A lone tree stood in the middle of an endless field of wheat. The golden stalks, heavy and plump with grain as they were, swayed groggily in the gentle breeze. They looked as if they would fall under their own weight, but their stems outright refused to bend beyond a certain point. The sunlight that fell upon them bathed them in a radiant glow that made one question whether this was actually a literal sea of gold. The sky itself was completely blue with not even a single hint of clouds, though the passage of time seemed to have ground to a halt, as the sun would never move from its assigned spot.
And yet the tree that stood in the middle of this serene scenery was perhaps the oddest thing of them all. It was situated atop a small hill, almost as if a king overlooking his kingdom. Its size alone was mind bogglingly vast and oddly reminiscent of the great Hylt trees, though unlike them, this one was much wider than it was tall. Its branches were heavy with fruits of all kinds, ranging from apples, pears and peaches to things that didn’t actually grow on trees, like grapes, strawberries and even watermelons.
The fertile soil that stood in its massive never-moving shadow was populated by lush green grass and beautiful wildflowers rather than cultivated grain. Woodland critters like rabbits and squirrels could be seen darting all over the place, while butterflies and bees frolicked among the colorful blossoms. Their natural predators were also present. Snakes with bright patterns lounged in the few sunny spots beneath the countless branches and leaves overhead, while small spiders weaved webs with intricate patterns within the vast canopy.
And yet this entire miniaturized ecosystem lived in perfect harmony. Despite food being abundant in every possible direction, none of the creatures actually ate anything or attacked one another. Not only that, but despite the constant sunlight and there being no water or rain in sight, the fruit did not wither and the leaves did not dry out. Overall, it was an impossible scenario that would never happen in reality and could only exist by the whim of the gods.
Or rather, it was exactly by the will of one deity in particular that this space was allowed to exist, for all of this was merely the decoration within her divine area. It was a space that no mortal would ever see, let alone set foot in, which was exactly how the Goddess Nyrie liked it. Not because she hated people or anything like that. Quite the contrary, in fact. However, this separation was the natural order of things. The Aether where the gods resided was separated from the mortal realm for a reason, and the Goddess of Fertility did her part to keep it that way.
She was the only one who took such a stance, though. The other members of Terrania’s pantheon did not share her views, and readily welcomed their chosen Heroes or Hero candidates into their respective abodes. Which wasn’t to say that she lived like an outcast. Quite the contrary, in fact. She was one of the more sociable ones among her peers, and genuinely enjoyed it when her fellow deities paid her a visit or invited her over.
Yet despite all that, she found herself somewhat apprehensive when preparing to accept her next guest. It was a meeting she’d both been expecting and dreading, and now that the time was upon her she made an effort to avoid stalling and simply get on with it. The air itself seemed to break with a loud crack, causing a glowing white spiderweb pattern to appear out of nowhere. It burst open in the next instant, and a woman entered Nyrie’s domain. She had flowing gold locks, piercing blue eyes and an exaggeratedly attractive body.
A soothing song-like voice permeated throughout the entire pocket dimension. The recently reformed Goddess of Truth and Justice responded by bowing her head towards the central tree while offering her own greeting.
“Thank you for having me, Nyrie.”
Just then, a face began to appear on the massive tree’s trunk. Bark gave way to sun-kissed skin as the colossal visage of a woman emerged from it. She was rather easy on the eyes, though it would be hard to call her beautiful or pretty, especially when compared to Teresa. Instead, she exuded a more mature, dignified charm that was punctuated by a kindly smile and soft, amber eyes. A pair of elfin ears poked out of the sides of her head to reflect the image of her most devout followers, and she had voluminous green hair dotted with colorful flowers draped over the left side of her face.
“You seem… shorter than the last time I saw you.”
Nyrie was the painfully obvious with that remark, as the once 20-meter tall Teresa now stood at merely a tenth of the size she had the last time the two saw each other. She was still significantly taller than the average human, but it was well within their natural height range.
“I have been too full of myself for far too long,” said Teresa with a solemn smile. “Recent events have humbled and weakened me greatly, so this appearance is merely a reflection of that.”
“Ah, I see. I suppose it is only natural considering that debacle that unfolded recently.”
“Indeed. Which is precisely why I have come here today.”
The naked goddess knelt down on the grassy ground and touched her forehead to the soil as she prostrated herself in front of the other deity.
“I apologize profusely for my incompetence,” she half-shouted. “For allowing a pointless war grounded in false accusations to make both our followers suffer for naught - I can make no excuse. I vow to do everything in my power to avoid making the same mistakes as before, and beg for your forgiveness!”
“Hahahaha!” laughed Nyrie in a refreshing manner. “Well, look at you! Little Teresa’s being all responsible and grown up! It seems like just yesterday you were this little scamp who couldn’t make her mind up whether caterpillars were good or evil!”
“I’m being serious here!” protested Teresa while raising her head and pouting. “Please stop ridiculing me just because you appeared earlier than I did!”
The fledgling civilizations of the past had to worry about procuring food and leaving offspring far before concepts such as justice and crime, or indeed society as a whole had begun to emerge. That being the case, it was not surprising that Nyrie would be among the first gods to come into existence. She saw herself as something of an older sister and mentor to those younger than her, which was half the pantheon. In fact, she was more or less tied for second oldest with Solus, the God of Life and Sunlight, and Zephyra, the Goddess of Rain and Travel.
The only one that was undeniably more ancient than her was Karzak, the God of Gambling, who was older than the world itself. Hardly surprising, considering that chaos predated everything in existence. Or at least, that’s what he told the other Gods. Well, he wasn’t going to openly admit he went a bit mad and destroyed his old world, was he?
The bottom line was that Nyrie was quite soft on her fellow deities, as she personally saw them as family, even though not all of them mirrored her sentiments.
“Do not fret, Teresa,” she said with a beaming smile. “I have already forgiven you for your blunders.”
“Of course. After all, this is hardly the first time our flocks have warred, nor will it be last. I had long ago accepted the fact that elves and humans will never truly get along.”
There were, of course, plenty of examples of individuals having friendly and even romantic cross-species relationships, but the two civilizations seemed fated to clash over and over. There was just way too much bad blood for there to be any meaningful peace between them.
“I suppose that’s true,” consented Teresa as she sat cross legged on the grass. “Still, I feel like you’re being too easy on me. I honestly expected you to actually yell at me for once, all things considered.”
This was where Nyrie’s face took on a more stern expression.
“I will admit, willingly allowing your people blame my own for the cataclysmic actions of an old coot and his maniacal box really rubbed me the wrong way. However, I couldn’t stay mad at you once Nero explained your… circumstances.”
“So then why the fuck did that bastard make me come here and prostrate myself!” complained Teresa. “‘Rehabilitation’ my ass! He just wants to see me on my knees!”
The older of the two deities let out another soft chuckle to what she saw as a spoiled child’s tantrum.
“Even if he acts the fool and the prankster, Oliver truly cares for all of us. He’s almost like the rambunctious grandfather we never had. Surely you understand that better than anyone by now.”
“… I guess, but I can do without the ‘rambunctious’ part,” said Teresa with a pout. “That’s why I promised I’d follow his program, but it’s starting to grind on my nerves a bit. I’m especially dreading having to apologize to Axel after this. That stick-in-the-mud will probably lecture me for three days straight, just like Mortimer did.”
“They are firm because they have to be, Teresa. Both of them are also your elders, so you should show them the respect they are due.”
“We’ll see about that. This whole seniority thing always rubbed me the wrong way since everyone thinks they can just tell me what to do. Being the youngest sucks.”
“It is up to the elders to guide the youngsters. This is merely the natural order of things.”
“You can only say that because you’re not Axel and Mortimer’s junior.”
The God of War and Combat was the fifth deity to come into existence. He had appeared once society as a whole no longer worried about food or shelter and began engaging in conquest. It was just a good thing that the enlightened of the distant past were far more focused on subjugating monster-infested territories rather that turning on one another. Otherwise Axel might have developed into some bloodthirsty warmonger who only desired pointless conflict for the sake of it, rather than the honorable paragon of strength he was today.
And as the fledgling kingdoms expanded their territories, they inevitably gave rise to the God of Death and Commerce. After all, both money and life had to be spent in order to successfully wage war, regardless of who the opponent was. It was only relatively recently that civilizations had begun to focus on more complex concepts, such as the study of magic, artistic craftsmanship, and the pursuit of law and justice. These were the endeavors that would end up respectively giving birth to Lunar, Goroth, and Teresa.
“It also doesn’t help that my aspects are so subjective,” said the nude Goddess with a tired sigh. “It’s not bad enough that justice and evils are merely different perspectives, but even the truth is not as straightforward as I wish it were.”
“Is it?” asked Nyrie with a raised eyebrow. “I understand that there are moments where stating the truth would do more harm than good, but it even a white lie is objectively false, isn’t it?”
“That’s not what I mean,” answered the blonde with a shake of her head. “For example, you know that Jamal’s Hero is a shapeshifting monster, right?”
“I am… aware of it, yes. Come to think of it, I imagine a creature that thrives on deception would be quite infuriating to one such as yourself.”
“Oh, it is. Unbelievably so. But at the same time I can’t help but almost admire it in some weird way. Because while it does lie, cheat and steal at every turn, it is at the same time being true to itself. Something I have been struggling with lately, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
Teresa buried her face in her knees as she said that, seemingly ashamed of herself for having such conflicting views.
“I wouldn’t fret too much over the Hero of Chaos if I were you,” suggested Nyrie with an understanding nod. “Its very existence seems to breed ambiguity, which was probably why it was chosen by Alfonso in the first place. Truthfully speaking, I also find myself with similarly complicated feelings towards that particular monster.”
“Oh? I thought you’d actually be glad it showed up, seeing as how it’s the main reason your followers won the war and all.”
“That’s not necessarily a good thing for me,” said the elder Goddess with a sigh. “The fact that my people are hailing a Hero of Chaos as their savior has shaken their faith in me somewhat. It has also somehow won the heart of one of the dryads I had personally blessed, and uses her like some sort of tool. Not only that, but it also engages in sexual acts with one of my people quite frequently. The mere thought of that last one makes my skin crawl.”
Nyrie shuddered, causing the whole tree to rustle and shake, and even making a few of the godly fruits drop to the ground.
“But it mainly does those things because they are within its devious nature. Much like you said, it is being true to itself, and as such I cannot truly bring myself to despise it.”
“Wow, you really are too soft,” said Teresa. “I’m surprised you let it get away with messing around with one of your dryads.”
It was a known fact within the divine community that Nyrie thought of those tree-bound spirits as her own daughters. It was her holy blessing that had truly given life to them all those many years ago, so it was only natural that she would be excessively protective of them, much like any parent would be of their own offspring.
“That’s just the thing though. It treats her with a certain measure of respect, keeps her company, and even takes care of her,” she explained. “They’ve established a symbiotic relationship that brings her great joy, and I cannot bring myself to interfere in her happiness. Especially since I promised I’d stay out of her life ever since that one time with that satyr.”
“So you’re saying the box is actually good to her?” asked Teresa with a pang of disbelief.
“What about the lewd acts you mentioned? Isn’t that violating your Taboo?”
“Well… technically what the two of them engage in only brings pleasure. There’s no actual attempt made or even a chance for them to conceive a child, so it doesn’t quite qualify as mating. Even if it is rather disgusting.”
“Wow. Your job’s just as complicated as mine, huh?”
“All of our divine callings have their burdens and shortcomings, Teresa,” said Nyrie with a serious tone. “It is different for each God, but we have all hit low points in our existence, much like you have. Except that for some of us… we never truly recover.”
The branches and leaves above began to part, allowing the sunshine to fall on Nyrie’s face unobstructed as she gazed up at the sky solemnly. Teresa followed her line of sight, only to realize her colleague was staring at the sun. She began to wonder what was so special about some illusory ball of light until she ignored the discomfort of her eyes and stared directly into it.
“Is… Is that Solus?!”
“It is,” answered Nyrie with a worried expression.
“What’s he doing up there?! Or here, for that matter?!”
“Not much of anything, really. His following has dwindled so much in recent years that he struggles to stay awake. I’ve been keeping an eye on him for the past while, but I fear what will happen if something isn’t done soon.”
“I see… I hope he gets better as well…”
Even if the Gods bickered over who had the strongest following and tried to compete for the people’s faith, none of them truly wished for their fellow deities to suffer. Which was exactly what Solus had been going through ever since the fall of Percepeia 48 years ago. This was the name of the continent that lay across the ocean to the northeast of the Kingdom of Horkensaft, and had once been the home of the giants. At least that’s how it was until the Boneshaper and his undead hordes laid waste to them. It had taken the unholy being but a few short years to completely decimate their civilization and cover the entire continent in the Blight.
The rest of the world was naturally shocked to hear of this unprovoked act of aggression, and recognized the threat such a force posed to all of them. But at the same time, every expedition they sent ended up failing, quite miserably at that. Failure was only to be expected, though. Even if the giants were a gentle and all-around easy going people, they were still some of the most powerful enlightened around. They stood at a height easily double a human’s and over three times a gnome’s, and could wield both swords and magic with equal force. And yet even they couldn’t overcome an enemy that grew in strength every time one of the living fell.
Thankfully, the Boneshaper seemed content to simply rule over his newly established domain, and hadn’t made an attempt at invading the other continents. Or at least, not quite yet. As such, the nations of the world had no choice but to tacitly agree to stop throwing their people’s lives away on what seemed like a lost cause.
But the damage had already been done. The giants were left devastated to the point of becoming an endangered species, and the faithful of Solus had diminished to what was essentially a cult following. There were still chapels and temples dedicated to him throughout the Lodrak Empire and Ishigar Republic, but it would not be long before he was completely forgotten.
At which point the God of Life and Sunlight would die.
Both Nyrie and Teresa knew this, which was why they were suddenly elated to hear his youthful voice.
“Where am I?” asked the confused deity as he took in his surroundings. “Nyrie? And is that… Teresa?! Wait, why in the blazes are you naked, girl?!”
“There’s more important things to worry about than that!” shot back the young goddess.
“Oh? Like what?”
“Like you! Nyrie just told me you’ve been out of it for a while, so what gives?!”
“Ah… Right. Hmm… I’m not completely sure what’s going on, to be honest,” answered the sentient fireball. “Hold on, let me check real quick.”
He then went silent for a few moments as he began to sort through the sudden influx of faith that was currently flowing into him.
“It would appear that there are several thousand gnomes and dwarves suddenly offering me their gratitude.”
“… That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” asked Teresa.
“Well yeah, it is for me.”
“Then how come you sound so concerned?”
“Because these people are praising the sun with such fervor that it’s almost like they hadn’t seen it in a full month. I can’t help but feel some horrible tragedy had befallen them. Interestingly enough, a good number of these prayers wish for me to watch over a… Sandman? Isn’t that one of yours, Nyrie?”
“Hah! How about that?”
The Goddess of Nature and Fertility couldn’t help but chuckle when she heard that monicker.
“It would appear that Omar has done it again,” she added with a bemused smile.
“The God of Disorder?” asked Teresa with a raised eyebrow. “What’s that old fart have to do with this?”
“Well, you wouldn’t know this, but the ‘Sandman’ is one of the aliases his Hero goes under.”
“Wait, what?” exclaimed Solus. “That guy has a new Hero?! Since when?!”
“About seven or eight months, I think.”
“Seven or eight mon- How long was I out?! What else did I miss?! No, nevermind, I’ll catch up later! I need to see if I can ride this wave and secure myself a foothold in Horkensaft! I’m sure Goroth won’t mind too much. Ah, by the way, thanks for keeping an eye on me, babe! You’re the best! It was good seeing you too, Teresa - especially the twins - but I gotta go! Later!”
Solus then disappeared with a loud pop, presumably back to his own divine area. This left Nyrie and Teresa submerged in darkness, which was promptly dispersed when the former willed a fake sun to take the Sun God’s place. Its light wasn’t as gentle as the genuine article’s, but it was better than nothing.
“I told you so,” declared the Goddess of Fertility with a silly grin. “Madeline looks out for us, even if we don’t always see Her hand.”
“Yeah, no kidding. Think Solus will be ok with this much?”
“I think he’ll be fine, at least for a while. He sounded quite energetic, didn’t he?”
“Right, right. Something just occurred to me though. How come Mandy’s just fine even though she has an even smaller following than Solus?”
“I am not too sure, to be honest,” admitted Nyrie. “But I feel like those demons of his are supplying him with all the faith he needs.”
“Really? Those selfish assholes?”
“They recognize him as a father, Teresa. And as such, they will respect and believe in him no matter what. That has to account for something, right?”
“I suppose. I just can’t imagine any of their sorry lot praying, though.”
“Oh, but you’ve been in their tender mercies for a while now, haven’t you?”
“A chatty little monkey told me you’ve been getting… conjugal visits. From an Archfiend. Who just so happens to be in service to-”
“AAAAAARGH!” screamed Teresa in frustration while her cheeks were dying red with embarrassment. “That fucking loudmouth! I can’t believe he’s going around telling the others about that!”
“Maybe he’s trying to indirectly keep you from making any more lies of omission.”
“Keeping silent about my private life isn’t the same as willingly not correcting a convenient misunderstanding!” insisted the blonde bombshell. “I mean, if you asked me what day it was, all I’d need say to do to provide an honest answer was to say ‘it’s Tuesday!’ Not ‘it’s Tuesday, also I love taking demon dick up the ass!’”
“So you do like it then? Taking demon dick up the ass?”
“Oh, very much so! It’s such a good stress reliever that it makes me feel bad for keeping my followers from enjoying it for so long!”
“Just don’t overdo it, okay? I’m not sure if that’s good for you considering your… condition.”
“Hey, I have centuries’ worth of my clergy’s repressed sexual desires to sort through, so this is actually part of the rehabilitation. Or at least that’s what Darren told me. I honestly feel stronger and a bit more level-headed after each session, so I can’t argue with the results.”
“Oh? Then that somewhat explains why you look so good.”
“… Huh? I do?”
“Yeah. I don’t know if you noticed it yourself, but you’re definitely more beautiful than before. I must say, this demon dick diet is certainly doing wonders for your appearance.”
“Ugh…” groaned Teresa. “Could you please stop saying ‘demon dick’ so much? It’s making me feel uncomfortable.”
“Even though you love it so much?”
“Please don’t say such scandalous things. You make it sound like I’m some shameless slut that’d be satisfied with anyone.”
“Oh my! So this demon is somehow special to you, is she?!”
“W-well… Yeah. She is, after all, my first…” said Teresa with a beet-red face. “She was also there helping me during the worst of the rehabilitation, and doesn’t even try to mix her words. She lets me know precisely what she thinks of me without sugarcoating anything. Which is nice, even if her words are harsh. I do genuinely enjoy our time together.”
“Huh. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’ve fallen for that demon.”
“Actually, yeah. I have, haven’t I?”
Hearing a stupidly honest answer to what was intended to be a tease threw Nyrie for a loop. Especially since Teresa had just confirmed something completely unprecedented.
“No, no, no, no! That’s impossible, isn’t it?!” she spoke in a panic that made her leaves and branches shake as if she were waving her arms around.
“Apparently not,” came the much-too-casual answer. “I mean I haven’t really thought about until just now, but yeah. Since I can no longer afford to lie to anyone, especially myself, I can’t help but admit I’ve grown to like Kora beyond our romps.”
“But this is a violently homicidal rapist we’re talking about!”
“Hey, I never said she was perfect. Besides, she’s just being herself. Which just so happens to be this powerful being with the sort of stamina and endurance that no human could hope to match. She’s really confident and assertive too, which I find strangely attractive.”
“I don’t believe this! Are you sure you didn’t hit your head or something?”
“We’re gods, Nyrie,” stated Teresa matter-of-factly. “We don’t get concussions. Besides, aren’t you making a big deal out of this?”
“You’re the one taking it too lightly!”
“No, you’re definitely misunderstanding something. This is just one of those flings that mortals have all the time, not some timeless romance. I mean it’s not like I want to spend eternity with her or anything like that. I’ll probably get bored of her eventually, but I’m still going to enjoy this fuzzy feeling while it lasts. That’s all there is to it.”
“… Oh,” exclaimed Nyrie after calming down a bit. “When you put it like that, I guess I did overreact a bit. I still feel like I should protest on principle, but that doesn’t seem to be necessary considering you yourself realize this is just a pointless distraction.”
“It’s not pointless, though. Like I said-”
“I know what you said. Doesn’t change the fact that I don’t understand people who waste their time on intercourse when there are no hopes of conceiving a child.”
These thoughts were only to be expected of a Goddess of Fertility. Ploughing a field and then failing to plant seeds in it almost seemed like a crime in her book.
“So does that also mean the rumors I hear of you hating same-sex couples are true?” asked Teresa, causing Nyrie to furrow her brows.
“That’s a complicated subject, dearie. ‘Hate’ isn’t really the word I’d use. Such people are born a certain way, so they can’t really help it. If I had to narrow down my thoughts on the matter, though, I’d say they’re rather pitiable.”
“Pitiable? How come?”
“Failing to leave offspring behind would make them failures as living creatures. Not only that, but they’d never get to experience what it means to become a parent. Wouldn’t you say the mortals’ ability to create life just by mashing their ugly bits together is a miracle in and of itself?”
“Huh, I guess it kind of is, now that you mention it.”
“Not only that,” continued Nyrie, “but raising the child is its own reward as well. Caring for it, watching it grow, teaching it of the ways of the world - it is not an experience I can describe with just words.”
It was one she had personally gone through with the original twelve dryads. Even if their ‘births’ had been unintentional, she still loved and doted on them for a long while, even if she didn’t show herself directly. That was a long time ago, though. These days her daughters were more than old enough to take care of themselves and she was happy to let them live their own lives and make their own mistakes. Especially Ambrosia.
“So tell me,” she continued, “how fares this Inquisition of yours?”
“They seem to be making good headway, actually. You see-”
The two Goddesses continued making what ultimately amounted to small talk for a while more, as they moved from one topic to the next. During this time, Teresa was able to grasp exactly why Morton was making her apologize to her fellow gods in person - it was to start a conversation. It wasn’t like she’d never spoken with Nyrie before, but this was the first time they’d had an actual back and forth. It was equal parts insightful and annoying, but overall she found the talk to be not only enjoyable, but quite refreshing as well.
When she finally left Nyrie’s divine area, however, Teresa had unwittingly picked up on a certain question. One that she could not help but consider after speaking with someone like the patron Goddess of Nature and Fertility - whether having kids was really as great as Nyrie made it out to be. It was an innocent seeming quandary, really. One that would normally not mean much of anything.
Unless, of course, one happened to be capable of blurring the lines between imagination and reality.