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Jun 02, 2023 5:30 PM
Deskari's demons needed competent administration
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She is met, post hair-adjusting et al., by the Watch Commander of this stretch of border.  Not even by an aide-de-camp; Diana has left her office to wait for her, that's how important, how gamechanging, the news she brings is.

"Mondegreen.  We're going to the secure room and then you can tell me what makes you think we can do this."

She wears sturdy armor, even inside; she may have to fight at any moment.  Her divine focus - by which she means her sword - is by her side, as it always is.  Her crossbow hangs next to it, etched with swords on the stock, the bowstring that hums with the sound of her voice shimmering softly.  She also carries a megaphone, because she's touched a bit of the same thing song-sorcerers do in swearing the oaths to herself that she has, and the amplification is useful when it carries not only her voice but her oratory's effects.


Ophelia made it for her, actually, and while she spent some time thinking about it and had a couple other wizards look the thing over for traps - well, even with the inherent "it's concerning that there's a succubus, however well-attestedly Good-ish, giving me magic items" factor, she used it.  To not use it would be more of a risk, in terms of lives spent.


And now, a miracle occurs.

Once again because of Ophelia.

Once the door's shut on the private sanctum, she sighs.

"You grow more and more suspicious with every interaction we have, I hope you know.  There's too many lives I owe to your work, and there's part of me still waiting for the knife."


"I'm hardly Cheliaxian; a proper demon would already have eaten you alive by now.  It's good to see you again, though I wish it wasn't for such boringly important business."


"You can flirt when I'm off the clock.  Tell me what's going on.  Last I heard from you was that you had intelligence of Deskari cultists doing a summoning and were going to infiltrate to disrupt, now you come out of the woodwork with a plan to hold Drezen?  Because I'm sure you know we could take it, but the price would be paid in far too much blood."


"Well."  Ophelia's got a bit of a smug expression on her face.  "The ritual summoned what I wanted it to.  And the Herald it spat out promptly assumed control thorough enough that I thought it was Mass Dominate Monster, at first - but it isn't, it's something else entirely - it covered, by her telling, every insectoid lifeform in a mile radius, including the coloxus demon, and I saw no spellwork done.

"...I think you'd like her."


"...I'm sorry, did I hear that correctly?  You said she dominated, by unknown means, every insect and insect-demon for a mile - and you think I'd like her?"

The incredulity is more about the latter statement, really.


"She fell out of the portal half-dead and I think possibly posessed, skull blown open with what looked to me like bullet wounds, and when she'd been patched up by the aspiring Gorumite cleric and told about Deskari, she immediately decided she was going to put a stop to him.  Speaking of clerics, I have someone that needs raising or breath of life in my bag; make sure I give him back before I go."


...Well.  That might actually be someone she could work with.


It's finding everyone else to trust to work with her that would be the problem.  People with the sort of Law that counterweights Ophelia Vascilia's - herself-ness, who nonetheless can work with her, not against her, and around - she's pretty sure that the cleric in question is one she's seen reports of before, from Hellknights, and they weren't pretty - and this total unknown, for all that Ophelia is good at reading people, with apocalyptic power!

She hasn't forgotten this was a cult to Deskari!


"I'll take him from here.  How long can you stick around?  I'll see who I can grab."


"I'd plan on an hour, maximum.  I don't want to leave them alone for very long; Gord is honestly persuasive in his own way.  Who's in town?"




Gord comes fully alert, eyes scanning for danger.

Ophelia is strong enough to teleport, or rich enough to afford the boots. Why hide it, and why reveal it now? She spent a while discussing magical travel without offering to teleport them.

She changed her mind while casting: she contacted someone who gave her new orders. She has powerful friends, and doesn't serve Deskari.

All this passes in the back of his mind in a few seconds, while he confirms he can't see anyone and reflexively casts ironskin. Gord doesn't second-guess his intuition.


"We are probably being observed and may be attacked soon," he says in a conversational tone. "If so, they are likely stronger than me. Watch out and be ready to counterattack. 

"The language-sharing spell will run out in a few minutes, and I can't prepare another one until morning. I can translate the papers for you before that, if you let me read them, or I can answer more questions.

"You asked what I can do. This morning I would have proudly told you I can beat one of those" - he points at Brizzz with his sword - "in a fair fight. That is nothing, to someone who can fight all the demons in Drezen.

"I can do what all clerics can: cure wounds, diseases, curses, afflictions. Strengthen allies and weaken foes. Create or purify food and water, and many other spells which are more rarely useful.

"If you take Drezen, and hold it, you will soon have offers of alliance from churches with many clerics, some of them stronger than I.

"So perhaps the greatest aid I can give is to tell you of the greatest evils in this world, slavery and tyranny and lies, which unite in calling themselves Law."


"...Hm.  Do tell."

She's rather reminded of some of the more annoying people who sent her...

She'll split the difference and call it mail, after she killed Alexandria.  The sovereign citizen types.

"Actually, first - I don't see anything observing us, nor is there anything invisible but tangible within my radius - so who else could and would be spying, and how would they be doing that?"  On a scale of one to Contessa, she doesn't add.  It would unfortunately not be helpful.


Detect magic shows no scrying sensors; the mirror has the expected divination aura. "We can be seen and heard through mirrors, by Ophelia and by anyone else who can identify the mirror or one of us. The simplest defense is to put it in a bag that blocks sight and sound, or in my bag of holding if you want to annoy anyone who teleports to it - that's an extraplanar space, bigger on the inside.

"Wizards and powerful clerics can also see and hear anyone they have met or heard of, whose mind isn't strong enough to resist it - Brizzz here would be an easy target. That kind of scrying sensor is invisible and intangible, but it has to stay close by and I would see its magic.

"Another kind of sensor could stay too far for me to detect, but it cannot be cast remotely and I don't think Ophelia left one here." He didn't recognize the second ten-minute divination spell but it clearly targeted the mirror.

"Normally I would worry about invisible flying creatures watching us, pets or summons or familiars, but those are tangible."




How much does her intellect say to trust Ophelia and Lastwall by proxy over this?  Her emotions are suspect.


"She did mention that she needed it for teleporting back."

"I'm not aware of the precise mechanics of teleportation as done by wizards, but my instinct here is to suspect that she actually does need some sort of locator beacon.  The question is what rules she is operating under for that, and whether we care that this conversation could be listened to.  It's not like we're talking about secrets.  The secret that I exist is by necessity already known to anyone who would think to spy on me, and while there are plausibly other things I could speak of - well, I'm not going to, because they're useless."


"I will speak no secrets. 

"Ophelia has told you of Good and Evil, Law and Chaos. Those words are deceptively chosen. If you hear of a great struggle in a distant land, with two sides called good and evil, you may wonder who gave them these names, and what word the people called evil have for themselves. It is the same with law: a better term is control, and for chaos - freedom

"Controlling people value laws, and the idea of law, more than their outcomes. They build systems that put everyone in their place, and spend their lives hurting each other. They may hate the system that makes them do it, but they never consider leaving it, only replacing it with another. 


"Four countries are ruled by Controlling gods, raising people to send souls to the gods' afterlives. Two of them were conquered by their churches in the past hundred years. All of them are all built on slavery and indoctrination. None of their people are happy, not even the rulers, because they spend their lives servicing great machines built to oppress one another.

"Controlling Evil Cheliax serves Hell, the afterlife of tyranny and perfect obedience. They boast that every loyal Asmodean is His slave, and the slave also of either their Church or their Crown. They enslave halflings, but all that means is that halflings are not allowed to own other slaves, so the halflings may get the better end of the bargain. In death they are tortured in Hell, because they believe torture is the perfect expression of tyranny.

"Controlling Good Lastwall raises every child to spend their lives fighting against evil, no matter the cost. They go to Heaven, where the dead are marshalled in great armies that fight Evil until their souls also die. Every one of them believes they are doing the right thing, and none of them are there by choice. The only difference between them and the Asmodeans is that they let their enemies do the torturing for them.

"Their ally Mendev is less Controlling, which is to say its people do not all want to fight in Iomedae's war. But it is ruled by the highest-ranked paladin of Iomedae on Golarion, and her Inquisition has the power of life and death. So when the demons took Kenabres fifteen years ago and refugees flooded the heartlands, they conscripted them and the poor who could not pay their way out, and sent them back to the war. Thousands of them, and the only choice they had was to be killed by demons or by their self-proclaimed rightful rulers. But the people were raised Lawful, and so they made the wrong choice, and went into the demons' maws.

"Truely-Controlling Osirion makes all women slaves to men, and sells people into slavery to cover their debts or to punish their crimes. They think following the law is more important than what the law says, because it sends people to Axis, where their reward is more Law.

"Nidal is similar to Cheliax, but values torture for itself. They have served Zon-Kuthon since before they invented writing, and yet their farmers have not all fled or killed themselves, because with sufficient Law one can take even the final step from torturing others to torturing oneself.


"Freedom-loving people do not think there should be no law against murder, or that it should not be enforced. But when a country passes unjust laws, or a village upholds an evil custom, we are with those who rebel, those who leave, who refuse to enforce injustice or tolerate evil. Controlling people think the custom of having laws at all is more important than any one law, and so they let some of the laws be evil, and some of the judges corrupt, and they end with tyranny or with dissolution.

"Everyone knows best what they need to be happy. Leave people alone, and they will build a good life for themselves. Chaos is leaving people free to find Good and to help each other. Law is thinking you know best, forcing everyone else, and saying it's for their own good."


"Dominating or destroying Deskari's forces, driving back the demons from the Worldwound, these would be Good and great deeds. I would applaud them, without reservation.

"Those who would benefit most are not here by choice. They are forced into the fight, by pain and the threat of pain, by duty turned to shame and self-loathing, and are killed without accomplishing anything. The average conscript is not much stronger on the last day they fight than on the first, and has not achieved anything besides getting themselves and their comrades killed.

"Unseat the church of a single Lawful theocracy, and you will free more slaves than have died in all of Sarkoris since the Worldwound first opened.

"Do not use Deskari's hordes merely to kill other demons. Many people in Avistan are neither Lawful nor Evil. Help Andoran and Galt free Isger and Cheliax. Help Nirmathas and Brevoy reform Lastwall and Mendev, make the Iomedaens a church and not a government. Lead a fight against tyranny that will unite the continent, Desnans and Gorumites and people like Harun united of their own free will, in a cause that they can love. Bear the banner of Elysium across the lands, if it sings to your soul, and you will always find friends."


"...Hm.  I will take this information on board.  I do think that I am not going to commit to anything, yet.  But I do appreciate your perspective.  And slavery is, of course, generally awful."

...What she did in that last battle against Scion was awful but necessary.  She doesn't get quite the same sense, here.


"Your first step is to gather an army and defeat Deskari. You'll have time to decide what to do next. I only ask that when you meet people - adventurers, crusaders, regular soldiers - you will wonder what brought them here, what they're fighting for, and what might be stopping them from walking away."


She nods.  "That I will."




He runs.


He's been betrayed many times and it long since stopped hurting; an occupational hazard of working with demons.

He didn't expect this scheme to succeed, any more than the last three blood-ritual cells he was in. Brizzz dressed sharply and was great at sourcing sacrifices, but he was obsessed with mortals (they do what I tell them, he'd marveled, I just need to pay, haven't eaten even one, so much better than demons) and ended up hiring a merc and an unvetted wizard who betrayed him together without a second thought

Harun had stayed to the end, out of a sick fascination and a twisted sense of duty, because he wasn't going to betray Brizzz before those transparently... non-cultist bastards did. He'd been prepared to cut and run.

He hadn't prepared for this.


Do not return to the Worldwound... for at least one year.

He doesn't know if his work with the demons can succeed. If Deskari can really conquer all Golarion. He doesn't know for sure that he can't, and it's all that keeps him going some days, because he doesn't have another plan, doesn't have anything else to hope for - a reason to go anywhere - waiting a year is better than dying but he's not sure he can bear it -

He trips, falls, slides downslope. He's bleeding, a shallow cut on his forehead. He can dance with the best of them, on bad footing or no footing and the daggers out and he never falls. His legs feel like wet noodles.

Nor moving with dangerous haste, the voice in his head commands, and he nearly vomits. He feels lost, dull, not knowing what thought to think next. Is this what the next year will be like? He can't do it. Can't go on like this.

Can't let her force him to do it. Making him a slave again. Not going to let her do it. Better to die first.

He pulls himself up. Kenabres is just over there, in the distance. He will send a message. Tell Arcghanaur what happened to Brizz. He owes him that much. The cambion will know what to do. He's got a good human head on his shoulders.

Owes the Harun of yesterday that much. Owes Nurah. Even if he dies for it he's not going to just run away.

He staggers on.




"...Right.  If you want my help recruiting for this, and you've implied you do, you're taking one of my reports.  I think you'll benefit from her; she does a lot of anti-stupid work and you're going to have way too many reinforcements directly from Mendev.  I've got some other people I'd actually trust out of the not-mine crusaders, though I'm not sure I agree with your prioritization of capabilities.  You need anti-assassination more than anything."


"And how are you suggesting I pursue that?  Fifth-circle clerics are hardly readily shifted!"


"For something as important as this, we can and will shift that cleric.  I'd come myself if I wasn't critically important in command, though part of that is my strongly desiring to stab some of the demons that are actually responsible for this, rather than operational utility questions."

She paces 'round the table, paging through the plans stored in her head.

"...I probably will move my command to the Drezen base, once it's established, actually.  The fighting will be thicker there, my section of the outer line is stably established, and we're going to be shifting wardstones and that is Lastwall's duty.  Anyway.  I also recommend, but do not mandate, taking a couple of our hunters; they're going to be useful for their field intuition and sharp eyes even if you probably don't need the tracking, and we have more of them on the line than we do druids, in general, if you want nature-casters that badly.  Oh, and I'll authorize Weaver an equipment kit, though I'm not sure which would be best; you said she didn't have any magic items and didn't have magic.  We need to fix that if she's taking Drezen for us.  Not to be too Abadaran about it, but it'd be an unfair trade, otherwise."


"You've been waiting for something like this.  Be careful; you're going to get much more of it than you asked for."

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