Lady Yingquan piped up, breaking the comfortable silence that had formed between Ely and I.
“Aww, you two sisters are so cute when you’re chatting like this. It kind of makes me wish I had a sister, y’know…”
“Please no. One of you is about two times more than the multiverse can handle. Adding a second, smaller you might cause a spontaneous implosion.”
I gasped, mortified, my mouth agape. Her Grace, thankfully, seemed unoffended, merely giving a small pout.
“That is extremely rude. I’ll have you know, there are plenty of people in the multiverse who love me! I was even voted “Best Goddess to serve” last year!”
“Voted by who, your Pact Legion?”
“Now look here, you…”
“More importantly, are you planning to tell us why you sent us here any time soon?”
“Didn’t I already tell you? It was a special offer for you, my favorite hero, to live again!”
“Do I have to threaten you with exposure again?”
At the mention of a threat, Her Grace froze up and began shaking her head rapidly.
“No need for that, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you. Well, before I can do that, though, I need both of you to tell me how much you already know. What do you know about the gods of this world?”
Ely and I turned to each other. I didn’t know how much Ely had learned, so I decided to let her go first, so I can fill in any gaps in her understanding. My existence in this world was completely tied to the gods, after all. Ely closed her eyes, seeming to organise and summarise her knowledge, before speaking.
“I don’t know much aside from what I’ve read. There are fourteen gods, each ruling over some aspect of existence. The pantheon was parliamentarian in organisation, with decisions being made by majority vote in a Divine Council. There used to be many different churches across the world, each worshipping their own god of choice, but a little over thirty years ago, the idea of a single unified Church took off, spearheaded by a woman named Vessel who claimed to be a messenger from one of the gods. Under her leadership, the One Church absorbed all the smaller churches and consolidated its power in Sankthold. Vessel then led an army against the newly-formed Demon Continent, got herself killed, suffered a complete rout, and the Church made it official doctrine that it was a sin to set foot on the Demon Continent. It’s spent the last thirty years rebuilding, and its influence seems to be reaching a level similar to its prominence before the rout. That’s all I know. I assume this is relevant somehow?”
I brought my finger to my chin, deep in thought. Ely was rather well-informed about the present state of affairs, though it seems like she was not aware of the events of the Grand Incursion. I looked to Her Grace, seeking Her permission to share more about the world. She nodded in my direction, urging me to continue.
…Well, I would have told Ely about it anyway, I simply wanted to gauge how Her Grace felt about the whole debacle.
“Ely, I told you about my birth, but who do you think made me?”
“Well, clearly, your presence is at odds with the reasonably low technological development of this world. That being the case, the natural hypothesis is that there was, at some point in this world’s past, a more advanced civilisation, and you’re a relic from that time. For whatever reason, that civilisation collapsed, and is nothing more than a memory now.”
“Exactly correct. Can you guess what happened to the humans that once walked on the surface of this world?”
“The experience of numerous stories about mankind and its overambition lead me to posit that mankind grew arrogant in its power and challenged the gods, and was subsequently wiped out.”
“Well, you’re half-right. Mankind did challenge the gods and died doing it, but it wasn’t because they had grown arrogant. In fact, the gods attacked them first. The gods had grown afraid of mankind’s progress and innovation – they sent their servants to infiltrate our society and collapse it from within.”
“Hm? These sound like exceptionally petty or insecure deities…” Ely broke off to glance at Her Grace, before continuing. “…Actually, never mind. Seems like that’s par for the course.”
Lady Yingquan, who had been making funny faces while looking into a hand mirror, looked up with her nostrils flared wide open.
“Hm? What’s the matter?”
“…Oh, no real reason. Eury, continue, if you’d please. What happened after the infiltration?”
The image I had of Lady Yingquan was of a dignified, regal personage, someone who embodied grace and beauty. That image was quickly falling apart. I silently scolded myself for my blasphemy and continued speaking.
“Well, we found out about it. We were angry. Upset. Afraid. Mostly afraid. The humans saw that the gods were actively attempting to destroy them, so they responded in kind. They made weapons. Weapons like me. Weapons that utilised the power source that they had so recently learned how to harness – magic.”
“Wait, so the humans of this world didn’t always have magic?”
“Nope. They were as unmagical as us in our previous lives. At the time of my birth, magic was a rather new innovation, one that was immediately put to use in the war.”
“Then what of the people now? Why do the humans of today have magic?”
“The humans that walk the world today are not the same race as the ones that made me – not even descendants, technically. One of the contingencies that the humans developed was to engineer a new race of humans, one that would be born with the ability to use magic. They had their genetic makeup altered to include the development of an organic magical core – a generator of sorts that converts bodily energy into magic. In the course of gestation and growth, three distinct branches of engineered humans emerged.”
“Humans, elves and catkin.”
“Exactly. The beings that walk the world today are the ones that humanity developed as its army. After the gods destroyed human civilisation in the Grand Incursion, they took the creations that humans left behind and raised them as devout followers, believers who would never rise up to pose a threat to the gods. For that purpose, human society became highly controlled, with the gods playing an active role in shaping the direction of human technological development. The world has thus remained stagnant for centuries. Peaceful, but stagnant.”
“It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to have deities actively holding their charges back. Wasn’t that against the rules, Yingquan?”
Lady Yingquan stopped checking her nail art and put on a serious expression, the frivolous atmosphere she had worn to this point abruptly disappearing. We stood before a Goddess – that fact was made extremely clear to me by the magnitude of her presence.
“It is, but we made an exception in this case due to the pantheon reporting their previous war as an act of aggression on the part of humans. In such instances, the prevailing policy is to allow the attacked deities to forcefully guide the populace of the world for a full milennium, in order to allow them time to rebuild and to take measures to ensure that humanity’s pride will not lead to its destruction a second time. Of course, this allowance only applies if the humans were the aggressors, which was not the case here. Unfortunately, the deity that last held my position was… remiss in his duties. He put in no effort to investigate any claims, and took bribes to overlook some blatantly false ones. The result was that he was stripped of his position, but the problem was that when I took over, I had a bevy of false claim cases to investigate and rectify. This world is just one of those cases.”
“But that’s not the whole story. This world isn’t just one of the problematic ones. There’s something different about it, isn’t there?”
Lady Yingquan’s expression turned bitter.
“About two centuries ago – for me, I mean, you know how messy extraplanar time can get – I came down here to issue an official charge of indictment against the local pantheon for the false claim. Followed all the standard procedures, requested a formal meeting with the Divine Council. I was granted the audience, but when I met with them, I didn’t get to meet a council. I only got to meet one god. He had killed the rest and claimed sole godhood of this world. This world has only one deity remaining: Kuldevic, the god of violence.”