Thirty Nine

Monday afternoon and everything was quiet. Barely anyone was moving around campus, almost every TV was tuned to the news. There had been another attack over the night in the Dwarven  world, they had lost three great priests. An unheard of number, they had been known to fight lesser immortals on occasion. Things were subdued, or they were almost subdued, some were far less subdued than others. Shelby among them, she was still bathed in the afterglow, from the night before. She was all happy an dreamy to the point that is was nauseating, except to the empaths, they were enjoying it as well. 

There was once again a pizza party in the lounge since the cafeterias were only at about half operational. Whatever the pizza budget was for the dorm was, it was large, or they were blowing it all in the first couple weeks. Lisbeth wasn’t partaking of the  pizza, she was waiting for Nerissa to emerge from the latest book she had become engrossed in. She had promised to explain how certain things came to pass, and how things worked. Lisbeth did so enjoy her drama and wanted to do this right. Doing it right did of course require Nerissa to come out, sooner rather than later.

She did eventually emerge sometime between sooner and later. Although annoying it wasn’t entirely unexpected or unplanned for. The plan involved a private car, not a taxi, and a private dining room. Nerissa was considerably underdressed for the occasion and the greeter wanted to see Lisbeth’s card in advance before seating them. Also not entirely unexpected if aggravating. Once the card checked out as an unlimited, service improved considerably, to the point where the waiter didn’t even consider carding Lisbeth when she ordered a bottle of wine. Which was good, nobody bothered her about drinking in fear she might make a scene, but it wouldn’t do to make a scene tonight.  Nerissa was looking like a fish out of water and it truly was adorable. Which were bad thoughts, she needed to concentrate.

“So I know you have some questions, but before we start I have to apologize, but my shields have to stay up. There are things I cannot tell you. So where do you want to start?”

“What does, ‘magic books’ mean, and why do you have a bookshelf full of them?”

“I’m a priestess and I use those books to study magic.”

“Then why did you let me look at them?”

“Because my goddess doesn’t care, also she likes you.”

“A god likes me? Which one?”

“You don’t know her, we do try to keep a low profile. We haven’t even joined the council.”

“But that would make you a heretic.”

“No, I will only become a heretic if my goddess is proven false. In other words, the council has to destroy our organization first. Currently we are unproven.”

“What’s her name?”

“Can’t say, but she represents change. She also isn’t a she, I just find it easier to refer to her that way.”

“Why does she like me?”

“Because you changed me from single to in a relationship, also she thinks you are good for me.”

“Are you really that special?”

“I’m her longest living worshipper, since the guy before me got assassinated. He had it coming so that’s nothing to worry about, I even helped. Which technically makes me a crusader.”

“Wait, you’re a Templar?”

“I want to say no, but I think you’re using the wrong definition of Templar, so it might be yes. What do you think a Templar is?”

“They wield holy magic as weapons.”

“Then yes, I am a Templar, but the actual definition is a warrior of the clergy. I have people that fight for me, like the twins.”

“They’re Templars?”

“No, their guardians, same thing, but they have guard duty, as opposed to offensive duties. That’s why they stick so close to me all the time.”

“What about the angel attacks?”

“We know more than most, but I can’t say more than that.”

“What are you guys doing?”

“Quietly spreading our influence until such a time as we decide to prove ourselves. I shouldn’t say much more than that.”

“So what about Sinclair?.”

“He thinks I’m a spiral case and is still trying to find a way to rescue me, poor guy.”

“How did you join up?”

“When I was eight I was visited by an emissary, he made a very good sales pitch. I still give him shit for that.”

“Why?”

“I was eight, I wasn’t nearly old enough to make an informed decision. He knew that too.”

“So you didn’t join willingly?”

“That’s debatable, mostly about the definition of indoctrination and brainwashing. Too late now, I’m in for my very extend life.”

“Extended?”

“The monopoly on healing magic has been broken, We priests are going to live for a very long time if we aren’t killed first. That will also be difficult, we have a much power as the Dwarven high priests if not more.”

“That’s kind of scary.”

“We’re counting on it.”

“So is that were all of your money is coming from?”

“Yes and no, our business branch is mostly secular, but we have a really good accountant running things.”

“Do I even want to know?”

“Yes, but I can’t say more.”

“So why the books? I thought magic came directly from the gods, it wasn’t something you can study?”

“Well, yes, but also no. The way most religions run things that’s how it works-ish, we do things differently. Magic consists of two different aspects, knowledge and the power to use it. Almost everyone has the power to use it, and if they don’t, that’s easy enough to fix. The problem is the knowledge part.”

Lisbeth stopped to take a drink and try to figure out the best way to explain. It would be complicated, but she figured she should start with the fundamentals, and then move on to what made the clergy different.

“Ok, magic does take power, but not very much at the lower levels. So for the sake of this conversation lets just forget about it. Now, magic is knowledge, literally, the more you understand how things work the more you can change them. Those books contain a very considerable amount of knowledge, and are enchanted in a way to make you remember it. You can’t actually recall what you read, but if you experiment you will understand why things work. Or something, that particular explanation was vague when I got it. You already know enough to be as strong as a priest.”

“But, I’ve only read three of them.”

“And I’ve read them all, think about that for a minute. Now the people who have the most experience and knowledge are the immortals. One of the two requirements to be called immortal is to know enough to make yourself one.”

“What’s the second requirement?”

“Trust me when I say you don’t want to know. I mean you really don’t, it will give you nightmares. When ranking immortals, it’s all about how much they know. Lets see the best way to say this. Um, how about computers, I can use those. Ok, imagine the universe is actually a computer simulation, which it might be, don’t think about those implications. Anyway the universe is inside a computer and the knowledge of magic lets you do different things. At the most basic level you don’t even have the passwords to log on, this is most mortals. The next level is you can log on to a guest account and have a couple programs you can run, this would be most priests. The next level would be the same amount of access, but you know how to use those programs really well, also priests. The next level up you have the admin account and password, but don’t know enough to not fuck up really badly, so you use programs others have written. The next level is something of a jump, were to know how to write your own programs, but still not enough to not fuck up really badly, so you use your programs and just modify them. After that you have enough experience to write your own programs.  The problem here is, even if you know how to write a program you don’t know the language very well if at all.

You see, the universe was programed by a sadist, who didn’t leave any notation, and did the whole thing in Visual Basic. Trying to figure it out on your own is basically impossible unless you’re immortal and therefore have the time. The highest levels of immortals are all at this level, except they have either spent a lot of time studying, or were taught. Gods are basically this, except they gained access to the hardware, we call it a throne.”

“So those books?”

“Contain information on the source code, sticking you in a rather unusual position on the power ranking. You don’t have any programs, but do have the knowledge to write them with some practice, but you don’t have any practice yet. If you read the right book you could become immortal, but not a true immortal in about two months.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

“We intend to make it all public eventually, until then please keep quiet. Not going to ask which book to read to live forever?”

“Still trying to process that one.”

“Take all the time you need, I have plenty of it.”

“So why don’t the priests know how to write these programs?”

“Because they don’t actually have the knowledge to cast their spells, they have a spell to teach spells to other mortals. Part of it partitions the mind so they can’t consciously know what they are doing when they cast the spell. A useful trick to give someone power without giving them the ability to gain more.”

“Why would the gods do that?”

“Because they don’t want that many more immortals running around. We do it too, apart from myself only two other members of my organization can write programs.”

“So you’re going to become an immortal?”

“I haven’t decided yet. I might if you agree to come with me, it would get boring alone.”

“Am I going to have to start worshipping your god?”

“Not at all, does this mean you’re going to keep reading those books then?”

“You damn right I bloody well am.”

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