It took several moments for Gregor’s revelation to sink in, but even then Boxxy had some trouble believing it.
“Let me get this straight,” it spoke up doubtfully. “You’re telling me that I picked a fight with an actual, literal, and authentic deity?”
“Yup,” Lewis replied.
“But gods are supposed to be immortal, yet you’re telling me we just killed one.”
“No you didn’t. I never said that. What you fought and killed was Eren’s avatar, the physical shell that held his divine spark and allowed him to channel his power. He would’ve eventually taken a second one if I didn’t catch him just now.”
“What, like a demon?”
“Almost exactly like that. Where do you think the whole summoned familiar thing originated from?”
“What about his title?” Fizzy chimed in. “I thought gods were supposed to embody, y’know, generally nice things. Especially with the Beyond in place.”
The mithril golem was well aware of that realm’s purpose as a thought-filter thanks to a certain six-armed blabbermouth, as was Boxxy. However, even if she didn’t, it would be impossible not to notice how every single deity was benevolent in their own way. For instance, the way Axel regulated and oversaw war to ensure it was fought honorably and for the right reasons. Even Brandon himself strove to better the world in ways he deemed necessary, though he seemed wholly unconcerned with the loss of mortal life while doing so.
“Ah, but the Beyond wasn’t always there you know,” the Goddess of Gambling pointed out. “Eren predates not only demonkind, but almost all of the enlightened races. He was born from the collective will of a world filled with nothing but monsters, and what sort of things do you think monsters would concern themselves with the most?”
In other words, Eren was the amalgamation of the violence, bloodthirst and savagery of an era long past.
“So his ghost looked like an orc because he was created by orcs?”
“It’s actually the other way around,” Samuel corrected Fizzy. “See, at one point monsters started getting smarter and began thinking for themselves. They realized that it was them who gave Eren his power and started to rebel against his rule, so the old boy created a species that would serve and follow him without question. It worked so well that he started to resemble his own masterpiece due to all the blind faith that they poured into his being.”
The orcs had been created by a God of Destruction who wanted mindless peons to boss around. That revelation certainly helped explain a great deal about the greenskins and their bizarre traits. That unique pack mentality coupled with their innate susceptibility to mind magic would have certainly made it possible for the malicious deity to bend them to his will. Their immense physical strength and unrivaled thirst for carnage would, on the other hand, turn them into excellent foot soldiers for wreaking havoc across the land. And last but not least, their lightning-fast parasitic reproduction and growth spurts would mean Eren would always have the numerical advantage.
“I’m sure you can imagine what it was like to have the entirety of the orc race working together under one banner.”
Boxxy’s troupe didn’t need to imagine the scenario that Monica put forward, mostly because they’d seen a glimpse of it first hand during their time in Velos.
“It was why I had to step in and put a stop to it,” the God of Misinformation continued. “With how things were going, it was all but inevitable that the world would be covered with nothing but greenskins. And given how they devour everything in sight, it would’ve been one bleak, boring, and dull world.”
Though the orcs were designed to be Eren’s bulwark, the weakness to mental manipulation he instilled in them also proved to have been his undoing. It had been surprisingly easy for Jeffrey to hijack his mental network and shut him out so completely that the greenskins forgot about their creator almost literally overnight. Orcs had been the old God of Destruction’s only source of faith at that point, and being so suddenly cut off from them had made him go into a comatose-like state. Not too dissimilar from what had happened when Solus had gone silent after the destruction of his people’s homeland by the Boneshaper.
Unlike the Sun God of Life, however, the God of Destruction did not get a sudden jolt of faith to wake him back up. Just the opposite, Marley had gone through great pains to erase every single trace of his religion from the face of the world. He clearly missed a spot or two, however, as evidenced by his resurgence. There was no way to know for sure, but the most likely scenario was that someone had discovered some old religious relics or icons that somehow spawned a cult. Something that would not have happened were it not for the humans’ wavering faith in their Goddess of Truth and Justice.
“If you were around back then, does that not make you a monster god as well?” Jen pointed out.
“That’s a good point, actually,” Fizzy agreed. “I mean, just look at the company you keep.”
“Hahahaha, you got me there!” the capricious deity replied. “I didn’t go by ‘Bob’ back then though. Used to be called Sidea, and I was the Goddess of Trickery. I know, I know, I might not seem like I’ve changed since back then, but trust me, I have. Everything has. Those days were... a very different time.”
So different, in fact, that it might as well have been another world. It wasn’t, though. It was definitely the same old Terrania that Ixpix had grown to adore ever since he migrated here. The last thing he wanted after royally screwing up his homeworld was to see this one befall the same fate. It was why he stepped in and stopped not only Eren, but the rest of his generation as well, though he was unable to completely erase their mark from this world.
Just like how the orcs made by the God of Destruction were still around, so too was the Blight a remnant of an old god. More specifically Gurgle, the God of Pestilence. Janet somewhat regretted having to subdue him, though. Quite the imaginative fellow, that one. He once created a disease which had the sole purpose of giving its victims itches in places that didn’t exist. It was honestly a shame to get rid of a deliciously inventive mind like that, but Charlie could not allow Gurgle’s creations to threaten all life on the planet.
Ida was far less interesting, unfortunately. Once the Goddess of Hunting, she embodied the very primal need of monsters to stalk, kill, and eat. Though she never created anything, the predators that received her favor eventually became strong enough to rule entire regions as if they were kings. An example of one such species was the janther. Though they had ‘fallen from grace’ since those ancient times, these predators were once so fearsome that they could easily be described as the dragons of their time. However, both they and their patron deity had to be disposed of, otherwise the physically weak but mentally superior enlightened races would have never been allowed to flourish.
And last but certainly not least was the only other deity that was even as remotely as creative as Gurgle, though far less fun to talk to. His name was Udar, the God of Weaponry, and he was almost like a predecessor to Goroth given their shared obsession in making things and refining the mastery of one’s craft. The major difference between them was that Udar, as his title implied, had a creative focus that was far more narrow in scope. He was also the only deity powerful enough to go head-to-head with Eren and his orcish hordes at the height of the God of Destruction’s power. Something he accomplished by creating what he deemed to be the ultimate living weapons, traces of which could still be found around the entire world.
In fact, one of them was right there in that instant dungeon in the shape of Fizzy Rustblood, whose war golem ‘ancestors’ once battled Eren’s orcish hordes for decades on end. It was why Aubrey couldn’t help but feel oddly nostalgic when he watched the former gnome plough through the greenskins on Velos. He couldn’t tell her of her origins though, nor of the other old gods. Just saying their names out loud could spark a chain of events that would result in them recovering from obscurity. Granted, there was still a non-zero chance of that happening anyway, but that was precisely how Shaniqua liked it. Seeing those old farts beat the same astronomically low odds that Eren had conquered was precisely the sort of thing that made the Goddess of Fortune giggle like a schoolgirl.
As for Quinzo lying about his own true origin… Well… It was hardly worth revealing that pointless bit of trivia in his honest opinion.
“What about Erena? Or Eren, or whatever that thing’s name is?” Boxxy asked. “Now that you’ve got him, what are you going to do? Wipe him from history again?”
“Of course not,” Doris scoffed. “That clearly didn’t work the first time, and it’s significantly more difficult to erase all traces of a religion or belief in this day and age.”
Unlike the monstrous civilizations of the distant past, modern society placed a great deal of importance on preserving knowledge for future generations. Not to mention digging up and studying the past. Hiding things from the mortals of the world was significantly more difficult than it used to be. Sindri knew full well that erasing the old gods from history was not foolproof even back when he was still posing as the Goddess of Trickery.
“However, I now have significantly more options than I did back then,” Chauncey declared. “At present I have the ways and means to permanently put this ‘God of Destruction’ problem to rest. Care to guess what I have in mind for old Eren?”
“You’ll eat him to absorb his power?” Boxxy shrugged.
“You’ll banish him to another realm?” Fizzy suggested.
“You’ll throw him into the sun?” Xera smirked.
“You’ll let me rape him in the ass?” Kora hoped.
“You’ll, tktktktkt, imprison him in the Beyond?” Drea scratched her head.
“Suggesting that you punch him real hard,” was the only thing Jen could think of.
Myron took a few moments to process all of their replies before he was able to speak again.
“Wow, okay. None of you guys were even remotely close. Especially you, Jen. That was idiotic.”
The bird-lady was a bit disappointed she was shot down like that, but on the upside she got another direct reply from Mendez, so this result was overall a win in her book.
“I’m going to put him through the same rehabilitation treatment I put Teresa through three years ago,” the deity revealed. “Okay, maybe not exactly the same. I’d have to tweak some things and intensify it by a few orders of magnitude, but by the time I’m done Eren will have become a respectable and agreeable deity like the rest of us.”
The shapeshifter wanted to comment that Brigandine was nowhere near as ‘respectable and agreeable’ as she made herself out to be, but it had a more pressing concern to address.
“And he won’t relapse and come after me for the sake of revenge?”
“The chances of that happening are effectively zero if I do my job right. Even if someone tried worshipping the reborn God of Destruction, their prayers and offerings would get filtered out by the Beyond.”
“Even if there’s an entire town of people worshipping him?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that bunch, I’ve already taken care of them.”
Enrique would still have to remain vigilant for signs of the thought-poisoning that once afflicted Teresa, but that shouldn’t be too big of an issue.
“You sure seem rather well prepared for this,” Boxxy remarked.
“I just planned for the eventuality should it occur.”
“Then why didn’t you enact this plan of yours sooner?”
The shapeshifter’s irritation when it asked that question was both crystal clear and entirely justified. From its perspective, it seemed like this whole cult problem was entirely Schneider’s fault. It was only during divine matters such as these that he directly intervened, yet he seemed to have waited until the matter was more or less resolved before actually doing something about this mess.
“Because us gods are neither omnipotent nor omniscient,” Lenny reiterated. “I had no idea this cult even existed, and even then it wasn’t until Eren’s avatar was destroyed that his anti-peeking barrier collapsed.”
“And that barrier didn’t tip you off?!”
“You do realize there’s plenty of other entities that can hide their presence from the gods’ remote viewing, right? You literally just spoke with one, like, a week ago.”
“That… is a very good point.”
Though Boxxy hated to admit it, Juniper was right. Lucius was hardly the only one with the ability to do that. The magical jail cell that the elven Foundation had once imprisoned it in possessed that same property. It could therefore understand why Allen refused to act until he was absolutely certain the situation warranted it. He was always going on about having far less tangible power than the other members of Terrania’s pantheon, so conserving his energy was likely high up on his priority list.
Speaking of which…
“So having to maintain this barrier was why this God of Destruction felt so… weak?”
Though certainly fearsome, the powers Erena displayed during the battle were quite pathetic when compared to the absolute might it faced when it went toe-to-tentacle against Teresa.
“Oh yes, I would imagine so,” Hogan confirmed, “though that’s probably only a part of it. I imagine he didn’t have a lot to work with in the first place. Even doing as much as he did was only possible because of his close proximity to the ones that worshipped him. He was probably amassing power until he could launch some sort of coup or uprising to regain his former prominence. Joke’s on him though, there’s no way that would ever happen now that the Beyond is a thing.”
“Oh! I get it!” Kora suddenly clapped her hands together. “That bitch hates demons because we’re the ones stealing all his bad thoughts!”
The others stared at her with a combined look that seemed to question how come she only pieced this together now. Jen was the odd one out since she wasn’t as well-informed as the others, but Boxxy, Fizzy and the other two demons had already figured this out over the course of the conversation. It was fairly obvious to them that Erena would have acquired a strong sense of malice for the beings that had ‘stolen’ the main source of her power, so they didn’t feel like it was worth mentioning aloud.
Which, incidentally, was also why she had made the foolish decision of orchestrating an attack on the nephilim. Those three were, after all, the result of the ‘collaboration’ between one of Grunhilda’s demons and Teresa. Their lineage alone must’ve made them seem like an anathema to the ancient deity. She probably wanted to stomp them out before the newly created enlightened race could spread and become a problem further down the line, but she had clearly underestimated their guardian. If not for that, then it was likely this entire debacle wouldn’t have transpired and she’d have remained hidden in this quiet little corner of reality she claimed as her own.
Erena’s lapse in judgement was entirely understandable, however, as even in that past age filled with incomprehensibly strong monsters there were none quite like Boxxy T. Morningwood.
“So, what do I get for cleaning up your old mess besides an explanation?”
Krum sighed at the shapeshifter’s question. His Hero clearly felt like its accomplishment deserved a grander reward than words and a few Levels, and Jubilee found it difficult to disagree. Hence why she fully expected Boxxy to start making demands, which only made this matter all the more infuriating to deal with.
“That depends. Do you have something specific in mind?”
“I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t.”
“Alright, let’s hear it. Is it shinies? Or tasties? More power?”
“Yes, yes, but what kind of favor?”
“Haven’t decided yet.”
“… Come again?”
“Sometime, somewhere, somehow, I will ask you to do something for me. And you will do everything in your power to make it happen.”
“You realize there’s no way I will agree to something that stupidly open ended, right?”
“Do it, or I will wipe out the entirety of Witchaven while spreading word of the God of Destruction to all the people of the world.”
“You really don’t want to do that.”
“Or what?” the shapeshifter shot back. “You’re going to get that guy who can stop me? What was his name, again? Michael McDoesn’t-Exist?”
Fizzy and Jen seemed like they were hardly able to believe their ears while the demon trio sighed with knowing smirks as if to say ‘As expected of Master.’ Boxxy was, for the lack of a better term, trying to blackmail a god.
“I could rip your soul from your body with a thought.”
“You sure you have the divine energy to waste on something like that? Don’t you have a deity to brainwash?”
“I can spare some juice to silence an uppity box.”
“Go on then. It didn’t work for the last two deities who tried that, but let’s see if third time’s the charm.”
The Sandman stared down a seemingly empty spot of air so hard it was like it was trying to rip open the fabric of reality with its gaze alone.
“… Heh. Hahahahahahahaha!” a jolly laughter drowned out the intense atmosphere. “Well played, you chesty bastard. Well played, indeed. Alright, let’s see what comes of this.”
Countless motes of green light started appearing out of thin air like ghostly fireflies. They started swirling around as if caught in a tornado, slowly converging into a single point in front of Boxxy’s face. Once enough had clumped up together, they exploded with a sharp bang and a flash of light, leaving behind a single item. It was a rectangular piece of paper about the size of an envelope used to deliver letters. Its surface glimmered with a prismatic hodgepodge of colours that swirled around and bled into one another unpredictably. The only constant on it was the text that read ‘I. O. U.’ in big, black, and thick lettering.
“One divine favor, as requested,” Jeremy declared. “Provided it’s within the scope of my power, of course.”
“Of course,” Boxxy repeated as it pocketed the item. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
“Quite. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do. Oh, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
The instant dungeon began to rumble and quake, a sign that Joffrey was prematurely shutting the place down. The group would get ejected from the conjured space in due time, but they didn’t wait around and returned to the real world through the pink portal. The cavern that was Eren’s lair had returned to the shape it had been in when Boxxy first saw it, except that it felt quite dead now that its master was no longer around. The torches and fires illuminating it had gone out completely, the air was incredibly stale, and an unsettling silence echoed all around them.
The dimensional rift it had just exited collapsed several seconds later, plunging the cavern in total darkness once its pink light was gone. Boxxy wasn’t quite sure why Yvonne did that, but it wasn’t going to complain about not having to wait around to get its shiny back. Admittedly the Atlas of Dreams would inevitably return to it even if it was left behind, but that could take weeks or months.
On their way out, the monstrous party noticed that the main hallway was just as desolate and empty as the main chamber. The secret entrance was wide open, and the cultists that remained to keep watch outside were absent. It was as if the place they had come out of was some old abandoned mining shaft rather than the den of an evil god. Boxxy decided not to dwell on the details and chalked the bizarre happenings up to divine interference before setting off.
“Master, why did you not ask Dimitri to cleanse Dickface’s taint from your mind?” Xera asked on the way.
“That’s a good point, actually,” Fizzy chimed in. “If anyone can scrub that degenerate’s influence, it’s Murphy.”
Kora frowned at being referred to in such derogatory terms, but even she couldn’t say anything considering the entire thing was her fault. Meanwhile Jen and Drea nodded affirmatively, the former having been informed about Boxxy’s condition when it asked her if she could offer a solution. Unfortunately the winged woman had not explored the spiritual aspects of her Monk Job deeply enough to be of any use. The only thing she knew about demonic possession was how to free people from it, though that technically involved freeing them from this mortal coil as well.
“I might have to do that,” the shapeshifter admitted. “However, I don’t know for certain that it’s the only way.”
The divine I.O.U. was far too precious to spend on something that might have a more easily accessible solution. It was a last resort, something to be used only when faced with an impossible problem that it could not solve under its own power. Its demonic corruption, while certainly troublesome, did not fall within that category. It was hardly the first mortal to suffer either of those conditions.
“I’ll think about it if I fail to find a cure on my own,” it added. “I just haven’t been able to research it with all this cultist stuff going on.”
“Speaking of which, is there any particular reason why we’re headed back to that dreadfully dull place?”
Xera had noticed that her master was leading the group in the direction of Witchaven, which she clearly did not wish to revisit.
“I’m just curious what Joshua has in store for it,” was Boxxy’s idle reply.
The ex-mimic couldn’t help but think back to the gnomish community of Dragunov, which it had saved from being frozen solid by an ancient weather machine gone haywire. It had nearly gone on a killing spree, but its patron deity had requested it leave the citizens alive. A few months later, the place had become home to one of the largest congregations of Solus’s faithful and remained one to this day. Something that, if Orrin’s words were to be believed, helped restore enough of the Sun God’s divine power to allow him to pick a Hero and begin rebuilding his religion.
It seemed likely that Terrence intended to use Witchaven in a similar manner, which was why Boxxy had threatened to wipe it out during the earlier negotiations. Its guess had been spot on judging by the deity’s reaction, and it also took Libby’s parting words to mean that she was planning on starting right away. It was therefore expecting something to have happened to the place by the time they came back, it just wasn’t prepared for what awaited it.
When it next laid eyes on it, the quiet mountain town had been engulfed in a strange pink mist that hung heavy in the air despite the swirling wind that swept through it. It had a sickeningly sweet scent that everyone in Boxxy’s group could sense even though they were nearly a kilometer away. The harpy suddenly gripped the left side of her chest with one hand, using the other to lean heavily against a tree.
“I feel strange,” she reported, her breath heavy. “My heart rate suddenly spiked.”
That wasn’t all. Her cheeks were flushed, her pupils dilated, and she began sweating profusely. The demons appeared to be exhibiting similar symptoms, though to a much lesser degree. Even Fizzy, who should have been beyond such sensations, felt a pleasant tickle in her mostly decorative nose. Boxxy seemed to be the only one unaffected, and it had a pretty good idea as to what was causing this and why it was the only exception.
Which was why it immediately opened a portal to a small clearing about twenty kilometers east of the town and ushered its posse through. Its rushed spatial calculations were a bit off seeing as how the Gate had opened several meters above the ground on the other side, but it served its purpose of allowing it and its posse a hasty retreat.
“Okay, what in Betty’s holy blanket was that about?” the resident Paladin asked.
“That, I think, was the work of a demon,” Boxxy answered. “Overlord Shridiaphrial of the False Paradise, to be precise.”
The so-called Succubus Queen was by far the least violent of the four demonic generals, but was no less sinister. Rather than burning everything to ash like Nagnamor or freezing it solid like Liusolra, she instead bathed the place she had been summoned to in the unbridled desire of the Beyond’s top slut. The unnatural pink mist that had enveloped Witchaven was not only her doing, but was also the physical manifestation of her immortal soul.
Rather than relying on a singular body that could be defeated or avoided, Shridiaphrial spread her essence out to flood the mind and bodies of any mortal unfortunate enough to be caught in her grasp. Those subjected to it would, without fail, transform into slobbering pleasure-seeking husks that could think of nothing but satisfying their burning loins. They would fornicate not only with one another, but also any beasts or inanimate objects that struck their fancy. Victims would be so thoroughly enslaved by their desire that they would also neglect basic things like food or sleep until they inevitably passed away from exhaustion.
“You… think it’s an Overlord?” Fizzy raised an eyebrow. “You’re normally more certain when it comes to that stuff.”
“Yes, well, there were some… oddities in what I saw.”
Boxxy’s Eagle Eye Skill had allowed it to survey the population at a distance. Though the pink smog somewhat obscured its enhanced vision, it wasn’t enough to hide the massive orgy that had enveloped the town. This sight, combined with Jen’s condition after only catching a whiff of that, suggested this was indeed Shridiaphrial’s handiwork. The harpy herself seemed to already be back to normal, hopefully without any lingering side effects.
However, though Boxxy hadn’t seen the Succubus Queen’s influence in action before, it couldn’t help but feel that her victims were… a lot gentler than it had imagined they would be. There was far too much kissing and hand-holding considering they were supposed to have become like fuck-hungry beasts. The Overlord’s succubi underlings were also strangely absent, even though they should’ve been around to revel in the debauchery.
It had been an exceptionally weird night though, so Boxxy didn’t want to dwell on this topic too much. Not to mention that finding out that the God of Juxtaposition had unleashed an Overlord on the human town was more than enough to satisfy its curiosity. It certainly wasn’t going to investigate it, even if its total lack of a libido made it borderline immune to Shridiaphrial’s influence. There was, after all, no profit to be had in doing so.
Something that could not be said about the next item on Boxxy’s itinerary. Namely, the secretive auction that Snack had caught wind of while they were passing through the Empire’s capital, which was scheduled to take place the very next day. It was a good thing it was able to swiftly resolve this Eren situation, as it had poured way too many of its considerable resources into preparing for the grand event. Far too many to back out of ‘participating’ in it because of some shady cult or ancient deity of vaguely-established power.
That said, while it was certainly looking forward to tomorrow night’s proceedings, Boxxy couldn’t help but have one lingering doubt about its encounter with the rogue deity. Erena had clearly erected numerous wards around her lair in order to remain hidden. One of those was a spatial lock to deter teleportation, though it clearly wasn’t as strict as Overlord Weaxohn’s considering Boxxy could still access its Storage. The other obvious, and arguably main, countermeasure had been the one that shielded herself from divine eavesdroppers, but there had no doubt been other defensive measures in place.
However, there was clearly no anti-telepathy field in place. The monstrous Warlock and its three familiars could freely use their shared mind-link the entire time they were underground. Not to mention the old god’s avatar clearly needed some way to communicate with the people she sent to the Republic, most likely through those eyeball-tipped staves they had. This meant that there hadn’t been anything preventing Boxxy from using its mind to reach out to people on the outside.
Yet, even though it should have been fully capable of doing so, the shapeshifter nevertheless found itself utterly unable to contact Demons ‘R’ Us while inside her lair.
Almost as if reaching out to the Beyond was no different from trying to send a prayer to the Aether.