The Aether. A plane of reality that existed alongside the mortal world, although it wasn’t exactly parallel to it. If one were to come up with a relation between the two, then ‘perpendicular’ would probably be the closest. This Aether was the home of the Gods and Goddesses that preside over the physical realm. However, rather than a single world where all the divine beings lived together, it was actually a collection of smaller worlds. Each deity had their own Divine Area, their own pocket of reality in which they had absolute authority. Calling this space a ‘divine neighbourhood’ would be much more accurate than simply ‘the realm of the Gods.’
It was one such Divine Area that belonged to the God of Chaos. The seemingly infinite white space was currently occupied by two large objects of note. One was a large red sofa with comfortably soft cushions, upon which the God himself was seated. The other was a gigantic wooden frame that floated in mid-air and relayed images and audio of the one Boxxy T. Morningwood to the God of Chaos in real time.
This monster was the Hero of Chaos, chosen by the God in question entirely because of its entertainment value. Indeed, the only reason this divine being was observing it in the first place was because that had recently become his favorite pastime. He had analyzed that creature and determined the innumerable ways its fragile existence could end, and yet new possibilities seemed to crop up every other week.
To say that the God of Chaos found this creature ‘interesting’ would be a gross understatement.
“-Operation: TASTYCOCK,” came the monster’s voice from the screen.
“Pfft!” spat out the God of Chaos. “I’ll never get over that one, I swear!”
He reached into the small cardboard box he was holding, grabbed a fistfull of popcorn and eagerly stuffed it into his face. He munched on it delightfully as he mused over its current situation.
“Kind of a shame it went for Doppleganger,” he said to himself, “but I can’t really say anything when I gave it free reign, huh?”
The divine being was hoping its Hero would opt to for one of the Queen Slime options for its Rank Up, but that unfortunately did not happen. Looking at all the variables, there was an overwhelming 96% chance for it to Rank Up into a Doppelganger, which was why he didn’t particularly enjoy that outcome. Still, he had high hopes for the future. Boxxy was a creature that had already surprised the God of Chaos numerous times, and he absolutely loved surprises.
The most recent one was the way its bumbling, unthinking actions had caused that gnome to completely abandon her flesh and become a steel golem. Most surprising of all was how, despite all the abuse and suffering it put her through, she somehow ended up wholeheartedly supporting the monster that single-handedly ruined her life. This result was far more exciting than the mundane future where she would inevitably be eaten before the Mimic had even made it back to civilization. The God of Chaos had to admit that his latest Hero was already shaping up to be far more competent than that lizard guy he forced the title on a few years ago.
A loud sound like glass breaking echoed through the Divine Area. A series of cracks with a spiderweb pattern appeared in the air directly in front of the God of Chaos, as if the fabric of reality itself was being ripped apart. The deity sighed dejectedly, stuffed another handful of popcorn in his mouth and got up off the couch. He stood in front of the cracks and snapped his fingers.
The cracks expanded in an instant to form a rectangular hole in space, a gateway into another God’s Divine Area. The ‘room’ beyond this doorway was a gigantic well-lit cavern that appeared to be a mountain that had been hollowed out and turned into a museum. A marvellous collection countless statues, paintings, weapons, furniture, armor, vials of potions, and numerous other products were all put up on display. Some lined the walls while others were stood on pedestals or inside glass display cases, though the vast majority of them had been suspended in mid-air. To put it simply, this was a Divine Area that seemed to exude much more life and character than the sterile, endless white of the one it was connected to.
And standing directly in between these two dimensions was a collection of rocks and stones that were bound together in the shape of a man by some invisible force. This was the owner of the lavishly decorated space beyond the spatial doorway.
“Ah, Goroth,” said Jimmy, recognizing the form of the Earth God, whose domain encompassed artists and artisans everywhere. A being that valued honest, hard work above all else.
The God of Randomness looked down at the box of popcorn with a sour face. The tasty snack had now become a cup of eels, something he had no desire to partake in. This sort of thing happened every time he had company, which is why he hated entertaining guests unless it was absolutely necessary. He haphazardly tossed the jar of crickets behind the sofa and turned his attention back to the other deity.
“To what do I owe the… pleasure?”
“I must have words with you, Deacon.”
Goroth replied in a deep and rumbling voice that was so predictable and fitting that it made Charlie even more annoyed than he already was.
“Well?” asked the pile of rocks. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“Ah, right. Do come in! Have a seat! Take a load off! Please, do tell me why you insisted on SLAMMING ON MY FUCKING DOORBELL on this fine day.”
“Easy there, Michael,” cautioned Goroth as he crossed over the doorway. “That is no way to talk to your betters.”
Yeah right, thought Jimmy. ‘Betters.’
It was a little known fact that the Gods very rarely got along with each other. The vast majority of them were locked in a divine power struggle, a celestial game of politics and intrigue over which one of them would obtain the most followers. It was something that Riddick wanted no part in. He found the whole thing mind-crushingly dull and inane, so he mostly kept to himself. Which was also why his following was practically non-existent, making him the most obscure God in existence.
“Of course, do forgive me, old boy!” he said in mock politeness. “Honestly, where are my manners? Ah, probably all over the floor behind the sofa… Anyway! Do have a seat!”
The pile of rocks deposited itself onto the couch, causing the piece of furniture to creak dangerously under the weight. Kelly similarly sat his fingertips next to him and forced a smile onto his fishbowl.
“Now then, what can I do you for, Goroth?”
“Funny thing actually. I was watching this culture festival a bunch of dwarves were holding in my honor. Lots of dancing, a mountain of good food, an unhealthy amount of alcohol and a general sense of nothing getting done. You know how it is.”
“No, I really don’t.”
Goroth magnanimously ignored the sarcastic comment and moved on with his story.
“So that’s been going on for a few weeks now. And when it ended I went to check on my stuff and noticed one of my dungeons was practically missing. And the logs said your Hero was in there. So what’s up with that?”
“Dunno,” said Ralph while shrugging his dinner plates. “These things just happen.”
“Really? They ‘happen’ do they?”
“Of course they do.”
“Uh huh. So it just ‘happened’ to walk into my dungeon and decimate it in a single day while I was otherwise preoccupied?”
“Come off it, Martha!” roared Goroth. “I know you sent it there!”
“I most certainly did not. I swear to you that I in no way told it to wreck your Spire thingy.”
“Maybe not, but you certainly had a hand in it!”
Kilroy sighed. This sort of mentality was why the God of Probability had so few followers in the first place. Mortals had this bad habit of blaming her for every single bad thing that happened to them. Got mugged in an alley? His fault. Caught a debilitating flesh-eating disease that made their ears fall off? His fault. Got stabbed in the face by their wife for cheating on her? Clearly Timothy’s fault!
And yet they never once thanked her for all the good things that happen to them on a daily basis. Like how they weren’t axed to death while being mugged or managed to survive a stab wound to the face from their jealous spouses. Okay, admittedly those were examples of bad things not getting worse, but they were still favorable outcomes from Billy’s perspective.
Well, at the very least that Champion of Chaos he created recently was doing her job properly. She actually sent a prayer of thanks to him for still being alive on a daily basis. Having such a dependable and dutiful subordinate was a breath of fresh air, to say the least. Now if only this selfish rock pile could be more like her.
“Look,” said Rupert, “I will admit I knew full well there was a non-zero chance of that happening when I appointed it as my Hero. However, that doesn’t mean I set up for it. Why are you so angry, anyway? Dungeons exist to be conquered, do they not?”
Testing mortals and rewarding them for their efforts was something of a hobby that most Gods shared, so it wasn’t uncommon for them to have a number of dungeons under their domain. This was also the reason why conquering most dungeons, while challenging, was not impossible. And while it was technically possible to construct a dungeon that was unbeatable, doing so would defeat the purpose of its existence.
“Conquered, yes,” said Goroth with a nod. “Completely demolished is another thing entirely.”
“So this is about the missing dungeon core, is it?”
“No, that’s not it. If someone defeated my dungeon fair and square, then they have the right to do with the dungeon core as they please. I can just channel my divine power and forge a new one in a day if I really wanted to, so getting angry over something like that is pointless.”
Mogren rolled her cabbages at that remark. This pile of rocks was obviously trying to rub his superiority in her pavement. Just because Kimberley did not have the power to directly influence the physical world as much as someone like Goroth didn’t mean he had to be so damned smug about it.
“That is, if they beat it fair and square,” added the Earth God. “However, that thing and its… group defeated the entire thing in under 4 hours! At their Levels?! I really don’t see that happening without your bloody help! You know we’re not to use our divine power in the mortal realm for petty things like that!”
“Ah, I see. Tell me, have you considered that the reason it was conquered so easily was because your dungeon was shit?”
“It was not shit! It was a work of art! You must have cheated!”
“Okay, look! Let’s stop the finger wagging and settle this like responsible deities. We both know a dungeon’s logs hardly tell the whole picture.”
It was a fact that the dungeon’s logs were rather bare bones. They did not describe what happened, but recorded what the outcomes of encounters were. They showed the when and where of who defeated what, but the how of the matter was not among them. The more reliable surveillance footage would have have been lost when the dungeon core went bye bye as well, so Goroth was mostly jumping to conclusions and talking out of his ass at the moment.
“I recorded that entire expedition you know. I can play it back to you right now to prove I did not cheat,” offered Ricky.
“Hah. As if I trust footage you’ve been handling! How do I know you didn’t alter it in some way?!”
“Alright, then. Let’s call Looney in here to mediate. She’ll see right through any illusions or whatnot I might have set up, right?”
“Surely Teresa would-”
“That bitch is not setting foot in my house!” bellowed Calvin.
“Alright, alright, calm down!” said Goroth. The sudden outburst from Jerry had somehow quelled his own anger. “Lunar will do, okay?!”
“Ah, I do apologize for that my dear chap. I just can’t stand that two-faced bitch and-”
“Yes, yes, I know. I don’t like her much either, though probably not to the extent that you do. Then, I shall call Lunar over if you don’t mind.”
There was a moment of silence as Goroth sent a short, telepathic message to the Moon Goddess, she who presided over matters of magic, study and knowledge. This was a common means of communications between the various Gods, usually referred to as G-mail for short. A fact that seemed to be somewhat amusing to the God of Uncertainty for reasons only he would understand.
“She said she’ll be here shortly,” declared Goroth.
“Very good. I hope she helps clear this thing up. You know, you’re one of the few Gods I actually tolerate.”
“... I wish I could say the same about you.”
“Ah, come off it. What did I ever do to you?”
“You corrupted my previous Hero, remember?”
A Hero of the Anvil had the task of raising the bar for craftsmen and/or artists everywhere. This usually involved pushing the limits of what could be expressed through artistic mediums or mastering one’s craft and making it known throughout the world. In some ways, it was an undertaking much more difficult than simply slaying a dragon or two.
One notable example was the dwarf Ulfgar Stormkeg who single-handedly carved a face into the side of a mountain several centuries ago. A truly admirable feat that had taken him decades of work, although the identity of the one he immortalized had been lost to the sands of time. This had been a topic of debate among scholars and archeologists for quite some time, although the general belief is that it was either the ancient dwarf’s pet catfish or an unflattering representation of his ex-wife.
“Oh, old Shitstain, huh?” mused Leon. “Okay, I admit I may have had a hand in that, though the particular details got a little… out of control.”
“That’s putting it mildly, isn’t it?! You ruined a superbly talented painter for your own amusement!”
“Look Rocky, I did not intend for that guy to start using his poop as paint, okay? That part was completely unintentional!”
He was speaking the truth, for even the Goddess of Chance did not perfectly control the flows of chaos.
“Besides, I don’t think it’s any worse than your current guy. I mean, what the fuck is ‘interpretive dance’ supposed to be?!”
“It’s art, you cretin!”
“You see a bloke that likes to hump the air for no good reason and call it art, but finger painting with faeces isn’t?”
“Oh, Looney’s here!” exclaimed Chester before snapping her fingers.
Another doorway appeared out of thin air. This one opened up into a massive library, its shelves so filled with books that they threatened to overflow. The divine being that presided over that space had the appearance of an old, hunched over granny. She was wearing a pair of half-crescent glasses, a pointy, wide-brimmed hat and a long flowing robe. Her clothes appeared to be woven out of the night sky itself, as they were thoroughly pitch black aside from the stars twinkling from an unimaginable distance away. Looking at her from a different angle would reveal a completely different view of the cosmos, almost as if she was a window to the depths of space.
“Hey, Gorey, Twitchy,” she said with a raspy voice.
“Hi, Looney,” said Stuart with a wave of his flute.
“Good tidings, Lunar,” offered Goroth.
“Heard you boys got some dispute you need help with?”
“Indeed. I’ll be showing rocks-for-brains here a recording I took about a week ago and we need you to confirm it’s not been tampered with in any way.”
“I see. Though I must say this is unusual for you, Twitchy. Oh, I see! This is about that amusing little box you keep talking about, isn’t it?”
“It is indeed!”
“Nice! I’ve been curious to see if it’s really as capable as you boasted over G-mail!”
“That’s exactly what I want to see as well,” said the Earth God.
“Yeah! Let’s get this show on the road! Move over!”
The old woman roughly shoved the pile of rocks to the side and took a seat on the left side of the couch, next to Goroth. She sure seemed excited considering she had very little to do with the dispute at hand. Eric was left on the far right, with Goroth in the middle. The God of Possibility then snapped his pencils and the floating screen started projecting a recording he had titled ‘How to pwn a dungeon 101.’
It started with the scene of Boxxy, Fizzy, Kora, Xera, Valeria and a whole bunch of undead fighting their way through a vast hedge maze. The basic yet effective formation mowed down wave after wave of Stone Soldiers with little difficulty.
“Wait, you didn’t make your open-air dungeon a no-fly zone?” asked Lunar after a few minutes. “What was the purpose of that maze if you were gonna allow that sort of thing?!”
“... Okay, I admit,” said the Earth God, “I did not take flying invaders into account. What’s with that lich though? Like, where the heck did she come from? And why does she keep calling the chest with legs ‘darling?’”
“Ah, long story,” said Joey with a wave of its sunflower. “Let’s just say the two have a history and that she’s not right in the head.”
“Good thing Morty isn’t here to see this,” commented Lunar. “He’d flip his lid if he saw that thing.”
“You seem okay with it though,” pointed out Jeffrey.
“Intelligent undead have contributed to the study of magic in their own way, you know.”
“Hoh ho! I see! I guess you can get a lot of work done when you can study day and night without food or sleep, huh? Anyway, this part is a bit repetitive, so let me just skip ahead to the first guardian battle.”
Linda snapped her trees once again and the images on the screen rapidly changed to display Boxxy’s troupe taking down the trio of gargoyles with relative ease.
“Wow, okay,” exclaimed Goroth. “I will admit that was impressive. This monster’s shapeshifting is accurate and quick, with a good dose of creativity, too.”
The Earth God appreciated all forms of art. To him, sculpting one’s own flesh was no different from carving an image out of wood or stone. Seeing this monster smoothly transition from using toothed tentacles as a weapon to sprouting a pair of wings to glide through the air held a certain amount of beauty to it. Although Goroth was far from becoming a fan of Boxxy, he couldn’t deny that these forms were likely the result of much practice and effort.
“Geh, that child used curse magic, didn’t she?” said Lunar with a sour face. “How many times do I have to tell people!? That sort of stuff is what gave birth to monsters in the first place!”
“But… they’re in a dungeon. There’d be monsters there anyway,” pointed out Sam.
“That’s not the point! If she uses it in there, then she’ll use it outside of it, too!”
“Yeah, okay. You don’t need to worry about that, though. That lich is kinda dead now. Like, dead-dead.”
“What the fuck, Stacey?! Spoilers!”
“Well, whatever. I guess I won’t need to send my hex-hunters after her at least.”
Hex-hunters was a term used to refer to Paladins of Lunar. Their Champion of Magic Skill gave them a frankly unfair advantage when tracking and confronting magic users that had ventured into Taboo. Especially if they also had the Hexcraft Skill, which was an anathema to their Goddess.
“Looney. Not cool.”
“I know, I know. Sorry about that.”
“What’s… that thing doing?” asked Goroth with an unbelieving tone.
The other two Gods turned their attention back to the screen. It was currently relaying the scene of a Mimic drooling and slobbering all over a solid-gold treasure chest.
“Kya! How lewd!”
“Don’t go ‘Kya’ like that you old hag! It’s not cute at all!” grumbled Augustus.
“No, but for real. What’s it doing?”
“It’s just appreciating the workmanship on that chest, it’s a mimic thing,” explained Kevin. “Come to think of it, what’s with the pointlessly decorated solid gold item containers?”
“Well. Just because they only appear for a short time doesn’t mean they can’t be superbly crafted.”
Kevin rolled his bacon. Of course this artsy fartsy blockhead would go and do something unnecessary like that. Well, the scene on the screen had made the God of Probability laugh like a maniac for a good 20 minutes the first time he saw it, so he withheld from chastising the Earth God over that. The vaguely disturbing images on the screen soon moved onto the climbing of the Black Stairs and subsequent destruction of the entire swarm of crystalline insects with a single use of Valeria’s Sonic Scream Skill.
Josefina fast-forwarded through the boring bits up until the Jade King confrontation, which ended in an instant due to Boxxy mass-producing Spell Crystals and unleashing them on the golem all at once. Goroth had fallen oddly silent at this point and watched absentmindedly as the dungeon core was violently dislodged, kicked down the steps and then unceremoniously carried out of the dungeon’s sphere of influence. The recording cut off at that point.
“Well,” said Amanda. “Did you see any illusions or tampering with the footage, Looney?”
“Nope,” said the Goddess of magic. “Seems legit to me.”
“... Yes. I apologize for raising such a fuss earlier.”
The Goddess of Chaos stared dubiously at the pile of rocks next to her.
“You’re usually more headstrong than this. What gives?”
“I just… Did you know I spent a good 3 years fine-tuning that Jade King encounter until I had it just right? It was supposed to be this epic battle with 5 phases and various types of subordinates joining the fight, giving their lives to support and restore their regent. And yet…”
“And yet a single monster blew it all away before that guy got a chance to show off.”
As a God who valued hard work, having his own efforts wasted like this was a strangely humbling experience. The fact that his ‘finely crafted’ encounter was blown to smithereens by a 4-month Mimic was perhaps the biggest blow.
“I understand what you meant now. My dungeon was pretty shit, wasn’t it?”
“Nah, I wouldn’t say that,” butted in Lunar. “It’s just that this group had the right tools to deal with it. That’s just how it is with dungeons, you know?”
The pile of rocks lifted itself off the couch and turned to face the God of Luck. At least, that’s what Thomas had assumed was going on considering that this moving pile of rocks did not have a face to begin with.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to review my other dungeon designs. Goodbye, Victor. This has been… educational.”
Goroth then flickered out of existence, back to his own Divine Area.
“... They were too well prepared, weren’t they?” asked Lunar after a moment of silence. “That lich in particular seemed like she did most of the work.”
“Not you too! I already told that blockhead that I had no hand in this.”
“Uh-huh. Listen here, Twitchy, you can try and deceive Goroth that it was all his own fault all you like, but please don’t try and pull that shit over on me. I know you far too well to believe that.”
“Ahhh, found me out, did you?”
Indeed, the ‘non-zero chance’ of Boxxy and its group conquering that particular dungeon was a staggering 99.36%. Just one more nigh-inevitable outcome brought on by Lamar’s interference. It was his doing that reunited Valeria with her killer, which sent that particular chain of events into motion. He could have, of course, prevented that from happening, but he saw no reason to.
“Honestly,” said Lunar with a sigh, “how are you still this rotten? You shouldn’t toy with your fellow Gods like that!”
“And where would be the fun in that? It’s far more entertaining to mess with these snot-nosed brats that think themselves superior just because they’re popular.”
“So you keep saying... Anyway, do send me a G-mail the next time that Hero of yours does something interesting, will you? I’ve become rather curious about it myself.”
“Sure. Just don’t get any funny ideas about making it the Hero of Magic. You know that won’t end well.”
“Nah, that’s not what I meant. My interest is more of a ‘wonder what it’ll do next’ type of thing. I honestly don’t see it inventing new Spells or anything like that.”
“Oops! Sorry about that Looney.”
“Anyway, I’ll be going now.”
“Sure thing. Thanks for dropping by, fam!”
“Yeah, just please cut down on the pranks, alright? You’re the eldest of us, so you really should act the part.”
The old granny disappeared much like Goroth did, leaving the God of Chaos to return to his true form. He sat down on the couch, conjured another box of popcorn and continued observing the Doppelganger that was mimicking a mimic mimicking a chest. Lunar’s parting words were a bit irksome, so he was hoping for something good to happen to liven his mood.
Did she not realize how thoroughly boring it would be if the God of Chaos seriously acted like the eldest? Almost as dull as taking part in that prick-waving contest those upstarts were calling a power struggle. It was a thoroughly banal competition that served absolutely no purpose in the grand scheme of things.
In comparison, the God of Chaos had single-handedly created the Beyond and filled it with demons. Something trivial like establishing his religion as the dominant one could be accomplished in 2 decades with minimal effort. Heck, he could cut that down to 3 or 4 years if he really put his back into it. He’d kick their asses so hard they’d literally cease to exist.
Just like the previous generation of Gods.