Supreme Commander

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a thick black-leather-bound papyrus tome
    The writing is in Archaen, and reads:
Supreme Commander
    This is a thick volume of papyrus bound in black leather.  A title is boldly engraved upon the
spine.  It is open to page one of fifteen.  It is open to page one of fifteen.  You estimate that
it is worth something upward of three thousand five hundred gold.  
    It looks about a quarter of a dimin long, one and seventeen twentieths dimins wide, and two and
nine twentieths dimins tall.  It weighs about four fifths of a dekan.
    The commands 'open <item>', 'close <item>', and 'turn page [in <item>] [to <number>]' may be
used with it.  Keeping the thick black-leather-bound papyrus tome costs twelve keep points.  The
thick black-leather-bound papyrus tome was created by Marcosy, who wishes to credit J.R.R. Tolkien
and Sun Tzu as inspiring this work, and is maintained by Chaos; the source code was last updated
Tue Jun 13 12:17:54 2017.  The material leather was created by Lost Souls; the source code was last
updated Tue Mar 15 02:18:23 2016.  The material papyrus was created by Lost Souls; the source code
was last updated Tue Mar 15 02:18:42 2016.
Spoiler warning: information below includes details, such as solutions to puzzles or quest procedures, that you may prefer to discover on your own.


                        SUPREME COMMANDER

    A Meditation on Tactics, Strategy, Responsibility, and Ethics
                  by Ahrikol, Prisoner of Empyrea

  --- CHAPTER ONE ---

  I never knew my father.

  Until quite recently, the very idea would have seemed unusual to me, if not
outright unthinkable.  Among my people, the young are raised by the community
-- protected at the center of the settlement, where defenses are the heaviest.
I am certain that my father participated in my upbringing, probably quite
effectively, but so did many others -- men, women, and hijra -- all working to
preserve and raise the precious offspring of our embattled race.  For much of
my childhood, I knew what other fomori children knew: the bustling pace of
life within the city's inner wards, the dizzying flurry of instruction and
examinations, and the burgeoning questions of life, purpose, and identity
that I suspect all sapient beings experience.  Even as I grew into manhood
and pursued my career and studies in my chosen field, I rarely questioned
the universality of my experiences or my circumstances.  It was only when
I began to study the disciplines of psychology and philosophy that I first
contemplated the idea that facts we assume are true for ourselves are true
for all, and began to realize the power of the double-edged sword that is
military intelligence and information control.

  In those days, the War between my people and the tuatha had been raging
for nearly fifteen millennia; a span of time so long that each of our
cultures had been irrevocably changed in myriad ways by our ongoing struggles.
Initially I believed, as others did, that the tuatha had attacked our world
through their spiritual arts and were siphoning the life of our realms for
their own selfish power.  However, as I learned more of history and economics
I began to question the events of the past, eventually coming to the
conclusion that although the specifics of the War's beginning were irreprably
lost to antiquity, the balance of evidence suggested that complex factors
provided ample motivation for both sides to wage wars of self-preservation
to capture and hold the silirala, for the benefit of each society's
environmental well-being.  Upon deciphering this revelation, I was confronted
with the first problem that I could not easily solve - the question of whether
behavior which is ethical from one's own perspective but not from another's
can truly be considered ethical behavior.  At the time, the question seemed
highly academic -- after all, I was training to fight a war to prevent the
extinction of my people and the eradication of our lives and knowledge from
existence -- but I have had ample time to ponder and reflect during my
centuries of captivity.  Upon thorough review, I believe I have solved
this conundrum, which I put forth in decisive terms:

  Lesson the First: When your enemy seeks to eradicate you, you are morally
justified in defending yourself, regardless of the morality of any past,
present, supplemental, or second-order effects of your own defense.  For
ethics to have meaning beyond the subjective frame, either an objective
ethical standard must exist, or subjective ethical standards must be
considered valid at minimum within the purview of self-preservation.  Any
objective ethical standard which might exist cannot, by nature of its
objectivity, be proven decisively to apply meaningfully to beings of
subjective experience, and as such, only the fundamental supposition remains.

  --- CHAPTER TWO ---

  Each day, my captors visit me, in an attempt to convince me to forswear
my allegiance to the cause of the fomorian people.  On those days which are
pleasing, we debate philosophy or economics; on less enjoyable days, I am
subject to endless sermons or distasteful discussions upon the nature of
corruption and agency.  In their hubris, many of the so-called "angels" which
populate the plane upon which my prison sits view themselves as supernal
beings; life-forms of an order above that in which ordinary sapient creatures
can be categorized, even viewing themselves as superior to the chaosborn which
populate our oldest legends.  They speak at length of their ascendancy to
higher planes of thought and veracity, equivocating with patronizing
expressions and regretful tones upon the failings and shortcomings of mortals.

  I pity them.

  But, I remind myself, the truth of what they posit is beyond their
experiences.  The tuatha exalt the angels as elevated beings; they do not
question their assumptions nor their judgments.  In ages past, my people
were not so different.  When the tuatha made their pacts with Adonai, our
entire paradigms of military thought were overturned in an instant; what had
been the soundest conceivable stratagems only days before were now useless
against forces that could call down mile-wide sheets of burning light from
the sky, immune to traditional constraints of infrastructure or supply.  If
my people had not contracted with Adonai's enemy unhesitatingly and
decisively, the grim realities of supernatural warfare would have driven us
to extinction within scant years.  And yet, when those who had pacted walked
among us, we did not see them as exalted or elevated; we saw them as symbols,
brave souls who had made terrible sacrifices for the safety of their homes
and children.  How could we do otherwise?  The asmodeans were wise, yes; they
were possessed of great power, yes, and cognizant of theological and
conceptual realms that the rest of us could scarcely comprehend; but for all
their strengths, they could not stand in the court of truth which my people
esteem above all else and prove, with logic and rhetoric, any claim of
superiority which no scholar could refute.

  Though my people looked to the asmodeans and their demon kin for protection,
and took their magicks into our own bloodlines in a bid for survival and
greater fitness, over the millennia we began to question their mandate
to dictate the greater questions of our society.  Hundreds of years before I
was born, philosophers debated the moral repercussions of allying our entire
race with a fundamental force of pure evil.  Although each of these arguments
could in turn be spun into endless circular loops of reasoning (what is evil?
what is the qlippot?  what are positive ethics, and do they have any place in
discussions of normative ethics?), over time the sentiment grew that though
the asmodeans and other demons were critical to our survival, they could not
be trusted with the greater questions of our future as a society.  Slowly,
over many centuries, a schism began to take place, as our society fractured
along social and political lines.  The asmodeans and other demons formed a
group of primarily conservative actors, while the scholars and theologians
grew to form the backbone of a progressive movement that would eventually rise
to gain control of our system of government and provide the critical impetus
for the crucial decisions which would shape our future as a civilization.  As
a result, after much careful thought regarding the universality of my people's
experiences, I have formulated the following principle:

  Lesson the Second: Any technology or capability which provides a decisive
advantage over your enemy must always be regarded as a means to an end -- the
commander must be guided by a set of principles that dictate a rational and
decisive approach to all points of decision, whether those be strategic,
tactical, ethical, or moral.  However, such a set of principles must also be
sufficiently flexible to allow for the capitalization of any and all necessary
advantages required to attain complete and total victory over one's enemies.
In summary, the commander must win at any cost, but the commander's final goal
must always be more than winning -- any victory won only to be victorious is
both self-defeating and inherently immoral.


  I am told that my homeland of Sheol was once densely forested, a jungle
teeming with many forms of life.  In stories, I hear descriptions of brackish
but life-giving tarns and streams, and of the soaring canopy of twisting
timber reaching up to the amber sky.

  I would not know.  The first time I saw a tree was part of my first assault
onto Arcadian soil, which I first took cover behind and later set fire to in
order to create a diversion for my unit to escape.  The tuatha, as a
consequence of their long tradition of self-veneration and tendency to see
themselves as extensions of creation's firmament, identify strongly with the
trees of their homeland, and viewed this action with horror -- I took note of
the frantic behavior of the defenders to extinguish the tree, which they
prioritized over our capture to an unreasonable degree.  Upon my next assault,
which was my first as a squadron leader and not merely an infantry soldier, I
ordered the firing of an entire grove to preempt the mobilization of a large
reserve force which would have obliterated my entire unit.  Similarly, I found
my own reaction of abject abhorrence noteworthy when tuatha raids attacked
targets of value historically esteemed by my own people, such as our
libraries, scholars, or children.  In particular, the behavior of our
disparate peoples towards our young has long been of interest to me; the
tuatha seem to regard their children primarily as achievements or symbols of
status, and view their deaths as either inconveniences or the cessation of
suffering.  While I have observed many tuatha parents dote lovingly upon their
children, in the event of those children's deaths the parents seemed primarily
comforted by the thought that their young one had "gone on to a better place"
and on some particularly horrifying occasions put their own children to death
rather than allow them to be captured or ransomed.  In contrast, my own people
hold children as inestimably dear and will often fight to the last in order to
preserve a single child; although I cannot deny this behavior seems natural to
me, I must objectively conclude that it is of questionable evolutionary value.
Children represent a lesser concentration of resources than a trained and
educated member of society; therefore, should we not prioritize our more
valuable assets over those that merely have the potential to be valuable?
Nevertheless, I find that I cannot divest myself of such predispositions; I
suspect that they are a consequence of our environment, just as the tuatha's
are consequences of theirs.

  In my homeland, the continuing depredation caused by the silirala weakens
the planar boundaries even as it drains the natural resources and capability
to sustain life from the land itself.  As a result, my people have grown
increasingly inured to events that would likely seem unthinkable to other
races, such as constant attack by extraplanar terrors that can walk through
walls and tear grown fomori limb from limb.  Consequently, our society is
structured to maximize optimization of our scarce natural resources, and our
logistical and social standards have similarly evolved to enable us to best
thrive in such an environment.  After extensive theoretical and experiential
testing, I have determined that knowledge of such phenomena is indispensible
in both war and governance, enabling returns orders of magnitude more
desirable than alternative approaches.  I codify my findings thus:
  Lesson the Third: Know yourself and your enemy, and how you differ from each
other.  Discern your enemy's weaknesses while concealing or falsifying your
own, and understand thoroughly how your enemy thinks in order to predict which
actions will be most effective against him militarily.  The commander who
controls the flow of information in war will always have the upper hand, even
in situations where the enemy gains the initiative.

  --- CHAPTER FOUR ---

  Today, my chief captor paid me a visit.  The archangel Melchizedek, as sie
calls hirself, teleported unannounced into my cell.  With a dramatic flourish,
sie conjured a large mirror into my cell, replacing the northmost wall.  It
was likely intended to be impressive, but the primary element of the event for
me was the less-than-perfect execution of the conjurative principle used.
Sie commenced to demand that I stare at my own reflection, comparing my "base"
form to the "elegant and sublime" forms of the tuatha and the angels.  Could I
not see, in hir words, how my people's association with evil had twisted our
bodies and darkened our souls?  I feigned shock and feelings of doubt, and sie
teleported away in with a satisfied air.  In truth, however, I enjoyed the
opportunity to view my own form for the first time in recent memory.  Alone
once more, I examined myself in the mirror from horn to claw, marveling at the
unlikely sequence of events which had allowed my people to survive and assume
such a form.

  Our original shapes are barely recorded in our most distant records, but
what information survives seems to indicate that we were not dissimilar to the
tuatha -- a bit stockier, perhaps, and supposedly equipped with a tail to aid
in the navigation of our arboraceous environment.  In ancient times long since
passed out of reckoning, our peoples first met, and the tuatha derided us for
our "brutish" forms and our inability to perceive their "true splendor" --
whatever that meant.  Stung, my people retired to their own lands and began
to pursue the accumulation of knowledge and insight with a titanic will,
learning many arts and sciences with great rapidity.  Within a few centuries,
we had mastered the arts of biophrasty and gained the ability to alter our
own forms.  At first, our alterations were slight: greater height and health,
increased longevity, and other such simple things.  All too soon, however,
Sheol began to be ravaged by the silirala, and our talents were soon put
to grimmer uses.  As our homeland became harsher and ever more infested with
dangerous creatures from beyond the planar veil, our alterations became a
matter not of aesthetics, but of survival.  Increased fortitude and tougher
skins, to survive the assaults of beasts we scarcely understood, and soon
greater strength and razor-sharp claws, to fight off monsters that could
attack when weapons were not close at hand.  Horns and thicker skulls, to
protect our precious brains and allow a weapon even when all limbs were bound.
  To the tuatha, I imagine we indeed seem bestial and frightening.  But to
ourselves, we see only the end result of necessity and long endeavor, finely
balanced and carefully shaped for both maximum efficacy and great aesthetic
craftsmanship.  It is ironic that we fear them as greatly as they fear us, for
no fomor live today that do not know and dread the swift, lithe death dealt
by the blades of their battle-dancers, nor the searing, anathemic destruction
of their "blessed" projectiles.  I have seen a fomor warrior three times the
size of his tuatha opponent felled by a single arrow, but this gave me no
cause for despair; in studying my opponents' actions, I quickly learned to
discern the situations in which we could use our appearances against them,
stirring their blood with taunting words from the shadows or making a rush
from darkness to startle their scouts and begin a rout.  As my rank rose
within the command structure of our armies, I learned to apply these
techniques to actions in a broader scope as well, learning key indicators
within their troop movements and messages to each other that would presage
an assault or a withdrawal.  Although many of the tuatha made wild claims
that I was "favored by the dark powers" or "had the unholy gift of the
soothsayer", the truth is much simpler and more difficult to defend against: 

  Lesson the Fourth: Learn from the past, but understand that the past is
never a reliable predictor of the future.  Study and comprehend the patterns
of force within your environment, and you cannot be caught unawares of changes
that surprise even the most skilled diviner.  The failed commander trains his
army to fight the most recent war, but the successful commander anticipates
the war to come and plans for all contingencies.


  Although my spirit chafes at the restrictions which confine me, in this
place, I must admit that as a venue for contemplation it leaves little
to be desired.  My daily needs are met, and my captors interfere with me
only when it suits their whims.  For much of the day, my time is my own, to
spend in introspection, exercise, or research.  Never idle, I have worked
diligently to examine my options, both for escape and for self-improvement,
and made a robust study of my own motivations and culpabilities.

  After much deliberation, I have determined that the path of magick is most
likely to result in favorable outcomes for my endeavors.  Though physical
interaction and combat are occasionally satisfying, and the quandaries of
pure intellectual inquiry are valid and worthwhile, it is the study of
magick -- the translation of one's pure will into a force for direct change
and progress -- that promises the only viable path to power.  Philosophers
may debate the nature of power and corruption until time itself unravels,
but the inescapable truth is that no quantity of rational thought can prevail
in the face of a sufficient power differential.  Without the power to protect
oneself and enforce the conclusions of one's morals and ethics, no judgment
can be meaningful in any real sense.  By extension, no creature which can
exert moral or ethical codes over any sapient entity which cannot contest
its judgments can be said to possess any mandate which would justify its
actions in any context beyond the willful exercise of its power.

  When the tuatha sought out the aid of Adonai, and later Yehovah, they did so
out of a moral and ethical duty of self-preservation.  However, in doing so,
they ceded their authority to determine their own destinies to what they
perceived as a "higher" power.  Though my people were forced by their actions
to make pacts of our own with Asmodai, we never ceded our rights to judge our
actions by our own standards, nor our responsibility to question our own path
and the paths of those who affect us.  Though I have little news of my people
since the end of the War, I predict that they will reject the counsel of
Asmodai and his demons with little debate.  Unlike the tuatha, who have
mistaken their slavery to willful beings beyond their comprension for
exaltation, our pacts with Asmodai were never anything but utilitarian.  We
agreed to worship him in exchange for the power to win our War, and now that
the Adversary has failed to deliver, I doubt my people will show him any
greater consideration than a common flim-flam artist.  However, it is possible
that I am incorrect, either in whole or in part; despite the sanctimonious
moralizing of the tuatha, it is indeed possible that we could be corrupted by
the influence of such beings of such singular maleficence.  Although
economics and logistics tell us that ultimate power must eventually be located
under the purview of a single actor at any given time, I posit that such an
actor cannot be immune to, protected from, or otherwise unable to be held
accountable for their actions and the consequences thereof.  In summary:

  Final Determination: Any moral entity which cannot suffer the consequences
of the decisions it makes is intrinsically unfit to make such decisions so
long as those decisions affect any entity other than itself.  Therefore, no
entity can be trusted with decisions of any consequence unless that entity is
capable of being affected by the repercussions of such decisions in a manner
sufficient to cause the cessation of its existence.  Only sapient beings with
the capacity to die or be destroyed as a direct result of their own decisions
are morally and ethically fit to hold responsibility over beings of a similar
nature, as only such beings can be held accountable for their actions. 

  In a universe where the vast power of gods can exist, there must therefore
be some possibility of a balancing force; a power, wieldable by beings such as
we, that can contend with the actions of deific beings.  If it exists, it can
be found; if it does not exist, it can be created.
  Someday, I will be free of this prison.  And on that day, in accordance with
these principles and determinations which I have enumerated with due care and
forethought, I will pursue the cause of freedom and justice for all thinking
beings with every ounce of my industry and certainty.  And I shall let nothing
stand in my way.

Relevant Skills

skills gained when read for first time go here

End of spoiler information.
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