I wish I could say that was the end of things and I never made another god again, but you read the opening of this story. You know it isn't true. And I made many more gods under the orders of Haine or her sister, when I watched the mortals and couldn't stand for their suffering to continue any longer, and I thought that the "gift" I would give might be a blessing instead of the curse I thought it was.
Luckily, the next person I transformed truly did believe it was a blessing that I gave her, though she never believed that I was superior and she mostly appreciated what I had done for exactly the wrong reasons. But beggars can't be choosers, I suppose. And Sylph has the best cause of everyone to see me still as a fallible mortal and not the first of the new gods to walk on the planet.
I would visit her now that I was free from that seal, but first there was a conversation I needed to have with the young lady. She had lost consciousness at some point and I transformed into my humanoid form for the first time in a millennium, walking out of the lake and dragging her behind me by the back of her robes, heedless of the water in my armor that weighed me down. I probably made for a humorous sight, the water leaking back out in spurts between the joints of the armor, and it was just as well that I had picked a secluded area to surface. I dropped the woman none too lightly on the ground, though it was swampy enough not to matter, and then went about the process of getting the rest of the water out.
She stayed unconscious the whole time it took, thankfully, and I spent some time carefully positioning myself so I would be perched nearby with my cape spread out dramatically behind me, giving myself a most impressive silhouette, if I said so myself. And I'm not vain, it's simply that I really do believe first impressions are important, and I wanted this woman to cooperate with me. Or at least understand that I really was powerful enough to obliterate her off the planet without an effort.
Which I could. But I wouldn't.
It was a little longer before she awoke, and when she saw that I was sitting there, she jerked back. She scrambled to her feet and grabbed at her sword, though it took a few tries for her to actually wrap her fingers around the pommel of the sword and pull it free of its sheath. "St-stay back!"
"Do you honestly think that that sword of yours is going to do anything?" I asked her, putting scorn into my voice. For the most part, I faced the lake, only barely turning my head to look at her through the slits in my helmet. "And it's quite rude to point a sword at someone who just saved your life."
"I didn't need you to save me!" she snapped. The sword shook visibly. "A heathen god like you—"
Heathen god? "Pardon? Who are you to call me a heathen? You don't even worship the gods of this world." But her words troubled me and I reached for her thoughts without thinking, rifling through them easily. What I found surprised me.
"Trouble, my darling Nereus?"
"These beliefs… are they native to the people of that other planet?"
"Of course not, dear. Amour and I thought their beliefs were a little boring, so we decided to conduct a little experiment. We made up our own little systems and tested them against one another to see which was the most influential."
"At least I am a real god, unlike those petty delusions that you believe in," I said aloud, withdrawing from her mind. I really did need to break that habit if I wanted to avoid more conversations with that woman. "When was the last time those goddesses of yours answered a prayer, hm? Or have you deluded yourselves into believing that whatever favor luck seems to show you, that is a sign from your illusions that you're following the whims of those characters?"
"My gods are not delusions! They will strike you down for this heresy!"
"They're welcome to." I pushed myself to my feet, my armor sticking slightly. I need to go home and maintain them before they started to rust. "In any case, you are a water mage yourself, correct? I would like to ask for your assistance."
"And why would I help someone that just insulted me and my religions? Heathen entity, begone from this world!"
With that, I sighed. "Clearly we've gotten off on the wrong foot here." Which was her fault for calling me a heathen, but I doubted that bringing that particular point up would make any difference. "I'll leave you be for now, but rest assured that you will be helping me eventually." And I fully intended to follow through with that. And I did. But we haven't gotten to that point yet. I nodded in her direction and then teleported away, reappearing in the Underwater Grotto, my home for five thousand years.
The Underwater Grotto is a very, very large palace at the bottom of the Sea of Sorrows. Originally when I became a god, I had formed an enormous castle out of ice frozen from the sea water and which floated on top of the sea, much as Jaswinder's sky fortress is constantly moving in through the atmosphere. It was only once Jin had been transformed with a god and turned his attention to our domiciles in an effort to distract himself from his broken heart that we gained lairs that were true works of art. In my case, the Grotto was made of dark blue marble with white swirls, giving it the appearance of water frozen in time.
For all its size, the Grotto was made up of fur main components—my audience chamber, which was probably large enough to accommodate a small city; my bedroom; my library, which is composed of the sum of all the knowledge in the universe; and my bathroom. My bathroom is actually larger than my bedroom, and a true feat of engineering—it contained a large, rectangular pool of cold water, the water of which was constantly being removed from the pool through drains along the bottom, was filtered through a series of bedrock and limestone layers, and was then poured back into the bath through a waterfall. If it isn't entirely clearly, I love my bathroom. I thanked Jin daily for it for nearly a century before he finally told me that if I did it again, he was going to use me as materials for his next project.
I knelt down in my audience chamber and brushed a finger carefully along the floor, then checked. Not a spot of dust in a thousand years. Impressive. With that confirmed, I headed for my bedroom. My palace is fairly brightly-lit by lamps made of luminescent rocks that were set into the wall, but my room was much darker. There were two lamps, both of which covered with lanterns of blue silk. I would need to check and see if the shades would need to be replaced with fresh ones later, but at the moment, my only concern was to get myself out of the binding and heavy armor. Once again, it had been a thousand years since I had been in my humanoid form and I had gotten out of practice with the armor's weight.
With the goddess inhabiting that woman's body, I wouldn't need to worry about being assaulted any time soon, and I felt safe in setting my armor on its stand and beginning to work myself out of the tightly-laced gambeson and quilted cuirasses, instead putting on a loose shirt and a well-worn leather vest along with loose cotton trousers. I left my shoes off to dry while I took out the soft cloth and mineral spirits and began carefully wiping each piece, removing any oil that may have still been in place, though I felt somewhat ridiculous doing so. I had been underwater, after all. Still, the motions of long habit soothed me and I was soon carefully applying oil to the armor with another soft cloth using the same motions, almost in a trance as I went through the motions. It was only once I was finished that I stretched out and looked upwards. Even with the ceiling in the way, now that I was unsealed from the lake, I could feel the temperature of all the bodies of water on the planet. As it was, the heat on the Sea of Sorrows told me that it was early afternoon. Plenty of time to make my visits.
My first stops didn't require any kind of show. I didn't change my clothes from when I had been cleaning the armor, only adding the platinum circlet with the small chunk of blue sapphire where it would rest in the center of my forehead. It had been another present from Jin; a gift of friendship, he called it. I would be seeing him second, and I thought it might please him if I wore the circlet. I didn't imagine he would be in much of a better mood after one thousand years of sealing.
I had first met Sylph seven thousands years ago, just a few years after I had first become the god of water. She was a tree nymph and to this day regards herself as one—perhaps with more reason than most would have. We three first gods had been changed from mutable to immutable versions of ourselves, our bodies stronger, more durable, able to run miles without wearying if we chose that method of transport. Our powers had grown beyond what they had once been as well, and we had discovered our abilities to shift from our human forms to animal ones as well. We had also discovered that there was nothing that could kill us or cause us any serious harm—nothing, save for pieces of our power that we later released from our bodies unwillingly, and which crystallized into weapons. Along with my growing empathy, which was quickly making the entire planet a headache to deal with, we all both did not consider ourselves humans and were encouraged to divorce ourselves from humanity, finding sanctuaries for ourselves where we could.
Sylph's transformation was not nearly as dramatic. As Rajnish once commented, when Sylph became an immortal, she didn't so much change as reach her full potential. Tree nymphs may look like human beings, but they are as far removed from them as we immortals were. They already had long lives—Sylph was already a thousand years old when I met her, and she was considered just approaching adulthood when she was turned. They were also naturally incorporeal, their normal forms being intangible spirits which inhabited the trees they were born from. When she was transformed, Sylph only experienced three changes—her eyes changed from the blind gold of other tree nymphs to brilliant (and still blind) green, her body was forced to age in appearance, for reasons we've never completely been able to figure out, and her mental powers expanded. All tree nymphs had telepathy so as to communicate with plants and with each other when they did not have bodies; Sylph's telepathy expanded much in the same way as my empathy, and even developed to the point where she could "grant" the rest of us telepathy by creating a sort of network for us to use. She was also able to "see" in a fashion, though I never quite understood her explanation.
Similarly, her life had not changed since she had become a goddess either—in fact, from what I understood, the other tree nymphs thought of her position as the goddess of the wood to be secondary, if it had any importance at all, to her position in the tree nymphs social structure. She still functioned as a doctor, which she had earned with the skills she had been taught by her second mother; she was still responsible for reconnaissance of the forest and helping to plan to repel attackers; and she still sparred with the foot soldiers. In short, while we three had repelled ourselves away from society, she had instead been further embraced by it.
Which was nice, actually. As I teleported to the edge of the holy forest and stepped into it—out of respect for the tree nymphs—two soldiers stepped out of the bordering trees. "Yong? Is that you?"
"Chloris. Zephyr." I smiled, though they couldn't see. I bowed to them, who were my seniors, and they returned the gesture. "It's been a long time."
"That would be an understatement," Chloris, who stood on the right and had her dark green hair clipped to hang just under her ears, commented dryly. She held a spear in one hand and, as all tree nymphs, her scanty clothing was made of leaves. "We heard from Lady Sylph the conditions of her imprisonment in the forest. I take it that you were freed from your own?"
"Yes. I came here to discuss the matter with her and discuss how the same could be done for her."
"I am sure she will be pleased to see you, though things have changed greatly since you all were sealed away."
"So I am aware." It was the telepathy that Sylph had given me that had been suppressed by the seal, not my empathy. I wasn't entirely sure if that was because the telepathy wasn't natural or because Haine was a complete bitch. Or both, it's not as though the two were mutually exclusive options.
Zephyr gestured me forward. "Lady Sylph is under her tree at the moment. This is the time of day when she takes patients."
"Thank you, both of you." I nodded at them and passed by. Once they had resumed their posts in the trees, I sped through the forest; once again, I didn't teleport in the forest out of respct for the tree nymphs' sense of territory, but that didn't mean I wouldn't use my gifts to my advantage.
As the two guards had said, Sylph was sitting under her tree with her legs crossed, her faithful companion, Mori the wolf, lying at her side. At the moment, she had a patient with what looked like a broken arm. She was muttering to herself in the language of the tree nymphs and prodding at the break, much to the distress of the patient. I winced as I walked up; at this close proximity, the patient's emotions—and pain—were being precisely duplicated in my own body. "Sylph, stop that. You're going to make the poor boy faint."
Then he would learn not to do reckless things that cause him pain," was the offhand reply by the tree nymph. "I don't understand how you fleshy things can go through life with so much sensation without being driven insane or some such."
"We're modeled differently from you." The boy screamed as Sylph snapped the bone back into place and then began rub at the site of the breakage, probably to coax any bone fragments to move out of the surrounding tissue and back to where they needed to be for her to fully mend the limb.
I wrinkled my nose at the smell of urine, but I could not precisely blame the poor mortal for soiling himself. Sylph's bedside manner left something to be desired in creatures with nerve endings. A little more rubbing saw the mortal's eyes rolling into his head and he passed out on the ground. Immediately, I let out a sigh of relief, the mortal's emotions vanishing at the same instant. "So it seems that you've been the busiest of us all during this millennium."
"So it would seem." She prodded at the arm for a moment longer; then, apparently satisfied, she set the now-whole limb to rest across the chest of the boy and stood up. "Come. I should have a few minutes before my next patient; would you like something to drink?" As what was essentially an extension of the tree, Sylph and her kind had no need to eat; as long as the tree they originated from lived, they would live as well, and so they mainly drank different varieties of tea or water. They did have some sort of bodies, after all, and it could be dehydrated just like a human's, though not as easily.
"If you have the time." Nodding, she guided me over to where a pot of something was boiling in a teakettle over a small fire. Mori followed her along. As we took our seats, Mori came to my side and nudged. I grinned and obliged her, running my fingers through her fur and ruffling her ears. "Long time no see, Mori. I hop eht at you have done an adequate job of keeping your mistress safe." Mori looked at me, silent and faithful as ever, until I turned my attention back to the pot. The smell of bitter and rich, but strangely appealing. "What is it?"
"Some new herb that these new people introduced to the planet some time ago. I do not understand the appeal, but it seems to help them with their stamina." She poured a dark brown, almost black liquid into a teacup and handed it over. "I make it for my patients. Htye seem to find it rather bracing after their healing sessions."
"I can't imagine why," I joked before cautiously taking a sip.
"This is… this is delicious. What do they call this?"
"Café or cofe, something like that?" She gestured for me to take a seat and sat down herself, folding her legs under herself and reaching for a second pot that I now saw had been tucked into the coals to the side of the fire. She poured out what looked like a regular herbal tea for herself, and we enjoyed our drink.
After some time passed, I spoke. "So, may I ask the circumstances of this war you seem to have found yourself in?"
She sighed. "These humans… I must say, I find them far inferior to the originals of this planet that once walked the earth. They found those abominations and for one reason or another, they seem to find them worthy of help, or at least of giving monetary aid too. They sell them weapons and foods, whatever they need."
"They are new to this planet, Sylph. We cannot expect them to understand the nuances of the history of this place, or why you and yours would find it so offensive for them to sell things to your enemy. And they may not have had help in mind; if they are merchants, then they must sell to make a livelihood."
She huffed at that. "I am well-aware of their disadvantages, Nereus; do not confuse me for a fool. But I can still read their minds and I find them incomprehensible; when they see those abominations, they look at them with eyes and pity and disgust, but they still insist on taking pity on them. They do not only sell them items, they give things to them and offer them shelter if they are far from home."
"Humans are a confusing lot," I agreed, "But they may think that they hope to do some good. Or perhaps they are trying to make converts to their new religion, whatever that is."
At that, Sylph looked as though she was nearly about to spit out her tea. She did manage to swallow, and then her mouth twisted into a sneer. "Do not bring up that half-hearted joke by those useless goddesses to me, if you please."
I raised an eyebrow at her. "You already knew about that?"
"Knew about it? I have been able to hear the voices of these new humans for over a thousand years, Nereus, and I have a mind of my own. It was simple enough to figure out what had occurred and what has occurred over the years. I have tried to mitigate things as much as possible, but as my reach does not stretch beyond the forest…" She shook her head, letting out a hissing breath out between her "teeth." "It is easy enough for them to write me off as simply being an especially powerful tree nymph. They will not see the truth without proof."
"But then it's not faith, Sylph."
"Does it matter whether it is faith or if it is reason that guides them back to you?" she challenged. "You should have felt their emotions. Do you know what they have done? They have perverted their own societies to better fit with these new laws—both here and in Noir. They need guidance from us before they manage to self-destruct. As much as I may dislike them, and I would declare war on them if we were not already embroiled in one, the planet has been happier with them here. In some sense, even I am happier with them here, even if they are wrecking things. It was far too quiet for far too long without sentient life beyond the nature spirits here, and I do not wish to visit that time period again."
"If that is what you wish," I said, sighing. "I intended to begin checking my shrines and having them renovate them if possible."
"And if not?"
"Then I will send a typhoon upon their villages, the likes of which have never been seen in their lifetimes because I have been sealed," I answered testily. "They may pray to these false gods of theirs, but they will not save them. I can. They may resent me for it, but they will see what a lie their religion is in the end."
Sylph "looked" at my thoughtfully. "You were always a very ruthless man once provoked, Nereus."
"And you were right by my side for every moment," I reminded.
"So I was. And I can live with that, but can you?"