Part 22: Cleopatra Jones And the Courtroom DramaCleopatra Jones And the Courtroom Drama
Last time on Tyranny, we learned about Sirin's horrible indoctrination, the weakness of Kyros, and Archons. Today we're going to be putting off the main plot even more to go hang out with Calio per her request.
Off we go!
Rhogalus is kind of upset with us that the Silent Archive is gone. I'm honestly not sure what happens if you tell him you have it - Tunon said that the forbidden knowledge law was rarely enforced, but this is a direct command by Kyros. Who knows.
Myothis gets back to us as to why Bleden Mark hasn't been ordered to execute us. Now, to be fair, we're kind of working with him for adventures at the moment, but he's still under Kyros and Tunon's direct command.
My dear Fatebinder,
It's a poorly-kept secret that Bleden Mark's job is more about killing threats before they become a problem - 'official' executions are really the minority of his duties.
As I understand it, Kyros has long used Bleden Mark as a preventative measure. Since he can move about the world rather freely, and he can evade all but the most absurd powers, he's the perfect predator to send against wild talents.
I'm sure few in the Tiers have ever actively wondered why there have been seemingly so few Archons born this far west. I'm sure folks with the potential to be Archons have occurred in the Tiers time and time again - but they're usually cut down by Mark before the world hears of them.
It's likely safe to assume Bleden Mark has his eye on you and has orders to use his own judgment as to when to strike. I've known the old man for ages and I'd strongly encourage you NOT to try to appeal to him with overt displays of loyalty - he has no stomach for sycophants. I sincerely believe he thinks every human being is a selfish, twisted knave and there are those who are lying about it and those that accept what they are - no third type exists.
So yes, I do think Bleden Mark will one day have to come for you. As I said - you could always hide or end your life now... but where you're headed, conflict is likely inevitable.
Of course, this assessment is contradicted by Mark's comment about people he regrets killing. If everyone is a "selfish, twisted knave" who are these people? EclecticTastes theorized in the thread that Mark's cynicism is a defense mechanism and that he may have had nobler motives for killing Kyros. We shall see!
We will send this last missive off to our friendly Fatebinder correspondent and wait for a reply.
: That will be for the court to decide. The Forge-Bound are my subjects, and I hold them to a higher standard. You are the keepers of the iron secret. That cannot be forgotten.
Tunon is still our boss, are you the absolute madman who will look him in the eye and say "no"?
: It would be my pleasure, Your Honor.
: Excellent. Smith, offer up your testimony.
: The Forge-Bound artisan clears his throat. I bought a shiny bauble from a merchant passing through Lethian's Crossing - a stone of great beauty and strength. Over time, I shaped it into a mallet for pounding iron. The properties of the stone were incredible. I could swing harder, faster, and without strain. It increased my production of iron weapons tenfold.
Ha ha we sure don't know anything about anyone who would go into Oldwalls, do we? That would be very wrong!
: Did you know where the touchstone came from?
: When you realized the object's source, did you stop using it?
We know all about something awful.
: Did you ever lie about using the mallet?
: No! That is, the other smiths were curious about my work, but no one thought to inspect my tools. Since no one asked, I never told them.
Look at this abject nonsense. On the surface, it seems valid - oooh, dangerous magical artifact from an unknown source! In practice? The guy improved iron production tenfold in the middle of a war! Any other society would give him a medal and tell him to standardize Oldwall mallet production. The tool didn't harm him. He made it. Clearly he knew what he was doing with it. Do we really think punishing this guy is going to help iron production?
Now, remember, Tunon believes Kyros' laws are a worthy end goal that when faithfully executed make everything better because of the wisdom of Kyros.
Of course he can't answer that! He's being put on trial unjustly. The crime isn't trespassing or whatever, the crime is daring to think for himself.
: I am ready to give my ruling.
Well, our options all suck. Taking option one pisses off Tunon, because the smith did technically commit the crime of having Oldwalls artifacts and intent doesn't matter, only the Holy Writ. The second option fucks this smith over for the crime of...being an intelligent scientist and using his brain to serve Kyros, and gives us Wrath with the Forge-bound guild. As we need their hat, that's not really a good idea either.
However, Cleopatra is a master bullshitter and thus we can use our elite law skills to get out of this.
: [Lore 47] Forbidden knowledge is taboo under Kyros' law, but the smith was ignorant. He should go free.
At first this looks like outright bad writing. The smith confessed that he had an Oldwalls artifact, and knew what it was but used it anyway. What do you mean he was ignorant?
Go back and reread what Cordius said again. Cordius' logic is that the item is powerful, so it must be from the Oldwalls - but that's not necessarily the case. We have the Staff of Hours, that didn't come from the Oldwalls, but it's still powerful. As long as he didn't confirm that he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the item was in fact an Oldwalls artifact, he can plead ignorance and wander off into the sunset. We skipped enough for him to be oblivious to our argument, but Tunon understood right away - and because it's valid under Kyros' laws, it suddenly becomes righteous and justified and the smith goes from being a bad traitor to an innocent man in about five seconds.
The ultimate loser in all of this is the Kyrosian military, which just lost a whole bunch of iron weapons, but they're too busy fighting each other like idiots to complain.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Please, Lord Tunon, have mercy! I was just trying to help Kyros by producing a ton of iron weaponry more quickly, saving the Overlord time and money!
: There is no mercy, there is only law. I hold you Forge-Bound to a higher standard as my direct subjects and the keeper of the secrets of iron. Hello, Fatebinder. Would you like to help me adjudicate?
: Of course.
: Alright, smith, testify!
: Well, I bought a cool rock off a merchant. Then I turned it into a hammer, and it turns out that with the magic rock hammer I could make ten times the weapons! It ruled!
: Actually, that was an Oldwalls keystone. Your master snitched and now you are charged with trespassing and theft. Continue.
: Did you know where the stone came from?
: Well, the merchant refused to tell me, but I figured since it's really powerful probably the Oldwalls?
: Did you stop using it after you realized the source?
: No, but I felt really bad - but I justified it by producing more and better weapons for Kyros' army!
: Did you ever lie about using the mallet?
: Nope. I just...didn't tell people.
: Lying by omission is very bad and makes Kyros hate you personally. What if the mallet had exploded randomly? What if it was secretly the property of space aliens, and they lasered Lethian's Crossing from UFOs? Huh?
: How the fuck am I supposed to respond to this dumb shit? I don't know, Your Honor.
: What is your ruling, Fatebinder? You had better not fuck this up!
: Well, the smith never actually knew that it was an Oldwalls mallet, he just kind of guessed. No forbidden knowledge was transferred, so he should go free.
: That's... actually legit! You're free, but no more illegal mallets.
What a farce. The mallet, of course, was never the issue. The issue was people digging around in the Oldwalls for forbidden knowledge - which is not necessarily even new methods to do things, but knowledge of the past. As a Fatebinder who's seen Kyros' Peace break down literally before our very eyes we know the entire ideology is nonsense, even if we dare not vocalize that anywhere near Tunon's court. However, the need to maintain the Big Lie that Kyros is looking out for you and wants peace and free food for everyone means we cannot allow knowledge of the pre-Kyros past to seep in. On its own, the mallet is harmless, it's just a more efficient way of making iron weapons. However, encouraging it means encouraging people to go into the Oldwalls and the history of the past, which may raise awkward questions.
Brave New World posted:
'But why is it prohibited?' asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else.
The Controller shrugged his shoulders. 'Because it's old; that's the chief reason. We haven't any use for old things here.'
'Even when they're beautiful?'
'Particularly when they're beautiful. Beauty's attractive, and we don't want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.'
Let's step out of the courtroom and back to the Burning Library. Both the Oldwalls and the Vellum Citadel are full of ancient knowledge Kyros wants buried, such as "is there another way to organize a peaceful society without trampling the lives of the individuals" and "basic morality". The Bane are obviously connected to this motif of forbidden knowledge, and I said earlier I couldn't figure out where they fit in. Well, I did some thinking, and here's what I came up with.
If Bane could talk posted:
The thread mentioned the Bane as environmental destruction, and that's not an invalid interpretation by any means! Tyranny is wide open to interpretation because it has actual depth. My interpretation is that the Bane represent dangerous ideas resurfacing from the past - not dangerous as in the stupid Lovecraft notion of terrible spells that unmake civilization or whatever, but dangerous ideas under an authoritarian regime. Philosophy, morality, alternative systems of government, critical thinking, self-doubt. Even the mallet can be dangerous, as Cordius was clearly an intelligent man with an open mind to question "the secret of iron". If he starts thinking for himself, he might realize Kyros' laws are a farce too! Other people might go looking in the Oldwalls for say, better farming techniques, and then we wouldn't be able to justify Nerat stealing everything. People might start asking why we need an Overlord at all, and we can't have that!
Of course, the Bane are a threat to us digging around, and our fight against the Bane represent Cleopatra trying to come to terms with herself as an agent of the Overlord and a seeker of power while being exposed to all of the new ideas from the Silent Archive and the Spires. Instead of being able to rationalize our actions as the divine will of Kyros or whatever, we have to confront reality. It can be the reality that we've done terrible things, it can be the reality that we've started down the path to picking up the tyrant's tools, or it can be the reality that everything we were told is a lie - but defeating the Bane is simultaneously defeating Kyros and Tunon's indoctrination. This idea that the in-game combat is a clash of ideas will be revisited very late in the game depending on our favor with a certain Archon. I'll have more to say when we hit Lethian's Crossing, but there's a reason John the Savage commits suicide after Mustapha Mond exposes the truth of his society.
Anyway, a lovely lady Fatebinder wanted to talk to us about the dark corners of the earth, and that's why we're really here.
: You wrote that you could illuminate the darker corners of Terratus...
: [Address your followers.] I need to speak to the Fatebinder. Privately.
We gotta talk about, uh, boring law stuff.
: Suit yourself. She moves lightly away, footsteps soundless on the marble floor.
: Far be it for me to intrude on your Very Important Fatebinder Secrets. The Tidecaster crosses her arms and walks away.
: I thought you might have an interesting take on matters arcane...
: What do you know about sigils and their casting?
: I'm a practical magician, not a theorist. If you're looking for the whys of magic, I'd direct you to Rhogalus. You know, I'm sure, that sigils are derived from the personal marks of the Archons. My understanding is that it goes a bit deeper than that - that there's something of a question about whether the Archons are stamping their will indelibly on Terratus or unearthing some hitherto unknown aspect of magic and giving shape to it. It's one of those questions that serve little pragmatic purpose.
Is power unitary or granted?
Calio really thinks you should look for sigils. She's a smart lady.
: Why have we not been taught the sigils of Tunon or Bleden Mark?
Bullshit. We know one person who HAS learned a sigil directly from an Archon, Eb. What did she say about it?
Eb, on Archon's gifts posted:
: Now you know that's a very personal question. The knowledge I have is a centuries old gift from the Archon of Tides - I would sooner discard my life than the sanctity of that gift. I will speak in generalities only.
Calio is a Fatebinder, but she's the Fatebinder whose job it is to spy on other Fatebinders and ensure they haven't gotten any of that curiosity Tunon hates so much. The real answer that Fatebinders have a very short shelf life and are disposable tools. Tunon might not think about this very hard as Kyros takes the best and brightest of the population and makes them read fatal edicts or exposes them to new ideas and gives them a firsthand exposure to just how terribly everything in the empire is run. It's an easy way to round up potential Archons and give Kyros a pretext to put them to death. Hell, Bleden Mark even tells you you were sent on a suicide mission - do you think you're the first?
: Do you know anything of the movement of the celestial sphere?
: She tucks a strand of hair behind her right ear. I'm no astrologist, but I have the basics. There are the stars, which seem set in the firmament to the eye, yet shift with the seasons. They serve as a constant source of superstition among those who have yet to come under the Overlord's rule. They speak of the constellations as ascended Archons and mythic monsters. She grins. All very illegal. The Overlord has dictated the proper names for the asterisms and the correct method in which to interpret their movements.
Calio is going to reinforce the theme that the past must die because it's far more compelling than the Overlord's propaganda.
: Terratus Grave, of course, dominates the night sky, locked in place above us as Interloper slips silently from horizon to horizon each night. But everyone knows about them. A Tidecaster might be able to tell you more, were one willing to speak openly.
We have one literally 5 feet away nervously eavesdropping with Killsy's help.
Back up the tree!
: I hoped I might get your perspective on the Overlord.
Tunon Favor/Wrath is also how well or poorly the Fatebinders think of us. We give good law, so Calio will indulge us.
: What exactly is an Edict? How is it that we can issue one for the Overlord?
Interesting. Bleden Mark and Myothis have pointed out that Edicts are rather separate from the Overlord once declared.
: The words contained tremendous power within themselves.
: The power may have resided in the words, but they released it when read.
: [Conquest] Sometimes I catch this whiff of brimstone, and I'm pretty sure it's me.
: What Edicts have you read?
: What do you think is Kyros' end goal in all of this?
THIS is revealing. What Kyros and his troops do at the end of the war has been awkwardly proposed but never answered. Keep the idea of manufactured enemies in mind for later.
Back up the tree.
: I'd like to discuss the Archons and their forces.
: Why do the Archons have such unusual names?
Hey! Cleopatra Jones' name was voted on by the internet! It's a fine name!
Back up the tree.
: I wanted to ask you about the rest of Terratus.
: Do you know any legends from the rest of Terratus?
: The Fatebinder frowns. That can be a dangerous question, Cleopatra Jones. If you're asking after stories of Archons, great warriors, or those who have defied the Overlord, I'd direct you to Rhogalus or Archon Tunon. Maybe even the Voices of Nerat, if you can stomach the company.
Calio takes the party line here. We're still in Tunon's court, after all. We've seen "order and reason" and it's antiscientific bullshit, as we saw at the beginning of the update. Back up the tree!
: I'd like to pick your brain regarding lore historical.
: How do missives work, exactly?
: You know what I meant.
Even Calio realizes how disposable Fatebinders are. She's not a stupid woman, just a closely observed one.
: Is there anything you can tell me about the Sages?
: She chuckles. Besides the obvious antipathy that our compatriot holds for them? The School of Ink and Quill were an interesting bunch. Not wildly different from our own order, in my opinion. Like us, they observe and study, seek knowledge and arcane power, and cultivate some of the less obvious skills that aid in those endeavors. Sages as often know as well how to pick a lock or slip undetected through a manor as they know how to craft a missive or weave a cantrip.
The kinship Calio feels is because the Sages and the Fatebinders recruit the best and the brightest and encourage them to better themselves. The Sages, however, are about the pursuit of knowledge and recording history while the Fatebinders are little more than enforcers and propagandist.
: Surely birds can't get everywhere.
: When birds won't do, either because the recipient has no aviary or is on the road or at the lines, couriers run the missives from the nearest aviary to the communique's intended recipient. This is all assuming missives that aren't overly sensitive. Some missives must be hand-delivered by trusted agents, something I've been tasked with more than once. Early in the conquest of the Tiers, the Sages were tapped for similar duties.
There are no horses in Tyranny land. Carts are pulled by humans or beastmen. We don't really see any animals, period.
: Have you ever met Fatebinder Myothis?
This is interesting. There was some debate in the thread over whether Myothis is secretly Kyros, and I've seen people on reddit claim that this conversation proves it as Myothis is over a hundred years old. It would fit with Kyros' boastful nature per Sirin. Calio is not going to describe the Overlord's alias as "That old loon". Myothis could be dead and it's just Kyros writing to us to give us the lowdown. Honestly? It's open to interpretation. Myothis is somewhat like Goldstein's book in 1984, which is both the way to have the authors explain to the reader how the society functions at a broader level. In 1984 it was a trap by the party. Here? This is Tyranny, don't expect easy answers.
Time to wander off!
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Hey, I got your letter about dark corners of the earth. Care to chat?
: Sure, but this is a Fatebinder only conversation.
: Give me a minute, guys?
: Know anything about magic?
: Well, magic in this game is an allegory for political power. All magic and power derives from the Archons - whether the Archons are the source of power or they just reflect society is a question that doesn't really matter! They're here! We gotta live with it! Go find sigils!
: Hey, why aren't we taught the sigils of Bleden Mark or Tunon?
: Uh...good question...don't think about it! They probably just don't want us getting too powerful.
: Know any astrology?
: So all the constellations have names given by Kyros. Ignore all the other cultures, there is only Kyros!
: So, tell me about the Overlord. What's the deal with Edicts and why are we doing this?
: Edicts are weird, huh? The magic is still around, but it's power that we wield as much as the Overlord. As for what we're doing, well, what is the Overlord going to do when the war's over? Build the ideal society? Demonize dissenters? Create false enemies? Why not all of it?
: What's the deal with Archons, and why do they have weird names?
: Huh, the woman with the name picked by the internet accuses others of having a weird name? Anyway, Archons are named by the Overlord. They can't really object, not with that much attention.
: Can you tell me about the outside world? Like some stories?
: That's an extremely dangerous question, and if you go outside the approved stories you get torn apart by the Overlord. Don't do it.
: How do missives work?
: Well, someone writes something down and someone reads it! Really, though, birds and couriers
: What do you think of the Sages?
: They're like us, you know? I hate them for being selfish fuckers! They could have been admirable allies, but they wrote their crappy "histories" and joined or died. Now the only history is Kyros.
: Have you ever met Fatebinder Myothis?
: That old lady? She was an old Fatebinder who executed a few Edicts, got rich, and retired. Though she must be over a hundred by now...she should be dead.
: Take care!
So what was the purpose of this conversation? First, it's a warning. Calio really wants us to not go wandering off into the weeds looking for culture pre-Kyros, because that's how people get themselves executed for forbidden knowledge. The other takeaway is that Calio really, really hates her job. We got an inkling from the first conversation that Calio was able to see just how much her talents were being squandered and how, like us, she has just enough power to see how low on the totem pole she really is. The question about the Sages seems like it comes out of nowhere, but that's the only time Calio breaks out of her generally pleasant demeanor and starts swearing. She envies the Sages. They can look for all of the information that's denied to her (but she is nonetheless curious about) and her glee at seeing them crushed is a jealous glee that if she can't have it, they can't have it either. She's smart enough to put together the big picture Myothis is so kindly spoon-feeding us, but not remote enough that she can speak her mind freely. Were it not for her self-control, Calio could be walking the same path we do right now.
This is your brain on tyranny.
Eb wants to chat.
: The Sages have their share of enemies, and there are some that may have thought the Edict of Fire a suitable fate. Regardless of what the Sages do or don't deserve, the knowledge in the Vellum Citadel belongs to all of us - and Kyros' destruction of that knowledge is what really tangles my line.
Maybe not in Tunon's Court? Please? Then she goes back to her normal dialog tree.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: You broke the Edict! You saved the Citadel! YOU could challenge the Overlord!
Anyway, I head back to the Spire and get the final missive from Fatebinder Myothis.
Archon Cleopatra Jones,
Allow me to address you by such a title before it becomes fashionable to do - I pride myself as a woman who stays ahead of the trends.
Why Kyros smites some but allows others to exist is a question we all ponder. The Overlord can certainly appear arbitrary and if I've learned anything, that's the point... Kyros is intentionally aloof and distant - both for matters of personal security and because if you had to wrangle the most powerful entities of Terratus, you'd need to keep them from getting too comfortable.
To me, the most obvious answer is that Kyros knows EXACTLY what you are doing - she probably approves of your actions and is likely working at every opportunity to create a situation wherein you are acting in your own self-interest while satisfying her ambitions as well.
You have to consider one important detail: there's nowhere left in Terratus to conquer now that the Tiers are in the Overlord's grasp. What would the great generals even do in a time of peace? The Voices of Nerat is barely tolerable when you have need of a spy master, why keep around such a monster when you no longer have need of such a gruesome weapon?
I would argue it is in Kyros' interest that the Tiers be a costly invasion that claims the lives of as many of the Archons as possible - not enough meat on the Tiers to keep too many sharks sated very long.
Kyros ordered everyone to take Ascension Hall or die - the 'or die' must have been an acceptable option, correct? If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say you have the unspoken backing of the Overlord - it's not like Bleden Mark can't find you whenever he wants.
So, what have we learned? We are on the path to great power, possibly even the same power the Overlord wields with our Spires. Kyros is deliberately pitting all the Archons in the Tiers against each other, which now includes us, and we have the unspoken backing of the Overlord, presumably to threaten the others. Kyros planned for someone to find the Spires, and Calio is speculating that the Overlord seeks to create new enemies to keep the Archons distracted until society can be cleaned up a bit. Of course, the irony is that the Overlord can never create an ideal society. The Overlord is waging war not just against the nations of Terratus, but the humanity of its people. The empire produces nothing but endless war and means of control, and Myothis points this out - Kyros gives people rope to hang themselves with. Kyros eliminates people seemingly at random to keep the Archons from getting too comfortable. Kyros seems aloof to the point where people don't know her gender (though the people most in the know, like Tunon, Mark, and Myothis all refer to her as a woman) and were we to ask Tunon about this, he would tell us Kyros is both mother and father and is above such petty concerns as humanity.
Of course, we know better. Despite what Tunon would have us believe, all of the cast of characters in this little drama are human. Sirin gives us a somewhat fuller picture of the Overlord, and it's rather revealing. Both Tunon and Nerat are closed to her - Tunon is too fanatically dedicated to his vision of the laws, and Nerat is a broken man from trying to be everything to everyone to have any kind of stability for Sirin's art to latch on to. It is Kyros who is most susceptible to art and its power to move minds. When Sirin puts out the call for someone to strike down Kyros, it's not the gathered "elite" who responds, or the royal guard, but Kyros himself who is most affected by her music, until she regains her self control and lets out a terrible yell. As Picasso would say, "art is the lie that reveals the truth". We will never know what truths Sirin revealed to Kyros that day. I personally like to think on some level that is when Kyros had a moment of lucidity and realized what he had become, but there's no evidence in the text to support that and I freely acknowledge that is my blatant speculation.
From all the fragments the various characters have given us, we can discern Kyros' story.
Once there was a warlord named Kyros. He saw the world as it was, a war of all against all, and decided to do something about it. The land she lived in was rent asunder by terrible magics and warring states, but if one person could gain the power to force them all to peace, they would be able to end this terrible eternal struggle and bring peace and prosperity. We will never know whether or not Kyros was initially motivated by a desire for power, or by a vision of a better world - but he laid out a vision so convincing intelligent and idealistic men like Tunon believed wholeheartedly and gave their all to create the better world Kyros promised. The warlord found the power of the Spires, which allowed her to craft magical Edicts that could reshape the world to her will. The warlord gained the services of cruel men who wanted power, and in so doing damned himself. To control these cruel men, she was forced to have them wage the very war he had sworn to stop - for the alternative was death. Do not weep for Kyros. She brought this on herself. Weep for the innocents he damned to torment and the loyal believers she discarded. The trap of tyranny is always the same - if I had enough power, I could force things to be better, I could make the corrupt elites answer for their crimes, I could simply make the greedy merchants disburse the food, I could shatter the unjust laws at the end of a gun. It's a tempting vision when a society is faltering to try to sweep in and fix everything because you know better than those old fucks running the country - and you fall into the same trap, that you need followers to enforce your bidding, these followers expect rewards, and you need to make concessions from your original dream to ensure loyalty. If you use evil means you will attract evil men, and you must reward them accordingly. I could go on, but this is not a story about Kyros. It is a story about the world he ruined and the consequences of her evil. We will never know if Kyros merely sought power and cloaked herself in idealism, or whether he was a true believer in some utopian vision, and to be honest, it doesn't matter. When the state is founded on force alone with no consistent laws or values save obedience, fear, and privilege, you will always find evil.
I will leave you with the prophet Samuel on tyrants.
The King James Bible, 1 Samuel 8 posted:
And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.
And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.