She…. was nearly ten feet tall, full figured, her skin glowing with an undying vitality. There was no need to speak of her face, it was almost painfully beautiful.
In fact, every inch of her, promised things that could not and should not be possible on this world.
I couldn’t tell you, how she was doing it, but she was hitting “that” ratio. That perfect mixture of Mother and Maiden, virgin and whore.
That perfect blend of pure and impure, that artists, writers, poets and advertisers on both earth and Agartha had been trying to figure out, since the dawn of their professions.
Her pendulous breasts lay bared, and the rest of her was only barely covered by a flowing expense of shimmering, sheer silk.
She was radiant, larger than life. Larger than Agartha. Larger than its sun, and any of its moons.
Her aura incongruously pure for one who bore the title of Mother of Monsters, and Keeper of the Crypt.
I think, had I not been frozen solid with fear, I likely would have been set aflame with desire.
As for I met her, I met her the same way I met most of the women in my life.
While I was working.
It had been a few months since I’d realized that I’d turned seventy-seven. By now I’d gotten used to the idea. I dare say I might even have gotten over it, by then.
After years of hunting in the Culdaff ruins, the number of beasts had begun to thin. And continuing to hunt, meant going deeper and deeper into the ruin.
I had no complaint on the matter. Deeper into the ruin was where the stronger foes lay. Stronger foes meant more mana for leveling up.
So, I continued hunting beasts and their numbers continued thinning.
Then finally, I came to this moment. That moment that existed in every video game since the dawn of video games. Every rpg since the dawn of rpgs.
The moment where you’ve about cleared all the enemies on the map, save one.
The boss. The boss monster. The big bad.
I hadn’t thought that reality would mirror art quite so close. Or saying it the opposite way. I hadn’t thought the game designers had been so spot on.
I was at the boss level, and this radiant, terrifying woman…no this radiant, terrifying goddess in front of me, was the boss.
She was a woman of gold who sat upon the back of a great white snake. A massive, hundred mile long serpent that couldn’t possibly have fit in the room, but somehow was still very present. Serving as the woman’s living throne.
“Well, child. It’s about damn time that one of you got here.” said the goddess.
(How the hell was I supposed know anyone was waiting.) I couldn’t help complaining in my heart.
She shrugged and somehow made look it artful and sensuous as she did so.
“True. I very much doubt any of your ilk would have been informed or invited to this place. Still here you are. And for that I congratulate you.”
I was pretty sure I was supposed to feel mildly insulted there, but somehow I ended having to work very hard to not fall on my knees. Barely managing to hold on to a single word she’d said.
I could feel my [Ruler’s Aura] and [Nightmare’s Aura] fighting against her godly aura and I could feel them losing. Barely keeping me on my feet.
The snake shed a single scale, and the one landed on the scale, doing so flawless and effortless. As if she hadn’t just fallen from several hundred feet into a target that was slightly smaller than a tea coaster.
I could feel the mana in the room, boiling like a troubled sea. I could feel gathering around us. I could feel her pulling on it, and as gathered that power I felt a chill go up my spine. The hairs on the back of my neck rose as I realized I was going to have to fight her.
“Wait! Wait-Wait! Wait-Wait! You still haven’t explained what’s happened here. Why are we fighting?!”
I was a monster hunter, not a soldier, nor a hitman, I wasn’t the sort to fight blindly “just because”, besides, I was pretty sure if we fought, I was going to lose that fight. And badly too.
To my surprise the woman actually stopped, the illusory set of armour that she’d been about to summon dissipating with the broken breeze.
“Mhm?….What nonsense are you speaking child? You are playing the part of the hero. And I am the villainess. What extra reason do we need for the two of us to fight?”
No matter how I looked at it this was a textbook case of answering a question with stuff that only brought even more questions. Even more poor archive was clueless. The best it had been able to do was retrieve goddesses name. Picking it up from the faded murals that had been painted on walls of the chamber we were in.
“Um…last I checked, Cambions were a type of demon. And if you pardon me saying so, Ma’am. While I’m probably not a villain, I’ve always seen myself as more the “anti”- hero type. I’m afraid you’ve lost me with his hero talk.”
The Dread Goddess Albia furrowed her brow at me, the serpent shifting behind her, moving into position to catch her as she fell back onto its head. Returning her imperious seat pose as if she’d never left it.
She stared at me, drumming her long sharp, gold painted nails, atop the snake’s head. The sound so loud that I couldn’t imagine it not being at least a little painful for the over-sized serpent.
“Mhm…well it is true that you scions of the new order, have for the most part not been informed of certain things.” said Albia
“Er, yeah…Like I have no clue what’s going on here, so maybe I should just….”
“Tell me, boy. Do you believe in the gods? Is there one that you’ve given your faith to?” said Albia.
I blinked. This conversation was moving too fast for me to keep up and I was still fighting the urge to drop to my knees and crawl to the woman to beg for her favor like the worm I was.
Having a discussion of religion on top of that, wasn’t quite something I wanted to do right now. But still, it was her show, I didn’t want to antagonize her before I got a good grip on myself.
“Um….Yes. And No.”
“Yes you believe in the gods. But no, to there being one you worship?” said Albia.
I nodded. Atheism went out the window for me after my experiences with Dad’s cult. I saw some things that make it very hard for me to outright the deny the existence of either gods or god-like entities. Still those same experiences also cooled me on the idea of worshipping any of those things.
At best I could be called an apatheist. So long as the gods didn’t trouble me, I wouldn’t trouble them.
She looked at me one brow raised and then she shook her head clucking her tongue.
There was something incredibly patronizing about the way she did it.
Again, I couldn’t help feeling like I was being looked down, and quietly insulted right now. Yet somehow, the tingly feelings and excitement I felt about the fact that “she” had used her actual eyes to look at me, was overwriting those feelings.
Adding to the assault on my willpower.
“Okay then…we’re both of the undying persuasion. The two of us have got nothing but time. At the very least we have enough time for a story…” said Albia. Reclining back into the crest that lay atop the head of her living throne.
With a snap of her fingers we weren’t in the hall at the bottom of Culdaff’s former subway system anymore.
Instead we were hovering out in the cold, beige, outer reaches of space.
I knew it was an illusion of some sort. My archive and several of my abilities was telling me it was an illusion. Yet despite saying that, none of those powers of mine were able to explain how it was being done.
All I had was what my senses were telling me, and to my senses, the bleak expanse that were unfolding around us, were all too real.
“So….first off, what you’ve got to understand is that the universe is a big place. And multiverse is an even bigger place made up of many such, universes. And then there is the omniverse, which is in turn made up of all the multiverses.” said Albia. Her tone seeming to suddenly become less sultry and more school teacher-ish.
As she spoke, images flowed into my mind. The void that we stood in were filled with spheres of darkness and light. And those spheres of darkness and light were filled with yet more spheres of darkness and light.
“…This is what we call, the mortal layer, the most readily visited, the most largely inhabited portions of the cosmic sea.”
“Don’t interrupt! I’ve barely gotten started.. Girl’s don’t like boys who jump too far ahead, you know…There’s such a thing as pacing…you know.” said Albia. Looking put off.
“Er…uh…S-, sorry.” said I. Shrinking into myself, like I was in junior high again, and trying to ask the one that got away to the big school dance.
I let her speak. Drawing a small amount of confidence from the fact that the adaptive abilities of my [Seal of Amrita], and [Mercurial Flesh] were actually starting to make some head way in helping me resist the shining lady’s aura.
My other abilities were of less help but still aided the two powers by helping me to consume the massive amounts of extra aura and energy that she was radiating and pulling into the room. Stealing her power for my own purposes.
“Ehem….So where was I? Ah, yes. So there’s the mortal plane, the omniverse, and above all that, there is the firmament. You can think of it, as imperceptible…at least for your sort….super reality, that lies above the realms of the mortals. If one were pour a large enough amount of raw energy into the void of space, for a brief span of time you’d even be able to see it a little..”
In my mind the sea of black and white spheres became engulf by an interconnected complex of soap balls. All of them forming one large, misshapen aggregate bubble.
“This is what is known by those with the power, technology, and privilege, to know of it…as the realm of immortals. The heavenly super space. This is abode of the heavens and the hells. The paradises and the perditions. This is where all the gods, devils, angels, demons, Saints, and Celestial Ascendants live.
(Wait…what? There are demons in heaven?)
My thoughts became increasingly disjointed as the inner confines of my head were force-fed scenes of light and shadow and overwhelming glory. I saw the sights that mortal beings of the cosmic sea, through the ages, had foretold, in all their holy books.
For the woman in front of me, it probably just amounted to someone showing a tourist clip of her hometown’s top five visiting spots. For a little former mortal like myself it was crushing…not humbling…crushing. The sheer immensity and grandiosity of the visions running through my head was of a scale that likely would have been ego destroying, mind breaking, for me. Had I not invested so many talent points, in my MIND and SOUL categories.
Either not noticing my duress, or more likely, not caring, the goddess continued speaking.
“So…there you have it, two levels of existence, that are by the way, not all of existence, just the two levels that people you and little old me, can even begin to comprehend. One for mortals. One for immortals. As you can imagine the latter is drastically more energetic. Practically radioactive in comparison to former. Taking even a grain of sand from up there, to down here would be like snatching a bit of the sun and trying to stuff it inside an ice sculpture.”
I literally saw what she was saying. Though the images I saw involved a little pearl of blinding white fire, being stuffed inside a world of ice. I saw the world melt. I saw people screaming and dying as they were all reduced to vapor and ash.
“Nothing good could come of that….” I mumbled. Wide-eyed, staring at …I don’t even know what I was staring at. I just knew I was seeing something in the distance and whatever it was, was positively horrifying.
“Mhm….precisely. Now imagine instead of a little drop of the sun, its an entire shard of sun. A whole big section.”
Instead of seeing single world of ice get destroyed I saw a whole universe get wiped out. Planet after planet, solar system after solar system, galaxy after galaxy. All of them gone in an instant. Some of them barely even having the time to scream.
“So, a bit of heaven, fell down to earth….and nothing good came of it. Those who were in charge of such things, had to act because the thing was….if they, we, didn’t do anything the effects wouldn’t stop at just one universe.” she said. Pausing for effect.
A useless measure as I was still recovering from the trauma of seeing an infinite number of lives end in one terrible instant. It occurred to me, that in over seven hundred and fifty years, I hadn’t really given any thought to the end of my own world. An end that while not quite so complete as the ends I was witnessing was still very much an end.
To speak plainly I’m a selfish man, a self-possessed man. It was bad enough that my state mandated counselors may or may not have put me on some kind of spectrum because of it.
I didn’t have much in the way of friends or family in that old Agartha, but I’d had a few, things and people that I did indeed care about.
Now remembering, finally remember that was lost, if not by me, then by other, I found myself weeping.
“….And then…Well…Okay, how do I put this?…Oh, I know!…Tell me boy, how do put out a fire.”
I blinked. Glassy eyed. She did something to me, snap me out of the stupor. Some trick of her voice. Or some shift of her aura. Either way I woke up to myself halfway and the momentary ease was enough to let my abilities help me recover the rest of the way.
“No, boy. This is a fire to big to put out with water…Or instead of a fire, let’s make it a bomb. And explosion.”
“You stifle it….er…smother it, I think…” I said, half-remembering something I’d watched on tv one time.
“Right, no!..Right now it’s way too big to smoother all at once. Too big to keep tamped down…and no cheating by saying you move it somewhere else or move everyone else somewhere else. Or wait, wait…how about instead of a bomb, made of fire, its a bomb filled with steam, or maybe we can scrap the whole bomb idea and make it earthquakes instead”
I frowned at her. And started thinking of earthquakes instead of explosions.
“Let it get smaller, by letting it blow off a little steam…or maybe let it get it smaller by triggering a bunch of smaller earthquakes.
“Bingo…You’ve got it in one. Which brings us back to “our” little situation. Sometimes the best solution for stopping a big bang is a lot of little big bangs. And to that, you need a clever triggering device. Do you know what kind of triggering device us, gods, angels and demons, in the Council of Chaos and Order decided on?”
(How the hell would I know? What the hell are you asking of a former office worker?)
The golden woman glared at me, reminding me that she for whatever reason could hear my thoughts, or at least my surface thoughts. My abilities were thankfully shielding the deeper ones.
I pretended not to know that she’d heard my remark. Feigning innocence.
The archive filled something in for me, as I recalled Agartha’s former scientific findings on a few oddities in the energy flow of the planet and oddities in the birthrates of our people after we settled here.
“Yes you. You and your children. You mortals do two things extremely well. You multiply and you touch big red buttons, that smarter beings know to leave well enough alone. That’s pretty much all you’re good for asides for use as worshippers.” said Albia.
(Well sorry for being a dumb mortal.)
She wasn’t wrong, but I was finally in my right mind enough, to feel annoyed by the constant jabs, and her superior attitude. Mind you, I wasn’t dumb enough to show it though. I hid my feelings, as deeply as I could manage and then hid that act of hiding something, as well.
“Immortals, those among you that for some reason are suddenly finding that dying is a lot harder than it should be….Are humans born with the souls of those affected by the initial calamity. Most of you are just aberrations. Monsters born from the out of control divine energy. A few of you were already demi-god level, and natal celestial, right on the verge of ascending. A fair amount are former angels, goodie-goodies who gave their lives while trying to save as many as lives as they could. There’s also a few former demons who either drew too close, trying to profit from the heaven-fall. Or were too slow in running when they realized that, that was a terrible idea. It doesn’t really matter what you were, what matters is that your souls were altered, large enough to hardwired and sturdy enough to be made into the linch pins that you all serve as, in the current age.”
“Oh….Okay then. I still don’t get what that has to do with you and me fighting.” I said. Growing weary as she realized that she was starting to grow tired of talking.
Noticing that her snake was getting restless. Coiling and coiling. Its thick, hundred mile body, winding around itself. Making a tower for the woman to look down at me from.
“Really?….You still don’t understand? We turned broken souls into living receptacles to absorb and contain celestial power. We hardwired them to this world, this oversized chunk of the heaven, to keep things from flying out of control again. And then we waited for your species, to do what it does best and try to annihilate itself. All for the sake of kick starting this current age, this current age of heroes, we’re people are forced to gather strength with a “leveling” system that we’ve so kindly devised and you still can’t puzzle out what the goal is?”
(……….You made the leveling system?! This is supposed to be some kind of age of heroes?)
Why the hell didn’t the archive say anything about that? Or rather why was it saying that that was wrong. And that she was at least partially being untruthful. And what the hell was this “Asphodel Industries” copyright license that my archive was reading out for me? I’d found myself, but I’d completely lost my grip on the conversation.
For one thing, I’d still been partly going along in the belief that the leveling system was just some function of the universe at large. It was like finding out that the law of gravity was something someone thought up.
She sighed and then she spoke as if to an extra slow child.
“You lot…are the trigger devices. And this planet is the bomb. “I”, one of this world’s many hidden “Demon Kings” am the small explosion. You…hero…me… demon king. Do you get it now?”
I blinked, as a lifetime worth of video games, fantasy books, and the archive, filled in the gaps.
All the immortals were counted as “heroes” and scattered throughout the earth, making the world hell to force us to grow even faster, was a select group of young immortals, “demon kings”. The two sides were supposed to fight to reclaim the power of the other.
A demon king who killed a hero got to add, the power that accumulated in a hero’s soul to their own. Ditto for a hero, who killed a demon king. In either case, a small amount of the misplaced heavenly energy would be released.
With similar but lesser effects being found if heroes killed other heroes and demon kings killed other demon kings.
The mortal levellers were just a side-effect. Allowed to exist, because increases in the general strength of the human race couldn’t only benefit the system that this so called council of chaos and order had set up.
If the world didn’t randomly explode in the middle, and nothing went wrong, eventually this world would just be another normal, if extremely energy rich world, in the mortal plane.
In the end this was, almost exactly like a game, or worse like a job. In the end all we immortals were teeth, in the cogs, of a larger machine.
The reward for our participation being that the young gods, devils and angels, fae and assorted celestials…the immortals of the heavens who’d volunteered to play the part of the Demon Kings got a little extra field experience. A chance at building a power base in the mortal world and a chance at gaining a big boost of strength.
While us terrestrial immortals got the chance to earn ourselves a place in the heavens.
It was disheartening in a way, learning that there was a such a base reason for all the world’s ills.
I felt the same kind of disappointment I felt when I grew old enough to realize that all the big ideas in war and politics ultimately came back to economics. And that economics was an infinitely shitty version of that one board game, that everyone used to play.
Since the game was built so that only the bank and the cheaters won with everyone else getting at least lightly screwed over.
“Do you get it now?” asked Albia.
“Ah…Uh…Yes, I guess.” I said, scratching my head.
Suddenly the air changed growing colder. The snake hissed and mana in the room was suddenly bubbling again. I blinked as I saw her standing right in front of me, and was taken aback, by both the armor she was and the realization that for some reason she was suddenly only just tall enough to meet me in the eye.
“Good…Well then, time to die.”