning? So then their families starve?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Let people escape.  Consider that your personal favorite system does not work for everyone.  There are always weirdos and they need to have a right to exist.  Build an exception handler - a way for weird things to not be total errors inside the system - into your region's clever regulations.  That's step one.  Any woman who wants it can go get herself registered as Not In The System, and maybe that means she can never have a husband inside Osirion, any man who wants to date her maybe has to go get registered as Not In The System and can never have a wife from inside the system, fine.  You can protect your closed system of people for whom that system works, they have a right not to be around people who aren't part of their favorite system.  But if someone doesn't want to be inside the system, let them out."

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"You can petition to be the head of your own household, including as a woman, though you have to actually be financially independent, you can't do it if someone else is feeding and sheltering you. And you can get on a ship to Absalom, if you want, it's not illegal to leave."

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"No.  No rules like that.  Just let them out of the system.  In dath ilan, yes, this is as simple as just getting on a vehicle to a different city.  If the nearest different cities were on the Moon, meaning, even in Civilization most people couldn't afford a ticket there without a lot of saving, you'd need an escape option that people can actually reasonably take before regions could be allowed to pass fun clever regional regulations about perverted marriage arrangements where the women can't have money."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, sir, I expect you'll get what you want, but I don't really expect anyone'll thank you for it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If nobody would thank me for it then nobody would invoke the newly installed Exception Handler and everything would be exactly the same - am I missing another Golarion doomfact here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know, sir, but it wouldn't surprise me, if we follow all the people who get declared the heads of households they have no means to support, if almost all of them regretted it immensely ten years later, and if they mostly didn't make Axis, and if their children mostly died."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Doesn't Osirion have - no it recently developed predictionmarkets, 'prediction markets', and there's still one guy Merenre whose guesses are just better than the markets."

"Are you running experiments.  Has anyone at any point said, 'I'd like to set up a tiny piece of Avistan inside Osirion and collect a bunch of men and women who strongly want out of the current system and see what happens with them, and we'll run Early Judgment on all of them in ten years, and we'll pay to turn the ones who aren't heading towards an acceptable afterlife into statues pending Keltham and/or Iomedae doing something about the Evil afterlives.'  That sort of thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - can't afford that, but we do household and population surveys, and then scry a sample after they die to see where they ended up, to try to have a better understanding of what laws and social conditions work best to get people to Axis."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is this entire planet some kind of ass-forsaken moral homily about how the only important thing in life is money because without that you're too poor to do things?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I really think you'd do better, sir, if you stopped trying to look for morals and the next arc of the story and tried asking people what would make their lives better if you want to help them."

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"Yes, and the answer I got back from you is that somebody who says, 'Keltham, please stop helping the Osirian government until they let me earn and spend wealth, like the god you thought you were addressing would have wanted' is making a terrible mistake and if I help them they'll end up in Hell or the Maelstrom."

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, sir, that's not at all what I'm saying. If you find that person and do what that person asks you'll be doing much better than you are now."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fair enough.  If you tell me to go collect evidence first I'm not going to not go collect it."

"Fe-Anar or - can you actually just tell me your name again - do either of you know what I'd be liable to find horribly wrong about Lastwall or Mendev?  Like, what's their own variant of horribly perverted gender relations that can't be altered because something very bad will happen if anybody tries?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Zakiya, sir."

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"There are some paladins here to see you if you want and you could ask them about Lastwall."

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"I think Lastwall just tries to encourage everyone to be celibate, is that objectionable?"

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"Depends on how they do the encouraging, and what happens to anyone who defies the system, and if there's any realistic way out for people who don't fit."

"Iomedae seems cool, but I would have thought the same about the god I tried contacting, and look at Osirion.  And now I'm wondering if Asmodeus is nicer than Cheliax... imaginable but improbable, since you'd expect afterlives to move in the direction of gods' preferences compared to their influenced Golarion regions, eg the putatively Axis city I saw in Early Judgment seemed like a brighter place than Osirion, and putative Hell in my vision did not look nicer than Cheliax."

"I'm about to head into Sothis.  Do you have recommendations on evidence I should gather while I'm out, according to you, in order to understand things better?  Do I just randomly sample women on the street and ask them if they'd prefer to be able to own property, get uniformly 'no', maybe try verifying one case with a truthspell to make sure they're not being forced to lie, and then that proves your point?"

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"What I would do, sir, is tell them you're a priest of Abadar collecting information on how women in Sothis engage in commerce and trade, because then they won't be bothered you're talking to them, and they won't be as tempted to lie to you. And then I'd ask them, in your household, who does the finances? Why? Would you want your daughters to do the finances in their marriage?  Do you earn money? Does your husband spend your money on drink? If you'd had the right to form your own household and be independent, before you got married, would you've done that? Do you think that would've worked out well? If you had the right to all the money you earned, and your husband had the right to all the money he earned, do you think that'd make things better or worse? If you could change one thing about your husband, what would it be?"

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"I'll have to think about whether I consider that introduction true and also not misleading."

"I'm also going to have to do that at one remove, like have Fe-Anar ask or something, if you don't want it to be really obvious that I am a priest of Abadar from another dimension.  Because otherwise that's going to be pretty obvious, there's no way I look native even with Glibness running.  I suppose I could say I'm not from anywhere near Garund and have that be true."

"That also brings up another topic, though I suspect it's more of a Fe-Anar topic.  I intend to pay back what Abadar invested in me in all good faith, but do arrangements fall apart in Osirion if I'm no longer a cleric of Abadar?  I'd still be happy to take any number of truthspells if that brings my continuing reliability into question."

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" - you don't have to stop being a cleric of Abadar if you think we're fixing Osirion too slowly. Many clerics of Abadar think that, and they write papers arguing for how to fix it faster. If you declare you want nothing to do with the church because it's insufficiently committed to fairness and trade, then Abadar will keep giving you cleric spells, that's - breaking from the church in rather the right direction.

 

I would try to keep in mind that - Osirion is a much, much better place to live than it was a hundred years ago, for everybody, and it's a hard problem we're trying to solve, and everyone has been so excited for your arrival here because you can help us fix it faster."

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"And I will help you fix it faster, regardless of whether it looks like the ancient inhuman god-thing is something I should go on trading with."

"But the story sure seems to be heading in a direction where I end up having to do all of this while being very alone."

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"There's not a story, sir, and if you alienate everybody you won't be able to fix everything."

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"Asmodia said, under Osirion-supervised truthspell, that the tropes were probably real, that she'd been temporarily turned into a dragon, that a god gave her a permanent +1 Intelligence boost, and that she was in fact asexual - someone who doesn't experience sexual desire - and had ended up as the one who stands back and watches it all."

"Nefreti Clepati said she'd explain things to Ione once they were offscreen."

"And no matter what the in-world rationalization, the fact remains that Golarion contains damage-resistant 'masochists'."

"You'd need some context to get all that.  But I think there's a story."

Keltham is still trying to figure out how to make use of the fact.  Most stories where the characters know they're in a story resist being easily manipulated by the characters, and sometimes the story makes an example out of the first character who tries, or warns them off in a way that discourages anyone from trying again.  'Do not mess with tropes' and all that.

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"Was Nefreti trying to convince you, sir, or trying to convince Cheliax?

But that's not the important bit, actually, not really.

You remind me of the Pharaoh. Not this one, his predecessor, his grandfather. He was a good man, as far as that goes. Osirion grew wealthier under his rule, and that's what matters. But no one else was ever properly real to him. When they spoke, they were just delivering the latest development in his story, the story of his rule; when they wept, it was a test to see if he was compassionate. When there was a famine, the gods had cursed him to try his commitment. When his baby died, he was paying for his hubris. 

I suppose I don't have a counterargument, if that's how you want to see the world."

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"Doesn't sound like a happy character, does it?  But this story is not apparently setting up for me to be happy, and at that point, if you're to go on playing at all, it makes more sense to speedrun the story as quickly as possible, and hope it ends with me and Carissa together again, than drag it out by futilely trying to be happy during the Osirion arc -"

"I guess I don't know that's the obvious strategy the way it would be inside a dath ilani story.  This sure isn't a dath ilani story medium, we couldn't send True Dead people to places where a-priori-unlikely events would happen around them, and the tropes - are not quite right.  A-priori-unlikely: things you wouldn't have expected before you saw them.  There's a more precise technical meaning but it takes math to explain."

"Anyways.  There's only one possible answer to that argument, in dath ilan or anywhere else, if you're reasoning validly - in a way where conclusions follow from premises."

"If the world is a story, I desire to believe it is a story; if the world is not a story, I desire not to believe it is a story; let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want."

"Whether the belief will make me happy, or unhappy, does not enter into it."

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"In a Golarion story, sir, the person who is treating everyone around them as interchangeable faces and every major event that affects billions of people as a message from the gods for them personally isn't just a sad character, they also lose, because when it matters they weren't paying attention to -

- which of the servants stole a princesses jewelry to pawn for a Remove Disease for their sick baby -

- and which of the King's advisors is glad they're here and which is unendorsedly resentful of how much money he lost on the betting markets about them -

- and who has a crush on them and who is painfully reminded of their dead brother and who overheard them talking about contraception and is resisting the urge to immediately shake them down and get an explanation of how to do it, and who wants to help them whatever it takes and who wants to help them so long as it doesn't destroy Sothis and who will keep going with or without them -"

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"My reluctance to think like I was in a story, my wanting to believe my apparent world was real so I could be happy there, is why Golarion is now facing down a Cheliax which, thanks to me, is scaling up the ability to produce spellsilver and intelligence headbands at a tenth of the current cost."

"Your people are alien to me, I am here with you trying to understand them and when I try the message I get back is 'This is huge and broken and full of children torturing each other and those children don't want you fixing them' and if reality is going to throw tiny detective stories at me on top of that then this so-called reality can burn.  Pick a different protagonist, because there are limits to how much I'm willing to suffer for a world that might not be real at all.  I was supposed to be selfish, it was my thing."

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"I see, sir."

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"I apologize for inflicting my overt emotions on you.  I don't need to be yelling at you, I need to be plotting out a path through time to destroying Asmodeus."

"I think I should be getting along to Sothis, now.  Do you get to keep the five silver or does somebody grab it away from you as soon as I'm not looking anymore?"

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"- actually in this specific case I go talk to the pharaoh and then he compensates me whatever the difference is between the five silver you pay me and what I would've charged if I'd known what this was going to be like."

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"Uh huh.  Well, I'm not going to offer to pay you more, though I got more than five silver worth of value here on my own end, because if you predictably pay upwards then people just bid downwards.  But you get to keep the money?"

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"Yes."

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"Recalculating recent evidential updates in light of this important fact."

"I'll take your advice, and head into Sothis to see if I can talk with a female that Osirion considers a woman, and I will ask them what they'd have Osirion's fate be."

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Meanwhile in Cheliax

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You might, possibly, get an overly rosy picture of how happy and functional a place Cheliax was, on average, if (a) you were inside a fortress being run by Carissa Sevar and (b) you were all carefully presenting a happy functional face to a dath ilani who might notice any subtle departures from that picture.

It is now full two days since both of these conditions abruptly ceased to obtain inside the Fortress of Law.

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People are being idiots.  Would it kill them, would it damn them to Abaddon, to wait a few weeks until Sevar gets back from her punishment, to make any changes to this perfectly good status quo?

Unfortunately, as Maillol knows all too well, if you are not literally at the Worldwound then there are limits to how useful it can be to try to clamp down on friction between your subordinates.  If you let dominance challenges resolve themselves, your subordinates resolve themselves into a stable low-tension arrangement where everyone knows who's stronger and the stronger ones are in charge.  Anything you do to influence affairs away from that creates a higher-tension arrangement which you, as superior, will have to do ongoing work to maintain.

Maillol can foresee Sevar not being incredibly happy with this unfortunate bit of project manager wisdom, nor feeling fully answered by the observation that they are supposed to be less heretical Asmodeans henceforth.  But if Sevar didn't want this to happen the moment she stepped out, she should have spent three rounds casting to prepare for it, frankly.

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The slave population in the Fortress of Law has been forced into unnatural arrangements for quite some time now.  Some minor strife now will provide both a natural release of those tensions, and an excuse to correct any unfortunate qualities of the resulting arrangement when Sevar returns from her recovery vacation with the Queen.

Besides, it will probably be good for Sevar, a start on her new Asmodeanism, if she returns to a situation that requires her to correct her slaves with fire and lash.

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Maillol and Subirachs seem to be inclined in different directions about this?  Fascinating.

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A story you could tell about Project Lawful - not the only story you could tell about Project Lawful, certainly, but a story you could tell about Project Lawful, goes like this:

 

A man arrived from another world, that had a bizarre math-inspired form of social organization and also a really extensive knowledge of chemical processes and how to improve them. He believed, apparently with complete sincerity, that the two went hand in hand, that the chemistry was a byproduct of the math-inspired form of social organization, though it was invented back in his society's screened-off history. As a result, Cheliax set its people not just to learning chemistry but also to trying to master his world's math-inspired form of social organization.

 

This was a mistake.


It's not that being interested in the math-inspired form of social organization was a mistake. Hell seems interested; they all serve Hell; that is enough reason to try to grasp it. 

But you can also just take the parts that are about how to iterate on chemical processes, and then get really rich and conquer the world. And in terms of order of operations, that one is really the important one. Especially since no one has figured out how the math-inspired form of social organization is compatible with Asmodeanism, while getting really rich and conquering the world is entirely compatible with Asmodeanism.

 

Asmodia, not that the Lady Avaricia would contemplate criticizing her in the slightest, is obviously one of the major drivers of this mistake. She was the subject of some kind of divine intervention, cementing everyone's sense that she's Very Important. She's not particularly talented at improving industrial processes. She was utterly necessary, while they had Keltham around, because the math-inspired form of social organization was important for lying to people who rely on it. But she's from the beginning conceived of the whole project as being about ilanism, instead of as being about getting rich and conquering the world.

(Much the same could be said of Sevar, but Avaricia does not say it, for it is said, don't criticize your superiors without a plan to take their job, and she has noticed that Sevar's job involves a lot of being personally tortured by the Queen of Cheliax.)

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Did Avaricia say that she was organizing a new faction inside Project Lawful, comprised of the real Asmodeans who clearly deserve to be running things while those open heretics burn in Hell or at least suffer a little under their natural superiors?

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That's a touch unsubtle, really.

 

(Yes, yes, commoners have to be idiots, but do they have to be as idiotic as they always are?)

 

 

She might say, though, that Sevar did suggest that open heresy was going to be less tolerated, going forward, and Asmodia does not seem to have fully comprehended that reprimand, which suggests the Project might be wanting for competent, loyal, non-heretical leadership.

Who correctly understand the primary objective of the Project as conquering the world for Asmodeus, and who have justifiably been chafing under Asmodia's heretical and also incompetent direction.

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Okay!  You're now the 'Church' faction!  Which would make Asmodia's faction the 'Crown' faction!

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SHIT.

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They prefer the term 'Sevar loyalists', actually.

Asmodia is not in charge of the Sevar loyalists.  They are sufficiently intelligent to compute their own best interests in unison and move in coordination.

They may not be ilani, as yet, but there is no point in letting themselves fall that far short of ilani.

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That's an interesting, not Asmodean, not-at-all-functional way to run a project.

 

She wishes them good luck at it.

 

 

Asmodeus's loyalists will be following orders. They'll punish heresy, because actually, heresy is bad, and heresy on this project has distracted it from what should be its singleminded aim on improving chemical processes. Those of them who are officially Asmodia's subordinates will obey her, because that's what Asmodeans do, until such a time as they can arrange a transfer to work under a real Asmodean and not a heretic.

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It's an excellent bet that when Sevar returns to define what new behavior patterns on Project Lawful will be considered heretical, she will not walk back what she previously said about needing an Asmodeanism based on truth in order for Cheliax to successfully compete against the non-Asmodean rest of Golarion.  Sevar may impose new tyranny, possibly walk back her old edict about torture, but she's pretty unlikely to withdraw the project of an Asmodeanism based on truth.

The Sevar-loyalist ilani, then, will come right out and say the truth here, as Avaricia no doubt considers terribly boorish.

Actual truth:  Avaricia is making a play to steal Project resources from Sevar.

Actual truth:  Sevar is the Chosen of Asmodeus and the favored of Abrogail Thrune, and anybody loyal to the Church or Crown would be loyal to Sevar.  Asmodia is in fact loyal to neither, but she does feel that she owes Sevar a lot of loyalty, for now and unless Sevar changes.

Actual truth:  This sort of internal backbiting - erupting the instant there is, not a power vacuum, but a power slight depression - will, if the chel ilani can't get it under control, cause Cheliax to lose.  Or are they under the impression that dath ilani projects behave like this?

Asmodia would be pretty willing to sit back and eat cookies about this, so long as Avaricia and her faction of power-hungry lunatics didn't do anything to interfere with the real work being carried on by Sevar loyalists.

However, Avaricia having now wantonly divided the project's loyalties and created internal conflict to serve her own purposes of gaining power, Asmodia rather suspects that some time-wasting conflicts will be inevitable.  She will document every instance of those to be charged against the account of Lady Eulàlia Avaricia de Seguer upon Carissa Sevar's return.

They could have done Something Else Which Was Not That, but alas, it takes two to Cooperate in a cooperation-defection dilemma.  And if Cheliax cannot manage to cooperate with itself internally, well, it is a moot point whether Cheliax could have won; because what Cheliax will do, then, could not really be called trying.

Also Avaricia isn't one of Keltham's fated love interests and favored of the tropes, so, kind of a foregone conclusion here anyways.

Asmodia will close by noting that if Avaricia was actually doing a better job of serving Asmodeus she'd have Pilar Pineda on her side, so, nobody go pretending that what they're doing over there is really serving Asmodeus in any way.

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Leave Pilar fucking out of this.  She can't do anything unusual unless it serves Cayden Cailean's and Asmodeus's interests simultaneously, and somehow Pilar doubts that will be the case here.

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Not actually true!  Pilar doesn't need Snack Service's agreement to use the powers of her oracular curse!  It's Pilar's curse, after all.