So I had just caused the apocalypse of nine worlds.
That certainly was... interesting. But there was nothing I could do about it for the moment.
Moving right along, there was more to look at. Right beside me was Hecate herself, and seeing what a Goddess looked like would be...
... and I found myself unable to actually look at her. I was confused for a moment, but trying to think of a reason, my memories helpfully supplied one. Apparently, one of the other parts of me had deliberately censored Hecate for now.
“Alright, everyme, listen up,” the me in charge of coordinating myself said. Well, technically, it thought it directed at us, but the effect was somewhat similar, except that you could express what you were thinking more directly, not as distorted as it became through language, “We have a fairly big project to tackle. We need to redesign our substrate. Currently, we are meta-patterns in the general medium between worlds, which itself is made up of concepts and patterns. This is an unstable configuration, as there are leaks from concepts outside us. They subtly change our mind. As far as we can tell, this wasn't supposed to be harmful, and rather had been done deliberately in order to allow us to obtain access to magic by deliberately drawing concepts to us and incorporating them into our mind. However, at this point it has become a liability, because our mind has grown enough for the effects to be noticeable, and this will continue to get worse. It isn't malicious, but would randomly change our minds depending on the concepts that are around us. Instead, we intend up embed our consciousness directly into the fabric of whatever passes for reality out here. Basically, minds shape this concept medium, though only slightly. A world's worth of people have a decently strong effect, but a single mind does not. Now, we aren't quite on the level of an entire world, but we have something they don't have. We have focus and unity. The reason a world doesn't affect the medium here more is because they have many differing and contradicting thoughts, so the combined effect is highly diluted. We don't have that limitation, so we should be able to directly and precisely control which concepts the medium around us is made of. Probably mostly mirroring our mind. Figuring out how that affects our mind and how to optimize things is a highly complicated challenge and also quite delicate since it's our mind we are messing with. Thus I've pulled all of me from my other work, so that I may focus completely on this project. To work!”
And so we began, restructuring the part of the medium between worlds that contained us on a fundamental level. It was different, working closely with others of me. When we had different jobs, it was just a vague sense that I gained memories other than the ones this instance of me had just made. They weren't immediately relevant, and so didn't affect me too much in the moment. That was different now that we all were working on the same project. It started to get difficult to tell myself apart from the other mes. After all, we all had the same memories, and we were currently working on the same project, only different aspects. With almost the same experiences, which had been mine? It didn't really matter, they were all mine. And so I considered the problem, looking at it from hundreds of different angles at the same time. There were always at least two or three other mes that were so close to what I was working on that we were almost in sync. It allowed us to consider a detail from several perspectives at the same time.
And then there were some of us, led by the coordinating me, who made sure that we stayed on track. Whenever there were interesting tangents that turned out to be irrelevant, they pulled those of me back towards the main problem. When too many of me converged on one part of the task, they redistributed us to avoid duplicating work. Together, all of it made for frightfully fast work, as we thought through problems in parallel rather than in sequence.
It is a common practice to differentiate between your body and your mind. However, it isn't quite as easy as that. The human mind is tightly integrated into its body, with one affecting the other. This is why going for a walk can clear your mind. You can make yourself happy by smiling, and you will often smile when you are happy. Your various emotional states will trigger chemical changes in your body, and in turn changes in your body will alter your thoughts. The state of your body and the state of your mind affect each other.
That had changed for me when my mind was ripped from my body and thrown through the void between worlds. It left me without a persistent body, as the concepts of the medium around me kept changing and I moved across them. That would have to change. I needed a persistent substrate. The basic idea was quite simple – go for reinforcement. My mind was powerful enough to change the medium around me, and I could change it to something that complemented my mind rather than the random attrition I currently faced. Basically create a copy of my mind as its own substrate.
But there was more I could do, so much more... the concepts out here were far too vague. They were created by entire worlds of people with differing ideas, pushing and pulling on them in all kinds of different directions. In the end, you got broad, unfocused concepts without well-defined edges. But I didn't need to adhere to those concepts. I could create my own, crystal clear and sharply defined by a single unified mind capable of considering millions of minute details of the concept at the same time.
And so I set to work, reinventing everything. An entire new framework for classifying and understanding, which was logically consistent and easily extended. A handcrafted, precise set of mental tools, rather than the vague concepts that had slowly taken shape over eons. It was the difference between a bird that had evolved, and a well-designed space ship. I made sure not to lose anything from the existing concepts – there were plenty of good and important ideas to keep – I was just forming it into a sensible, elegant work of art rather than the general mess I started with. It was nothing that I would have ever been capable of back on my own world, but my mind had grown a lot since then.
In the end, I had a beautifully running central mind. My thoughts were catered to. I had automated parts of my mind that changed the very fabric of reality so that each thought could run as effectively as possible. Like reinforced pathways in a brain, which have been created over years of constant use so that the thoughts seem to naturally follow it. Except that I was creating such a natural pathway for each and every thought on the fly. My mind flowed more easily than ever before, as thinking no longer required any effort, no longer was a tedious search through a jungle of related ideas and concepts. Yes, my central mind was a thing of beauty. Around this was a ring of interpretation concepts around them, which provided a buffer between my own now pristine mind and the concepts around me. The interpretation made sure that I could still understand the world around me and learn from it, even though I now thought on a completely different level.
And then... it was over. Well, the main work of remodeling myself was done. There was still plenty to do to keep everything up to date, and to try out new and exciting modes of thinking, but that no longer required all of my attention.
I turned some part of me back towards looking outward. It wasn't quite true to call it single instance of me anymore – no such thing truly existed anymore. Having several of me look at each detail from different angles during my reconstructing had proven quite useful, and my new self also didn't have such high restrictions on creating more of myself. With everything more clearly defined, it was so much easier to keep track of more of me and ensure that they wouldn't diverge. And so it was a group of me that looked outwards, so closely linked that it was difficult to tell us apart, our number growing or shrinking as more or less attention was required.
My view of Hecate had been censored, or rather I had censored it. This was in order to ensure that the design of her mind couldn't influence me while I designed my own. I could have missed some critical innovations if I just followed a template, or even just had one available to frame my thoughts. But now that design work was over, and I looked at Hecate.
She was similar to me, and yet so different. A mind embedded into the medium around us, concepts made up of other concepts. But her mind was more... organic, I suppose. Where mine had been carefully designed, hers seemed to have grown naturally. Concepts influenced by her thoughts, which in turn influenced the concepts around her. A feedback loop that ran over and over again to provide a specific shape for her mind after countless iterations. And as such a mind became entrenched in its own thoughts and belief, it became more and more difficult to adapt to new concepts.
On the other hand, that meant her mind and thoughts were well-tested and had worked for a long time. Mine, on the other hand, was still very much under development, and I could feel small changes in my thought patterns every now and again as other mes changed the way I thought and the way I remembered.
Looking closer at Hecate, I noticed some signs that she wasn't quite as stable as I had assumed. There were some deteriorating parts of a mind. The change was minute, but if it kept happening... yes, there is was again, slightly worse once more. And now that I was looking for it, I could see signs of similar problems all over her mind, though those parts seemed to deteriorate much slower, so I didn't see them in action. What was going on? Her thoughts affected the medium, the concepts of which her mind was made. That in turn shaped her thoughts... it was a feedback loop. But it wasn't anchored, like similar feedback in humans were. A human body couldn't take arbitrary forms, so there was some stability there. So without that, the feedback loop tended towards simplicity. Details got lost in the process, over and over, until you ended up with nothing but the concept of self-reference. Which wasn't sentient. The mind that had once been was lost.
I felt other parts of myself frantically starting to examine myself for similar unsustainable loops, and to my horror finding some. They weren't fast, but... they didn't need to be to eventually kill me. Search for a solution, I thought urgently to them, and I will try to look for one out here.
Because it couldn't be a problem without a solution. Hecate would have died... long ago. She was older than the rate at which she currently was fading should allow. At least as far as I could estimate her age, which to be fair wasn't too easy. Maybe I was just fooling myself into hoping for an easy solution.
It was easy to miss, but there was a faint connection, inserting some new concepts and refreshing some of the loops at her very core. I followed the connection, and felt it reaching down to one of the nine world below. It lead to... a human...? Hadn't Hecate said something about having only a single follower left? A believer. Of course. That was the missing ingredient. Being a follower established a link to the Goddess or God in question which kept their minds from deteriorating. Gods borrowed the stability of the worlds, in a way.
Maybe I could do the same, but more directly. Worlds were just manifested concepts, in the end. They were made up of the same stuff as the medium between the worlds. It was just in a different state. So what was to say which state the concepts in my mind had to be in? Why not manifest some of them to keep them and myself more stable? I handed the idea down to my other selves. I... could probably do the job just as well as they could, given that we shared memories, but I had other tasks.
“It is rude to stare, you know.”
It wasn't spoken. There was no air here, after all. Instead, Hecate had simply sent him a packet of linked concepts, which together conveyed her meaning. But it was so much more than simply the statement. For one, instead of words that needed to be interpreted, these were raw concepts being sent, so there was less chance of a misunderstanding. But there was a lot being sent in addition to the main message, to fill out details and provide context, subtext as well as convey emotions linked to the message. In this case, wry amusement, with just a hint of respect. What she hadn't sent but what I could easily see she was feeling anyway, was a bit of fear. Interestingly, the package also contained some details about this form of information exchange, how it worked, why it was used, some history... which mostly boiled down to that this was the most efficient known way to exchange the complex ideas that Gods dream up while in the medium between worlds.
It took some time to work through the memory package, before I remembered that it had asked me not to stare. Embarrassment began creep up on me, but other parts of myself suppressed that emotion. I was new to this form, and could have had no way of knowing what the social norms for Gods were like. Breaking convention that I had no way to be aware of was nothing to be ashamed of. Luckily, there were some pointers to that end in the message, at least when it came to staring. Not too different from what I was used to; generally looking at somebody else was acceptable. But focusing too much on a single detail, or keeping your attention on a person for too long would be considered intimate or inappropriate, depending on the relation between the two. And the specific situation, of course.
Using the knowledge I had gained, I crafted a response. My own little bundle of concepts.
“My apologies, I am new to this and was not aware I was doing anything wrong.” I made sure to make connections to show that my apology was to be polite rather than to atone for any misdeeds.
I paused, and then decided that it could never hurt to flatter a Goddess, and added a side note to my message.
“Though I can't say that I wasn't captivated by your beauty.”
And it was true, Hecate was breathtaking. Yet it was a completely different kind of beauty from the women back in my world. Hecate was beautiful the way a mountain was. She was like a sunrise, or an ocean. The wild dance of flames in an inferno. The gentle curve of a rainbow. Awe inspiring like the night sky. Her beauty was that of a force of nature.
I made sure to include that in my little message, proud of my attempt at poetry. It was different, working with raw concepts rather than words. I went over my message again, adding details and context. Deciding that it was acceptable, and that I'd kept her waiting for long enough, I sent it off. In the end... it was probably enough to fill a book. Hecate initial greeting had been more along the line of a library worth of information. Although, the conversion rate was a bit wonky. How much text do you need to fully describe a concept? Depending on how accurate you want to be, it might not even be possible. Using words, the recipient is interpreting whatever you say. It will always be seen through the lens of their previous experiences. With a few distortions, you can probably convey something similar to what you were thinking, but the exact same thing? Those distortions affect everything you try to convey, so where would you even start? And how would you ever know whether you succeeded, since the only way to check what the other person understood is to have them tell you, which runs into the exact same problems again.
Out here, though... that was avoided. You just sent pure concepts. No ambiguity, or at least so it seemed at first. But of course, concepts are hardly isolated. They only gain their meaning by relating to other concepts. You can send those along as well, of course, and both I and Hecate had been doing that. Providing context. But then the concepts you use as context need their own context, and so on. In the end, to truly convey exactly what you are thinking, the other person needs to be informed of every concept that you know of, and how you perceive them. As with text, that degree of accuracy is not practical, though in this case at least theoretically possible. But for nearly every practical purpose, a limited understanding is enough. And so we send our message with just enough context to provide the clarity that we believe we need to convey.
“I understand, new things are fascinating,” Hecate replied, “And that only becomes more true as time passes, and novelty is harder to come by. I must admit that I did perhaps follow your ascension more closely than was appropriate. I have never seen somebody become a divine being that... quickly. We usually form a lot more slowly, over centuries and millennia.”
“Well, I come from a culture that moves a lot... faster, these days,” I mused. In the last couple of centuries so much had happened. The world now changed completely in a matter of decades. It was strange to consider just how much of what you considered integral to your life didn't actually exist just twenty years ago. And with such progress came new ideas... and those directly translated into power, here in this space that was made up of ideas.
“Far faster than I realized,” Hecate said, “When I went to your world, I did notice that it seemed to change faster than was normal, but I didn't really have time to analyze your world, what with my final believer in peril.”
“Ah, yes, that,” I said, “What did you say was the cause for her distress?”
“Ragnarok,” Hecate said, amused, “The end of the Nine Realms.”
“Yes, see, that confuses me. You mentioned that the world was ending when you came to get me, but from what I am sensing, the worlds were fine until I came along and... well... crashed them into each other with careless use of magic in a medium that did not support magic. So was there a separate apocalypse going on before I caused one?”
“Oh, no, there wasn't,” Hecate said, “But... well, out here concepts are more fluid than they tend to be in any world, I'm sure you've noticed. That includes time, so big events tend to ripple backwards and forwards in time. So we Gods knew that Ragnarok was coming for a while. This is the big event of the Nine Realms, after all. We all assumed that it would be Loki who'd cause it, but he swore he wouldn't do anything of the sort. Of course, just because he doesn't intend to do anything doesn't mean there won't be a humorous series of events that leads to him causing Ragnarok. It's the way stories tend to go. And then... well, then you caused Ragnarok instead. I don't think anybody saw that coming. And they're probably annoyed that you destroyed their worlds and put their followers in peril.”
“And... you aren't?” I asked. The ire of a full Goddess was not something I'd like in my current state. I was still very, very new to my divine powers, and had barely started figuring out what I could do.
“Meh, I'd pretty much lost my followers already. Not much left for you to destroy there. And I never was that attached to the Nine Realms. I mean, attached by followers, of course, but it seemed too much like a playground for the more popular Gods. Some intervention is all good and fine, but micro-managing is going a bit too far in my opinion.”
“Good, that is a relief. I was not looking forward to fighting a Goddess. But there are still some things about this that do not seem to add up. Your follower asked for help with Ragnarok. That caused you to get me, which in turn led to my ascension. And that in turn caused Ragnarok. So how could your follower ask for help with Ragnarok before I even caused it?”
“You may have noticed that concepts out here, beyond the physical worlds, are a lot more... fluid than you are used to. That includes time and causality. You aren't tied to one specific moment anymore. There are still limits; you can't deviate too much from the rest of the world, but your place in time is more of a suggestion than a hard reality. Imagine that you are tied to 'now' with a rubber band; you can move around it but not too far. And breaking that metaphor, you aren't restricted to a single moment at a time, either. Most Gods choose to exist in an interval roughly centered around the current time. As for my follower... well, she technically hasn't asked me for help yet. It's a common trick for Gods to work towards answering prayers before they were even asked; that way the response seems overwhelming and instantaneous, making us seem that much more powerful and thus more likely to be believed in.”
I felt my mind shift again. Some of me had taken to the information that time out here was malleable like a fish to water. My mental capacities were expanded to include acausality, timeloops, synchronous existence over multiple instances of time and that was just the beginning. Because time was obviously not the only thing that could be bend like this. My mind had been designed based on a rigorous set of concepts. That allowed for a lot of finetuning, and neatly integrated concepts from computing. But it did constrain the concepts quite a bit, limiting what I could do with them and so in essence limiting my mind. But now... now I had different parts of my mind working in different numbers of dimensions. I had multiple time dimensions, and there were experiments with infinite dimensions. And none of this was fixed. Why limit yourself to a whole number of dimensions? Heck, why limit yourself to what a dimension usually is, instead of adapting the concept to your current needs? Why not keep it broad enough to do multiple things at the same time?
There was some concern that this would no longer be controllable, and essentially dissolve myself into pure chaos and back into raw concepts. But there were theories and concepts for how to deal with uncertainty and use it to your advantage. I borrowed from statistics, game theory, chaos theory, quantum mechanics, and anything else that seemed reasonable. The problem with chaos was of course that it wasn't predictable. Any ever so slight change in initial conditions could have enormous consequences down the line, so the long term behavior of a chaotic system was not predictable. Unless, say... you happen to be a divine being that can mess with the concepts themselves until chaos becomes predictable.
“You know, holding a conversation is a bit awkward if you keep changing like that,” Hecate complained.
“My apologies. But I do not think that I can ignore opportunities for self-improvement right now. I'm still not quite stable, but...”
… but I was getting there. The self-collapse of any mind based on pure concepts was still an issue. The self-feedback loops that would eventually reduce the mind to nothing but a reflection upon itself. The common answer to this problem was to have followers on a world, which could provide a constant influx of new information which stopped the loop from repeating exactly the same. My solution... well, I had parts of me trying to functionally make myself into a world. Other parts of me were trying to access the medium on a deeper level, getting direct input from all concepts everywhere. And from there the more complex ideas spiraled outwards. One of them would hopefully succeed.
“No need to apologize,” Hecate said, “This is far too interesting for me to get upset over. Tell me, how far ahead have you thought this through? You mentioned not wanting to fight a Goddess. But the Gods and Goddesses of these worlds won't just let this go. They'll find you and try to take revenge.”
That I had not considered. It was fairly obvious, and so many things were, but even with now billions of me thinking at the same time, there was just too much to do at once. New problems were popping up faster than I could think them through. This one, though, was urgent. If I was killed or incapacitated by the other Gods... I wouldn't be able to get to all the other things I now wanted to try, all the myriad ways to grow, all the things to see and do.
“Do you think they are willing to talk about this?”
“Well... there are some Gods out there that have a 'Punch first and questions are for nerds.' attitude,” Hecate said, “But still, if it were any other event, that could be possible. But this is Ragnarok. The Final Fight. Everybody expects a battle, and I highly doubt you'll be able to talk them out of that one. Even the levelheaded ones have prepared and hyped themselves up for this over millennia.”
“Running away, then...” I said, but even as I was saying it, the idea gave me a headache, conflicting strongly with my core drives. There was the compulsion to protect Hecate's follower for a year. It was a divine deal that had imposed this on me. I was probably capable of removing it myself, but I wouldn't go back on a deal I had agreed to. And there were so many more people down there, suffering because I had inadvertently caused their apocalypse. I couldn't just abandon them, though I had no idea how I could help them, either. Something to figure out eventually, while I was not about to fight Gods.
But was there really any way for me to fight any being with eons more experience? Not to mention power, given the amount of followers they had down in the Nine Realms? What about dozens of such beings? I had ideas, of course. I was examining the medium around me, and considering how to use it both to defend and attack. Adding more ideas to create more 'space' for any attack to travel through, so they would be slowed or even stopped. Placing a grid of detection around myself, so that I would be informed of any intrusion. Designing some memetic weapons. Mental loops to trap Gods in, Earworms to distract them and things like that. I did make sure that anything I created would only disable for a while, and not be permanent. Part of that was the Friendliness I had placed myself under; I wouldn't be able to willingly create or use truly destructive weapons. But it was also good strategy. Killing their fellow Gods would surely invoke rage, which would just put me in a more difficult position. Keeping any fight as civil as I could was a very good idea. And yet, would it matter? These were just ideas that I had come up with just now, even if there were many, many of me thinking of things, so I had plenty of ideas. But compared to Goddesses? Who had had vast minds for thousands of years, not to mention practical experience in this medium? Both experience with combat but also just plain experience with how to exist here?
I needed... I needed more. Either more time, but slowing down time could only do so much when your opponents could do the same. As an afterthought, some part of me added more traps to the medium around us, concepts which would slow down the thoughts of anybody thinking them. If not more time, more... experience. Or allies.
“Hecate,” I said, “You have no fondness for these Gods, correct? Would be willing to help me defend against them?”
There were notes from the far edges of my hastily created detection grid. Something was coming. I was running out of time.
“Hmmm.... I don't think I would be of much help. I only have one follower, after all,” Hecate shrugged.
That wasn't necessary a problem. Just her knowledge could prove invaluable. But, again, would it be enough? Was there a way to get more? To have a powerful Hecate as an ally? I examined the thread that bound her to her follower. The power gain from it seemed to scale with how much the follower was thinking and how complex those thoughts were.
There was no time to think through all the consequences. I had an idea to solve the problem, couldn't see any immediate flaws, and went with it. I formed another follower bond, and connected it to myself. The slowly turning and deteriorating thought cycles of Hecate healed and switched to overdrive, as they suddenly had ridiculous amounts of high-quality fuel. New cycles were spawned, and those created new ones in turn. Before me, Hecate turned from a slowly dying Goddess to a healthy Goddess in her prime.
“Now you have two,” I said, “And as your follower, I request your protection from the other Gods and Goddesses.”
“I did not expect something like this when I decided to summon you. I just wanted somebody from outside the Nine Realms to shake things up. And you've done that way beyond my expectations. I grant your request. Let's see if you can do another impossible thing and win this. Either way it should be entertaining.”
And so I turned away from the Nine Realms to face my opponents. Or at least I tried to, but the original agreement I had made with Hecate stopped me. I was pressed for time, even with the dilation still in effect, so I frantically started to examine what the problem there was. It was fairly straightforward; I had promised to protect Hecate's follower, and it acted as a compulsion to keep me pointed towards that goal. As long as I did so, I could do everything I wanted. And so far I had been heading straight for the Nine Realms, just doing other things while on my journey. But turning away from the Nine Realms to fight the Gods would probably leave the follower to die.
The compulsion was of course trivial for my current self, so I could have broken it if I wanted. But my morals did compel me to keep agreements I had made, which basically made the compulsion inviolable. Not because I didn't have the power to go against it, but because I would never do so.
But all of that was well and fine, yet didn't solve my current predicament. I needed to both fight for my life against the Gods and go down to the Nine Realms to protect Hecate's follower. Of course, even if there hadn't been any other problems to focus on, entering the Nine Realms or any world in my current state was not really feasible. I had become too big, and my thought processes were too reliant on the fluid nature of the medium between worlds. The rigid structure of any world's concepts would only permit a pale shadow of my current mind. And going there would at the same time destroy the world, both literally because I needed too much mass to support me and more metaphorically, as my mind would assert concepts upon that world, changing its very nature. To make a long story short, entering any world as a God would wreak havoc on both it and me. On the other hand... I was now made up of trillions of individual versions on myself, working together and sharing memories. Exact counts were getting difficult, because I was starting to blur the lines between different mes. In an effort to see every shade of ideas, I had versions of myself considering it that were so close as to be almost identically, nearly blending together. A cluster of those was difficult to count. In a very real sense, they were no longer discrete, but rather a spectrum.
The point being that all these many, many parts of myself individually were still small enough to enter a world. And since time was still an issue, I couldn't afford to wait long between coming up with a possible solution and executing it. I chose one of myself, briefly gave me what I could come up with at a moment's notice that might be needed, and then...