Chapter 36

The turd in the machine.

Knight Law knelt in stillness, afraid to make the slightest move.

It all started when he’d witnessed an unprecedented event through [Paladin] Adrian’s eyes.

Eterna had also watched. At first, she’d went into a rage when her [Paladin] almost let slip his blasphemous doubts about serving her. Then she convinced herself that the man was surely tainted by the chaotic presence in his current environment. If so, he was a weakling unworthy of her teachings anyway.

Then a magical contract was proposed, and Knight Law had tried to warn her about the impending trap that surely lay within, but Eterna decided to have the [Paladin] accept it. What’s the worst an upstart human like that [Harbinger] could do?

A contract was a device that enforced Order, after all, and she was quite curious why someone so obviously tainted by chaos was suddenly so keen on using something that enforced her Aspect, of all possibilities.

If there was a trick to contracts that she did not know of, she had to find out what it was. Her will unwittingly influenced the [Paladin’s] decision, and he accepted.

Besides, it was just one unfaithful [Paladin]. Not a big loss in the grand scheme of things. The information she could uncover was much more valuable to her cause.

And so the contract was set up. It was seemingly a fair one at first glance. It offered the [Paladin] his freedom without obstructing his mission, in exchange for a simple binary answer. The [Paladin] had taken precautions for the contract not to interfere with his mission, too. Which Eterna thought was a step in the right direction. Perhaps he would redeem himself by killing the [Harbinger] later.

Then the question was posed, and Eterna was speechless.

Knight Law tried to ask her what the seemingly nonsensical question was meant to achieve, but there was no response.

She stood completely still. Motionless and expressionless.

In truth, Knight Law had paid the question itself no mind. He was mostly occupied with observing his liege.

Trying to think of a reason for her odd reaction, he tried to answer the odd question himself, and he froze too. No matter what answer he came up with, the answer would contradict itself. In order to escape the same fate, he had to lie to himself.

He wasn’t proud of that infraction, but it was a necessary one.

His duty came first.

A new truth struck him just then: it seemed that absolute Order was not equipped to answer this kind of question that contradicted itself. This fact astounded him and shook him to the core. To answer this infernal question, one had to veer away from the rules, and blatantly lie to themselves and others – or risk becoming forever stuck in a never-ending logical trap.

It was a question designed specifically to break the logical thought process employed by orderly beings.

And now, the ultimate orderly being: his mistress, had fallen for that clever trap. She had to break her own rules to be free of this fate.

Would she lie to herself like he just did, if only to escape the mental torture? Was she even capable?

Silence reigned as an instance of The Eye descended, and the view switched from the unconscious [Paladin] to the nearest available option: the Eye’s own superior perception. This specific instance was a very strong and battle-ready variant. It was the Smiter variation: specifically designed and properly equipped to annihilate heretics.

Performing his duty, he rushed to man the controls in preparation for combat. He guessed the [Harbinger] would try to interfere with this judgement, but…

But he was distracted by his worries. He kept looking back towards Eterna, who appeared to be stuck with the same glassy look in her eyes.

His distraction and worry for the mistress cost him dearly. It cost him the entire battle.

While he had been distracted, the [Harbinger] had cast a strange effect via spell or skill – Knight Law didn’t know – at the outset of the battle. The effect immobilised the Eye and restricted its movements completely, which nullified the abilities of the Smiter, as it had to get close to its target to be of any use.

This did not prevent it from gathering information, though. A constant stream of notifications flooded his console, as it collected and categorised new information about its environment, and his display was flashing with unprecedented records of new and strange classes: some never before seen in the world, and all of them had to do with Science or Knowledge in some way.

One of those people stepped forward with a wooden spear in hand… How did these primitives know of The Eye’s inherent weakness to piercing weapons made of organic material?

Was this choice of weapon random, or was it based on their observation of the earlier encounter with the Judge variant, the event that started it all?

The fact that organic cells employed both Aspects of Chaos and Order to refine Life should still be an undiscovered secret to them! Unless… they made the correlation somehow, or would make it in the near future.

It was another worrying development.

He made the mistake of looking back to see Eterna’s reaction to this news, and he regretted it immediately when he saw that she was still frozen with the same glassy look. The only exception being her hands, which were starting to shake violently.

But it was a grievous error on his part, because the man with the wooden spear was identified by The Eye as a newly appointed [Champion] of Science, with awe-inspiring skills to match.

Knight Law knew what that meant, as he himself was assaulted by a slew of overwhelming memories with this detail. Long buried memories of a lifetime ago tried to surface, but he managed to suppress them.

Every new deity had the chance to appoint a single [Champion] at the time of their church’s founding. It was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to establish themselves and carve a place in history and help their church grow.

They had to make that decision very carefully, though. It was a special boon that could only happen once in a plane’s entire existence.

A [Champion] was different from a [Harbinger], though. If the [Harbinger] could be said to be the one responsible for breathing life into a novel concept, giving rise to a new Aspect and its opposite in the process; then the [Champion] could be described as the sentinel that embodies and protects the fledgling aspect on their plane of existence.

[Champions] represented the last line of defence for their new faith, and its future potential to grow and prosper, as mandated by the deity that originally bestowed them with the unique class.

Which presented yet another problem: despite its overwhelming combat readiness, this instance of The Eye was not equipped to handle the kind of power a [Champion] could unleash if they went all out. Not even a fledgling [Champion] such as this one.

He felt his helplessness grow as the battle progressed, and only managed to land a single shot of holy energy on the [Harbinger], with no apparent effect. The strange field surrounding him absorbed the power somehow.

All in all, the confrontation ended brutally quickly. With both [Harbinger] and [Champion] arrayed against The Eye, and especially with that infernal tree’s interference… it was a foregone conclusion.

Thus came his current predicament: as the console’s connection to The Eye terminated, he turned, knelt down, and awaited the punishment for his failure.

Nothing happened for a long while, and Knight Law’s worry overrode his fear. He carefully looked up, only to see Eterna still frozen in place.

Was his liege lady… stuck?

What was he to do?

He kept on pondering the situation for an indeterminate length of time, before the despicable Montgomery – God of Indeterministic Chicken Coops and Inverted Latrines – appeared out of thin air, backhanding Eterna across the face while singing “Such a paradox, isn’t it, isn’t it?” in off-key tones, then teleporting away in a puff of mad cackles.

Her stance quickly thawed. He watched as redness spread across her face and she took her first gulp of air in quite a while.

Knight Law immediately made himself scarce, in anticipation of what was soon to follow from that deep inhalation.

Safely tucked away from her impending wrath, he could clearly make out her wail of indignation.

Badtooth woke up to a voice speaking in his head.

After watching the glorious battle of the humans and the stink eye, he’d fallen asleep again.

Apparently, his stomach was having great trouble digesting his most recent meal, which was very strange. Goblins ate anything and everything, and they never faced such problems.

A voice drew him from his ruminations, and spoke– in the Goblin tongue! – telling him that he’d just evolved into a Hob during his sleep, and that he’d received a new class!

He was a [Spell Eater] now, whatever that meant.

When he’d closed his eyes and prayed to the voice for an explanation, it had told him that a [Spell Eater] was a special kind of Hob that could eat magic, like food!

A new source of food! Glorious!

Badtooth was very excited. He couldn’t wait to try eating some magic. Would it taste good? He wondered.

Despite his current state of captivity, he was looking forward to the future.

Speaking of which, he opened his eyes and scrutinised his body, only to feel extremely betrayed.

His body hadn’t grown any larger! In fact, it looked smaller than it did when he went to sleep.

His previously engorged belly had shrunk back down in size as his stomach digested his latest meal.

It was somewhat disappointing; but also not a complete loss, in hindsight. Because he noticed another radical change: he was suddenly able to think much more clearly and deeply. His mind was full of new concepts and ideas, jumping to conclusions and making connections between things he’d never previously considered.

His mental vocabulary had improved too. He was no longer the simple Goblin after a full belly and a safe place to sleep, he reflected. He now had to think in bigger terms.

He had to develop new goals and make plans for the future.

The first step would be to escape captivity, and roam free once more. Then he’d train, eat, grow, and become stronger.

Then he’d go back to his tribe and challenge his brother for leadership, on much better terms this time around.

It was a sound plan, and most importantly: conceivable.

But first… he’d lure that human magician that captured him into casting some spells. He wanted to know the capabilities of his [Spell Eater] class against a strong spell caster.

His class gave him no new skills, though. He remembered his brother getting a skill that made him wield his daggers like a storm when he wished it. So, why hadn’t he received any new skills?

It was quite the mystery.

He was broken away from his thoughts by an angry human voice that he quickly recognised.

“Did you shit in my machine? You little fucker!”


“What are ye sayin’ I MISSED? Ye little fenneckin’ gobwick? Say it again! I dare ye!” Felwar Ironvine bellowed as he unleashed the full extent of his incredulity at Nadeera’s statement.

Nadeera didn’t seem perturbed at all. She took to the challenge, despite the warning looks from Solinda.

“What you missed, my dear Felwar, was a historic confrontation between The Eternal Eye of Judgment and none other than the newly-appointed [Champion] of Science and its [Harbinger], where the Eye was utterly defeated–” She gestured with her hands to stave off his reaction a little longer, “–but I have to congratulate you. I mean… all that time you spent hammering away at your little piece of metal must have been completely worth it. You received a new legendary class, and you made yourself a fine weapon, at least.”

She had enjoyed his gobsmacked expression the first time she’d delivered this news, and now she was driving the point home on purpose. She relished his reactions, and the novel Dwarven insults he always came up with on short notice were often pure gold.

The Dwarf’s big eyes narrowed, and he flew into a biblical storm of incoherent insults to her family tree. His spittle flew, and it caused her to giggle uncontrollably, which made it worse.

Luckily for him, he knew better than to try to harm her physically. Beastkin were notorious for their agility and having their deadly claws at the ready.

The maddened Dwarf only relented in his storm of swearing after Faisal appeared and whispered something in his ear.

His eyes widened in realisation, and he accepted a crystal that Faisal gave him in exchange for handing over the weapon he’d spent the entire morning and most of his afternoon working on.

Nadeera recognised the crystalline artifact that Faisal brought to mollify the Dwarf. It was a memory crystal imbued with a spirit, which gave it the ability of recording a memory in great detail, and later projecting it as an illusion directly into the mind on demand. It was usually used as a handy tool in teaching spells, but it was useful in this instance too, she guessed.

It was quite the expensive artefact, though. In hindsight, she wasn’t really surprised that the [Trader] and [Enchanter] had access to such an item. What surprised her was his willingness to readily sacrifice his merchandise in such a manner, since the memory could never be wiped once imprinted on the crystal, and frankly: this battle could have easily had a drastically different, and much more predictable outcome.

The fact that Faisal had the foresight to record the event once he received the local announcement – or perhaps even earlier – pleased her greatly. It was the smart and logical course of action, she supposed; and now their church had the ability to share and document the record of this battle in great detail, for now and the foreseeable future.

Heedless of her thoughts, the Dwarf pressed the crystal against his forehead and concentrated for a moment with his eyes closed. The crystal glowed briefly, then went dim, and Felwar’s expression was pure rapture, compared to his earlier outburst. He handed the crystal back to Faisal, and rushed off to find his journal and record the events using his more mundane methods.

“Have any of you ladies seen lady Elnora? I’ve not seen her since last night.” Faisal asked, whilst inspecting the unique weapon Felwar had handed to him with apparent curiosity.

Grenda responded in the negative, saying that she’d not seen her at all, followed by an affirmation from Solinda alluding to the same.

“I’ve seen her wandering away this morning, she seemed to be headed in that direction.” Nadeera pointed to the north.

“I’m glad she missed today’s violence, at least.” Faisal stated, and they all murmured or nodded in agreement. The [Færie Queen] would not have liked to witness such violence if she could help it at all, or worse, she might have tried to interfere.

“So, shall we discuss the events of today?” Grenda asked, “I mean, what in the abyss was that contract all about?” She looked at Solinda and Nadeera hopefully, “Solinda also laughed wildly when Ethan West asked his nonsensical question. Can you explain what exactly happened?”

Nadeera and Solinda looked at eachother. The [Lawyer] and the [Mathematician] shared an understanding, and communicated something with that single look.

Nadeera finally spoke, “Have you ever come across the concept of a paradox?”

At the lack of understanding in Grenda’s eyes, she began to explain to the bewildered [Artificer].

Faisal paused in his inspection of the weapon and listened attentively as well.

Nadeera explained how a paradox was a theoretical situation in which – if you followed the rules – a correct answer would be impossible. It was all argument for argument’s sake, which had no basis in reality, as far as she could tell. Her study of law had vaguely brushed across the topic, warning against employing them in argument, and the grave consequences for uttering or even thinking of them.

Felwar came back out of the tent halfway through her explanation, and had decided to join in listening to this information. He asked a curious question.

“Why that be, lass? Wha’s so grave about yer silly questions?” Felwar voiced a question they all had on their minds.

“I never found out, but the warning implied that it was a special kind of heresy that always brought down holy wrath.” She shrugged, “I wasn’t quite sure why back then, but Ethan’s confrontation with the [Paladin] of Order has put some things into perspective for me.” Nadeera concluded.

They all looked thoughtful at this. Could it be that Eterna had controlled their cultures from the outset? Manipulating their world from the shadow through her influence and church, so much so that such venues of thought were completely outlawed?

Felwar – the only person present who had not witnessed the event in question – asked for an example of a paradox.

Solinda leapt at the chance to explain it in her own terms, stating the exact paradox Ethan had used to break the [Paladin’s] binding oath, and describing how it incorporated a self-negating variable that would cause it to always contradict itself.

They talked for a while longer, but the available information was limited. In the end, feeling that they were out of their depth, they decided unanimously to go and find Ethan West.

“Stop pretending to be stupid. I know you can understand me, you little bastard!” Ethan glowered at the Goblin in the cage.

Whilst checking his plastic foundry for damage earlier, Ethan had discovered a piece of disturbing news.

He made his discovery while inspecting the input chute. It sat right there, staring right back at him. Impossibly large and twice as ugly. The most revolting piece of news he’d ever come across.

There was a turd in the machine.

His beloved creation had been defiled by Goblin poop.

And so he’d rushed over to confront the creature responsible for this injustice. The Goblin had looked guilty at first, then wisened up quickly. It immediately started acting like an imbecile.

Ethan didn’t buy it, because of two reasons.

The first was its obvious attempt at acting dumber than it really was. This proved to Ethan that the Goblin was more intelligent than it let on, and that it was quite aware of the consequences of shitting on someone’s work. It was a hunch, but it could be supported by the second fact.

The second was the fact that it had done the deed at all. This – by itself – proved that the creature had a modicum of understanding of the principles of causality. It must have scented the manure on the input chute and decided to ‘donate’ a similar material, in hopes of having the machine produce more plastic.

The fact that the machine required an activation key to function was the only external factor it could not foresee, and what ultimately foiled its careful plan: to form a symbiotic, self-sufficient ecosystem with his machine.

A clever plan that would have otherwise succeeded.

His suspicion that it could understand him was initially confirmed with a simple – if admittedly flawed – experiment.

Ethan adopted a look of dread, looking into the distance somewhere the Goblin couldn’t see, and began to back away in the opposite direction.

“Fire! There’s a fire!” Ethan screamed effeminately before bolting away in a faux state of panic.

The Goblin instantly became alert. Its gaze becoming sharp as it started scanning for any signs of the supposed fire. It started scenting the air for smoke and struggled against the bars of the cage, before realisation hit it.

“Ha! Got you now, you bastard!” Ethan appeared from hiding with triumphant sneer. The Goblin looked dejected for a split second, before resuming its act of looking stupid.

“I suppose that’s fair. You could have panicked from my own sudden reaction. It’s not a conclusive method to prove your intelligence,” Ethan raised a hand to his chin, deep in thought.

“Let’s see. How about this?”

Ethan cast [Analyse] on the Goblin. Even if it became hostile to him as a result, it would still be confined, and would not be able to attack him.

What happened was surprising though. The Goblin’s body absorbed the mana he expended, and its eyes rolled back in absolute pleasure.

Before Ethan could exclaim in shock, there was a notification telling him that his [Analyse] skill had been eaten by the [Spell Eater].

A [Spell Eater]? How come I’ve never heard of such a class before?

It sounded cool, though. The kind of broken ability you’d expect to see in an old Japanese animated fiction.

He looked up from the notification to an unsettling sight. There was now a smiling Goblin hugging the bars of the cage and begging for another treat. Its mouth was open in a terrible smile, all fangs and sharp, dirty teeth.

“You liked that, huh?” Ethan commented.

It nodded enthusiastically and made a creepy meowling sound, dropping all previous pretense of stupidity for the sake of another taste of magic.

“You can understand me now, huh?” Ethan said, and it nodded sagely in response.

What the hell is going on with the lucky breaks?

It was a noticeable pattern now: almost like the universe was actively cooperating and helping him along.

He’d first noticed it with his recent successes and inventions, it was especially apparent during his second battle with The Eye, earlier this morning.

Was this the effect of his luck stat increasing, from the time he helped the [Færie Queen] attain her station and received a new title?

It certainly could be the case, and if so: it had certainly made his life easier. He’d try to milk this phenomena to the utmost, then. If The Wheel was actively helping him right now, then who knew if – or when – it would change its mind, and actively hinder him instead.

He focused back on the Goblin, and started subtly interrogating it in a cordial manner.

“Are you a girl?” It shook its head in the negative, “or a boy?” He asked, and the creature nodded in the affirmative.

Ethan nodded back, before asking another question.

“How old are you?”

The Goblin raised seven fingers, and Ethan noted how it – no, he – had six digits per hand, two of which were opposable thumbs. That was quite the odd evolution.

Was this a mutation from the standard mammalian baseline, or something else?

Thinking on it, was that little guy even naturally evolved, to begin with? Ethan should not be making such assumptions about his species, in truth. Because this was another world, with different rules, and they had magic for goodness sake! Magic, which had affected evolution in a myriad of ways, as evident by his cursory brush with Alchemy earlier.

Applying the rules of his old world here was a bad habit, and one he had to avoid if he wanted to make accurate predictions and informed decisions in this world.

He chastitised himself for this oversight, and turned to observe the cage with the odd creature again. The simple hand gesture it had used to communicate its answer had revealed something else of interest: the Goblin understood the concepts of numbers, counting, and at the very least the basics of addition.

Which was why Ethan had asked after his age in the first place.

“What’s your name, boy?” He asked next.

The Goblin made a series of hisses and clicks in response, then shrugged helplessly. Ethan could detect the presence of at least two distinct sounds, which he assumed to be two different words spoken rapidly together. He instructed his AI to begin decoding this new language.

He had the computing power to decode the language, a willing subject, and a way to bribe said subject into absolute compliance.

The task would also become easier with The Wheel unwittingly providing a one-way bridge of understanding between them, or so was Ethan’s assumption for why the Goblin could understand his speech in the first place.

I guess I’m not carving the new condos today. Seems like today will be dedicated to xenoanthropological studies. Ethan grinned.

“I’m going to say some words, and I want you to repeat them after me in the Goblin tongue. If you do well, I’ll reward you with more magic. Do you understand my terms?” Ethan made his offer, and the Goblin nodded with enthusiasm.

It would take some time, but he’d be able to question the Goblin by the end of the day.

Aylin Merza slowly emerged from her deep meditative state.

Meditation was a necessary skill for any magic-based class, as it helped to passively and permanently increase the rate of mana regeneration, and in some advanced cases: the maximum mana pool.

And now, with the help of her newfound blessing of [Enlightenment] and the scientific method, she had finally found out the exact why of it; or at least she suspected she was on the right path to confirm her theory.

For the first time in her life, she felt a state of well-being. She had sought an answer to her questions, and had found a clear path to said answer.

It was all thanks to her new Goddess and the teachings she had given freely.

No, she had to be frank with herself.

It was all thanks to Ethan West, who had brought the concept of Science to her world from his.

A new, rational method to acquire accurate information was now firmly in her grasp, and she would not squander it. She would not squander her only real chance at achieving greatness and forever carving out her place in the halls of legend.

She would stop her childish pursuits and random flights of fancy. She would stop her vain attempts at attaining greatness by blundering her way into knowledge like a damn fool.

She would make her own new knowledge, by hook or by crook, and with a methodical and rational approach.

She would accept the offer of the Goddess, and join the Church of Science as a [Priestess] in her service, spreading her faith to the four corners of the world.

She would follow this [Harbinger] and learn from him what it meant to be a true scientist. She would make any sacrifice, and pay any price required to achieve her ultimate goal.

After inquiring after the whereabouts of Ethan from the Krell guards near his workshop, the group of Memeta's chosen made their way to the prisoner area, where the battle took place earlier in the day.

They wanted to ask him a lot of questions about the battle and the decisions and actions he took preceding it. More importantly: they wanted to know his reason for initiating and engineering such a confrontation in the first place.

As usual when dealing with Ethan West, they arrived to witness a bizarre scene.

Ethan was saying complex phrases, and a Goblin – of all possible beings – was repeating after him in its garbled language.

This drew the group’s interest, for multiple reasons.

The first was that this was the first serious attempt at communication between one of the ‘enlightened races’ and a ‘monster race’, as far as they knew.

The second was that, if this attempt proved successful, they would be amongst the first to converse with a Goblin, and have a chance of learning of Goblin history and culture, if such a thing even existed to begin with.

The third was a deep shame that they – at least some of them – felt at never attempting this before. The thought had never even crossed their minds.

Granted, the Goblin was still confined to a cage, but it didn’t look like it was being coerced in any way. Ethan was calmly reciting words – and the occasional phrase – seemingly at random, and the Goblin was enthusiastically repeating them back in its own harsh language.

Occasionally, Ethan would cast a spell at it for some odd reason, and what was stranger was the lack of any obvious signs of the spells landing after he cast them. Another puzzle.

The group slowly retreated to a safe distance – as to not disturb the man-goblin pair – and launched into a deep discussion on the merits of this new venture.

Atop a northerly peak, the lone [Færie Queen] stood in the cold wind, heedless of the freezing gales lashing against her unclad form.

She carefully observed the distant skies. She’d sensed it coming this morning, but she had to be absolutely sure.

It was slowly, inexplicably, coming closer.

It would be wise to flee. To abandon this place to its fate.

And there was no way to stop it.

A Beawick was headed this way.

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