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The Splintered Mirage: In Defense of Cruelty by Eritheyl

Winner for June 2022

 The Splintered Mirage: In Defense of Cruelty   (foreward)
In spite of all the debates its simplicity might spark, in spite of the ways even the most wizened among Gaudiguch's people might quibble and cry of contradiction when faced with a sanctioned Interpretation, the One Law that binds us so - a solitary, most necessary shackle - remains unassailable with only seven words: "Love is the Law; Love under Will".
Whether Sultan or Urchin, Caliph or Freeman, this One Law holds us to a shared standard all the same- to act in such a manner that the Freedom of another who walks beneath its aegis is rendered null is to affront the whole. To invalidate another's Freedom is sacrilege, treachery, a crime whose punishment is made to scale appropriately: what is sown is thus reaped, an eye for an eye, regardless of how many should be left rightfully blind.
This retribution is a means to restore the equilibrium, to ensure that the people of Gaudiguch might always expect fairness and equity when a threat manifests from within, rather than without. What is stolen is repaid, whether it be a theft of coin, of life, of concept and beyond.
In this essay, a work of opinion informed by the desensitized records of one Overseer Zortura Iborchi, warden of the Mirage Universe (or Prison, or Splinter Dimension, and so on), we will explore four once-classified prisoners detained therein, assessing their punishments as they compare to the accused crimes- all to refine our understanding of the One Law through factual practice, rather than diluted theory.
 The Splintered Mirage: In Defense of Cruelty   (the prison)
As reported to the Illuminati Triumvirate in or shortly before the two-hundred seventh year of the Celestine Empire[1] by one Yilitha Tleeth, Whisper of the Illuminati, the Mirage Universe is a "pocket dimension" that exists within the folds of reality- not a fully-fledged plane unto itself, but rather a more limited sector of space between.
Much to the dismay of the ruling Triumvirate of the time, this pocket dimension was noted to have "limited opportunities for exploitation"[2]. However, as the people of Gaudiguch (whether past or present) are loathe to leave anything to its own apparent disuse, the Universe was fitted to become a highly-specialised prison without equal (also whether past or present).
Led by the dracnari Zortura Iborchi, who herself divested the title of Archprelate of the Illuminati to devote full focus to the endeavour, the pocket dimension was modified in ways we can only speculate with visual observations to become the masterwork of fleshcrafting it is today. The resulting structure was then utilized by Zortura, now Overseer, as well as her accompanying staff, to strive for the mental rehabilitation of those who were condemned to its squelching cells by the Triumvirate as it evolved over the many decades that followed.
It remains unclear how many lesser criminals were truly rehabilitated and thus returned into proper society, but it is a non-zero number[3]. The prisoners we will examine in this writing are of a special case, as denoted within each of their respective filing orders, all having been sentenced to life (or more accurately, "death") and joined under the then-new classification of Ultra-Six- a classification that sealed their continued existence from not only the general body of Gaudiguch, but the whole of the Celestine Empire.
 The Splintered Mirage: In Defense of Cruelty   (the gossip)
Code Name: the Gossip
Sentenced: Year 275 HCE
Charge(s): Treason; Sedition
The first to be classified as Ultra-Six, thus having their identity stripped from all known records and replaced only with the moniker of "the Gossip", this prisoner was the first of a handful that still lurk with prominence in the Mirage to this day. Though it is unlikely that proof of their crimes has managed to persist into the modern era, what did manifest during the time of the Burning Star campaign was more than enough for the Empire to pass judgment. And, of course, more than enough for our Illuminati to pass a far more interesting judgment in turn.
It is unfortunate that the crimes of this particular dracnari were not wholly of her own devising. Indeed, as one pulled unto the sway of the Burning Star (which was, much later in the course of history, proven to be the warped powers of a Supernal and Emanation both having departed their respective creches to sustain a forbidden union[4]), she was powerless to resist the forces that compelled her to pen such atrocities to the publication her epithet charmingly borrows.
And yet, her true sentencing on behalf of the Triumvirate was more than absolution for the libel and treason weighed against her. By the graces of the Overseer and her assumed mastery over the mortal mind, the Gossip was freed from the influence of Grimbach and Dumaliel, and put to some greater purpose in the continued experimentation within the Mirage.
Though the harm caused by her writings was likely greater than the effort it would have taken to carry out the Empire's original sentence, I am of the belief that the Triumvirate's mercy was a boon with further and more impactful reach by far: with this assumedly first long-term resident of the Mirage, it is likely that the Overseer and her staff were thus able to hone their techniques with far less concern that one might assign to a lesser prisoner, one whose destined fate is to be truly rehabilitated. Thus the Gossip went from a discarded puppet of crazed half-formed to a likely stepping stone of the finer Gaudiguchian scientific theory.
 The Splintered Mirage: In Defense of Cruelty   (the murderer)
Code Name: the Murderer
Sentenced: Year 333 HCE
Charge(s): Conspiracy
Despite the best efforts of the Empire and its constituents at masking the truth of the bloody crusade brought down upon the Scorpion Cult that secludes itself beneath the Skarch, the records of the Mirage Prison make plain the facts- saying nothing of the spectral Paladins that so blatantly reveal these same facts of their own volition: with some vague assistance of the prisoner known only as "the Murderer", presumably and perplexingly a citizen of Gaudiguch, the Paladins of the time did indeed bring down the fury of their beloved Light upon the peaceful cultists.
It remains unclear to what extent the Murderer played his own hand in the slaughter, but the moniker is very likely a literal one. Despite the purposeful obfuscation of his crimes (weighted with 'conspiracy', as judged by Emperor Nerale VII[5]), it stands to reason that the resulting punishment was more a mercy than the death sentence passed down by the Emperor himself.
Per simple equity, the One Law should demand one life in exchange for another taken. It should of course be made clear that the One Law does not extend to the cultists of Scorpion, near and dear as they are to many of Gaudiguch's own- thus we might assume that, given the ruling Triumvirate chose to secretly defy the Emperor's orders and merely tell of the Murderer's supposed sentencing to death by the Illuminati Supreme Command, his crimes did have a profound impact upon the Freedom of Gaudiguch's own peoples.
Thus the Murderer was sentenced to a lifetime lived within the Mirage. As ordered by Grand Cipher Dath Muuri, this lifetime was to be one spent in "observation"[6]. To what extent he was observed, and indeed for what exacting reasons, we can now only assume. Like all of the prisoners, he eventually found himself subjected to experimentation of psionic and transmological theses both. A fitting end, in my opinion: a lifetime and more spent advancing the scientific excellence of Gaudiguch, in exchange for dubious acts that very likely turned the eye of the Empire upon the Free City in an elsewise undeserved and unkind manner.
 The Splintered Mirage: In Defense of Cruelty   (the snitch)
Code Name: the Snitch
Sentenced: Year 356 HCE
Charge(s): Regicide
Unique among the four prisoners discussed within this volume, the one branded as "the Snitch" did not directly commit the crime with which she was charged. Though all formal records may likely further demonize her, perhaps fully equating her misgivings with the direct assassination of Emperor Nerale VII, the Emperor truly met his end (albeit accidentally) at the hand of his own son, Sorolyn[7].
The true crime of this prisoner was perhaps one more heinous still, if you should ask any among the Illuminati. Rather than murdering - or even willfully abetting the murder of - the Emperor, the Snitch's true crime was the mismanagement of secret intelligence. She in some manner, and for some reason not penned to any record I yet possess, revealed the existence of certain "artefacts" known to the Illuminati to Sorolyn, one or many of which assisted the Emperor in his passage from this life to whatever awaits beyond it.
Nerale's successor, Emperor Shervalian I, made it a simple task to mark the Snitch for death and leave her to her own ruling Triumvirate. Yet as has proven to be so common a case with the Illuminati of old, one among them had the good sense to seek absolution for this diminished Whisper. So as the artefacts passed from the secrets of the Illuminated to one of the Empire's vaunted Meliashmoras, Grand Cipher Sermobi committed the Snitch to the Mirage- a sentence which, handily enough, also worked to secure the Overseer's rule despite the challenge of her rivals beyond the Splinter Dimension's confines.
Though there is one prisoner whose crimes were more direct an affront to the Illuminati, these crimes would not manifest for some time. Up until this point, the Snitch was the most grievous offense to the Illuminati's trust, and undoubtedly brought no short order of grief to the whole of Gaudiguch as it remained beneath the Empire's thumb. And yet, as the others, her absolution went hand in hand with compounding the successes of the Overseer's experimentation; this time, with the support of the sitting Grand Cipher, unbeknownst to even the others of the Triumvirate.
 The Splintered Mirage: In Defense of Cruelty   (the fence)
Code Name: the Fence
Sentenced: Year 420 HCE
Charge(s): High Treason
Many were the prisoners who found themselves committed per Imperial sentencing - much of which was mercifully contradicted by the Illuminati Triumvirate over successive generations - but the prisoner under the code name of "the Fence" was another matter in and of himself. With no crimes committed against or even beheld by the Empire, the Fence was a criminal of the most heinous degree amongst any secular cabal: he was a double-agent, a purveyor of secrets to the highest bidder.
The bidder in question was a party on behalf of the Matrix Research Institute[8]. Though Gaudiguch and Hallifax had not yet been embroiled in any full-fledged conflict, both still under Imperial rule at this time, this deceit served to point out the well-understood, though not often spoken of truth: that the two powers were possessed of a rivalry waged even as their masters preached the peace and unity of the Light.
It is poetic then that in his present state, the Fence seems to retain more of his damning tendencies even well after all experimentation upon his person has concluded. In the unforgiving dark of the Mirage, he yet tries to peddle his flesh- not the prized protoplasm of the Vortex, but his own, as he tries to tear it from his still-living body. In place of chains or other such restraints, he is entitled to all the coin and more that he may have prized from his deals: the bag upon his waist is as his anchor, weighted with such a mass of sovereigns that he can scarcely drag himself about to hawk his false treasures to any who will hear.
For one so foul, so undeserving of any such mercy, his punishment is a clear testament to the truth of the One Law. He will continue to live for as long as the Overseer's enhancements should allow, and ever as he did before his arrival in the Mirage, a wicked and irredeemable figure whose harvest was precisely that which he himself had sown. Flesh for bleeding flesh, and coin for burdening coin.
 The Splintered Mirage: In Defense of Cruelty   (closing)
Though mired in secrecy, bureaucratic red tape, and even heated dissent by those originally charged with its maintenance, the Mirage Splinter Dimension serves as a most perfect reminder of how Gaudiguch's One Law, even under the pretenses of contradiction, works to assure the Freedom of its people: crimes that inhibit the Freedom of those who embrace its truths, even indirectly, will ever be judged in a manner that works to bolster said Freedom at the expense of those who besmirch it.
Many will behold this little pocket of concepts thus proven and believe that the liberation of its prisoners is a noble endeavour, one that reflects well upon the city and its rallying cries for Freedom; this could not be further from the truth, at least once it is made clear why, and to what rightful ends, these criminals are sequestered within.
From the Gossip, whose fascination with the cosmic Lovers was cured and turned to surely beneficial research that made its way to the outside world[9], to the Fence whose punishment was a most literal and most deserved outcome, none can deny that even for all its grotesquery and misinterpretations, the Splintered Mirage is deserving of its glory as an institute of Gaudiguchian excellence: one that furthermore touts the fairness, the unassailable truth of the Free City's One Law.
 The Splintered Mirage: In Defense of Cruelty   (citations)
 [1] - Mirage Prison documents, page 1: correspondence from Grand Cipher Phenako Shiim to Whisper Yilitha Tleeth.
 [2] - Mirage Prison documents, page 1: correspondence from Grand Cipher Phenako Shiim to Whisper Yilitha Tleeth.
 [3] - Mirage Prison documents, page 4: correspondence from Grand Cipher Dath Muuri to Overseer Zortura Iborchi.
 [4] - Events news article #298, "Secrets of the Red Star Revealed"
 [5] - Mirage Prison documents, page 4: correspondence from Grand Cipher Dath Muuri to Overseer Zortura Iborchi.
 [6] - Mirage Prison documents, page 4: correspondence from Grand Cipher Dath Muuri to Overseer Zortura Iborchi.
 [7] - Mirage Prison documents, page 5: correspondence from Grand Cipher Slimi Sermobi to Overseer Zortura Iborchi.
 [8] - Mirage Prison documents, page 6: correspondence from Grand Cipher Qli Qiki to Overseer Zortura Iborchi.
 [9] - (citation needed)