Balthus stood at the top of the Sky Tower admiring Diyall as the sun rose and the festival in the streets finally began to quiet down. The tower might be a colossal expense, but at the very minimum the view from it was wonderful. He made a brief promise to himself to take more moments like this to stop and enjoy the small things in life. Not that he really had the time, administering to a continent spanning empire while also tending to the needs of an omnipotent tantrum-prone child was more than a full time job. Still, yesterday was his 68th birthday and the fifteenth anniversary of him taking over as High Priest of the Church and Empire. He deserved a moment of reflection now and then.
Patting the ceramic shoulder of the Seraphim guarding Al’Shazan’s portal he stepped through, once again plagued by vertigo and nausea. As soon as he regained his senses, Balthus took in Al’Shazan’s sanctum and sighed to himself. The place was a mess. Clothing was strewn everywhere and priceless wine chalices, each crafted by a master from gold and precious gems, covered every available surface. Somehow, a pair of pants had ended up on top of the formless white glow of a mage light that illuminated the sanctum. Probably from the jester wearing nothing but his colorful tunic and a lampshade over his head. In the center of the sanctum stood a bed, easily twenty-five by fifteen feet, and on that bed lay a multitude of forms. Of course, the entire demiplane smelled of spilled wine, sex, and sweat. Wrinkling his nose against the appetizing potpourri, Balthus called out to Al’Shazan.
“My Lord, a good morning to you.” A smile on his face. Technically it was morning, after all, he had waited at the top of the Sky Tower until the moment the sun rose.
“IN MY OWN NAME WHY ARE YOU HERE THIS EARLY,” Al’Shazan mumbled with the majesty of a lion roaring while it pulled a pillow over its head. “BALT, I KNOW YOU HAVE EXPLAINED TO ME THAT I SHOULD ‘REVEL’ IN HANGOVERS BECAUSE WITHOUT THEM WINE WOULD NOT TASTE AS SWEET, BUT THIS IS TRULY AWFUL. A NOVEL EXPERIENCE REALLY, I DON’T THINK I’VE EVER EXPERIENCED PAIN AND DISCOMFORT ON THIS LEVEL IN MY EONS OF EXISTENCE.”
“I have come to check on the aftermath of the party my Lord,” Balthus replied, still smiling. “I hope you enjoyed the revelry surrounding my ascension. I managed to enjoy a good port and a game of tinall with a visiting professor from Lyles Hall. I’m sure he let me win three games in a row before storming out of my office to humor me, but it really got me in the mood for yet another game. Would you like to play another round Lord Al’Shazan?”
“I WOULD RATHER DRINK ANOTHER GALLON OF THIS SWILL AND SUMMON A BRASS BAND THAN PLAY THAT ACCURSED GAME WITH YOU” the God threw the pillow past Balthus with enough force that it broke the sound barrier before cracking the wall of the demiplane. The God sullenly pulled itself out of bed toward a delicately crafted silver pitcher of water which it began drinking from directly. After it finished and dropped the pitcher to the floor, it turned to High Priest Aster and continued, “WHY DOES MY MOUTH TASTE LIKE IT IS FULL OF DUST? THERE ISN’T EVEN DUST ON THIS PLANE, THE PORTAL DESTROYS IT WHENEVER YOUR LOT WARPS IN. AN IMPORTANT PART OF KEEPING THIS PLACE SANITARY. I BASICALLY MADE YOU LOT OUT OF DIRT AND WASTE, AND I DO HATE IT WHEN YOU TRACK ALL OF THAT ORGANIC MATTER AROUND IN HERE”
“I believe you explained that element of how the portal works to me earlier my Lord,” Balthus responded, eyes on the genderless teenage form of his God and a smile plastered on his face. “As I understand it, the portal only eliminates dirt. Dust is partially dirt, but most of it is tiny flecks of human skin. Given the circumstances, it would make sense that there would be plenty of dust in your Sanctum and in your mouth.” He motioned to the motionless pile of bodies on the God’s bed.
With a brief glare at Balthus, Al’Shazan teleported away. Seconds later, the entire sanctum shook as he heard the God retching. For the first time in his entire tenure as the High Priest, Balthus saw the glowing Seraphim of the Host move, glancing at each other, looks of concern on their faces. Usually they were little more than statues: immobile, imposing, and extensions of the One True God’s will. On this side of the portal, they existed in their true forms, glowing and alien rather than bound to the clay battle forms molded by Church craftsmen. Angels could only exist in the mortal world if summoned by a powerful priest or if a shell was crafted for them. In the first scenario, the spell created a portal into the divine realm and the waste energy from that portal ripped at the very minds and souls of any nearby mortals in a phenomenon known as ‘soulwracking.’ Even then, the angel could only exist in the mortal realm while being fed mana from the priest, and very few actually had the strength of will to maintain a mana connection through a soulwracking. More commonly, angels poured their energy into a ceramic vessel, a more permanent and safe solution, but one that lacked the pizzaz of dumping an ancient being of colossal power onto a mass of barbarians that had been turned into drooling wretches by a soulwrack.
Finally, Al’Shazan blinked back into the sanctum, still looking a little green around the gills, but otherwise much better than when it originally awoke. It flew back in front of Balthus before settling on the Sanctum’s ground, a new robe upon its shoulders.
“I MEANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT THAT BALT,” it stated shakily, the power of its presence almost forcing Balthus’ knees to buckle. “I ASKED FOR 20 VIRGINS FOR THE ORGY AND MOST OF THE PEOPLE YOU BROUGHT ME ARE GROSSLY DEFORMED. BY MY COUNT NINE OF THEM ARE LEPERS, SIX HAVE BEEN BURNED BEYOND RECOGNITION, TWO HAVE BEEN HORRIFICALLY SCARRED WITH ACID, ONE IS ROTTING FROM THE INSIDE OUT DUE TO SOME CURSE OR ANOTHER, AND I’M PRETTY SURE THE LAST ONE IS UNDEAD.”
“Yes my Lord, Karen is a ghoul that gained full sentience after a necromancer performed a horrifying ritual on her,” Balthus confirmed. “I believe it involved bathing her in the blood of her family while subjecting her to unfathomable arcane energy. Truly a nasty business.”
“SHE ATE ONE OF THE BARDS BALT,” Al’Shazan replied, frowning slightly.
“I’m sure she did my Lord,” Balthus continued unsurprised. “She really did have trouble avoiding cannibalism when she got excited. It’s a large part of the reason why she never had any romantic suitors. My understanding was that you wanted ten men and ten women of unmatched purity so I sought out individuals who had never even been touched romantically so that you could enjoy being their first in every way imaginable. Many of the brothels in Diyall offered me gorgeous, supple young virgins for my Lord’s party, but upon further investigation I discovered that all of them had kissed or touched the sex organs of another being. I would hardly sully my Lord’s party with such technicalities so I rejected them. Instead we searched the most downtrodden of slums, refugee camps, and leper colonies to find you only the most untouched of virgins.”
“THEY WERE INCREDIBLY GROSS BALT,” the God leaned close and whispered to Balthus, the volume still partially deafening him.
“My Lord Al’Shazan, I thought I explained the concept of volume to you,” Balthus answered with a sigh and a shake of his head. “You are simply such a powerful being that everyone in your domain can hear you. Whispering just doesn’t serve a purpose.”
“BALT,” Al’Shazan took a step back, slightly chagrined. “I THOUGHT WE TALKED ABOUT YOUR FORMALITY. I WANT YOU TO TREAT ME LIKE YOUR LONG LOST PAL. I CAN CALL YOU BALT, AND YOU CAN CALL ME AL.”
“Of course Lord Al’Shazan,” Balthus responded with a quick, subservient nod.
“I MEAN, I STILL DID SLEEP WITH THEM,” the God continued, wandering across its sanctum in search of another pitcher of water. “IT’S REALLY A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE. I CAN’T LET DEFORMITY, SMELL, OR MISSING FACIAL FEATURES RUIN A PERFECTLY GOOD ORGY. THE VIRGIN THING WASN’T REALLY ALL THAT GREAT EITHER. NONE OF THEM KNEW WHAT TO DO AND THE LEPERS’ FINGERS KEPT GETTING LOST IN ORIFICES.”
“I will make a note of your preferences for the next orgy my Lord,” Balthus nodded thoughtfully, scribbling something down onto a vellum pad that he had procured from the depths of his robes. “But while I have your attention, I thought I should bring a small matter to your notice.”
Al’Shazan, the One True Flame of Creation and God of All waved its hand for Balthus to continue while it greedily guzzled another pitcher of water, much of it spilling over its deceptively young face and down the front of its golden robes.
“The issue is slavery,” Balthus paused briefly to give the God a chance to interject, but it was too busy drinking directly from the pitcher. “In the year Eight Hundred and Twelve, after founding, the High Priest Pontheel the Wise did give a speech after a direct meeting with you. That speech focused on how all true followers are slaves of the Church. After I found this speech in our records, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that the nobles of the Empire are allowed to own slaves. It simply doesn’t make sense to me that a slave can have two masters, a noble and you, the God of All. I was hoping to issue an edict in your name banning slavery on those grounds.”
“PONTHEEL WAS IT?” the God nodded absently, a flicker of flame drying out its golden robes. “I REMEMBER THAT SPEECH. THAT WAS MY BDSM PHASE. A LOT OF WHIPS, CHAINS AND FORCING PEOPLE TO RESPOND TO MY EVERY COMMAND WITH ‘YES MASTER.’ A BIT CRINGEY NOW THAT I LOOK BACK ON IT.”
Balthus stared blankly at his God. BDSM phase? He really shouldn’t be surprised by the divine revelations at this point, but an entire epoch of the Church’s history was devoted to self flagellation and servitude. Many of the Church’s greatest accomplishments were linked to that period, and it took the man a second to reconcile the construction of the Palace of Embers, the conquest of the Brotherhood of Night, and the founding of the inquisition with a phase of the God’s sexual exploration. A moment later, he gave up and accepted it. The history of the Church was nothing more than a collection of Al’Shazan’s whimsy and attempts to stave off boredom, it was just a matter of adding the reign of Pontheel the Wise to that collection.
“WHATEVER,” Al’Shazan stated, disinterested. “JUST DECLARE ALL SLAVES PROPERTY OF THE CHURCH AND RENT THEM BACK TO THE NOBLES. WE CAN DO THE SAME WITH ANYONE WHO DOESN’T PAY THEIR TITHES ON TIME. SIMPLE SOLUTION.”
He blinked at the God once again. Today had been perfectly planned, keep Al’Shazan hungover and off balance, and convince it while it was distracted to abolish the blight of slavery. Balthus might not be the most moral individual ever, those people rarely survived the priesthood after all, but after he ascended he quickly realized that although omnipotent, Al’Shazan was an ethical void. If anyone were to make the Empire a better place for those living in it, it was up to the mortal administrators of the Church and Empire to try and push things in the right direction. Usually, it wasn’t that hard. Al’Shazan was largely disinterested in the day to day ruling of the Empire and a suggestion here or there went a long way towards improving the overall picture. Unfortunately, when the God spoke, its word was law, and it had just idly expanded the practice of slavery to include the destitute.
“Very good my Lord,” Balthus winced as he replied.
“GREAT,” the God said before sitting down in a plush chair that appeared out of nowhere and making a shooing motion toward Balthus. “NOW THAT WE’RE DONE, COULD YOU SEND SOMEONE UP HERE WITH SOME OF THAT POWDERED WILLOW BARK FOR MY HEADACHE AND A MOP FOR THE BARD. KAREN REALLY MADE A MESS OUT OF HIM.”