Edgewood couldn't help but feel a sense of shock as he beheld the figure currently levitating above the crowd. He looked regal in his military-style clothing, especially with his cape streaming out behind him and blowing lightly in the wind.
His brown, medium length, straight hair shifted slightly in the breeze. He had light skin and medium-thick, well-shaped brows that curved imperiously over eyes visibly yellow even from a hundred or so feet below. He had lips that weren't particularly thick or thin, though similarly well-defined as his brows.
Before, he was staring off into the distance toward the lake and the sun. Then, he gazed down at the crowd, his icy, impassive stare penetrating the minds of all present. Like the kursi, they all felt the desire to at once cower and prostrate themselves, as though their lives were in his hands, as though he could kill each of them with a glance.
Satisfaction washed over Bath as he felt people shudder through the essence coating all within his 3.6-mile radius of influence. He felt their quivering reverence, saw the awe in their eyes, smelled their fear, heard their silence.
'This...is how it is to rule.' He thought this to himself as he considered the scene before him.
Had this been before Bath became a human, he likely would have been stoic with these people the whole time, impassive. But now he appreciated the power of a good show.
He'd give them more than what they expected.
Suddenly, the wind around Bath whipped up, his essence funneling it backward. The result was that his cape streamed out dramatically behind him.
After a moment quietly regarding the people below him, ensuring that all their eyes were on him, the corner of Bath's emotionless mouth lifted up. Then, he drifted downward towards the silent crowd.
At this point, considering all that COTD had done over the past few days, nobody knew what to expect. Even Lepochim himself had no idea what Bath had in store.
"My name...is Bath. And I am your Dragon." With that, a giant, translucent dragon appeared behind Bath's form, almost like a ghost. It currently had a wingspan stretching two football fields and hovered stationary behind his human guise.
Then, Bath's slight smile turned into a wide, almost manic grin. He lifted his right arm, his hand at a 30-degree angle upwards from the horizontal. The wind rushed around him from below, causing his hair and cape to buffet upwards. The dragon rose upwards and slightly forward, positioned so that it was above Bath's human figure. As it went into position, it became somewhat more corporeal and its wings began to flap.
Then, Bath reached his hand up to the maw of the dragon. When they touched, Bath and the dragon both instantly disappeared.
A disembodied voice rang out to the shocked crowd.
"I am your god."
Another clap rang out, this one louder than the one a few moments ago when Bath first appeared.
Then, an enormous dragon appeared, every bit as large as the one that had shown up in Tokyo and had been broadcast worldwide.
The dragon flapped its wings, its rainbow, scintillating form gleaming resplendently in the sun. Its maw opened to speak, forming human words, though Bath used a disembodied mouth to actual do the talking a bit closer to the crowd.
"Many of you have wondered why I have come. I have arrived on Earth to lead you all beyond these stars, beyond this galaxy. Toward something greater than this existence you know."
Suddenly, in a blink, the human Bath was back, now only a few feet away from the cloud, hovering just above the marketplace gate.
"But of course, you humans are too weak. The paths on this world mostly focus on contemplating the infinity beyond death. These are valid and good paths, and work well in conjunction with the path I myself embody."
All below were completely entranced by his booming words and confident bearing. As he spoke to them, all felt as though they couldn't afford to turn away.
Bath wondered if they were starting to believe in him yet, or if the people below still harbored doubts. He hoped they believed; these were the people who had decided to come to Basalith first, after all. If he couldn't convince these people of his divinity, well...
"The true way is of many paths...and I am the path of the Dragon: the path of self-determination. Mine is a path of physical might and power. Follow me, and you will find peace in advancement and knowledge of your place in the future we will forge together."
Bath stuck out his arms, then resumed a stony facade. "We will begin with a test. Those who first emerge will be fit to carry their furniture back to their living quarters."
Without giving anyone below time to process his words, Bath pulled his arms in and up, causing everyone to be lifted up upon a huge platform. A few people screamed. Most, now, looked on with expressions of awe, fear, and determination.
They had just been promised power and the chance to explore the universe by a powerful, self-proclaimed god who'd done countless impossible, miraculous things over the past few days. They couldn't not take him seriously.
Of course, many were trying to figure out the motivations of Bath and why he only appeared now on Earth...but didn't have time to contemplate this at the moment.
"In short, this is a test of your pain tolerance." He said this with a bored expression, then, without any further warning, sent his essence out to each person to begin a massive constitution-fortifying bestowal. This was to be one bonus of many for those who chose to join Basalith at the beginning.
People began to shriek and shake in place. Bath began to feel a sense of nervousness. He'd tested out several bestowals at once on Dean and he'd seemed relatively fine. Even as he thought of Dean, most people below were moaning out in pain over the single constitution boon.
'Well, they'll be thankful for the pain after it's done...' Bath thought sheepishly to himself. He resolved to immediately work on a pain-tolerance boon.
The first people to finish were those who had been most calm during the bestowal process. Bath did this intentionally: he kept the bestowal's speed at a minimum, and thus the smallest possible pain, for those with weaker pain tolerance and sped up the process for those suffering in silence. The first to naturally finish were the children, their experienced pain much lower due to their smaller and more adaptable bodies. When those younger than 10 finished early, he knocked them out with innocuous fumes until a parent accompanying them finished their bestowal process.
As each person finished, Bath wrapped them in essence and sent them down to the ground. Then they could enter the marketplace and choose whatever furniture or cloth goods they wanted.
The quickest finished in five minutes, the slowest in three hours. As more people woke and found the Central Marketplace, Bath had Lepochim's kursi give a dragonleaf vision of what had happened earlier to the new arrivals. Then, Bath transported them up to the platform above and gave them the constitution bestowal.
While this entire spectacle was going on, Bath had simultaneously returned to working on the communal garden and forming the existing crops and livestock into edible food. Which, he quickly acknowledged, was difficult for so many people.
After he put together a haphazard soup for lunch, Bath feverishly put the finishing touches on the sorting procedure that Lisa had outlined. He really, really wanted to get some actual farmers and chefs to take over. Preparing food on an industrial scale was an annoying time sink.
At 3:35 pm, Bath appeared in the sky as a dragon above the entire complex. He chose this time because, by now, almost everyone had finished receiving the basic constitution boon. They would all be feeling the enhanced durability and strength as a result.
His massive form quickly gathered the attentions of all. Since all below had already received the constitution boon and were now fully convinced of Bath's abilities as the Dragon, many bowed their heads in respect when he appeared.
'They learn quickly,' Bath noted, eyes flashing with mild approval.
Edgewood expected more people to complain after the whole platform pain-tolerance bestowal. After all, people had been forced to feel pain; most were unprepared for such a thing, especially young children.
He was fairly impressed that people could appreciate their good fortune. As a soldier, he'd been sent to a few places where people didn't seem to appreciate the U.S.'s presence in the least, even when soldiers were just trying to help. He, for one, wasn't going to complain.
But feel grateful? Edgewood still suspected that there was a lot more going on here than he understood. If this Bath, the Dragon, actually was a god, then great. But Edgewood had never been into religion.
"I have a feeling...that all of this is going to come with strings attached."
Dean was back at Alens, extremely exhausted after a night of running to Virginia, an early morning of attacking a U.S. military base, and then a full morning spent running back. Thankfully the North East had lots of mountains and rural area that he could pass through without attracting much notice. Especially considering the fact that his clothes were partially scorched and covered in gray ash.
He wondered if he could get Bath--the fucking Dragon--to make him his own wolf-like Nimesh. Then he could get around without needing to run himself. Even with the many boons Bath had given him, Dean found that running for hours on end was an unpleasant task.
And now, he had class. He was in a lecture now, trying not to fall asleep, his phone open under the desk.
His eyes suddenly grew wide. He just received a "Breaking News" update from a news app. Apparently, a giant dragon had been spotted above Basalith from afar. There didn't seem to be any other information in the article than a distant image of Bath above the city.
He wondered to himself what, exactly, he'd gotten himself into. Was Bath really a god? What kind of god goes to college!?
Edgewood looked up for the second time as Bath's enormous form once again filled the sky, casting shade on all below. He was thankful he'd finished moving his new furniture earlier and could now focus fully on what was going on in front of him.
"My followers, the time has come to sort you into the Hierarchy." Suddenly, a piece of paper appeared in front of each person, suspended in the sky. On it were listed countless positions, all of them rather...boring sounding. Apprentice chef, apprentice artist, apprentice land-shaper, apprentice etc. filled the first row, the base of the hierarchical pyramid. More positions existed above the apprentice level positions, with the highest positions on the sheet prefixed by 'expert.'
"These are the preliminary positions each of you may assume. We will have a sorting process to gauge which position you fit best. Note that once you reach expert level in any of these positions, you may switch to another position.
"Note also that each position has certain boons listed next to it. These are all boons I will present to you upon moving up in the hierarchy. All boons will be cumulative, meaning that if you reach Expert level in one position and then switch to become Apprentice level in another, you will keep all your accumulated boons."
"Therefore, it is in your best interest to serve as many positions as possible...to learn as much as you can. All have the potential to reach Expert position in each category. Remember: the way of the Dragon is that of self-determination. The only obstacle in advancement will be yourself."
This wasn't something that Bath particularly cared about--the "everyone can succeed" aspect of the hierarchy--but Lisa felt strongly that they needed a system where all could participate and do well regardless of starting point: inherent power. Sure, he felt skepticism that it would actually work out as she wanted. However, given that Lisa was the one who thought of the Church of the Dragon in the first place, he didn't have any serious qualms about advancing her ideology.
Edgewood wanted the damned Dragon to get on with it. He was practically ravenous to receive more boons. Each position at the Expert level had five boons...how many boons could he get if he was quick and mastered a few positions?
"Also note that this is only the beginning sequence. There are far more positions that will be available at a later date as further extensions of the Expert levels.
"So, without further delay..." The dragon spread its wings wide, then brought them together in a huge rush of wind that caused all below to brace themselves against its power. As it did so, a giant dragonleaf platform appeared above the entire city, suspended below where Edgewood assumed the dragon was still flying.
Everyone was suddenly lifted into the sky. To Edgewood, it felt as though he were being held up by a strong magnetic force. 'It's fucking bizarre,' he thought to himself as he was levitated for the third time in one day. He felt a sense of danger as he hovered upwards and saw nothing but open sky beneath him. He wondered how people with severe acrophobia were dealing.
Soon, he was on the platform with thousands of others. They looked upwards in search of the now disappeared dragon. What were they supposed to do? Had they missed some kind of instruction?
"It's her!" Edgewood hissed softly to himself. The Church suddenly arose out of the ground on a pillar of ashy-gray dragonleaf wood.
The Church was stepped off the platform and, like the Dragon, started to levitate above the ground. Seeing her in action before, Edgewood was unsurprised to see her confidence as she looked out over the thousands below her. Though he was surprised to see her flying. Was that something that the Dragon allowed her to do?
"Hello, my followers. I am the Church, the compliment to your Dragon. We together are your patron deity. I am here, now, to conduct the sorting trial." Having said that, her passive face broke out into a relaxed grin. "I expect all of you to enjoy yourselves. Remember: no matter the results of this initial placement, your own advancement is only limited by your desire."
- The Timeless
I am a 4th year student in college on the U.S.'s East Coast (though originally from Chicago). I'm a biomedical engineering major, and while science/engineering is great, my true loves are reading and writing (I'm also a total computer science nerd who should probably start a new church called COL, or Church of Linux).
Feel free to PM me in English, my native language; Chinese, or French (which are not my native languages, but I'm comfortable with them after years of study).
Things I love that you can probably reference in comments/PMs: wuxia/xianxia novels, anime, manga, popular MMOs, popular console/PC video games, popular English-language tv shows, kdramas, fantasy/science fiction novels, and classic rock.
I'm currently doing neural network and brain imaging research which is pretty cool; you might see this come into my writing.
Fun fact is that I wrote chapters 1 through 101 of Apex Predator, my main webfiction, in a text editor (Sublime).