Mithras hated game nights.
The god of order, the sun, and medicine didn’t quite remember how these gatherings started. But he knew how they always ended up: with him patching up a new cosmic mess.
This time, Cybele hosted their gathering. She had set aside a large room in her planar realm of Arcadia, an open space with a floor of moss and pillar-shaped trees. A giant mushroom served as the gaming table, surrounded by fungi thrones, while bioluminescent plants and fireflies provided a faint light. This place truly was a vision of a natural paradise; even as the god of civilization, more at home in cities than forests, Mithras felt soothed.
The sight reminded the deity of his time in the ninth legion, defending Britannica from the Caledonians. He had been a worse person back then, fighting to conquer the people of the earth out of misguided loyalty for one nation.
Manifesting into the room in his sun-king form, Mithras found Cybele and Isengrim already present. His friend Leone, goddess of nobility, teleported right afterward, a golden knight as beautiful and fair as daylight.
“Welcome, my dears,” Cybele greeted them, her skin and face hidden beneath a hooded cloak of woven moss. As the goddess of pleasure, anyone witnessing her exposed face couldn’t help but… well… pleasure themselves. Simply hearing her melodious voice would have brought mortals low.
“Greetings!” A white deer with blades for antlers, the god of hunters Isengrim had somehow managed to sit on his throne, his hooves on the table. “My friends, you look terrible!”
“We had a difficult day,” Leone said, exhausted. Once having been Mithras’ squire while a mortal, the two had remained friends after she conquered Valhalla. While Cybele kept trying to push them into a romance of some sort, the sun deity saw their relationship as that of a mentor and student.
“So it was true that angels were swinging both ways—”
“We shall not speak about it,” Mithras interrupted Cybele, the mere mention of this disaster making him burn with anger. To think that he had ordered his paladins and clerics never to harm an angel unless in self-defense… how could he have been blind to their corruption for so long? “I wish to relax, not open new wounds.”
“Well then, I will not probe deeper.” The goddess invited them to take their seat, as the last invited member of the gathering arrived.
Seng, goddess of the sea, dreams, and alcoholism, was a wreck. An eastern mermaid with black octopus tentacles for legs, she seemed to have just left a rabble-rouser party, her short raven hair messy and her black eyes creased. She only wore a blue bra and a purple flower in her hair; tattoos of plunder and obscenities covered her arms and neck.
She was the one goddess they should have barred from this table, and Leone reminded them why once Seng took her seat, a bottle of alcohol in her left hand. “No booze at the table.”
“It’s whiskey!” Seng protested.
“You’re only allowed to play if sober,” Mithras reminded her sternly. “Nobody wants another flood.”
“It was an accident, alright! Gimme a break!” The goddess pouted her hand tight around her whiskey. “Just one bottle!”
“One, and pace yourself,” Cybele said, more tolerant than the others. “Or else I will prematurely eject you from this gathering.”
“Since when did you turn into a bore?” Seng grumbled while Cybele set the map of Outremonde on the mushroom table. Mithras observed the gaming board of Outremonde with melancholy.
Centuries ago, when the System was new and the deities few, Mithras had ruled the first mortal empire directly as a god-emperor. He had defended a small city from fomor depredations, helped it form alliances with other settlements, and slowly united the fairies’ slaves into a strong nation covering most of the Mistral continent. The Mithraic Empire.
Mithras himself never had any intention to rule it forever. His role was to serve as civilization’s guiding hand to the New Folk, be they humans, elves, dwarves or beastkin. In time, he might have broken the fomors’ power over Outremonde entirely and prevented future tragedies. Most mortals worshiped him during that time, to the point of nicknaming him the One God.
In his own arrogance, he hadn't foreseen the Dread Three ascending to godhood together. They challenged Mithras for supremacy and even killed him; when he revived in Valhalla one year afterward, his empire had already fractured.
An era of chaos followed, as deities old and new directly fought for control of Outremonde. Chaotic gods rose during those troubled times, from the Moon Man to Sablar the World Eater. Since the supreme power in Valhalla revived deities a year and a day after their avatar’s death, none could gain the upper hand for long.
After years of disastrous fighting, Cybele, the second oldest deity after Dice, brokered a gentlemen's agreement between her fellow divinities; arguing that they restrain themselves to affect the world through their portfolio, Claimed, and worshipers. The war had exhausted everyone, and the gods agreed to make peace.
In the end, isolated and outnumbered, even Sablar submitted. The worm god knew his ambitions would cause the other gods to unite against him should he make a fuss, and he played the long game since. If anything, patience made him even more insidious.
Over time, Gardemagne had managed to recover its predecessor’s western and northern borders, but it remained a shade of the old empire. The vampiric Nightlands, in particular, remained a sore point for the god of law. Gardemagne had been Leone’s pet project, while Mithras had mostly focused on the Eversun Empire farther east, where his church held great sway. The nation hadn’t performed as well as he had hoped, surrounded by hostile powers and mired in political corruption. Would this session change things?
A dice fell from the heavens on the table, to no one’s surprise.
“Roll me!” Dice shouted. The gambling deity always managed to land on the gaming table whenever they began a session. The gods had found it easier to include that living disaster for the purpose of damage control, rather than letting it run rampant. “Roll me!”
“I would like to go last, as usual,” Mithras asked politely, ignoring the dice.
“At the bottom?” Cybele replied.
Why did she always have to sound like she meant something dirty? As far as Mithras could tell, Cybele didn’t even do it on purpose. The ascended [Paladin] simply nodded, and the goddess of forests opened the session.
“Today, we continue our long-term campaign of Outremonde: Crusader Realms Edition,” Cybele began, acting as the Game Master. “We shall each play a chosen country and guide them. The campaign ends when the entire world is at peace or destroyed. Before you ask Leone, one country taking over Outremonde still counts as a victory condition.”
“Shesha will not be among us?” Isengrim asked, ignoring the petulant dice. She usually participated in their sessions, pitting her Nagastan against Mithras’ own Eversun Empire.
“She said she had a rendezvous with Camilla and one of her Claimed.” Leone tightened her fists at this. “Since it concerns one of my beloved Claimed, I proposed to fill in for her.”
“Roll me for initiative!”
“She also told me the meeting could shed light on the fomor problem.”
“Is it true that they can level up now?” Mithras asked immediately, having heard the rumor. If true, then the time for games would end.
The memories of his own abduction to Outremonde came back to haunt him. He still remembered leading his centuria to investigate barbarians raiding the shores of Britannica, expecting to return home by noon. Only it hadn’t been pirates, but tyrants from another world, looking for slaves to torment.
King Balaur was still the size of a mere man back then, but just as brutal as ever.
The five years Mithras had spent as the fomor's thrall was a blur, a nightmare full of screams and slaughters. He didn’t even remember his original roman name, erased one whipping at a time. When the [Paladin] had finally escaped after learning of the class system, he had vowed to protect the mortals of the world from the evils he had experienced.
“I cannot say for now,” Cybele replied, Sablar having shrouded the fairies’ activities to her sight. She rolled Dice four times, once for each deity except Mithras. “The turn order will be Leone, Isengrim, myself, Seng, and finally, Mithras. Since Dice has no country, he will serve as, well, our dice.”
Of course, no one would roll Dice if they could help it, but the possibility satisfied the chaotic deity for now.
Mithras played the Eversun Empire, the easternmost country of the Mistral continent, while Leone influenced Gardemagne. Seng oversaw the Jade Empire from which she originated, and Isengrim the vast plains of the Beastlands. Cybele herself usually managed the wild Dark Forest, which she disputed with the fomors, but would manage Shesha’s commercial empire of Nagastan instead for this session.
“The fomor Mell Lin’s rat plague spreads east, killing thousands across the Serica continent. The Teikoku Empire walled its shores to prevent the infection, while the Jade Empire and Nagastan manage the disease the best they can. Westward, Sablar’s El Dorado...” Cybele all but spat the word with contempt, “is gone. Wiped out. Destroyed. Crumbled. Annihil—”
“We get it, Cy,” Seng interrupted.
“Elsewhere, the fomors marshal their forces after the V&V Empire’s declaration of war against them, while the dragon establishes colonies in the New World. Leone, what will you do?”
“I declare a holy war against the V&V Empire.”
“What?!” Isengrim protested, “No way, I have worshipers there!”
“Leone, holy wars are not the only solution to every problem,” Cybele tried to temper her.
“I hate to be the rule stickler instead of Mithras, but you need a casus belli to start a holy war,” Seng grumbled. “BLEEPING nobles, always thinking laws apply to others…”
“They destroyed Heaven!” Leone said with wrathful intent. “Heaven! With insurance frauds!”
“I too take this fiasco very personally, Leone,” Mithras told his one-time squire. Corruption always infuriated the god of law. “And I swear that I shall go Old Testament wrath on the angelic authorities responsible. But the mortals only exposed existing, institutional problems in Heaven’s administration. A beautiful afterlife should never have been for sale.”
Heaven needed to reform and return to its original, humbler roots, and Mithras would help spearhead the reform personally. In his experience, most angels meant well, with their system corrupting them; only by changing their institutions themselves, could the forces of good get back on the road to redemption.
“They destroyed an island and almost sank another,” Leone pointed out. “That dragon and his human partner are living disasters. Neither can I tolerate a nation of fiends, undead, and eldritch horrors from space arming themselves right next to a peaceful Gardemagne. Isengrim, you of all deities should support me in this.”
“Why would I support a war involving my sweet, lovable worshipers?” the hunter god protested.
“You shall respect the hunt,” Leone quoted Isengrim’s own scriptures. “Hunt to feed, or to thin the herd, but never for profit or pleasure, and never to extinction. Except demons and undead. Demons and undead can be hunted for pleasure, for profit, and to be made extinct.”
“Oh, yes, I said that,” the white deer nodded. “With emphasis on the can. Not must. Neither of those monster types have any ecological niche besides leeching off the living, and so I do not begrudge my worshippers for hunting them.”
“Hence you should see nothing wrong with culling off this so-called V&V Empire’s population.”
“I disagree,” Isengrim replied firmly. “Because so far, they have worked hard to bring life back to the desert Sablar’s chosen left in their wake, and they built a community where all species can coexist. I wholly support the initiative.”
“We cannot put an entire species into one box or another,” Mithras said, Leone frowning at him.
“Even the fomors?” she asked the hard question.
“Even them,” Mithras said, firm in his belief. “Everyone should be judged on their individual merit. Humans, dragons, fairies, demons… angels. This is justice. Victor Dalton is bound to Hell for his deplorable behavior, but his followers should not be punished for his misdeeds.”
“They broke the slave trade in the New World,” Seng argued. The mermaid goddess was very attached to the notion of freedom, albeit not the point of rivaling Deathjester’s brutal brand of anarchism. “How can you want to pick a fight with slave liberators?”
“V&V also brought down that vile insult to nature called El Dorado,” Cybele defended the two. “The chaos they bring, while worrying, is ultimately balanced by the good.”
“And of the two nations of monsters preparing for war,” Seng said. “You should focus on the other, Ms. Stickintheass.”
This gave Leone pause, the goddess of knights glancing at Prydain. Their Wild Hunts had already raided Gardemagne’s shores and kept rampaging elsewhere across the world for an unknown purpose.
“Fine,” she said. “But I'll keep the holy war casus belli for later. Mmm…”
The goddess of knights hesitated to attack Prydain but decided against it for now. The fomors had barricaded themselves in their stronghold, and it was more sensible to keep troops at home, to protect their borders against Wild Hunts and the V&V Empire alike. Instead, the deity chose diplomacy.
“I ask my church to serve as matchmakers between Prince Dimitri of Gardemagne and the Witchdom of Tsaria's queen; and between Princess Merveille of Gardemagne and Prince Komnius of the Eversun Empire, for the purpose of political alliances through marriage.”
“Prince Dimitri is no longer pinning after Kia?” Cybele asked, sounding extremely disappointed. She had worked so hard in the background to set these two up.
“He gave up after she left for the V&V Empire,” Leone replied, leaving the ascended dryad to ponder the implications. “I want Gardemagne to grow stronger through diplomacy and refinement. With most of the rebuilding from the Century War done and the Age of Discovery bolstered, I now launch a renaissance of the arts across the kingdom. Gardemagne will conquer the continent not through force, but with its culture. I end my turn.”
As usual, Isengrim shepherded his flock on Outremonde, asking them to push the frontier further. The white deer had ascended while protecting small communities from monster and fomor depredations and had little interest in larger nations. As far as he was concerned, humble, small victories mattered more than large scale events.
“I will also ask my [Fairy Hunters] to move to Gardemagne, just in case,” Isengrim said as he finished his round. “Your turn, my dear Cybele.”
The goddess of forests glanced at the map of Outremonde, then snapped her fingers. An enormous wooden board rose from the ground to her side, covered in pictures. Mithras recognized the faces of his chosen Kia Bekele, Victor Dalton, and countless others; crimson links joined two photos together, such as Vainqueur Knightsbane and an obscene pile of gold.
“What are you doing?” Leone asked for everyone there, as Cybele summoned a feather to her hand.
“I am updating my mortal relationship board, now that the Kia-Dimitri ship sank.” The goddess scratched the back of her hood with her free hand. “With whom could I set her up...”
“JoliKia!” Seng immediately jumped on the occasion to push her favorite pairing. “Love transcending species!”
“They are cute together, but..” Cybele didn’t seem keen on the idea. “I don’t know… it’s missing something...”
"Roll me!" Dice insisted, "Roll me for the romance route!"
“Kia deserves nothing but the best,” Mithras said. His Claimed had done the world a great service, and he would do his best to make her happy. “Is there no charming, dashing young man or lady with whom she could have a fulfilling relationship?”
“We should let her make her own choice,” Leone replied. “She is young, give her time to find herself without help.”
“I have tried everything,” Cybele complained. “Can you even fathom the number of lads and ladies I sent her way through the Century War and afterward? Most find her too impressive to approach, and the rare time someone does, like Dimitri, she never settles!”
“Maybe relationships simply do not interest her?” Leone suggested, herself having only ever loved adventure. “There is nothing wrong with that.”
“Is ChocoVic still strong?” Isengrim asked, deeply invested in the matter. Cybele nodded in response. “Good. I will defend that mating pair with my life.”
“I shall not give up on Kia’s case,” Cybele insisted. “Although I do not see who could replace Dimitri.”
“What a noob.”
The voice of Deathjester put Mithras on edge. He glanced at his left, finding the assassin grinning at him in a corner.
“Are you here to play or fight, murderer?” Leone asked with cold professionalism, while Mithras simply glared at his nemesis in silence. It took every ounce of willpower not to smite that feathered fiend where he stood.
“Oh no, don’t mind me, I just came to defend my champion’s honor.” The jester whistled as he stole Cybele’s feather. “Cybi, you’re not seeing the easy solution there.”
The dryad remained silent, as the god of crime started editing her pairing board.
“You just need to set every woman on your board,” Deathjester redrew all pairings until they all converged into one face. “With my favorite Claimed, Victor Dalton.”
“Even Kia?” Cybele asked.
“Except Kia,” Deathjester clarified. “And that’s the genius part. With no alternative, every male on your board will zoom on her instead, like Helen of Troy, until one is successful at winning her heart.”
“That is…” Cybele pondered it. “Innovative…”
“As long as ChocoVic remains the one true mating pair, I have no objection,” said Isengrim.
“And as long as I draw breath, harems shall never be allowed at this table!” Mithras declared, incensed. He knew Deathjester only did that to mess with the sun god through his Claimed chosen.
The jester chuckled at his nemesis. “Hey, Mithras. Didn’t you hear?”
The god of justice’s eyes turned into supernovas.
“Dead angels go to Hell!”
Mithras summoned a pillar of holy flames to strike down his loathsome nemesis, only for Deathjester to vanish while cackling like a maniac. “How does he keep sneaking up in our gaming rooms?” Seng asked, confused.
“He is the god of thieves and spies,” Mithras replied, joining his fingers to suppress his righteous anger. “Ignore him. He’s a nuisance. If you snub him enough, he goes away.”
To his frustration, Cybele remained mesmerized by the altered board. “He does make a good case—”
“No harems,” Mithras shut the proposal down. “Shall we return to Outremonde? You must guide Nagastan.”
Cybele put away the relationship board, grumbling all the way. “For Nagastan… with the plague still going on, I will encourage mortals to confine themselves at home and do nothing; priests and casters will cast [Cure Disease] spells, while alchemists and other crafters shall work on cures.”
“Would it not be better to have all the sick people quarantined in one place?” Leone suggested. “Instead of everyone?”
“Every person at home is a hero,” Cybele replied with wisdom. “Every sofa, a battlefield.”
Mithras had the intuition this was just an excuse to encourage matings at home but kept it to himself.
It would soon be his turn, and he already considered what to do. Leone had a point; a new war was on the horizon. Not between nations, but between fomors and mortals.
Mortals had exhausted themselves after the Century War, but the events of the past year told him the fairy lords were quickly rising in strength. Perhaps it was time to bring back his Shining Crusaders together, and prepare. The V&V Empire might have caused troubles, but the sun god felt that they would become a bulwark against the fairy’s forces; they needed every help they could get.
Of course… if Outremonde survived the next turn.
Every deity glanced at Seng with a tense silence, much to her chagrin. “Why are you looking at me, like I’ve eaten a baby?”
As the god of honesty, Mithras couldn’t help but say the truth. “We are waiting for you to screw up somehow.”
“You aren’t going to try and sink Atlantis again?” Cybele asked, having worshipers there. Dice's latest rolling had also caused an earthquake there, and while the continent had survived, it remained vulnerable.
“W-what, of course not!”
“The Teikoku Empire?” Leone pushed. “The western islands?”
“What, just because I caused a flood one time while drunk—”
“Four times,” Mithras corrected her. “You did it four times.”
“You’re just jealous that I’m on the ascendancy with the Age of Discovery!” Seng protested angrily, tossing out her open bottle in her anger. “Mortals are finally crossing the seven seas in my divine name—”
Leone panicked first. “Your whiskey!”
Seng’s bottle unloaded its content in the pacific ocean, divine alcohol flooding everything.
“Oh, BLEEP, oh BLEEP I BLEEPED up!” The sea goddess apologized, pushing her bottle away, but too late. A massive spot of alcohol spread through the sea. “I, I created a whiskey ocean!”
Mithras sighed, knowing he would spend his next turn mitigating this disaster.
Yet another round wasted keeping the world in one piece...