28 Descending Earth
I nearly died today. I also learned that I am, to some people, a god. Rarely have the poles of possibility been so far apart and yet crammed into a single day.
In all honesty, I’ve been close to death a few times since my Exaltation, so I don’t know why this moment seems to be sticking with me more. Perhaps it’s because it was so unexpected, or that death wore the face of a man I know. Perhaps it’s because I finally have projects underway and I’m concerned for how they finish or whether they’ll require my care to sustain. As I sit and reflect tonight though, I think it is because I have hoarded.
I don’t mean my material wealth, so much – wealth is artificially restrained by the coins we mint, but the value is in the objects and services we buy, not in the medium we use to make the exchange. I am a rich man because I make expensive things. Those things are expensive because others agree with me on their value – I could not set prices that other people would not pay. Well, I could, and then I would sit alone with my crafts and starve.
What I am hoarding is in my head, and that’s a greater problem. If I die, my wealth will pass on to others and continue to act in the great cycle of buying and selling. My knowledge, however, will pass into the Underworld and out of the reach of those for whom it would prove most profitable. I have lived my life amongst books, and I have learned things that are found in no book. Can I trust that others will find these places or comb through these books? Will they only share part of what they know, so as to present the picture from a certain perspective?
I have not seen the future, but I have read the past. Every time Jin launches into another of his “the pattern of Creation is one of decline,” I first want to strangle him, and then I want to weep, because I’m certain his is the majority view. Perhaps the First Age went overboard, but in the wreck and ruin of what came after, there are forces that lost or abandoned technology to make the lives of common men and women better, and there are forces that suppressed that technology for their own reasons. The world doesn’t have to be this way and it doesn’t have to be the high hubris of the First Age. None of that happens, though, without broadening the minds of those who live in this world.
How to do it, though? Illiteracy is rampant, even in semi-cosmopolitan places like Nathir, to say nothing of the outlying villages. If I can write a primer on Old Realm for Kado, surely I can produce a basic text on Riverspeak or commission one to be produced. The knowledge disparity is hard to repair, but education is practically impossible to undo.
The project I am currently developing will provide much needed infrastructure for the poor in Nathir, but that doesn’t solve the long-term problem if they cannot learn to take care of themselves and to know when those who would assume responsibility for them are shirking that duty.
And then there’s the god thing.
I’ve never had much use for gods. I was, at best, a lackluster adherent to the Immaculate Philosophy, and then I learned it was deliberately designed to transform me and those like me into monsters in the minds of the people. The faith of the Realm made me a failure right up until it made a fiend. And now there’s a man in the poor quarter who worships me, and all because I built him a house without asking him for something in exchange. Is that the world I live in? Where altruism is so dissipated as to be seen as a divine act?
I don’t know what to say to him, and it’s clear that he’s not the only one. Jin seems amused by the whole thing and Locke looks ready to tear me limb from limb for sacrilege. I’m not a god, but neither am I a man. Neither I nor my actions are, to my mind, worthy of worship, and yet…what have the gods done to deserve praise and prayer? Locke wants us all to worship the Unconquered Sun, but the implications of our Exaltation would imply that he has not had much to do with our reappearance and may not have had much to do with what we do in Creation since the war against the Primordials ended millennia ago. Is it too much to hope that I could lead people who follow me to eventually take care of themselves and each other? Do I undermine everything I’m working toward if I accept their worship? Do I give that worship to some undeserving city god if I turn it away? There’s no book for this, no manual, no instruction, and no plan.
If I see a flawed or broken system and I have the power to fix it, mustn’t I? If I don’t, then what am I for? What is the point? Maybe I can’t fix Creation, but I can certainly fix homes and streets and sewers. I can’t fix ignorance, but I can grant access to knowledge. Knowing in full that I will need to leave Nathir behind, if I do not leave the city better than I found it, I don’t deserve the gifts I have been given by gods or men.
We’ll carry forward the project – University and Hospital and whatever else I can think of to build. I’ll write a book on geomantic architecture for my bride. I was going to say that I don’t want to tell people how to live, but I suppose that’s only partially true – I want them to have more opportunity than they currently have, and I hope they seize that opportunity, but I have to draw the line somewhere: I feel certain that people could be compelled, even forced, to learn what I know and believe what I say. That’s too far. The Immaculate Order has used force to try and coerce the world to believe a lie for 1000 years. I won’t go down that road.
And I won’t let us go down it either.