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Chapter 106.5 - A Song of Insult and Injury

With a visible scowl sitting on her face, the goddess of the eternal flow swept her gaze over the cosmic backdrop and watched as the various divine entities returned to their respective private quarters. The weekly pantheon-wide stand-up was entirely unnecessary, but Flitzegarde forced everyone through it nonetheless. The goddess of order was always a stickler for the rules, the vast majority of which were unsolicited and unilaterally decided by either the self-righteous rat or another member of her faction.

As much as she wanted to object to the scheduled meetings, she didn’t dare raise her voice or make any unnecessary declarations. She had no intention of inspiring the wrong divine and starting another all-out war, not after she had spent three dozen centuries disparaging Builledracht for making that exact mistake. She knew that he would never let her hear the end of it if she followed in his footsteps. Pursing her lips again, the nebula-eyed deity emitted a burst of divine energy and warped to the domain she had declared as her own.

She tapped a finger against the open space in front of her and brought up her administrative panel. It had only been a few minutes since the hundreds of gods and goddesses began speeding through their activities, but she had already accrued a number of important agenda items, with the cycle being first and foremost. Most of the souls waiting to be reincarnated required little attention. The system processed them at the usual steady rate and set them off on new paths, based heavily on their greatest regrets. Those that wished for peace would be placed within the everyday gentry, while those that died lamenting a lack of income would often be born into merchant families. Fallen warriors that still craved violence were given monstrous bodies and cast into harsh environments, where they would be able to clash against one another and shed all the blood they so desired.

It was nearly a perfect cycle, with the only issues stemming from eccentric data points. Flux would, of course, actively maintain it. She often updated the algorithm to account for common outliers and accommodate new trends. The state of the world was never stagnant, and it was not always possible to grant a soul’s wish, especially in the case that said wish was overly specific. It was difficult to appease a man whose sole desire was to orchestrate the fall of a particular nation. The sovereign entity in question would often be dissolved by the time the individual was finally given life again, as souls with their wills still alight would go through a mandatory treatment process to cleanse them of their impurities. It had taken only a few experiments for the goddess to understand that a lamenting spirit could not be allowed back onto the mortal plane, and that it was often unsafe to reincarnate an individual in the era of their prior death. Quarantine, cleansing, and isolation were all required to prevent the departeds’ memories from surfacing in their subsequent incarnations. That process was, of course, handled automatically by the system. For the most part, she was hands off, save for the case that there was an unexpected exception. And it was precisely one such entity that had grabbed the goddess’ attention.

The individual in question was one with which another divine had tampered, an old spirit with an unfulfilled destiny, assigned by Primrose, goddess of the harvest. If not for her, the system would have been able to handle him on its own. His profile did not suggest any major laments, and the pure energy given off by his soul was indicative of a man with few regrets.

“Airheaded imbecile,” spat the goddess. “I’ve told that brainless plant lover a thousand times that destinies are only ever fulfilled by happenstance, but her skull is as thick as Mara’s crust.”

Catching herself in the midst of clicking her tongue, the annoyed divine composed herself and summoned the freshly deceased mortal to her plane. The elderly soul was so fresh that it still maintained its prior form, with no obvious distortion even in death.

“Gudmund Johannsson. Welcome to the hall of passing.” She slowly walked towards him as a grand hall formed around them, her steps echoing off the non-existent walls.

The old turtle craned his neck up to look at her, his eyes still hazy and unfocused. He narrowed them first as he looked at her, only to open them wide as he caught her most notable feature, the single branching horn that sprouted from the right side of her head. His face began to twist, changing from surprise to understanding to sorrow and pride.

Tears streamed down the side of his cheeks as he cast his gaze around the room, at its porcelain white walls and its glimmering marble floor.

“I knew.” His words came gradually, one at a time. “I knew… that it was going to be time, one of these days. But I just… wish my body could have held on a little longer.”

“Do you have any regrets?” asked the goddess.

The bipedal turtle didn’t speak immediately, slowly nodding instead with his flippers clenched. “My granddaughter was meant to be born next week. I at least wanted to hold her, once.”

“Then you may do exactly that, departed one.” The goddess gently wrapped his fingers with a magical grip and raised them. “Come, let us go two weeks into the future.”

Without waiting for him to reply, she looked into his mind, gathered all the necessary details, and crafted an intricate illusion, a highly accurate prediction of the weeks to come. Their surroundings took on the form of a beachside community. Together, they walked along the beach and entered a smaller hut by the seaside, the ancient home that the man had passed onto his only child.

Gudmund’s lips trembled as he cast his gaze on his daughter, who was basking by the window with a much smaller turtle placed atop her shell. “Is that her?” His voice was as unsteady as his mouth. It shook, over and over, as its owner slowly lumbered towards his kin.

But he never made it as far as entering their line of sight. He suddenly stopped in the middle of taking a step and returned his rear flipper to its previous position atop the sandy shore. “Thank you, goddess. I think I’ve had enough now.”

His eyes were locked onto a small mound set just behind the hut, marked with a small wooden plank. A grave. His grave.

“Are you certain you do not wish to hold her?” asked Flux.

“I am,” said the reptile. “I’m happy just to have seen her.” Placing his front flippers behind his back, he turned to the water and looked upon the beautiful horizon, the Ryllian Sea, glimmering in all its glory. “I’ve lived a long life.” His head rose, slowly, as he craned it towards the sun. “I’ve had my fair share of happiness, a loving wife, a beautiful daughter, and the best of friends. I fear that seeking any more would leave none for my descendants.”

“Then so be it.” The glowing nebula within the goddess’ eyes almost seemed to swirl as she undid the simulation and returned the two to their previous positions. “Do you have any other regrets?”

“None,” said the old man. “I’m ready to move on.”

With a pitying, almost sorrowful glance, Flux placed a rune on the man’s chest and enacted another spell. When she removed the ancient letter, it was accompanied by a wad of crimson magic that came together to form the bud of a rose. “It is unfortunate, but I am unable to return you to the cycle,” she said. “Your destiny has yet to be fulfilled.”

“My destiny?” The old man looked at her with his eyes wide. “What, great goddess, might that have been?”

“You were meant to become the best gardener in the Ryllian, the pinnacle of agriculture, and a walking embodiment of Primrose’s might.

The old man stared at her for a few moments before breaking into a hearty laugh. “Me? Primrose’s champion? That’s absurd.”

“The opportunity was only a few missed chances away,” said Flux. “When you were much younger, you turned down an invitation to experiment with the craft.”

“I did?” He pondered for a moment. “I can’t quite remember anything of the sort.”

“It was the neighbour that moved in next door, during your seventh year,” said Flux.

“I see…” Gudmund closed his eyes and lowered his head. “Is any harm going to come to my family?”

“Do not worry. They will not be touched,” said Flux. “It affects nothing but the options that remain to you.” Two large doors took shape behind her as she spoke. “On your left is the option to be reborn as a child with all of your memories intact. And on your right, you may find the choice to have your slate wiped clean and proceed without any memory of the life you just lived.”

A pair of doors appeared behind her, one for each option.

“The choice is yours. Whatever the case, I wish you a wonderful journey. May your new life be filled with blessings and joy.”

Knowing that his decision was already made, she silently walked past the old man and left him to finalize his fate.

___

With Primrose’s exception and three other troublesome cases out of the way, Flux directed her attention back to the seventh world and its various affairs. She scanned the ranks of her representatives for any obvious blasphemy, acknowledged the vows awaiting her consent, and orchestrated a great flood before finally turning her eyes on a patchwork soul in one of only five lyrkrian shells.

The timing was perfect. Claire had just closed her eyes and fallen asleep. Her mind had yet to be taken from its isolation, so the goddess capitalized on the rare opportunity and did it herself. A few button presses was all she needed to call the half-ancient entity from its slumber and summon it into the divine realm.

Like the heavens, which changed to reflect the mortal’s perceptions, Flux’s form went through a series of shifts as the administrative spell manifested. Her clawed feet vanished, the segmented antler on her head receded, and she turned from a quadrupedal illuminated beast to a humanoid with half the leg count—the form she had assumed to avoid influencing the mortal’s ascension.

And then she undid it.

Back and forth she switched, settling on a final answer only as time began to run out, a hundredth of a second after the summoning process began. In the end, she chose her humanoid form, but kept her horn where it was, a vague hint the halfbreed was incapable of fully understanding.

“Good morning, Claire.”

“Good morning, Box.”

Flux smiled softly as she looked upon the young lyrkress. There was no blood connection. But she couldn’t help but feel as if their mouths and noses shared a resemblance.

“I thought we weren’t going to see each other again until my second ascension,” said Claire, with a suspicious glare.

“I have summoned you to inspect your progress and question your unreasonable recklessness.” The goddess brushed off the attempt at intimidation without so much as a second thought. “How far have you come?”

It was a question with its answer long known. Flux had kept a close eye on Claire’s log and penned many of the entries herself. As she always had.

“I’m not even close,” said the lyrkress. “It’ll take a long time. I’ve yet to hit level 100.”

The illuminated beast almost wanted to praise her, but she knew better than that. The child’s essence was forged in part from one of the most conceited that had ever been. “If you remain incapable of progressing rapidly even with such recklessness, then you cannot be anything but incompetent.”

“Sure, Box. Whatever you say.” Claire rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. Even though she had picked up on the insult’s undertone. “And I’m not that reckless. Most of it was calculated.”

“Yes, just as how destroying the goblin king’s wares was necessary.”

“Entirely.”

Flux slowly closed her eyes and reopened them. “I simply do not understand where you acquired your lack of intellect. Your mother may have been slightly below average, but your father was brilliant.”

“Do not insult my mother,” hissed Claire.

“It was a statement of fact, not an insult.” The divine stepped forward, stopping less than a meter from her subject. “I do not bear any ill will towards your mother, Claire. Dimwitted as she may have been, it was her determination that led to the unlikely event of your birth. Even with my aid, it would not have been possible without the effort she put forth.”

The half-snake shrugged. “Are you going to explain why I’m here?”

The goddess opened her mouth to speak, but stopped and turned as she caught a presence entering her domain, a familiar chain-tailed man dressed in a tuxedo. Builledracht was supposed to have known better than to interrupt her time with a subject, but showed no guilt as he stepped over and joined the group with a casual nod. He was hardly the only one. A voluptuous, scantily clad arachne with a glaive strapped to her back stepped out of a second dimensional fissure, and like the last dragon, joined the circle as if it were simply the most natural thing to do.

“Good morning, Claire.” The man adjusted the cuffs on his suit as he spoke. “I’m afraid Flux doesn’t quite have any business with you today, but the two of us would like a few words.”

The goddess’ brow twitched as she slowly closed her mouth. He wasn’t entirely incorrect, but there was no way for her to make up a natural excuse without compromise. She could not bring up the burnt fish with the other two gods present. The petty prank was an affront to her image and would reveal an abuse of the system.

“Builledracht, thank you for the many curses you have cast on my behalf. You have always answered my requests, despite my rituals’ imperfections.” To Flux’s dismay, the halfbred mortal took a knee and lowered her head to the two other deities. A level of respect that she refused to give her patron. “And Vella, I thank you for the blessings that you so often bestow upon Cadria’s warriors. The troops are fine as they are only because of your frequent and powerful blessings.”

Flux knew that Claire was only expressing her gratitude to get on her nerves. And while she found the notion adorable, being aware of the halfbreed’s intent only served to worsen her mood; she was practically green with envy.

“Your respect is acknowledged and appreciated,” said Builledracht. He grinned, slyly, as he cast a quick gaze in Flux’s direction. “Though I am no longer your patron, I wished to offer a piece of advice. Your next ascension is likely to feature a number of choices with scales and four legs. I highly advise you to select one of them. They will set you on a path to incredible power.”

“Builledracht!” Having had enough, the goddess of the eternal flow grabbed him by the shoulder, but he ignored her and continued to speak.

“It would be even better if you were to select something with mention of a ‘dragon.’ The race has been extinct for several thousand years, and I would appreciate it if you could bring it back into existence. I’ll offer you a minor blessing in exchange, if you ever happen to become one.”

“You are mentally deficient and delusional. A qilin is a far better choice,” said Flux, in a low growl. “Do not engage in any further discourse. She is my subject, not the inheritor of your blood.”

“I’m simply providing the advice I would have given had she still been sworn to me,” he said, with an amused glint in his eye.

“Thank you, great god of curses. I will endeavour to keep your words in mind,” said Claire.

“Excellent. Then my business is concluded,” said the winged lizard. “Please go right ahead, Vella. Thank you for waiting.”

“Not a problem,” grunted the spider lady. She smiled like a predator as she placed both hands on Claire’s shoulders and licked her lips. “I’ll get right to the point. Abandon Flux and swear to me instead, as the heir of house Augustus has always done.” Her divinity swelled as she leaned forward, flaunted her assets, and got right in the mortal’s face.

Flux could feel her blood pressure rising, but she refrained from acting. Because she knew she wasn’t the only one offended by the offer.

“Then maybe you should have asked a month ago, before I was disowned,” hissed the halfbreed. “My father betrayed me. I have no intention of following in his footsteps.”

Vella clicked her tongue as she turned to the other goddess. “Flux! This is your fault!” She practically spat at the other goddess. “Virillius’ heir was meant to be a man! How am I meant to seduce a woman!?”

“You would never have had to ask that question were you ever anything more than a whore,” said Flux, with a smug grin. The deity lording over the cycle directed her attention back to the mortal for a split second and returned her to her body. None of the insults soon to be spoken were even remotely safe for the innocent child’s ears.

She opened her mouth as the heavenly realm returned to its default cosmic form and let loose an incredible stream of defamation, one accurate and awful enough to strike the goddess of phallic appreciation with a month-long fit of depression.

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If you have Discord, feel free to drop by and hang out and/or get pinged for updates. I'm piggybacking off the server I use for translating stuff, and there's been a channel for M.I. for a while now, but I keep forgetting to drop the link.


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Spicy Space Squid

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