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Sep 29, 2022 3:43 AM
the worshippers of newly ascended evil gods meet each other
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Eeek that's creepy and not like any spell she's seen before! She casts Expeditious Retreat and flees.

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He's alarmed that Alieta fled, but the visitors don't seem to be doing anything hostile beyond whatever that was, and it seemed like the cleric was trying to get him to stop, so maybe this was all a misunderstanding. In the interests of keeping this important opportunity open, he'll keep talking to them politely... oh no. He got Charmed, didn't he, when the cleric was showing off her symbol. So that's what it feels like. Odd that he still doesn't really like them - maybe he's just not capable of liking people anymore. Well, nothing he can do about it.

"You may come here any time during the day, or during the night if there is urgent business. We will be in Bellis for a few weeks more. Our cleric will arrive in five days, on the 8th."

He's confused about why she's thanking him for hospitality and kindness, since he doesn't think he offered any, but he doesn't argue.

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The guard by the open side of the tent looks at them sharply and puts his hand on his sword.

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"Thank you for your time regardless. We will visit when your cleric arrives." She bows again and then briskly walks away.

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Ah, so it's just regular Infernal Healing. He couldn't think of what the spell was at the moment. It is...bad...that the wizard felt the need to cast Expeditious Retreat (now that spell he recognizes), but it's too late to fix it now. He bows, following Felicia's example, and then walks with her.

He doesn't care about honorifics, since the Conradian church doesn't either. They have ranks, but people just use names.

They give the guard standing at a door a wide berth. Sure, he can take them, but he doesn't want to up the stakes, and he already knows Felicia is upset with him for making that mistake.

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They arrive back at the inn. Felicia complains to Elias about his behavior, but only for a short while. She thinks about how to salvage the situation. Her just...showing her divine focus without being prompted was a mistake on her part too. Now that she thinks on it, she actually doesn't even know what their names were. Or introduce themselves. Wow. Truly, a diplomacy expert she is. To her defense, the only things she's been fighting against at Sarkoris Scar at demons, and the way you do diplomacy with them is different from the way you do diplomacy with mortals.

Was this really all that Damian and Conrad brought them here to do? I mean, if it's just to contact a church of Marra, presumably They'd have sent visions to higher ranked people in the church, and also brought them to a bigger Marran church, not a small traveling chapel. There seems to be another reason why they were sent here specifically, and why them specifically. She prays on it and receives no response.

The Infernal Healing they sell works with Marran outsiders, which, from what the halfling said, were not devils. She knows Infernal Healing works on devils but not kytons or asuras, so She must have been able to rejigger the spell to work with Her outsiders. Buying a dose of blood and a scroll of it would be great for their wizards to study.

Oh, right. The young halfling woman is the one selling things at the magic shop. That's not optimal. She thinks on what sort of...apology gift would be good.

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He also prays on it and receives no response. That usually is a good sign, since their gods would likely have sent them visions if they were blundering horribly. They must be on the right track, or, at least, close enough to it that They have trust they'll be able to course-correct.

He polishes his armor in his free time, but magic armor needs much less polishing – magic armor doesn't rust or tarnish.

He goes to visit the weapons and armor shops in Bellis two days before their scheduled meeting with the cleric. He doesn't think there'd be anything spectacular, since Bellis is a small town, and neither do they have the budget or authorization to buy anything. Besides, if he wanted to buy something for his own, it's cheaper and better to have the Conradian wizards do it for him, since they'll impose a smaller work fee.

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The next morning, Tos and three other armored humans leave the Pit and head toward Scroll Street in Bellis. At Diffol's Arcana, Pez and Kuladi stay outside and lean against the wall, Manikaya stands at an inside corner, and Tos approaches the shopkeeper with a respectful nod.

"Good morning, Mr. Diffol."

The shopkeeper nods back. "And may yours be good too. I have your dagger right here - just a second...." He casts a spell that Tos doesn't recognize, presumably Dispel Magic. Satisfied, he rummages in a heavy chest below the shop counter and takes out Alieta's dagger.

Manikaya steps forward and casts Identify. "Looks good."

Tos places a wand of Early Judgement and a pouch of gold pieces on the counter for the shopkeeper to examine. He tucks the dagger inside his shirt, tightening three separate straps holding it in place. He needs to take very good care of this dagger. It's worth over 10000gp*, if you include the time that Alieta would have to spend replacing it, during which she couldn't craft wands to sell.

[*The exact conversion is controversial, but this is something like a million dollars in 2022 USD.]

"Anything new, Mr. Diffol?"

Mr. Diffol sighs. "There's another shooba game short on security - they can't afford you, but maybe some of your cheaper blades. One of Chomber's secretaries needs a friendly reminder of his debts. And I've heard some noises about a 'job', supposed to pay pretty well, might get bloody. You sure about going for Lawful?"

"Yes, I am," says Tos, stiffy.

"Well, when your saffron blooms, I'll enjoy the view."

Tos scowls and turns to leave.

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Oh, that must be the Damianite cleric's bodyguard in the corner there! Huh, Mr. Diffol must know he's Evil, he wouldn't usually be speaking so openly in front of an aasimar... or anyone, actually, this just makes a funny image.

"Excuse me, sir," - Tos knows how to be polite to non-Marrans - "I was hoping to speak with your client. How might I arrange a meeting with her?"

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Elias still has his armor and greatsword on, but his visor is flipped fully open. Magic shops don't mind people bearing armor and weapons, in fact, they usually treat you better when you do – there's a higher chance that you're an adventurer that might actually buy something and not just window shopping. He's totally just here to window shop, though.

He sees Tos talk to the shopkeeper, but doesn't overhear the conversation.

"Hello. Oh, you're from the Marran church, yes?" 

Client? What client? Does he mean Conrad? His soul is claimed by Him, so...presumably, He would be his client?

Oh. Oh. It takes him three rounds to put all the pieces together. He embarrassingly realizes he's just been standing there silently. The man hadn't been there when he had been talking to the halfling a few days ago, so he probably thinks he's just a fighter.

"Ah, you mean Felicia. Yes, you can talk to her – you don't need my permission to. She's out shopping today though, I think. I can pass a message if you'd like."

He adds after a moment. "I should clarify that she's not my client, per se. She doesn't pay me. I'm a...delegate of a church allied with hers."

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"Ah yes, I'm from the church of Marra. Tos Devet, fighter." Oops his red-and-blue belt got covered when he was messing with his shirt. He shifts it to be more visible. And adjusts his shirt to look a bit more respectable.

"Thank you for your courtesy in passing on a message. I would like to talk with her about her church. To be clear, I do not represent Marra here, nor am I likely to be converted. I simply would like to satisfy my personal curiosity. Any time is fine; if I'm not at the Marran encampment, they'll know where I am.

Oh, my apologies in misunderstanding your position. If I may ask, what god do you follow?"

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"Yes, that can easily be arranged. The both of us would be happy to answer any questions." Felicia would smile at this moment – he doesn't.

"I follow Conrad, the Contender, the Lord of Staff and Sword. He is allied with Damian. They are both ascended mortals. They were lovers in life, and ascended together. Conrad's church and Damian's church are formally separate entities, though in practice we are heavily intertwined. We share many facilities and services with one another. I'm an antipaladin of Conrad's. I received formal religious education while I was a squire. Less so than clerics at seminary, but enough. If you wish to ask relatively basic questions about Damian's church, I can answer, though anything complex will have to come from her. I would not want to speak on her behalf, or on behalf of Damian."

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Ah, another demon lord, interesting. "How does Conrad treat his souls in the Abyss? I heard that Damian's realm is" supposedly "quite pleasant."

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"They share an Abyssal realm called the Silver Garden, although they maintain their own sections of it. All people are given the opportunity to see what it's like before they join the church, at least, for lay worshippers. I saw Conrad's section while I was a squire. There's a lot of training centers and magic workshops. Magic works somewhat differently in the Outer Planes and if you're an outsider, so you have to re-learn it. I wouldn't describe it as pleasant, per se, not in the straightforward way Damian's realm is. But it's not the horrifying and disgusting place one usually associates with the Abyss."

He opens the door to exit the shop. "Should we take this conversation elsewhere? I'm planning to have an early lunch."

Hm. 

"I'll pay for you meal, if you want."

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"I'm currently carrying some expensive merchandise and would like to keep my guards about me, and of course I would not ask you to extend your generous offer to all four of us." It might not actually be intended generously, but in that case, acting flattered is still the right move.

Can Tos take his guards on a detour? This conversation might end up having some diplomatic benefit after all, but Tos was not acting in a particularly Marran way when he initiated it. 

Tos is technically - no, not technically; straightforwardly, albeit temporarily - in charge of his three guards. He considers his duties. Are they in danger? Very unlikely, as long as they don't literally let themselves be led into an ambush. Manikaya has excellent vanity as a appreciator of food; she would be well served by lunch. Pez would benefit from the challenge of watching a busy room. Kaludi... just wants to practice juggling, probably. Tos could say it's good for him to endure this, but he's been warned that it's easy to decide to make one's underlings suffer, deciding carelessly but having it feel like a well-considered decision, so he'll be cautious there. It would be a bad incentive to give special treatment only to Kaludi, so Tos will offer to cover an hour of a guard shift for all three of them. 

"On further consideration, they do not all need to eat. Are you new in town? I'm quite fond of the Howling Nasturtium." He got one of his first security jobs there, but the food is good too. "Or the Rainbow Trout Inn."

"What goals does one train for?"

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"I'm fine with waiting, but paying for all of you would be fine with me too, so long as the restaurant isn't anything extravagant. I'm looking to eat something with lots of vegetables. Oh, and fruit. Few plants grow at Sarkoris Scar, what with the cold and the Abyssal corruption. Meat is good, but it's tiring to eat just meat day in and day out. Which one of them would be better for that?"

He leaves the magic shop, but then stays near it.

"Hm. Do you mean me specifically, or those who follow Conrad? Conrad is interested in...power. That is to say, the capacity of people to alter the world to their liking, and there is no purer power than capacity to do violence. He does not particularly care about how that power is used, only that people grow in power. Growth is important to Him – one's trajectory is more important than one's position.

As a fighter, I am sure you are already well acquainted with violence. Are you proficient in any sort of magic, or perhaps alchemy?"

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"Definitely the Howling Nasturtium."

Manikaya is getting lunch, so maybe he shouldn't cover part of her guard shift too. He feels like he's making a mistake somewhere. If Kaludi weren't here, then Pez wouldn't get a hour off, even though he would be doing the same work... actually he would be doing more work without Kaludi sharing the watch. That doesn't make any sense. He'll have to ask for guidance when he gets back to camp.

"Two of us will take you up on lunch, thank you, and two will keep watch.

What is Conrad's preferred end state? Can individual souls keep growing forever? Can everyone in the world have power in a way that is pleasing to Him?

I don't know anything about magic or alchemy, or any forms of violence other than the blade and the fist."

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Elias lets Tos and the other people lead the way, following just a little behind them.

"I should tell you that I'm an antipaladin, not a cleric, and since you're already a worshipper of Marra, I won't bother speaking eloquently." It's more accurate to say that he can't – the way he is Splendid is much different from the way Felicia is, but he doesn't need to speak that aloud.

"Conrad is not interested in shaping souls. He believes, and we believe also, that...escaping from your purpose is impossible. The shape of your soul will unerringly bring you to what your life is supposed to be, even if outside forces conspire to alter it. Even outsiders are subject to this too: otherwise, there would be no fallen angels or ascended demons. It is pleasing to Him to see souls which are...hungry for power, yearning to grow, to become stronger...to be 'rescued' from their circumstances and brought to full bloom.

That's actually a metaphor the Damianites use too. What a plant will grow up to be is determined entirely from what it is, and is baked into its being. The Damianites seek to nurture plants which will grow up to be beautiful; we seek to nurture plants which will grow up to be strong. But only good seeds are worthy of being nurtured. The rest can be ignored.

It may be...helpful to think about the churches of Damian and Conrad as being less like churches, and more like adventurers' guilds. They are churches in the senses that they venerate a god and follow His tenets, but the structure is much different from the way Iomedae and Calistria organize Theirs. Most churches accept anyone into the fold, and most churches are hierarchical. The laity obey the priests. Not so with Them. We are...selective with what people are permitted to enter the church – merely worshipping and following the tenets and obediences are insufficient. Once you enter, however, lay worshippers have similar social status as those ordained, and the power structure is flat.

Tragic. Being able to cast magic is...important to Conradians. Both Damian and Conrad were mighty wizards in their mortal life, and Conrad grants the Magic domain to His clerics. Then again, I had no ability to cast anything before I was ordained."

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"Interesting... How do Conrad's followers tend to end up, eventually? As powerful demons?

You said that there is no purer power than violence; how much is Conrad interested in other forms of power, such as selling peaceful magic and becoming rich? Or taking protection money and keeping an orderly peace, relying on the threat of violence but rarely using it?

Oh, uh, please excuse my ignorance... is lack of interest in shaping souls a common trait in Chaotic gods?"

They arrive at the Howling Nasturtium. Tos asks for three vegetable platters and a pitcher of ginger beer, coming to 4sp total. The "platters" are wide thin pieces of crispy bread, with a dry bean stew heaped in the middle, surrounded by greens, roasted squash, fresh peas, and sliced tomatoes. There is a spicy orange nasturtium flower in the very center of each platter.

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"Only a few turn into true demons. Most are half-fiends. There are several reasons for that. Transforming someone into a full demon while letting them retain their personality is very expensive for gods to do. Petitioners become demons by absorbing the essence of the Abyss – this necessarily changes their character also. This is why Conrad and Damian are distinct from the other Chaotic Evil gods, having ascended without much contact with the Abyss itself. They are Chaotic Evil...in the same way Norgorber is Neutral Evil, as compared to the daemonic harbingers.

Further, the transformation requires that your body be changed utterly, which not everyone is interested in." He would love to become a kalavakus, though. Or a balor, but Conrad doesn't have the budget for that. Perhaps in a few centuries.

"He is interested in such forms of power too. I meant that statement more in the sense that all authority is derived from violence. One can only sell peaceful magic if one can protect one's self from others who would just steal from you or force you to cast it for them for free.

I'm not sure, but I think so. The Elysian gods don't seem particularly interested in shaping souls either, so perhaps there is a commonality there. I'll need to consult with a cleric. Chaos represents...freedom, unfettering, listening to your true desires, being beholden to no one. It would fit."

He loves the food! It's great to eat something that's fresh and grown locally and not frozen. The greenhouse at the headquarters mostly grows herbs or plants used in alchemy – not plants for eating. He smiles with delight. He might be an aasimar, but the way he smiles is a little unnerving, somehow. He has to bring Felicia here, he thinks. She'd love it.

He swallows all the food in his mouth before replying. Etiquette! he can already hear Felicia remind him.

"If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to ask you the same question. Why Marra? It seems...strange that a fighter such as yourself would work as a stand-up comedian. Not in the sense that that's bad, though. I loved your performance." The compliment is genuine. "What does Marra offer you that you could not find elsewhere?"

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"I'm still not convinced that all authority derives from violence. A person with perfect ability to endure suffering would not be moved by threats, but might still choose to participate in a beneficial trade. Of course, no person alive has that ability, possibly not even a perfected Marran outsider.

More practically, a shopkeeper terrified of having their arm broken will work twenty hours a day, and may even be moderately creative when creativity is called for, but will not show true genius unless you also teach them how to think under pressure in addition to threatening them, a difficult thing to teach.

And person learning to balance on a rola bola will not learn faster under threat. They might practice more, of course, or be more motivated to apply mentally-exhausting skills for practicing better, but a threat does not get you anything that is impossible to get without a threat."

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"My story is ordinary. I did what I needed to do to survive, legal or not, and once I had gone down that road, well, there's not very many options for a known criminal who's good with a sword and has no other skills. I knew I was Evil, certainly not Lawful, and probably not Chaotic given my lack of initiative. So I figured I'd go to Abaddon, or take the choice to go to the Abyss, depending on how much I wanted to spite the paladins on that particular day.

And then I went to see a circus and stayed for a sermon that gave me a better option. Not just for my afterlife! Since becoming a Marran, I have learned to enjoy my abilities, to find vanity in so many things that I had previously ignored. I now do comedy routines, which may be simple for a true actor, but to me, my art is intricate and fascinating, especially in comparison with my former use of my acting talent: pretending to be boring and predictable and too stupid to be a threat."

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"Hm, it's possible that we're interpreting 'authority' differently. I see 'authority' as being power over agents, which is only one half of what it means to be powerful. The other form of power is something that might be called 'technique' or 'expertise' – power over non-agents. As an antipaladin, I only embody the former. I lack the Intelligence to be a wizard or an enchanter or alchemist. Many of Conrad's lay worshippers are casters or crafters of some sort. That's why we're able to requisition magic items easily."

He took a sip of the ginger beer. Delicious. He should have the Damianites at the headquarters make or import some. He's not too fond of wine, honestly.

"I see. So you're Neutral Evil, then? But wait, I heard from the halfling...I'm not sure if he was a cleric, actually. Now that I think about it, I don't actually even know his name. He was the one who was doing castings of Early Judgment from a wand for pay." It was very stupid to not have gotten his name. What an embarrassing blunder.

"Anyway, he said that people who were cannibalized by Marrans would go to Stonepeak when they die, rather than go to Asmodean Hell. Would it work even though you're Neutral Evil and chose to take Pharasma's offer to go to Hell? Apparently, Marra has a pact with Asmodeus which lets them coexist, though I'm not sure what the specifics of that pact are. Or are you Lawful Evil now? Have you had your alignment checked?" He was an antipaladin, and so could tell whether he was Good or not, but he already knew he wasn't. He would have been able to tell if he was an inquisitor, though. He thinks a little bit about asking Felicia to do a Sending for backup, but decides against it.

"In any case, I am glad that you found a place for yourself. How long have you been with the Marrans? I have been with the Conradians since I was fifteen – I'm twenty-four now." He means it genuinely. He agrees with Conrad that people shouldn't be forced to be what they aren't meant to be. He wasn't here to try and recruit anyone, only to try and talk. Now that he thinks about it, this is the first time he's talked to a non-Conradian or non-Damianite about his faith. Being a new church was just...so messy. They had no traditions or standard operating protocol or learned experience. Was that the same for Marra's church?

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"Perhaps. In any case, I can certainly see the appeal of having power. And not just in terms of vanity in my strength and skills! Marra values clear hierarchies and I enjoy being at the top as much as anyone else.

I am not yet Lawful Evil, and, unfortunately, Pharasma's offer does not apply to me. Following the devil from the gates of Abaddon is a choice to go to Asmodeus, and there is no way to choose Marra instead. I don't know why the pact is that way, perhaps Alieta - the wizard - might, or her father - his name is Oyek, by the way, he's not a cleric, just likes to talk to people.

I have only been a Marran for three years.

So I didn't see the church begin, but I've heard stories. I wouldn't say it was 'messy'. Marra had followers before She ascended, and had already written Her books describing Her rules for how we should be organized. But there were a lot of arguments between clerics. Eventually they traded followers between them until they mostly had followers who thought as they did, and then each cleric went their separate way.

Oh, there was one cleric who decayed to Lawful Good and was unable to regain their cleric-hood, and then three of their former followers were chosen as clerics the next day. That was a bit 'messy'.

Marrans disagree with each other a lot, but as long as we all obey the rules, it -" doesn't get too Chaotic, is what he was going to say, but he should try not to offend the powerful antipaladin paying for his lunch "...keeps working smoothly. For example, some people care what Marra thought when she was alive, and some care only what She thinks as a god. Some are truly devoted to Her teachings, while some just want a better afterlife option. But we follow our protocols and mind our own business.

When the clerics split up, they had disagreements about how to run Her church. It wasn't just an individual matter, and worse, since they were all first or second circle, they didn't have a hierarchy to follow. But the rest of us just do as we're told, or occasionally pray to become clerics and split off. It happens that my group's cleric thinks Marra benefits the most from souls who are closely aligned with Her and that that matters more than just the number of souls She gets. And it happens that our cleric also thinks that it takes years to determine which people are closest to Her, so there's no point in being selective about recruiting. I think that's uncommon; clerics usually either recruit a lot in order to give Marra a lot of souls, or recruit sparingly to try to filter for quality. But anyway, yeah, our cleric has those particular views, but it doesn't matter to me what she thinks."

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Ah, Oyek. Alieta must be the one he inadvertently scared off.

"It's interesting that the way your church organized itself would be described by my church as Chaotic and admirable. Aside from what I said earlier – freedom, unfettering, listening to your true desires – another component of Chaos is...not specializing. Being a jack of all trades. Dabbling, not focusing on one trade in particular. Hyperoptimization leads to fragility and brittleness: it means you are only powerful in a specific situation. Conrad wants Chaotic souls because he feels that Chaotic souls are more robust."

Is that offensive? Well, Tos isn't Lawful yet, so presumably not. In any case, he's not here to recruit people, only to talk.

"Robust in the sense that they can survive and thrive in a greater number of environments, even if they might not be the best player. That Marra's church fractured and was still able to function in that decentralized state would be pleasing to Conrad's sight. Our church is very centralized, meanwhile. The only major 'temple', if you can call it that, is our headquarters in Sarkoris Scar. We have about six hundred people there total, counting lay worshippers. Conrad and Damian crafted many items before their ascension, but just before they did, they each crafted intelligent items imbued with their values, which would lay dormant before they ascended.

For Conrad, this was his arcane bonded greatsword, which is held by the High Priest of Conrad today. Whoever holds that greatsword – no, rather, whoever the greatsword permits to hold it – is considered to be the High Priest of Conrad, regardless of what circles or levels they might have. He's fifth circle now. A mystic theurge, actually, since R-" he would just say Rendon, here, but he remembers that other people care about titles "High Priest Rendon Salian used to be a sorcerer before Conrad's ascension. Most people who worked for Him were casters of some variety. He's fifth-circle now."

"It's interesting that you frame things based on protocol and action, rather than intent. We usually go by intent to assess whether someone is close to Conrad or not, whether they...'care' about His values and goals. I suppose the difference is that..." he can't figure out a way to phrase this without it sounding terrible "we are more selective in our recruitment, such that we can assume competence and good faith from all the worshippers."

 

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