creative writing

Forty Nine

“Well that sucked.”

“I imagine it did.”

Lisbeth looked over at Typhon. He was sitting at a white table, that appeared to be from a cheep patio set. Except the two chairs we both of different styles. The table had an extravagant lacy tablecloth, the kind you weren’t actually suppose to put anything on. The table was set with a large assortment of different cookies, and a fancy silver tea set.

“Are you mocking me?” Lisbeth finished pulling herself out of the gateway she had open. She had to crawl for two reason, the first being it wasn’t big enough. The second was she didn’t have the strength to walk.

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Yes you would.”

“Yes I would” Typhon acknowledged

“How long was gone for.” Lisbeth didn’t bother trying to get into the chair that had been left for her. Instead remaining on the grass.

“No idea.”

“You still understand how time works, and is measured.”

“Doesn’t mean I know how long you have been gone.”

“How long have I been gone relative to you?”

“Just over six months.”

“Fuck me.”

“I don’t swing that way.”

“Yes you do.”

“Well I don’t this century.” Typhon flashed Lisbeth one of his perfect smiles. Or it would have been perfect if he had human teeth. Since they were currently too sharp to be called human, his smile had a bit of a disturbing effect.

“Fair enough. Is Bill back yet?”

“No, and he won’t be. Nicely done Lisbeth.”

“I didn’t kill him, so why won’t he be?”

“Because finding the universe you fell out of is a pain in the ass. Much easier to just find a new one, maybe seed some planets if it gets boring. If he was going to come back he certainly would have beaten you back. So yeah, he’s a nonissue.”

“How did I make it back anyways?”

“You cheated.” Typhon waited for Lisbeth to ask the obvious question. When she instead simply propped herself up on one elbow, and raised an eyebrow at him, he decided to continue. “When our mistress made you a natural law she gave you the power to open portals just about anywhere. Getting cast out might have meant you stopped being a law, but the connection was still there. It acted as a tether.”

Lisbeth frowned. “I didn’t know it worked like that.”

“It doesn’t, she helped you.”

“Why?”

“I guess she wanted you to finish what you started.”

“Without me things probably started getting slightly less predictable. Wouldn’t she prefer that?”

“Maybe she wanted to see the two lovers reunited. And they didn’t, things oddly enough are following the original plan to the letter. Atreus, and your Mr. Lansky are surprisingly dedicated individuals, capable of following a plan laid out by someone who for all intents, and purposes ceased to exist.”

“Think they be happy to see me returned?”

“Probably, Atreus was all upset you missed your birthday.”

“I feel like I missed several hundred.”

“From your perspective you probably did.”

“I didn’t miss the lovers comment. How is she?”

“Your sweet little telepath? She’s doing fine, even figured out the trick to magic all on her own. She claimed your pocket, and books for her own once it became clear you weren’t coming back.”

“Good.”

“I did have to have a little chat with here about sharing.”

“Typhon” Lisbeth let that out as something of a hiss, more of a warning sound.

“Just a talk. But you will be interested to see the kinds of things she gets up to these days.”

“Tease.”

“You know it.” Typhon gave one of his all too toothy grins. “You feeling ok?”

Lisbeth’s body had given up, on the awake front. After hearing certain bits of news she started drifting off. It was mostly beyond her will, although she could have put it off if she really tried. Not that she saw much point in that, a nice long nap might be just what she needed.

Rest of course wasn’t exactly restful for her naturally. This night proved to be no exception to that. They were aware of her almost as soon as she started dreaming. When she was young they didn’t have the connections to know she existed. Now however she had met most of them.

She could almost feel them converging on her mind, like thousands of buzzards who had found a dead rabbit. They ran into each other before they reached her. Their progress was halted as they stopped to confer with each other. It didn’t take much time at all, or possibly it took days for them to come to a decision.

A number left, simply floating away. The vast majority stayed where they were, watching, waiting. One continued forward, slower than when he had first approached. She recognized him easily of course, they wouldn’t be foolish enough to send someone she didn’t know as better than an acquaintance.

When he reached her dream he gave a very polite knock on the outside, that she had shaped to be a large wooden door. The interior of her dream Lisbeth had turned into one of those old taverns. Something that could be found in an adventuring novel.

The wooden floor creaked with ever step, the tables were filled with drinking shadows. All of the patrons were shadows really, the only people she had bothered giving bodies was the waitress and the bartender. The bartender was stereotypical as well, a balding man large in stature wearing rough brown clothes, that seemed to blend in with the bar itself. The waitress however did not fit into the setting.

She was a pretty thing with a buxom chest and an outfit that one would expect from a much less reputable type of establishment. Lisbeth took her time looking at her creation, as she took her time letting the dream walker into her dream. She really had been alone for far to long. Something that she desperately needed to fix, but right now she apparently had business to deal with.

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Forty Six

Since she apparently had an apology to make, and the only advice she had been given was to beg for forgiveness, Lisbeth had to come up with her own plan. It was oddly close to Sinclair’s advice once she was done.

The plan should have been simple, requiring a few quick trips to set things up. The real problem was simple didn’t mean easy, sure the setup was easy, but that wasn’t the nerve-wracking part. No that came next, actually talking to Nerissa. By the time Lisbeth worked up the nerve to talk to her, Nerissa had already gone to her Monday classes.

By the time Nerissa did return Lisbeth had passed through, nervousness, apprehension, worry, fear, and looped right back around to nervousness. She had managed to work herself into something of a state when she recognized Nerissa’s pattern entering the building. Sensing people with magic was easy enough, actually recognizing a person was more difficult.

This however was Nerissa, and Lisbeth had taken care to remember exactly what she would appear as to magic. The advanced warning gave her enough time to fix her hair. Not that there was much she could do with it, but it was the motions that mattered to her nerves. She also considered changing again, but realized that that would just be stalling.

She knocked on Nerissa’s door five minutes after Nerissa had retuned. To give her enough time to put things down.

“Nerissa, can we talk?” Please hear me out.

“Yes we can.”

Nerissa backed away from the door to allow Lisbeth entrance. Lisbeth for her part entered, closed the door behind herself and opened a gateway on the wall beside them. The other side of the gateway was dark.

“What’s through there?”

“Context.” I want you to see the world I see.

“That’s cryptic.”

“There’s also a great view that I wouldn’t want to spoil. You’ll like this I promise.”

Nerissa motioned for Lisbeth to lead the way with one hand. Lisbeth did so, doing her best to hide that her hands were shaking, she really did hope Nerissa liked the view. Nerissa followed and looked a little confused, as she looked out.

“It’s beautiful” It was, the dark sky will with stars that seemed brighter, and clearer than any she had seen before.

“Turn around.”

Nerissa did so and gasped. She was looking at the earth, a large mostly blue ball. It looked about the size of what the moon appeared to be, floating there in a dark void. The moon could actually be seen, only partially peeking out from behind the earth.

I hope you like the view, it would be hard to find a better one.

“I like it, that’s amazing.”

Good, I was worried I would have to track down a solar flair, and I don’t think I’m up to being too close to one of those.

“How?”

I’m a gatekeeper, opening holes is what I do best. I can even choose where I want those holes to lead.

“You really can go anywhere can’t you?”

No, I do have range limits, but I’ve never had to push them.

“Why did you bring me here.”

Because I want to show you pretty things.

“Be serious.”

I am, I want to show you beautiful things, I want to see you smile, I want to see you laugh. Most importantly I don’t want you upset with me.

“You let people die for your own profit.” There was a certain amount of sting to Nerissa’s words, but it was tempered by the wonder still in her voice.

I also wanted you to see the world I see. It is both massive and so very small, it is populated by billions of people.

“It’s ok because it’s populated by billions of people?” Less wonder, more sting.

Of course not, but I wasn’t raised seeing the people, I was raised seeing the world. It’s alive, it breathes, it changes, it adapts, it does it’s best to survive.

“Is there a point to this.”

I was raised to be able to do what I’m doing now. I haven’t been surrounded by very good people, and they tainted my perspectives. I could try to change that, and in a way I already have, but it’s too late.

“Too late?”

“I’m sorry, but I will do my best to reduce casualties.”

“You still haven’t said what’s going to happen.”

“I do so hate to interrupt, but I’m going to have to interrupt this touching moment. You and I need to talk Lisbeth.”

The two girls spun around to look at the newcomer. It was Bill, in all his childish charm. Lisbeth moved to stand between him and Nerissa. It was a purely symbolic gesture, magic rendering it useless. However it was a metaphorical line in the sand.

“Bill, you should have called ahead, as you can see I’m quite busy.”

“Yes sorry about that Lisbeth, but this was urgent. You really shouldn’t have done that. There are consequences for this kind of thing.”

“Yes I know, but what’s done is done, you would have to be a god to undo this. And we both know they don’t care.”

“Lisbeth, what are you two talking about?”
“Sorry Nerissa, but you need to head home. Bill here is going to try to kill me again.”

“She’s right, I am.”

Lisbeth opened another gate under Nerissa’s feet. She fell through with a startled screech. Lisbeth meanwhile prepared herself, this was going to get messy.

“Thank you for letting her go.”

“I wouldn’t dream of fighting you with a handicap. It wouldn’t be fun. You even went to all the trouble of setting up this perfect stage.”

“I didn’t do it for you, now I’m going to have to track down a solar flair or something.”

Lisbeth puled power into the architecture laced through her body. Allowing herself to become more than she was, more than she had been. She felt her clothes burning off in response to the heat her body was generating.

“It’s weird.”

“What?”

“I was worried about fighting you before. But now, I find I’m more worried about trying to apologize to Nerissa again.”

“If you live that long, shall we get started?”

“Yes, lets.”

They got started.

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Forty Five

Apologies are hard. There are all sorts of considerations that go into a good apology, and Lisbeth didn’t know what they were. Apologies, or at least big ones, that needed planning in advance, weren’t things that she had ever tried to deal with. Asking for advice was proving a fruitless task as well.

Typhon, for all of his supposed knowledge, started rambling about a world shattering fight he got into with one of his partners. When asked about the relevance that story had for her, he made his position clear.

“None at all. But don’t think you’re getting off easy with this one.” He then refused any more advice.

Mr. Lansky was worse. “You know I’m asexual right? I have literally never had to deal with a romantic partner.”

“I thought asexual just meant you weren’t interested in sex?”

“Yeah, but relationships are even more messy, never wanted to deal with those.” So yeah, he was useless in the relationship department.

Of course Atreus took the cake, or he did after laughing at her for a couple of minutes. “Before coming here I spent twenty years in a forest with a bunch of drugged up child soldier. I’m not sure I’ve ever had sex that didn’t involve cocaine. Besides why don’t you ask Atreus, he at least went to college?”

She would have tried the recruits, but even the newest ones had apparently heard whatever stories were floating around about here. Therefore they seemed terrified of her. Lisbeth still didn’t know why, but suspected Atreus had something to do with it. Mostly because every time she asked him he got all evasive.

Usual teachers having proved useless, and Lisbeth not quite willing to ask a god for relationship advise. Even if said god approved of said relationship. Since she wasn’t quite willing to just find the best way she decided to branch out to different sources. She would have considered Shelby, but Shelby had the weekend off, and was apparently doing what Lisbeth wished she was doing. The twins were a bad idea. This meant that she really only had one viable choice on who to ask.


 

“Hey Lisbeth good to see you. I’ve been worried.” Sinclair looked tired. He had deep bags under his eyes, and his suit was wrinkled. His hair was mussed up, and he had a slight odor of someone who hadn’t been home in a while.

“You look terrible.” Lisbeth didn’t quite mean it to come out as harshly as it did, but she wasn’t on the top of her game. Still very preoccupied with other thoughts.

“Work has been hell, pure hell.”

Lisbeth frowned slightly, Sinclair’s organization shouldn’t be dealing with the attack fallout. “I would have figured the community would be keeping quiet?” They were, mostly.

“They are, mostly. But the spying thing was big, we’ve even had some protests around the worlds because of it. Meanwhile the community is all nice and quiet, and already prepared with their own encrypted email service, that we can’t crack. They knew and all my superiors want answers.” Lisbeth smiled apologetically, but didn’t offer any words. “Meanwhile since I’m the member of the agency to have most recently worked with the immortal agency, and with my distinguished record. Thanks for that by the way. I have also been named the liaison between our bureau and the immortal agency. Meaning I get called to all of the meetings for the angel attacks.”

“Sorry?”

“No you’re not.”

“No I’m not. So what has the response been so far?”

“Our response as a nation, or our response as a species?” From the tone of Sinclair’s voice it was clear that those questions would have very different answers to them.

“Our nation.”

“Brilliant really, we’ve already restocked our orbital weapons platforms. We can have a significant task force at any city in under fifteen minutes. All major cites already have significant task forces stationed in them. The council is even placing Templars with them.”

“Sound great, how about as a species.”

“Embarrassing. We’ve already started selling off orbital strikes, and if countries don’t want to pay now they can pay when the angels attack. For a fifty percent markup of course. Yes we are advertising our prices. Templars are only being placed in the most developed and comfortable nations. The only good thing are rumors about a combined Templar task force the council is training.”

“It’s true.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, they even took the suggestion I had. Teaching all the Templars everything, not just the bits that their religion preaches.”

“So they might actually be able to beat the angels before we lose the city next time?”

“Possibly.”

“I suppose I’ll have to take that.” Sinclair leaned forward and rested his head on the table, with a dramatic sigh. “So, you didn’t call because you wanted to talk shop.”

“Not really.”

“Too tired for games.”

“I need advice.”

“I can do advice.” Sinclair looked up suddenly invigorated, with the prospect of something he could work with.

“I think Nerissa is pissed at me.”

“You think?”

“Possibly just very upset, and Meyer said she seemed betrayed.”

“Damn it, no.”

“No?”

“I’m not giving you advice about your love life, get some female friends for that. I was hoping you had a stalker or got drunk and slept with the football team.”

“How is that better?”

“I can shoot a stalker, I can blackmail the football team. I can’t help with your love life.”

“I can shoot my own stalkers thank you very much. And what makes you think I would do something so irresponsible as sleeping with the entire football team. I have a girlfriend.”

“Who is feeling betrayed.”

“Damn it, give me something, anything.” There was a slight crack in Lisbeth voice, betraying that she wasn’t just being her usual playful self.

“Fine, this is what I tried in college and it didn’t work for me, but you might as well try.” Lisbeth leaned forward. “Find a good spot, get on your knees, and beg.”

Lisbeth threw a sugar cube at Sinclair. He didn’t dodge.

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Forty Four

“Why do you have a small army of guys throwing fireballs in your courtyard?”

“We’re going to need troops to fight the one responsible for the angles of course.”

“So you are planing on fighting the angels?”

“Well yeah, it will make great PR.”

“Why haven’t your troops been at the other attacks?”

“Well we can’t help out yet, we need the council to finish mobilizing properly, that’s when the real battles will start. Then we show up, save the Templars, kick angel ass, and prove we are equal to the entire council.”

“How long have you been planning this?” A tone of disbelief was worming it’s way into Nerissa’s voice.

“Couple of years now.”

“You’ve known the angel attacks would happen for a couple of years, and you didn’t tell anyone for political gain?”

“Well yes, I guess.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“What do you mean?”

“People have died Lisbeth, millions of people are dead already.”

“There are like eighteen billion people Nerissa, and they die all the time.”

“Of natural causes, causes we are working to fix. If you had just told people this was going to happen something could have been done to save people. You’re troops out there could have been saving people.”

“but, uh.” Lisbeth kind of froze, she didn’t quite know what to say to her increasingly upset girlfriend. “I’m sorry.”

Nerissa look down at Lisbeth who was looking a combination of upset and confused, when it struck her. “You have no idea why I’m upset do you?”

“Not really.”

“It’s time for me to go home.”

“What?”

“Send me home Lisbeth.”

Lisbeth nodded, and opened a gateway directly to Nerissa’s room. Nerissa walked through the gateway and didn’t look back as it slid shut behind her. Lisbeth for her part stared into the space the gateway.

“I fucked that up, didn’t I?”

“Yes you did Lisbeth.”

Mr. Lansky walked around the corner, where he had been standing trying to be un-intrusive.

“One to ten, how bad.”

“Since your Nerissa appears to be a normal, well adapted, empathetic college student. You being indirectly responsible for the death of millions might be a deal breaker for her.”

“I was afraid you might say that.”

“As long as she doesn’t find out you are directly responsible for the death of millions, you might still have a chance.”

“Not helping.”

“Sorry, it’s just kind of funny to see you fail at a social interaction with a single person.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Me and Atreus figured you out.”

“Bullshit.”

“You simulate important conversation with people in advance, in our dreams.”

“That sounds paranoid.”

“You weren’t very good at it when you recruited Atreus, took you a couple of tries to get it right. But when you got to me you were better at it.”

“Seriously paranoid.”

“Doing it with large groups of people doesn’t work for you because you can’t simulate their interactions with each other, that’s why you had so much trouble in high school.”

“Do you have a point here?”

“It’s just odd to see you messing up, it also implies an odd sense of ethical contrasts between your love life and the rest of the world.”

“Are you saying I should analyze my girlfriends reactions and choose the best course of action to keep her?”

“Heck no, that would end so fucking badly.”

“What are you saying?”

“That me and Atreus don’t care so much how you manipulated us into joining, because now that we are in it’s better for us. If you do the same with your girlfriend however, well that just won’t end well.”

“I know, which is why she is currently pissed at me.”

“She isn’t pissed at you.”

“She isn’t?”

“Hurt, and feeling betrayed, but not pissed.”

“That’s worse isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing spying on my conversations anyways?”

“I was looking for Atreus, but the castle lead me to you.”

“Fucking castle.”

“You do know who most likely controls it’s chaos right?”

“Of course I do, fucking castle.”

“Braver woman than me.”

“Thank you.”

“While I have you Lisbeth, we should talk about the drone production.”

Lisbeth opened the gate to where the drones were produced. This portion of the castle was in the cellar, it had low ceilings, and dim lighting. The wooden floorboards hadn’t been arranged with any skill, as the creaked under almost every step. The floor was covered in a thick layer of dust that billowed up in clouds at the slightest draft. All in all it wasn’t a nice place to be. So Lisbeth found it to be rather appropriate for what was made and stored in this room that stretched as far as the eye could see in the dim light.

Row after row of naked men stood there. Each one identical in features, hairless, slightly tan, defined muscles. They didn’t have their wings, those would only form when they were activated, and remain until all of their energy is spent. From activation till destruction the drones would follow whatever orders they had been given upon activation. Cognitive capacity was minimal, reducing how complex the orders could be. Once the gate was shut behind them Lisbeth turned to look at Mr. Lansky.

“Well were are we, on your schedule?”

“We’re done, all twelve thousand units are ready for deployment at any time.”

“Three years of work, and you’re done? Nice.”

“It would have gone faster if you had helped.”

“I had things to do.”

“I had countries to run.”

“Lets agree to disagree.”

“Fine, but it’s your turn now. I need a program to make our fall guy.”

“About that.”

“You did finish it right, Lisbeth?”

“Yes I finished it, looks like a great big serpent and everything.”

“But?”

“I’m conflicted about our endgame.”

“I’m under the impression you’ve been working on this plan for the last nine years, and you want to change the endgame?”

“I don’t really have a stake in how it ends, so it doesn’t matter to me.”

“I do.”

“It won’t change for you, just me.”

“Fine what are you planing now?”

“Well I was going to add more of a human element.”

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Forty Three

“Holy Shit.”

“What?”

“I thought we were going to your house.”

“We are, this is where I live.”

“This is a castle.”

“It’s not as big as it looks, that’s just the space warping and looping.”

“Ignoring the implications of that statement, are you saying it doesn’t stretch into the horizon?”

“Of course it does, the horizon just isn’t as big here as it is back on earth, any of them.”

“This place is insane.”

“Of course it is, it contains the farthest Throne.”

“The farthest what?”

“A throne is the true sign of godhood, it’s what differentiates between the strongest of the immortals and actual gods.”

“How do they work?”

“No idea, I’m not even entirely certain the full range of benefits they give, as far as I can tell they make it easier to do things on a larger scale, and over a larger area.”

“Where does a Throne come from?”

“Naturally occurring apparently, this is about to get a little complicated. OK, the core realities are were the governing rules are the strongest. The general principles of the universe. Once you leave the core realities there are the bits of reality hanging on to the sides of it. These realities aren’t quite perfect, the rules don’t quite hold true this inserts a certain amount of chaos into these outlier realities. The farther away you get from the core the more chaos there is. However discernible patterns can emerge from chaos, one of those patterns is a Throne. The farther away from the core the Throne is the greater it is, however they are only present in a certain band. Like the goldilocks zone for planets.”

“So your god is the strongest one then?”

“Yes and no. No god could beat her in a fight, especially here. But mitigating factors even the field. Namely, she is so far away from everything interesting, including the core realities, her influence even boosted by the throne is minimal. That is partially why I exist.”

“How many Thrones are there?”

“Less than twenty, it’s hard to give an exact number since while uncommon it is subject to change. Also it’s possible they haven’t all be found yet. Historically speaking this Throne is the most recently discovered one, and that happened only in the last hundred years or so.”

“So you’re a god’s proxy?”

“Not quite, I was given a single order and told to fulfill it to the best of my ability, Typhon has given me some help in that direction. He also gave me a necessary education.”

“Why are you smiling when you say his name?”

“Because I might actually like him, if you ever meet him don’t tell him that.”

“Why not?”

“I still like to give him shit about the whole kidnaping me thing.”

“That is kind of messed up.”

“Yeah, but I’m messed up enough to secretly forgive him for it, and not tell him I have.”

“I think that might be called Stockholm syndrome.”

“It is. Except for the love part, he’s way to old for me. You on the other hand are just about right.”

Lisbeth put her arm around Nerissa in something of an awkward side hug, as she steered her down another corridor. That corridor was short and ended with the door to Lisbeth’s room. Nerissa had the usual reaction to seeing the door for the firs time. With all of it’s detailed appendages, and moving eyes, carved lovingly into its surface.

“Lisbeth, are you evil?”

“I don’t think I am, but I might not be the best judge of that. Why do you ask?”

“Because that door is evil, and watching me.”

“It’s just the door to my room.”

“That’s the kind of door a super villain would have to their evil lair.”

“Oh, you’d you like to see my lair? I’ll show you my rope collection and my bed.”

“Did you brig me her just to have sex?”

“That and a bath. The only thing that makes the dorm showers bearable is they frequently have you in them.”

“That’s sweet.”

“Do you want to go in?”

“Not overwhelmingly, I think the eyes are following me. It’s kind of creeping me out.”

“They don’t move, it’s just an optical illusion.”

“Are you sure?”

“No.”


“Ok I see your point, dorm showers suck.”

Nerissa was floating in the larger pool in Lisbeth’s bathroom, the water was of course perfect. Lisbeth was lounging under one of the fountains allowing the water to cascade over her body. There was enough steam in the air to slightly obscure vision. Lisbeth was  feeling drowsy, and nodding off. But she didn’t want to fall asleep, that would involve leaving Nerissa. After the afternoon they had, that wouldn’t be acceptable. In response to Nerissa’s statement, Lisbeth mumbled something that vaguely sounded like agreement.

“What’s going to happen to the world?”

“It goes boom, everyone dies.”

“I’m being serious.”

Lisbeth opened her eyes and propped herself up on one elbow. “So am I, it’s going to blow up one day, and everyone will die.”

“That’s terrible.”

“Doesn’t matter much, that is such a long way off that it doesn’t matter to much. By the time it happens everyone we know will be dead, their children will be dead, their children’s, children’s, children will be dead.”

“Are you talking about the sun exploding?”

“If the universe lasts that long, then yes.”

“How could the universe not last as long as the sun?”

“Someone might blow it up, it happens.”

“What possible motivation would someone have to blow up the universe?”

“From what I hear it usually happens by accident.”

“If we are here then how could someone blow up the universe by accident?”

“This isn’t the only universe out there, not even close. More universes have born and died than stars in our sky.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, do you want to see them?”

“You can just show me different universes?”

“Of course not, we’d have to travel to them. I know how in theory, actually doing it is difficult, but with another couple of decades I should be able to manage it without too many problems.”

“Just a couple decades?”

“Going to live forever remember? It might feel like a long time, but in the long run it’s only a couple of decades.”

“You would do that, devote the next couple of decades to finding a way to do it in safety, just to show me other universes.”

“It’s not selfless, I don’t think we would be able to come back. So I would be able to keep you at my side forever.”

“You keep saying forever, do you really understand what it means?”

“Probably not, but it sounds nice, and I don’t think I want to do it alone.”

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Forty Two

“Afterlife?”

“No such thing, everyone only lives once, but I am impressed to took you a week to ask that question.”

“I’ve had things on my mind, so what about a soul?”

“What about it?”

“Does it exist?”

“As someone who spent a year as a ghost, no such thing as a soul. Unless you define the soul as energy in the body, in which case it does exist.”

“You spent a year as a ghost?”

“Yeah, shape sifting fuck up remember.”

“How does messing up shape shifting end with you as a ghost?”

“I messed up really badly.”

“Sorry.”

Nerissa had figured out that while Lisbeth was willing to talk about screwing up, she wasn’t happy about it. From the little she got from Lisbeth’s head it was because she was trying to scare Nerissa, into not trying it. To be fair ending up as a ghost wasn’t nearly as bad as what Nerissa had imagined happened all things considered. But she was willing to concede that trying magic on herself wasn’t the best place to start. Now if only she could just cast a damn spell, or something. Lisbeth had said it took a special trick, but couldn’t really explain what the trick was. When asked how she learned the trick she said it had been implanted in her brain, and that she wasn’t confident enough in her abilities to do the same for Nerissa. Nerissa for her part was growing frustrated with it all. She had some knowledge but no context for it to make any sense. It was like knowing how a car engine worked without knowing what a car engine looked like. Lisbeth seemed to be getting tired of the questions about how to just get started, and would inevitably try to change the subject.

“Why do you always suggest we have sex whenever you want to change the subject?”

“Is that a no?”

“We’re in public, surrounded by people, and you have class soon.”

“I can make sure they won’t see or hear us.”

“I need that trick.”

“It’s simple enough.”

“But seriously answer the question.”

“Up until recently I haven’t considered much difference between dreams and physical. You taught me that was very wrong. So now I have a hot girlfriend and lost time to make up for.”

“You’re eighteen, how much time could you possibly need to make up for? You are eighteen right?”

“Yes, and you do realize I spent a year shagging the twins in my dreams right? I could have tried the real thing, but didn’t.”

“Are you sure you could have? I mean dreams are one thing, but in the real world that would be incest.”

“Charis recently discovered just how awesome incest can be.”

“Seriously?”

“Oh yeah.”

“I’m not sure how I would feel if you had gotten tag teamed when you were, how old were you when you were with them anyways?”

“Fourteen.”

“I have issues with that now.”

“Relax, they’re the same age as me. Probably one of the less creepy relationships I had.”

“Less creepy?”

“There are also the dead priests.”

“Dead?”

“Friend had them killed first chance he got. Still not sure how.”

“I thought you were a priestess.”

“They didn’t know that, I have to take this.”  Lisbeth’s phone had started playing a song. Nerissa wondered who warranted the ringtone of ‘All hail the Queen’. “Hi Bill what can I do for you today? Well I was planing on trying to convince my girlfriend to have mind-blowing sex with me, but that conversation got derailed. So I guess I’m free. Ok I’ll see you in an hour.” Lisbeth hung up, and looked at her phone for a moment before storing it in her pocket. “So I just got invited to a tea party with a serpent, I have to go.”

“Don’t you actually have class today? In like twenty minutes.”

“I suppose I do have time for a quicky before I leave.”

“Do you think about anything other than sex?”

“World domination.”

Nerissa smacked Lisbeth on the ass. “Have fun at you’re tea party, it’s not like I can convince you that classes are important.”

“I really love you.”


“You look very happy Lisbeth.”

“Totally had a quicky before coming over, it’s great you should try it some time.” Lisbeth paused, just for a moment. “Oh wait, I’m sorry you can’t.”

“How could you possibly know about that.”

“Wait for it.”

“Typhon told you didn’t he?”

“To be fair your story is the kind of thing they tell around campfires. I mean some people fall for inanimate objects, like those dolls, but you. You just had to go big didn’t you.”

“What could a child such as you possibly know.”

“Nothing I’m a young idiot, doesn’t mean I can’t make fun of you for your choices.”

“I’m hardly alone in my choices.”

“I’m sure there are literally dozens of you. Actually considering the number of immortals that might be a high number.”

“We’re not here to talk about my choices Lisbeth.”

“No I guess we aren’t Bill. So what do you want me for.”

“I think I’m suppose to kill you.”

“No two ways about it, you’re suppose to kill me, I’ve been expecting an attack all week.”

“Do you know why I haven’t killed you?”

“It would be a pointless action. You’re suppose to kill anyone who divulges certain aspects about the nature of holy magic, I did so. Shooting the messenger is useless it the message is already delivered.”

“Is that why you claimed to be able to survive the telling of secrets? Because killing you would be a pointless gesture?”

“Of course not, I said it because I would survive.”

In that moment she was dead. Her body stripped down to it’s base elements. It didn’t take long at all for her to recover, that far broken down, combined with her expecting the attack, it didn’t take long at all.

“Damn girl, you’re a Law.”

“Bingo.”

“I guess this confirms that you have the backing of a god.”

“Do you think I would be stupid enough to try this shit if I didn’t?”

“Probably not, you know I can still kill you right? I mean it would be difficult, but I can do it.”

“I know, but you fulfilled your duty and killed me. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to see what I do next as opposed to trying again?”

“Will you make it interesting?”

“It’s about to get all sorts of convoluted Bill.”

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Forty One

It hadn’t been that easy of course, Nerissa had more questions. Eventually Lisbeth managed to point out that all of the answers were in the books, that she was giving Nerissa unrestricted access to. This allowed the questions to end and Lisbeth to get down to the fun stuff. Even after the very late night Nerissa got up bright an early, looking far too energetic. She really had been serious about keeping her grades up the night before, and was therefore going to classes, since they were back on apparently. This once again left Lisbeth with little to do, she really should have taken more classes. Shelby, and Krista also had classes, Amy was with her elf of unknown sex. She wasn’t quite willing to resort to magic to find out, that would be cheating, but dream walking had proved inconclusive. Hinrich was also being studious, and was still trying to befriend Charis, it wasn’t working out well. Devon had completely struck out with her her because she only had eyes for Lance. The twins were doing whatever it was when they weren’t with her. All of this meant that she once again found herself alone under a tree reading. She didn’t stay alone for very long however.

“You’re blocking my light Sinclair.”

“Sorry Lisbeth, may I sit.”

“Go for it.” He did

“So Bill filled us in on the fourth attack.”

“Figured he would.”

“Did you know immortals have cites?”

“Yes, the weaker ones tend to gather together in them, just outside our reality.”

“Apparently six angels attacked one of the smaller ones.”

“I know.”

“A lot of immortals died. Hundreds.”

“I know.”

What the hell are we fighting that can kill an immortal, but can still be killed by us?”

“Do you want to know a secret?”

“Will you survive the telling?”

“Yes.”

“Then yes I do.”

“Any mortal can kill an immortal, you just need to know the trick to it.”

“You going to share the trick?”

“No, I’m just saying that it’s a lie that only immortals can kill other immortals.”

“The angels are mortal then?”

“No comment.”

“Damn.”

“Did you know Bill has a lover?”

“What?”

“Never mind, not important right now.”

“What is important right now?”

“Well, there is this spying thing in the news, it was sponsored by the council and most of the worlds governments were involved.”

“Pain in the ass that it got leaked, any idea who did it?”

“I don’t know who, but it was going to happen eventually.”

“I know, still a pain. How much is it going to change things?”

“Not much Sinclair, it’s all going to be business as usual for you. The public is going to be pissed, but it won’t be in your direction.”

“Good for me. What does it have to do with the angels?”

“Why does it have to have anything to do with them?”

“Because you brought it up.”

“I have more going on in my life than angels. The spying is big business for me.”

“I believe that, but I believe that the angels are the most important part. You’re caught in a spiral, and I need to get you out.”

“You keep wanting to save me Sinclair, but you really can’t. Eventually you’re just going to have to accept that.”

“Fuck no.”

“Fine, look one more secret. You don’t need new weapons, mortals already have the right weapons. They just need to be used together and in great number.”

“Guns proved pretty fucking worthless Lisbeth.”

“I’m not talking about guns.”

“What, Templars?”

“There aren’t nearly enough Templars, they haven’t trained together, and they’re all too specialized.”

“No member of the council will ever agree to that.”

“Someone is going to have to convince them, the mortals need more pieces on the field that aren’t pawns.”

“People aren’t chess pieces Lisbeth.”

“I know, I’m sorry, I won’t say that again.”

“The immortals were attacked, will they help?”

“Maybe, but they became immortal for a reason.”

“What does that mean?”

“Immortals survive long enough to be immortals because they are cowards.”

“So they aren’t likely to help us? Even after getting attacked.”

“A lot of them won’t, believe it or not, most of the ones that give a damn are the weaker ones. Who aren’t necessarily good at fighting. Also, they just don’t have the numbers.”

“Bill gives a damn, he’s strong.”

“He is literally the strongest one that gives a damn Sinclair, and it’s not the kind of damn you think it is.”

“So don’t count on him to save our collective asses.”

“Yes.”

“What about the gods?”

“What about them?”

“Will they step in to save us?”

“I’m not counting on it.”

Sinclair thought about that for a little while. At least he appeared to, staring off into space for a while, not talking. Lisbeth went back to her book, letting him digest. These books were enchanted to allow for a basic understanding that was buried in the subconscious after one read, but actually understanding what was said in them was a different matter. It required actual study. Sinclair stood up after twenty minutes or so, and asked a dangerous question.

“The gods can save us, but won’t, the churches can take action to protect us but won’t. Why do we worship them again?”

“Because the gods gave the churches magic, and said they wanted followers or they would take that magic away, and the churches said follow us and we’ll smite your enemies, because they didn’t want their magic taken away.”

“Will it? Be taken away I mean?”

“No Sinclair, it will not. Not if they curse their gods name, not if their god ceases to be.”

“Well fuck.”

“When you report back tell Bill to call me, I really would like that cup of tea.”

Sinclair left recognizing her statement as the dismissal it was. Lisbeth watched him go, he looked tired. His shoulders were slumped and his back bent. It was the back of a man who had the weight of the world on his shoulders. She did feel bad, he really did need to stop worrying about her, not that he could.

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Forty

“Can you shape shift?”

“If I could don’t you think I would have given myself actual breasts?”

“I like your breasts.”

“And I appreciate that, but you have an unrealistic mental image, they are mostly nonexistent. To answer your question more generally, shapeshifting is possible, but very tricky. Without enough experience you can seriously fuck up, like I did.”

“You look adorable.”

“I love you, but this body is after I was put back together by a god. Incidentally, that’s why I can’t shape shift, when a god puts something back together it stays that way. I also don’t age, I’m just lucky I hit a growth spurt before I fucked up.”

“You don’t age?”

“My hair doesn’t grow, so I’m stuck with this haircut, I can use dye, small victories. I also don’t have a period and can’t get pregnant.”

“You don’t get a period?”

“Don’t even think about fucking with your body’s natural cycles. It will end badly.”

“Fine.”

Lisbeth’s serious tone was just mildly undermined by the fact that she was mostly naked. A serious face didn’t go very well when mostly naked. It was just kind of really cute. After the dinner Nerissa had started asking questions about what was and was not possible with magic. Lisbeth had tried to get her to slow down with the questions through the use of after dinner sex, it hadn’t quite worked. They were in bed, in their underwear, and she had gotten Nerissa’s bra off. But it had stopped there, as Nerissa had come up with more questions.

“What about turing lead into gold?”

“Easy, really easy. I could turn hydrogen into gold if I wanted to. Screwing around with fusion is one of the easiest ways to gather energy for large spells. Don’t try it yet though. If you don’t know what you’re doing you can cause large scale explosions. Unless you want to blow stuff up. Also, you won’t need that much power for anything. Also, please don’t screw up the world economy”

“Ok, what about probability manipulation?”

“Technically possible. But not actually feasible. See probability isn’t some mystical force, it’s all about variables interacting with each other. So to mess with probability you would have to screw with universal constants. It is possible, but the amount of power required isn’t feasible, even gods would have trouble with that one. However, from a practical standpoint, it is a lot easier to just manually add a variable or two, only real magic users would notice.”

“So winning the lottery?”

“Just get yourself close enough to the machine that chooses the numbers, but if it’s a computer, they might notice tampering with the code.”

“Really.”

“Yeah, fucking with computers is easy, but it leaves a massive trail.”

“So you can’t just hack good grades, then?”

“Oh, I totally could, getting caught is just likely. Besides, I’m here for fun, it’s not like grades matter to either of us now.”

“Hey, my grades are very important to me.”

“Why, I’m teaching you magic. If you keep it a secret you can do just about anything, if you don’t, people will just give you shit to keep you happy.”

“That’s actually a fair point. But just not needing to do well is no excuse to do badly.”

“A respectable position.”

“So what about time travel?”

“Also easy, let me show you.”

“Really, right now?”

“Yes, hold still and wait a moment.”

Nerissa tried to say something in reply, but Lisbeth held of a finger, and Nerissa lapsed into silence. Lisbeth watched Nerissa’s breasts as she breathed, Nerissa started looking around slightly nervously anticipating something. After about a minute Lisbeth broke the silence.

“Boom, we are not in the future.”

“That doesn’t count.”

“It kind of does, everything is traveling in the same direction through time, so time travel is easy. Choosing the direction however is impossible, you can only ever go forward. So going from now to twenty years in the future is possible, but it is way easier to just put yourself in stasis for twenty years. Also, you won’t be able to come back.”

“So it’s kind of useless.”

“No, there is some fun stuff you can do with time dilation and relativity. It’s not something I know very much about, since none of the books cover it in much detail. It can mostly be used to give yourself more time, but immortals don’t really need that.”

“Ok, fine, no pranking famous historical figures then.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“Can you bring them back?”

“Bring back the dead?”

“Yes.”

“Yes and no, for similar reasons to time travel actually. Yes, you can bring back the dead, but you can’t bring a person back. It’s possible to fix just about anything back to factory perfect. So you can fix the body and start the heart pumping, no problem. But a factory perfect brain doesn’t have any memories, or emotion, or anything really. But if you get to a body before major brain damage, then yes, you can bring them back. Immortality is mostly about keeping the conscious mind in tact, although brains are considered stupidly fragile.”

“What do immortals have instead of brains?”

“Quantum computers distributed throughout the atmosphere.”

“Holy shit. Is that how you work?”

“No, I just have a body that isn’t affected by change. That’s something rather difficult unless you’re a god. It makes it really hard to kill me, even if you’re an experienced immortal.”

“What about when you got attacked?”

“Uh, that’s kind of hard to explain. The change this is kind of iffy in different ways, killing me is hard. But cutting off pieces takes longer to reset, but given enough time I will always reset. The more damage the longer it takes. I’m like a rubber band, little bit of pull and I don’t snap back with much force. So if you scatter my molecules to the ends of a universe I’ll be back in seconds, but but off a limb and it might take a couple of days.”

“That’s, odd.”

“Thank you. I try. Do you have anything else, or can we have sex now? Because I really want to have sex.”

“One more.”

“Fine, one more and I stop using my mouth for words.”

“Can you enchant objects?”

Lisbeth sighed, and looked slightly annoyed.

“No.”

“That seems like a sore spot, why not?”

“Because enchanters are weird, ok. They make very little fucking sense. Look causing permanent changes to things is easy, unless they break the rules. So I can make a knife cut through anything, but as soon as I stop, the knife becomes normal. Reality takes over. Or this pocket, I could make a pocket no problem, but as soon as I stopped making a pocket it would collapse. Also, it would probably explode or something. I could make a permanent pocket but that would require figuring out how to do so without violating the rule of the universe. Enchanters can do that by instinct. That’s why I’m trying to recruit Charis, I can make magical items, she can make them stronger and permanent.”

“That sound like it could be used to make holy relics.”

“It’s exactly how holy relics are made, there is no such thing as a class 10 enchanter.”

“That makes a lot of sense actually, but why- ouch. You bit me.”

“Yeah, no more talking.”

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No Innocent Bystanders

In war many things that would otherwise be against the rules become permissible. However, there are some things that are considered against the rules, even during times of war.


  • Extensive destruction or appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.
  • Willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of a fair and regular trial.
  • Killing or wounding a combatant who has surrendered or is otherwise hors de combat.
  • Launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
  • Using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including by impeding relief supplies.
  • Launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
  • Using prohibited weapons.
  • Using human shields.
  • Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 into armed forces, or using them to participate actively in hostilities.
  • Committing sexual violence, in particular rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and enforced pregnancy.
  • Collective punishments.
  • Attacking or ill-treating a parlementaire or bearer of a flag of truce.
  • Declaring that no quarter will be given.

No quarter shall be given to heretics. No quarter shall be given to those who support heretics. No quarter shall be given to their spouses. No quarter shall be given to their children. No quarter shall be given.


Atreus stopped moving to catch his breath, to have a drink of water and, chew on a piece of hard cheese. It was more than those other had, and he could see it in their faces. They had been on foot for two days now. They had to give up on the trucks after hitting the third land mine on the jungle roads. No one would be able to use those roads for a very long time. Or maybe they would. The fires might set off the land mines rendering the ground safe to walk upon again.

Off to the side, he heard the sound of another land mine going off. The army had known they would flee this way. Instead of leaving troops in their path, they had left the accursed land mines. His magic couldn’t protect himself or his men from the steel hearts of those triggers. Atreus didn’t even have time to check who had died this time, they had to keep moving. To stop for long would be losing ground to the fires. The fires had started three days ago, fueled by incendiary devices and napalm. They hadn’t gone out for those three days and nothing stopped them, not villages, not children. The air was choked with ash and smoke. 

It might to nigh time, but it was still bright enough to see, even with the stars and moon blacked out. It was still at least bright enough to hike through the jungle. The fires didn’t move fast enough that he and his men had to run, but it was relentless. There was no time to sleep, there was no time to eat. The only water left was what they carried, all the streams had turned black with ash long ago. There were no animals left in the jungle, all those who could escape had already done so. Those that couldn’t Atreus had passed as they lay on the ground in exhaustion, waiting to be consumed by the flames.

“LISBETH, YOU ACCURSED PHANTOM COME OUT.”

“No need to shout, or be so rude Atreus. I’m right here.”

And she was, right by his side. Almost as if she had always been there right by his side. The phantom hadn’t changed, still a young girl. She was wearing a white nightgown, almost like she had been about to go to bed. He wondered if she was mocking him. It wouldn’t be surprising for such an infernal being. The most startling thing about her, the thing that made her look so out of place, the thing that marked her as something that shouldn’t exist. Was that she was clean. Not a speck of ash dirtied her nightgown. There were no marks of smoke on her skin. Her teeth were as white as if they had been recently brushed. And her blue eyes sparkled, not a hint of weariness in them.

“You did this,” Not a question, an accusation “stop it.”

“I had nothing to do with this. People simply got tired of your existence, and decided to burn you from the world.”

“You knew.”

“Of course I did, but keep running. You should be able to keep ahead of the flames long enough for my prediction to hold true.”

“What prediction?”

“That you and your revenge would be dead in a week. You have a couple hours left, if you keep moving.”

“Save my men.”

“NO.”

“Why?” Begging, pleading.

“Because I have no interest in them, only in you.”

“Why would I join you, if you refuse to even help my men.”

“Because your men are dead, I’ll supply new ones, better ones. Ones who follow because they choose to, because they can think about more than their next fix. Your men are pathetic, not worth my time. But you are not. Because you want to watch their cites run with blood, because you want revenge. Because your only other choice is to burn, and go to a better place.”

“If I burn I will go to a better place?”

“Yes, you will go to a place with no innocents.”

“BITCH.”

“That’s very rude, you should start moving again. Or you’ll make me wrong.”

Lisbeth apparently decided the conversation over and started walking away from the fires. She didn’t appear to move fast, she chose every step delicately. But she still managed to move quickly. Somehow Atreus knew that by following her he wouldn’t encounter any land mines, so at least the ground would be safe. He also knew that he would be following her till he died. She hadn’t lied to him.

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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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