A pathway large enough for a group of 3 men to comfortably walk shoulder to shoulder through was carved through the ice. The path had to be at least a hundred feet long, and they were surrounded on all sided by the cruel cold one can only feel in the guts of a glacier. The man they had come to find said nothing as they walked through the growing darkness. With no imminent threat the knights took note of the thing’s form for the first time. He had unnaturally pale skin and dark hair. He seemed shorter than he did before he started to lead them here. Like he had been threatening them before. He still stood more than a head taller than any of them. He was well built, significantly broader at the shoulder than at the hip. He wore a ‘sleeve-less’ suit of plate. This was common among casters strong enough to don plate as armoring on the arms got in the way of somatic spell components. What wasn’t common were the arms themselves. There were 6 perfectly developed fingers on each hand, and the arms themselves were covered in cobalt veins that emitted a faint light. The veins pulsed periodically, and glowed brighter in that instant. As they continued walking the strange light from those veins came to be the only thing keeping them from total darkness. The thing seemed uncaring of the fact that they were rapidly losing any ability to see in the growing darkness. Eventually the man stopped, and the knights could only just barely see him cease moving in time to not collide with him.
They could not see what the man did with any clarity, but they could hear him grunt, and hear the sound of iced over metal slowly snapping. The thing’s veins pulsed far faster, and emitted far stronger light when they did. The pulses weren’t all the same strength as they had been when the creature was just walking. Like the thing had multiple organs pumping whatever passed for blood through them. Not all of them the same strength. In the now dusk like light produced in the pathway from the thing, the youngest swore he saw one of its’ arms split down the middle. Simply so the man, no the thing, could get a better grip on the entrance. The metal finally gave way, and then they were beholden to something they would likely never forget.
They stood in the “mage’s” dwelling if that was even a word that still described the power the creature wielded. The Roof was so high, they couldn’t see any hint of it, and the room was so large it had naturally occurring clouds dotting the “sky” above them. The room was so long they couldn’t see to the other side from where they stood. Small things that looked like suns, were caged in complex apparatuses and appeared to light the room. Other than the strange caged stars the room was featureless. The man they had come to find said nothing. He lit a fire with a gesture, and with another 4 chairs took shape around it. The men raced towards the warmth of the fire, quick to shake off the cold of the far north that they had only just left behind. The god-thing that walked like a man was the first to sit, and he motioned for the others to do so as well. They sat as quickly as was within their power to do so.
“I have many questions for you, as I’m sure you do for me. “
The thing’s voice seemed to be out of sync with the movements of its’ mouth.
Almost like they were separate.
“But I’ll start first; Tell me what has become of the monsters?”
This would come as a shock the man’s senses. The oldest sighed and began to tell him.
“I…uh…beg your pardon?”
This was the first time they’d heard the thing stumble for words.
Even when Velthas was still a “mortal” with all the connotations that word carried, he rarely stammered. At least he thought he didn’t…did he?
The oldest repeated himself, relaxed to find the creature in front of him had capacity for failing.
“I’ll try to say it again. The current monster lord is a succubus and she has held the title for longer than any other lord in recorded history. She did….something to the monsters. They now look primarily like universally attractive women, with bits of the monsters of old thrown on top. Instead of killing and eating humans as they did before, they now have an even stronger desire to engage in intercourse with them. Consensual or not, it matters little to them.”
The oldest took a breath, prepared to do more elaborating, when the thing in front of them spoke again. The group of men had yet to see him breathe…
“Why?” was all Velthas could muster.
The oldest continued.
“We’re not too terribly sure. We think it might come from a genuine, if to some maybe a little twisted, place of love. She originally intended the creatures to give birth to female monsters, and male humans, effectively uniting the species. That isn’t the case as of now however.”
The thing continued.
“Hmmm. Back when I still had need for sustenance I remember eating minotaurs. I wondered if it was cannibalism then..” at that the god-thing burst out laughing. It was deep and guttural. Unnatural.
If he had intended it to calm the men who had come for him, it had the exact opposite effect.
Velthas had absolutely no recollection of how long it had been since he had laughed.
Miming wiping tears from his eyes, for there were none the thing continued.
“I didn’t care of course. I guess now it’s just far less ambiguous.”
The group of knights felt the need to change the subject, and quickly at that.
“Sire, you never told us your name. And we’ve never given ours.”
“I’m Velthas. At least that’s what I call myself in the rare instances I need a thing to call myself. I think I had a last name too. I can’t recall it though. Hell I only really remember my given name having a ‘v’ in it.”
The thing they thought a god in front of them couldn’t recall its’ own name?
This didn’t surprise the gathered knights that much, and they replied without skipping a beat.
The knights started their introduction. The oldest first: “I’m Tarkus, of the Order.”
Then came the second oldest: “I’m Gennon, of the Order.”
The youngest came last: “I’m Steve, of the Order.”
The other two looked at him funny. They had never heard his name before.
And at that they fully expected the thing’s laugh to once again haunt them with the sheer capacity for malevolence it implied. But nothing came…
“Now certainly you knights want to know more than my name.”
There was a long silence. Gennon was the first to speak.
“Yes sire.” the knight took a deep breath and started visibly sweating.
“What are you? Who are you? How is it that you became the thing that stands before us? How do you wield such power?”
The combination of questions forced Velthas’ synapses to fire in ways they hadn’t fired in a long time. To dig up memories he no longer knew he had. That no longer had any bearing on what he was. To actually think about himself for the first time in centuries.
For an uncomfortably long time Velthas was entirely silent. Unmoving. Unblinking. And still unbreathing.
“Is…is he oka…?”
“I’ll try to answer as best I can. I believe in some long bygone era I was a knight. Whether it was of the Order I’m uncertain. I remember having an epiphany. Every action I seemed to take in my path as a knight resulted in heartbreak. In the deaths of innocents that I remember effecting me greatly then. Now I feel it again. Not a complete absence of feeling like possessed me so recently, but faintly I feel it anew. I remember having a conclusion on what it meant to be perfectly good. To always achieve the best possible outcome in any undertaking with the potential to cause change. Any change. This was that omnibenevolence also required omnipotence and omniscience. That in order to choose the path with the best possible outcome, one must have the power to carve it out, and the knowledge to know what series of events would lead to that path.”
There was a pause and for the first time they could swear they saw the creature breathe.
“And so I started taking whatever measures I could to grow my power. Knowledge was simply a form of power after all. It would come too. I out-gambitted devils and angels alike, stripping them of their power. Somewhere along the line I realized I could gather power faster simply by experimenting. Finding more uses for what I had. Growing the raw force I could throw around by testing and growing my limits. Like my magic was just another muscle. I don’t know how long the cycle of experimentation continued. In the grand scheme of things my reasoning was quickly forgotten, only just now remembered. The means to an ends that was the power I sook quickly became the means, ends, and everything else. I did most of the experimentation in the void between realms. Whether out of convenience or a genuine desire to spare the people from the force of my magic was a question whose answer quickly became ambiguous. That place was said to strip the sanity of whoever gazed upon it. I actually walked there. In that infinite void. Gliding on pure entropy. It didn’t seem to effect me. Maybe I’d already lost my sanity. Maybe sanity is an illusion. A defense against the natural order that is chaos. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But I still don’t know. The answer to that “Maybe” and many others. No one does…of course that’s not the best part.”
The creature’s eyes glinted like they were holding back tears that they might no longer be able to produce. Then it started to smile. Then it started to laugh. An ungodly laugh that would’ve made the knights fall to their knees with the shivers it forced upon them, had they not been seated. Such was the magnitude of the agony and rage within.
“That void? That endless expanse lacking even the most infantessimal amount of matter, sensation, or light? It is to be the fate of all you see. All anyone can see. And even though I’ve devoted myself solely to furthering my strength there’s not a damned thing I’ll ever be able to do to stop it.”
The creature started to breathe more heavily than it had before. Then its’ breathing slowed. But it kept breathing. Filling and emptying lungs that no longer needed air.
The creature looked more…sullen than it did before. Expression still mostly neutral.
“It must seem funny to you, and whatever true god is watching. Probably the same one that guided my hand today. But I haven’t had to think of, let alone recall a reason for anything I do or have done for a very long time. When you do the same thing in the same way for centuries, almost all conscious thought ceases. You start to act solely on instinct. The why, how, or who of anything you do quickly forgotten. Monomania…..doesn’t even begin to describe it. Monomania still has thought behind it. I had become a machine devoted to the singular purpose of acquiring power for reasons long since forgotten or buried. But now for the first time in centuries I’ve been called upon to think of why I act the way I do. What I am. Who I am.”
As the thing spoke its words became more in sync with the movements of its mouth, until they were indistinguishable from each-other.
It seemed far more human than it had just seconds prior.
“Thank you Gennon. I feel like I just gathered a piece of something I’d lost. However fractional it might be.”
The procession of mamono had almost arrived. The mountains were visible. Beyond visible. They dominated the landscape in front of them. Many felt a change in the mana they had all been feeling for it suddenly developed actual taste to it. Taste that told of great sorrow. Of insidious loss. The kind one doesn’t see as it’s happening. Most sped up at the change. Contessa was no different. She had been in the middle of the pack before, but now she joined the front of the procession.
The three knights were dumbfounded. Gennon was again the first to speak.
“You’re uh…welcome sire”
The thing laughed again. This time the laugh seemed more natural. Like it wasn’t forced or calculated. It didn’t unnerve the men nearly as much as those that had preceded it.
“Alright knights of the Order, surely you have not come here simply to greet me? Surely there is something you wish of me?”
The three men tensed up, and this time Tarkus spoke:
“Yes sire. We want you to….well…kill the monster lord.”
The last bit came out incredibly forced. He practically choked it out. It took enormous brass balls to demand something, anything, of the creature in front of him.
“Hmmmm. Why? The situation you describe to me is certainly an improvement to the cycle that existed when I still walked amongst you. So why?”
At this the men tensed up even more, and began to find the floor incredibly interesting. They had no way of forcing the thing to do anything it didn’t already want to do.
They all heard a rumbling. All the knights looked at the god-thing they half expected to be charging some spell that might destroy even their souls.
When they looked at him he instead simply shrugged his shoulders.
Every bit as clueless as they were.
“It’s probably just the ice sheet shifting around over this place. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. This place is spell-forged. Infused with raw power to have far greater resistance to damage than anything of its’ volume really sh….what’s that smell?”
Of course the knights couldn’t smell it. They could all hear the unambiguously feminine howling that came soon after though. The gathered men were still only a few hundred feet away from the hole Velthas had made in the ice.
“Perhaps we should take a look outside.”
Velthas didn’t know what the howling meant. How could he? He was also rather unlikely to care. The knights did know however and they did care.
Velthas got up from his seat, and motioned for the knights to follow. They did so with no small amount of trepidation.
Contessa had arrived. Along with several of just about every species of mamono imaginable. There were even a few Lillims.
The mountain whose base they stood at was an unnatural thing. Stilted, weight shifted predominantly to one facing. And there was a hole at the base of it. The smell was the strongest there.
Contessa started howling, roaring a challenge to the occupant of the mountain. Soon the other mamono followed. Even those for whom howling was every bit as alien as it was to humans.
Then they could hear footsteps. They all stopped howling at that. All noise ceased but the steps. Three, no Four men. The fourth was far heavier than a man should be. She figured he must partially levitate so as to avoid making his footfalls bely his mass but it wasn’t graceful enough. His steps were uneven. Far heavier at the end of the motion than at the onset.
Then see saw him. They all did.
“So I suppose these are the mamono I’ve been told about.” Velthas stated once he was firmly outside the hole he’d made with the conflagration. The three knights following closely behind.
He stood before a crowd of thousands of creatures physically the superior of just about any man. And seemed only a tiny bit amused.
For a long time there was silence, as the mamono looked at the man in front of them. The differences in the man’s anatomy ran far deeper, and were far more numerous than those of most mamono when compared to a human.
Then his mana pulsed again. Warmer than it had before. This time the sorrow that had dominated the flavor before really only serving to deepen a more dominant sweetness. Like a fine wine. And he spoke.
“My, they really are rather fetching aren’t they?”
The few monsters that had been lost in the man’s strange anatomy, were instantly reminded that the thing in front of them was still a man.
Many of them grew flushed at the statement and the pulse of mana.
A Lilim was the first to step up. She was the oldest among the three Lilim present. She was one who had come to pay tribute. She brought with her a rather large shard of an ancient relic said to grant incredible power. She sauntered on up to the thing, shaking her hips with even more exaggeration than she normally did.
“I like many have come to pay tribute to a new kind of god. One who is of the flesh, and of the same flesh as the men we all love.”
She bowed and held out her cupped hands, the stone resting on them.
She had expected a change in the energy they all felt. Something that indicated arousal. A lust for power and for her. She didn’t get it.
“Oh. Thank you dear. I’m no god though. AND YOU’D DO WELL TO REMEMBER THAT.” The last part had power added to it. Just enough to make his voice resonate softly in her mind.
He reached out with his right hand and the stone flew into it.
He observed it for a few scant moments.
“Great power? This thing is junk. Only serviceable as a bauble really.”
And like that he crushed the stone in his hand. A telekinetic bubble stopping the resultant explosion from doing much of anything, and keeping it contained in his fingers. Eventually the explosion fizzled out. In its defense the explosion held in his hand flashed all manner of pretty colors before quickly dying.
“Well that was certainly like a firework wasn’t it…”
He looked to see the Lilim’s face a scarlet red. Not the way it was before…aro..arousal was it? But a kind of petulant anger a child would display when being admonished.
The mamono which had been silent started to ready whatever weapons they had by nature of their anatomy. Instinctively they knew they couldn’t really hope to actually kill the man, and felt it possible that even if they could death might not hold him. But he would need to be taught respect if not humility before he could become a husband and many of them were all too eager to teach him. The restraint they normally displayed when fighting humans was discarded as it was pointless.The knights behind him drew their swords and deeply inhaled.
The display with the stone left Velthas daily power reserves virtually depleted. This wasn’t actually a fight with odds that favored him. For the first time in his life, even including his days as a normal man, Velthas felt some semblance of fear.