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Feb 03, 2023 8:23 AM
Teysa Karlov in Sunless Skies
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"Tch. And what did they gain from that, hmm? Discouraging others from contracting in the future, and a misplaced sense that it wasn't their own error that was at fault."

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"Discouraging others from contracting - in certain ways - is exactly what they meant to gain from it. I'm sure you can imagine how much more reluctant people were to look very carefully for technicalities that could cheat them, going forward. And of course, it's never that simple. Never just one thing. You don't have the historical context or even the names, but just another move in the great game. Wouldn't it be nice if it was just the words on the paper? But that's chivalric thinking, in my opinion."

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"In my experience, it's much easier to get other organizations to play along with your rules when they're written down. Less relevant here than in the Khanate or London, I suppose, but if you're planning to stick around for centuries... Obviously it limits you, but make the text complex enough and it's not much."

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"I see the point. There's something to be said for specificity, and for labyrinthineness, yes. All too often, of course, the law we weave fails before those of greater powers. From a position of cooperation, of exploring the possibilities, it is less useful. If what I've heard is right, you're from a vast city, powerful heir to an empire that, while not above all reproach, not immortal for nothing is, is at least as sturdy as the Mountain-of-Light. The position of Hell is less secure than the Mountain's."

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"You're well-informed. One of a few hundred heirs, and I haven't actually heard of the Mountain of Light yet. But, yes, I have not gotten the sense that anything here has lasted to its Decamillennial, which everything important back home will have within a decade. It does remove some of the incentives, particularly for the group." She stops, but turns a hand slowly, thoughtfully, like she's trying to grasp something she can't see.

Then she finds it, and continues, "But, hmm, say I was a mortal considering contracting with a devil. If the angry second party wanted to secure my soul personally, and I'd heard about his retaliation, I'd certainly need a higher price before I'd consider him over the first party, or some other devil I knew nothing about. He's discouraged me from trying to be tricky with him, certainly, but I'm not likely to want to play straight with him either - I'd rather just not play. And that's not good unless all of Hell coordinates on similar levels of punishment for being foiled by attempted cleverness. Does it?"

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"The Mountain of Light has seen its kilomillenial and more; The beings who dwell at its feet have seen their regime's decamillenial. Hell does not coordinate on that front, specifically. What's a little bit of profit in comparison to long-term considerations? Such as a reputation for not being trifled with. Aside from the odd malcontent, much of our coordination goes to political efforts. Have you heard of Carillon? A great success story, really."

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"To an Orzhov, profit is the point, for its own sake. Always. But I understand why you might make a different tradeoff. What is Carillon?"

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"A soul-improving resort presided over by a very intimidating, very capable woman. A partnership with several wealthy human patrons, allowing the skilled sculptors of the soul to care for the masses." He smiles broadly, with just a hint of menace in the eyes. "Faith, morality, the notion of sin... Such funny ideas they come up with, but we can help excise your greed. Your lust. Your envy. Mutually beneficial."

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"Faith is such a useful lever, isn't it? Sin was never really our line with it, too prone to making people think there are things that coin can't redeem. But it keeps the masses under control marvelously."

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"From what I understand it was something between a historical accident and a bit of an inevitability when our trade is souls and nothing but. There were some areas that held more convenient views, at times and places. It is what it is. How do you define profit? The line between gains from trade and increases in production, and more complete control of available resources..."

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"Coin itself, for the most part. Precious metals aren't nothing, and in theory anything which an overwhelming majority of the populace perceives as a store of value can do. But it absolutely must be an unambiguous physical representation of material wealth, that's ritually significant."

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"I'm curious what the margin of error is on 'overwhelming majority' and 'store of value' are. Gemstones? Bronzewood? Tea? Souls? Paper or cryptographic fiat?"

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"Cryptographic fiat? I have no idea what that could even be. I think the Families have actively blocked the widespread use of any fiat or unbacked letters of credit, in order to keep our lives and ritual magic simpler; there hasn't been enormous counterpressure. Guild scrip doesn't count, neither as debt or as credit. I don't actually know yet which trade goods here would count; the drive for profit is - fundamental but not moment-to-moment obvious, absent extreme cases like large-sum charity. If I reconstruct the Council ritual, I suppose I'll find out along the way."

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"Something terribly clever and entirely useless that a group of Scrive-Spinsters once came up with. Something about mathematical proofs and verification." He waves dismissively. "Interesting... Well, there's a lot of chaos in the absence of a strong hierarchy, but Sovereigns ought to do if nothing else. Precious metal, stained glass in larger denominations, symbolic and minted and used in at least three major regions."

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"Yes, I imagine so. Gemstones and souls seem likely as well, though I've gathered 'soul' doesn't mean quite the same thing here, since it can be extracted nonfatally."

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"Quite so. The soul is not the mind. Most other things I could elaborate on to continue the casual transaction of lunch conversation get uncomfortably close to actual secrets, when souls are involved."

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"Then I will try not to press. One thing, though: Are ghosts a commonly-known occurrence here? I haven't heard of them yet, and it would be informative as to which of my old assumptions I must scrutinize."

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"Not common, no. There are a number of entities that might be called 'ghosts', rare, varied."

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"Concerning. Well, better to know, I suppose."

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Their food is mostly gone at this point. "Thank you for the meeting. Perhaps we can do business some time, you do seem like someone we would find satisfactory to work with."

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"I'm glad; it seems like interesting potential work. If you don't mind, is there anyone nearby you'd call competent to explain the very basics of the Correspondence? Most locals are, quite reasonably, content to stop at 'don't touch', but I think I ought to look a little deeper, and you seem rather more daring."

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"That attitude is a healthy sense of self-preservation, really. So a great many academics and engineers have none of it."

He gives a name, the Gothic Calligrapher, and an address. For whatever addresses are worth around here; It's more like general directions.

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"Thank you kindly, and I hope there are many profitable collaborations ahead of us."

She considers her priorities for a moment, then sets out to find the Calligrapher.

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The place stands out pretty well. It's tall, architecturally detailed and centered on vertical design, absolutely no plants or decorations aside from the bare stonework, an arched window with delicate iron framing, and is painted black. Very black. The sign above the door says 'Calligraphy for Hire' in an honestly impressively sharp serif font, with a cursive inquire inside just as neatly below. A bell rings above the door as she enters. There's a small sitting room with neatly arranged painted signs, fancy contract letterheads, and illuminated manuscript pages on display.

A roll-up wall panel ascends a few moments after she enters, revealing a long-faced, thin-lipped man with dark circles under his eyes, wearing half-moon glasses and inkstained robes and holding a feather quill.

"How may I help you today, madam?"

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"I am an accidental immigrant from a place with magic which works on nearly completely different principles from things here like the Correspondence. But only nearly, meaning that it does interact with Correspondence, so I believe I need to learn about it. You were suggested as someone who both might be able to teach me and would be likely to not, say, land us both in an explosion that left us unsure whether yesterday was to our left or our right."

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