Chapter 34

Kothar stood in place, paralysed by indecision.

First, there were all these new ‘status screens’ grating on his nerves. The phenomena has only started this morning.

For his entire life, he’d never read a single word, and all his communication with The Wheel was through its voice, or what was commonly called “The Voice Of The World”. But now… he woke up this morning to a flashy screen telling him that he’d been bestowed with the ability to read it.

Then the second screen told him that he’d been blessed by the Goddess of Science. It didn’t even explain what this blessing did.

When the elders gathered along with everyone to wait for Ethan and to deliberate on the subject, he’d stood and listened. He’d heard Ethan’s argument, and noted Eragoth’s wolfish smile as she observed the discussion, and when elder Dala asked her question, and Eragoth told her to pray for an answer, he was enamoured with the divine revelation that ensued and the Goddess’ beautiful message.

Then everyone started praying for an answer, and… well, he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to understand something new. His curiosity flared, suddenly eager for an answer like the rest of those before him.

That burning passion for new knowledge was also new, but he didn’t care. So he knelt, and he prayed, and he finally got his answer… and more. He also received a one-of-a-kind offer.

It was the offer of a lifetime, and one he was reluctant to refuse.

Hence the reason of his current predicament, and his indecision.

• You have been offered a new class via divine intervention: [Champion – Science].
• You already possess 2 classes.
• Class change available: [Champion – Science], would you like to exchange an existing class for [Champion – Science]? [Y/N]

A champion of science? What would that entail?

He sighed yet again and put off the decision for later, since he had a full day to decide. First, he would talk to Ethan and ask him about this Goddess, and maybe one of the elders.

This was too important to him, and he refused to make such a decision lightly.

Ethan was walking briskly in the direction of his workshop. He had to slow down for some of the elders to catch up to him. It appeared there was a big disturbance, and odd sounds were coming from there. Once notified by the guards, he decided to leave the crowd and rush over there.

The elders – at least those that were present and weren’t busy tending to elder Dala – didn’t want to let him out of their sight. They decided to tag along and see what kind of other trouble he was going to stir up.

He hadn’t even had a chance to check the flood of notifications he was getting, and there was now a pile of notifications with a shiny 1,687 – and rising – flashing next to it. Apparently the whole settlement was undergoing some sort of transformation, and the social dynamics were evolving before him. It was all happening too fast for him to follow, and the effects were spreading from the crafters that ran off like wildfire… damn it!

They quickly reached the door, and Ethan slowly pushed it open while listening to the ruckus coming from within.

He’d explicitly instructed the tribespeople not to go inside under any circumstances, and warned them about the dangers of messing with his experiments and causing unnecessary explosions.

In hindsight, perhaps that decision wasn’t a particularly smart one. Because now that he could see inside the workshop, the mound of plastic he’d prepared previously had vanished, and there was a monster rummaging inside his machine, and… eating? It was definitely chomping any morsels of plastic it managed to extract with savage glee.

He was at least thankful that the machine was inactive. No real clue what would have happened otherwise.

The sounds paused when the creature noticed the light coming from outside, and it backed out of the machine’s output chute, then cowered away from the illumination in fear.

From the brief flash he saw, and the shape crouched down in the shadows, he thought he could identify it; despite its grotesquely distended belly from eating all that plastic, and its warped features.

“Is that a goblin?” He asked in shock.

His unintentional outburst spelled doom for the unfortunate creature, as a number of the guards following his retenue of elders heard it and rushed inside past him, screaming murder.

“Kill it! Don’t let it escape!”

“How did it get in here?”

His shock didn’t last long. As the guards started surrounding the goblin, Ethan was busy looking around the room, and trying to figure out how the creature got into the workshop in the first place.

A particular spot on the ground looked different, it had a… deeper shadow. Did it tunnel its way in? This made him curious, and that’s when he spotted the crude pickaxe made of stone, laying on the ground near the hole.

It could use tools? He paused as he thought of the ramifications. This fact meant it was a sapient creature, and not entirely a monster like he’d thought and been taught by video games.

In his world, apes had been using tools for a very long time, and while communication with humanity’s fellow primates – and dolphins, amongst other intelligent animals – was possible using cerebral augmentation, it wasn’t common, and experiments of this nature were banned entirely in some regions. Although cerebral implants would have never took off if it weren’t for continued animal testing and simulations.

When he left his world, months ago, there were still ongoing debates on the topic of uplifting their fellow mammals into the ranks of modern civilisation using the advent of technology.

Some argued that it would cause an animal uprising, others argued that it would bolster the workforce and provide much needed partners in the exploration of distant planets.

In fact, his own sister was an activist fully against the subject, and they always had vehement debates on this topic.

A wave of pain flooded his mind as he thought of Jessica, and he turned his thoughts away from the subject quickly as memories he’d strived to suppress for the past months tried to force their way to the surface of his psyche.

He felt a wave of melancholy flood him at the repressed memories of his family, before he regained control and focused on the situation at hand. There’s a goblin about to get killed, right.

The goblin was hissing threateningly and backing away further into the shadows. It whined something in strange, garbled syllables. This confirmed his hunch that it possessed a degree of intelligence. But what made Ethan momentarily shocked was a new discovery: it appeared that the translation “feature” that The Wheel provided – that he thought universal – didn’t work for everyone.

“Wait!” Ethan’s words went unheard as the tribesmen, now intent on killing the slippery creature chased after it in an attempt to drive it into a corner.

“STOP!” His shout gave them pause. Even the goblin paused momentarily, before darting towards the hole in the corner of the workshop.

Ethan cast a variant of his flight spell, but instead of him taking off in flight, it was the goblin who started to levitate off the ground. It hissed and flailed its limbs in an attempt to escape, but couldn’t really do much about the spell without any magical defences.

A pair of personal notifications popped up, separate from the settlement updates that were scrolling by in different part of his HUD.

• You have discovered the spell [Telekinesis] of the magical school of [Manipulation]! For discovering a [Common] spell yourself and without external assistance, you have been awarded a one-time bonus to experience. [+50 XP]
• [Telekinesis] has reached level 1. [+10 XP]

He ignored the new messages as he focused on casting the spell.

Had he tried this manoeuvre against someone with innate mana, it would have failed spectacularly. At least according to knowledge he’d obtained from multiple sources.

In of his first discussions about magic, he’d asked why a [Mage] – with their exquisite control over the elements – couldn’t simply grow new holes in the body of an opponent, or cook them from the inside out.

The answer, according to Aylin – and later confirmed by Faisal – was that mana stopped affecting reality when it was exposed to foreign mana, which was naturally emanated in small amounts by anyone with access to mana in a field around them.

At least that was the prevailing theory. Another less discussed theory was that mana could not penetrate the dense life energy surrounding a living organism without special conditions, such as the casting of a healing spell.

Regardless, empirical evidence suggested that only the physical manifestation of a spell could penetrate that effect, for instance: the physical plasma that made up a [Fireball] spell.

Ethan had wondered why this didn’t apply to soul magic, since the mana from that could still affect the souls of others directly, as was proven by his battle against the much more powerful Nephilim in the recent past.

Which was why he was starting to develop a different theory on the subject: what if Conduit particles could not penetrate living cells due to some reason – perhaps a naturally evolved biological defence – and thus there was nothing for mana to act directly upon?

It was a plausible explanation, although it didn’t explain how The Wheel managed to connect to the nervous systems of – and physically alter – all living beings in the world.

He resolved to ruminate on this issue later, though. Because just then, the goblin’s distended belly jiggled slightly, and it belched loudly. The mana surrounding and acting upon it disappeared completely, as it was absorbed into its maw.

It fell to the ground with a thump.

The plastic in its stomach had absorbed the mana! It was glowing faintly in a bizzare display now, and it seemed a bit distressed by the light show.

“Capture it, and be gentle.” Ethan instructed the guards as they surrounded the prone goblin, which was still flailing its limbs and looking at its glowing belly in confusion.

“What? I need to study it.” He added at their looks of incredulity.

He posted one of the guards next to the hole, and went to inspect the plastic foundry. It wasn’t completely ruined, thankfully. Just some claw and teeth marks on the inside of the output chute, which was apparently licked clean of all traces of plastic. Somewhat relieved, he resolved to smooth the metal later using [Meld], and turned a curious eye to the hole in the ground that the goblin had emerged from.

He wondered where it led. It was too small for a human to fit in and explore, though; and he wasn’t too keen on crawling down a dark tunnel that led to god-knows-where inside a volcano. A guard would do for now, and once he finished his next project, he’d have a veritable army to explore its depths and map it completely.

The guards quickly finished tying the goblin with rope, which someone returned with after procuring it somewhere, and then carried it off towards the cages.

He’d deal with this now. He’d promised Kothar to visit the prisoners today anyway.

He sent a guard to inform Kothar, and went with the rest to visit the area with the prisoners.

Adrian sat in his cage, deep in thought.

He’d witnessed divine favour descend on this place last night, and felt the aftereffects of a mass blessing descending to settle over everyone. He hadn’t mentioned it to his friends, but thought he could detect its effects on them while they slept. He could almost feel it.

As a [Paladin] of Order, it hadn’t touched him, naturally. Since he was already sworn to a different deity: Eterna, but he worried what it meant in relation to his friends, and especially his lover, or ex-lover now… he supposed.

He wasn’t too surprised about the breakup, really. He’d expected it when Giran – His half-elf [Scout] girlfriend, and the reason for their current predicament – went against him and spilled the beans about his affiliations to their Krell captors.

What transpired next was the natural conclusion: things slowly got colder between them. Then they had a falling out, leading to a breakup of the relationship.

She spoke against his Goddess and that would not stand. He was a pious man through and through. The fact that she didn’t follow his beliefs had always grated, and was a touchy subject between them, anyways.

Order must prevail.

It was early afternoon, and now, after disappearing for a while, some of the guards had returned with the telltale holy halos of a [Paladin] that only another [Paladin] could instantly recognise and see.

Had a new church been born? He couldn’t tell what deity they were sworn to, but they’d recognised him in turn. Their tones had changed as they were handing breakfast, now their interactions were coloured by the professional courtesy and mutual respect that only the sworn [Paladins] would afford one another, even amongst those of opposing faiths.

The… savage – and godless – Krell he’d always known, if not outright loathed, had suddenly become the civilised followers of a deity, and that was a transformation that shook him to the core.

Most importantly, and unlike what he’d expected: their auras did not radiate any evil… or any chaos, so far that he could sense.

How had this come to pass?

Was this Ethan West, the target of his Goddess’ ire… some kind of prophet? Was this a direct consequence of his presence here? Was this what Adrian was sent to prevent? The birth of a new church? But why would order go against a new, non-evil, and non-chaotic church?

This baffled him.

He kneeled in his cage, and started praying to Eterna for an answer, but there was no response. Yet again.

After a few minutes, he slowly opened his eyes to a commotion as a group of guards brought a tied goblin with a big belly over and put it in a cage. He turned from the spectacle only to see a man looking at him curiously.

He looked nothing like a Krell, and Adrian could sense the subtle pattern of chaotic ripples emanating from this person, but they were also overpowered by ripples of a different aspect. One that Adrian couldn’t quite identify. Adrian realised – without a hint of doubt – that this was the man he was sent to eliminate: Ethan West.

“Hey man! Were you meditating? That’s really cool!” Ethan said cheerfully.

What a strange person.

Despite his short legs and stature, a certain Dwarven historian raced from place to place all over the Krell settlement excitedly. He talked to people, asking questions, and writing furiously into his journal.

A contemplative Drake [Mathematician] accompanied him out of curiosity.

The birth of a new faith… it is a historical day, indeed! Solinda struggled to restrain her smile.

Most Drakes come from the isolated archipelagos of Ssslath in the far north, and whilst travelling away from their homelands, they usually try to avoid smiling in public. Especially around the other races, since the act exposes their sharp teeth; which usually made strangers uncomfortable. An unfortunate fact.

Thanks to her cheerful personality, Solinda slipped frequently and smiled good-naturedly at people… which didn’t always end well for her.

Other races easily became jittery at the perceived predation in the simple act. Their hands unconsciously went to sword hilts, and conversations usually turned awkward afterwards.

It got so bad that she had once decided to wear a veil around her face, but that only made things worse by making people even more suspicious.

Moving on, she focused on the current conversation. A former smith was telling his story. Starting from waking up today with the sudden ability to read and write, to the divine blessing that made him very inquisitive and able to make connections between concepts he could never make in the past, and finally: his experience praying to Scintilla, after witnessing the jubilation of his fellow craftsmen, and the bestowal of a unique class through divine intervention: [Empiric Metallurgist].

She briefly wondered what would happen to a [Mathematician] who pledged to Scintilla instead of Memeta; but quickly quelled the blasphemous thought. She returned to her observation of Felwar’s conversation with the man.

To be truthful, the man was completely engrossed in refining and testing the properties of a strange stretchy ingot made of a new alloy he’d just discovered and named “Flexibronze”.

It was apparent that he was only speaking to Felwar to get rid of his tireless, incessant questioning; but Felwar Ironvine was nothing but insistent.

Then the discussion turned to the new alloy, and the eyes of both men shone with a shared passion as they discussed material sciences only a Dwarven [High Smith] and [Scholar] could truly understand – or a Krell [Empiric Metallurgist] now, too – she supposed.

Although the man didn’t divulge the exact process of its make, he did mention that it was mana-forged and infused with a measure of slime jelly. Which meant that this variant of bronze had innate magical properties.

Solinda briefly wondered where Grenda was. As an [Artificer] and, more importantly, an industrious Gnome, she’d surely be highly interested in a new, magically imbued material that she could work with. She’d certainly try to secure an exclusive trade deal or outright buy the secrets of this material from this man for her people. The Gnomes would pay a king’s ransom for such new knowledge.

Come to think of it, it was a wonder Grenda hadn’t tried to do this with plastic already. Solinda originally supposed that Ethan West would eventually acquiesce to such a deal and easily trade away the secrets of its make.

Her initial impression was that Ethan was a naïve youth that lost his way in another world; but in hindsight, and in light of recent developments: there was a looming possibility that he’d been working on this for a long time. Subtly manipulating, scheming, and engineering events that lead to today’s conclusion, and the birth to the new Church of Science. In light of this, her assumption of his naïvete was certainly gone, replaced by careful consideration in any future dealings.

A sudden lull in the conversation brought her out of her reverie, and she looked at Felwar, who surprised her by counting coins out of his purse and handing them to the man, who eyed them curiously with a contemplative look. In exchange, the man handed him a few ingots of the new alloy.

That was new… When did Krell start trading with coin? Didn’t they use a barter and merit system instead of currency?

Felwar straightened and unshouldered his bag. With great care, out came an apron, a hammer, and his seldom used smithing gloves.

Soon he was lost to the world, hammering at a Flexibronze ingot with renewed passion and great zeal.

She guessed it was going to take a while.

Ugh! Dwarves… Solinda muttered, before wandering off in search of a certain Gnome and something better to do than stand around watching him swing a hammer all day.

Kothar accompanied Milandera to the meeting Ethan West had promised with the captives. She seemed nervous, but also slightly relieved that her friends were finally going to be freed.

To be fair, he was pleased that the reason for her incessant prodding during the past weeks would go away. It was a source of unnecessary friction between them.

He was also light of heart because of a different reason.

During breakfast that morning, and after a casual hint she’d dropped about the nature of their relationship, he’d instantly recognised the opening, and took the chance to hint at his budding feelings to her. He was grateful to find out that the feelings were mutual, and were reciprocated in kind.

He suspected the recent blessing had something to do with it, after learning its effects from his prayer to the Goddess later that day. [Enlightenment] had many effects, and one of which was insatiable curiosity, and a bolder outlook when it came to obtaining answers to the questions that plagued you. Matters of the heart included, apparently. It was a healthy thing, he thought. At least the dose of courage had spurred him to act.

She’d received the blessing, too – she confirmed – but apparently the increase to literacy was not part of the blessing itself. It was contrary to what he thought, as she did not experience that effect at all.

He hadn’t told her about his new class yet. He was waiting to discuss it with Ethan first, just in case he ended up rejecting it.

They arrived to see the [Paladin] Adrian talking to Ethan, and a group of elders who were listening to the conversation. Kothar hoped this would go well, and the situation would be resolved peacefully, for Milandera’s sake.

A small motion caught his eye, and he turned to the side to notice a goblin squatting and watching him curiously in one of the cages, which he found quite odd.

Why wasn’t it immediately killed? He wondered… then he remembered the person he was dealing with. Ethan West would probably capture the goblin to study it, instead of killing the vermin outright. Which he supposed was a lucky break – or a worse fate, depending on your perspective – for the unfortunate creature.

He summarily dismissed the goblin from his thoughts, and followed Milandera as she edged closer to the conversation between her friends and Ethan.

Adrian was eying Elder Ro warily as he spoke to Ethan, and Kothar guessed that the fact that the [Paladin] couldn’t lie had been revealed, because Ethan seemed really interested in that aspect of his oath, and was in the midst of asking whether all [Paladins] were unable to lie.

Adrian was trying to dodge the topic, but he answered after Elder Ro cleared her throat. She gave him a look which he seemed to dread for some reason.

“Only the [Paladins] of Order are required to make such a pledge.” He paused, as if considering the truth of his statement, then continued, almost unwillingly, “…and those devoted to the Church of Truth are unable to utter a lie, but can also intuit the truth in others.” He trailed with the last statement as an afterthought, then seemed to regret it.

“Okay, thank you for answering my questions,” Ethan said as the Drake woman approached the crowd of people, walking closer after spotting Grenda, who was quietly listening to the conversation with interest, “Now on to matters of more substance pertaining to your current predicament,” Ethan continued calmly, “Your friends are only interested in the celestial fruit, as far as I’m aware. Which is something I have no qualms with, so long that they provide something to the settlement in exchange. Perhaps a fair trade – and their freedom – can be arranged?” He looked to Giran – the half-elf – who nodded hurriedly.

“However, I am told that you’ve come here on a mission to kill me, because of an edict from your Goddess. Can we, perhaps, reach a different agreement? Can you promise to not kill me, if I set you free?” Ethan asked reasonably.

“No.” Came Adrian’s unhesitant reply.

“What if I had you released away from here, will you attempt to come back and kill me still?”

“Yes.” Adrian seemed almost pained by the simple word leaving his mouth.

“Because of your oath?” Ethan asked.

“Yes, despite my great desire for freedom. I simply can’t disobey. I can’t go against a holy edict.”

Ethan’s face darkened, and he asked one simple question that seemed to shock the paladin greatly, “Do you ever regret swearing your oath to Eterna?”

Giran gasped as a look of panic spread across Adrian’s features. His mouth opened to say something almost against his will, and he quickly cupped a hand to his lips to prevent himself from answering.

Aware of what almost happened, Adrian hid his face in his palms, in shame or something else; Kothar didn’t know.

“Thank you. That answers my question.” Ethan stated as the crowd around them started murmuring in astonishment.

Kothar stared, in awe at Ethan’s choice of method for extracting the truth out of the reticent [Paladin]. Elder Ro moved to sit on the nearest rock in shocked silence as the other elders started discussing this quietly to the side, while Adrian’s longtime companions – including Milandera – widened their eyes in realisation.

Ethan muttered something under his breath, it sounded like “I hate mind control,” but Kothar wasn’t entirely sure.

He turned to face Adrian and spoke to the [Paladin] again, “In light of this, I promise to set you free if you promise to answer a single ‘yes or no’ question in exchange, truthfully.” Ethan said.

The elders started murmuring at this, but Ethan waved their objections off.
Adrian’s palms moved away from his reddening tear-streaked face, and now he seemed livid with unrestrained anger. “You wish to trick me again with your deceit, you filthy spawn of chaos?”

“I have not tricked you. I simply asked you a question, and you almost answered it truthfully. It’s not my fault that you don’t like that answer.” Ethan said calmly, completely unphased by the insult, “What assurances do you require?” He finally asked.

“Make an oath to the Eternal Eye of Judgement and I will accept your offer.” Adrian responded icily.

“Oh, but that’s quite impossible, since that’s what got me in this situation to begin with; it failed to impose its ancient geas on me.” Ethan rebutted.

“Then I refuse your deceitful offer.” Adrian stated.

“If I may, there is another way…” The beastkin standing with the followers of Memeta – who seemed fascinated with this whole ordeal – spoke confidently into the silence, and all eyes turned to her. She stepped forward and introduced herself officially for Adrian’s benefit, “My name is Nadeera Sabretooth, and I’m a [Lawyer] of the Jaguar Clan. If you’ll allow me, I can ensure a binding agreement.”

Adrian scoffed, but didn’t outright refuse. It was easy to intuit his thoughts, with his freedom a stone’s throw away. Nadeera reached into her bag and produced a rolled scroll of very white parchment that looked almost magical in nature. She spoke up to explain: “This is a mana-binding contract. After both parties sign it, it will disappear. In the case its terms are ever broken, it will seal the mana of the offender; either forever, or until both parties agree to annul the contract.”

Ethan had a glint in his eyes, and seemed quite taken by this magically binding document. Knowing him, Kothar could almost feel his struggle against the impulse to snatch and study it.

Just then, Adrian nodded. “I can detect a measure of Order in it. I will agree to this, under two conditions: I will only answer one question, and I retain the right to refuse to answer it.”

“Not gonna happen, sorry.” Ethan countered, “You specifically have to answer the question, truthfully, and immediately, and the only allowed answers are either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’; otherwise there’s no deal.”

Adrian sighed, “Then I reserve the right to refuse to answer, but only if it would expose a secret of my church or if my answer would interfere with my mission.”

“You mean killing me?” Ethan smirked, then responded with one word: “Deal.”

People tried to object again as Nadeera wrote up the mana contract, but Ethan silenced them. Nadeera then cast a spell on the scroll, which glowed brightly for a few moments, and she presented it to both men. At Ethan’s question on how to sign it, she directed him to channel mana into it, and Ethan did so.

The captive [Paladin] could not channel any amount of mana, thanks to the fact that the Krell fed all prisoners a special concoction that prevented spell casting. So Nadeera donated a small amount of her own mana for him to to sign the contract with.

Kothar wasn’t sure how that worked exactly, but when Ethan asked about it, she assured him that The Wheel made allowances for such cases, and that the contract would be binding to him, not to her.

Now came the anticipated moment that had everyone burning with unbounded curiosity.

“You may ask him your question now.” The [Lawyer] stated, after Adrian indicated his readiness.

“Sure,” Ethan said with a mischievous smirk, “If I told you that I am lying, would my statement be true?”

Everyone went silent at this, contemplating the odd question.

The Drake [Librarian] burst out in uncontrolled laughter, everyone turned to look at her. Then she started gulping for air, with her gaping maw on full display. Nadeera looked contemplative, before her eyes widened in sudden realisation of something, and she looked back towards the [Paladin].

Kothar followed her gaze and turned, only for his eyes to land on Adrian, who was frozen like a sculpture by the question. He’d apparently inhaled some air in preparation to answer, but now that air was running out, and his face was darkening as it turned a deep shade of blue.

Adrian’s choked voice finally uttered a barely whispered answer before he fell unconscious, and truthfully: his answer to the liar’s fallacy didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, because with his oath to his goddess shattered, there were grave consequences.

Those consequences manifested shortly thereafter as a sudden tear in reality. Then a loud thunderclap echoed, heralding the descent of the Eternal Eye Of Judgement in the sky.

“There you are, you filthy fucker!” Ethan bellowed at the Eye in a rage.

Kothar’s resolve firmed and his doubts dissapeared.

He made his decision.

[Character sheet is not available during combat.]