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Iomedae in the Eastern Empire!
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It shouldn't be confusing. She said it very straightforwardly and it holds together - as a thing to want, as a thing to try for - and it fits with the rest, it feels like it should help his understanding of Iomedae come together more, but - it feels like actually it's just shifting the confusion to a different layer, that's even more difficult to fit his head around. It feels like he doesn't have a blank space to fill with - that - in his metaphorical map of the world and how everything works, it feels like he didn't leave space for the concept and he's trying to awkwardly pin it on but it calls for a much deeper reevaluation that he doesn't know how to approach. 


Altarrin doesn't say anything for a long time. He doesn't look upset, more like he has no idea whatsoever how to feel about what she said.


"And - the other time, with Arazni?" he says finally. "...If it is not too difficult to talk about, you seem - tired." 


"Aroden was trying so hard to be polite and He still squeezed my skull out of my ears a little," she says dryly. "Don't worry about it, today's still the best day of my life.


...Arazni was Aroden's Herald, in Axis, a demigod in her own right. She - came to help us with the Crusade, and She's the only reason it got as far as it did, and Tar-Baphon killed Her. Gods....aren't like mortals. You can't just Raise them. She had precautions, obviously, She shouldn't truly have been possible to destroy, but -

- it's foolish to assume there's anything a being as powerful as Tar Baphon can't do, if he decides it's worth expending enough resources - we were foolish, we felt so invincible, we were talking about ending the war sooner to save more lives and - traded off too much, in hindsight, against our odds of winning at all. I am more careful now. I was angry at myself, really, more than at Aroden, but - it's easier to yell at Him. It would've been - pretty bad for us, to have been yelling mostly at each other."


"I asked Him why He couldn't - tell me how expensive it was to fix, so I could decide whether to spend that much or not, but at least know, and He said that there weren't - any routes I'd choose to walk.



Probably someday when I'm a god this will make perfect sense. Right now it doesn't, but - it's not something where my spending more thought will make anything better, so I mostly don't."


Altarrin bows his head. He - does know what it's like, making that kind of mistake - in fact he's arguably made exactly that mistake, trying to win, not realizing how much he was giving up in terms of preventing the worst outcomes. And his worst outcomes were...worse than that. 


"It sounds like Aroden is better at communicating with mortals - and more inclined to actually attempt it - than any of our gods are, but that does not mean He is good at it," he says dryly. "...I am sorry. That - it happened - and that He could not tell you how to fix it." 


"Thank you. There's - many, many things that will never be all right, but - eventually the ashes drift back to the ground, and the sun rises, and we build anew." It's from Aroden's holy books, the part on the Age of Darkness. 


Altarrin recognizes it; he only skimmed that part, and mostly didn't feel anything about it at the time, he was too caught up in entirely different flavors of misery, but - it hits him a lot harder, here and now.

Also it is kind of ridiculous the extent to which nearly everything he's learned so far about the Church of Aroden feels like it could have been designed from the ground up to appeal to him personally. He really doesn't think Iomedae is inventing any of this, or even just spinning it for him as an audience, but he doesn't have a different explanation and so it just feels baffling and inexplicable. 



"- I think that was all of my urgent questions," he says, after thirty seconds of not saying anything at all. 


"All right. My recommendation would be that you focus on recuperating and on scrying Velgarth. If you don't expect reprisals against your allies or family there I expect it's worth just writing something directly explaining to them what happened, which can be sent with some delegates.

And I'm going to focus on Foresight noise management, which means not having my actions inflected by yours for the next week, so that the gods will work with me on taking Urgir, and then can start thinking about improving things in Velgarth. It's going to be winter soon here, Urgir's the last offensive of this season. We're pretty far north; it's a six-month winter. We will have our work cut out for us rebuilding in Urgir, but - that's not really work I'm uniquely needed for more than ten hours a day, not if I hand the headband off, and I - want to help you make your world better. It - deserves so much more than what it presently has to work with."


"I do not have any family there."

(Technically false, in a sense, the Duke of Kavar has living blood relatives, but absolutely no one is going to assume that they were involved in Archmage-Altarrin's treachery, even if the conclusion of that investigation lands on 'traitor' and not 'literally mind-controlled'. It...may or may not make things worse at court for the faction generally allied with him, to send a letter, but Altarrin usually tries not to let that sort of reasoning get in the way of doing things which obviously make sense otherwise.) 


"And...thank you. I am very grateful." And confused, but not about Iomedae. She - makes sense, for someone who wants to fix everything and is doing it from her particular context, surrounded by powerful allies including a god who shares her goals and cares about the same things she does. The part he's confused about is how that context exists


“I bet I’m more grateful.” But she is really past the limits of her endurance, here, and should go lie down, so she stands, and heads out.


Someone will be in shortly with a Ring of Sustenance.


Altarrin thanks them with as much warmth as he can muster. Iomedae's people are being very generous to him and he doesn't want to be ungrateful. 


...He's also quite tired, enough that he doesn't incredibly want to scry Velgarth right now even though his belt is working again. (He's– no, he's not actually surprised that they let him keep it, obviously they would unless for some reason they only had the one and Iomedae needed it more urgently, and in that case they would have apologized.) It's been a long day, though, and having been briefly unconscious in the middle of it wasn't actually restful.

He asks the construct-servants for a bedroom. And another copy of Aroden's holy books, but non-urgently, he'll sleep before reading more. 


The Eastern Empire is currently going through some interesting times!

To say they are inevitable is, perhaps, an overstatement. Certain aspects of them follow like water flowing downhill, but the truth is that human dynamics are too complicated to be summoned up in inevitabilities; just as human hands can build a wall to shape water, so too do the skills and moods of the individuals caught up in them.

Nonetheless, the broad strokes are extremely predictable.

When an imperial general rebels, everyone* who does not join the rebellion, but who has a close friend or relative on the rebel side, is immediately under strict scrutiny, as the loyalist government wonders if they will defect next - if it is their only compulsions keeping them loyal, or worse. These of doubtful loyalties must therefore defend themselves against being removed from office - and, during the crisis, are certain to lose out in glory and promotions to those with no stain on their loyalties who the government can therefore trust. It is worst for those with no base of power of their own, pure clients of a patron now in rebellion, whose offices are now spoil of victory in a political game that was conceded when the armies began marching; best for those who, secure in isolated estates with their own clients loyal to them and no need for imperial patronage, and between are those who must defend themselves with all their power, something that interferes with achieving wealth, establishing alliances, or protecting their clients.

The pure-loyalists, meanwhile, who cannot defect, are emboldened. Clearly, the fact that the Other Side rebelled proves that they were treacherous, untrustworthy, and - following logically from there - actually wrong about every major issue where they, the rebels, were arguing against the pure-loyalists favored positions. Since arguing the other side of these debates is a sort-of-thing-rebels-do and everyone not a rebel but who was arguing them anyway who was previously too busy defending themselves to engage in key political debates (see previous paragraph), they can immediately win the political battles they were fighting and turn their attention to fighting over the spoil of office, and, you know, trying to win the war.

Two generals have at this point rebelled, leaving a giant gaping hole in the political factions they supported. A third has been militarily humiliated. A fourth, and the known chief minister at that - well, the official story is that he was compulsioned into defecting to a previously unknown foreign power and then fled the country not under his own will, but given that Kastil suggested for genuinely purely paranoid reasons that anyone who might while knowing he’d been hopefully-temporarily removed from office still obey his orders should be removed from a sensitive position until such time as Altarrin was recovered and cleared, and given that Bastran approved this, the effect is much the same.

Altarrin’s faction has, functionally, been disgraced. Emperor Bastran is not in danger; everyone who didn’t join the rebellion is compulsioned to obey him, and most of them, human nature being what it is, have therefore decided they approve of him and want him to be emperor for entirely separate reasons to being his slaves. Those who relied on Altarrin’s patronage for their positions, however, have lost them; those who relied on Altarrin’s protection from the incoming sharks have lost it, and now must scramble to find a new protector or protect themselves.

The feeding frenzy has begun.

(*: Everyone, that is, who is involved in politics**, this being the fundamental definition of personhood to imperial politicians.)

(**: Every officer in the army is automatically involved in politics.)


In the Eastern Empire, the details of how this occurs are, of course, shaped by the individual personality of Emperor Bastran.

Who is Bastran? Bastran is a young man inclined to insecurity and doubt, with a dislike of formality and a reliance on Altarrin. He prefers logical arguments to emotional ones, takes consequentialist approaches, values the writings of Arvad and the Founders greatly, and feels like he needs to be more paranoid about treason than he is naturally inclined to be, but he is also kind and dislikes cruelty and cares about the people of the empire. (He's also gay.) Every one of his advisors, therefore, is, in an important sense, a specialist in consequentialist-Arvadite-logical-arguing-in-informal-manner-for-the-good-of-the-empire, and everyone has brought their in-previous-reigns embarrassing sons, nephews and cousins who prefer men and have any knack for politics whatsoever to court.

Altarrin's family is obviously not in danger, not under Bastran. Bastran doesn't like executing people and so none of his advisors will suggest this, a plan which would tick him off and not accomplish anything. They'll be tucked out of the way quietly somewhere and not cause any problems.

But Altarrin's policies? Assembled noblemen have offered to donate-and-lend an absolutely tremendous sum of money to the imperial treasury in exchange for their preferred reforms for the land tax, and for some odd reason, the opposition has really not had many objections to it. (One lord has offered to personally fund an army and lead it in support of the Imperial cause in exchange for a generalship and the legal right to personally appoint all the officers.) Leading merchant houses in the city of Citria have requested an exemption from the laws against hiring foreign sailors known to be religious (instituted after the discovery of large-scale shrines among foreign communities in port cities), promising huge economic benefits and a freeing-up of manpower from the army, and the bureaucratic administration has tightened ranks against Altarrin's attempts to wipe out the exemptions they'd carved out for their children from certain of the stricter requirements on educational performance. Those aren't going anywhere.


Of course, all of these questions, which might normally take up long, long debate, have now been sidelined. This doesn't mean they don't need to be answered, mind you! It means that the Emperor only has a few minutes to think about them and so is under more pressure than usual to turn to one of his advisors and say "here's a ten-word summary of my thoughts, you take care of it."

Instead, the Emperor needs to pay attention to two vitally, in the very key sense of meaning "key to the life of the empire, and that life continuing," important topics:

Other Worlds, What The Hell


Three Civil Wars, What The Hell.


The most urgent question facing the Emperor is what happened to Altarrin and the person who might know the most about it is the young mage-researcher he had working with him on it.


Altarrin, summoned to Jacona, was politely notified of the summons and permitted a moment to change his clothes. A stupid decision in hindsight, but not obviously one in advance; rudely dragging him directly from his work would have been running the substantial risk of annoying him, and people who make a habit of annoying important court officials don't tend to end up in positions of running important court projects. It's not that Altarrin himself would have retaliated. It's that the sort of person who would've decided to seriously irritate Altarrin would've first decided to seriously irritate someone important earlier, and so would not be present at the important mage-research site at all.



Altarrin's research assistant was not important, and so she was summoned to Jacona when two guards entered her room while she was sleeping (on opposite shifts from Altarrin, to maximize use of the headband). They compulsioned her to prompt obedience, told her to get dressed, and had her waiting for a Gate when Altarrin vanished.

Ten seconds after that they had her compulsioned thoroughly enough she could not move or think or breathe except when she lapsed into unconsciousness because of the compulsion that was preventing breathing, at which point she'd start breathing again until she regained consciousness, at which point she'd stop...

- this is not exactly the height of competence by site security but overkill is much much much much better than underkill when it comes to terrifying foreign magic, and you can't actually kill someone by compulsioning them too excessively.



About twenty minutes after that, more competent people had her set up properly for an interrogation. The first report to the Emperor comes at the half hour mark, and by the two hour mark they have most of what they've been asked to get, though obviously they'll keep it up for a week just in case there's anything they could be missing. 

Most important: the civilization in the other world is real. She helped with the scrying-spell. It makes half-sense to her, she couldn't cast it unassisted, but it was a real scrying spell for routing through other planes to cross the vast distance to another world, and it worked.

Next most important is whether she's being influenced by Aroden herself, but that's much harder to answer.


Aritha Tevanir is an ordinarily, which is to say insufficiently, loyal Imperial subject; she is in favor of all the things she's supposed to be in favor of, like statistics and literacy and conquest and progress and technology, and against all the things she's supposed to be against, like the gods and the rebels and treason and the powerful order from another world. But mostly she's in favor of herself, and mostly she is wildly cynical, in part because the more cynical you are the easier it is to reconcile loyalty to the Empire with doing what is in your personal interests; it's what everyone else is doing. It's what the Empire truly is.

She hates Aroden. He's a god, and she hates gods, and he's a man, and she kind of hates those too, and if he's a story made up by Iomedae for her own purposes well she hates stories, so that's also fine. If there's mind control operative on her with respect to the civilization from the other world, it's taking a subtler form.

She believes that the civilization from the other world is going to conquer the Empire. She's loyal, which does not mean to her that she ought to try to heroically stop the civilization from the other world. That'd get her killed. It means she will obediently serve the Empire until it gets conquered which is definitely going to happen. She didn't point this out to anyone, though it showed up on her previous Thoughtsensing checks, because she figures they all knew it too; if it's obvious to her, it's presumably much more obvious to people who know things about politics. Maybe Altarrin could have figured out a way to save them, but, well, no one has told her anything about what is going on but she guesses wildly that something which is not 'Altarrin figured out a way to save them' happened. 



And that does seem...useful to the civilization from the other world, so maybe they influenced her into it, though she's happy to give convincing-seeming justifications that the interrogators can't evaluate because they all turn on things like 'the magic items are really complicated in a way that suggests to Aritha incredible sophistication with magic' and 'the unfamiliar metals suggest a more advanced science of metallurgy' and 'a society that has the headbands would just have much better magical research than one that doesn't have headbands'. 

Her main goal is to not get killed, and make herself useful to whoever is in power, and she is pretty much indifferent among all of the possibilities for whoever is in power including the civilization from another world. What she means by loyalty to Bastran is the same thing as what she means by loyalty to the Empire; she will serve, until someone gets hold of her head and makes her do something else, which she expects to happen eventually. 

They await direction from the Emperor on in what directions they should try to scrape more out of her.


The Emperor is having a terrible day! 

(He might, under other conditions, be more intrigued by the other world, which at least has the upside of being novel and an intellectual puzzle and involving magic research rather than sending soldiers to kill each other. However. The other world STOLE ALTARRIN and so Bastran is deeply bitter about it.) 


He wants Altarrin back.

Two candlemarks of fruitless searching is enough to conclude that they are almost certainly not going to find Altarrin anytime soon. They've had specialists brought in to try to scry him, mages who can get through the standard shields, who cast it efficiently enough to reach multiple thousands of miles. He's almost certainly not on the continent. (Though of course it's a possibility he's holed up behind a kind of shield that was mentioned once in an obscure book 300 years ago, Altarrin is exactly the sort of person who would know every single spell ever mentioned in a treatise in the Empire's entire history, Bastran has no idea how he does it and until now it was convenient.) 

He's probably in the other world, though. Hopefully with Iomedae's people. It would be worse if the thing that went wrong was 'he accidentally scried Tar-Baphon, who is even worse than gods, and works for him now.' Bastran doesn't think this is likely, Altarrin is too careful for that, but it's a terrifying thought. 


It's...also obvious, even to Bastran, that just dragging Altarrin back to Jacona would really not fix everything. It's too late for that. It would just mean weeks or months of Altarrin being kept under guard with restrictive compulsions in place while being interrogated by a Thoughtsenser and predictably incredibly miserable about this. And even if they concluded it hadn't been his fault at all because he was under compulsions from Iomedae's people, or directly possessed by Aroden, then what? 

(Arbas thinks he could fix it. Arbas thinks he can do literally anything with compulsions, though, and he's generally right but - he couldn't get one on Iomedae.) 


He sits down with his advisors. Agenda items: 

- What else can they try to find Altarrin and bring him back to the Empire. 

- What are their options, in general, for learning more about the other world? 

- What are they going to do, in the meantime, to fill the hole that Altarrin's disappearance has left, not just in his formal chain of command but in a dozen other random places, Altarrin involves himself in a lot of aspects of the Empire. 


His advisors have come with their own agenda items! Specifically, The War, The Other War, and Why Are We Having Three Wars, Again? The Minister of Revenue also has some things to say about the budget.


The Minister of Revenue is a sharp young man from a family that had not traditionally sought a role in the administration, which is a polite way of saying they were (a) rural and (b) very clearly holding a grudge that their ancestors had been conquered by the Empire. Since the grudge dated back three hundred years and had become totally irrelevant in all respects (including their participation, or lack thereof, in rebellions against the empire) a hundred years ago, it is not surprise that Pelias Declane had broken with his family tradition, though it is rather surprising that he has already reached one of the highest posts in the Empire itself. In this he is assisted by his strained relations with his family, somewhat resembling Bastran's own, and by the fact that he genuinely seems to lack family ambition. (His desire to push his faction is, very visibly, a desire to push able proteges, as well as a good deal of alignment with the State itself.)

"We can't collect taxes from five provinces, Bastran," he says. "Nearly every legion is mobilized. The treasury's bleeding and every new expense means we run out a day sooner." He has a list of Ways To Save Money! It mostly involves cutting funding for programs aimed at the Long-Term Good Of The Empire until that far-off day in the future where the crisis isn't over. He also has plans to arrange loans to cover expenses past what the treasury can bear, producing a lot of debt that will need to be paid off eventually.


Archmage-General Macaley, Duke of Holiger, has his own opinions on the topic. "We need more men, Bastran. If we need to guard against another world, we need a lot more men. And mages." Macaley does not owe his post to Altarrin, and prefers - or, before the crisis, preferred - to joke that Altarrin owned his post to him; he was one of the leading generals in the wars that lead to the reunification of the Empire, even if he is now an arm short for that. He considered the promotion from general to Minister of War to be a demotion, and even if he is now much too old for his previous job, that has not stopped him from going hunting almost daily, an event he uses to discuss his plans for the War Office. He has spent the past month not gloating about how his preferred policies of pushing candidates from good and true noble families against Altarrin's objections about "meritocracy" have just paid off spectacularly, since the two Very High-Ranking generals who rebelled were both non-noble, very, very patiently. "I can win this bloody thing as the money keeps coming - but if we're going to get Altarrin back? We need a lot more men."

His programs involve TAKING THE FREE ARMY OFFER, rebuilding the legions his distant cousin and political rival the governor of Tozoa wrecked, and some ambitious plans to strip the Empire's coastal navy bare to move all the marines and ship-mages to the front to get this bloody thing done faster.

(He was an army man back before his promotion, not a navy man.)

And if he reminds Bastran of his own father, he's a lot easier to correct. 


(The Minister of Justice retired to spend more time with his family four weeks ago, and Lady Voltha remains one of the newest top imperial ministers, being a long-distinguished scion of a long-distinguished family in the Imperial administration, not to mention quite a capable mage. She is unmarried, because a married woman would not have time for her job, and is absolutely refreshingly practical under all circumstances, which is why she has yet to start arguing. Nobody, after all, has yet started trampling on the domains of the Ministry of Justice. But she has a "yep, the workload is terrible, isn't it" smile for Bastran if he has time to notice.)


Baron Jonatan Pierson, Minister of State, also does not have any emergencies! He has the bright, professional smile of someone who is prepared to deny you a vitally important form and is eagerly shuffling his piles and piles of documents to present to Bastran when the agenda reaches the specific point on the agenda where these problems are to be discussed. He has an absolutely limitless appetite for work and works sixteen hours a day and controls the most vital part of the administration, the interface between the emperor and the governors, and has taken the possibility that any governors he signed off on appointing would rebel as a personal blow, a trait he mostly shows by very enthusiastically purging anyone who suggests the slightest sympathy or mercy for the rebels.


The foreign minister, Duke Klemath Elnore, has assembled his own files! He's a gifted amateur musician, a rare trait he shares with Bastran, but however useful this may have been in getting this post he is also one of the few people who reliable provides Bastran with solutions more often than problems, barring his "uh, Holy Ithik is behind everything" at the start of the crisis.

"My staff have compiled a list of foreign countries mentioned by 'Iomedae' and by Altarrin," he says, "sorted by our impression of her wealth if in fact diamonds are much more valuable there than here, gifts of diamonds to all leaders of nations opposed to Iomedae's should secure us favorable trade deals and a start on establishing bloodlines of their mages in the Empire. The sooner we make contact, the sooner interplanetary trade can solve all our problems."

(And, of course, the sooner his department will need a massive, massive expansion.)


The head of the Office of Inquiry has his own paperwork. He is grey and ordinary-looking and has a friendly smile and isn't quarrelsome at all and faaaaades into the background, but he's also the person who everyone went to for Aritha's report.

He does prefer to be the person who everyone goes to for everything, yes.

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