Chapter 40

Past and future.

The gods had convened, and the Divine Assembly was in upheaval, yet again.

Some spoke quietly in pairs, while others debated loudly, and some shouted their outrage for all to hear.

The automated predictive subroutines in The Wheel had made an important executive decision to secretly reset the calendar with a new age.

Zalgo smiled with a self-satisfied smirk while observing the glorious pandemonium with a raised water hose in place of brows.

He truly enjoyed nothing like he enjoyed this bedlam of his own making. He loved it when his hard work and real strife were rewarded by chaos on the celestial scale.

He looked first at Memeta, with her stern expression. Then at [Error: Undefined reference], who looked tired.

They were waiting for their turn to speak, to announce a declaration of holy war.

He looked at Eterna across from him, who was still sulking and seemingly confused.

He looked at Denvar and his posse, who were currently shouting empty threats about how this decision had to be reverted immediately, or there would be consequences.

It was natural, Zalgo supposed. It was Denvar’s age that had just ended: The Age of Might, which lasted for nearly three thousand years, and made the Polarii – the beloved race of his [Harbinger] – into what they were today.

Zalgo then looked at Tauldarr – God of War and Conflict, who was observing the proceedings with a smug expression. Yeah, plenty of wars and conflicts were guaranteed to happen soon. He had a right to be smug about it.

He looked at Scintilla and Marlon, the former of which looked very pleased, and the latter of which was completely absorbed in playing with a shimmering ball that changed colour every time it bounced. Zalgo remembered giving it to him as a gift recently. Those two had a long way to go, yet.

He looked at Mordron – The God of Death and Pestilence, and found him stoically watching with no expression apparent on his hideous undead face. That was one to watch for. His nemesis was quietly watching with interest in her eyes, Hayat – Goddess of Life and Healing, was completely content to observe Denvar’s outburst. While they shared a similarity in Aspects, she never did approve of his brutal methods.

Zalgo twisted his mismatched fingers and looked in Clavin’s direction. He was the God of Calamity and Unbalanced Scales. The divine looked put down by the recent beawick, as it was the ultimate move in his domain.

His huge expectations must have been shattered by its colossal failure at harming anyone but a few roaming spirits and stray animals, which must have been a huge let-down for him.

Unlike Clavin, his nemesis was positively shining with happiness, because the new age was part of her domain. That divine was Nivea, the Goddess of Blessings and Karmic Balance.

It was a victory for her domain, because the new age was inspired by a recent blessing, and would balance out Denvar’s power indeed.

Because unbeknownst to the mortals of the world, the Age of Enlightenment was upon the primary material plane.

Zalgo thought it was a glorious day for a new gamble, and started planning his next move.

Day 2 AoE

It was the first day after the blessing of enlightenment, and Ethan was just waking up, cranky and annoyed by his latest dream.

The aftermath of his brush with Eragoth the previous day and his episode of rage had revealed a big truth to him: he had a problem, and he had to deal with it now.

His excessive usage of suppression drugs had gradually started when he first got transported to this world. In the midst of the huge battle with the Polarii, his AI had administered beta blockers directly into his bloodstream – for the first time ever – to keep him steady and rational.

He’d never had to deal with anxiety on this level before, so it was perhaps a justified decision by his AI in an emergency situation.

Then after that danger passed… well… Ethan had quietly ordered his AI to keep him rational and calm by any means necessary, then tried to forget all about it and push through whatever this was.

Which meant his AI was actively regulating his brain chemistry to keep him from breaking down since he came here.

That decision had the nice side effect of keeping him sane so far. It carried him throughout his life and experiences here, while actively preventing him from panicking and recalling what he left behind; but it was now apparent that this process wasn’t perfect, and could have some serious long term ramifications if he didn’t stop it immediately and deal with his problems like a healthy individual.

Which he was honestly reluctant to do now, but he had to do something before things got too bad and he completely lost it.

So instead of leaving the tent and going about his day like normal, Ethan told the guards outside not to enter or let anyone else through no matter what happened.

He was quite clear about what he meant by that command, too: no entry for anyone, not under any circumstances.

He ignored the incessant notifications from The Wheel about changes to the settlement. He ignored the new settlement stats which should have updated by now. He ignored the temptation of food and the rest of his morning rituals.

He took off all his clothes, threw them and everything else out of the tent, and sat cross legged on the stony ground, naked and shivering from the cold and his fraying nerves.

Then he made up his mind and gave some simple commands to his AI: to stop pumping drugs into his bloodstream, and not to try to mitigate his reaction, and to prevent him from casting spells till he calmed back down.

He knew that the effects would be quick, and would gradually get worse. So he braced himself for what he knew was going to happen next.

Then the shakes started.

Eragoth couldn’t sleep throughout what remained of the night, and now that morning had come around: she still sat, brooding in complete silence.

As an ancient who had survived for a whole millennium, she was supposed to be the epitome of wisdom. She was supposed to act with the weight of knowledge behind her. She was supposed to act rationally.

Well, that last part went double because of her new devotion to Science, which she never hesitated to give once she prayed to the new goddess and was promised a boon that would stop her affliction from irreversibly turning her into a full-blooded dragon.

The goddess had obliged, and her problem was swiftly done away with, so why was she acting irrationally around Ethan West?

Why was she even still staying in settlement and assuming the role of an elder? She should be out exploring the world, hunting monsters and getting stronger, now that gaining new levels no longer threatened to further her previous affliction.

She had a whole life ahead of her. Granted, she would age like a dragonkin and not a human from this point onwards, but it was better than the tortures of immortal life and never ageing a single day, and better than the helplessness of watching her first and only child – and his father – grow old and die around her.

Not to mention her mortification a few centuries later, when she finally overcame her fear of ever trying to start anew, only to find out that she couldn’t have children, because The Wheel punished longevity with infertility.

But those problems were now gone, and for the first time of her very long life, she was free from her most insidious of doubts.

She stood up and started pacing inside the confines of her tent, with a single incessant question plaguing her thoughts: the problem was gone, so why was she holding herself back?

The teachings of her new goddess took over and a simple answer came back to her. One that she refused to acknowledge but could not deny to herself anymore.

She wanted someone to share that new life with, and her choice was already made.

This posed a new problem from her perspective, though: from her senseless actions yesterday, she had pushed too hard and he seemed to hate her now.

He wasn’t ready yet, and her incessant probing was a mistake.

Her newly acquired rational thinking posed the solution of apologising for her oversight and declaring her intentions openly.

If he was interested he’d come around, and if not, then she could move on with her life… or perhaps wait.

Decision made, she stopped pacing, and went to find him and execute her plan.

That was before the wailing started and her new plan was shattered to smithereens.

Badtooth woke up in the early afternoon. He felt exhausted, but felt it was worth it. He really liked his rightful form.

He was a Göblis now, and had slept in his unique tent, as befitting his new station.

His tent was larger than all others, presumably to accommodate his new stature, but he took it as a sign of respect from Ethan West as well.

That respect demanded reciprocation. Because to any self-respecting Göblis, good manners were the foundation of civilised society.

It was proof that Ethan West was a man of propriety, and understood the meaning of his transformation without ever asking. Patriarch West had treated him with the respect due from one monarch who recognised another.

During his metamorphosis, Badtooth had unlocked his own racial memories. He’d learnt about what being a true Göblis meant. He’d witnessed the history and past glory of his race, and also their downfall and the injustice dealt them by the gods, and ultimately: their own arrogance and folly.

What remained of his race was a disgraceful, devolved, and disfigured shadow of who they once were.

The remnants lived like animals in today’s world, just as he himself used to. Widely considered to be vermin by the young sapients of the world, and for good reason too.

Badtooth accepted that. He couldn’t blame the other races for the state of his people, but he resolved to change that status quo.

But to affect change, one had to envision the desired effect and plan accordingly.

Badtooth’s new goal was to ultimately restore the glory of his people. But before making one great and overarching plan, he needed to know his own position, first and foremost.

He decided to break that process down to achievable daily goals and work slowly towards it.

Just as rain was the harbinger of great floods, he’d affect change one small droplet at a time.

His first action on this new, glorious day was to stand up from his sleeping furs and admire his new form.

He was taller than average for a Göblis, and his body was chiseled and in peak condition. That was good.

He looked outside his tent, hoping for a set of clothes.

But no luck with a new outfit, sadly. He’d have to stick to his disgusting old loincloth, or maybe…

He looked at the sleeping furs in the corner and decided to wear them as a cloak for now. He’d look like a barbarian, but it was better than what he had now at least.

Before leaving the tent, he tried asking The Wheel for his new stats, and was instead presented with a written character sheet displayed across his vision. It was in the ancient Göb script, which he remembered from his racial memories with strange familiarity.

He was thankful for that.

He was reading the old notification about him completing the metamorphosis into a Göblis and his upgrade into a [Spell Devourer] from a [Spell Eater], in addition to gaining a second mysterious class with a shiny new title, when he heard the distant wails echoing with a familiar voice.

He dropped everything immediately and dismissed the screen in front of him. He quickly exited the tent and rushed in that direction.

Badtooth let his long strides carry him across the settlement at breakneck speeds, closer and closer towards that sound.

Some things in life were more important than titles and classes, and his newfound honour demanded one thing: that kindness had to be reciprocated in kind.

Memeta’s Chosen sat in a circle, contemplating the events of the previous day and early this morning.

But what took over most of their conversation was that their Goddess was responding to prayers again, and the news of what they had learnt from those prayers: their Goddess was declaring war on her elusive nemesis whose name could not be spoken.

This fact elated most of them. A war on on the cult of secrets meant exposing the truth of all things, by hook or by crook, even by force if necessary.

Except… they were instructed not to take part in it, for now.

They were specifically instructed to remain in this settlement, and to continue to assist Ethan West. They were also instructed to remain completely neutral in this war.

The only person who seemed truly happy about this was Elnora, the [Færie Queen] to a cranky dwarf’s great chagrin.

Elnora had been very silent and raised no complaints about what this new Celestial War meant. Her hatred for violence was a well known fact, yet oddly enough, she made no move to complain or speak against it.

She seemed to be occupied by another thought entirely, so they let her stew in peace.

It was now early in the afternoon, and she was still lost in thought. Nothing they said got a rise out of her.

That was until they heard the anguished wails coming from the direction of Ethan’s tent.

Elnora immediately shot up from her seated position, and rushed in the direction of the sound. They all exchanged glances before rushing to follow and investigate.

Kothar was at a standoff with the guards protecting Ethan’s tent before everyone else arrived.

He’d arrived earlier to check on Ethan when he didn’t join him for breakfast. Only to be denied entry by the guards.

So he’d bided his time and waited.

Then the wails started and he’d tried to go on, but the guards were adamant that their instructions were absolutely clear.

Then people came rushing from all over the settlement, thinking there was an attack.
The recently evolved Göblis was first. Then Eragoth came flying in her dragonkin form. Then Memeta’s Chosen made their appearance, with a distraught [Færie Queen] in the lead.

That entire posse tried to get past the guards, but Kothar found himself confronted by a binary choice: he had to either honour his best friend’s wishes, or go against them

And so he chose the former. Kothar stood facing them and joined the guards in protecting the tent. Despite his wish to know if Ethan had come to harm, he remembered how much he trusted that man, and after all they went through: he found it in himself to trust Ethan with his life – and more – if he had to.

Kothar knew Ethan, and judged him worthy. He had never tried to deceive him, and had placed his trust in him before. He came with him to this settlement without a single guarantee of safety, and despite his initial imprisonment by Eragoth back then, he’d never held it against Kothar.

So Kothar did not hesitate.

The problem, however, was that each of the gathered posse had their own reasons for entering the tent. They tried to argue, and tried to cajole, and when all else failed, some settled to wait while others tried to force their way past Kothar’s vigil.

What came as a surprise was which of them chose what option.

Eragoth sat to the side with the Göblis to wait. While Elnora continued to argue, and finally her frustration overcame her reason and she tried to attack Kothar and the guards to get inside.

Much to the absolute shock of her companions.

She came at them, and not with tooth and claw. No, it was much worse.

It was going to be a difficult fight, in hindsight. Because while most Fæy creatures were pacifists in nature, fighting them using brute strength was a losing proposition.

The galaxy of stars around her eyes shimmered and shone with a golden ethereal fire, and just from one look, her area of attack ability activated, and the two guards behind Kothar dropped to the ground, reduced to drooling like baby children.

But Kothar was made of sterner stuff. His new status as a [Champion] of Science had its own benefits, he supposed. He stoically withstood her mental assault, with no outward sign of distress.

His complete disregard of the full onslaught of her mental attack shocked her greatly, because she suddenly realised that her biggest major advantage was meaningless against him. She backed away in awe, and seemed to realise her mistake when Kothar’s spear shot towards her midsection at a speed too fast for the human eye to track.

He instinctively knew that what she’d just tried to do would have reduced him to a vegetable, with irreversible damages if left untreated, and he decided to return the favour. Not with a lethal thrust, but with a memorable injury to put her in her place and quell her foolishness.

Regicide was never tolerated by the Fæy, which was why he only planned to wound her with his full stopping power.

It was then time for Kothar to receive the shock of his life, when his spear was intercepted by a deft emerald hand.

Kothar would have never thought that there was a living being capable of intercepting [Terminal Velocity] at full strength and speed, and much less from a seated position located a fair distance away.

He reevaluated his assessment of the Göblis’ strength immediately, before the green guy said something unexpected that left him speechless and forced him to reevaluate his intelligence as well.

Badtooth spoke in the clear and precise tones, befitting a wise monarch with a regal bearing, single-handedly freezing everyone in their tracks.

“Is this what you wish Ethan West to see after he is done with his grief?” He looked at both sides of the conflict with slanted eyes full of disdain, “The dead and injured bodies of companions and friends he thought he really knew?”

He extended the spear he’d caught back to Kothar in a non-hostile gesture of goodwill, and Kothar accepted it while looking abashed. The Göblis then moved to check on the two fallen guards, and with a single touch nullified whatever magic was holding their brains captive and making them vegetative. They thankfully stirred.

He turned back to face the [Færie Queen], who looked ashamed and shocked at her behaviour now that she’d had the chance to calm down and review her actions so far. He spoke again with a new and tangible weight to his words.

“Monarch, you have transgressed, for you have wronged these men, and they did you no slight beforehand by following the orders of their liege.” He said while pointing at the two prone guards, who’d begun to open their bleary eyes and recover from their previous state.

She snapped out of her daze and seemed too ashamed to respond. She kept her eyes on the ground and kept her silence.

“You must apologise and ask to make amends to atone for your transgression.” He commanded with a strange surety.

The dwarf snorted at this while writing furiously into his journal, but stopped writing in shock when Elnora followed the Göblis’ advice.

“I wish to apologise for my transgression, and to make amends.” She spoke solemnly in a formal tone.

Kothar helped the two guards up, and they stood there, looking at one another in bewilderment.

“What are your names?” She asked again.

“I am Mantor, but my friends call me Mannie.” The one to the left responded to this question easily.

The other responded as well.

“Duron.” The more hulking of the two said tersely, his anger not gone in the slightest.

“Then allow me to give you a gift as my apology.” Elnora said while approaching the duo. Kothar thought to intercept her again, but decided against it and moved to the side. She’d seemed genuine.

The guards reacted predictably by shying away from her approach, Duron’s hand went to his spear, but Kothar shook his head and he stopped immediately.

“Let her make her peace.” Kothar commanded, and they both stood still in absolute obedience as she approached.

Kothar supposed there were benefits to being a [Champion] after all.

Elnora touched both of the guards in turn, and a shimmering golden fire engulfed them shortly, after which they looked the same, except for the telltale glassy eyes that told Kothar that they were reading a notification from The Wheel.

“She didn’t… Did she, lads?” Felwar asked a question of his companions in a bewildered tone.

Now Kothar was curious, and Badtooth spoke up again.

“I believe that was more than sufficient to make amends to the guards. Thank you.” The Göblis said while smiling an approving smile.

Kothar used one of his new skills for the first time: [Inspect Flock], which only worked on subordinates and followers of the Church of Science, allowing him to assess their wellbeing, and was able to see what was cast.

It appeared that as of now, Mantor and Duron were simultaneously blessed with [Enlightenment] and [Awareness], which he supposed was a great boon for them. He didn’t know what [Awareness] was supposed to do, but could intuit its function from its name and the context in which it was given, and by whom.

It must have cost the [Priestess] of Information greatly, though. Kothar agreed with the assessment of the Göblis, this was a great boon to both guards.

Then the Göblis spoke up, “Aren’t you forgetting somebody else you wronged just now?”

The [Færie Queen] looked abashed while avoiding staring at Kothar, while Kothar himself looked embarrassed by the reminder of what he’d almost done.

She finally looked back at him with a conflicted expression, and he knew what she must be thinking. She was hesitant of making him more powerful than he already was, and he couldn’t fault her for her logic, as a member of another church.

He’d hesitate too, in her position. She closed her eyes and seemed to be praying for guidance.

“By my goddess’ will, I cannot give you the same–” She said apologetically while pointing to the sky, “–but please let me apologise and make amends by giving you something of equal value.” She seemed conflicted about that part.

“No need to make amends.” Kothar responded, “I completely understand, and formally accept your apology and absolve you from any related obligations.” He said simply.

She looked relieved at first, then her face scrunched up in a frown. She advanced towards him with an adamant expression permeating her features.

He tried to back away, but she lunged across the distance and hugged him tightly. He hoped Milandera wasn’t around witnessing this, because having another naked woman hug him this tight was surely going to be a great conversation opener to have with his intended in the near future. He was sure that news of this would spread around and come back to bite him in the ass later, though; so he didn’t dare hope otherwise and braced himself for the confrontation.

But the hug had effects other than reaffirm his virility, as well. As she continued to hug him tight, power began to flow from her and into him. It was an infusion of unsoiled Fæy magic at its purest. Something that no other human had experienced for millennia.

She broke the hug and slumped back in exhaustion.

“That was all… me. I hope you… accept this as an… adequate compensation.” She spoke between shallow inhalations with a barely audible voice.

Kothar tried to object but she shushed him into silence.

“You deserved that. I was wrong in what I did, and I apologise. So, thank you.” She finally appeared to gain her breath, although the golden fire around her eyes had dimmed greatly, before she closed her eyes, and that area of her face returned to the normal display of a serene field of stars.

He didn’t know what she’d exactly done, as there were no notifications from The Wheel; but he supposed it was done with good intentions, and that he’d find out later about whatever had just happened for himself.

Now all of them stood silent, and finally noticed that Ethan’s anguished wails had turned into quiet, heartbreaking sobs that only those close enough could hear.

Kothar dismissed everyone other than himself, the two newly blessed guards, a couple of shamans just in case, and the posse who’d wanted to enter.

They then all took seats around the central bonfire, and settled to wait for Ethan to emerge on his own terms, some quietly exchanging words and some lost to the world in thought.

Ethan’s wails had stopped, yet he sobbed and sobbed.

They were all lost to him, perhaps forever.

His family. His friends.

His fiancée.

She was lost to him now, and he had no way to know if she would be okay without him there to support and comfort her.

Painful, bittersweet memories of their times together assaulted him mercilessly. He was forever lost to her now.

Oh Adiah, please forgive me. He lamented as his regret intensified, “I never meant those things.” He whispered quietly, remembering their last conversation that morning before he went to work.

He would never help her stand against her father’s narcissistic tyranny, and his obsession over controlling her life again.

She’d revert to being the lonely, traumatised daughter of her dad. His plaything to shape according to his own twisted vision and his delusions of a perfect daughter that obeyed his every whim.

Or maybe she’d find her mother? But what were the chances of that? Her mother had left on the first generation ship available en route to Alpha Centauri after she divorced that toxic man.

He couldn’t fault her mother for leaving, but he did fault her for abandoning her wonderful daughter to her fate of suffering at the hands of that disgusting maniac. He resented her for putting her daughter through that. For letting her be raised by a narcissist that only ever cared for himself, his deluded self image, and selfish desires.

He remembered when they’d first met in university. Ethan was being a super-geek, as usual, in the cafeteria toying with a little drone he’d built from old parts.

The drone had gone out of control while flying and crashed into her. But instead of getting angry, she got excited by the way the drone folded into a ball before the crash as part of its built-in safety routine.

Ethan would never forget her innocent look of absolute joy at that moment, and how she grilled him on the folding mechanism. She was so genuinely interested and he couldn’t help but satisfy her boundless curiosity.

He laughed amidst the tears as he remembered how she insisted he take it all apart for her to see the inner workings, and how she chided him for not using an inertial stabilizer and opting to code that part himself as part of the firmware.

She’d later looked at that part of the code and expressed her admiration for his tech savvy.

They’d also laughed themselves to tears back then, when they found out the reason for the crash. Ethan had wired the starboard and port thrusters in reverse. His drone was working correctly, just going in the reverse direction of where he wanted it to go.

So Ethan had told her jokingly that this was how fate had planned for them to meet. She called him a delusional fool for believing in fate; but her cheeks had instantly flushed red, and that gave him the confidence and the courage to ask her out.

That was the story of their first meeting, and how they came to be inseparable later in life.

Oh, how he missed her.

The memory triggered something new in him, though. A strong resolve to go back and see their story to its conclusion.

It was perhaps a hopeless dream. But every impossible feat in history started with a hopeless dream.

His tears finally stopped, and his sobbing ceased. His resolve hardened into a near-physical thing inside of his chest.

To make that dream a reality…

He stood up, and exited the tent naked as the day he was born.

It was time to take the kiddy gloves off.

A different Ethan exited the tent, and all those gathered could see it for themselves.

No one paid attention to his state of undress, for all eyes were on the crystal sharp sapphires shining with determination he now had in his face in place of his usually placid eyes.

He moved with purpose to the nearby pile of stacked belonging, and only put on his clothes and grabbed his pack.

He didn’t respond to anyone who tried to ask him for explanations. He went directly to his workshop while ignoring all prompts, and sealed himself in.

Before going in, he gave quick and terse commands to Kothar for things he wanted done in his absence, and commanded guards placed on the workshop’s entrance for a week with no one allowed in, except to bring him food and water.

That was the last anyone saw of him for an entire week.

And when he would later emerge…

He would have changed everything… forever. Yet again.

Volume[ 0 ].end();

This concludes the first book of The Magineer.

This marks the ending of the first arc of the story: "Denial". I'll see you again in the next: "Anger", which will be starting soon.

Thank you for sticking around for so long! I hope you enjoyed the story so far, and will continue to enjoy it in the future! Some of you might be worried that this is the end, but it's a new beginning! More to come soon in the next volume!

This first volume will be published soon, after some rigorous rewriting of the early chapters to bring them up to standard! It will be a longish book, with an estimated baseline of 650 pages in print, based on word count alone.