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Sep 29, 2022 3:11 AM
the worshippers of newly ascended evil gods meet each other
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She pulls a piece of paper from her pocket with her free hand, catches the end of it with her free foot, and stretches it out in front of the human's face.

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"We always stay in the 'Pit' there, yes that's really what they call it. Raise your fist if you've been there, anyone? It's like Aroden collapsed face-first and that's His, well, you know..."

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The duo wobbles and collapses against the human. She wraps the paper around his face.

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He freezes.


Lets out a deep breath.

Pulls the paper away and smiles brightly, ruffling the halfling woman's (sideways) hair. "Wow, you really scared me there, Ali.

"So, I saw this girl there once...". His smile fades as he looks in the distance. He moves his head side to side, staring at the cliff and Bellis's skyline.

"Anyway, we're the church of Marra, pleased to have to opportunity to perform for you, fine people of Bellis, very fine people of Bellis, very fine indeed, Barid! Barid!" He runs offstage.

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A human man with a slide trumpet marches on quickly and starts playing a drinking song. Another human trumpeter runs to join him. They seem to be doing some sort of mime with how they move and hold their instruments.

Two men do a musical juggling act where they bounce balls to each other off of a set of drums.

The violinist from before comes back. It turns out she's a contortionist too! The audience likes this one.

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The older halfling returns. "Thank you, everyone. I hope you have all been entertained by Marra's performers. The next act will be a bit different, a bit more serious. Anyone who wishes to remain innocent and weak may now leave."

One person at the back calmly slips out. The rest of the audience stays, some of them leaning forward eagerly and some of them curling up tensely.

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Exactly what kind of circus is this that charges only a single copper per person? Felicia's hot bath cost more than this. How do they make money? How do they break even? Whatever. It's strange alright, and strange means that it's likely to have what they seek.

Felicia smiles broadly and claps during the performances. There is no way either of them could perform feats of Dexterity like that. He's impressed too, actually, though it doesn't show on his face. Not that you'd see it, since he still has his helm on. He's a little surprised they didn't ask him for his weapon when they came in. Usually they do that for shows.

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Felicia buys some buns and candied parsnips from the merchant for a few coppers. It was eight times the price of admission. This is the sort of show she would pay a whole gold coin for. Why sell tickets for just a copper? Surely there must be something deeper there. But that can wait. The performances are simultaneously skillful but also thoroughly unpretentious. It's refreshing, honestly.

Back when she lived on the streets, she always tried to learn the sleight of hand tricks that the older kids knew, but she could never quite get them right. She feels a little envious at the grace of the performers. Especially the musical ones – she had always wanted to learn how to play an instrument, but didn't have the money when she was young. Now, she doesn't have the time. The music is lovely, though. It's upbeat and cheerful.

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...Innocent and weak? He is just...thoroughly thrown off by that. What have they gotten themselves into? Right, well, it's not like you could get an hour and a half of performance for just a copper and nothing else. He is not innocent and weak, mind you, but he senses danger, and it's wise to listen to that. He gets up, but Felicia touches him on his lap.

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Felicia is boastful, but she knows when she's gone too far. But this isn't recklessness. She can intuit danger too, but she also intuits possibility. She whispers into Elias's ear.

"I have spells. You have spells. We aren't defenseless. Let's see what this is about."

She looks around the room. Everyone else who stayed have serious and steely expressions. She holds Prayer right on the tip of her tongue in case conflict ensues. Elias grips his greatsword tighter.

 

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"Life is busy. Working, sleeping, eating, searching for work, striving for recognition, defending yourself from threats. How often do you plan a decade in advance? How often do you think about how you will survive when you're old? How often do you consider what comes after when your body decays beyond its ability to hold on to your soul?

We must face the world, in all its oddity.

Why do we live on a ball of rock by a star? Why are we not all fire elementals on a star in the shape of a knotted rope, gazing in wonder at the barren balls of rock that fly by? Why do souls stay with a body for the time they do, and not flap around, attaching themselves to a new body every hundred rounds? Why is it that magnets are strong enough for us to notice, and yet not so strong, and so omnivorous, that they engulf everything within a thousand miles? Why do souls go to the afterlives they do? Eight, nine, rather more than nine, however you account them, why that number?

Who knows. Maybe someday Marra will craft a great scholar who will tell us. In any case, we must face the world, in all its oddity, its horror, and its triumph.

You may know that we offer castings of Early Judgement at large discount, only 10gp. Right now, we will give away a casting to one of you for no charge at all. Who will it be? Which one of you wants to know your ultimate fate?"

Three people raise a fist. The first stares at him, visibly afraid. The second grins. The third gazes into the distance, her eyes unmoving.

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Felicia already knows where she's going after death: to the Silver Garden in the abyss. She's both ordained and is soulsold – so is Elias. She's see the Silver Garden before through the clerics and wizards scrying souls there (which are relatively few in number). She's not going to deny the other people, who are obviously poorer than them, the chance to see what their afterlife has in store for them.

Neither of the two raise their hands, although they remain raptly attentive.

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He looks around, considers, and points to the third one. "You. Come out here."

She stands before him with her hands behind her back and her head bowed.

He looks her over. "You're afraid. Hmm. You seem well-behaved... I'm guessing you're afraid of Hell... maybe Abaddon? No, Hell."

She nods without looking up.

"Collect yourself." He pulls a wand out of his boot, pauses, and casts.

She jumps and bursts into tears, choking as she breaths in and wailing pitifully.

"Hell?"

She nods again.

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A human woman silently enters, puts an arm around her waist, and guides her out the side door.

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"The plane of the damned, where one is endlessly tortured, everything about one erased as one is transformed into a devil. To some, a few devils may admirable, but their magnificence is only for the viewer. Devils have pride, but they are not glad to exist. They do not glory in themselves. They merely play the part, ever striving, ever suffering.

It's tempting, for one in that lady's position, to give up, to disbelieve, to desperately seek out opportunities to appease Pharasma, which is harder than before, in a society that distrusts and casts aside those who are Evil, even Lawful ones.

There is a better way: the church of Marra. Her followers who die Lawful Evil and receive the proper funeral rites are delivered to Marra. She is a new Lawful Evil god who puts all Her souls to useful, worthy tasks, exalting in their abilities and their unique value.

Thanks to this arrangement, the result of a pact She made with Asmodeus, you can grow strong and beautiful. You can keep the parts of yourself you treasure most.

You must face the world, as it is, and make a choice."

He gently puts the wand back in his boot. "If you were here two days ago, you might be wondering where my second wand is. As of yesterday evening, our wizard is here."

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The halfling woman from before enters, now wearing a purple robe with many pockets inside and out. As she solemnly takes her place in the center of the stage, sharp-eyed observers might note that her robe is not actually solid purple, but covered in tiny red and blue symbols.

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"This is my daughter, Alieta, a third-circle wizard at the age of 26. Remarkable? Well, she started young, but no, Marran wizards with sufficient Intelligence routinely achieve third circle without risking a shameful death in a monster-filled ruin. Marra can guide you to greatness.

But I have digressed. We must face the world."

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She could easily have come onstage with a pinch of brimstone already in her hand, but it's more dramatic to carefully reach into one of her outside pockets, remove a pouch embroidered with flames, slip a finger inside, and show the brimstone to the audience on her fingertip, turning so they all get a good view. Those closest might even be able so smell it.

Vision of Hell.

The tent is overlaid with a room made of polished metal. In places it glows orange-hot. Gravelly, strained moans fill the air, and the occasional sudden scream in the distance.

On the left side of the stage, humanoid shapes of flesh hang from hooks above a vat, engulfed in a whirl of source-less fire. The skin of the petitioners is - not melting, exactly, but patches of it slide off in a liquidy way into the vat.

A devil with metal skin covered in tiny spines bursts in from the right carrying another damned petitioner. The devil throws it onto the floor - it sizzles - and rolls a large round stone across it several times. Then, it picks it up and stabs it onto one of the vacant hooks.

Taking a knife that looks way too large to be useful, the devil tears one of the roasted and flayed petitioners off its hook and hacks off parts of it into an array of buckets. Finished, it tosses the remaining head onto a pile.

The devil opens a cabinet and removes a small leathery horned creature, which it holds over the bucket of severed left hands and squeezes until it vomits something blue and shiny. The pile of heads screams.

Alieta drops the spell early. The full duration is too overwhelming for the unhardened.

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"Remember, there is a better way.

This concludes the afternoon's entertainment. We will perform again this evening when the shadow of the Pit's wall reaches the top of this tent. In the meantime, we will stay here to answer questions.

If you want to buy an Early Judgement, our cleric has not arrived yet, and I have the wand, so please stay here rather than going to the magic tent next door. The price is 10gp, and if you don't like what you find and you join the church of Marra while we're still in Bellis, we will waive the fee. We guarantee acceptance for anyone Lawful or who already has a valuable skill. If you are Neutral Evil, we'll need to talk, but your chances are good. The unskilled Chaotic will need to convince us of their ability to make a serious commitment, but there is still hope.

If you are aiming for Axis or Heaven, and the fear you feel from today's exhibition spurs you to redouble your efforts, you may take that as a favor. And a taste of how Marra can help you."

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Most of the audience leaves, and those who remain are quiet. A half-elf slips in, settles on the floor, and plays a very slow lament on a small hand-cranked glass harmonica.

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She'd be crying too, if she knew she was going to Hell when she died. Hell sucks.

When Alieta casts Vision of Hell, both she and Elias successfully make their Will saves to disbelieve, but that doesn't stop the vision from being any less striking. Hell sucks.

She thinks about what everyone has said about Marra. So, this is Marra's church, and this is a conversion enticement and ritual. She's heard that name before: she overheard some of the senior clerics talking about Her, although she has no idea what She's about aside from the fact that she's Lawful Evil. Apparently she has a pact with Asmodeus that makes them not be tortured forever, presumably? That seems to be the inference the halfling wants her to make.

Assuming what he says are true, she likes that Marra preserves the beautiful parts of people rather than quashing them like Asmodeus. She learned Asmodean theology in seminary, since both Damian and Conrad were both Asmodeans when they were young. But she has to question Marra's conception of beauty – in general, the Lawful gods prefer optimization while the Chaotic gods prefer variability. What Felicia likes about Damian is that he accepts everything beautiful, but it could be that Marra has a specific conception of beauty that people are pushed to become. She's not so interested in that. 

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Would he count as an unskilled Chaotic? He specializes in killing things. That's a skill, right? Oh, right, he can cast spells now. Casting still feels weird to him, like it's something that just got grafted on. He feels like Felicia would want to waste spend money getting Early Judgment cast on them, and then ask the person questions.

The two of them wait a few minutes so the people who want to go first can go first, and then they queue up, with Elias in front. In case something Bad happens to him, it's better for him to take it rather than her, since she can't heal herself.

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The young human man who raised his fist earlier and looked afraid gets up and kneels before the older halfling, looking around to see if anyone is watching him.

    "Hello ... sir."

"What may I clarify for you?"

    "... um..."

The halfling seems faintly disgusted. "I can list the common ones, if that helps. Got in a fight? Knocked a girl up? Spurned someone who thought you owed them aid? Stole? Got revenge? And the other list: 'how much torture does Marra do', 'do you really eat people', 'what's wrong with having friends' -"

    " - the second one, sir."

"And?"

    "They said it was probably fixable, especially if we married and raised the baby together, but she won't see me at all."

"And what do you want from me?"

    The young man is silent.

"You wanted a free Early Judgement. Why? Just to be sure? The Good churches put a lot of effort into their spiritual guidance. Is there anything you didn't tell them?"

    "No! I told them everything. I just - don't want to leave my family. I don't want them to know. So I wanted to be sure. Sir."

"You have to make a choice. I'm not going to tell you what to do; you're not one of mine. Which means I'm not a 'sir' to you, by the way, if you want to start learning our ways.

I can say that Ruth and Calob have been talking about wanting to settle down, but two isn't enough to be safe, and they're getting old. Bellis is as fine a place as any - we pass through four times a year - and maybe we could leave a group here, if it included you.

So there's a possibility that you could seek refuge with Marra and still see your family. As a Marran, you won't be allowed to lie; you can't pretend to be Good or Neutral. But if you behave yourself and conform to the pressure your family applies I expect they will not expel you."

    "Thank you, s- Thank you."

"Do you have any questions for me? We won't have an answer about my idea until the rear-party is here on the 8th, and our cleric can talk to Ruth and Calob and maybe Suli."

    "What should I do until then?"

"If you want to learn, we have a short sermon every morning. In Bellis, we time it to when the sun first touches the top of this tent, which is where we gather. In addition, I offer you a standard suggestion, not customized for you, that you might perform daily obedience to Marra: while doing something painful, strenuous, or otherwise requiring Will, contemplate three things you like about yourself, three ambitions you have, which can include fixing problems you have with yourself, and three duties you bear; and contemplate how you might further grow in those vanities, achieve those ambitions, and carry out those duties."

    The young man nods and leaves.

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"Next? What may I clarify for you?"

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Elias genuflects and puts down his greatsword.

"Good afternoon. I wish to pay for a casting of Early Judgment on myself. As for what you might clarify...I am curious as to why a Lawful Evil church might want to subsidize castings of Early Judgment. I am no scholar, but I know enough that you are selling these castings from your wand at a loss. Given the awfulness of Hell, one would think that a church which leads people to Hell would not want to dissuade people from going there. Have I misunderstood something?"

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