War of Eternity: Prologue

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“Augustus, this is a meeting of the gods. Can you please treat it with the respect it deserves and assume your true form for once?” Siegman asked, exasperation evident in his tone.

He was supposedly the largest and most powerful deity at the table, and it was a recurring complaint at the start of every meeting that had become so routine and predictable that Augustus only acknowledged it in the same way that runners in a track event might that of the sound of a gunshot: as a way to know that the race had started.

Mary, the self-proclaimed God of Blood, harrumphed loudly. “Do you have any sense of shame?” she asked disdainfully. “If my religion was in half as bad a shape as yours, I wouldn’t be trying to bring attention to myself–and especially not in such a rude way.”

You’re just upset that I’m the only man at this table to have turned you down. Augustus, currently using the form of a chimpanzee, grinned broadly as he rocked back and forth on his stool and winked at her.

Augustus enjoyed messing with people. It wasn’t something he had always liked, but as the years droned on and decades turned into centuries which turned into millennia, it became one of the few hobbies he consistently enjoyed. Food was nice, especially cheese, and alcohols were important as well, especially good wines, but getting a rise out of someone was almost always a guaranteed form of entertainment. In fact, it was one of the few reasons he had attended this ‘meeting of the gods.’ It was a term and a label that Siegman had first used, and the other pretentious, self-declared idiots had adopted.

Gods indeed. Augustus laughed at the notion. These people certainly had power, they could change and alter the shape of a world or someone’s life, but they were far from being true gods. In a sense, he understood why they misunderstood the concept of what a god was and why they deemed themselves to be divine. A path to immortality technically did exist, but plenty had died pursuing it, and no one present had ever reached it. The fact that their character sheets all read ‘god’ didn’t help their egos, either.

But Augustus knew better. He knew that the justly earned title of God, and the absolute and unquestionable power that came hand in hand with its true meaning, required more than the simple ability to manipulate and recreate. It meant that one had the ability to break and shape the cosmos, to create solar systems with a thought, to have thoughts that transcended both the beginning and the end of all things, and to possess wisdom that grasped the infinite.

None of these so-called deities possessed any such power or intellect. These clowns could do no more than follow the rules, play the game, and, every now and then, change the shape of a civilization–not that it really mattered given how quickly religion become perverted or the civilization died out.

Augustus stopped rocking back and forth after a long, drawn-out pause and only after the tension in the room had grown to the point he felt most suitable for his games. “Please, I thought this form was the only one that was supposed to fling nonsensical crap as a form of argument.” He cocked his head to the side and dropped his smile as he looked at Mary. “I’m keeping this form no matter what you say, and there is nothing in the rules that prevents it. So, can we just get the formalities over with?”

Siegman glowered at Augustus for a few moments then leaned back in his chair. “Fine,” he answered in a measured tone. “We can’t force you under any existing rules, so you may keep that grotesque form if you insist.”

“Thank you.” Augustus’s smile returned even larger when he realized just how irritated Siegman was at his behavior. Thank you very much, you pompous jerk. As Augustus looked around the table, he realized that title was applicable to anyone at this particular meeting.

“It’s always nice to know that the great and wonderful and benevolent Siegman strictly follows the rules. It’d be a shame if that ever changed.” Augustus worked hard to suppress the mirth in his voice and a laugh as he watched Siegman’s face almost turn the same color of red as Mary’s.

“Troll God,” a voice droned. Augustus swiveled around to look at a bored- and tired-looking man who was slouched forward over the table, resting his head on top of his arms, which were folded in front of him to act as a mini pillow. “Can you stop pestering the class president so we can move along? I need to get home soon and take a nap. I’m so tired.”

“I swear, I’m innocent this time!” Augustus insisted defensively.

Sord, the Loot God of Rising Numbers, cared less about people and meetings than any other deity Augustus had ever met. If it wasn’t for his use of spot-on nicknames, such as the recently used examples of Troll God and Class President, it would be easy to assume that he didn’t even know anyone else in the room. By outward appearances, all he ever did was nap until the meeting was over and then return to playing his old-fashioned, item-dependent RPGs.

But Augustus knew better. Augustus knew that those eyes weren’t really closed and only appeared that way. In reality, Sord was constantly analyzing every item in the room and every action that occurred. He was probably trying to figure out how a piece like Augustus’s changing gourd of endless drink, the one that had earned Augustus his nickname of the God of Alcohol, worked, or how much it might be worth.

And his herald is even worse than he is, Augustus lamented.

“First order of business, I recall there being a dispute between Angelica and Augustus over who has rights to use a chosen one as their Herald,” Siegman began.

“Okay, so this one is kinda my fault,” Augustus admitted. He spared a last glance at Sord, who was already faking a snore from atop of his arm-pillow, before turning back to Siegman. “My apologies to you as well, Siegman. I was hoping this wouldn’t be an issue since Angelica has hundreds of potential heralds, and I only have one.”

“And for the sake of clarifying the issue to the council so that the vote may be fair, would you mind explaining the circumstances of this problem?” Siegman asked Augustus.

“Well, your honor”–Augustus shifted into a black cat sporting a classy, little white suit as he hopped up on top of the table to make his case–“it is a long story. However, I’ll try to do it justice quickly if you all will forgive me a few minutes of your time.” He gave a gentle bow of his head before raising onto his hind legs and pulling on the front part of his suit jacket like he had seen so many tv stars do in trials before speaking. “I, the humble god of less than a few hundred followers, am about to take part in the next god war. My number was drawn with Mary’s and Sord’s not too long ago, and I have been scouring the many worlds I have traveled in search of an heir. So far, I have only found one compatible herald.”

“That can’t be right. You have to have hundreds of descendants on my planet alone,” Mary grumbled as she glared at Augustus.

Still pretending to pine over me? Augustus smirked back. Mary was likely only trying to hook up with Augustus so that she could see his real form, and he knew it. His true appearance was a topic of conversation that she had nagged him about for the last nine centuries, and off and on for thousands of years before that. At this point, he didn’t know if it was curiosity or the fact that he kept saying no that drove her to continue flirting.

“Mmm . . . Your charisma score on my planet is certainly higher than at this meeting,” Sord grumbled sardonically.

“Even mine, I must lament. Dare you claim that, out of myriad descendants you’ve managed to produce on the planets we watch over, you only have one potential herald?” Siegman asked skeptically.

Augustus manifested a tiny podium to lean on as he adjusted his feline balance, finding it somewhat difficult to stand for long periods of time on two legs as a cat. “Siegman, for all of our squabbles, have I ever broken the rules?”

“Never,” Siegman answered reluctantly.

“And do the rules not state that one must submit a list of all potential heralds for evaluation by the council? Furthermore, does it not also state that said list must be both thorough and complete to the best knowledge of the deity submitting the list?” Augustus asked. “With the punishment of not doing so being death?”

“Yes . . .” Siegman’s eyes bounced between a piece of paper in front of him and then Augustus.

“Well, that’s the summation of the list, and yet here I stay, still breathing. Even I wouldn’t dare lie about something that could get me killed by the Creator,” Augustus said. “So, since my name has been chosen by the Creator for this war, I humbly submit that I need a herald–and there is only one possible option. Therefore, it must be him. I have no other alternatives.”

“BUT HE’S MY GRANDSON!” Angelica shouted out in anger as she stood and slammed the large circular stone table. The God of Regrets had remained silent until now, simply smiling from one god to another throughout the prologue to the meeting, but she was now livid and irate. “I don’t care if you make a baby tomorrow and drag the fresh abominable beast into being as your herald, but I will not let you take my precious grandson to that place!”

“That . . . isn’t for you to decide.” Showing unusual restraint, Siegman tried to sound soothing while still reminding Angelica that her word wasn’t the last word in this decision.

“I’d really love to, Angy,” Augustus began without lying at all. While he didn’t know the potential herald that well, he liked the guy well enough from the times the mother described him to Augustus, and he wasn’t a fan of doing anything that would hurt Angelica. “I promise you: I’d rather risk anyone else as my herald than someone so close to you, but the rules are the rules.”

“Indeed. As you’ve hidden behind them several times, you are aware that, while we may veto up to two herald selections in a unanimous vote as your regional deity council, this veto power only applies in the case that at least ten options remain,” Siegman recited, laying out the rules for the rest of the council before settling his gaze on Angelica.

“So, there isn’t really an issue, just Angelica complaining,” Mary said snobbishly. There was almost always a conflict between the two women, and Mary was almost always on the lower end of it. Given how amiably Augustus and everyone else treated Angelica, and how coldly they often treated Mary, the envy and disdain were understandable.

“If it’s done, then can I go back to bed?” Sord groaned sleepily.

“Not until the rest of the meeting wraps up. But, as far as this issue is concerned, you have my deepest apologies, Angelica. Your descendant will inevitably be ruled as the herald of Augustus, and the rules forbid us from contesting this point.”

“Great! I mean . . . I’m truly sorry for celebrating that I have a herald when it’s at your expense.” Augustus pursed his lips as he tried to think of something to ease the anger of his once-close friend. It’s not like I knew that was her daughter at the time. He genuinely felt bad about the whole situation. The fact that their descendant had been such a close match to both him and Angelica only made it worse, as the offspring was now almost guaranteed a spot as a herald.

“This isn’t over!” Angelica slammed her fist on the table. “If you let that boy die, I will personally hunt you down and kill you myself!”

“It is over, and it shall remain so!” Siegman’s voice echoed with even more gravitas than usual. Then, after a brief pause, he added, “May you take comfort in the fact that it shall be his fate whether you wish that curse on him or not. As this is the first time Augustus has been called to the war, then your wish shall be fulfilled if the Herald dies. He will share the boy’s fate whether he wants to or not.”

This statement spread some obviously-mixed emotions through Angelica, as her face twisted back and forth between worry to doubt.

“Well, that concludes one item of the agenda. Next, let us discuss–” Siegman attempted to move topics before he was interrupted.

A skinny man with scruffy black hair who had been silent so far suddenly broke into the conversation. “He could be lying– it would be trying at something we can’t see. For all you know, it’s just through show that this herald came to be,” he theorized, bring up what should have been a finished topic before anything could be settled.

“What do you mean, Cadwe?” Siegman turned to the God of Poetry, or as most people called him, the God of Ambiguity and Awkwardness.

“I mean, the mean of men these days is nothing short of great. The ones that won the title and stood on the herald plate. Yet, here I hear this herald is in such a shoddy state, that even in his yard he’s short a yard and then a plait.”

“Please speak plainly,” Nevir demanded in as forceful a voice as he was ever wont to do. He was the region’s closest thing to a God of Fashion, and both he and his title always seemed unsure of who or what they were at any given time.

“He means the boy doesn’t seem to be a herald. His stats are terrible, his loot is wanting, his experience is nonexistent,” Sord translated as he snuggled down into his own arms once again.

Keep lying, Augustus thought angrily at Sord. We all know you aren’t going to go home and sleep. You’re going to look at the bed, look at your computer and then spend the next three days without sleep leveling together with those mortals of yours on old school games! Since Sord had helped Cadwe try to call his hand a bluff, he wanted to call Sord on Sord’s actual bluff. “I can’t help the cards I was dealt. Perhaps it’s only that those made in my image are just as weak and pathetic as I am.”

“Are you saying I’m pathetic, too?” Angelica’s ire had died down, but even her sweet words sounded like venom and anger as they passed over Augustus’s ears.

“No, not at all. If anything, that’s clearly where he got his good looks from,” Augustus replied, biting back the trollish instinct in his heart to add the word ‘mom’ to the end of the sentence. She was technically higher up on the boy’s family tree, after all.

“You shift your personality more than you shift your shape,” a snide voice sounded out from Angelica’s side of the table. “How are we to even trust this list you gave us? Perhaps you wore the skin of a liar when you wrote it?”

So, even Erik, the God of Spices and Smells, is chiming in against me? Why must everyone hate me? Augustus took a deep breath to calm himself. He wanted to shift shape again to something like a rat or a mouse and find more entertaining things to do than bicker back and forth with these people, but he knew the importance of this meeting, so he responded, “You say I wear many different skins in both the physical and personality sense, but it’s not like that at all. I’ve never broken a rule. I’ve never stepped out of bounds. I’ve done everything according to the book, and what appears to you as a shifting personality is only my attempt at becoming a better paragon of divine justice for both my peers and those of my faith to believe in.”

“You’ll never get better. Your clever is fetter, and cheeks no shade redder. It speaks to your shame. It reeks and proclaims of a foolish endeavour–the same,” Cadwe chanted, finishing with a mocking laugh.

“Translation?” Navir looked over at Sord, but the lazy deity feigned being asleep.

“He means Augustus’s wit and lack of shame prevent him from ever improving as a person,” Erik offered.

“At least he has wit,” Chmilenko, the God of Uncomfortable Silences, said with a straight face.

“And so does Lee. He is not the potential herald of two deities for nothing,” Augustus insisted, breaking the uncomfortable silence that persisted after Chmilenko spoke.

“This debate is meaningless. Augustus has followed the rules despite how slippery and unscrupulous he has behaved in using one of Angelica’s descendants, so the topic is done. There is nothing further to add. Let’s move on to the next item–” Before Siegman could restore order, Mary raised a hand and opened her mouth.

“You know,” she began, “the rules still allow us to punish Augustus for sniping one of Angelica’s potential heralds. She might have been able to use Lee in her own war during her the next draft if he hadn’t picked him first. I say we enforce a delay on his Herald’s entry as a reprimand for his disreputable actions.”

At this point, everyone but Angelica seemed to nod.

“That is true, but the maximum amount of time allowed as a punishment is no more than two months. This would also have to pass with a unanimous vote from all non-involved party members.”

“Call for the vote,” Mary said, leaning back in her chair and looking over at Augustus with a smug, self-satisfied smile.

Show me your true form tonight, and I’ll vote against my own motion, a telepathic message came to Augustus. If not, you’ll be stuck with the weakest herald imaginable–unleveled and unprepared in one of the cruelest wars we’ve had.

While Augustus was weighing his options, debating whether or not it was worth it to reveal his identity to get Mary off his back, Lenfers snickered loud enough to quiet the others and draw attention to himself. The old and wise God of Architecture never said anything unless it was to crush the dreams of a plotter. He leaned forward for a moment, making sure he had everyone’s attention, and said, “But Mary and Sord can’t vote” before leaning back. It was as if he knew Mary’s plan and could see the struggle in Augustus as he tried to decide before leaping on the bandwagon and shooting them both down instantly.

“That’s right. Since this war has both Mary and Sord in it as well, neither can take part in this vote as they would be involved or interested parties,” Siegman said. “In that case, since it needs a unanimous vote, if anyone objects, speak now. Otherwise, we will assume the motion to punish Augustus by delaying entry to his herald has passed.”

For her part, Mary seemed to be more horrified than Angelica when the vote actually went through without a hitch. Augustus just winced, knowing nothing could be done about it.

The rest of the meeting was uneventful for the most part, but the brooding Angelica darted over to Augustus as soon as it was adjourned.

She made him promise and swear to do his best to keep Lee safe before storming over to Mary and yelling so many choice words at the unsuspecting woman that the God of Blood fled in the most dignified way possible before drinks were even served.

No one stood up for her, either, even though they had all been in on the vote–a fact that Angelica had not ignored during the meeting as she went out of her way to crush any motion attempted by another god and continued to treat them colder than frozen liquor afterward.

Well, at least she’s no longer mad at me. Augustus tried to take the small victory where he could as he sipped from his bottomless beverage and followed Mary’s example in leaving early.

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