A dark-haired woman sat properly straight on a hollowed-out tree stump in the middle of a clearing, fingers of one hand moving a bow and strumming across a beautiful dark wooden cello in the middle; the other hand balanced and manipulated strings at the top. The woman’s shoulders were bare, shown because her bright red kimono with golden embroidery was sleeveless, though there were slits up the slides to allow her to open up her sitting stance a bit, perhaps solely so that she could play the dark and haunting melody of the instrument. The only incongruity, other than the brightly colored red and beautiful antique cello in an otherwise nature scene, was the weird coloration of the otherwise flawless and pale skin of the woman’s right shoulder. As if a jagged cloth had been set over the arm up to the shoulder and the rest of the flesh past that allowed to tan.
Amaranthe opened her eyes, ears twitching sensitively toward the position of the only other inhabitant of the clearing full of flattened tall grass. She had heard him shift subtly, and took that as a cue to cease playing and open her eyes. If she were being honest with herself, it would be very easy to fall in love with the tousled boyish form that currently lay on his side and drew lazy lines in the dirt. His ancient eyes told the tale of what a mistake that would be, so she kept her interest to herself.
He was her patron, her god, and her mentor -- but no more than that, and certainly not his friend. She had forgiven him losing the arm because he had snatched it back after they left and reattached it. It wasn’t, he had apologized, quite the same pallor because Tamara had noticed as he was stealing it away and subtly changed the color. Tamara, he said smiling wryly, was such a prankster.
Heath was staring at her, looking like he had enjoyed her song. One of the reasons that Amaranthe enjoyed playing for him was the complete politeness with which he listened. Amaranthe, in her time developing as a chosen, had played for kings and queens and always did an obsessive gleam appear in their eyes. People tried to murder others for her favor, even though she never asked. Others tried to take what could not be taken.
It had stolen the joy of playing to have others become so obsessed with the music she was capable of creating, but Heath was a silent refuge. As a god, he had heard many such players and it was quite beyond her ability to charm him naturally. He appreciated the music, and that was all. It was one of the things that sparked a gentle longing in her heart.
Her face colored and she looked away, clearing her thoughts. Tamara had shown her that certain gods were entirely too sensitive to surface thoughts. Instead, she turned back when she was certain her shallow feelings were turned away so that more intellectual pursuits could be made with her time.
Heath smiled lazily, “you’ve been thinking for some time, about Tamara’s chosen.”
“Yes,” Amaranthe swallowed the ire that threatened to overwhelm her and took a breath before smiling again. She had condensed her nine-tails into one at the moment, and it twitched mischievously behind her. “I was wondering why you are friends with a god like Tamara, and an evil slaughter god no less?”
“Since my domains are worship, order, and harvest?” Heath raised an eyebrow, his words leading her onward in the question.
“I am not part of this evil god candidacy am I?” Amaranthe wanted to get this out of the way first. She was quite nervous after certain truths had been made known to her.
“No, that is a separate…” Heath looked upward as if considering his words. “...matter entirely. Your domains will be music, muse, and…” His eyes danced, “spite, if you’re not careful.”
Amaranthe puffed out her cheeks and flushed. “Dance! Dance is what you meant to say.”
“Mm.” His widening grin disagreed with her but that was all.
“So, why are you friends?” Amaranthe asked again.
“Do you know how generous I am?” Heath rolled onto his back, making a tent with his elbows for his head to lay on. “Most gods don’t answer so many questions. You should figure things out for yourself.”
“I am trying to,” Amaranthe said stubbornly. Her tail began to slow its pace and settled on a bewitching back and forth as she suddenly smiled. “One should always consult experts whenever possible.”
“Flattery is a sweeter tool than one made from bitter wood, but careful that it does not a cavity make,” Heath said blandly. “I’m going to answer your question with several questions, and I want you to think very carefully on this because it is relevant to the nature of the current universe and all its heroes...and evil villains.”
“Alright.” Amaranthe agreed immediately, spinning her cello once in a circle and making it vanish into her extra-dimensional space bracelet, a beautiful piece that appeared carved out of purple glass that lay above her wrist. It had been one of the reasons Heath had agreed to retrieve the arm.
“Why do you think evil gods are allowed in the universe at all? Death is not evil, as it falls under a series of neutral domains like balance, rebirth, etc…” Heath said. “All domains serve a purpose, so what service do the evil domains provide?”
“Well, without evil it would be harder to calculate good on karmic scales?” Amaranthe answered hurriedly, already starting to speculate on the question. “I feel like there would be a lot of domains that would suffer from not having evil. Heroic aspirations, the motivation to stop the strong from oppressing the weak, aspirations...at all maybe?” Amaranthe was starting to lose her line of thought but was eager to keep guessing anyway. “Maybe if the universe caters to balance and it really wants good it has to have evil for some reason?”
“Mmm.” Heath said again, infuriating Amaranthe for a moment as he neither confirmed nor denied any of her thoughts.
“Then, another question to answer. If you were a god of Law and Justice and you had a case set before you, consider your pronouncement of judgment in the following circumstances. Two men appear in chains before you. One of the two, you are told, is a torturer of souls. They torture the people until the souls escape, recapture the soul, and torture it some more. One of the men was being tortured, the other is the one that tortured him. You could not differentiate between the two because both souls at this point are twisted into unrecognizable offal.”
Amaranthe chewed on her reply. “I would first try to gather evidence, I would suppose. I wou-”
Heath held up a hand interrupting her. “Okay. So you want to gather more evidence. That’s a good start. You gather up some of your followers and bequeath unto them a quest. Venture forth, go to the place where the two men come from, find out the truth…” He made a get on with it gesture.
“Okay.” Amaranthe stared blankly at him with wide-eyes. “So they go and come back with the evidence and then I execute the man however I do that as a god of Law and Justice. I try to help the other man as best I can, failing that if he is too far gone I execute him as well and send him along the wheel of reincarnation.”
Heath clapped his hands together in congratulations and appreciation. “Just… so.”
“What does that have to do with evil gods?” She titled her head quizzically, giving him her best dew eyed look.
Heath sat up and then stood, stretching slowly and lifting his face to the sun with a smile. “In the course of your heroes journey, you find out later that they helped two barmaids achieve their dreams of becoming nobility by gifting them money and favors. The two barmaids, it should be noted, were kind souls and there wasn’t anything really wrong with that, so you’re not mad. Your chosen, on their journey, also killed a large creature that had been dispersing poisonous gas in small amounts across a town.”
Amaranthe nodded, somewhat pleased that her fictional followers were doing other noble and heroic things on their journey.
“Moving onward, in the course of their investigation, they felt it was a matter of some urgency when they reached the town where the alleged evil man was... because they discovered he was actually a Count. They killed four guards who refused them entry to his estate where his wife and children were. They killed them quickly because they were afraid that the guards were all corrupt and didn’t want to be surrounded when those guards called for help.” Heath reached down and picked up a bit of grass, spinning it in between his fingers.
“The wife and children were taken away by other guards after evidence of the soul torture was discovered in the basement behind a hidden bookcase. They are being disowned but not charged because they were unaware of the husband, or father if you’d rather, and what he did after hours. The loss of the guards was regrettable, everyone agreed, mourning their loss before seeing to other matters.”
Amaranthe opened her mouth to try and get a word in edgewise and failed.
“Other matters indeed! The town doesn’t have a count anymore. Since the count’s family was being cast out of their estate the contents of the estate were up for spoils and several members of your chosen party took especially valuable relics. Some to sell, and some to gift to you upon their return. Souvenirs from their noble quest." Heath put the grass between his lips and blew on it, producing a soft whistle for a moment.
"On their way back they found out that the creature they had killed that emitted the poisonous gas had half of its body submerged into the ground. It is a pity that land will be unfarmable for the next five generations as a result of the corpse poisoning the groundwater, but it couldn’t be helped. The people who were in danger of being poisoned to death over a matter of years will just have to uproot their entire town and migrate elsewhere.”
Amaranthe was starting to get a headache, and her slightly agape mouth and raised eyebrows apparently amused Heath because he just kept going.
“Without a count several bids were subtly made under the table in the kingdom so the position could be filled by those desirous. Women were stolen and gifted to certain officials throughout the kingdom, taxes were raised in that territory in the meantime because the wealth of the estate had been divided, and several of the guards that worked in the city resigned from their posts because the guards who had just been trying to identify your chosen before they entered the estate were cut down in a manner of what had been described to them by a flippant court judge as ‘righteous’ expediency. Those remaining honest guards didn’t trust that the same wouldn’t happen to them.”
“Wait, so we killed the only honest guards on duty? Then the only other honest guards quit?”
“Why would the corrupt ones try and stop an invasion of heavily armed men and women into their master's estate? They could be killed.” Heath raised a brow.
“So the town now only has corrupt guards?” Amaranthe frowned. “I’m starting to feel like I should have just executed those two guys in the beginning.”
“...but… that’s evil?” Heath looked mockingly at her. “To dole out punishment without knowing contextually what unjust thing had been done? You're a god of justice, not a god of slaughter.”
Heath slowly smiled at her as she struggled to put it all together. When she just kept staring despondently at the ground he chuckled.
“What if, in the pursuit of good, more evil is committed than good obtained? What if it had all just been better if your chosen had walked out the door, gone to their local pub, come back, and made something up about their trip instead of actually going? Heroes, as the term is often used, are a blight upon worlds in the universe. Under the guise of virtue they overlook simple things, and are very rarely held accountable because their motivations and their intentions were pure and just.”
“Those barmaids were easily taken advantage of by corrupt officials in the nobility and within one generation were just as corrupt. Worse, that tavern that had a good reputation for the best serving wenches in the country lost their two best barmaids on the same night. Just because an adventurer thought that the two were truly buxom and deserving of a little extra platinum and time. The tavern with the good reputation fell on hard times. It was hard for the town in general after that as most of the merchants and traders who swung by that way only did so because of the stellar service provided by the tavern.”
“The count’s wife and children were stoned to death a few days after the heroes left. Who would have helped them? They were the family of a horrifyingly evil person. Perhaps stoning was a mercy compared to exploitation and starvation.”
Amaranthe’s wide eyes were truly horrified now.
“Not to mention the families of the guards who died trying to maintain order and were killed to make a point about those aiding evil-doers. I wonder what happened to them?” Heath trailed off, looking thoughtful. “I’m loathe to keep making up dark fantasy so I’ll stop.”
“Heroes, in the name of ‘good’, ruin economies, destroy families, kill innocents, steal from their charges, show a particular ruthlessness to their own morality if the need arises, and, oh this is my favorite -- are quite often above repercussions. A villain does any of those things and they are hunted mercilessly at any cost.”
Heath stopped and Amaranthe was almost grateful until he continued. “Oh, and as free as they are with their wealth they are unbelievably petty when it comes to normal purchasing. Try to haggle with a hero as a merchant and see if you don’t, nine times out of ten, sell it to that tricky bastard under the cost of what it was to make it in the first place.”
Heath got up and put a finger to Amaranthe’s chin, lifting her blank gaze as she struggled with what he was telling her.
“Don’t think too much on it. There are plenty of good people and things in the world and in the universe. Just, if it pleases you, think of villains and evil gods as necessary to make sure there aren’t ‘too many’ good people ‘helping’ everyone all the time.”
Heath produced a straw hat from nowhere and put it on his head, whistling as he sashayed into the trees, half-dancing to his own beat.
Amaranthe just stared upward in deep thought for a long time.
Hesitantly, she waved a hand(with the arm that got torn off no less) and opened a small window to look through. Having sworn a soul-shatter oath not to hurt Tamara’s chosen, Heath had given her an ability to look in on it from time to time. She hadn't really understood why, nor did she totally understand now.
The creature was floating face-up in a stream, sleeping peacefully. Compared to the tremendously terrible things she had just been listening to, Ruth didn’t actually seem so bad even if he was an evil god candidate…
As a crow, a golden-eyed slaughter god, and a fox god candidate all watched -- Ruth slowly floated into a fallen log in the middle of the stream. Gently bobbing up and down against it as the sun moved through the sky. The last vestiges of light started to fade through the trees as his eyes opened. Vertical slits looking around in groggy recognition of the world.
Ruth looked down to find that he was part of what appeared to be flotsam. His two arms were above the water buoyed by driftwood, dead plants, white and brown foam, and what appeared to be a broken oar. He turned his head and also found that there was a dead fish bobbing up and down under his chin.
Ruth closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Arathan nudged Tamara, who grinned in reply. They both knew what to expect at this point but were still looking forward to it.
Amaranthe had been watching for some time, trying to figure out what had happened where he found himself unconscious in the water and letting river trash accumulate around him. When he opened his eyes she thought he took it quite well. He was calm, looking around, judging his surroundings in an orderly fashion. She herself would have been done in by seeing the dead fish.
Her eyes widened and a surprised giggle burst out of her mouth at the sound he made after closing his eyes and then re-opening his eyes.
Ruth was going to burn this whole world down. Then, if it was really lucky, he would leave.
Shake-shake… shake-shake… Ruth felt like there was something at the edge of his mind that seemed to absolutely agree with him.
Planar Tiefling: Ruth (Level 1) (Puny/Awake) (Lightning Specialized)
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Bio: I'm not by nature a very courageous person. If you have been around enough you might have surmised as much on your own. I started writing these gaming books because I was frustrated, and in desperate need of a way to give voice to the ideas and concepts that I hope to see in a game some day. I'm also trying to write a book about a former dragon without making him into too much of a murder hobo. I hope you enjoy them. If you don't, that's alright too. :)