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Sep 27, 2022 8:36 PM
the worshippers of newly ascended evil gods meet each other
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Elias Haugerud feels the presence close in on him. The reassuring yet simultaneously terrifying intensity of His god. He recognizes the sensation from when he was ordained. He drops to his knees in the middle of the corridor.

He's presented with images of a town. Medium-sized. Flowers. Bees. Temperate. I need to go there, he knows, in the same way you know things in dreams. There is something for me there. The god vision lasts only a minute. He learned from the clerics that receiving visions like that was costly for both the deity and the recipient. It's not good to talk too long to a god. The brevity of the vision and the fact that his god, Conrad, is an ascended mortal makes the toll much lighter, though, and he only gets a mild headache. Indeed, both His recent ascension and his status as an ascended mortal makes Him be very liberal in granting visions. That was how he got picked up from Mendev after his ordination, after all.

Several hours of interrogation by the clerics and inquisitors and reading through all the geography books in the library reveals that the town presented in his vision was Bellis in Andoran. It turns out that Felicia had also received the same set of visions. The commanding officer, a seventh-circle wizard, as well as the two head priests, both only fifth-circle, agree to teleport the two of them to that place in the early morning tomorrow. Since two people, rather than just one, were given the exact same vision, they presume that they were specially selected, and that they ought not send any extra personnel.

The Conradian head priest, Rendon Salian, takes him aside. From what they know, it's likely that Elias and Felicia are meant to take someone in Bellis into the fold. That has usually been the case when people here get location visions. The other explanation is that Bellis might be a good place to start a church, although he's not very sure of that hypothesis. It would certainly be very strange. He would have expected somewhere in Mendev or Ustalav or perhaps Varisia, not...Andoran. The two churches have made explorations and reconnaissance of cities and towns in those countries as places to potentially expand to. It's certainly about time that they did – it's been more than two decades since Their ascension. This base of operations isn't really even a church proper. 

Elias touches the magic items and enchanted greatsword and full plate he receives from the armory. It feels so good. Finally, he gets to wear magic armor and wield a magic weapon. He can barely bring himself to take it off to go to sleep. He wakes up early the next morning to pack and ready his gear.

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That was certainly an experience. Felicia Albareda receives the vision while reading, sitting down. Damian's presence feels more approachable than Conrad's, though she hasn't experienced the latter's herself. The headache hurts, but isn't debilitating. The Damianite head priest explains the same things to her as the Conradian one to Elias.

She packs the night before, and meets Elias and the wizards in the morning. They both receive 250gp to spend on accommodation and other expenses, and she gets a scroll of Sending in case they need help. Andoran is very far from Sarkoris Scar, and they need to make four teleports to get them there. Two wizards come with them.

They teleport from the base to Gundrun, then to Caliphas, then to Kerse, then finally to Bellis. The two wizards then make the same journey back, leaving them behind. The two of them find themselves near a river – if she remembers her geography right, the Sellen river. She cannot fathom what purpose sending a first-circle antipaladin and a third-circle cleric to this small town in Andoran might serve to their gods, and she can't help feeling worried about not knowing. The two of them walk in the direction of what look to be settlements.

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Elias feels no fear. No, antipaladins aren't immune to fear like paladins – he's just generally not a fearful person.

It turns out that Bellis is sort of two settlements joined into one. Where they are now is called the Pit: a shanty town composed of loggers who come here for the season to work in the Verduran Forest. Above them is Bellis proper. The rock bluff separates the two communities, but in the middle, the cliff becomes a gentle slope instead. Twenty minutes of walking gets them up to the town.

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The innkeeper is distraught over the greatsword Elias lugs around on his shoulder, but Felicia manages to reassure her. Why couldn't the head priest have gotten him a shrinking greatsword? It would be much more convenient and much less provocative. Conrad placed that enchantment on His arcane bonded greatsword in His mortal life – what justification is better than it being unholy? She gets them a small inn suite for 4gp a night. Elias says he'd be fine with just the regular room (which would be much cheaper), but no. Inn suite. Her religion mandates comfort and comfort she shall get. It's not like it's an enormous expense, and if it turns out that they need to stay here for very long, she can sell healing and Remove Disease to people. 

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Six horses trot along the path by the Sellen river, passing rafts of logs floating downstream. Tos keeps an eye on the terrain, actually deliberately looking at each rock and stump and curve, prepared for an ambush. It's very unlikely that anyone would attack them, and this area was clear-cut long ago and has few hiding places, but the wizard they're escorting is worth more than the rest of them put together and he's doing his duty.

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The wizard is bored. She already used her Silent Image, keeping it carefully out of sight in her hands, and lost concentration when they stopped to change horses the first time. Jakab, in the second reverse-party, told her what spells to prepare in her empty slots for her first day in Bellis - Voluminous Vocabulary, Fox's Cunning, and Infernal Healing - but she can't prepare spells on horseback at this speed.

Alieta hopes they're not in the Pit again. The people there are gross.

She should be studying her scroll of Greater Infernal Healing. She wishes she was a horse. Horses are pretty and useful and don't have to study magic, and they get to spend all day running. Okay, she doesn't really want to be a horse, people are cooler than the coolest horse. People can learn crafts and talk and accomplish things. Horses don't. Do horses have any vanity at all? Do other animals? Dogs seem glad to be useful. She should ask the cleric once the rear-party catches up in Bellis.

Thinking about the cleric drops a tight point of fear into the center of her abdomen. She pauses, takes a deep breath, and silently recites: "This threat is useful; may I become great. This fear is tolerable; may I become strong. My church is Lawful; I am safe." She takes out the scroll, covers a section at random, and tries to remember how the hidden part connects with the rest.

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Half a mile from Bellis, they can see the red-and-blue-striped tents of the cult of Marra. (The sunset light makes them appear orange-and-black but she knows they're red-and-blue.) They're in the Pit again.

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The inn suite has two separate beds in the bedroom. She takes a nice long hot bath for a few coppers and relaxes.

In the morning, she doesn't pray for spells just yet. She puts on her undergarments and applies perfume and makeup before praying. It's part of Damian's obedience. It's not fully His obedience, since she took a bath the night before rather than this morning, but she isn't at the level where doing obediences helps her. It's a good habit, though.

She lays out a pillow and kneels to pray. She already cast Undetectable Alignment on the two of them before heading out. She should do that again. Sure, few people have the ability to see alignment directly, but it's not good to walk around town with blaring Chaotic Evil auras emanating from you.

The gods they follow were wizards in Their mortal life, and They grant Their clerics a small selection of arcane spells to cast. Most notably for her, Damian grants Prestidigitation and Charm Person preparable as standard spells. Her soul contract even lets her cast Still Silent Charm Person more easily. It's useless at Sarkoris Scar where there are only demons roaming around, but it would actually be useful here. She makes sure to request one of those.

Given that she's probably supposed to rescue someone recently ordained here, it would make sense to request Detect the Faithful, but a modified kind. Detect the Faithful only works if you're, well, faithful. Even if your goals and values line up directly with a deity's, it won't ping to that spell unless you actually knew about them. Clerics of their churches realized that fatal flaw two decades back. Fortunately, divine spells are more malleable to intent than arcane spells. With careful thought on her part, and a little fiddling on the part of her god, she can modify the spell to detect those whose goals and values are particularly aligned with either Conrad or Damian – the sort of people who would be eligible for clerichood. With how many times the other clerics have used this spell, they really ought to come up with a name for it. What about "Detect the Worthy"? That sounds quite good, actually. She'll propose it when she gets back.

The rest of her spells are her usual loadout for when there might or might not be a fight.

0: Prestidigitation, Purify Food and Drink, Light, Detect Magic
1: Detect the Worthy x3, Command, (Entangle)
2: Undetectable Alignment x2, Silent Still Charm Person, (Touch of Idiocy)
3: Cure Serious Wounds, Prayer, (Suggestion)

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Elias prays beside Felicia. He's not a full spellcaster like her, but being an antipaladin means he can still cast a few when necessary. He usually prepares the same two spells daily, but given that they'll be interacting with actual humans this time and not fighting monsters, he prepares slightly differently this time. The senior antipaladin who trained them told him that antipaladins usually aren't able to receive Hidden Diplomacy from their god, but Conrad does.

And that's why He is superior, he thinks.

1: Barbed Chains, Hidden Diplomacy

The two of them put on their armor: full plate for him, studded leather for Felicia, and they set about town. Felicia thinks that it's likelier they'll find worthies in the Pit. Her disdain is obvious on her face. He doesn't mind the place, though. People stare at them as they walk past, but not for too long. They don't look any different from regular adventurers. Despite being a cleric, Felicia wears explorers' clothes, and keeps her holy symbol in her pocket. He does the same.

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She does not want to be here. She wants to be in Bellis proper, where there are beautiful orange blossoms and good architecture and paved sidewalks. It's so refreshing to be in a place where plants actually grow. She helped out at the greenhouse in the headquarters when she was done with seminary studies: seeing flowers bloom in the wild is great. And there's a greater variety of them compared to either the greenhouse or in Mendev, where she lived before she became a cleric.

The two of them walk all morning, and she casts Detect the Worthy when she finds a lot of people gathered in one place. The people in the Pit stare at them a little longer than they do in Bellis. Sadly, the spell only works for five minutes at a time. She's expended all her castings by afternoon, and had gotten no hits. Walking deeper into the place, she notices...big tents? They're colored red and blue, which is unusual. Most shacks in the Pit are some variety of beige, brown, or gray. It was late afternoon at this point, but she beckons Elias to come with her to take a closer look. It seems promising.

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The tents fill a square area a hundred feet on a side with a continual flame at each corner. People wearing red-and-blue striped belts, humans and one half-orc, hold weapons and stand watchfully at the edges. There appears to be a small courtyard in the middle, judging from the absence of canvas roofs there, but the ground isn't visible from this close to the tents. From the encampment come sounds of horses, music, talking, exertion, and the occasional spell, mostly Mending. There are no visible entrances to the tents... ah no, on the other side there are two open tents, one the same size as the others and one much larger.

The smaller tent has three signs in front.

The first sign shows an old man squinting at a book, and, smaller:

- a pair of socks, one blotchy and one smooth.
- a pair of hands, one bloody and missing a finger and the other intact and clean.
- a trio of animals: an owl and a fox, sitting, and an eagle with outstretched wings and grasping claws above and between them.
- a pair of humanoids, one blue, and the other red, except for its enlarged ears and protruding tongue, which are blue.

The second sign shows a young woman praying, with strips of red fabric crossed over her image in an X, and, smaller:

- a pair of knives, one broken and one whole.
- a pair of hands, as on the first sign.
- a circle with two humanoids standing outside and two humanoids with gears for heads standing inside.
- slightly separated from the other images, there is a bloody humanoid lying down and a three-by-three grid. Each cell except the middle one has a small icon in it: feathered wings, a cat, a plant, a cloud, a claw, a mouth, a flame, and a gear. Next to this are 10 gold pieces.

An extra board hangs from the second sign with the text "8 Desnus".

The third sign shows a scroll and a wand.

The larger tent has a sign showing a humanoid juggling knives and a copper piece. The front of the tent is completely open. Inside there are people sitting on the ground watching a middle-aged woman play a violin while tap-dancing on a wooden crate. The audience members do not have red-and-blue belts and appear to be typical Pit-dwellers.

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She's momentarily confused at the first sign, then realizes that it's advertising casting services. Right, many people can't read. She shouldn't even be surprised at that: she didn't too until she became an acolyte. Yes, they have Mending, and...okay, that is just inaccurate. You can't grow back fingers with Cure spells, you'd need Regeneration for that, and she highly doubts there's a seventh-circle cleric in that tent. She wouldn't ever be caught in a tent if she became a seventh-circle cleric. She has absolutely no idea what the fourth spell is supposed to be. Elias also couldn't identify it, though she didn't expect him to.

The next sign also advertises casting services? There's Mending and Curing, but also something about gears? She has no idea what that's about. The next one takes her a minute to puzzle through, but she realizes it's Early Judgement. Interesting! That's not something you usually see divine casters advertise for, although it's not a rare spell by any means.

Ooh, so they sell scrolls and wands here too.

The fourth sign she doesn't recognize. Is this meant to be something like a show? Acrobatics and tricks? She holds Elias's hand and drags him toward the big tent.

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Elias is against wasteful spending on entertainment! Felicia convinces him by saying that it should only cost a single copper piece, since that's what's on the sign. Besides, there should be lots of people and performers there, so it would be a great place to cast Detect the Worthy. Elias reminds her that she's already exhausted all her castings.

Felicia has no rebuttal to this. Felicia still wants to go to inside.

Elias sighs and rolls his eyes, but relents. It better be something good.

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The guard politely informs them that the price is one copper per person, not per group, collects their money, and points out a recently-vacated spot at the front where they can sit. The front rows have thin pillows on the ground.

The violinist appears to have wooden pieces on the sides of her shoes which she uses to hit the sides of the crate, which have been carved to make musical notes. She finishes her piece with a dramatic sequence of triple-stops, springs off the crate with a smug nod, and leaves.

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The crate tilts and a young halfling crawls out, trembling and clutching her ears. She looks around hesitantly and tries to drag the crate away.

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A human boy holding a handful of knives bounds through a gap in the wall into the stage area, throws them in the air, and juggles them with one hand.

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The halfling squeaks and dives back under the crate.

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He pulls more knives from his belt with his free hand and juggles all of them, with both hands, in various patterns: crossing his hands over each other, tossing one knife up high back and forth, and throwing several knives at the same time. Sometimes he spins a knife around his wrist, or throws one behind his back, or catches one in his teeth.

He puts knives back in his belt until he has only two knives in the air. He keeps them going with one hand while walking over to the crate. He carefully squats and rotates the crate so the back side is facing the audience.

There is a target painted on it.

After he has thrown all his knives at the crate from increasingly contorted positions, he jogs out the way he came.

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From a gap on the opposite side, a burly man enters, and picks up the crate with the knives still embedded in it.

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There is nothing under it.

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As he carries it out, he stops and sniffs with a puzzled frown. He looks around, glances suspiciously at the nearest audience member, shrugs, and leaves.

Next is an animal trainer with a dog who can bark on command and mimic the somatic component of Prestidigitation. The trainer tells a dirty story about a laundry wizard and his lovers.

A merchant makes her way through the rows selling potato buns, beer, and strips of candied parsnip.

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A human man in a formal robe walks slowly on. "Good afternoon, fine people of Northford! I hope you are enjoying today's shows, presented before you with pleasure by the church of Marra."

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The halfling from before leans out of the gap in the wall, biting her finger nervously. She dashes onto the stage and waves at the man.

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He ignores her. "Congratulations on completing your Shelynite church 5 years ahead of schedule." (Someone laughs at this, too loudly.) "I haven't seen it yet, but I'm sure it's stunning."

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She dashes back and soon reenters on the shoulders of an older male halfling. As they walk onto the stage, he trips and catches himself in a handstand. She squeaks and rotates in the opposite direction, ending up in a handstand herself on his upraised feet.

She tries to pick up one hand, starts to fall, squeaks again, and manages to catch herself with one hand and one foot on her partner's feet.

When they make it over to the human, she tries waving in front of his eyes.

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He still doesn't notice. "I just arrived in beautiful Northford yesterday, here from Bellis, and everyone there was telling me I had to try Mama Tate's spiced mead. Best in all Andoran, they said." (Someone in the audience boos.)

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