Prophet of Monsters
The Secret Diaries of the Prophet of Monsters
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From the Prophet's secret diaries...
My cretinous opponent tried some half-thought-out move and screwed one leg knee deep into the ground, so I took the opportunity to relieve him of the head he wasn't using.
Over his corpse, I sang the final lines of the poem I had been composing during the fight:
As it turns out, you needed your head -
For without it, you are suddenly dead.
I looked around the cavern in satisfaction. Four heroes, four corpses. Humming merrily, I took a few of the shiniest coins from their purses to add to my collection, then - on a whim - arranged the bodies into compromising positions. Someday more heroes might come here and wonder what these four had been up to.
Just then my legs weakened and my temples throbbed, and a mighty vibration shook my chest. I thought that I was suffering a stroke, but it was only the deep, slow voice of my master, The God of Monsters.
"Mighty Minion, I Have A New Task For You!" My Lord tends to speak in cases. It seems rather pretentious to me, but after all, he is the god of all monsters.
I grovelled dutifully. "As my Lord commands, Almighty."
There was a sizzling sound overhead. "Are You Mocking Me, Creature?"
"No, no, my Lord! Merely a twinge from an old war wound. It's nothing, really, nothing." Me and my smart mouth. I had overdone the sugar.
"I See. I Was Going To Promote You To Be A Dungeon Master, But now I Think I See A Better Career Move For You."
"Master, please! I intended no disrepect!"
"You Shall Be Exiled To The Surface, To Be My Prophet There."
Knowing my Master's sense of humour, that didn't sound nearly as bad as I had expected. "As you will, my Lord."
"You Shall Be A Hero."
"What? You must be - er, I mean, why must I be a hero, my Master?"
"The Surface Dwellers Have Grown Bold. They Are Raiding The Dungeons And Plundering My Treasuries. You Shall Carry My Warning To Them That This Must Cease. They Will Never Listen To A Monster, Therefore You Must Appear Human."
"Heroes fight monsters. I'll be fighting against my own kind!"
"Indeed. I Cannot Deny You That Pleasure. In Compensation, You Will Begin As All Heroes Do - Small, Weak, Naked, Without Skills And Without A Clue. It Begins Now. Begone!"
A public temple in Godville
Screams, panic and running feet, followed by a stunning blow to the head.
I sat up and looked around. Good, the temple was empty and there had been no witnesses to my little episode. I resolved not to do that again.
I looked down. I had puny arms and a scrawny chest and a - huh. I had forgotten that surface dwellers breed differently to monsters. Well, if all heroes were as ugly as the ones I had fought, then I must be ugly too, so it was hardly likely to matter.
I grabbed the sacrificial knife from the altar. A quick slash of the knife turned the altar cloth into a crude poncho that hung to my knees front and back, but left my arms free. It was no armour, but it covered my hideously shrunken body.
The next thing was a quick prayer for deliverance. A priest came in and told me to kneel and to pray quietly. Oh. I hastily stopped my howling, prostrating and arm waving. Good thing there were no heroes around, or they'd have pegged me as a monster immediately. Playing a human was going to be harder than I thought.
The priest told me that was better, and that everything was the will of the Great One. Remembering that heroes worship a multitude of gods, I almost asked "Which one?" but managed to bite down on the words.
Let's see, I thought to myself, What shall I do next? Oh yes, heroes need to quest. Well, that's easy. My first quest will be to look for a new quest.
Suiting action to thought, I set off.
Godville struck me like a slap to the face. I was used to the deep darkness and reverent silence of the dungeon, disturbed only slightly here and there by teams of moles busy extending the network and by intruding groups of heroes. These surface streets baked in a terrible glare and everywhere there were humans and their cowed monster "pets", all rushing about on their pathetic errands. No wonder they invaded the dungeons, this was a madhouse!
Blocky, brutalist buildings lined the main streets, most with poky little shops embedded in their street frontage. Grotesque golden temples lined other streets, forming little neighbourhoods. Wherever there was a bit of ground higher than its surroundings, temples clustered on the ridges like barnacles on a capsized ship. I gasped at the extent of it all. There must be nearly 10,000 of the things - more, if you included the half-built structures. Thirty billion coins' worth! No wonder my Lord was angered by the plundering of His demesnes.
How many innocent monsters died to provide the gold for these monuments to stupidity and cruelty? How many noble bosses were haggled to death by gangs of greedy thugs?
Speaking of ships, most temples had piles of wood stacked next to them. In some places the more enterprising heroes had even begun building ships from the wood piles. These slovenly accretions of crudely planed planks and clusters of bent nails sagged like broken-backed camels, eyesores redolent of bruised thumbs and alcoholic shipwrights.
How many dungeon hoards had been plundered to provide the gopher wood being wasted here? How many gopher tree groves were chopped down by heroes on epic quests?
It made me feel sick. I was a stranger in a strange land. I decided to flee this evil city and seek strength in the peaceful woods.
On the road
The gatekeeper wanted to demand a bribe from me, but I caught his eye and let him see there a glimpse of my true nature. He blanched and backed down. Bullies...
As I moved out into the fields, I saw movement beneath the trees on the other side of the cultivation. A welcoming committee of monsters! My heart lifted.
Weaponless, I stropped my fingernails on a convenient piece of rock.
First to greet me was an Octobear. He roared and charged me, all arms flailing. I danced around him, delicately picking at him with my sharpened nails until his seams gave way and his arms fell off. A final slash settled the score.
Next was a Battle Hamster. He had seen the fate of the Octobear and approached me more cautiously. It was a tough fight, so I resorted to psychological tactics. "I shall make you my pet, little Hamster!" I told him. He was so aghast at this that I was able to slip inside his guard and beat him to death. He protested that he would never be my pet - and he was right.
The other monsters were cowed and kept their distance. I felt a sudden impulse to dig for gold. I found none, but seeing me distracted, a Pixel Hunter took the opportunity to try to jump me from behind.
We faced off. He seemed rather large and strong, so I decided to soften him up with a Nimble attack. The first part of the Nimble went well, and I delivered a flattening blow to his head, but when I turned to deliver the second strike I was met by a stunning riposte that sent me spinning head over heels. What the - ? Oh-oh.
I tried a Deafening battle cry. Undaunted, the Pixel Hunter roared back even louder. Leeching? All I got was a headache. I had lost all my Boss abilities!
Battered and bleeding, I fought on, but hopelessly now. I delivered a mighty stroke that should have laid the Pixel Hunter out like a map, only to see him get back up and prepare a blow of his own. Oh, my Master, that You should see Your Chosen One fall to such a feeble opponent!
Suddenly the wind was still and I was surrounded by a blue glow. The Pixel Hunter's paw crawled towards me like a comet, trailing blue fire. A drop of blue rain fell upon me like a tear from my Master, and suddenly my wounds closed and I was filled with new strength. I roared, grasped the oncoming paw, pivoted, set my feet, and tossed the Pixel Hunter head first against a rock. The blue light died - and so did my enemy.
I looted the body and moved on, digging from time to time. Once I broke my shovel on a large wooden box. It didn't look like a coffin, but I left it unopened just in case. Wait, I had a shovel? Where did I get that from?
I suddenly remembered my Lord's geas - "Small, Weak, Naked, Without Skills And Without A Clue". Now I knew what He meant. I was small and weak, I had been naked, I had lost my skills, and now it seemed I was indeed clueless. I was - a hero!
I came to a river. There was a ford. As I waded across, a roil in the water warned me of the approach of a Significant Otter. I sprinted for the far bank, but the Significant Otter caught me and rolled me under, scratching and biting me and trying to drown me. My blood stained the water red as I crawled desperately forward and finally gained the bank. The Significant Otter reached up, grabbed my ankle and prepared to pull me back in.
The sky flamed and filled with fireballs, which zeroed in on me like a storm of giant sparks. Each fireball struck a wound and cauterised it, then turned into a warm surge of health inside me. I felt a wave of blood lust.
The Significant Otter had watched this with awe, and now suddenly surrendered and offered me his entire fortune if I would let him live. Foolish monster, all that was his would be mine anyway as soon as I killed him - which I promptly did. He died blubbing that it wasn't fair, that he had already surrendered.
As I stood over the corpse, I felt a buzz within me. Was my Lord speaking to me? It seemed not. I felt larger, stronger and fiercer, and suddenly a sign appeared over my head saying "Level 2". Wow! I counted two on my fingers. It seemed to be a higher number than my previous level.
I shook my head. Clueless. Of course 2 was bigger than 1. There seemed to be some sort of regression in progress. As I gained stature as a hero, was I fated merely to become a bigger idiot than I already was?
Return to Godville
I continued on, fighting and digging as required, until I realised that my loot bag was full to the brim. Time to retrace my steps. The monsters, seeing me retreating, stopped attacking and let me go.
That loot bag was going to be a nuisance as it grew. Already it dragged a furrow in the dust and snagged itself on tree roots as I trudged back to town. Wait. When had I acquired a loot bag? I couldn't remember.
The gatekeeper saw me coming and disappeared into his booth, pretending to be busy with some paperwork. I grinned sneakily and re-entered the capital city of my Lord's enemies.
It seemed less grim now. The golden gleam from the roofs of the clustered temples was admittedly eye-catching. The smell of beer wafting from the taverns tickled my heroic nostrils like incense.
A drink or two sounded like a good idea, but the beer would probably sit better in a stomach that didn't have a hole torn in it. To the hospital!
There was a queue of heroes waiting to check in. I tried walking to the head of it but was kicked out and pushed away to a chorus of "Hey! Waddaya thinkyer doin'? Wait yer turn!" I tried catching the eye of one of my tormentors but he just stared at me glassily. Defeated, I limped to the back of the queue, to be jostled and bumped out of the way by high-level heroes and ranking guild members pushing their way to the front.
Healed, I dragged my loot bag to the nearest shop and disposed of the booty for what I could get. A couple of times the trader swindled me, but by now I was so depressed that I pretended not to notice. At the end he looked at me shrewdly, then pulled a trashy gewgaw from beneath the counter and laid it in front of me.
"What's that?" I asked, dispiritedly.
"It's a hex dispenser. Latest stock! You look like you could use a pick-me-up, and buddy, this is just the pick-me-up you need!"
I looked at it. Hmm, shiny. "How much?"
"Well, usually we ask 2,000 coins for these but it's your lucky day. You have a lucky face. I like your looks. For you, just 1,600 coins!"
My hand shot out and gripped him by the throat, sharpened nails cutting into the fat flesh like razors. "How much?"
He choked and turned blue. "Two ninety-three coins!"
I released him and tossed 293 coins on the counter. The hex dispenser was probably a fake, but I had to start somewhere and it was awfully shiny. It fitted snugly around my neck, like a torc.
Now for that beer.
The decline and fall
I found my way to a dive called "The Rusty Goblin". I somehow spent 807 gold coins there, but I really don't remember that night - nor much of the next few days. I fought, healed, drank and prayed. Every so often I leveled up, and with each gain in heroic stature I became duller and more hopeless.
Monsters that I would once have wiped from my path with a gesture now hammered me to a pulp. Traders rooked me. Whatever I earned from loot, I spent on beer. My Lord never spoke to me, except to demand that I learn or dig. No words of praise, no reprimands, even when at rare intervals I secured a golden brick in His Name.
One night I was sitting by a campfire when I heard a voice roar from the hills: "Not every god talks to their champion THIS often you know..." I burned with envy for that hero.
At that moment, a big red dot appeared on the ground beneath my feet, with the words "You are here" beside it. I cringed and looked up, but the night sky remained black.
Later, strange words came by in a puff of smoke: "Keep it up, you are doing well." For a moment I was heartened, but soon realised that there was no sustenance in these words for me: some other god had spoken them, to their fortunate hero.
My god no longer spoke to me, except to demand that I learn, that I dig. Why? What purpose was being served? I learned and leveled up and became more stupid. I dug and got blisters and dirty hands and an occasional miserable cache of coins.
One night a wild storm blew up and I took shelter in a tree. When lightning struck the tree I was briefly overjoyed to be noticed, then I wondered what I had done to merit the punishment, and finally I realised that it was merely a mundane thunderbolt, not a divine one.
There came a time when I found no bricks. I even tried following other heroes and digging wherever they found bricks, but had no luck. I could sense disappointment in the heavens, so I swallowed my pride and grovelled at the feet of a trader and purchased a brick for 3,000 coins. My humiliation was complete.
One day I found myself fighting a Nomad Scientist. My blows seemed oddly ineffectual, until I remembered that I carried a weapon. I hit him with the weapon, with a spectacular result. I resolved to do that more often, only to forget it when a Holy Carp nabbed me at the next milestone.
I leveled up again, to some number or other, I think the one before I have to start using two numerals. That night I was starting my campfire with a copy of the Godville Times when I noticed my Lord's name in a news item. Running my finger along the line and spelling out each word, I read that my Lord's command, “Retrieve My Gold from the corpses of My Enemies!” was the Phrase of the Week! I fell on my knees and waved my arms at the heavens and howled in adoration, and felt a distinct pulse of warmth come back down to me from the skies.
I bragged about it to everyone at the camp, but next morning one of my drinking buddies came over and told me I must have misread the news item. He showed me a piece of armour with "Retrieve My gold from the corpses of My enemies!" melted into it - and the name of some goddess. What? Impossible! Oh my Lord, punish that false oracle who stole Your Words!
Late that night I felt the familiar quickening and the tightening of my armour. I could no longer count, but squinting upward I could see that for the first time my level had two digits. There was something important about that number, but I couldn't remember what. I was sleepy. Perhaps I could figure it out in the morning.
I had no sooner settled down to sleep than a violent storm blew up. I was sucked into the air! My blanket went one way and I went the other. Fortunately I was using my pack as a pillow, and I held it in a death-grip as I was thrust violently along. I saw a wall loom ahead of me and braced myself for injury, but I went through the wall like a cannonball, bounced twice, knocked over a trader's stall, and found myself sitting in the middle of a large oval space surrounded by stands and floored with sand.
There were heroes here and there, and a few bushes and pillars and other odds and ends dotted the sand. A scattering of spectators occupied the stands, even at this hour.
I shook myself and dislodged several rubbishy souvenirs and a golden brick from my clothing. I dropped them all into my loot bag to check over later, but just at that moment someone shouted "On the path to Pure Evil!" and charged at me. I barely had time to riposte "Repent your thievery!" before he was upon me, fingers digging into my neck.
I shook him off and stood back, then leaped at him and kicked his head. I rolled over his shoulder, bounded to my feet and called for magic, molding it in my... Oh. While I was staring at my empty hands, my opponent somersaulted to his feet and punched me. I was stunned.
Suddenly a mighty voice rang out overhead: "Smite him, My Prophet!" Reflexively, I wrenched at my opponent's health bar. A piece broke off it, then dissolved in my hands and ran up my arms and added itself to my own health bar.
The judge cried "Smite him, My Prophet!", and this time I whipped out my weapon and struck my enemy with it several times. Unfortunately he struck back instantly, and then a lightning bolt struck the ground next to me. An undead hero crawled from a ripped-open grave and mauled my arm before crumbling into dust.
The voice came again, but just then my opponent raised his weapon and charged me. Another lightning bolt came from the skies, aimed at me, but it struck his weapon instead. My socks were knocked off by the backblast, while he was left blackened and sizzling, every hair standing on end. I grabbed a tumbling shoe with my uninjured hand and shied it at him, and saw it score a direct hit.
The scoreboard displayed, "Smite him, My Prophet!", while a vibration in the very arena around us resolved into the words, "Fight harder!". Startled by the noise, a Governator poked his head out of a bush and looked around nervously, then pulled back.
I felt a thrill run through me, and suddenly there was a buzz in the air. A mass of insects fell from the sky and swarmed over my opponent. "Smite him, My Prophet!" boomed the voice from the skies. Feeling inspired, I attacked my enemy out of turn. He managed a headbutt in reply, injuring both of us.
He stood there, teetering, eyes glazed. The arena was absolutely still. I pivoted and kicked him behind the ear. He fell to his knees and then onto his face, in an upside-down butterfly pose.
The arena erupted in cheers. The judge came down and relieved my unconscious erstwhile opponent of his coin purse, handed it to me along with a shiny golden brick, then pointed me towards a gate labelled "Exit - Hospital" that had suddenly appeared in the arena wall. I turned to go, hesitated, then on impulse placed some coins on my enemy's chest to help him pay for healing. He was rather pretentiously named - "Overking" - but we all have our misfortunes.
Reflections from a hospital bed
There was no queue at the Hospital's arena entrance. Maybe I should try sneaking in that way some time? Within moments of arrival I was resting comfortably, with an IV drip in my elbow and a cool beer in my hand. If only the Dungeons were this well organised! So many times after a battle, I have had to trot for miles with my head under my arm to get patched up.
Of course, I was a dig boss, posted to the extremities of my lord's demesnes. Dungeon bosses had it easier, being nearer the heart.
I must have been more badly injured than I thought, for sleep fell upon me.
In a dream, my Lord spoke to me - almost as clearly as if we were underground. In words and pictures He revealed to me the history of this world we call Godville. I saw the endless, futile wars, the chaotic strife, the clashes of massive egos.
I saw a Divine Monster, tortured beyond bearing by jealous enemies. I saw Him seek refuge underground, beyond reach of thunderbolts.
I saw the first heroes created and sent forth to seek the life of my Lord. I saw the creation of the orders of boss monsters, dedicated to the defense of my Lord. And the monsters of the land rallied to my Lord, fighting the heroes in the fields, in the forests, and on the highways. And always when the heroes turned back from plunder and murder, the monsters let them go. But the heroes never learned the lesson that was laid before them.
My Lord told me my mission anew, for during my descent into heroic stupidity I had forgotten it. I must educate the heroes and their gods about my Lord, and the damage their endless greed causes. I must seek out the scattered monsters and half-breeds dwelling amongst the heroes and attempt to gather them back to the Light.
It was not my destiny to be a great warrior, nor a mighty raider. I must fight, as all heroes must fight. I must gather gold for a temple, as that is the task of a hero in Godville. But these things were subordinate. First, I must be a teacher, and my chiefest weapons must be words and friendship.
Just as I was beginning to comprehend, just as I was upon the verge of understanding all these things, the vision was snatched away! I awoke to find a doctor disconnecting the IV. I was healed.
I had dreamed... I had - but the veil of stupidity had fallen again. Would it ever lift?
With a new blanket in my pack, I headed out of Godville.
I barely got out of the city gates before I felt the familiar compulsion to dig. I resisted it, but it came insistently, again and again, until at last I broke out my shovel and plunged it into the ground. On the third blow a plume of blue steam shot out and the edges of the shovel blade glowed blue. Then the ground fell away beneath my feet and I plunged down a mole tunnel.
I slid a long way and then shot out of the tunnel into a familiar-looking cavern. It was an ante-room for the dungeons, a killing ground for heroes attempting to reach our treasure rooms by digging. From other tunnels, two other heroes suddenly appeared and we all collided in the middle of the room in a squirming heap.
There was a hollow clumping sound, and the duty Boss appeared - a Nimble Pickpocketing Skilled Terracotta Worrier. I quickly looked aside, lest he see the Vertigoat in my eyes.
I was at full health, but small. My allies were not much bigger than I was, and both were badly injured. Terracotta Worrier was in full health, half again our combined size even if we had been healthy, three times our actual health. It didn't look good for our little team of invaders.
However, similarly shabby teams had taken me down in my time as a Boss. My Lord was stretched so thin over so many monsters that He could not spare much attention for each, whereas every hero had a personal god. In this fight, my Lord was spread even thinner by my presence.
It began badly for the heroes. In a flashing interchange of blows, my biggest ally - the one with the greatest potential health, had he healed - was knocked out. Nimble Terracotta Worrier did it with style, creating a portable table of contents in his first move and in the second eliminating his enemy with a smashing kick. The monster within me admired his artistry.
I was paralysed by indecision, fighting only by reflex. I remembered something... a dream... a fantasy. I was a hero. It was my job to slay this noble monster. Yet in a strange sense I was also the monster, and I felt an urge to turn on my allies. Oh my Lord, if only You would speak or give me a sign of what You expect from Your servant!
Terracotta Worrier looked at me, snorted, then abruptly Nimbled my other ally. Just as I was about to attack him while his back was turned, he Nimbled me too.
My ally's god sent two lightning bolts from the sky, but Terracotta Worrier shook them off and Nimbled my ally again, defeating him.
I fought on, incompetently, landing a blow purely by accident. Terracotta Worrier Nimbled me again, and was so scornful of my abilities that he even hit himself on my turn. Then he Nimbled me one more time and everything went dark.
My next memory is of walking back to Godville, shambling like a zombie, with a single point of health. Is this what happened to all the heroes I killed in my time? Did they really not die, but somehow reappeared on the surface in ill health? But what about the bodies they left behind?
The ways of Godville are mysterious and hard to fathom.
My Lord was silent while I walked back to Godville, but I fell asleep as soon as I was in a hospital bed. In a dream, He came to me again.
"Faithful Minion, I Restore To You Your Mind."
"My Lord! I've been... stupid."
"You Have Been A Hero."
Well, yeah. "Why, Mightiest of Calamities? I mean, I get the whole ambassador thing, but why did You make me stupid too?"
"You Were Arrogant, Even To Me. You Had Been An Intelligent And Powerful Boss Monster So Long That You Had Forgotten What It Was To Be Foolish And Small. You Needed To Learn Humility Before You Would Be Ready To Be My Instrument."
"What is my task then, my Master? I see little hope of achieving harmony between heroes and monsters, let alone rehabilitating the gods of the sky to Your teaching. The killing of Your creatures and the plundering of Your treasuries will go on regardless."
I was shaken like a pea in a bottle, rattling within the confines of the dream until I feared that I would wake prematurely. My lord was laughing!
"Let Them Plunder. It Does Me No Harm, But It Will Bring Very Great Harm To Them In The End."
"But Your treasuries! Your hoarded wealth. They are Your very life force!"
"How Much Gold Is There In This World Called Godville, Minion? You Have Seen This City."
"More than thirty billion coins for the temples alone, Almighty! How much else, I have no way of knowing. I never knew there could be so much gold in all the world. The drain on Your powers must be considerable."
"There Has Been No Drain. My Body Is Become A Generator Of Power. A Part Of That Power, But Only A Part, I Store In Gold, Which I Make And Which My Servants Place In My Treasuries. The Heroes Cannot Exhaust My Supply Of Gold, As I Simply Manufacture More."
"Then why was I to preach an end to plunder?"
"It Is Not for My Sake, But For Theirs. I Do Not Expect Them To Listen To Your Warnings."
Thunder and lightning, and the world cracked open –
"My Lord! My Lord!"
The doctor finished removing my IV. I was healed. Too soon! I was so close to understanding!
"How are you feeling?" asked the doctor, "Can I get you anything?"
I scratched my head. "Uh, a beer? Yeah, a beer would be great!" Boy, was I thirsty. What a terrible dream.
My Lord has not spoken to me in days. Oh, my Master, what have I done, to be cast off like this?
I went forth and founded a guild in Your honour, and prepared a place in the sewers for the Guild Hall. You said nothing.
I preach Your Word daily in the town square, to growing audiences! Yet You are silent.
I slay monsters in Your name, yet You are silent.
I have gathered over 100 bricks for your temple - already monster pilgrims have left money at the site - yet You neither praise nor punish me.
I recently fought an Enlightened Governator, my Lord. He claimed to know the dirty truth about You. He told it to me, and in my revulsion I threw down my weapon. I expected to be slain, but the filthy creature just laughed and went on his way. Why do You suffer such heretics to live?
This is the end. I hear another monster approaching. I shall sacrifice my life to You, my Lord! Maybe that will make You love me again.
The Barber of Godville shaved me and arranged my body neatly by the side of the road, while I stood helplessly by, surrounded by the grey haze of death. The bird calls were muted. A shadow lay on the Sun.
I saw a great cloud loom up and cover the land. Men looked up and shuddered. Monsters cowered.
My gaze was drawn to Godville, passing over forests strangely peaceful. What heroes I saw, were mostly ragged and purposeless – obvious renegades. Few were digging.
Godville was a mass of golden temples, tens of thousands of them. In many of the temples, frozen heroes stood waiting for their gods to re-awaken them. The streets were eerily empty.
My view drew in upon one temple. A gaunt hero was cementing the last brick into place using golden mortar. He tapped it this way and that, then stepped back to admire his work.
The temple began to glow and to tremble, and then the gold of its walls turned molten and splashed down over the hero in a wave.
The melt-down spread to neighbouring temples like a contagion, each affected temple glowing and collapsing and infecting the next. Within minutes, Godville was drowned beneath a tide of molten gold. Here and there survivors clung to high points above the flood.
Clouds of smoke billowed up from burning Arks. What value have wooden boats against a searing flood of liquid metal?
The gold flowed down into the sewers and disappeared, but my uncanny sight could follow it through the sewers until it converged upon the empty Guild Hall of the Order of the Monster God. More and more gold flowed into the Hall, filling it, until a fountain of gold jetted up through the oculus.
Suddenly the land was lit by a flash brighter than the Sun! My disembodied viewpoint drew back and back, until I could see an enormous golden mushroom cloud growing where Godville had been. The evil city was gone.
From the point of the explosion, golden veins spread outward through the ground, outlining and penetrating a huge figure beneath it. Earthquakes shook the land: trees fell, mountains slid, and lakes and rivers spilled. The land rose and cracked, and lightning struck down from the sky. Looking up, I saw a great host of gods gathered there, casting thunderbolts like a cascade of fire.
My Lord rose from His den in the ground like a continent from the sea. Dirt and cities fell from His back. He cast back His head and roared defiance at the host of the gods!
A paw swiped across the sky, and a thousand gods were caught up and crushed. Their accumulated power flowed into my Lord and He grew. Again and again the paw smote, until the host of the gods was reduced to a ragged handful fleeing in terror of their lives. The paw pursued them, and none escaped.
My victorious Lord stood upon the land of Godville, and He overshadowed it. And He gazed upon the land, and the land was bare. And He looked at the waters, and the waters ran dry. And He reached toward the Moon, and the Moon was gone. And He raised His eyes to the Sun, and the Sun went out!
Now my Lord was grown even to the size of the globe of Godville itself, and His feet sank into the ground, and His legs followed, until the earth reached His chest. And when my eye drew back I saw that His legs had emerged from the far side of the globe, and that He and the globe had become one. And the Land glowed in colours: red, green, blue, and black. And His paws became flippers.
And my Lord spoke, and said “Once I was Ohm’G, but now I am Ohm’Gaia. The game is over and only I remain. Great Random, end it now.”
The cosmic turtle that was Ohm’Gaia swam like a jewelled bug in the darkness, and waited for The Great Random to toss the last coin.
Time froze. Then my view drew away, but Ohm’Gaia shone in the darkness forever, like a star embedded in obsidian.
With that the vision ended. A different light flashed in my eyes, as I was reborn in a public temple in Godville.
Unlike the end of past dreams, my thoughts remain unpleasantly lucid. There’s a cure for that – in the nearest tavern.
Recovering consciousness in the hospital, I try to recall what happened. There was a place with walls, a howling mob, a ghostly finger that - that - but I can't recall.
Oh God of Monsters, what has happened to me?
You Left The Path Of Wisdom, O Prophet.
I have only ever wished to serve You well, Greatest of Calamities.
And Well You Have Served, O Prophet. But It Is Time To Change The Manner Of Your Service.
Back to the Dungeons? If You wish it, Master, I -
No. You Are My Emissary To The Heroes. That Has Not Changed. To Be My Emissary You Had To Become A Hero. It Is Time For You To Take The Next Step. Until Now I Have Indulged Your Blood Lust In The Arena, But That Indulgence Must End.
Arena? You mean - no more Arena? But fighting is like life to monsters. Well OK, it's often actually death to monsters, but we live to fight.
I Have Fighters Aplenty, But Only One Prophet. I Did Not Create You To Be An Arena Mule. You Are Allowing Your Arena Fights To Distract You From Your Proper Career.
But I have to fight. The Guild is so new, we need good fighters to publicise our cause.
That Time Is Over. There Are Great Changes In Godville, Beyond Your Ability To Understand. The Great Random Itself Has Become Corrupted With Non-randomness.
You Had Not Noticed The Change? The Random Plays Favourites. And You Are Not A Favourite Of The Random In Arena.
Was I ever such a favourite, Great One? I did so well for so long, at Your direction and with Your help. Why would The Random withdraw its favour from me?
I Do Not Know. You Are Surprised? But I Am Not Privy To The Random's Inner Thoughts, Merely Its Outward Manifestations. Recently, Those Manifestations Have Been Hostile To You In Arena. Perhaps Your Own Success Has Caused The Random To Turn Against You. Perhaps It Is Merely A Phase Of Randomness. But I Will Not Have My Chosen One Become A Laughing Stock In Arena. It Is Time For You To Put Arena Away From You, O Prophet. It Is Time To Grow Up.
Well, I guess the Guild can spare me in Arena, if The Random truly has turned against me, but it will make things harder for the other monsters who still go to arena. Is there nothing You can do to help them, Mighty One?
I Am Giving Each Other Monster A Choice: To Fight Or Not To Fight, More Or Less Often, As They Choose. You May Be Surprised By Some Of Their Decisions. But To You I Give No Choice. You Must Give Up The Arena.
But it's the only pleasure left to me, Great One.
I Did Not Make You For Your Pleasure, O Prophet. Or Perhaps You Have Forgotten Our Conversation In Your Cavern When I Made You My Prophet?
I'd kind of hoped You had, Greatest of Calamities, but I see that was foolish of me. OK, so I have to give up arena. Can I at least dig to help my guild members win bricks for their temples?
Yes, You May Continue To Dig, But With Restraint. You Have A Temple Now. Those Charges It Gives You Are To Be Used To Further Your Guild, And For Town Influence In The Cause Of Human-Monster Reconciliation.
I guess - hello? Great One? Oh rats, why do they always wake me up just as He is getting to the interesting bit? I need a drink!
You Went To Arena Again.
But my guildmates were fighting!
YOU WENT TO ARENA AGAIN.
I went to Arena again, Most Righteous One.
And The Result?
I lost, Great One.
Tell Me Why I Hold Back The Lightning.
Tell Me Why I Hold Back The Lightning.
Smite me, Master!
You Will Not Go To Arena Again. Are We Clear?
Yes, my Master. Smite me!
Try, fail again
Almighty? Almighty? Hellooooo, Almighty?
Yes, My Prophet?
There is a new movement in Arena matches, Great One! If one but adds a certain token to one's motto, and one matches someone else bearing that token, it is an agreement to spend no godpower fighting.
I Know Of That Movement.
Well, Supreme One, I was thinking, if my godpower is to be reserved for the guild, could I perhaps go to Arena this way? If I match someone with the token in their motto, the fight will be determined by The Great Random and no godpower will be wasted!
And If You Match Someone Without The 'Token', What Then?
The Prohibition Stands.
I need a drink. Oh, wait, er, I mean, it shall be as You decree, Almighty.
It was an accident, Great One. I meant to go to a dungeon, not the Arena!
You Matched A Monster.
Err, yes, but he didn't mind losing, Your Awesomeness. Not really. He said so!
I Have Good News And Bad News For You.
(Sotto voce) That doesn't sound good.
The Good News Is That Your Arena Prohibition Is Lifted.
The Bad News Is That For This Time I Withdraw My Countenance From You.
Huh? What does that mean?
My desk is eternally buried in guild paperwork. Promotions, achievements, applications, discipline, demobilisation, complaints, alliances, the list is endless. There would probably be less paper on the desk if I actually put some work in, but my office has only ever been a quiet place to sleep off a hangover. Every now and then a stack of paper reaches critical mass and collapses, and then I gather up the scattered sheets and feed them to the fire.
What can I say? I'm a monster. Oh, I'm a hero too, but I miss my old haunts and the good old days when I could get up in the morning when I wanted and nobody expected anything of me, except for the occasional small group of terrified heroes falling through my roof. I never was cut out for this bureaucratic stuff. I -
Yes, my Lord?
No Doubt You Have Seen Arks Setting Sail And Have Encountered Heroes Fishing.
Indeed. I've been astonished to see heroes attempting to gather the lower monsters instead of just slaughtering them.
I Have Good News For You.
Your Mission To Godville Is Complete.
A Fundamental Change Has Come Over The Game. It Is Not Peace, But It Is The Beginning Of A New Era In Godville. The Time Has Come For You To Retire And To Stand Your Heroic Monsters Down, Lest They Disturb The New Accord.
No. But My Objective Has Been Achieved. You Can Go Home. I Still Need You To Be A Hero, Part-Time, But You May Return To Your Forests, Part-Time.
You're kidding - I mean, Your will, Master. When does this take effect?
Immediately. Go, Take Some Time Off. I Will Call You Back When I Want You.
I kicked over quite a few piles of paper in the next few minutes, I am ashamed to say. I scribbled a few notes and left them on friends' doors, impaled there by the pens I used. I dragged the meat out of the guild fridge and tossed it into the spa. Snappy, the guild mascot, thought all her Christmases had come at once.
I took a shortcut out of the sewers, climbing up through the Occulus by way of a rope ladder. Upstairs, I stood on a rocky island in the middle of the city river. Over there gleamed Temple Row, my own humble temple lost in the dazzle, the half-built Ark sagging over it indistinguishable from the Arks next door. Some heroes were building slipways down to the river in order to launch their completed Arks. Arks sailed up and down the river, past banks lined with fishing heroes.
I made my way to the small weir that joined the island to the riverbank and walked up to Temple Row. I had almost forgotten how hideous this place was, so much a hero had I become. Now, in my freedom, I saw it all anew. The temples were poky and ill-designed, their rooves black with sacrificial smoke, their enclosures littered with bent nails and splinters of gopher wood. Thuggish heroes staggered in and out of them, throwing up behind the altars and smashing empty beer bottles against the walls. Their debased "pets" lay here and there, lost in despair, or chewing at fleas caught from their masters.
Catching a whiff of the place, I pinched my nostrils and quickened my step. Down the Processional way, across the Bridge of Size, and onto the Gate Way.
The gatekeepers ignored me, as they always ignored me now. I trotted into the fields, my feet scuffing and crunching through the ground-up bones that paved the path. Ahead of me, beneath the trees, monsters gathered, just as they had on another day long ago.
How different it was now! With a rush and a skip I was amongst them, weapon flying, their teeth and claws scraping almost harmlessly against my thick armour. One, two, three! A fourth monster went down. I darted through the gap that appeared and was into the forest before they knew I had gone.
I slowed to a walk and caught my breath. Birds sang, branches creaked and the endless millions of leaves rustled. Behind me was just a faint hubbub from the bruised monsters I had left on the road.
I breathed in. Breathed out. How sweet the air! How delicious the freedom! It was a beautiful day, and I - I was a part of it again. Not stumping lumpishly along the road, fighting monsters; not digging filthy holes in the landscape; Free ...
I wandered aimlessly, delighting in the flowers and the small harmless animals and monsters. They sensed that I was harmless to them.
I stopped again. This place felt familiar somehow. I just knew that if I went up to that pine and knocked a particular way -
I knocked. The trunk swung open, revealing steps leading down inside the hollow tree.
I went down the steps. A locked door. I knew instantly that the key was hidden in a crevice in the wall to my right. I retrieved it, put it in the lock, turned it ...
I stood in my old home. Over there was my easy chair, and the copy of the Godville Times that I had been reading on that day, so long ago, when I had gone out for a few minutes to discipline some intruders.
There ... my slippers. I pulled them on, and they fitted! Huh. I remembered how scrawny I was as a level 1 hero. I must have grown back almost to my original dimensions while I was a hero.
I slumped into my chair, breathed in. Breathed out. Picked up the musty paper ...
I listened. Faintly I heard, "Dig, my hero. Find gold!"
I sighed, and put down my paper.