Desirebro's Tale is the story of a campaign where the players were all demigods, motivated to seize power from their fully divine patrons. The story is full of bickering and backstabbing, culminating in a dramatic coup at the conclusion of the plot.
We do not know anything about the homebrew system that it was played on, as Desirebro did not know either. Apparently it was complicated and used lots of spreadsheets, but that could have been the GM bullshitting the players.
Our campaign started with only a bit of flourish. Our Game Master announced himself as the greatest God in a grand pantheon, who dwelt in a time and space that no other god could reach, judging the deeds of all lesser beings. By his hand the universe turned, and by his word all things trembled.
This was actually rather subdued compared to his usual drama.
We would each take the role of demigods, half-gods, barely-gods, or however you wanted to say that we were not true gods. Our greatest power would be our immortality, which allowed us to walk within the realm of the Greater Gods, and also kept us from being truly killed by anything less than the terrible means it took to kill a god.
Our bodies, no stronger than that of ordinary men, could still be destroyed in the mortal realm, but we would simply reform within the Halls of the Immortals.
Our other power depended on which god we would serve. After much discussion, we managed to settle on our characters.
The first one to decide was the demigod Qorg, a servant of the God of War. His choice of power was simply great strength.
Next was Handelhan, a servant of the God of Knowledge. His choice was the ability to read minds, and our Game Master made certain he understood that his power (and all of our powers) could not be used upon divine beings, but only mortals.
After some thinking, Pleth came into being, as a servant of the God of Nature. He could breathe motion into trees, allowing them to move according to either his will or their own.
Finally, I decided to serve the God of Desire, as the barely-god Cym. My ability would be to convince mortals that they can satisfy one of their desires with something else. If they were hungry, for instance, I could tell them that a glass of water would satiate their hunger.
With our characters set, our GM explained that though we served the Gods, we also sought after their positions and power, and it was up to us to decide how to walk this twisted path of subservience and subterfuge.
We four demigods easily saw the benefits of working together, and as Qorg began to carve a stronghold at the top of a mountain with his bare hands, we discussed what method we would take to obtain true godhood. A century passed before Qorg was satisfied with our Citadel, but it took another two before our plan was ready to be set into motion.
Handelhan spent his three centuries gathering lore about the gods, learning what he could about their natures. Ten of the largest chambers within our Citadel became the Library of God Lore, filled with mortal scholars who thought that looking into the nature of divinity would reveal the truth of the world. Those scholars worked quite hard in their contemplations, but I daresay that though they revealed a great number of interesting truths about the Gods, none of them died satisfied.
Pleth was the wandering sort, and didn't actually like the mountain too much. He helped us in many ways, by providing our citadel with living furniture and shelves, and even managed to produce a tree that grew blank books rather than nuts or fruit. But beyond that, he was aloof and distant, only appearing once every decade or so to check on his trees. I think part of him was conflicted, in that he wondered if him becoming the God of Nature was truly what was best for Nature, and there were many times that I wish my power could work upon him.
Qorg spent his time after finishing our stronghold sleeping. He'd occasionally wake up, go down the mountain, fight in whatever war was available, die, and then get resurrected and go back to sleep.
I spent most of my time figuring out the limitations of my ability. The foremost restriction was that I could only shift desires towards reasonable mistakes. I couldn't make someone who is tired desire running instead of sleeping, but I could make someone who really wanted bananas instead think they wanted plantains. I couldn't increase someone's desire, couldn't decrease their desires, and I think, though I'm not sure, but I think every time I used my power, the affected person became a little less happy.
With three centuries of planning behind us, it was time to make our move, to establish ourselves as the new gods of War, Knowledge, Nature, and Desire.
Our first step was an overall decrease in worship. We had to reduce the power of the Gods we served, in order to limit how much they could interfere with our plans. By reducing the amount of followers of these four Gods, we could then proceed to form new sects of worshippers that worshipped particular aspects of the Gods, with those aspects being us.
Reducing Nature worship was easy. With Qorg at the head, we spent 50 years leading armies to destroy tribal cultures. Pleth, in order to not raise any suspicion in the God he served, was absent from this campaign. That was also good for another reason, as we slaughtered many people of various levels of innocence who genuinely loved nature.
It was during our last campaign that we encountered another demigod, one that tried to oppose us. Our army was beset by all manner of animals, and we would have been routed if Qorg had not simply marched singlehandedly into the enemy camp and crushed the enemy demigod by throwing a bison at him. To our good fortune, the demigod survived, albeit with his body in shambles, and after submitting him to some sedatives Handelhan dragged him back to the Library of God Lore.
With most tribal societies a fraction of the size they once were, the worship of Nature had decreased rapidly. Pleth had been commanded by his God to do what he could for the remaining worshippers, and in only a decade there were small shrines dedicated to Pleth himself, though it was through an image of a tree with a large eye at the center of its trunk.
We tried for Desire next. Yet, it wasn't quite so easy. There were few people that outwardly worshipped Desire, as my God was not exactly one of the major players in the grand pantheon. The only shrines dedicated to Desire were small and often hidden, and all were rather sensual in design (which tended to actually detract from genuine worship).
We tried to tackle the issue of decreasing the worship of Desire by funding ascetic orders, but after three decades without a drop of change, we abandoned that idea. Perhaps our plan failed because the worship of Desire was small already, but I think it was more of a case where these ascetic orders just didn’t have a large enough influence, and perhaps that providing them with additional funds we actually managed to reduce their ability to resist desire.
Those three decades were not wasted, however. Pleth had gathered a decent size following, especially after Qorg in a new mantle helped defend their tribes from the remnants of our old army. With a substantial amount of worshippers, Pleth obtained a new power, the ability to speed up the growth of trees from years to mere hours. In combination with the ability to animate them, Pleth could create a small army wherever he wanted one, but he had some misgivings about doing so. He didn’t think it was wise to militarize the forces of nature, and we agreed to not press our luck with forces we weren’t in complete control of.
Handelhan had also been rather busy. With the animal-controlling demi-god’s body under constant sedation and a number of scholars working around the clock experimenting on it, he had made major breakthroughs in being able to transfer divine essence from one person to another. Though nothing truly useful just yet, but Handelhan promised us results by the end of the century.
We put Desire on the backburner, and decided it would be a good time to focus on reducing the God of Knowledge’s power. Handelhan went about this in a fairly straightforward manner, by going to each of the great schools and examining all of the teachers’ minds, seeking out the most intelligent people. With my aid, we managed to convince them that they didn’t actually want to teach anyone, but instead to continue their research elsewhere. We established an academy of all the brightest minds, and with both Handelhan and I working tirelessly, slowly pushed them towards researching things that would help our goals.
The teachers who refused to join us, even after I tried to persuade them and Handelhan tried to use his knowledge of their innermost secrets to blackmail them, were simply removed. After forty years, the decrease in education and general knowledge was rather tangible, and Handelhan was summoned to a grand meeting of the God of Knowledge and all of the demigods that served him.
Handelhan was spared any blame thanks to him having helped found one of the last bastions of knowledge, even though our academy was more of an intellectual prison than anything else. Without enough information for him to act, the God of Wisdom ended the meeting without deciding upon anything. The meeting did however prove rather useful to us, as Handelhan uncovered an opponent in the form of a demigod named Maleon.
Maleon was correct in thinking Handelhan was actually working against the God of Wisdom, but Handelhan was surprisingly adept at playing the fool. By the end of the meeting, Maleon’s accusations had accomplished nothing but incite Handehan to mark him down as the second demigod to be added to his collection.
The capture of Maleon went almost too smoothly. Though Maleon has immune to our powers due to his divinity, he had chosen to live a life amongst mortals, and had even chosen a mortal wife. Handelhan managed to approach her and read through her memories, discovering each of Maleon’s weaknesses. Handelhan also asked for me to try and direct her affections away from Maleon and towards himself, but I told him that I failed, as I would rather that he think I was weak rather than uncooperative.
In the end, a demigod whose only power was to read books at an accelerated rate proved to be a rather easy capture. With the aid of the knowledge taken from his wife, Qorg managed to sneak into Maleon’s keep and subdue him without much trouble. Once Maleon was sedated and brought back to our Citadel, Handelhan began to experiment.
While Handelhan was busy in our ever-deepening dungeons, and Pleth was gathering followers beneath the banner of the One-eyed tree, Qorg and I rode out to sow some general chaos. Qorg needed to spread the fires of war in order to appease the God he served, while I had to figure out how to do something constructive with my time. In the end, I just ended up convincing generals who wanted peace that the only way they could obtain it was by preemptively attacking all potential threats around them. Somehow, this satirical irony didn’t particularly excite me in any way.
While traveling with Qorg, I found out that he didn’t particularly trust Handelhan. If Handelhan did manage to figure out a way to transfer divinity, Qorg feared that Handelhan might one day try and take away our powers. I found this to be a rather amusing idea, but I told Qorg not to worry, since if Handelhan tried to betray us, at the very least we could warn the Greater Gods to ruin whatever plan he had. This did not seem to comfort Qorg, but cutting his way through an enemy army did seem to calm his nerves somewhat.
At the end of the century, Handelhan made good on his promise, and showed us the dried up form of Maleon. The youthful appearance of a demigod had been taken from him, and ultimately he never awoke from the sleep Handelhan had placed him under, dying some years later while under the care of his wife. But, none of us spared a thought for our enemy, since Handelhan continued his demonstration by rapidly reading a novel in the span of a minute. Both Qorg and I were rather impressed, and we immediately decided that capturing other demigods would be our current task for the next few centuries.
When Pleth returned from his wanderings, we convinced him to absorb the divine essence of the animal-controlling demigod we had captured so long ago. With those powers added to his own, Pleth was truly a formidable force, and the cult dedicated to him flourished under his protection. Upon hearing that our first priority was capturing other demigods, Pleth agreed with Qorg that we should try and capture a servant of the God of War.
Qorg already had a target in mind. He was a rival demigod named Brask whom Qorg had met many times on the battlefield, with each of their encounters ending with one of their temporary deaths. Qorg suggested him because he’d be easy to locate, since Qorg knew what areas he typically gravitated towards, and also because Qorg had a good chance of defeating him alone, and a very good chance of defeating him with Pleth’s aid.
We found Brask leading a rather sizable but rough-looking army, and I spent a year following their band. It would have been a tough year, but my power made it rather easy for me to live amongst the soldiers, since I could direct any ire towards me towards any of the other camp followers. My presence alone seemed to sap a great amount of the morale from the army, with everyone in a constant sour mood because I kept misdirecting their anger towards each other. By the end of the year, the army had been reduced to a third of its original size thanks to casualties and deserters, and Qorg couldn’t wait any longer.
The army that Qorg had assembled within the year was quite impressive, somewhere near twice the size of Brask’s. Brask, not being a fool, fled from Qorg’s army and holed up his main force inside a castle. After Qorg had finished slaughtering the out-lying forces, he was stuck staring at a fully-stocked and fully-garrisoned castle.
I had changed roles by then, from a camp follower to a castle attendant, and while I spent my days doing menial chores I didn’t bother to do anything overly clever. Brask was very unlike Qorg, extremely intelligent to the point where if I acted too boldly within the confines of the castle, he might be able to trace any chaos I caused back to me. So, I had to be content with simply using my power to sow misery everywhere, primarily by convincing people that the best way to ease their fears was to eat and pretend like everything was fine.
Brask, who’s divine gift was complete mastery over any weapon he held, spent a large portion of his time instructing his elite soldiers. Watching Brask, and imagining Qorg with his skills, made me wonder if we’d be able to conquer the entire world after we captured him.
The rest of Brask’s time was spent defending against Qorg, who was simply an utter asshole. Being on the inside of the siege, I realized that Qorg was the worst kind of opponent you could ask for. Every few days, he would sit himself into a catapult, launch himself over the walls, slaughter as many soldiers as he could before either he got tired or Brask himself entered the fray, and then Qorg would just run back and dive into the moat, just to return to his camp and give his fresh wounds a chance to mend.
By the fifth time Qorg had done this, I realized that he was really just playing around, trying to extend this last battle against his rival as long as possible. I often wondered why Pleth didn’t simply overrun the castle with animals and trees, but not so much as I wondered what Handelhan was doing during all this.
With his food stores having been depleted far quicker than he had anticipated, Brask was faced with a hard decision at the end of the third month. Assembling his last remaining soldiers, Brask decided to make an attempt to break the line surround the castle, even if it meant leaving the other castle inhabitants, myself included, to fend for ourselves. Though the men would likely all be killed and the women raped and worse, it was hard for ourselves to hate the man as Brask delivered a rather moving speech explaining his reasons, and how hard it had been to reach his decision.
As Brask and his soldiers rode off, I helped the remaining men gather the women together and for everyone to cram themselves into the innermost keep. There was an incredible amount of weeping, from the men and women alike, and I could practically feel how strong their desire to live was. I knew that the best I could do for them was to get to Qorg as soon as possible and stop his army from sacking the castle, but that all depended on whether Qorg survived his encounter with Brask.
Qorg had allowed his men to spread the line too thin, and Brask easily broke it. He and his men would have likely managed to escape if Pleth did not command their horses to return. It was somewhat pitiful, with Brask’s men screaming at their own mounts, which refused to listen to them no matter how hard they kicked at their sides. With the horses gouged and bloodied by the time they rode right back into the center of Qorg’s army, the soldiers upon them urged their commander to surrender. Brask, in a sign of complete surrender, threw down his lance and sword, all that separated him from a normal man.
Qorg was in a good mood, and offered Brask the right to duel for the lives of his men. Brask agreed to a duel at sunrise, which allowed me enough time to sneak into Qorg’s camp. We had quite a feast that night, celebrating our victory and our reunion. Pleth refused to celebrate, since he claimed we hadn’t won quite just yet, but Qorg feasted and drank until morning.
The duel didn’t start with any real ceremony. A ring of men surrounded Brask and Qorg, and they simply rushed at each other. Qorg showed no sign of weariness from having spent the night partying, and attacked Brask with a large club fashioned out of iron. Despite Qorg’s ferocity, Brask could keep up with the incredible speed of the club, dodging each blow and landing several of his own with his sword.
When Qorg finally landed a hit, a gruesome blow that crushed Brask’s left pauldron, shattered his shoulder, crippled his arm, and drove him an inch into the hard ground, it was too late. Brask endured the attack, and then stabbed Qorg several times, felling him.
It was an unwanted outcome, but not unexpected. As Qorg lay dying, shouting obscenities, we watched as Brask and his men climbed onto their horses and rode off, with none of Qorg’s men bothering to give chase.
Pleth waited until Brask was riding close to a ravine before he had the man’s horse buck him off, a somewhat cruel end for a man who had endured so much. The rest of Brask’s riders tried to stop their horses, but they continued right past their leader. While some men did jump off their horses, they did not manage to reach Brask before the mountain lions did, and the beasts dragged him all the way back to Pleth.
The crippled man was all but dead, and we tried far harder to save his life then we had to save Qorg’s. Thankfully, Handelhan showed up, and managed to get Brask into a state of a sustainable coma. He also explained how much he had learned thanks to his speed-reading ability, and how he had become able to combine his two abilities, reading people’s minds all the way to their deepest aspects in only a few seconds. Having spent a good amount of time scanning the minds of the brightest people within his academy, by his reckoning, he had become the smartest person in the world.
While Handelhan took Brask’s battered body back to our citadel, Pleth and I tried to restore some sense of order to Qord’s army. Without Qord’s leadership, the army was reduced to just an enormous gang of bandits, and to my dismay they not only sacked the castle but began to terrorize the countryside.
Pleth ended up eventually managing to corral them with his powers, and even managed to make a good majority of them convert to the worship of the One-eyed tree, but that did little to alleviate the bitter feelings within me. I had spent far too long among the mortals, I knew, and it was difficult to forget the faces of the men and women weeping as they huddled in the bottom of the keep, their fates utterly outside of their control.
When Qorg, resurrected and angry, returned, he only stayed for a few days in the citadel before he rode off to fight in some war. It was several months before he returned, and Handelhan was forced to deliver him some unfortunate news.
Brask had died a few days before Qorg’s return. Though Handelhan had done everything he could to save his life, in the end he had been forced to extract Brask’s divinity in order to prevent him from being resurrected. Not wanting to waste what we had worked so hard to obtain, Handelhan himself had taken Brask’s divinity.
This story was plausible enough, but the shift in power had become rather dramatic. Qorg had been counting on Brask’s skill to bolster his own might, but now he was forced to contend with Handelhan possibly having the upper-hand in a straight fight. Qorg did not voice any of his anger, but I doubt Handelhan would have needed to read his mind to know what he was thinking.
His only solace came in the form of Pleth, who we could count on being stronger than Handelhan and keeping him in check. But, with Pleth quite busy managing his cult and generally wandering, Qorg felt far too vulnerable within our stronghold. Without wasting any time, he began planning our next capture, a woman he had heard about in rumors known as the Queen of the Archers, who was most definitely a demigod if the tales surrounding her were true.
I followed after Qorg, and we journeyed far south. Here, the gods we served had different names than the one’s we were accustomed to, but the God of War was still the God of War. We chased after rumors of the Queen of Archers, and I learned the useful trick of shifting a person’s desire to not be killed by Qorg into the desire to tell him everything they knew. It was still many months before we found her, dwelling among a large band of warrior-priests.
Ceret was indeed a demigod, and she had the dreadful ability to never miss with her bow. After observing her devastate a group of bandits while standing on a distant mountain, Qorg decided it would be best to try and befriend the woman. I was somewhat surprised, since Qorg was the last person I had ever thought would try to avoid a battle, but as we melded into the group of warrior-priests, I realized these people were just the kind that Qorg liked best.
After meeting with Ceret, I found her to be rather amiable, and Qorg was practically smitten with her. She was bold and beautiful (like most divine beings were), and could fire four arrows from her bow and strike the heart of a man coming from each of the four directions. Utterly devoted to the God of War, I often wondered what she would think if she knew Qorg was trying to unseat him.
We spent several years simply following along with her band, with Qorg suppressing his strength to mortal levels (but still leagues stronger than me). It was an odd time, because I don’t think we actually had any sort of plan, and Qorg was simply doing whatever he wanted. A part of me thought that he was still nursing the wound of losing to his rival in their final encounter, and I was more than willing to give him some time to settle into himself.
We encountered some trouble in the form of a demigod who served the God of Nature, who had mastery over fire and flames. His priests and the followers of Ceret clashed, resulting in a disastrous battle. Ceret’s arrows turned to ash as they neared him, and Qorg was stubbornly trying to hide his divinity. In the end, I rode forth, my pride far exceeding my ability, and was charred to a crisp.
Awakening in the Halls of the Immortals, I realized it had been many centuries since I had returned there. I felt compelled to wander the pristine halls, and only once I had reached the Gardens of Desire that I realized why the urge to wander had overcome me.
The God of Desire did not want to approach me, he wanted me to approach him. Though he was a comparatively weak deity when placed among the greater gods, the difference between us was greater than that between a king and a rat that dwelt within the sewers. My God wanted to know how I had promoted desire throughout the land, and I could only answer that I had prevented people from reaching true satisfaction.
I was offered a few bits of advice, mostly that denying people satisfaction for too long would simply kill their desire, but also that providing satisfaction would prevent their desires from growing too strong. Too strong desires, he warned, led to people’s ruin far more than anything else. I thanked my god, then was left to wonder just how much the God of Desire knew about my own desires.
When I returned to the mortal world, I decided it was best to leave Qorg to himself and to spend some time with Handelhan. Mostly, it was because I really couldn’t just return from the dead without blowing Qorg’s whole attempt at poorly pretending to be a mortal, but also because Handelhan had been spending much too much time by himself.
He asked me to help twist the desires of several people within his library and academy, and also allowed me to observe some of his experiments. Some of these were performed on himself, as he was trying to find a way to remove only a portion of a person’s divinity rather than all of it, partially so that he could potentially transfer Brask’s weapon skills to Qorg.
A more pressing goal for him was his attempts at increasing the longevity of mortals. While working amongst the researchers, I found out that Handelhan had actually managed to get himself a mortal wife a decade ago. When I asked Handelhan about this, he said that I should understand how powerful desires can be, and he had fallen in love with a researcher after reading her mind and becoming hopelessly enamored with it.
The fact that she was quite beautiful might have also played a part.
Though she was still rather young, it would be only a few decades before her lifespan was over, and Handelhan would not permit something like that to happen.
With no captured demigods left, Handelhan was quite willing to give a portion of his divinity to his wife, but the hurdles he was facing were quite high. He had to not only successfully split his divinity, but to successfully transfer it to a mortal, something we weren’t even certain was possible. In theory, there was a chance it would work, but there were so many complications that could occur that I was very reluctant to try before we were certain of what we were doing.
But, Handelhan was working on quite a strict clock, with his wife not becoming any younger. After assisting him in his experiments, he asked me to help either Pleth or Qorg capture a demigod as soon as possible, in order to try and transfer their power to his wife. As I left to join up with Pleth, he mentioned casually that he’d prefer it if the demigod was a servant of Desire.
Pleth and the cult of the One-eyed Tree were constructing a rather grand temple when I met up with him. After telling him about Handelhan’s wife, which Pleth referred to as Handelhan’s folly, I tried my best to persuade him to help Handelhan in his endeavor. Though Pleth argued that a mortal’s death was as natural as their life, and that granting one divinity would go against nature, I bullied him by saying that we all owed Handelhan for his many years of hard work.
After adorning ourselves in the garments of pilgrims, we left the construction of the temple in the hands of a young but brilliant architect, who promised to finish it within thirty years. With swarms of bloodthirsty birds and beasts surrounding the temple as its guardians, we journeyed off to meet with Qorg.
We listened to rumors along the way, with an ear out for anything that might lead us to a demigod of desire. After hearing our fill of bawdy tales, I concluded that unless every second brothel really did contain a demigod, we needed to change our line of questioning.
Qorg was in a much better state than when I last left him. Though he had not managed to kill the fire-controlling demigod, my suicide rush had provided Ceret’s followers a moment of reprieve from the flames, allowing them to escape. It had also provided Qorg and Ceret something to mourn together, though Qorg apologized for shedding crocodile tears in my name. Either way, he had grown quite close to Ceret, though she likely was starting to suspect his divinity.
After reintroducing myself to Ceret as my old self’s younger brother, she had enough tact to go along with it. Pleth immediately confessed his love for her, which lead Qorg to shatter the clay jug he was drinking from, but Ceret promptly recognized the joke for what it was.
Qorg listened intently when I told him of Handelhan’s plight, and he too began to call it Handelhan’s folly. He said it would upset all our plans, and might even end up resulting in some terrible catastrophe. Even so, he agreed to help, and parted ways with Ceret’s company.
To our surprise, it wasn’t long before Handelhan himself joined up with us, and the four of us couldn’t help but celebrate our reunion loudly within the nearest town. As we recovered the next day, Handelhan explained his plan to us, which I didn’t like from the very start but withheld my comments until he had finished.
In order to capture a demigod of Desire, he wanted me to spur desire within the land, forcing it into the minds and lives of everyone. He wanted the worship of Desire to grow until it wild and in the open, and when demigods of desire would emerge proudly. He also wanted it done quickly.
I was about to ask how exactly he proposed for me to do this, but he already had an answer prepared. My task, he explained, would be to convince people that they could satisfy their yearning for love with sex.
I wasn’t quite sure whether I wanted to argue with Handelhan. He was quite certain his plan would work, but also explained that there naturally needed to be some opposition. He wanted me to spare the followers of the One-eyed Tree, and they would serve as a gathering ground for the dissenters. With Pleth guiding his followers, and Qorg protecting me as I rode throughout the villages and towns, Handelhan would lay down a network to gather information about the progress of desire and any potential demigods.
It was an odd plan, but both Pleth and Qorg were curious to see what would happen. With a decade as our time limit, they felt it was worth spending that short period of time indulging in Handelhan’s plan, and if it failed, Handelhan could only blame himself.
So, I began my ride throughout the first town, clad in a cloak of red. Pleth assured me that there were none of his followers within that town, so I used my power on anyone I came near. There were no immediate effects, and when I rode out that night, I left the town without seeing any of my power at work.
In the next town, clad in a cloak of green, I began my work again. It was odd work, because I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. It was simple enough, as it was easy to convince people that sex was the proof of love, and to obtain sex was the same as obtaining love, but what any of that would do to further Handelhan’s plan was anyone’s guess.
In the sixth town, while wearing a cloak of blue, I began to hear rumors. Likely, it was because I was listening for these kind of rumors, but the housewives who stood at the street corners seemed to have plenty to gossip about.
I rode throughout the country, Qorg and chaos following in my wake, and by the end of the first year Handelhan said that he had some encouraging information to offer. In the part of the country I had ridden through first, child births had skyrocketed and brothels had made enormous profits, a clear sign that people were having more sex. When I asked what it all meant, he simply said to continue what I was doing, as the results would not truly blossom until somewhere around the fifth year.
And so, I rode, never spending more than a few days in each town I visited. I used my power on beggars, soldiers, bakers, knights, lords, merchants, milkmaids, poets and scholars, on anyone unfortunate enough to come near me. By the end of the fifth year, I did not need Handelhan to tell me what was happening.
I had underestimated people’s desire for love. For some people, more than food, more than water, more than air, those people desired love. Seeking out sex when they desperately wanted love was proving to be quite a terror. The lucky ones managed to find some love amidst their sex, but among this number were the most unfortunate ones, who found love with their partners but their partners did not find it with them. Most simply reveled in their desire for flesh, never managing to fill the gap that was their true desire.
The people who never wanted love in the first place became one-eyed kings, thoroughly satisfied while leading all the rest to follow in their footsteps. In no time at all, the endless desire for sex (which was truly just the insatiable hunger for love) had consumed the culture, and the worshippers of Desire found many new converts.
In the seventh year, Qorg and I were attacked by bandits. This was not something that had not occurred before, but usually a small show of strength from Qorg was enough to send bandits running. These bandits, however, attacked with reckless fervor, ignoring Qorg and heading straight for me.
It was only then that I realized what Qorg’s motive for suppressing his strength while with Ceret’s followers had been. During those years, he had learned how to fight without relying on brute force, and his skill shone that day. The bandits were torn apart with little input from me, but they continued to recklessly charge, trying to get past Qorg. As a crossbow bolt struck me in the thigh, I recognized that it was our turn to flee from a battle, but it was too late by then. As I was peppered by bolts, I took a moment to recognize the strangeness of it all.
In the hallowed Halls of the Immortals, I suddenly had the urge to rush over to the Garden of Desire, and realized what a less-than-subtle summons of the God of Desire looked like. I didn’t bother to see if I could even attempt resisting that urge, but had at least enough pride to trudge my way over there rather than skip.
As I got nearer to the garden, however, my fear lead me to skipping, and I was acting practically giddy when I arrived in front of my God. To my surprise, after apologizing for the rather rude summoning, he wanted to praise me for my efforts. When he had realized what exactly was happening among the people, he knew that I must be the one that was misdirecting people to seek sex when they wanted love. In no time at all, his worshippers had nearly doubled, and he wanted to reward my cleverness with any boon I desired.
Now, I’m not particularly clever, but I could see a test when I was presented one. When a God of Desire asks what you want, that’s like the God of War asking how much do you like war. He was trying to gauge the essence of my desire, which unluckily for me was quite incriminating. If I told him my true desire, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t simply hand over all of his power. If I asked for too little, that would be almost just as bad and he would definitely suspect some deeper desire.
As I considered my options, I remembered the whole original purpose behind me going around and making a mess of people’s lives. Thinking about it carefully, I decided the best way of going about it would be to say that I would like an underling, a subordinate demigod. I had a mortal in mind that I thought would be a wonderful candidate for becoming a servant of the God of Desire, and asked him to bestow upon her some of his divinity and to allow me to guide her in his worship.
My God was quite pleased with this request, since he seemed to think that my wish reflected a desire to expand his power, and decided he would grant it if he thought my candidate was suitable. Thankfully, he only needed a quick glance to deem her appropriate, and granted her the ability to make people dream about what they desired most. As a final touch, he gave her the new name Cymdra, to reflect that she was my apprentice.
Now, Cymdra had not even known that Handelhan was a demigod, or that the gods even truly existed, which made all this quite a shock. I did not know how much I could tell her, how much Handelhan had kept hidden from her, and whether or not my spur of the moment idea really had been a good one. So, I made her a cup of tea, sat her down, and discussed how pleasant the weather had been recently.
When Handelhan heard what I had done, he was livid. Making his wife my subordinate was not part of his plans, and having her become a servant of our ultimate enemies definitely wasn’t. As both Cymdra and I tried to calm him down, I made the nearly fatal mistake of calling her by her new name. Had Pleth and Qorg not decided to make a rather timely appearance, I might have found myself counting the stones in the deepest cell within our citadel.
After the four of us managed to calm Handelhan down, I asked Cymdra to leave so we could discuss the next stage of our plans. Both Pleth and Qorg agreed that things had turned out for the best, as Handelhan’s ultimate goal of making his wife immortal had been accomplished, and we could stop with the plan that would likely have far-reaching repercussions.
Later, Qorg told me that I had accomplished a rather brilliant move, in that I now had the thing Handelhan cared most about under my power. Considering that meant that I had earned the ire of an immortal hyper-intelligent weapon master who had the capability to rob god’s of their divine essence, I didn’t really consider that move quite so brilliant.
Though Handelhan’s goal had been accomplished prematurely, his plan was still rolling down its hill. By the eighth year, his intelligence network had already seen the rise of a powerful demigod of desire, who gathered worshipers under the name of the Midnight Mistress. Not wanting to waste what his plan had wrought, Handelhan decided it would be best if we captured this Mistress and absorbed her power.
With no reason to argue, the four of us headed out, leaving Cymdra behind to tend the citadel. I had argued with Handelhan about telling her about everything, including our ultimate goal and the methods we were taking to reach it, but as he was her husband and I only her teacher, his was the decision that was abided.
Reaching the town where the Midnight Mistress was rumored to dwell, I realized that though I might have set a spark, it was definitely other demigods that had fueled the flames. Draped in black, the town was a carnival of debauchery and desire, a giant temple to the darker aspects of my god. All that was sacred was all that was not, and flashes of carnal rituals came to us from behind jet black veils and curtains which swung in the breeze. Pleth, who had spent years counseling his followers into respecting the division between love and sex, was actually somewhat repulsed by the sights.
Judging by their ferocity, it was definitely no ordinary power that drove these worshipers, and I grew to suspect the massive braziers that choked the town with the smell of incense. Being demigods, we were immune to any enchanting power they might have, but the strong scent almost had a power of its own.
We were often stopped on our way to meet the Mistress, but neither Handelhan nor Qorg had any reason to delay the meeting. Cutting down anyone that stood in our way, Handelhan would only slow down long enough to read a person’s mind to find out where their Mistress was before completing his stroke. Perhaps it was the smoke fogging up my mind, but I didn’t bother to recommend a more subtle approach.
We found her attempting to escape on a horse, but Pleth saw a quick end to that plan. Once she was thrown to the ground, she began to question us, trying to discover why we were after her. When she received no response, she removed her black gown and tried to strike a deal with us. In hindsight, one of us should have said something, anything, just so we could have gotten a bit closer and managed to knock her out.
But, we remained silent, and she decided to do something we had completely forgotten was in her capacity to do.
She leapt backwards upon the massive brazier behind her, and her oiled hair and body were immediately engulfed in flames. We all rushed forward, trying to extinguish the fire, but even as Qorg dug his hands into the ground and began to rapidly toss dirt over her, it was too late.
She had returned to the Halls of the Immortals, where the God of Desire was waiting for her.
No one knew what to do, or what was going to happen. She had clearly seen all four of us, and likely could guess that we were demigods since we had not been affected by her incense. She had no way of knowing which gods we served, though she would likely think that we served the God of War considering how two of us were coated in blood.
If I were her, I would rush to the God of Desire, tell him that something was up, and try and launch some sort of investigation. I had no idea of how long it took to wake up after you got killed, especially since time was not a strict idea within the Halls of the Immortals, but it was definitely our first priority to get out of town as soon as possible.
Handelhan thought differently. He drew his sword, and before I had a chance to protest, lopped off my head.
The Halls of the Immortals is a beautiful place, but it’s a place you can get tired of seeing. After waking up, I couldn’t help but feel angry. He had obviously sent me as some sort of damage control, but what I was supposed to say to my God was an utter-bloody-mystery. I really doubt he would be convinced by any “it wasn’t what it looked like” story, . At that point, my brain only had one idea in mind, and that was to figure out what the Mistress was telling my God.
When I reached the Garden of Desires, I tried to mingle amongst the foliage, creeping my way towards where the God of Desires held his audiences. He was not reclining as he usually was upon his massive divan, but sitting up alertly as the Midnight Mistress concluded her story.
He was not pleased. From what I could tell, he had recognized my description (why had I not worn a mask?), though he did not know those of my co-conspirators. Their identities was a small matter though, since the other Greater Gods would recognize their servants, but the God of Desire was not certain it was worth troubling them about this.
There were several possible reasons why the Midnight Mistress could have been attacked, he reasoned aloud, and in my great favor he began to provide me with several perfectly plausible cover stories. It wasn’t even certain that I had been intending to kill her, especially since as a demigod I knew she would not truly die.
But, the Mistress was a servant of Desire, and she recognized our bloodlust for what it was. She practically screamed as she condemned us, saying our eyes had not lied, and that we sought her true death. The God of Desire stared at her incredulously, since the thought of mere demigods possessing the power to kill divine beings was almost laughable, but he told her not to worry. If I did possess such a power, he would determine it the next time we met, by using one of his divine gifts to peer into my desires and see all of my plans and goals.
My hopes of returning to the status quo died at that moment, since I doubted anything I could do would bypass my God’s ability. The next time we met, our intentions would be known, and if I postponed the meeting, it would mean the same. As I said goodbye to our days of subterfuge, I saw a brief chance.
If I wholeheartedly repented at that moment, ended my desire for power and replaced it with the desire to serve my God, I could spare myself at the cost of condemning my fellow conspirators. But, the notion that I could simply snuff out a desire I had harbored for centuries solely at my own convenience passed as soon as it came, and I knew that my next step would have to be simply escaping the Halls of the Immortals.
But, as I waited for my opportunity to leave, I felt a compulsion unlike any I had ever felt. It was a command I had known before, one that urged me to come to the Gardens of Desire, but at a magnitude that left my heart with no other desire. My god wanted me within his gardens, and the only thing that saved me was that I was already there.
The God of Desire continued to pressure me, while casually telling the Midnight Mistress that he had summoned me and that I would even commit suicide to reach him. His servants would rush to him as soon as I arrived in the Halls of the Immortals, heralding my approach. They would then only have to wait until I arrived, and then all would be revealed.
They waited, and I realized something a bit amusing. My god had replaced all desire within me with a singular purpose, one that was already fulfilled. I was basking in ultimate contentment during a moment where I should have been fearing for my very existence, satisfied beyond all my wants. If I was to ever come close to enlightenment, it was definitely in this moment, satisfied while in the Garden of Desire.
While I sat meditatively deep among the fronds of the ferns, the God of Desire proved to have no love of patience. He commanded and demanded me to arrive at the Gardens of Desire with even more fervor, but in a realm where the meaning of time ebbed and flowed, my continued absence made it quite clear that I would not be coming.
I had often questioned the nature of the divinity of my God. I knew he was incredibly powerful, but I did not know how much of the “human” nature was within him. I had never seen him show any emotions beyond pleasure, disdain, and anger, the emotions you would expect from a god, but that day I saw a new emotion.
He was afraid.
He had poured all of his power into bringing me to him, and I had managed to resist. Even though this was completely untrue, in his eyes I was a being which had powers he did not understand, and the thought that I could resist the desires of the God of Desires troubled him greatly.
Without a word to the stunned Mistress, who could not comprehend the expression on her Lord’s face, the God of Desires left his garden, in order to council with the other Greater Gods.
Recognizing as good a chance as any, I left the Garden and traveled through the Halls, allowing them to lead me to where I wanted to go. As I appeared in the Citadel carved into the top of our mountain, it was only moments before I was surrounded by my three co-conspirators.
They each bombarded me with questions, but the feeling of complete satisfaction had not left me yet. I ignored their individual questions, and simply began to recount what had happened to me after I had died. When I had finished, I realized something that I should have been angry about, but I was too content to care at the moment.
I asked why Handelhan had killed me, and what he thought it would have accomplished. He took his time answering, and told me that being in the Halls of the Immortals often offered a demigod opportunities when he had none elsewhere. The other reason, he said with some hesitation, was that if I was sent alone up there, I might have been the only one punished. I listened to both of these reasons, and simply smiled, too satisfied to become angry. As they convened to discuss what needed to be done, I strode off to have a chat with Cymdra.
When Handelhan found us an hour later, and realized I had told her everything, he would have sent me right back to the Halls of the Immortals if Qorg had not managed to grab him from behind. I was still far too satisfied to take his look of hatred earnestly, and I wasn’t even able to truly see Cymdra’s look of horror as she tried to comprehend what her husband had done over the last few centuries. It wasn’t until Qorg released Handelhan and walloped me in the head that my false sense of enlightenment passed.
We had very little time, they explained. I had been lucky once, but the next time the God of Desire wanted me in the Halls, I’d have no chance of resisting. As I was now, I was a just a massive liability, waiting to be summoned and to have all my guts spilled out before my God, in more ways than one.
Pleth, Qorg, and Handelhan, not being servants of Desire, were not in quite so immediate danger, though now Cymdra, thanks to me, was in almost the same situation I was.
Handelhan began to explain his plan. Pleth had done quite well in the recent years, and was likely one of the strongest demigods of Nature. Though it was still too early to challenge the God of Nature directly, he would be able to stand on his own and continue to gather followers, even if his sect was considered heretical by other Nature worshippers. With armies of trees and animals at his command, he would be able to endure, perhaps even flourish.
Qorg and Handelhan had no cult of their own, but the academy was ripe to harvest some scholars to worship a new God of Knowledge. Qorg would protect Handelhan’s followers, who would continue Handelhan’s research.
I, being a calamity waiting to happen, was to be put to sleep. While dreaming, I would be unable to respond to my God’s summons, and when Handelhan managed to produce some countermeasures against my God’s urges, I would be awakened. Cymdra, cursed with the knowledge and the divinity I had given her, would also have to be put to sleep.
They sealed me within the deepest chamber of our citadel, so far down that the stones of the walls were nearly hot to the touch. I was given a vial that Handelhan told me would make me sleep until I was awakened by a similar draught, and told that even if no countermeasure had been found yet, I’d be awoken in one century’s time and told of their progress.
Cymdra would travel with Handelhan, enclosed within an iron ark. I apologized to her, saying I never intended for her to go through anything like this, but she calmly thanked me for telling her the truth. As I laid myself down on an uncomfortably warm stone slab, she promised me pleasant dreams.
When I awoke next, it was alone and in the dark. Still sealed within the chamber, I struggled with the stone door, hoping that a decade of pressing against it might yield me my freedom. With no need for food, or water, or really even air so much, I continued to press against the door, hoping time would favor me.
I knew I was constantly in danger, since I never knew when I would be compelled to kill myself in order to reach the Gardens of Desire, but my time spent in the dark was a singularity of uneventfulness. I had a great amount of time to think, but with every thought being nothing but doubts and fears, I preferred to focus on the door.
Several eternities later, the door was pushed inwards, throwing me backwards. As light filled my chamber, I saw Qorg standing before me, a wild mix of emotions upon his face. When he asked what I had been doing, I replied honestly, and the mix of emotions turned into a simple and pure laughter.
When he had finished, his expression turned grave, and his news was not much better. It was the third century since I had been put to sleep, and there was a reason I had not been awakened earlier.
In the first century, things had gone according to our plan. Handelhan produced a cult of scholars, while Pleth built up his worshipers into a small empire. The One-eyed Tree had developed from simply a cult to a full blown religion, partially due to Pleth’s strong stance on morality. Compared to other nature worship, his religion did not embrace a sense of neutrality or a nature-first mentality, but strove towards encouraging harmony and focused primarily on the good aspects of nature.
People began to flock towards his grand temple, which the young architect finally completed on his 100th birthday. Deep within a primeval forest, it was practically a natural fortress, with thousands of followers offering the One-eyed Tree their adoration, and hundreds of pilgrims arriving each day.
However, near the time I was to be awakened, the Greater Gods made their move. It was a simple maneuver, something that was almost elegant. It was something I suspect the God of Knowledge spent a good amount of time preparing, slowly gathering all the information he could before performing.
When Qorg was absent, a team of demigods captured Cymdra’s ark.
Handelhan had been overpowered, and with his wife in the God of Desire’s possession, he was offered a choice.
When Qorg returned, Handelhan turned on him. Though Handelhan had Brask’s skill with weapons, Qorg was not the same as he was when Brask had defeated him all those many years ago. They dueled, but Qorg saw no victory in killing his once-ally, and before the other demigods came to Handelhan’s aid, Qorg fled.
From then on, Handelhan fought against Pleth and Qorg, and by the end of the second century had become their chief adversary. Every move they made was countered, and without Handelhan’s research, they found no new weapons for their battle. Thankfully, the Greater Gods banned Handelhan from doing any more of his experiments with divinity, so Handelhan was forced to rely only on his extreme intelligence, weapon skills, mind-reading, and subordinate demigods, all while backed by the Greater Gods.
Pleth’s worshippers, who were already branded as false believers by all the other religions, had most of their members killed or forcibly converted. Soon, his religion had dwindled down to a cult, with his grand temple reduced to an overgrown ruin.
Qorg was constantly on the run, fleeing from demigods of War. Though he had slain several, they would not remain dead, yet Qorg’s death meant being captured in the Halls of the Immortals and truly executed. It started to seem like a hopeless battle, but there was still a glimmer of hope left. If he could reach our Mountain Citadel, there might be some remnants of Handelhan’s experiments, and perhaps Qorg could figure out how to take the divinity away from other demigods.
Qorg had hidden for several years in the bottom of a deep cave, biding his time. He then began to tunnel, with nothing more than his bare hands, and after many more years and many hundreds of mile emerged somewhere not too far from our Citadel.
When Qorg opened my door, he was surprised to find me alive. Handelhan had told them all, without any sorrow, that with my divinity cut off from the God of Desire, I had no way of sustaining myself. Though they had also been cut off from their gods, Pleth had his worshipers, and even Qorg had managed to gather some people who admired the legend of an unmatched warrior who wielded an iron club. But, by everyone’s reckoning, I should have been dead, with no one to offer me a single prayer.
Though I was indeed alive, I didn’t quite feel it. As Qorg explored the dungeons of our long-abandoned keep, I tried to allow what he had told me to sink in. The biggest shock was Handelhan’s betrayal, but not so much in that it had happened, but that he had waited until he had no other choice. Qorg had been right about not trusting him too much, but I reminded myself just how far we had gotten thanks to him.
Though the Citadel had been emptied by Handelhan many years before, completely stripping the Library of God Lore down to its last book, he had managed to overlook some parts of the dungeons. In one chamber, hidden to all except Handelhan and Qorg who had dug it, we managed to find an enormous cauldron along with some enormous open glass containers filled with some obscenely foul sludge. Gathering the notes scattered around the room, we slowly discovered the terrible process Handelhan had used to extract divinity from demigods.
The putrid ooze within the glass containers was, as confessed in the notes, nothing less than utter Distilled Evil. The blood of a demigod perverted and corrupted with unspeakable rituals, it was all that was vile given liquid form. Submerging a demigod in something so foul forced the divinity out of them, which rose to the top and could be skimmed into a small container, to be drunk by the one to receive the divinity.
As I looked through some of the rituals used to distill the ichor, I was horrified to the point where I questioned whether or not we could use it. Qorg shared similar feelings, but went ahead and justified ourselves by saying that the sacrifices had already been made, and it would a waste not to use the Distilled Evil.
Qorg was never a person I considered overwhelmingly intelligent. He was far more fond of brawn than brains, but there were some things that he knew more about than even Handelhan. Military strategy was one thing, though he rarely bothered to use it, but weapons were another. Qorg spent the better part of a year reading through the notes Handelhan should have destroyed, figuring out ways to weaponize the ichor.
During that year, I left the Citadel, journeying towards the Temple of the One-Eyed Tree. I tried to stay away from villages and towns, but the ones I passed had quite changed from the ones I had remembered. Mortals had advanced their technology slowly over the last three-hundred years, but the culture had changed dramatically.
Shrines to the Midnight Mistress were almost commonplace, and shrines to other demigods which were once hidden also had been brought into the light. Every vice was now applauded, and the worship of Desire was greater than any other. Heralds shouted nothing but brothel prices and the dates of new shipments of slaves, while beggars prayed in the streets for someone to purchase them.
When I reached Pleth’s temple, I was surprised to see that he had aged. I had always remembered him as a young man, and even after he had grown greatly in power I still thought of him more as a younger brother than anything else. But, as he had lost so many of his followers, and the divinity from the God of Nature himself, he could not help but feel and show the weight of the years.
The old man embraced me, praising the sun and the wind that I was still alive. How, he didn’t know, but it was not something he spared much thought over. As I told him what we had found within the Citadel, Pleth became quite silent.
When I had finished, he asked me whether or not we were ever meant to live forever. I did not know how to answer him, and he continued by saying that we had lived long and great lives, and did many wonderful and terrible things. We had each lived the lives of a thousand men, and perhaps that was all that we were meant to do.
Pleth did not want to use the ichor. He did not want to fight any more. He was old, and he was tired, and he was no longer afraid to find out what happened to a bad god when they truly died.
Out of respect for him, I allowed the words to mull around in my head for a day, taking them as seriously as I could. But, at the end of the day, I asked for him to ride out with me, to journey beyond his Temple.
In the first village we saw, I forced Pleth to look upon what we had wrought. I had misused my power, and had encouraged other demigods to misuse theirs. Though Pleth’s followers suffered under the hands of others, these people suffered by their own hands and desires, and if nothing else, it was our responsibility to make things right.
Pleth did not need much more convincing. As we headed back towards his temple, the trees shook with his anger, and I wondered how I could forget that Pleth had always been the strongest among us.
When Qorg finally arrived at the Temple, he did not come alone. A band of warrior-priests rode large wagons through the forest, along with a rather familiar demigod.
Ceret greeted me by the first name I had ever offered her, and embraced Pleth in a way that would have been obscene if it didn’t look so comical thanks to Pleth’s advanced age. Qorg scowl did not lessen as they erupted into laughter, but it melted as she deftly planted a kiss on his cheek.
As we celebrated that night, Ceret revealed to me why I had not died in my sleep. It took her some time to tell the full story, as she somewhat rudely kept bursting into laughter, and I wasn’t entirely sure I appreciated what was so funny.
The warrior-priests of Ceret had retold the story of the battle against the fire-controlling demigod so many times over the centuries, my role had grown and expanded until some of the storytellers swore that I had been Ceret’s faithful lover. As we battled the living inferno, I had plunged into it for the sake of my love, and battled inside the blaze’s very heart. Whether I won or not also seemed to depend on the storyteller, but the legend of Cym the Fire Eater had spread across the Southern lands and endured to this very day.
When I asked what was so funny about all this, Ceret replied she could never forget the expression of the great Fire Eater after I had run forward and was engulfed in flames, as if I had just suddenly remembered that fire was hot.
Qorg and Pleth laughed far too hard at this, but after some time began to discuss whether or not this might mean a change in my powers. As I was cut off from the God of Desire and worshiped for diving into a fire, they thought that perhaps I might have obtained a new ability.
Several burned fingers and a loud round of laughter from everyone except me, and that notion was disproven.
The next morning, there was no laughter, as Qorg revealed the contents of the wagons. Inside were the containers of Ichor, along with horrible contraptions that must have been Qorg’s designs. Pleth and Ceret looked at them with quiet scorn, and I noticed that some of the contraptions looked like massive syringes.
Qorg explained his simple idea. Handerhal had applied the Ichor externally, but done so because the ultimate goal of his method was to extract the divinity in order to infuse it into someone else. Our goal, at its ultimate level, was to kill gods.
As Qorg and Ceret rode off later that day, Pleth asked me what I intended to do. It was something I had been mulling around in my head ever since my brief period of false enlightenment, and the idea had grown stronger and stronger after all this time.
With my power, I wanted to do the opposite of what I had been doing in the past. I wanted to shift people’s desires towards things that would satisfy them more, not less.
I went into the closest village, and sought the beggars who were so poor that they wanted someone to take them in as slaves. I offered them no alms, but slowly, carefully, I made them want to take control of their own lives, instead of enslavement.
I felt a little guilty when their riot was put down in a bloody fashion, but I continued my work, making every whore want respect instead of coin. I went to each store owner, convincing them that happier customers was more important than their profit margins, and the young men and women were told to seek out their true loves, not to settle for sex or comfort.
To the priest of Midnight Mistress, I struggled to think of some way to use my power, but ended up just tipping over his brazier and setting fire to his shrine.
It wasn’t very long before I was chased out of the village, but when all the slaves realized that escaping to their freedom was less important than the death of their masters, it became quite the place to gather converts to the One-eyed Tree.
The Desire bubble I had blown was long overdo for bursting, and as I traveled with Pleth as my guardian, we caused riots and chaos unlike anything that had been done before. Mortals no longer listened to the priests of Desire, and began to choose for themselves what they wanted. People no longer suffered through the easy routes, but struggled to get what they never even realized they truly sought.
Pleth as an old man made quite a preacher, especially when people realized just how much they wanted to listen to him. It was almost as if they thought that a new religion would be able to satisfy their deep desire for order and morality.
It wasn’t long before the other gods took notice, and they sent many of their servants after us. But with each town the worship of the One-eyed Tree grew, as did Pleth’s power. Horses threw their riders while trees ensnared them, and each of our escapes became easier than the last.
Qorg and Ceret had also been busy. When they returned to the restored Temple of the One-Eyed Tree after an incredibly long three years, they had quite a story to tell. As we feasted, we were told of grand battles against other demigods of War, including one who had a terribly annoying power of always being able to raise his shield to block whatever came at him.
Though Ceret shot arrow after arrow, until all of her many quivers were empty and the demigod’s three-inch thick iron shield held a thousand or more shafts, he continued to advance towards her. Even as ten men surrounded him, he blocked each of their blows, and cut them down one by one. When he finally reached Ceret, his victory certain, Qorg ran forward and slammed his iron club so hard that the note that rang out from the shield alone killed several people, and deafened the rest of the battlefield.
As the demigod lay upon the ground, Qorg forced the needle of one of his God-slayers right over the shield that still managed to weakly rise, despite the demigod’s arm being nothing more than jelly held together in a sack of skin. Qorg plunged it into the demigod’s skull, and watched as his divinity poured from his eyes, nose, and ears.
There were several such tales, and having slain six demigods and absorbing their powers had perhaps made them the strongest of all the demigods of War. They did not return without gifts either, and presented us each with chained silver flasks.
For Pleth, the essence of a demigod that could control the winds, who was slain when Qorg tunneled beneath him and dragged him underground.
For myself, Ceret was quite proud to present me with the essence of the demigod who had killed me so many years ago, and even though a power of Nature would ordinarily have gone to Pleth, she asked me to truly don the mantle of Cym the Fire Eater.
Amidst all this good news, they also brought dark tidings. The Greater Gods had not been idle, and Handelhan had proved his worth to them again. He had managed to create Avatars for the Greater Gods, bodies upon the mortal realm that were indestructible and allowed them to channel their full might. Qorg and Ceret had seen the Avatar of the God of War upon a battlefield, and watched as he tore a castle asunder with a single wave of his flail.
This news was grave indeed, especially when it was followed with signs that the Greater Gods were tired of our continued game. Qorg and Ceret had returned not to share stories, but to gather our forces in order to challenge the Greater Gods and the demigods they had assembled.
It was much too soon. Pleth’s worshippers had grown tremendously, perhaps to the point where he even rivaled the God of Nature, but I had no followers to my name beyond some southern storytellers and children. Qorg and Ceret, though they now tangibly radiated with power, could not hope to defeat both the Avatars and the Demigods, no matter how strong they might have become.
I knew then that it was not a question of choice. The Greater Gods were coming, and we had no one to offer our prayers.
Qorg and Pleth did not waste any time. That very night, they began to construct defenses, with Qorg using one of his new powers to summon the souls of war engineers to dig massive trenches and build high walls. Pleth had the forest grow, and grow, and grow, until there were trees that were wider than houses and several hundreds of feet tall.
I struggled with the control of flames, which proved far more difficult than simply willing them to do as I wanted. More often than anything else, I would try to either shift or grow a flame, but would only end up snuffing it out. At the end of the week, I had to console myself with the idea that extinguishing fires was likely just as useful a power as creating them.
Had I more time, I would have earnestly liked learning how to create towering infernos, but the Gods were not quite so patient. We heard them coming many hundreds of miles away, a grand procession befitting the powers that governed the world.
Pleth and Qorg’s defenses were impressive, even more so considering how little time they had. Massive trees stalked enormous cliffs like lumbering giants, each of them equal to a small army. And we had a small army as well, in the form of skeletons powered by the souls of fallen warriors, brought back to the mortal realm by Qorg. Animals of every species had assembled, and Ceret’s warrior priests manned catapults and ballistae.
Standing upon the roof of his Temple, Pleth looked far into the distance, reading the winds and listening to the chatter of birds. Next to him stood Ceret, her bow drawn, and wall of arrows arranged behind her. Qorg had rushed to the front lines, not even bothering to say anything like a farewell, and I was in the Temple courtyard, desperately trying to make something that was remotely like a fireball.
The battle broke rapidly. Demigods, most of them servants of War, battled against animals, trees, skeletons, the wind, and a hail of arrows and stones. Each of their struggles was likely worthy of an epic poem, but most of them did not manage to make it within a mile of the Temple. The brave few who did were slain by Ceret’s arrows, which always struck their targets and now also exploded when they did.
When Ceret pointed out that she was certain she had shot the same flying demigod four times, I nearly collapsed at the thought. No matter how many demigods we defeated, they simply returned, whole and rested, while our forces were slowly worn away.
If we had any chance of victory, it would have to be Qorg. Fighting near the front lines, he had left with a set of God-slayer needles, and was going through them rapidly.
When he returned, I didn’t recognize him, for he had grown to be eleven-feet tall and had a spare set of arms. He only stayed long enough to get a fresh supply of God-slayers, and then ran off once again, his iron club in one hand and an endless scream issuing from the other.
The next time he returned, I thought he had obtained the power of flight. When he didn’t slow down and slammed through a temple wall, I realized that he had been thrown. The Avatar of War was not far behind, a golden flail in his hands as he leapt.
I ran to Pleth, to try and get him to help Qorg, but he was fighting his own battle. The Avatar of Nature had summoned beasts from a time forgotten, and they were devouring the other animals. The giant trees withered as they neared him, and Ceret’s arrows blossomed into harmless flowers as they struck him.
I urged Ceret’s warrior-priests that they wanted to flee rather than fight, even as I knew that their lives were lost. As I watched horror-struck, each of them found a partner, and with little ceremony, stabbed each other.
A fine way to announce the presence of the Avatar of Desire.
He had chosen the form of beautiful woman, and with a wave of his arm compelled me to kneel before him. I kneeled immediately, but as he came closer, thrust my arms out towards him, summoning all the fire I could.
It didn’t even singe his long flowing hair or his sheer white gown, and I did not need his compulsion to tell me to stop when I did. As he stepped closer, more beautiful than anything I had ever imagined, he simply took my breath away.
I was in no danger of dying, as a demigod needed no air nor food nor water, but the pain in my lungs continued to increase until it felt like I had actually eaten fire. I wept since I could not scream, and the god who I had called my God graced me with the most beautiful chuckle I had ever heard.
He was amused at the thought that I had managed to resist his compulsions once before. There I was, not even his servant any longer, and I couldn’t resist his simplest suggestion even at the cost of such terrible pain.
To my horror, while I remained kneeling in front of the Avatar, Qorg was thrown down in front of me, all of his arms torn from his body. He spouted blood from countless wounds, and his iron club had been thrust into his lower back, piercing through his spine.
The Avatar of War did not even seem injured, laughing as he casually strode over, picked Qorg up by his leg, and began to swing him. With a snap of his wrist, Qorg’s leg tore from his body, and Qorg was thrown deep into the forest. The Avatar of War let out a low whistle as he dropped the leg, and ran off to chase after Qorg.
A fitting end for all of us, I supposed. I didn’t even want to know what was happening to Pleth at the moment, nor did I like the idea of Ceret’s fate. We had lost, and would lose everything, wholly and completely, all because we had desired power beyond our grasp.
In utter agony, I dove right past despair and sought pure oblivion, praying to my God to simply kill me. But, the Avatar continued to watch me as I made pitiful gagging motions, sometimes offering me a chuckle that sounded far less sweet.
But, as I continued to ask for death, the desire seemed to slowly lift from me.
For the briefest, purest moment, I thought that I was being flooded with hope, and was about to embrace it wholeheartedly. But, I had not lost my wits, nor the agonizing pain, and I had been a demigod of Desire long enough to know when my own desires were being tampered with.
The Avatar of Desire did not want me to wish to die so badly. The Avatar of Desire did not want me wanting to die. The Avatar of Desire did not want me to die.
I didn’t know why. Can’t honestly say I really cared. It could have been because he wanted to torture me for a bit longer, or maybe it’s because really deep down somewhere, he really cared about me and wanted to be best friends.
All I knew was that I if he desired anything, anything at all, I was going to do my best to deny him.
I fought through the pain, knowing that was far easier than to try and fight the Avatar’s compulsions, and struggled to form a single image in my mind. Thankfully, it wasn’t quite hard, since it already felt like there was a fire in my chest.
As I burst into flames, I remained in the mortal world just long enough to see the Avatar’s look of shock.
It was pleasantly cool when I awoke, and was startled to see Handelhan standing above me. I didn’t jump, or shout, or even try and get some distance between us. I just calmly sat up, turned to him, and said hello.
He offered me a hand, which I took, and as he helped me up I asked what was going to happen next.
Before he said anything else, he asked me if I had come here because I had remembered him saying long ago that being in the Halls of the Immortals often offered a demigod opportunities when he had none elsewhere. I lied, and said I had.
Smiling now, he explained that the avatars were designed so that a portion of the Greater God’s power, along with their consciousness, was sent down to the mortal realm. That meant that the rest of their power remained in the realm of the gods. He had actually been stationed in the Halls, along with a number of other demigods, to help protect the defenseless bodies. Of course, none of these demigods had been aware that he possessed the skills of Brask.
It was perhaps the first time I ever genuinely wanted to go to the Garden of Desire. There, the massive sleeping body of a Greater Deity reclined on a divan, and I took the moment to ask why he didn’t simply wake up. Handelhan smiled, and said he had spent quite a long time developing those nearly-indestructible Avatar bodies, so it would take quite some effort for the gods to off themselves. Smiling, Handelhan then produced a dagger, coated it with a dark liquid, and plunged it into the God of Desire’s heart.
There was a rush of shining liquid, and at first it seemed to surge towards Handelhan. But, almost as if it had caught my scent, it curved around him and splashed onto me. As it continued to pour from the god-corpse, I felt a power beyond all knowledge, beyond all words.
When I had finished absorbing the power, I realized that the Garden had changed. No longer loud and tropical, it was a serene glade with a few scattered trees. Handelhan stared at me, and I searched his heart, learning his truest desire. And, with a mere thought, Cymdra appeared before him.
While their reunion was quite touching, I was a thousand billion million suns of burning energy, and I had some business I needed to take care of.
Switching Handelhan’s desire to a more pressing one, we strode off towards the Library of Knowledge, where the God of Knowledge resided.
He told me he knew I would be coming. He also said he knew that Handelhan would double-double cross him. He also knew what the outcome of a battle between knowledge and desire would be.
He knew quite a lot, which is why he didn’t even bother to resist as Handelhan cut him down and absorbed his essence.
Handelhan immediately began shouting about how much he knew, and how I should be in utter awe. When I managed to calm him down and asked him if he knew what our next step would be, he said it was to send Cymdra down, have her kill Qorg and Pleth before the other two deities had a chance to realize what was happening, and to help them obtain the power we had sought after for so long.
Before we could congratulate ourselves, we found ourselves within a grand chamber, with walls that stretched beyond space and a ceiling that might have also been the floor. There, the other Greater Gods had assembled themselves, and they began to judge us each in turn.
All of our deeds, all of our thoughts, all of our dreams and desires, all of them were laid out before the Gods in a single instant, or perhaps an eternity, and the Greater Gods began to speak as if they were one voice.
Qorg had proven to be a fighter beyond all others, learning from each defeat and rising to victory in the end. When the Gods asked themselves if he should become the new God of War, only the very minor God of Dissension was opposed.
Pleth had upset many of the laws of nature, and our conquests and battles had left their scars upon the world. But, nowhere could you find a person who held a greater compassion for nature, and few who had greater compassion overall, and he was applauded by most.
Handelhan had performed terrible, horrible, unspeakable things. Most of the Gods were repulsed at the very thought of him, and him having brought Distilled Evil into the Halls of the Immortals was a crime beyond punishment.
Yet, he had done it all for the sake of knowledge, and it was agreed that after three cycles of eternity within the endless void he would be instated as the God of Knowledge. Until then, Cymdra was deemed relatively pleasant and it would be nice to have a Goddess of Knowledge for a change.
The Greater Gods thought I was sort of okay as far as a God of Desire was concerned, but none of them felt really compelled to not let me be a Greater God. They also requested that I get to work as soon as possible.
We left that chamber, a sense of accomplishment radiating from us.
Before he left to journey into the endless void, Handelhan sent some of his new servants to deal with the crippled Avatars. Only half-conscious, the Avatars could barely resist as they were thrown into a volcano, which Handelhan assured us would likely destroy them.
Qorg took a moment to apologize for ever thinking that Handelhan was anything other than a great friend, and they embraced like brothers. Pleth, once again youthful, grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me towards the God of War and the God of Knowledge.
Our challenges were just beginning, with all the responsibilities of Greater Gods upon us. But, as we stood there, arms around each other’s shoulders, we promised we would never forget the time we had spent as barely gods.