I’m sitting on my usual hill in the middle of my town. I know he’s not there, but I feel a pair of hands on my shoulders, massaging the kinks out of my muscles, chasing away the gray fog running through my mind. I stop looking at my feet and watch Valeria and Raul Huntson stripping yellow-brown fur from recently caught animal skins with metal scraping tools outside the Tannery. I don’t know if the slump in their shoulders is me projecting or them feeling the weight of our situation.
I hope Dan, Doc, and Leonard find Samantha and fix my error. I need that team to come together, and I need it now. I can’t foresee any problems after Samantha cools down. The others seem agreeable to me. I can hear James’s warm voice, smell his aftershave and coffee breath. “You got to listen to people, sugar, watch them.” I’m trying James.
Before immersing again, I indulged in a few hours of sleep, a minimal amount of food and the phone calls Dan requested. I understand I’m only adhering to the technical requirements of my promise to Dan, that being some food and sleep, not his intent. It will I have to do.
I need my Clay Workshop and Sawmill completed. I have the rest of this week, only six days and some odd hours, to come up with enough of a reason for Null Division to ignore his quest and join the team; while I move Athens forward at the same time. If Dan and the rest convince Samantha to join them, they should be back in a day and I can confer with them on how likely it is to defeat Null in battle if it comes to that.
While I wait, it’s time to investigate this Enchantress business. My research indicated I couldn’t choose a God since I’m a Homesteader, what is Null thinking? My vision fades. I can feel my body but I see nothing. I hear a clicking sound, heat on my neck and a deep voice.
“I’ll fear your A-team? The God of Death will fear you and your pathetic sworn men? We will see who is scared when your town burns and your people’s flesh feeds my bone cleaners.”
Floating eyes, like emerald fire, drift from behind me to a meter away on my left. I see a dark male shape illuminated by the green glow. The hairs on my arms rise and I can feel goosebumps. My breath shortens. I can’t remember the last time I was scared. No need, my fear now is enough.
Another voice says “, I think she gets your point dear. That’s enough.”
A violet light pierces the back of my eye, momentarily blinding me. I blink several times until the sharp violet light fades and an early morning glow illuminates my surroundings. A woman, five meters in front of me and to my right, with fragile white hair and a silk sweater, not too far off my own age, rocks her ivory white chair, the clicking of her deer antler knitting needles punctuating the constant rubbing sound of her chair on the rock floor. Two dog-sized spiders, with brown hair covering their many legs stand next to each side of her chair, silk extruding from their carapaces and running to her needles.
A black robed man, Decrepit, I assume, paces back and forth next to her -- green sparks flying from his eyes even in the new light. Skeletal hands and arms thrust through the stone below him. Broken basalt, dirt, and chips of bone mix together as he kicks and stomps through the groping limbs.
“Keep your creatures on your half of the house. Let’s not have that argument again,” Vitalia says.
On Vitalia’s side of the room, I notice several woven tapestries, showing animals climbing, slithering and galloping -- their eyes shining from the interlaced fibers. No less than four fireplaces burn wood; piles of feather and fur lie in front of each one, big enough for a person to curl up and take a nap. A giant boar rests in the pile closest to me, its tusks reflecting some of the firelights.
“I hate to disappoint you Francine, but you can’t choose a God. Someone in your position, who may some day lead an empire, cannot be allowed to influence the Balance of Faith. You may command, but we may only request and reward.” Vitalia doesn’t look up from her knitting as she speaks, preempting my next question. “Null is good at what he does, but he is wrong in this. I had hopes for Null but he is showing quite poor judgment.”
“Taking my quest is poor judgment? And when you offer quests to save people’s lives, prevent their inevitable death, are they then showing poor judgment in my eyes?” Decrepit says.
“Of course not dear. Yours is to seek death and mine, life. I’m speaking of taking poor Mary. There was no need for that.”
“And next you’re going to try to tell me that it makes you want to help? You always counter my quests, Mary makes no difference.” Decrepit says.
“No dear, I’ll just have a much easier time beating you this go around. Damsel in distress, abducted by a dragon of a man, should be quite convincing.” Vitalia rocks a bit from side to side, smiling at her knitting needles.
I clear my throat. “I apologize for my statement Decrepit. It was foolhardy. I should not have claimed my A-Team would scare even the gods. Is there any way for me to repair the damage?”
Decrepit turns his head away from Vitalia. Several pairs of bone hands have pushed through the crumbled slurry from Decrepit’s stomping. The bone arms pull at his robe ends as he says, “You can die.”
I don’t know what to say to that. Appealing to Decrepit is not going to improve this situation.
“Why am I here if I can’t choose a god?”
Vitalia puts down her needles and makes a shooing motion at the brown spiders. They run up the stone wall, off into the shadows above the thick unstained wood beams crossing the room. Her eyes lock with mine for the first time. Violet irises surround black pupils.
“Because you can build a Temple.”
She watches me as I think. I’ve known a Temple is one of my building options but it seemed superfluous. It doesn’t contribute to my town’s resources or defense, so why invest in it early? All I know of the Temple is that it allows players easier access to Boons and God Quests. I can see that being important over the long run, but not now, right at the start of my town. I must be missing something, could it help me with the Null Division situation somehow? And why have the foremost gods, one of which is set on killing the people in my town, brought me here to suggest it?
“What do you get out of that?” I say.
“Very good. Life is not benevolence. Some make that mistake but you know the difference. Every Temple built in my name increase my power. I’m not personally interested in power, but if Decrepit surpasses my own by too much, the balance is lost and the world becomes a dead place. I prefer it to be alive. Oh, you also got him into quite a snit, and it’s fun to thwart him when he’s in a snit.” Decrepit snorts.
“How would this Temple thwart him?”
Vitalia waves her pointer finger at me. “I can’t tell you. That would be cheating. Our followers must solve their own problems. We merely offer rewards to solve problems we would like solved.”
“You can offer me a reward for solving the problem of Decrepit wanting my people dead but not tell me how to do it?”
“Can you nod if I guess? Does your Temple prevent a follower of Decrepit from raiding my town?”
“Decrepit raids my temple all the time dear.” Vitalia’s eyes twinkle and Decrepit starts belly laughing. “Sorry, no yes-no nodding games. You know as much as you can. Life is not simple, nor is it forgiving. Begone.”
My vision goes black, Vitalia’s violet irises two pinpoints of color as the rest fades, until even those points of light are gone. My vision comes back, revealing the Huntsons’s still scraping skins a hundred meters away.
I didn’t get any answers but my path forward is somewhat clearer. I can’t choose Enchantress as my goddess, the game won’t allow it. So Null’s demands will not be met. Do I attempt to build this Temple while trying to figure out how it might prevent Null from killing my people? Vitalia didn’t explicitly say it could even do that. She just said she wanted more power and liked to throw a wrench in Decrepit’s plans. Do I stick to my original plan and have faith in Dan and team to confront Null and prevent my people’s deaths?
A notification grabs my attention, opening two prompts:
Bastion of Life On The Frontier - Vitalia’s Will
Construct a Temple of Vitalia in Athens.
Temple starts at Level 2
Stop the Spread of Death - Vitalia’s Will
Do not allow any of your villagers to die and strengthen Decrepit.
Increase Temple of Vitalia by one level
I see. So Vitalia will reward me greatly if I build her Temple, by making her own Temple more powerful. And she offers me zero information on why this is in my best interest, besides a vague implication that it will help prevent Decrepit from getting his way.
I don’t have the right answer. What I do know, is that I’m not upgrading the Smithy. I’m not choosing Enchantress, and Null Division will have to accept it or try to murder us all.