“Mortal, you have been chosen!” Deiry’s voice boomed, omnidirectional and shaking the world with its power. It was all a show, of course. Here, within his Domain, the Ascendant’s will was absolute and it took barely a flex of it to cause these effects.
The mortal Agent candidate – William - sat up, looking around at his surroundings. He took the bright, perfect white which stretched out to infinity in every direction, before settling on Deiry’s mountainous silver-skinned frame where he sat upon on a colossal golden throne. He had always been proud of his chosen appearance – it made him think of the legendary gods of his own home world, though they had been much less impressive when he finally met them.
“Know that you have come before Deiry the Merciful and Munificent! You have been saved from perdition to serve my Will!”
William blinked, and looked around once more, taking in his soul form – most people never got to see their own souls and remember it; passage through the River of Souls washed them clean of memory. Deiry considered it a perk he provided to them, and considered himself generous for it – despite the fact that it was standard procedure.
“I don’t think so.” The massive, god-like being blinked down at the soul before him, unsure of how to proceed. The God act had always worked with previous Agents; this was the first instance of immediate refusal in the hundreds of thousands of years he had been assigned to the Aspirant plane.
“...Mortal! Know that if you refuse my Will you will be cast down into Damnation!" The threats usually came later in the Deiry’s playbook, though in reality Deiry had no idea what lay below the Origin plane. Bringing the threat into play was risky this early in the negotiation, but the initial failure had rattled him and it did almost always shatter any remaining rebelliousness. The semi-god's colleagues all had different methods for coaxing cooperation from the candidates that came before them, thought the word was that damned dragonling just pretended to be stupid. How an Ascended being was able to lower themselves to that, Deiry could not fathom. Though it did seem effective. Turning his attention back to the soul after that brief thought, he awaited the inevitable crumbling of will.
“That’s fine. I don’t... serve.” The mortal’s eyes were placid and calm, gazing flatly up at him, not defiant – just uncaring.
“You...? You would dare offend a God?”
“I don’t care what you are, but even if I did, being large, loud and glowing doesn’t make you a god.”
Deiry resisted the urge to rub his temples – he had not had a mortal body in half a million years, but somehow the habit remained and this impudent soul was being the sort if irritant he had not had to deal with in a long time. He was about to reply – to actually argue with a mortal soul without even a body – when the screeching buzz of divine communication reached him, emanating from the planet he was here to provide an agent for.
If the mortal had not been present, Deiry would have moved to the gods’ demi-plane so they could have an actual conversation, but as it was, he had to deal with the painful whining as all of the entitled divinities tried to speak to him at once, demanding their ridiculous requests be fulfilled. Setting up a process to record the messages for later, Deiry turned his gaze back to the soul.
“Look, I’m in a bit of a rush, so I’ll level with you. I have some errands that need running, and if you agree to fulfil them, you will be given a new body, a whole plane above where you started. You’ll be able to retain your memories, something not usually possible before Ascending. I will even give you abilities to provide an advantage in your new life. Think of it like a job. With benefits.”
The candidate tilted his head, still staring unblinkingly up at Deiry, clearly unimpressed.
“I will cooperate – as an employee - provided we can agree on terms.”
Souls were usually pretty agreeable – it came from the shock of not having biologically reinforced emotions, but this mortal was becoming a real pain. Usually, Deiry would shock them into compliance with his act and then hammer out a deal rapidly, providing as few concessions as possible by simply not providing them options. But it had already been longer than he liked between Agents, and he did after all have a job to do.
It took four months for Deiry and the mortal – William – to come to an agreement. There had been times that the ascended being had been very close to tossing the soul back into the River, but the incessant hammering of the local gods on his mind made him extremely hesitant to wait – which would almost certainly be years — for another candidate.
Finally, after innumerable offers and counteroffers, the two had agreed on the completion of no more than three tasks, which was bad enough, to Deiry’s mind, but the worst part was that he had ended up having to concede both a Violet ability and a Green ability to the impertinent toad. This was the first time in his long existence that the silver skinned humanoid had ever given more than a Red ability, but it would be worth it for a little peace. In the future, however, Deiry decided to go even harder on the God play – maybe have some multitudes instead of empty white. And perhaps trumpets...
“I will take Manifold Mind and Soul Constructs.” The freshly chosen Agent picked his abilities, his voice flat and emotionless, even for a soul. Luckily, he had not insisted on designing his own body, so Deiry would simply provide him a basic one. Having a superior body would not do him much good on the planet he was going to so it would not endanger his goals too much. It would however help recoup the costs of giving out such high-level abilities.
Focusing his Domain upon the starlight formed soul, Deiry began to construct the new body for the irritating little arm-twister to occupy. The body itself was actually mostly effortless to create; constantly modelling his Domain over the millennia had taught him more than enough about atomic construction for it to basically be second nature. Layering the soul over the blank brain without building in all the learned habits and behaviours was only slightly more difficult – there had been issues in the past with Agents not adapting to their new realities due to all the built in crap from their last lives, so it had become standard practice to just leave the brain as a blank slate. Some deaths had been caused by incaution, but overall, it had only increased their success rate. Last came the abilities – this was much harder as it required modification at the sub-atomic level, and even Deiry had to concentrate in order the encode the quantum processes. At least this little shit had not taken Lucky. That blasted ability might only be a Red, but it was a real pain to automate the fate bending effects it provided, which is why there was no Green or higher equivalent.
Finally, after several seconds, it was all done with and with a wave of his hand, he extended his Domain down to the planet’s surface and simply changed William’s relative position within it, before withdrawing it back with a long-suffering sigh. Now that he was able to relax, Deiry shrunk down to a more convenient size and created a huge couch, along with a vast screen before beginning to watch cartoons.
This gig was certainly a shortcut, Deiry reflected, but it was really annoying dealing with mortals.
William looked around his new reality – the sky was heavily clouded with little light making it through to the ground. Around him, a city stretched, although he could see little behind the buildings surrounding him.
A golden box was fixed in the centre of his vision, displaying his first task.
Quest Received...! Difficulty: Vastly Annoying... Time Limit: 2 years, 228 Days, 32 Hours, 74 Minutes.
Kill the Emperor of the Ash Rose Empire.
Bonus Reward: None.
William gazed at it for a long moment, pondering on the nature of the difficulty. He was not familiar with annoyance, personally, but he had heard a great deal about it before his first death.
The noise of a stone skipping across stone alerted him to the arrival of others, in the small square in which he found himself, and he dismissed the golden box.
“What do we have here? An Unlinked, in the centre of the city? I don’t know where you came from young man, but I will be happy to Link you to my army...”
William turned, his gaze locking on the speaker. A painfully thin woman with overly painted lips sat atop a rich palanquin, carried by what appeared to be a dozen corpses. More than a hundred of the dead things surrounded the group doing the carrying and it was almost disconcerting – if William were capable of feeling disconcerted - to see them all turn as one to look at him.
Without a gesture or word from the woman, a number of the things – without any sort of telegraphing – moved in his direction with a lurch. In the few moments it took for the undead to reach him, William split his mind, first once, then twice and again and again until dozens of himself were running in parallel, assessing the situation from every angle. Formulating a plan was effortless, with so many dispassionately working the problem. As William’s Manifold Minds collapsed back into a whole, he extended one hand, a sparkling starlight bow forming within his relaxed grip. With a smooth motion, he pulled back the shining string, an arrow of razor-sharp soul-light forming in an instant.
The woman had time only for her eyes to widen before William released the shot. The arrow moved far too fast for any normal person to dodge, and almost seeming to teleport, it slammed into her forehead, ending her life and the immediate threat.
As one, the corpses collapsed and immediately began to rapidly decay, the smell mildly unpleasant. William paid them no mind, merely stepping between them as he approached the fresh corpse of the woman, allowing his construct to fade. Once more, he split his mind and became many as they processed the how of her control.
Several minds noted a strange energy entering their system – there did not seem to be a great deal of it, but those minds passed the information back to the whole, where it was examined and integrated into the ongoing problem. It took several seconds to come up with an initial hypothesis – hours on end of collective time – but finally a primary theory, as well as several backups were created and they reached down, pressing one hand against the dead woman's cooling flesh.
With an effort of will, fully five minds concentrated on controlling the new energy. Art first, it slipped through their grasp, seemingly frictionless, but this too was integrated in to their knowledge and rapidly numerous methods of control were tried and discarded until – after several more attenuated seconds – the minds whose job it was to manage that strand of power finally succeeded. They immediately moved to test their primary hypothesis, threading the energy down their arm and into the corpse. They could feel a similar energy in her body, though there seemed to be a lot more of it. Taking a clue from her initial statement, the William gestalt attempted to bind them together using that thread. Their initial hypothesis failed and they moved on to their second, everything they had learned already consumed and considered by the Manifold Mind.
The second, modified attempt involved linking through the energy already present in the woman’s body and pulling it back into their own, creating a double helix of energy between their body and hers. There was a click without their body and they could suddenly feel the woman’s body. It was not like experiencing their own body – though it seemed they could if they chose - but they knew its location like they knew the location of their own limbs and could direct it with little effort. They stepped back, and with the merest flexing of their will, the woman rose to her feet as if pulled by invisible chains, the soul-light arrow fading from existence as the hole in her head closed.
For the first time, William smiled, collapsing all but a single mind back into his own. The second mind, he assigned to managing the woman’s body.
Reaching down to one of the decaying bodies that had belonged to his new acquisition, he attempted to push a strand of the energy into it, but found no energy within it.
Turning, William constructed a suit from sparking argent light in order to cover his nudity and made a mental note to test whether a projectile could be fired with will alone, before he began to walk away from the square with his puppet at his side, considering the problem of acquiring more corpses. It seemed, based on his limited information, that either he had been too late to take possession of the other dead, or they could only be taken once. This meant that for the foreseeable future - or until he gained more information - he would be required to make his own corpses.
William was fine with that.