“Dangit Dan, where have you been? This hurts so bad.”
I can’t stop cradling my chest as I crouch in the location of Archie’s breast brutality. The multiple club swings connecting with my chest barely allow me to speak.
“I’m so sorry. My boss called and I had to go do something for her.”
“Is there any way to turn this pain down? It feels like my girls are about to either pop off my chest or get sucked out my back.” Dan winces, although I know he really has no clue what this feels like I’ll buy that he feels bad seeing me like this.
“Just think about game settings and you should see a menu, one of the options will be pain threshold, just drag that all the way down. Some people like the settings high but I don’t get it personally. Especially as a warrior I bet having it super low is a good thing.”
Dan’s mouth is turned down, he’s either a good actor or is actually sorry about leaving me alone.
“Wow, you’re level 6, awesome work! Wait, what’s that giant skeleton? Woah, look at the ruins.”
Dan points and I look up. Each building is emitting a yellowy-green light in slow strong pulses, like giant stone fireflies on a hot summer’s night. The pulses accelerate and intensify, forcing both of us to look away and hide our delicate eyes from the intense bursts. Out of the corner of my eye I see the whole forest get lit up, as if from a massive lightning bolt. It lasts for several seconds until I can no longer make out each pine needle on the forest floor.
I turn my head to see what has happened to my tutorial clearing. The ruins are gone. My vision is briefly covered by a system prompt:
You have completed the Incrementum tutorial! Congratulations. A new human settlement has been placed on your map. We recommend you head that way to begin your journey, but you may do as you wish. Do you want your tutorial guide to stay in your area?
I think yes and the prompt goes away. I notice there are more notifications waiting for me that must have appeared after my fight with Archibold. I decide to check in on that later after I settle up with Dan.
“What gives Dan? I did just fine on my own thank you very much, but aren’t tutorial guides supposed to do some guiding before it’s over?”
“You kind of told me to ‘shut it’ each time I was trying to explain the game...But, really, I am sorry. I can’t ignore calls from my boss. She doesn’t appreciate it and hey, even someone as fabulous as me has to answer to somebody.”
“Uck, I know it. Bosses are the worst. Mine is a complete terror, maybe even a crook. She is the sole reason I’m going to be playing this game for the next couple weeks.”
“I mean, my boss is fair, even nice in her own way. What do you mean a crook? You know you can report corrupt business practices right? It’s called being a whistleblower.”
“Actually, I did not know that. But I don’t think it’s that bad. She just wants me to somehow do my job without giving me enough money to do my job.”
“Is there a budget for your job?”
“Yeah, that’s the strange thing, I learned there is a budget, but when I asked someone else about the budget they said I should really not ask about it if I wanted to keep my job.”
Dan stands there with raised eyebrows and stares at me for what feels like ten minutes before speaking.
“Honey, that has embezzling written all over it. I’m sending you my contact information. If you want to know more about how to deal with it, just give me a call. It sounds like your boss might very well be a crook and a bear! Her loss is my gain though!” Dan claps his hands in excitement after that unusually serious moment. Maybe he acts differently in professional settings.
“What do you want to do next? Explore the forest? Hit some more things with your stick? If you don’t mind a suggestion, Brighthollow town would be a great next stop. I’ve been there. It’s a decent sized town, good people and plenty of quests and tasks to keep you moving. There probably isn’t a statue or shrine for your chosen god there but there aren’t many of those in the world yet.”
“Weird, the tutorial recommended I go to Brighthollow town too. The game put the town on my map as the nearest ‘new’ human settlement. And what do you mean chosen god? I don’t have a chosen god. I ran into Vitalia when I was finishing the tutorial but no one ever said anything about a chosen god. Which reminds me, I got a free boon from her, what do I do with that?”
“Oh, Vitalia! She’s the best! That’s my chosen god. Incrementum doesn’t limit you to following only one god, but if you chose one god as your patron deity, you can receive boons for far fewer faith points, which results in more boons or more powerful boons sooner. You also get access to faith-based quests for your chosen god more often than any old random god. A free boon is awesome, can I make some recommendations?” He barely pauses to give me time to respond, clearly intending to suggest away without approval.
“Ok, so first I’d suggest Minor Close Wounds so you can heal up any slashing or piercing injuries easily. Minor Repair Bruising is another good one to clear up and blunt force damage. Oh, Minor Revitalize Stamina is another...”
“I get it, I get it. You have successfully convinced me that Vitalia will not be my chosen god if only because you are so enthusiastic about her. Something about that motherly aura she puts off just rubs me the wrong way. How do I choose a god? I was never asked about it.”
“You know if you didn’t cut me off so much you might know more about the game, and chosen gods. Patience padawan. Just thinking ‘Chose my god’ should get it started. As you have already discovered, your intent is all the game needs to do what you want.”
I follow Dan’s instruction. I start to feel light like I’m floating in a pool of water, but instead of seeing blue translucent reflections, I see my new giant warrior’s frame and Dan’s diminutive armored form. I keep rising, seeing the squirrels run along the green pine branches, until a grey haze begins to cover my vision. Soon my vision is only darkness.
I can hear my breath and finally a dripping sound. Too many lights to count assault my vision. Behind me, I hear a voice, “Another supplicant, hurrah!” To my left something whispers, “Dibs, this one is mine, total dibs.” In front of me, “Silence Brothers and Sisters! Welcome, Samantha, to the Choosing Hall!”
A raucous crowd of strange people surrounds me. My greeter is draped over an aged iron throne. The throne sits on a dry river bed covered in perfectly round stones, worn and shaped by water that no longer flows. The god props his right leg over one iron arm rail and places his right arm on the particularly red and orange rust crusted back of the throne. His black robe bunches slightly on his right hip, allowing me to see the steel boots he wears under the dark cloth garment. I wonder if he has a full set of metal armor under there. His cobalt blue eyes stare at me from an unnaturally thin face. His skin looks like leather pulled over the top of a hand drum made of bone, taught and likely to snap.
Beside him, Vitalia sits with perfect posture on the backs of two mother deer, their fawns all curled up in little balls between the river rocks. Wrinkles run from ear to ear under her white, delicate hair. I notice small imperfections in the white pullover and loose baggy pants she’s wearing. Handmade, likely worth a fortune back home where machine made garments are practically given away. Vitalia smiles at me slightly and shakes her head.
“I tried to warn Archibold. A devout man but not very practical. The trick you played on him was not very nice dear.”
“I know. You warned him, though...”
“Yes dear, but it was still a deception.”
Her eyes stare into mine. Maybe she’s right, but Archibold is dead and I have a boon.
I turn my head to inspect the crowd seated and standing on the river banks. Just to get my bearings, not to break from Vitalia’s gaze I assure myself.
One woman in a bright reflective pink jumpsuit catches my eye before I am forced to avoid the pink glare by turning my head. A giant bear grins at me, exposing its finger-length teeth. A muscled man wearing just a loin cloth, and grease, smirks when I keep my gaze on him for just a bit too long. He holds his palm out and conjures a tiny fireball to rest above it. A robed man with a quiet face looks down at the riverbed floor, his feet crossed before him. A young woman roughly my own age hops from foot to foot with inhuman quickness, her face almost blurring as it twitches from one side to another. A giant man, wearing a soot-covered leather apron has his muscle corded arms crossed over his chest.
The throned god in front of me speaks, “Welcome to The Choosing. You are in the presence of the Gods of Incrementum. Please us, and you will earn access to our boons. Anger us, and we may deign to dispatch our agents against you. The true power of this world surrounds you as sure as any ocean.”
He places both feet on the ground, straightens his back and leans towards me.
“Today, and today alone, you may speak to us without fear of retribution. But be warned, my wife, Vitalia Goddess of Life permits much that I, Decrepit, God of Death, do not.”
He waves his arm out, including the crowd.
“Who do you wish to address?”
“No need for the grandstanding dear. Samantha, you may ask any of us any questions you would like. If any of the children give you problems I will give them quite a tongue lashing.” Vitalia informs me.
I blink in surprise. Two giant spiders are now crouched down on each side of her, silk protruding from their bulbous ends. Vitalia is using perfectly formed branches as knitting needles to shape the silk. I see Decrepit roll his eyes and smile.
“Ah, you really know how to take the wind out of my sails love. Fine. Ask us any questions you wish Samantha.”
“Wait, you two are an item? And all the gods here are your children?”
Decrepit snorts. “We may be gods but even we don’t have that kind of time or patience. There are hundreds of children here! And most of them are naughty. We run herd but if they were all our children we would be responsible for their actions and that would be a nightmare.”
I can hear some of the assembled gods grumbling, “We’re not cattle...”
Decrepit continues, “Some of the gods here are our get, but most are not. They are born from the minds of visitors like you. Wherever there is faith, there is a god. And yes, we are, what did you call it ‘an item.’ Vitalia is the love of my immortal life. Where there is life, there is death, and so we are entwined for eternity.” He looks at her with such tenderness. Robert could take a few lessons.
“Ok, I guess that makes sense. So each of you can provide some type of boons, and the more faith points I have, the more powerful the boons you will allow me to use...Are these like once in a lifetime things or what?”
“There are Miracles dear, but those can only be bestowed once in a life, and often result in the death of the grantee. I would think very carefully before requesting a Miracle. Most of our boons can be used repeatedly, often with some enforced duration between uses. But you must invest enough faith in us before we are willing to give you access to our more useful boons.”
I thought about that for a minute. So they were essentially like my staff skills, but I could only gain access to them through my faith.
“So go light on the Miracles, got it. Ok, so I’m guessing each of you only offers boons that do certain things? So the Goddess of Life probably does not offer a boon that will light my campfire? More like heal me or a friend?”
Vitalia just nods her head in agreement.
“Dan mentioned a Chosen God, what is that?”
Decrepit jumps in, “Each visitor may choose one of us as their Chosen God. A Chosen God offers their boons to their supplicants for fewer faith points. They can also allow their supplicants to access more powerful boons sooner. However, the god must agree to become a visitor’s chosen god. We may have many chosen but we pay special attention to our chosen, so it does not behoove us to have just any visitor in our ranks.”
“Don’t let him fool you, dear. We all want as many devotees as we can get. Gods have rejected choosing visitors in the past, but it is rare. The last one was hmmm...” Vitalia puts down one knitting needle and taps her chin several times. “Was it you Anvil? I remember a visitor in quite a huff after speaking with you.”
The mountain of a man wearing an apron speaks, “He had no intention of learning the craft.”
Vitalia looks at him expectantly but Anvil stands with crossed arms, looking back placidly.
“Why do you want devotees?”
Vitalia sighs, “Well we get more powerful for one. A god’s power is directly linked to the strength of their follower’s faith, as well as the number of followers. We can sense each other’s power, so when it comes down to disagreements, you might imagine it’s important to be more powerful than the other god. Some of us do quite nefarious things to increase our power...”
“That’s enough of your prattle old woman!” An almost too pretty man adorned in a blood red robe, black pants and shirt strides forward from the crowd. His two-meter plus stature and wide shoulders leave him towering above Decrepit and Vitalia as he stands in front of them. “Do you seek power girl? Explode the hearts from the chests of your enemies with just a thought! Light your own blood on fire to wield your staff with the strength of ten men!” He raises his hands above him, “Become a chosen of Vlad, the Blood Caller, and we will tear through this world like a cleaver through bone.”
I point at his midriff. “You should get a longer shirt, it came out of your belt.” He looks down with a frown, lowers his arms and tucks his shirt back into his pants.
Decrepit and Vitalia start chuckling behind him. “It was a good try Vlad, worked on the last one but it appears you missed your mark here,” Decrepit says through a big smile.
Vlad grumbles and stomps back over to his place in the crowd beside a lean woman with two daggers strapped to her belt.
“Well, Samantha?” Vitalia asks. “You don’t seem like the skeleton type, sad to say for poor Decrepit here, and we both know you aren’t going to choose me. Do you have questions for these others?”
Vitalia continues to knit the spider silk garment at a rapid pace. In just a few minutes she has gone from nothing to a limb’s worth of fabric gathering in her lap.
I’m not about to stand around here for hours questioning each and every one of what must be hundreds of gods. Who does that anyway?
“Have other visitors really stood here and talked to each and every one of you?”
Decrepit laughed, “Many have come to gaze upon our mighty visages, it is a privilege to consort...” he glanced over at Vitalia and clearly saw her annoyed look. The God of Death, sighed, knowing it was best not to anger his immortal wife. “Yes, Samantha, they have. Many visitors want to know all the options that are available. It’s mind numbing. Only a fraction of our being is here in front of you, but even a fraction of our attention can be bored.”
“How about this, I intend to be on the front lines fighting my enemies with my staff. I want to avoid and deflect damage instead of absorbing it; counting on my teammates to destroy our foes. Can all the gods that think they might be helpful for that move to the front here beside Vitalia and Decrepit...please? If you are required to be here I can release you from the requirement... if I can do that?” I looked at Vitalia.
“You can’t dear, but I can. Please depart if you can offer this visitor no significant help in her goals.”
Decrepit stood and stretched his arms above his head. One sleeve of his robe fell down, revealing a forearm with twisted black lines running between his corded muscles, like a tribal tattoo. The ribbons of black were so dark it was if the world ended in deep chasms across his forearm, yielding to some unknown land.
“That’s my cue. While commanding the power of the dead is useful for having the deceased fight for you, or helping your enemies find their own end, I don’t think it will offer much to you on the front lines. I will see you again Samantha, pray it is not soon.” His visage briefly transformed into a skull, its eyes the same otherworldly black as the lines on his arms.
“Oh stop scaring the girl, life and death come to us all. Now give me a kiss before you go.” Decrepit bends down and kisses Vitalia’s cheek. As soon as his lips leave her cheek, an inky black substance rises from his booted feet, over his robe, and finally covers his piercing blue eyes. Once the tar-like substance reaches the top of his head, it falls to the ground, running between the dry river stones, leaving Vitalia sitting amongst her animals alone.
“He does like his dramatic exits.” She says with a smile. “Ah good, is this more manageable?”
Vitalia waves her hand at a group of a dozen gods gathered to my left.
“Honestly I was expecting more. There are really only twelve gods suitable for a warrior in the front lines?”
“You were fairly specific dear. These gods can offer boons suitable for your role engaging the enemy and avoiding their attacks, not a common desire I might add. If you wanted to stand and trade blows with mighty foes wearing thick armor, perhaps Cage, God of Armor would have stayed. Or if you wished to wield the power of the sun, Apollo may have been here. Oculus, you may begin.”
An unshaved man, several inches shorter than me, with an eagle on his shoulder, stepped forward. “I am Oculus, like my soul bound eagle, I can see anything in my domain. If you choose to have faith in me, you will have access to boons enhancing the your allies’ sight as well as your own, while impairing the vision of your foes. What you can see you can dodge, and what you cannot see you cannot hit, yes?”
Fair point Oculus. “Can you tell me more about the exact boons you offer?”
“No, for those that have no faith, there is no knowledge.”
How am I supposed to make a decision about what god to choose if I don’t know what benefits I will receive for choosing that god? I asked Vitalia, “Wait, what? Why can’t he tell me about the exact boons he offers?”
“There is no menu of boons dear. You choose in which god to believe and ask for boons. If you have enough faith, and we are allowed to grant the boon without upsetting the balance, then the boon is yours to call upon.”
“Balance? Who regulates the balance?”
“Decrepit and I. We hold the power of life and death, even for the gods. We balance each other. If Decrepit exposes the world to too much death through a visitor, then I release just as much Life through another. If we are releasing too much force into the world, we have a nice chat over dinner and scale it back. After all, if we don’t agree, we all end.”
“Ah, so that’s why Vlad tucked his tail in like a puppy.”
The AI in Incrementum didn’t seem to appreciate me referring to the fact it is a game, if Bonesy’s reaction was any indication, so I decide not to get in some sort of meta discussion with Vitalia. Aren’t the game developers the ones who would ensure no type of game imbalance is introduced? Or did they truly program the god AI so well that the developers would never have to interfere and they would regulate themselves? What happens if Decrepit and Vitalia have a fight? Does the world go through upheaval until they make up over dinner?
“I see, ok, thank you Oculus. And you, sir?” I gesture at a man in a shimmering cloak who almost fades into the dead grass and bushes behind him.
“I am Illusor, God of Illusion. What arm will your enemy choose to hit if you appear to have eight? How long would it take them to realize the screaming warrior they are attacking is not real? Have faith in me and illusion will be one of your strongest tools on the battlefield.”
As I’m staring at the image in front of me, a voice whispers in my ear. “See? It’s hard to hit what isn’t there.” I turn and almost fall over when I see the exact same god behind me.
“Except when it is.” The original image says. “For real this time. I’m here but I made an illusory image and sign from right behind you. Imagine doing the same to all your foes. Or perhaps showing them their worst fear. I’m also the greatest ever at practical jokes. Ever heard of the old fly in an ice cube trick? Try spider in their pants.”
I see some glares from the other gods down the line. I’m guessing he’s played a few too many tricks to be a fan favorite.
“Thank you Illusor, I see your point. And you ma’am?” I raise my eyebrows at the woman I had noticed earlier, who moved so quickly her face nearly blurred.
“Alacra is my name. I do not employ any tricks,” she accompanies that statement with a deadly glare at Illusor. “Just speed. Your enemies can’t hit you if you’re moving faster than a sword. Perhaps moving your staff quickly would be a good thing, hm?”
That’s a no-brainer. The man next to her is seated, the calm robed figure I had picked up from the crowd. His gaze doesn’t waver from the bottom of the river as he speaks up.
“All the speed in the world will not help those who cannot calm their minds. I offer the mental discipline to absorb the world around you and act without emotion. I am Placid.”
I am sure only his lips move as he speaks, nothing else. I can’t believe a human can remain so still. Oh, right, he’s a god. What he is saying makes sense but just looking at him remain so still is making me anxious.
Vitalia snorts. Can she read my mind? She quirks an eyebrow. I guess that’s a yes. If the game interface knows my intent well enough to do what I want with a thought, it’s not too much of a leap to imagine the AIs can access my thoughts as well. That’s actually fairly scary, what if a rogue AI could actually write thoughts into my mind? Research for later. I very much hope someone has made sure there are enough protections in the game’s neural interface.
Are there really eight more gods? This is taking forever. I stare at Vitalia as I think it and she snorts again.
Another man covered in leaves, not just on the private bits, but all over as if a vine was planted in his feet and grew over all his limbs, stepped forward as it was clear Mr. Calm was done speaking.
“Your mention of a Staff spoke to me. I am nature and nature is me, Natura. Fight with nature as your foes fight against it. At the least, I can point you towards the right finger of nature to wield.” One of the vine tendrils in his left arms grows as he finishes his statement, turning into a staff, thicker and longer than the one Dan had originally provided me. “Put up your guard,” Natura says. He steps towards me and brings the reddish brown staff down towards my head in a slow motion. I hold my staff up, slightly in front of my body, parallel to my shoulders, and brace myself for his blow.
Even though he is moving his newly grown weapon quite slowly, I hear a sharp crack come from my staff when the two meet. He pulls his staff back and rests it on his left shoulder, gesturing towards it with his other hand.
“Bloodwood. If you had used a similar staff to block my blow it would have bent to absorb the force instead of cracking. Your oak may be strong, but it is too heavy and stubborn to make a good staff fighter’s weapon. Take it, with my blessing. Nature may be timeless, but it’s still impatient. I appreciate not making us stand here while you quiz us all. This one visitor spoke with each god for what felt like thirty minutes. I’m not sure why since we cannot unbalance the world with faithless knowledge but that didn’t stop Null Division.” He throws the Bloodwood staff at me.
“Wow, thanks, I really appreciate it. I’m not exactly a nature girl but this really means a lot to me.” I don’t really want to spill my guts, but I start to tear up. No one gives me anything for free. Not my parents, not my boss and certainly not my confused boyfriend.
“Dan was telling me Null Division is a real hot shot, and also a total jerk. This is a really awesome staff, thank you so much.” I see Natura bow to me and then go back to staring at my new staff. As I’m gazing at it, a window appears.
Novice’s Blessed Bloodwood Staff
A gift from Natura himself, this staff is made from the finest Bloodwood. The naturally limber wood also gathers tremendous force when leveraged properly.
Damage: 10-15 (20-30 with current Strength and Dexterity modifiers)
Wow, that’s almost twice as much damage as my old oak staff. I guess it could count as a bribe but I certainly don’t mind. Keep the bribes coming.
A thin, completely white man steps forward. Not white like ethnicity, but as in no pigment accept white in their skin, hair and eyes. I forget what the term is...albor...alger...albino, that’s it.
“I am Shock -- my followers harness the power of the mighty storm to burn, stun and concuss their enemies. Most use lightning but I represent all of a storm’s powers. It seems like a fighter could benefit from becoming a storm on the battlefield.” I see tiny electrical storms dance around each other in his eyes as a light wind ruffles his hair. I can taste the rain and look up to see not clouds but a flurry of leaves descending on us.
“Thank you, Shock. I do love electricity and will consider you carefully.” I get a strange desire to bow but realize I have no idea how to bow. Oh well, might as well give it a try.
I put one hand on my lower back and bend forward at the hips, trying to keep my back straight. Once I feel like I’m almost bent in half a stand up again and watch Shock bend his neck in acknowledgment before he steps back into the group of Gods.
Alacra slides to the side faster than I can follow and then noticeably stills herself to say, “Oh bowing. I love bowing. It helps if you let one foot pull up off the ground slightly, with just the toe on the ground, crossing behind the front foot. Then you can spread your arms like this, pretty graceful I think.” She demonstrates several times, rapidly.
“I agree, that’s an awesome bow. I’m going to use that.” I tried the bow a few times. In my opinion, it was way cooler when I did it with my nine-foot wingspan.
As I’m unfolding from yet another amazing bow, a thin god with a long black ponytail, perfect posture and nearly no clothing steps towards me.
“I’m Yoga, God of Yoga.” He must see the look on my face because he starts explaining himself quickly. “I know, not the most creative name. I’m a recent creation of you visitors and what can I say, you all didn’t work too hard on your concept of me. See these shorts?” He pulls at the stretchy black shorts. “Spandex. This material doesn’t exist in Incrementum but hey, the power of faith. I can offer perfect body control and flexibility. Have faith in yoga to allow your body to perform inhuman feats. Some attempt to gain healing boons from me but even in this world, yoga just doesn’t heal. That’s just wishful thinking.”
I snicker. Yoga has been silly for so long.
“Thanks, Yoga but no thanks.” I snicker again for good measure. I look at the next god and do a double take. He’s a monkey. A monkey with human facial expressions I realize as he rolls his eyes.
“I know, the Monkey God isn’t something I’m too excited about either but we don’t really get a choice in if we exist or not, that’s your people’s doing. You visitors seem to think that monkeys bring some type of physical advantages. Yes, we’re super strong and we can swing from vines and climb trees and all that nonsense. But we’re monkeys. Why are you people worshipping monkeys? If you could do me a favor and not choose me, that would be great. Then I’d be one step closer to not existing which would be perfect.”
Sounds great to me. I don’t have faith in monkeys, especially not suicidal ones. My eyes move to the next god, the ninth I think to myself. Almost done with the dozen. This god was in the shape of a woman, but a woman made of every colored stone possible. I stare at her finger made of ruby, a kneecap of obsidian and hair made from quartz veins. She starts to speak.
“Many do not understand that the land need not be slow and strong. I am Bedrock, and like the stones in an avalanche, the earth moves with speed and strength. Unlike these others, I often help my followers discover the earth’s riches and craft them into objects of great beauty and power.”
“Really? What type of objects?”
“Any type of objects. I can offer no more knowledge without faith.”
These gods are really frustrating. What’s the point of this little audition if they can’t give me details. I guess Incrementum lets players build things. I’m not sure why someone would want to build a shiny piece of metal in a digital world but to each their own. I was skeptical of this game at first but I can definitely see the appeal of being someone different, smashing bad guys and discovering new lands. But sitting around all day making ancient technology? Not for me, I sit around enough in the real world building advanced technology.
“Thank you, Bedrock. And you sir?”
A six foot tall red haired man with veins bulging from every muscle steps forward. I can see his muscles shaking as if his whole body is shaking.
“Forgive me, kind adventurer. I am Bezerk, the God of Rage. I’m truly a nice person but your kind seems to worship the pillars of strength and anger. So I was born, cursed to shake with rage throughout eternity even when gathering with friends and speaking to new acquaintances. I am a terror on the battlefield, and my powers of anger can lend you great strength. If mayhem and destruction are your desire, rage can be your companion.”
“Sorry, we made you Bezerk. I’m not big on anger but I can see how your powers would be helpful.”
My eyes move to the next god in line. A human shaped figure is lying on the ground, one leg crossed over the other, covered entirely in steel plating. I can see my reflection in the polished metal. His left arm is propped behind him, and the right is cupping small stones and dirt that he is slowly pouring on the ground.
“Furor. God of Protection. Enough said.”
Uh, no not enough said.
“What do you mean God of Protection? Protection from what? Clubs? Fire? Ants? Falling trees?”
I hear him sigh as he uncrosses his legs and sits up.
“All of that. Anything else. My powers protect. You or your companions.”
I look over to Vitalia who has almost all of a spider silk sweater complete in below her still moving needles.
“Is he always like this? I mean seems like a pretty good choice for me but I’m not sure I want to have to talk to Mr. two words a sentence every time I’m trying to receive a boon.”
“Yes, dear. Always talks. Like that.” I see her mouth smirk as she continues to gaze at the sweater, clearly happy with herself.
I put both of my hands on my face and almost scream.
“Ok this is getting aggravating, who’s last?”
A man wearing a wide brimmed hat, made of straw or perhaps a coarse yellow fabric, steps forward, a shiny brown staff in one hand.
“I am Bruce, God of Martial Arts.”
He stops speaking. What is with these gods?
“Come on Bruce. What does that mean?”
“I can help my followers in the martial arts.”
My hands move up to my hair and almost pull two fist fulls out.
“Ok, that’s enough. Thanks for speaking with me everyone but I’m not choosing anybody today. I tried to make this quick and failed. On top of that, you all really aren’t telling me very much about yourselves, and some of you, that's right I’m looking at you Monkey King, aren’t even trying to recruit me as a follower. How do I go back to where I was Vitalia? And you aren’t mad I am not picking right now right?”
“Of course not dear. I had a feeling you wouldn’t commit today anyway. Here, take this sweater, that halter top you are wearing is barely adequate to support your bosom, let alone keep you warm.”
“Thank you. I’m not sure who chooses the clothing for us visitors but I will definitely smack him or her if I ever meet them.”
I walk up to Vitalia and put my arm out. She hands me the sweater and as I look at it a window comes up:
Vitalia’s Knitted Spider Silk Sweater
Infused with Vitalia’s life aura, this sweater repels the forces of death and increase the rate of life regeneration of its wearer.
Another unexpected gift. As the window closes, I look into Vitalia’s warm green eyes and wrinkled brow. There is just something too pure about her, too warm. I break eye contact and mumble.
“Thank you. How can I leave please?”
“That’s easy dear, just think, ‘I choose no god.’”
I do so and I almost fall to the ground I’m so surprised to see Dan and the forest around us. Sheesh, I guess someone was mad with my decision.
“How’d it go?” Dan asks before quickly stumbling over his own words in excitement. “Oh please told me you picked Vitalia we could collaborate on boons! Just don’t say Decrepit...or Vlad...or Apollo for that matter. Apollo is so slimy.”
“Guy wearing almost no clothes, covered in oil, plays with fire?”
“That’s him. He smirked at me the whole time I was picking a god. You know the look some people give, the “you want me but you can’t have me and I know I’m hot” look? He gave me that look for an hour. Uck.” Dan shivers and pauses for enough seconds for me to get a word in.
“I didn’t choose, but at least I know a lot more about the gods now. Something just didn’t feel right.”
“Oh..., I guess not choosing is ok. You don’t want to go too long, though, if you spend your faith on boons from your non-chosen gods you will end up with a lot fewer abilities than someone who chooses and invests in their god.”
“I get basic economics Dan. Also, I’m not dumb. I understand there is a way to maximize your strength and powers in this game. But thinking too hard about it is a great way to waste time and fall behind people who are actually playing the game. Also, I just didn’t really have faith in any of those gods. They weren’t for me.”
The bag at my waist starts shaking. Why is a bag shaking on its own? Dan looks at it with raised eyebrows and I tap my foot, trying to remember what I put in there.
Oh, Bonesy. I reach into the bag and pull out the skull that started all my troubles with Archibold.
“There better be treasure at the end of the rainbow Bonesy. I got hit in the boob too many times for nothing.”
“Well aren’t you an ungrateful young lady. I can hear in there you know. You got a free boon from Vitalia thanks to me.”
I snort. “Thanks to you? No, thanks to me.”
“Semantics. Regardless, I may be a lot of things but a welcher is not one of them. I treasure I said and a treasure I will provide. My treasure is not a pile of gold. It just so happens my treasure can help you with your little faith predicament. You see, I may have chosen Decrepit as my god, but my enclave was devoted to the birth of a new god.”