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Sep 29, 2022 3:29 AM
the worshippers of newly ascended evil gods meet each other
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"Marra receives Her souls in Her realm, which is shielded from the eminations of Hell and does not harbor devils of any kind. Her realm lies in Stonepeak, at the edge of Avernus and Axis, and, together with Minderhal, the lord of that land, She resists the influence of Asmodeus and the lesser Lawful Evil gods. Thanks to that, She is able to provide an afterlife more suitable than the rest of Hell.

We spend a lot of our resources on recruiting people who are already Lawful Evil, because there are plenty of them who are useful, find it easy to conform to Marran requirements, and can be turned to Marra merely by confronting them with the fate which they have up to now failed to properly consider. The reason for this focus is practical, not ideological. We welcome people of any alignment and background who can be relied upon to follow our rules.

We require payment in advance for an Early Judgement." He holds out his hand.

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Elias thanks him and gives the money. He does not attempt to save against the casting.

He receives a vision of stone castles with the sound of rain and thunder. He sees training rooms and armories and magic workshops. He sees someone morphing into a half-fiend. He recognizes it as Conrad's half of the Grey Garden.

He has to steady himself before getting back up. The vision is short, but it's intense.

"Suppose I am Chaotic Evil. What sort of thing would the church of Marra have me do to be permitted to become a part of Her flock?"

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"We must be sure that you will not harm us, whether by harming our people, harming our internal social organization, or harming our reputation. In addition, you must provide some value in exchange for the care you require. A soul for Marra is sufficient, but if you are unlikely to be Lawful Evil when you die, you will need to have a skill or trait useful to Marra's vassals while you live.

I am not qualified to provide formal spiritual advice, but I, or anyone else here, can attempt to answer any questions you have about our ways. When our cleric arrives, if we continue in this hypothetical, she would want to know why you are Chaotic. An accident of your history, or does something draw you to Chaos, and if so, what? Have you ever made a serious promise before? Have you ever broken one? Are you prone to sudden violence? What authorities above yourself do you recognize, and how do you relate to them?

A warrior such as yourself is useful for our security and can be hired out, so the main question for you is whether, to use a metaphor which I have heard but not personally experienced, you can stand in our battle line without binding our blades."

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"I see. It is possible that I might talk to your cleric when she arrives, but I have no other questions." He does, but he's going to stop himself before he might say something Unwise. Better to let Felicia handle it.

Meeting with Marra's cult could be what their gods sent them here to do, and he doesn't want to give a bad first impression. He's good at intimidation, but not diplomacy.

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Felicia deposits the money into Oyek's hand before speaking.

"Hello. I would also like to ask questions and receive a casting of Early Judgment. Could you tell me more about what Marra considers beautiful? You said earlier that Marra lets people keep the parts of themselves which are beautiful. I consider myself quite...concerned about my appearance and aesthetics, and would value a god which shares similar views. I'm put off by Shelyn's church, because they seem to think that beauty can be found in everything, when really, some things are irredeemably ugly. And they seem to be against the idea of romantic or sexual beauty or attraction, which seems saddening to me. I would like to be beautiful in all respects – would Marra accept that?"

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He casts Early Judgement immediately. He prefers to talk first, since people are often hard to talk to after receiving this particular spell, but people also find it distracting to wait after they have already paid.

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She gets a vision of morning mist and purple flowers and sweet scents. Not the sort of thing one would expect from an Abyssal vision. Conrad and Damian share the Silver Garden as their realm, but they maintain their separate areas.

She composes herself after just a minute. Cleric prayer training is more useful than she thought. She smiles after the spell ends.

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She's smiling and she recovered quickly. She didn't seem surprised by her answer, so she's already happy with her destination. But she did pay, so either she has enough money to spend 10gp on a whim, or she's curious about the details of her afterlife, or she purchased the Early Judgement as part of pretending to be interested in Marra.

Marra has worshipers who are not Evil. Finding another one would be exciting, because the supply of easily-turned Lawful Evil people will eventually run out and they need to get better at attracting the non-Evil. Of course, the obvious guess is that she's from the church of Iomedae, undercover to check on how the church of Marra treats prospective members, or she's a follower of another Evil god investigating the competition, though the Evil afterlives usually don't leave people smiling. Maybe she's a really good actor. Hm, or maybe she's Chaotic, as her companion claimed to be, and likes to see what new wonders or horrors the Chaotic afterlives have produced.

It doesn't really matter why. He doesn't have enough splendor to adjust his answer while also remaining honest and forthright, as he must do.

"Okay. When you ask about what Marra considers to be beautiful, I understand that you're asking about Marra's opinions on what Her followers should find to be beautiful, not asking about the shape of soul She prefers. For the most part, She does not have opinions on the details of how we perceive beauty.

The exception is that She requires Her followers to see themselves as beautiful, in a sense. In my speech earlier, when I said that Her followers grow 'strong and beautiful', I meant for the audience to imagine their own personal ideals there. I was also using those two examples, strength and beauty, to suggest a broader concept, which we call 'vanity', without boring the audience with more detail than they were ready for.

Vanity means liking yourself. Enjoying your aesthetic beauty, yes, and also your physical strength, your willpower, your style of thinking, your skills, your ability to follow social rules and fit into your place, even your feelings. Vanity is focused on yourself, requiring neither rivals for you to dominate nor an audience to praise you. Of course, for us imperfect mortals, especially those new to Marra, an enthusiastic audience may be a helpful aid to developing one's vanity. But the ideal Marran would not care about having an audience unless their conception of their art necessarily includes an audience to manipulate.

So what does a Marran soul keep? Everything that the soul is vain about. Also its desire to rule, to obey its superiors and to obey the principle of noblesse oblige, and to follow rules precisely and to create new rules.

If someone is truly vain about their ugliness, then they will keep it, just as someone vain about their attractiveness will keep that. Marra Herself does not distinguish, but she does not require indifference. She allows us to have our own opinions.

I said that the ideal Marran would not care about having an audience unless required by their art. In fact, forms of art that use an audience as a component of the art are very common. A clown's art is not the acrobatics, the acting, the sleight of hand; a clown's art is the mental impressions formed in the minds of the audience and guided to humor by means of acrobatics, acting, sleight of hand, and so on. If the audience is required, then it is efficient for a single event to feed the vanity of all the participants, so we encourage people to develop their taste, to find vanity in being discriminating viewers.

In some art forms, a single person's feelings are given special importance, for example teaching a student or, yes, sex. To be clear, the subject does not have to find vanity in evaluating the art. There are other things one can be vain about: learning quickly, responding engagingly, or endurance.

Too much intimate interaction without well-defined structure and duties can easily lead to unhealthy dependency. Sex is a bit risky, and romance is much more dangerous. So, yes, Marra approves of beauty in romance, but only a Marran style of romance, in which you follow rules and remain vain and emotionally self-sufficient.

What do you mean by being beautiful in all aspects? If you can be vain about every part of yourself, that would be excellent. I think it's impossible to be vain in every conceivable way simultaneously, since some of them conflict. You cannot be both fearsome and cute, both radiant and hidden, or both cunning and predictably reliable at the same time. Does oscillating between all possible vanities appeal to you?

I ask without any expectation that I am owed an answer: what is your alignment, and how did you come to it?

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Alieta takes a scroll from one of her robe's inner pockets and stares at it intently.

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That sounds very appealing! In another life, she imagines she might have become one of Marra's faithful, although likely not. Marra seems predictably Lawful in that she expects her followers to obey rules and strictures. She values Chaos because Chaos is freedom, unfettering, breaking restrictions on desire. But her conception of beauty and its pursuit seems eerily similar to hers and Damian's. Well, all the better to oppose Shelyn's church, she thinks absentmindedly. Shelyn's...fine...but She's too narrow-minded. Still, there are parts that conflict.

"Thank you for your answer. For Marra to accept any part of myself which I am vain about..." hm, she doesn't quite have the Intelligence to know what sorts of attributes Marrans would consider to be complimentary "...it's gracious of her. Many of the gods, especially the Good or Lawful ones, have a specific and rigid conception of what a soul ought to be like, or what it ought to value."

She pauses for a moment before continuing.

"I confess that my thinking conflicts with Marra's on a few key points, however. I care about beauty and not about vanity – I would not accept someone who was vain about their ugliness, nor would I disfavor someone who was beautiful but meek. And I would prefer, but not require, that there be others around who would appreciate the beauty in me."

There's no one else behind her, so she isn't concerned about holding up the line. 

Marra's and Damian's values seem similar enough that she thinks they're unlikely to come into conflict. She thinks that they might fight over followers, but Damian's faith does not seek to proselytize, so that seems like something that would not cause issues. She's not so sure about Conrad, though. It seems like it would be fine, to the extent she's Wise, but she'll let Elias decide for himself.

"Ah, my alignment. I am Chaotic Evil. I wanted to see a glimpse of what awaited me in the Abyss. I am unsure what my alignment was before, but I came to be Chaotic Evil after I was ordained as a cleric by the Lord of Flowers and Allures, Damian. He's a very obscure and new god, so I don't blame you if you hadn't heard of him before."

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We're breaking our cover already? Or, no, she only talked about herself and Damian, though likely they'd be able to infer things from the fact that they're together and both Chaotic Evil. He has trust in her judgment, though. He's always prepared for a fight, but Felicia is usually Wise and Splendid enough to avoid blundering in social situations. The way he's Splendid is only good for making a fearsome impression.

He keeps his hand on his side, right on top of his pocket where he keeps his holy symbol. If worst comes to worst, he can cast Barbed Chains on one of them and flee.

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"Seeing you as a connoisseur of beauty who associates with others with similar taste, I would not expect Marra to take offense."

So she is measuring the competition. Or possibly considering an alliance, except she's Chaotic, which makes that unlikely. Is her god also Chaotic? Oh, obviously yes, if she's a cleric and going to the Abyss. Regrettable.

He needs to stop trying to recruit her, and start trying to convince her that the church of Marra is not a threat. And to do that, he needs to know more about her and her god.

"...although of course I assume that you are far more pleasing to your own god. I have no knowledge of Him; what does He value, besides beauty? To what does he command his followers? What does he offer you in the Abyss?"

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Alieta looks up, puts away her scroll, and makes the Marran gesture for may-I-join-your-conversation?-I-want-to-learn-(addressing-a-superior) toward her father.

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"Aside from beauty, he values that things which have the potential to be beautiful be nurtured to fully grow and bloom. This is an aspect that Marra and Damian share in common, I think. Although, it seems to me that Marra is more accepting, in a way. The way Damian frames beauty is...essential. Not in the sense of being requisite, but in the sense of it being baked deeply into a person. A fern, no matter how much nutrition it gets, will never make bright and fragrant flowers, or indeed, any flowers at all. Likewise, Damian is...selective, about the types of people he permits into His church. He does not really proselytize."

She takes out her silver divine focus, which has a small loop welded to one edge. A cord threads through it. The focus itself is shaped like a heliotrope flower, although it's not immediately obvious what type of flower it is, since the focus in uncolored. She holds it delicately in her hand.

"He commands us to nurture the parts of us which are beautiful and enhance them, while correcting and eliminating the parts of us which are ugly. As for how beauty and ugliness is determined, it is Damian's opinion that it is a sense, much like one can see light or hear sound. Through training and careful examination of one's feelings, one is able to see clearly what is beautiful and what is ugly, and move steadily towards beauty."

She realizes that her taking out her divine gesture might be interpreted the wrong way, since it's also the way clerics cast spells. She could have used it just now to cast Suggestion or Silent Still Charm Person with none the wiser, though she didn't, in this case. Not the time to be throwing out enchantments. She puts the focus back into her pocket, making it seem natural and unhurried.

"Damian lives in the Silver Garden" along with Conrad "which is much more pleasing and beautiful than the rest of the Abyss. Simply being faithful to His teachings would not lead one to it, however, even if one is Chaotic Evil. To prevent being nabbed by demons or other such monsters, someone has to arrange for them to be picked up by Damian's fiends, who act as psychopomps for said individuals."

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Felicia and Elias are both trained in Sensing Motives, but neither of them could figure out what Alieta's gesture was supposed to represent. For all he knew, she just told Oyek to initiate hostilities. That may or may not just be him being paranoid, but it's his job to be paranoid. He's relieved that the wizard put away the scroll – he was afraid it was a scroll of Fireball or something and that they'll have to contend with being on fire. He's resistant to fire, but Felicia isn't.

The word of a Chaotic Evil person means little, but it means a nonzero amount.

"I wish to say that we did not come here planning to harm Marra or her faithful, and that we will not open hostility unless hostility is shown to us first. I am willing to testify to this under Zone of Truth, if you have the spell."

He takes off his helm and holds against his side. His celestial ancestry is clearly evident: his hair, lips, and eyes have the color and sheen of polished bronze, and his skin has the opacity and color of glazed marble. A Chaotic Evil aasimar is a truly rare thing – the pull their celestial ancestries have toward Goodness is significant. The vast majority of people would have taken one look at his appearance and his shining armor and assumed he is Iomedae's own. It would at the very least be enough to make people doubt any accusations he's Evil. 

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Well Marra cares about vanity, not beauty. Those are different things! Of course Marra and Damian don't see them the same way. But he already explained that, and so is not required to repeat it, and he should say something less likely to offend her.

"Marra's most common title, in my hearing, is The Whittler. Not because She carves souls according to Her will - all gods do that - but because She values the uniqueness of each. Just as every stick of wood has a different shape, different coloring, and a different pattern of grain, and thus suggests a different carving, each person has a different set of vanities and abilities.

How does one arrange to be delivered to Damian? Marra, or rather Her pact with Asmodeus, requires that the body be consumed by sentient followers of Marra. The danger of dieing alone and going to the Asmodean part of Hell prevents us from attempting much risky but lucrative business. If you have a similar requirement, a fact which of course you don't owe me, perhaps our churches might usefully collaborate on protecting our dead."

He gestures to Alieta to go-ahead-(addressing-a-subordinate).

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Alieta thinks ferns are awesome, actually, but of course people have widely varied taste, and that's a good thing.

When the cleric displays what appears to be a holy symbol, Alieta casts Detect Magic as a habitual precaution.

While waiting for the results to come in.... How do non-Marrans do this? Whatever, she'll just ask all her questions!

"When did you pray to become a cleric? What brought you to Damian's church? What are His domains? Which ones are yours? Is He a demon lord? What have you done to grow closer to Him since becoming a cleric? Is that your holy symbol? What is it?

Ooh, you're an aasimar! How did you get your celestial blood? Have you ever met an angel? I've met a fallen angel, one of Marra's outsiders! Is it true that aasimar have a racial inclination towards Good? Is it just that you more frequently have strong altruistic urges? Or that people pressure aasimar toward Good? Or is there some" (ick) "divine influence? How did you come to Damian's church? When did you start training with that sword?"

Does the Detect Magic show anything interesting or alarming?

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He's handsome! Obviously a dalliance with a non-Marran in a critical diplomatic position is a terrible idea and he will not think about it any more.

"An oath under Zone of Truth is not necessary at this moment. Perhaps it will be useful once we have negotiated to a point where verifiable promises to each other will substantially increase the effectiveness of our collaboration."

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It's understandable why he would ask that question, but she's also not sure of what position the ?priest? has, or whether he would be qualified to be a representative of his church. Actually, they haven't even formally introduced themselves.

"It is not that that information is classified, exactly, but I would prefer to discuss it with...someone who could speak for the church of Marra. Are you a cleric of Hers? Even if not, are you in a position to represent it? I am interested in discussing mutual corpse protection, though, because we have our own particularities with regard to that."

Cleric divine foci do not store spells, unlike wizard bonded objects, and neither is the foci enchanted. It does not emanate any aura under Detect Magic.

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"I was ordained when I was twenty years old. I'm a half-elf, so that's equivalent to a human's teenage years. Exactly how one becomes a cleric is something personal. I'm not opposed to sharing it with you, but perhaps at another time." Her tone has a motherly feeling to it, but not in a condescending way.

That's a lot of questions!

"He has Evil and Chaos as domains, of course, being Chaotic Evil. His other two are Plant and Charm. Demon lords only grant four domains, like infernal dukes. Marra is a full divinity, yes? Aside from Law and Evil, what other three domains does She have? As for myself, I embody Charm and Plant. As for that question, I'll tell you some other time. Yes, it's my holy symbol. It's a silver figurine of a heliotrope flower. In His mortal life, Damian was fond of that flower. Since Marra is a new deity, was She also a mortal? As in, is She an ascended mortal?"

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He's not used to being asked questions directly.

"My great-grandmother was a deva and was part of the Fifth Crusade. No, I haven't. Yes, it's true. Yes. Yes. I don't know – probably not. I'm certainly too far away to be subject to any. I'm not a part of Damian's church." Oops, should he have said that? Whatever. "I started training soon after I was ordained, at fifteen."

He's going to ask a question that's not related to theology. Conrad values practicality.

"I wish to ask another question of you, sir. Earlier, before we entered the tent, we saw a sign advertising arcane casting services, but which also claimed to be able to provide healing. What is that about? As far as I know, magical healing is restricted to divine magic."

Oh wow. The implications of this are huge.

"Has Marra developed an arcane healing spell?" 

Perhaps acquiring this spell is why they were sent here. He turns his head toward Alieta, who he saw both casting Vision of Hell and looking at a scroll earlier.

He casts his Gaze on her, and all the warmth of his bronze colored eyes seems to disappear in an instant. The energy that emanates from them evokes the yawning chasms of the Abyss, as if one's soul is on the verge of being sucked in and falling into its interminable depths.

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No! Stop! Do not do that to the wizard! She taps him twice on the shoulder, and it takes all her Splendor and Wisdom to make it seem like a calm, intimate gesture. Elias quickly turns his head to instead look at the ground in front of Alieta instead. Let's hope they don't take that badly. She usually knows Elias as having more gaze-discipline than this, having been trained in looking at people's noses or foreheads rather than their eyes, to avoid inadvertently using that power.

It's probably best to terminate this interaction and return tomorrow or some other day to prevent relations from souring.

"It is getting late, and although we are both trained, we'd prefer not to walk the streets at night. Thank you for your hospitality and your kindness, despite the fact that we are Chaotic, and that we entered your church under not-quite-truthful pretenses."

She bows deeply.

"Would it be possible for us to return tomorrow, or some other day? We would like to pray for guidance before continuing, if our gods are to make arrangements with each other. How long will it be before your cleric arrives? Perhaps we should return then."

 

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"I am not a cleric, nor authorized to negotiate on Her church's behalf." Which would have been obvious if they had been familiar with this particular Marran cult's communication rules, sigh, but rules vary and some misunderstanding is to be expected between different groups. He hopes she isn't offended.

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"I see! Marra is a full divinity, with Law, Evil, Sun, Charm, and Nobility. She was a mortal who ascended two decades ago, via the starstone."

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He's definitely not a 'sir' to these people, and it's a lot higher stakes when talking to a delegation from another church than with a potential recruit. He's not sure whether this man would be more offended by being corrected now or by realizing later that he made the mistake and it went uncorrected. Maybe responding with the same mistake will make it okay? Actually, that also has the benefit of being clear that they're not using Marran norms, which maybe makes the whole problem go away! He should have done that earlier!

"No, sir. We offer ordinary Infernal Healing. Perhaps you haven't encountered it, as it is usually performed with the blood of a devil. Our magic store in the adjacent tent sells scrolls of it, non-castable spell diagrams to study, and the blood of Marran outsiders, which works like devils' blood for this purpose."

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