“So... to sum up, you are offering to heal me and grant me powers. In return, I have to protect your last follower from some kind of war,” I said. I would have gestured, but most of my body was in casts, so I couldn't move much.
“Not just a war, Ragnarok. And I wouldn't grant these powers personally, you'll just have a chance to acquire them while I bring you to my world,” Hecate said. She was a Goddess. I'd been talking with her for a couple of minutes now, and I still had to remind myself of that fact half the time. The other half I was awestruck by the sheer power she seemed to radiate, and had to remind myself to talk at all instead of just lying there, wasting a divine intervention. Or a pleasant delusion, I wasn't quite sure yet what it was. It was hard to believe that I could imagine this kind of intensity, though. Everything about her seemed more real than anything I had encountered before. Not just more real than other daydreams; more real than reality itself.
“On the journey, focus on the core concepts of each sorcery you wish to acquire,” she continued, “You should be able to get about four or five different ones if you don't dive too deep into them. Now, I will need an answer soon.”
It was a crazy deal, and I would be crazy for taking it. Even if I assumed that this was real and not just my overactive imagination. I was not suited for an active war zone. I wasn't suited for a world that didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing, not to mention the internet. As a software engineer, that was my life, where all my experience was. This was basically asking me to start again from scratch, because my previous knowledge and skills would be next to useless. The magic was tempting, but wasn't really enough to counter my doubts.
Except... it was a chance to leave this world, and after the disaster of a week I'd just had that seemed worth any price. And so my decision was clear.
As the words left my mouth, the world shifted slightly. I felt a tug in the back of my mind, a sudden absolute certainty that I had to protect the last follower of Hecate. I had just made a magically binding deal with a Goddess. With that knowledge came certainty that this was, indeed, real. There was no way for my mind to fake the feeling of magic.
And then I was suddenly ripped from my world, and colors were swirling around me in a maelstrom. Or at least something that my mind chose to interpret as colors, because I was fairly sure that there was no light here to hit my eyes... did I even have eyes? As far as I had gathered I was being transferred between worlds. So what was in the space between worlds that allowed for me to be conscious here? Was my body being transferred, or just my mind, with a new physical body to be created at the target location? But then what substrate would support my body now? Or maybe I should consider the possibility that souls were real, since evidently Gods and other worlds were...
Focus. There was something important I had to do while in transit. If I didn't get enough sorceries, I would be dead soon after arriving. So, think this through, but quickly. I can apparently get any power I want, and multiple powers. What are my limitations? Well, time for one, since I won't get to stay here between worlds for that long. Well then, let's remove that limitation.
Time. As I focused on every detail about time I could come up with, I felt something grow within me. Something crystallized around my concepts, filling in details and giving my thoughts substance that they had never held. A way to directly impart my ideas about time on reality. Moving out from my core concept of time, I started to consider potential uses, speeding up time, slowing it down, stabilizing critical areas. I could kill people simply by stopping their heart, leaving it frozen in time while the rest of the body suddenly had nothing to supply it with blood. I could age things, getting through barriers by giving it centuries to rot away. Keep supplies fresh for as long as I liked by stopping time for them. Ideas kept flashing through my head, and the power continued to crystallize around it.
“Halfway there,” Hecate informed me.
Right. Okay, then, time to remove the first restriction. I focused on my new power, and envisioned myself speeding up, my thoughts racing far faster than would otherwise have been possible. My new ability readily replied. There was some resistance, but it snapped after a moment. The swirling colors around me froze for a moment, then contorted into shapes that I just couldn't understand. They teased me by hinting at something I might recognize, but never enough for me to figure out what. Then the moment was over, and the colors continued to swirl around me. But they no longer seemed to move at high speed. Instead, it was now a lazy spiral around me. I was free from the tyranny of time, no longer forced to make quick on the spot decisions on what power I wanted. No longer reduced to simply grabbing as much as I could within a few moments. I could... well, I probably could just keep taking sorceries. Hecate hadn't mentioned any sort of limit to the number I could obtain. Just whatever I could imagine during my short journey. So there was my second restriction, which I intended to remove as well.
Imagination. Again, understanding bloomed in my mind, growing outward from my understanding of the concept, expanding, solidifying and extrapolating.
For that matter, just raw imagination wasn't necessarily perfect, so I decided to help it along.
Intelligence. Sentience. Self.
I felt my new powers curling within me, just waiting to be released and expand my mind. But I paused. Reckless self-modification wasn't a good idea, there was no telling whether whatever remained would still be me in any sense of the word. And what good was it to gain untold power if it left me a cold, unfeeling God who ignored the plight of people because they were beneath him? Who possibly repurposed the entire world because he thought he could make better use of it? These were the same issue as you had with creating a self-modifying Artificial General Intelligence. And it wasn't like Friendliness had been solved yet... a smile appeared on my face. Possibly. If I had a body in this environment. So, probably not. The concept of smiling appeared in my mind, might be a better idea.
Friendliness. Not the common meaning, but Friendliness with a capital F. The concept came from the theories around artificial intelligence. The idea of a set of core values that would remain stable under self-modification, and ensure that the entity remained positive towards humans, so that it would continue acting to human benefit. I modified this slightly, extending the notion to all sentients. The sorcery I had gotten relating to this concept helped a lot in clarifying my thoughts on the matter.
It was an interesting concept, which nothing in the world truly possessed. Humans certainly weren't Friendly, nor groups of humans such as corporations or nations. Some tried, true, and had to be given credit for that. But I needed something stronger, because a single slip could be enough to kill a lot of innocent people with the kind of power that I intended to go for. Of course, there was no need to restrict myself to the programming version of Friendliness, though it would form a good solid basis.
Friendliness. Love. Compassion. Acceptance. Wonder. Joy. Happiness. Awe. And since listing them all one by one proved to take a while Emotions. That neatly also included so-called negative emotions, like fear, sadness, anger... but these were important for balance as well.
I called upon my newfound magic to make my mind stable and safe under further modification. Again, using magic in this strange place caused the spiral of color around me to contort into almost recognizable shapes for a moment.
With the safeguards in place, it was finally time to expand my mind. My intelligence boosted, my imagination increased. And as I did so I could think of new ways to improve my mind, which in turn would allow me to conceive even better ways to grow... and so on, my mind constantly expanding.
But that wasn't the main objective. Extending my mind could wait, but for now I was still in a temporary position to gain new magic. That was a problem, I didn't like that this opportunity was temporary. There was simply too much to do, too many concepts to try, my mind to extend to come up with even more, and... even with my time powers, I was only sped up. There wasn't even time to think of everything that needed to be done.
Parallelism. It likely wasn't the best word to cover the concept, but it responded very well, ideas, clarifications, thoughts and power crystallizing around what I'd intended rather than the word itself. The other concepts had been like that, too, I supposed, building around my own interpretation rather than the word itself. That made sense, concepts weren't defined by their labels, after all.
The upside of this was that I'd gained exactly what I'd tried to put into parallelism, the ability to split my mind into several separate parts that could act at the same time. Or maybe copy my mind? Certainly ending up with the ability to do several things at the same time.
Once more magic was called upon by me. Once more the the pattern around me twisted, and then there were several of me. It was a strange feeling. We were still connected, I had a vague feeling of what they were doing. If I focused, I could recall exactly what a part of me had done.
And so I set to work, giving myself different tasks and creating more of me as necessary. One to just learn as much magic as possible, naming any concepts that came to mind. That part split into more quickly, and also soon started to allow for longer times for each concept. They did take a while to fully develop, and I'd often cut the process short after getting what I needed. But now there was no need for that, and I got fuller powers. I made sure to backtrack and fill in my first powers, as well. Another of me set to extend my mind, using the insights I'd gained to rearrange and improve how I thought. One of me to keep track of all the different parts of me and coordinate between them.
And that left... me. In a sense. I could still feel the rest of me working away, but it was a hazy sense, no clear details. And I didn't want to focus on their work when I had my own. After all, I didn't know how long I still had. I didn't know where I was, and I didn't know where I was headed.
Senses. Starting with the basics – touch, taste, sight, sound, smell – before branching out to what fewer people considered senses like the sense of balance, pain, vibration, hunger, thirst. Then I went beyond what was human, echolocation extending vision to cover the entire electromagnetic spectrum, then senses for the other fundamental forces. And then... and then I would need some way to sense whatever was around me. As far as I knew I wasn't in my world anymore, so I had no idea what there was out there to sense, that was why I wanted this after all. But it also meant that I didn't know what senses I would need. So I blindly thought of something to sense what was around me. And I got something.
One more use of magic. The whirling colors around me twisted for a second, but then they resolved. There was so much to look at, and everything has seemingly endless details. I considered creating more copies, so that I might look at several things at once. But I remembered that it was already difficult to deal with the amount of copies we had, making sure they didn't drift too far apart to become separate entities. That... would be a memory from the me that was in charge of coordinating all my copies. It was strange to have ready access to memories from a different me. Yet this was me, and one chosen for the task, so I accepted their decision. With too much to look at, I just decided to start somewhere.
I could sense worlds before me, and I could sense one behind me. There were others, but much further out. I sensed the medium all around them and me, made up of... concepts. I could sense the way the worlds were made out of manifested concepts, and how they in turn created new concepts by virtue of the thoughts of the people living there. Some worlds only shaped the concepts around them, while others were affected by the concepts around them as well as affecting them. I focused more closely. It was interesting, it... subtly changed the world in accordance with a single concept. Usually caused by somebody from that world. I was looking at magic, I realized. Accessing the raw concepts out here, and forcing them to change the structure of the world. Changing, adding, removing the manifested concepts from which the world is made.
The world I came had little magic. Rigid concepts that didn't allow for influence from the medium around the world, the ideas that might intrude. As a result... looking over other worlds... the absence of magic leads to greater creation of new ideas. Meanwhile, highly magical worlds constantly call upon the medium, so the same ideas get introduced to the world over and over again. Each time you use magic, you use ideas from outside your world. Of course, those ideas do get influenced by your world, but this process takes time. Old, established ideas are much more detailed and nuanced. Which would allow for easier and more powerful magic. Hence magical worlds would stick with old ideas instead of creating new ones. Yet by the very process of going over old ideas again and again, they polish and clarify these concept. As each aspect of old concepts is gone over in detail, the concept becomes more focused and clear. Was that what this was all about? Creating and refining concepts?
I could see ripples in the medium around me, spreading outward from where I was. What could cause... magic. I used magic, here, in the medium, where concepts are fluid and free. And magic is simply the act of forcing the concepts of the medium upon a world. Which in turn is made up of frozen, manifested, rigid concepts. I watched how magic was cast in one of them. The rigid concepts of which the world was made resisted change. They soaked up of the effect, and thus the magic was limited in effect. It did what it was supposed to do, and that was that.
But out here, there was no world to affect. I used magic, I forced concepts from the medium upon... the medium itself. Nothing to stop the magic. The magic simply traveled on and on, like a wave radiating out from me. It traveled through the medium, which acted like an amplifier for the magic, because that's what magic was made of. Like rolling a snowball down a hill, gathering more and more, growing larger and larger. Just in every direction at once.
I was still weakly connected to the magic I had cast, I could sense that. It was, after all, cast by me, and still in effect. And it was all made out of concepts. Of course it was, like everything else. They were mostly vague concepts, but examining how the wave had spread had made them more clear. I would need to change those. It wasn't magic, it was much more subtle than that. Or at least much more subtle than my uses of magic so far. I had simply grabbed some concept, and asked for what I wanted, putting power behind it. But now... now I could sense what I was doing. Now I could do finer manipulation rather than simply splash wildly.
So I focused on the concepts that made up my magic. Specifically the ones about it spreading like a wave. If so... I could strengthen that link, make it act more like a wave, growing slowly weaker as it went on and eventually dissipate. Heck, why stick to them slowly becoming weaker? I could tweak things here, to make them lose power rapidly. Become so weak that it didn't really affect anything noticeably anymore. Not that it had actually been affecting the medium, really. Just passed through it. But it if hit a world... made up of manifested concepts, which magic was meant to affect... that would be a different story. A thought on how to change my magic, focused will, and it was done.
It was too late for the worlds I was heading towards. They were hit before I was still trying to fix things, before I even got the senses to know what I had done. A cluster of worlds, barely connected, but enough that people could sometimes travel from one to the others. Nine worlds. They were magical worlds, used to the presence of magic. And manifested ideas do naturally dampen magic. But they were hit with the equivalent of a tidal wave. The worlds were smashed together, and started to leak into each other. Which was not a good thing, since they were different worlds for different people. Having them all in a tangled mess was wreaking havoc on the environment and the inhabitants.
Hadn't Hecate said something about Ragnarok? I picked the concept from the medium around me, and absorbed the information linked to it. Right. Norse myth, nine worlds, and Ragnarok was their doomsday scenario. Which... if I wasn't mistaken... I'd just caused.