I had breakfast with Abby in the lounge after morning PT. Markus exercised twice as long as the rest of us, so he usually joined us later. Velean cuisine emphasized strong flavors in a way that still tasted weird to me, but their breakfast foods tended to be sweet, so I always looked forward to it. We weren’t in a hurry. Val had reported the all-clear, saying that he was on his way back. We didn’t get much out of him over the comm. Just that he needed to cross-check some information. We let him be: he got tunnel vision sometimes when he really sunk his teeth into a problem.
Markus had just sat down with us when Val burst into the lounge.
“Morning, Val,” I said.
“Hey,” said Abby. “What have you got for us?”
“Everything,” Val said, apparently in too much of a hurry to stop. “I’m going to run some numbers. Don’t disturb me.”
He swept out the door, presumably on the way to his terminal in the engine room.
“Damn,” I said. “Must have been some sweet info.”
It was. Four hours later, he pinged everyone and said he was ready to present his findings. We were all on hand—the commander had suspended operations for the day—so we gathered back in the lounge.
“I have names and aspects for every god in the pantheon,” said Val, activating the main lounge screen. “Check your consoles.”
“Shit, man,” said Markus. “Nice work!”
“First, Ell works as an Oathkeeper,” said Val. “They’re sworn to Javei, who I’ve determined is a biphase god with a socially-oriented truth aspect. The Oathkeepers function as the justice system here. That lends itself to Javei’s other aspect, which could fall under either revelation or discovery. My error bars are too wide to determine which.”
“That Oathkeeper status could be an issue,” said the commander. “Are you aware of any connection between Ell and Kives?”
“A basic comm scan revealed no divine signature,” said Val. “We’d have to get her in front of a moirascope to check for entanglements.”
“Acceptable for now,” said the commander. “Continue.”
“Second,” Val said, “when I mentioned I couldn’t read, Ell mentioned visiting a temple of Lorana. Worship of Lorana reportedly entails deliberately training a skill or ability. We should look into that once Kives is dealt with, by the way. I had the computer set up a twelve-dimensional matrix for the pantheon, using our three known gods as constants.”
That would be Kives, recorded during our first battle; Horcutio, recorded during the second; and Seindel, who we’d gotten from Arguel.
“I took a comm reading of Ell to get a rough signature for Javai, then used the signature of Lilith’s cloak as a proxy for Meris. Lorana took multiple tries. Growth was the obvious choice, but it was too close to Kives to be solvable. Nothing within a standard deviation of learning or training worked. Then I had a breakthrough: Lorana is the goddess of mastery. Progressive monophase; the progressive aspect seems to be something personality-based, which I’ve tentatively marked as ‘wisdom.’ And that,” Val said triumphantly, “solved the matrix. I cross-checked with our compiled theological intelligence, and everything is within parameters. We now have signature information for every ascendant god on Theria.”
He smiled a predator’s smile.
“And I know how to kill every one of them.”
Varas was queen of the gods: her domains were both of rule, one by the sword and the other by coin. But the sword and the coin can be turned against each other. We could rip her in half.
Gamal was her consort, the god of community, with a progressive aspect of communication. As an American with a social media account, I didn’t need to hear Val’s explanation of how one could break the other. We’d need to get him to biphase first, though.
Kabiades was also her consort. His domain was manly prowess, progressing to competition. The available counterfrequencies were many, including foul play, laziness, and disease. Wrecking a few competitions on his holy days should do the trick.
Androdaima thrived with creation, and could be ruined with destruction. Lorana’s temples promoted wisdom; we knew the techniques to turn them into propaganda. Meris hoarded secrets; but with sufficient amplification, the truth of the gods proclaimed might slay her outright. But such a massive revelation would empower Javei, so first we’d need to hit him through the Oathkeepers.
Alcebios, the Stranger, was the only god in progressive biphase. She was lord of death and bringer of discord, progressing to battle. Val’s calculations showed that she was already unstable. Forced empowerment would break her. Empowered, she might drag Seindel and his peace aspect down with her.
Rucks, the Dancer, matched the frequency of excess. The societal upheaval from killing the others might even take care of him/her/them without our intervention.
Kives was our primary target. Fertility gods are hard to kill: they live off an etheric frequency that’s sympathetically generated whenever a thing moves toward its potential. Any thing. It would take slow, grinding work of indirect attacks on everything related to her before she crumbled. Starting with her husband: Horcutio, the asshole weather god.
The frequency that weather gods thrived on wasn’t actually the weather. Weather had all sorts of sympathetic frequencies associated with it. No, it was the frequency generated when the weather fucked you over. From the lightning strike that set your home on fire, to the sudden storm that drenched you after you’d already dressed for sun, weather gods were—properly speaking—gods of vicissitude, of bad luck. And this one was monophase, so our fancier strategies wouldn’t work on him.
Unfortunately for him, his relationship with Kives was—appropriately—tempestuous, and he’d left a bunch of demigods running around.
Val’s plan was simple. We’d kill them in Kives’s name. With luck, Horcutio would kill her himself.
“Which brings me to my last piece of information,” said Val, “which is that there exists a creature sacred to Horcutio called a hippocampus, and the Oathkeepers have received reports of piracy by a group who ride them. They are led, it is claimed, by a man named Kulades who claims Horcutio as his father.”
“Please tell me hippocampus is a kind of lobster,” I said.
“It is not. I had originally anticipated striking at these pirates for their mounts alone, but with the pantheon solved, I propose we heap enemies on our spear.”—the Velean equivalent of ‘kill two birds with one stone,’ which I’d always thought was much more metal. “We kill the pirates, dedicate the victory to Kives, and harvest the souls of the hippocampi to repair the translation engines.”
“So no lobsters, then,” I said. “Fuck.”
“It would be good to know if Kives has more of those sea monsters to deploy,” said Abby.
“Ecologically, it’s hard to imagine she would,” said Markus.
“She could just as easily sustain it etherically,” said Abby. “If she knew it was needed, she’d front the cost.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” I said. “That temple island we ran into? Might have been one of Horcutio’s. Sea monster could have been his too.”
“I agree with that analysis,” said Val. “That weakly implies we won’t face another. If the pirates had a monstrous creature like that at their disposal, the Oathkeepers would have heard at least a rumor.”
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” I said out of habit.
“What?” said Val. “Of course it is. A world with an aggressive leviathan looks very different from a world without one. I’ll grant that it is not certain that the existence of such a leviathan would imply that it coordinates with the pirates—Horcutio might normally leave them to their devices but deploy it when they’re threatened, for example—but you will note that I said it was a weak implication.”
“It really is too bad that Eifni never gets the chance to study hyperfauna,” said Markus. “Like, imagine if we were just sitting here arguing about whether there are more, but they’re all super territorial or something and that was never a real possibility.”
“That’s not quite true,” said Abby. “There was a case study back in the 7600’s. A deicide team killed a god of defensive warfare, who left behind their giant siege turtle. The locals loved it and it wasn’t aggressive, so we left it lying around. Seemed like it exemplified its creator’s personality characteristics, which is consistent with the kind of deep blessing you need to make these things.”
“Dang. What happened to it?” I said.
Abby tapped her fingers on the armrest, a distant look on her face. “Well, you know how it goes before the uplift teams get there,” she said. “After a century or two they started to worship it. We had to put it down. I remember it caused a minor stir on Veles at the time.”
Markus laughed. “I forget how old you are sometimes.”
Val paced slowly. “So if we reason from the premise that the creature follows the character of its creator, do we expect a sea monster raised by Horcutio would tolerate the presence of another?”
We took a moment to remember our encounter with him.
“No,” the rest of us answered in unison. He nodded in agreement.
“We plan for one anyways,” said the commander, sitting up. “But our first priority is planning for Kives. How do we dodge entanglement?”
Val continued pacing. “We can’t, I think. This is our first true strike against the pantheon. An objectively momentous event, with significant downstream consequences. Kives could see this even without her wastefully oversized moirascope. She’ll have forces in position.”
We let him keep talking. Val was half the reason our team was on this mission. He’d done his dissertation—well, the Velean equivalent—on potential applications of game theory to oracle combat.
“Ultimately only one set of events will transpire, and the sympathetic resonance will reflect that outcome, and thus cause her deployment.”
His actual sentence was crammed full of acronyms, which meant the comm translation shoved an unpleasantly dense stream of information into my head. I grimaced.
“Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” I asked when I’d had a moment to process it. “She picks actions to cause the events that end up happening?”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Lilith, when we get back, I’m enrolling you in a seminar on multilinearity.”
“That sounds like math. I’ll pass,” I said.
“It is so much math,” said Markus.
“I need a moment,” said Val, staring off into the distance. His eyes flicked erratically as he thought. I tried to think it through faster. Okay, so Kives would be there. Maybe we go in fast, hit the pirates before Kives can hit us, get back out? But no, there’s no ‘before’ with an oracle, they have all the time they need. Okay, we could hide? Apparently they had a god that used the same technique to hide that we did, though. And if Kives knew there was going to be a battle, that implied that we’d be found anyways. So that was out—
“Ah,” said Val in a tone of immense satisfaction. “Aha. Hahaha! Oh, my friends,” he said, turning to us, “she is going to hate this.”
We wasted no time preparing.
The docks of Elsinat were well-maintained, the Elsinati deriving much of their wealth from trade. That was probably what Ell’s contract was about, come to think of it. Statues of Varas stood at each end of the harbor, hands outstretched in blessing over the commerce flowing between them.
The shipwrights here had discovered more or less the same kinds of shapes that Earth shipwrights had, as they followed from the physics of buoyancy, which itself derived from the properties of realspace. There were an assortment of smaller vessels—rafts, catamarans, etc.—meant for fishing in local waters, we suspected, but they were useless to us. We were looking for a trade ship, of which there were many.
I was dressed as a well-to-do lady, wearing the sort of getup we’d seen on successful merchants. The hairstyles of the wealthy, we had learned, were made by artisans. We didn’t have the funds to hire one appropriate to my supposed station. Fortunately, our grasp of materials science let us fake it. Some optical captures, a bit of 3D modeling, and hair gel left my hair rippling in overlapping black waves—a genuine counterfeit Gemyrne original. Hopefully Gemyrne wasn’t visiting the docks right this instant, but we were pretty sure she was on the other side of town right now.
Markus wore a simple skirt and a shawl with abstract designs. We still hadn’t figured out the actual symbolic ones, but abstraction was in vogue in Elsinat, so we’d gone for that instead. We’d braided his fake ponytail with enough beads that he was a believable representative for my notional business. He was currently talking with a sailor while I looked on impatiently in the sailor’s field of view. Markus pressed a drobol into the sailor’s hand, thanked him, and walked back to me.
“He suggested a sephni for our purposes,” said Markus. “Praise of Clear Skies over there is the only one here, but it’s under contract, and the captain’s known to be a hardass. If we really needed to, we could go down to a tulim. They don’t have the second deck. That’s one over there—Wave Husband, I think it was called. Also under contract. It’ll be cramped.”
“Any rumors we can use about their contracts?” said the commander. She and Val were en route to the Oathkeepers, settling another part of the plan. They’d elected not to get a reference from Ell, because getting her involved with this would definitely sink her career and possibly get her executed or worse. Poor thanks for giving us the tip in the first place.
“Not really,” said Markus. “All the big contracts come with an oath to Meris not to reveal anything. Best I have for you is that Clear Skies has been in harbor awhile.”
“It’ll have to do. Any captains out of work right now?”
“Just the one that looks like it’s about to rot,” said Markus. “Friend of Heaven, I think he said. It’s a tulim.”
“And a piece of shit,” I said.
“That’s the one,” said the commander. “Get prepared, then you’re cleared to begin.”
I got to slap Markus again.
“Two thousand drobol you let slip through my fingers!” I shouted at him, chasing him down the wharf. “A measly fifty would have paid for a counsel! Who saves fifty by spending two thousand?”
“I’m sorry!” he said. “You’re enjoying this too much,” he added subvocally. I slapped him again.
“Sorry? Sorry?! I gave my word! A hundred faithful souls! Where will they go, Kanabades? We have no ship to take them! Will you carry them on your back across the sea?”
“You’re definitely enjoying this too much,” Val commented.
“We can hire another ship,” Markus tried, “there’s still time—”
He dodged the next slap.
“Do you see another sephni in this harbor?” I shouted. “Where will you find me a sephni, Kanabades? Between your ears? It’s empty enough in there! Perhaps that is the cause of your confidence!”
“You’d wake up Varas herself with that racket,” said a middle-aged woman near us. “I couldn’t help hearing—and believe me, I tried—that you need a ship.”
I turned to look at her. She was known as Erid, captain of the Friend of Heaven. By repute, a practical and disagreeable woman. She’d been taking a nap against the poles on the pier leading to her ship.
Speaking of which, I gave it an evaluating glance, letting skepticism show on my face. “I doubt you can help.”
“You’re new money,” she said wearily. “Always have to have the biggest ship. Friend of Heaven does the job, Lady Merchant.”
“Danou,” I said, nodding in greeting.
“Erid,” she said. “You promised passage to a hundred people?”
“Oh, Captain Erid, it’s a wonder—the goddess has moved,” I said. “A great and holy tree has arisen in the jungles to the south. It is glorious to see, and I wished to provide the opportunity to others.”
“Heard about that,” the captain said. “I also heard the temple was telling people they shouldn’t go see it.”
I froze for a moment. The commander immediately whispered a response through my comm.
“We will not tread upon that most sacred ground, of course,” I said hastily. “Why, even just a glimpse would be powerful enough.”
“It’d be hypocritical of me to fault you for trying to make money off idiots,” said Erid. I narrowed my eyes while I tried to figure out whether she had just insulted me. It was becoming apparent why she was between contracts. “Alright, so a hundred pilgrims for a trip to Salaphi. They coming back?”
“W-we could charge an extra fee,” I said. “But surely your vessel is too small.”
“They’re pilgrims,” Erid said with a grunt. “Some shade abovedecks, cram ‘em below when it storms. How about supplies? That’s a lot of mouths to feed for two thessim.” Thessim were twelve days long, one day for each major god.
“Purchased already,” I said, scowling, “but already delivered to the Praise of Clear Skies.” I turned to Markus again. “I told you we needed a counsel!”
“I know a gal,” Erid said. “But you’re covering it.”
“We don’t really have funds to spare,” I said.
“Every rat and gull on this wharf heard you yell about your two thousand,” Erid said. “I want half. Throw in another two hundred for my commission and we’ll bring it to the Oathkeepers.”
“That’s piracy. And besides, there’s no time to bring it to the Oathkeepers,” I said. “They’re gathering tomorrow.”
“Then make it five hundred,” said Erid. “Or we go to the Oathkeepers anyway and I tell them you made empty promises to a hundred people.”
We really did want the money, so the fury on my face wasn’t entirely fake. But we had our ship.
Your move, Kives.