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Dec 02, 2022 12:35 AM
allegra is transported to the bronze orchard
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Conradia wipes her lips with a napkin and explains.

"In our world, when we die, Pharasma – the goddess of fate and death, and also the creator of the universe – judges each mortal based on the actions they did in life, as well as their outlook on life and philosophy and their intentions when acting. There are two axes which she considers: Good and Evil, and Chaos and Law.

Good represents altruism, charity, treating other people as nice as you would treat yourself, taking other people's preferences into account. Evil represents prioritizing your own welfare, taking only your own preferences into account, and selfishness.

Chaos represents refusing to be bound or fettered, preferring options that retain option value, refraining from constraining your future self, and not placing value on precedent. Law represents preferring stricture and regulation, and  permitting your current self from making binding decisions that constrain you in the future.

A person who is balanced between the two poles on an axis, or, more likely, is indifferent to either pole or hasn't done enough to tip the scales in one direction, is said to be Neutral on that axis. Each person is assessed on each axis separately, thus creating nine separate alignments. Which alignment we are judged to be determines which afterlife we go to when we die. We have divination spells that detect alignments, but only for people who are strong enough. This is both because stronger people have stronger, and hence easier to detect, alignment auras, but also because weak people affect the world very little, and so are more likely to be True Neutral. True Neutral people do not detect to alignment spells, except for See Alignment tuned specifically to detect it. For example, babies which die, either from abortion or miscarriage, sort True Neutral, having done nothing in the world yet, and the same is true for very young children.

That's not all that these concepts are, but they're close. Pharasma's concepts roughly correspond to our mortal conceptions, but not exactly. She is an ancient gods, and ancient gods, as a rule, do not think like mortals. Ascended mortals don't either, being that they are gods now, but they retain parts of their mortal selves that lets them more easily relate and talk to us.

As for us, our gods are demon lords, and so are Chaotic Evil. Most of us here are." Ha. 'Nice people'. Oh, Allegra. She has to stop herself from smiling. If she is Chaotic Evil...perhaps she might be both worthy and willing to join. Perhaps it was Conrad's divine intervention that led her here.

She does not put special emphasis on her penultimate statement, and continues eating.

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Great. Lovely. So this is a Suranni setup, but she's managed to get herself caught by the fucking Hand of Dumon.

Oh well, at least she has got a good meal before dying stupidly in one of their chaotic schemes. And maybe she can be useful to them, if their wider society has been trying to keep magic from them.

They've clearly got some weird language thing going on but that could be a specific Boon; they already know detect magic so they've got the basics; it's unlikely they have everything in Imperial Lore and she has the background to re-derive most of it if they'll let her.

"I suppose... I should be working out how to be... useful to you, then. Is there anything else you want to tell me to... make that more likely?"

A little food and she's really crashing now, her digestive system would like the rest of her energy to start making use of it. Just got to persuade them not to get bored with her too quickly first...

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What's a Suranni? She is pretty sure she's not a part of the Hand of Dumon. Whatever it is, it seems that for her, it's a real pain to deal with. And Imperial Lore...Conradia thinks that that's what they think of as magic, or, at least, the manner by which magic is performed.

She smiles. The way Allegra would be most useful to them is for her to tell them what she knows. She's conducted interrogations like that, where she asks specific sets of leading questions to induce someone to think about something specific, then read their thoughts as their memories surface. Still, the best way to get someone to help you is to get them on your side.

"I have been reading your mind for the past few minutes," she says calmly. "We are not Suranni, and we are not the Hand of Dumon. I don't know what exactly you mean by those, but I was able to get a little information based on your thoughts about them. They seem similar to us, but I'm quite sure we don't worship the same god.

And we are not against magic! My god, Conrad, has Magic as one of His domains, and he favors those with both martial and magical ability.

Normally, we would only permit someone into the headquarters if we thought that they were a worthy initiate. That means being aligned with the goals of Conrad – or Damian, although you'll have to talk to the Damianites for that one. He is concerned with...power, and growing, and becoming stronger, and not permitting yourself to be bound. That's a very rough summary. I will seek the leave of the High Priest to see whether you could be treated as though you were an initiate, with the status, privileges, and responsibilities that that entails.

We will ask you to teach us more about your world's magic, and see if it can be replicated here.

All initiates are permitted to leave the Bronze Garden and renounce Conrad or Damian at any time, but I'm unsure whether the same privilege would be afforded to you. Probably yes, despite the circumstances, given that Conrad values...hm...the ability to exit situations. Although if you do do this, we would not be able to see if we could return you to your home plane, if you do wish to return – I'm not sure that you do – and we would have to erase your memory of being here. We have a spell that can remove the episodic memories of someone in a specified period. If you do wish to leave, we will remove all your memories from the time you arrived here up to now, and then Teleport you to a city of your choosing no more than nine hundred miles away. Although, such an option being available to you does not necessarily mean that it would be wise for you to take it – you don't even speak any of our world's languages."

She takes a sip of water. She hasn't dismissed Detect Thoughts yet – her thoughts on this topic would be just as important as what she actually says, even though she knows now that her mind is being observed.

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They're what?

No. That's not even a thing. It violates the fundamental limits of magic. They're just lying about not knowing her geography and have made reasonable inferences. If they know the Suranni then they know what they look like, even if they're not them.

It's also clear they know Urizeni, that pitch sounds suspiciously tailored to her. Or at least the Empire as a whole, some people would be stubborn about the god thing but 'play along and we'll make you stronger and by the way we value freedom' would be a good pitch to most Imperials that weren't too religious.

"Those sound - like my concerns. But of course I'd say that." 

I was running away anyway, she considers and then doesn't say. Even if they claim to like freedom there's such a thing as too much rebelliousness. And she has no doubt they could make her consent to the memory alterations if they wanted to. In fact, now she's doing an internal inventory of her physical state to see if she can spot a previous discontinuity...

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She nods her head sagely and closes her eyes.

"Hm, you're doubtful that mindreading spells exist. My spell is called Detect Thoughts, and it's a second-circle spell. It's not very difficult in the grand scheme of things."

She should probably invoke more things that she thought about.

"What is Urizeni? Hm, I can tell that's a name, but I can't tell what it's a name of. A place? A god? An ethnicity? Our church will make you stronger – that's our whole purpose, but I can ask the Damianites to assume custody of you if it's pleasure or sensual experience that you desire instead."

She frowns slightly, and her expression is wistful. "I am sympathetic to your position. Decades ago, I too was a formally trained soldier-wizard, although in my case I was a part of Her Majesty Abrogail Thrune's legions, deployed to the Worldwound. She rules Cheliax.

I defected from them and turned to Conrad's side. Conrad and Damian were also the same as me, although they did not formally defect – they fulfilled their entire term of service before embarking on the path that would lead them to apotheosis. Trust me when I say that it would be very out of character for us to impede someone like you, whose goal is to run away to lead a freer life." She would say that it's very likely to be heretical, but she's not going to make pronouncements as to what's heretical or not while there's an inquisitor sitting beside her.

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Okay, they clearly want her to play along with the thoughts thing, let's play along with the thoughts thing. Maybe she should experiment like a good Urizeni? If you can hear this, I'm thinking of a purple monkey washing dishes.

"Urizen is the nation I'm from. The Citadel Guard is their army."

She's kind of tempted by Damian to be honest, she does like a good sensual experience and she has a pretty broad horizon on what that means, after the Druj. Being stronger is good for her survival chances but sounds like a lot of hard work. She doesn't want to cause any trouble and she is so not in any state to make complex important decisions right now. It's all sounding pretty encouraging as 'running into a dungeon by accident' goes. Maybe they'll let her sleep first.

What should she say. Well, if they're reading her mind, she doesn't have to say anything, right? Clearly they've already got all that and she can save her mouth for stew. More stew, mmmm.

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She chuckles.

"I can hear that, yes. Well, not 'hear' – reading thoughts is a sense unlike any of the other senses. You're thinking of a purple monkey washing dishes. Although you must be formally accepted by one church in order to be in here at all, under normal circumstances, at least, there's no issue with interacting or working with members of the other church. We regularly train with them, and share many of our facilities with each other. There are cases of people formally switching which church they belong to, but that has only happened a few times in our history. 

If you want to sleep, we can get you a blanket. I'll need to ask the High Priest, Rendon, how this situation ought to be handled anyway. And yes, you don't have to say anything. So long as you think it, I can hear it." She laughs.

The Damianites would likely want one of their own to talk to her too, to see what she's like. She'll ask Rendon about that too.

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Okay so that's a thing. That's just a thing now. There is no point frantically worrying about how that is a thing, it's just a thing. There is also no point cringing and grovelling in apology for thinking rude and flippant things earlier, terrified fawning child in the corner there, stop that at once, it's undignified (and you know what happens if you're undignified...).

She really wants to finish this stew very carefully and then pass out and yes a blanket lovely, no complaining, it's better than the forest floor (and much better than passing out shacked to the wall, ugh didn't she get rid of most of those memories for a reason).

She deliberately thinks about how she will be very useful and accidentally thinks about how she's now mostly sure enough they won't randomly kill her in her sleep or at least there's nothing else she can do about it.

Allegra's thoughts are getting distinctly less coherent as she lets herself actually believe she can stop desperately holding it together for a bit, at least to sleep and get a bit sharper in the morning, hopefully. 

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"It seems as though this is a good place to end as any. We'll get a blanket for you. You can choose to eat the remaining stew in the pot – we brought extra in the case you wanted to eat more, or you can just leave it there."

Conradia looks away and dismisses Detect Thoughts. Allegra's thoughts are a little too similar to her young self's thoughts, being a wizard student in Cheliax. She feels for her, but, of course, she shouldn't. Allegra is not a part of the church, and she must treat her as such.

She leaves and goes to consult Rendon about what they ought to do with her. 

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Manus pushes the stew pot in Allegra's direction, and gets out a thick woolen bedroll for Allegra, rolling it up and pushing it through the bars. Although she'll be sleeping, he won't be. His shift won't end until midnight, at which point he'll go to sleep. Agnes is the one on duty next, he believes.

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Rendon likes to sleep early, but Conradia's report is urgent. He listens intently.

He prays on it. No response.

He decides that Allegra ought to be given the status of an initiate, but have the armory and scroll rooms be barred from her. Also, she is to be under the effect of Lesser Geas or Geas, and that someone must be attending to her at all times. The prospect of another world's magic is too good to pass up, even though it's risky to have an unknown quantity in their sanctuary. 

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An entire bedroll! She hasn't had an entire bedroll for days and days. She looks longingly at the stew pot for a moment but decides one bowl is probably enough for now, and snuggles down into the blankets, using the cushion as a pillow. Once she's happy with the arrangement of bedding it takes only a few seconds for her to be fast asleep. 

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The next morning, there's a teenager in the dungeon outside Allegra's cell – no more than twenty years old – sitting on a desk and looking intently at something invisible in the air. There's an open book on the desk, in front of a rapier lying on the desk as well, and she's doing motions above it with her hands that looks like a cross between complicated crochet and sign language. A moment later, she slams her fists on the table and grunts.

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Nobody seems to have noticed she's awake or demanded anything of her yet, so she quietly keeps her eyes open just a little bit and observes. Could be some kind of local ritual technique, that sounds like something important to pick up.

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She sighs, looks up, then tilts her head. She notices that Allegra is awake now, and walks over to her. She had already cleared Allegra's pot, bowl and cup from the room.

"Hi! Hello, Allegra." Her voice is cheerful and bright. "You're famous now, everyone is talking about you. Everyone. They'll have so many questions to ask you. Oh yeah, we'll be treating you as an initiate, apparently, so welcome! Conradia was supposed to break the news to you, but I guess she's running late. What circle are you? I'm first-circle, but I'm really close to second and I can't wait to be second-circle! If I do, they'll finally let me fight on the front lines and not just cast Magic Missile again and again." She rolls her eyes.

"Wait, do you even have circles? Your world's magic is different, so maybe not."

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Okay, rumbled. Allegra sits up, but can't be bothered to disentangle herself enough to stand yet.

"At least answering questions is easy! I'm second rank in Spring, I'm not sure how that translates to your system yet." She tries to match the girl's tone, although she's still quite bleary. I've rather had enough fighting, she doesn't say. "The front lines, huh?" She wants to ask what it is they are fighting, but that might be suspicious and also she isn't convinced she'd like the answer.

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"Hm, yeah, that doesn't sound like the magic I know. Yes, I'm really eager to put my rapier skills to use. Oh, and spellstrike! I can't wait to get to second-circle so I can hang Frigid Touch – that was the spell I was trying to prepare earlier. What sorts of things can you do with being a second rank Spring wizard?"

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Conradia arrives a moment later.

"Congratulations, Allegra. Rendon, the High Priest, has said that we are granting you provisional status as an initiate provided that you are supervised at all times, do not enter the armory or scriptorium, and are under the effect of Geas. You are still permitted to leave at any time, in which case we will erase your memory, dispel the Geas, and teleport you and your items to the nearest city as we talked about yesterday. Geas, or in this case Lesser Geas, is a spell that can compel or forbid certain actions. You don't need to move for me to cast it on you. It is a ranged spell."

Her tone grows stern. "Do not try to resist or throw off the spell." Not that she could – Conradia is a seventh-circle wizard, and it is very difficult to resist a seventh-circle wizard's spells unless you are also one – but she doesn't want to have to re-prepare her spells for a quarter-hour just because Allegra wanted to be difficult and got lucky. 

"You will obey commands I give which are prefaced with 'I command'. You will not enter the armory or scriptorium. You will not move more than sixty feet away from the person assigned to watch over you. You will not harm any person in the Bronze Orchard, or destroy any items within. You will not cast any magic except when expressly instructed."

She only incants in this case, but it takes six seconds. Lesser Geas. The spell descends on Allegra's mind like a spiked cage. 

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"Healing, putting back limbs, corpse disposal..."

She's interrupted by Conradia returning. For that, she gets to her feet. Everything hurts, but that's not exactly surprising; she often feels worse the first time she properly rests after pushing herself.

She doesn't like the sound of the geas at all, but it's definitely better than the offered alternatives, at least for now. She doesn't know how to stop trying to resist a spell, but she's not actually good enough at it to succeed, which is probably just as well.

"Thank you," she says. "Uh, what happens if I hurt someone or destroy something by accident? I don't intend to, but..."

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Conradia unlocks the cell and pulls the door to let Allegra out.

"If you break the terms of the geas, then it will apply its curse on you. Every aspect of your body and mind will be diminished, slightly at first, but worse as time goes on. Your body will become weaker and frailer, and your mind will become dim and dull. However, the curse will retract itself if you resume obeying the terms after twenty-four hours, provided you do not break it again during that time frame. In your hypothetical case, you would only suffer the effects of the curse for a day, so long as you did not harm someone or break something else. I will be your assigned minder for now."

She leads her out of the dungeon and into a corridor. The walls are the same smooth gray stone, but there's engraved detailing running along the walls. 

"I will take you to speak with the High Priest first. His name is Rendon Salian. Now that we're treating you as an initiate, you can just call him Rendon. He can also cast Lesser Restoration on you – you look...tired." She purses her lips.

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"Okay, that is a much more sensible way of doing that than I was worried about," she says; maybe if she makes conversation confidently, everyone will assume she deserves that level of confidence in her situation? She's just about getting used to the language now, it's easier to work with if she just lets it deal with word choices for her rather than worrying about it too much.

She tries to keep up and not slow Conradia down, but also keeps trying to search the engraved detail for any more clues of what she's got herself into.

"Sorry - I'll probably be okay in a day or two, I haven't been getting much sleep lately," she apologises. "Do I have responsibilities as an initiate apart from the terms of the geas, or will Rendon cover that?"

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The detailing is a simple pattern of lines in a braid, colored in silver. They seem to be going to a more central location now – the corridors are wider and have higher ceilings. There are people that walk past them, glancing at Allegra but never more than that. None of them try to stop them or make conversation.

"Lesser Restoration removes fatigue, so it will help. Rendon will cover that. Initiates have similar responsibilities to soulsold or ordained people – you'll have say in what jobs you'll do. Though you probably won't be doing any of the regular work like maintenance or guarding anytime soon. Researching your magic is way more important.

As an initiate, you will be paid for your service weekly, although since there's very little around to spend it on, most people simply have the church hold on to it and then withdraw it when they want to go shopping. You can choose to withdraw your pay at any time, however, and keep it in your room instead if you wish. Base pay is based on how strong you are. We have ways of testing it, but we're not sure about how you'll fit into our scheme. The minimum pay is one gold coin per week." She reaches into her robe and draws a single gold coin, weighing a third of an ounce.

If you render exceptional service or are sent out on a dangerous mission, you may get bonus pay or get a share in spoils, depending on the situation. In the case you decide to leave, we will give you all of the pay you have not yet withdrawn and your equipment, but of course we will take back any equipment or magic items we may have lent you for missions, except for those you have paid for to keep. We produce many magic items here – that's my main job, actually – and one of the perks of working here is that you can buy magic items and equipment much cheaper than buying it at say, Absalom. We charge much less for labor if the customer is someone that's working for the church."

They're approaching a door now. The door has intricate geometric carvings on it, with a symbol enclosed in the circle in the middle of it: a magic rod tipped with a gem laid perpendicular to a greatsword.

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She studies the people who are walking past, trying to place them from clothing styles and complexions, although she is starting to believe that she is in fact a long, long way from the Empire now.

She lets her face light up on seeing the gold coin; no need to make them think she's insensitive to positive incentives, now.

On seeing the door carving, she realises that she failed to pick up her rod from the cell; she'd been still acting like a prisoner rather than an ally. Oh well, maybe they'll issue her with a better one if they do a lot of enchanting here; it's not like combat spells are her speciality, although she can probably muster a couple to demonstrate with enough practice time.

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The people walking past are generally wearing simple working clothes, although all of the clothes are surprisingly clean and free of patches, rips, or holes. All the people that walk past them are humans.

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"We're here," she says, knocking on the door. "I won't come in with you, but I'll stay by the door so that your Lesser Geas doesn't trigger."

She opens the door to let Allegra in, and closes it after her.

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