Mirrored from Sythyry.
Me: “Well, you are here, and I am here. You have worked a vast betrayal and embezzlement against me and against all who dwell in Castle Wrong. We are outside of any city-state, so there is no law here. So I shall pick a punishment which I think is reasonable, and it shall be done.”
Zascalle: “That’s ridiculous. What hope have I of justice under such circumstances?”
Zascalle is clever, and knows my weak points. This is an easy one to know about, since I fussed about it at dinner after we captured the pirates, among other times.
But she actually has a point. In a city, she could get justice.
- Cities have laws, governing correct behavior — or behavior that some primes consider to be correct, usually based on some reason or other. In the void, there are no laws. I will do something I consider to be correct. But it will be based on my own sense of the good and the right… which I hope is a reasonable one, but I have no great assurance of that.
- Cities have courts and magistrates, devoted to the weighing of crimes and consequences, the consideration of mitigating circumstances, the examination of excuses. I am picking my own weighting, consideration, examination … and I am weighting the crime quite heavily, largely ignoring mitigating circumstances, and spitting on the excuses. As I am the victim of the original crime, and the inspirer of the mitigating circumstances, I am surely the worst person on wood to do this. I am likely to be ridiculously harsh … or, knowing me, ridiculously gentle. (I think my plan manages to do both at once.)
- Cities have guards, excruciators, and executioners, devoted to the careful performance of punishments. Whatever I do, I will do on my own. Will an instant of squeamishness or anger double or halve my considered opinion of what the right punishment is? Probably. How fair is that, even given that my considered opinion is fair? Not.
Ultimately, I am simply a mighty mage who grabbed some people zie has a grudge on out of the middle air, and is working harm upon them according to zir own opinion of what the matter deserves. At that level of abstraction, there is no great difference between me and Oonanau the pirate sorceress of Dossimar, save that I have somehow done a better job persuading myself of the justice of my cause than she did. If that much; she might be a veritable bonstable of self-deception. And I might too … how would I know?
To be sure, there are observers: Kzip La Hish, Nangbang, Sazandigraa. They have abandoned their claims to the situation. They might not have done, if they thought I did not have some claim to justice. But they’re certainly not going to stop me from pronouncing judgment or imposing punishment. At the most, they might stop me from the worst excesses, or they might disapprove of me, speak ill of me to our mutual acquaintances and colleagues and relatives, and such as that.
So I am trying to behave well. I was trying to behave well when I started my affair with Thenel, say, and look how that turned out.
And I am very angry at Zascalle and Thiane. And I continue not to be very forceful or good at imposing my will on people.
Economics of an Evil Wizard [18 Lage 4385]
Zascalle: “Kzip! Are you a good wizard, or an evil wizard?”
Kzip: “I generally fancy myself an evil wizard. Why do you ask?”
Zascalle: “Sythyry is planning terrible things for me! I beg of you, I plead with you, that you destroy zir completely!”
Kzip: “Well, let us consider the matter. I was, until moments ago, somewhat upset with Sythyry. In all honesty I still am; I have merely agreed to accept zir admission of wrongdoing and compensation for running off with my Dorze, but the actual compensation is slightly delayed. Now, I don’t give a flying fig for your quarrel with the blue lizard. Would I try to kill Sythyry over Dorze? Why, I cannot think that I would. While I am, undisputably, an evil wizard, my preferred form of evil is stirring up wars and profiting off of them greatly. Killing Sythyry would not help this brand of evil! If anything, it would cut down on my opportunities to perform it, since Vheshrame is an excellent city to stir up wars with, and, while they have Sythyry and Vae, they are likely to stir up the kind of wars that profit me the most directly.”
Zascalle: “But … I could pay you! I would give you all of Sythyry’s fortune if you destroy zir!”
Me: “That doesn’t leave much money for healing Feralan.”
Kzip: “A tempting offer, and I am sufficiently mercenary to entertain it. But … could I kill Sythyry? Zie came here with a shocking and vulgar display of mystical weaponry, half of which I have never seen before and have no idea what it does. Could I kill zir despite it? Most likely. Would I die in the process, or spend more than four million lozens’ worth of supplies, or take a permanent injury? I should not be surprised. That makes it a poor choice of mercenary engagement.”
Me: “Well, assume Nangbang were on your side.”
Nangbang: “There is currently — for the next several days — no disagreement between Sythyry and myself!”
Me: “There is not! This is merely a thought-experiment. However, assume Saza were on my side.”
Saza: “Always, coz! Always!” Zie twined zir tailtip around mine, and, with a traffly-nervous twitch, I twined back.
Me: “I think that Kzip is ranked the most dangerous one here, Saza the second, myself the third, and Nangbang is ranked a sorcerer rather than a wizard at this point. Not that a sorcerer and high priest of Accanax is anything but a force to be reckoned with.”
Kzip: “That ranking leaves aside the fact that you are bristling with a demi-holocaust of weaponry, and I have nothing but a skeropythrope and a battered old drochsiarch!” She was not quite so unarmed as all that, but less than me.
Me: “Still, the balance is clear enough: Kzip and Nangbang are, very roughly comparable in power and danger to Saza and myself.”
Kzip: “Fair enough, though of course the balancing must be taken with considerable caution. Should I dare such an even and tricky battle for a modest sum of money? One I will have to split with Nangbang, or his next of kin?”
Me: “Which would be Treacle-Eyes, in fact.”
Nangbang: “That is a stupid name. I wish she’d change it already.”
Me: “Another point you may raise with her soon.”
Kzip: “In any case, I reject your offer, Zascalle. An immortal does not get full value out of her immortality talisman by taking risky offers! Sythyry has presented a safer bribe than any you could offer. Still, I do owe you a measure of thanks for plopping yourself into my wicked, wicked hands, giving me a superb bargaining chip for use against zir.”
Zascalle: “Then grant me assistance for doing you that favor!”
Kzip: “Right, then. I promise that, should Ochirion be threatened, I will exert myself somewhat to keep him safe. Seeing as he’s the only one on your side who isn’t an utter scoundrel or a potentially-monster.”
Nangbang: “Ah, it is wonderful to see the evil wizard at work, advancing the cause of wickedness in all ways! Battering down the pillars of justice, sloshing them with naphtha, and setting them ablaze!”
Kzip: “Shush, you, or the next time you’re lying in a shallow grave I’ll conjure up some digging scorch-beetles for you.”
Zascalle: “Alas! I am doomed!”
Kzip: “Like a proper evil wizard — quiet, Nangbang, I shall take no denial — I shall laugh at your doom! “
Me: “You’re a bad parent, too. You’ve managed to give up on both children in this conversation.”
She expressed much fury about that comment. I suppose I had not been terribly pleasant to her so far. And it was about to get considerably worse.