… then I was suddenly alone.
Utterly and terribly alone. More alone than I had ever known anything could be. All the minds, the copies of myself, that I had become used to, were no longer there. The steady hum of thoughts being thought, memories being added in a flood had stopped. And instead, there was just me. I tried to split of versions of myself to consider aspects of this problem, but I couldn't. I listened for another me to calm me down, but nothing was there. And my memories, oh, they changed so very slowly, being almost static. There was no information being added from millions of myself thinking through problems. I didn't even know where I was, because the vast stream of information coming in from a myriad of senses processed by many, many of me was just gone. With the pitiful senses I had I might as well be blind, deaf... in sensory deprivation, basically, as well as mental one. I no longer knew how to think when I had to do it all myself, rather than relying on a collective effort by thousands of me considering aspects of the same problem. I kept trying to push strands of thoughts off to others who just weren't there, so my thoughts were ineffective as well as slow. Could I ever finish a single thought anymore? There was no answer. Increasingly frantic, I reached out, out, for anything I could get a hold of, just to alleviate the terrifying loneliness.
I reached further, grasping for any sign that I was not utterly forgotten and alone. And then, thankfully, there was a response. A mind out there, and I clung to the fragile link I had to it. And yet even now, in total despair and desperate need, the way I had organized my mind prevented me from going into that mind and reading thoughts. I couldn't even form words anymore to convey the contact, the reassurance that there was somebody except me out there that I craved. I could only send a raw emotional pulse conveying my need. And to my utter delight it was met with approval after only a moment.
And then it was as if light suddenly appeared in the darkness as the thoughts of that other mind were now visible to me. It was still oh so little compared to what I had become used to, but it was infinitely more than nothing. It was enough to ground me. I didn't even need to scrutinize the thoughts closely, just the fact that they were there was enough. I slowly calmed down, and stared to get my frayed mind back in order. I was okay. I was no longer alone. Cerise was with me – it was difficult not to pick up a few things with her thoughts openly displayed before me, even if I wasn't actively reading her mind, and her name was one of them. And with that as an anchor, with the darkness and isolation no longer swallowing me, I could acknowledge the senses I now had, pitifully inadequate as they might be.
I could see a basement around me. There were storages around me, filled with vegetables, fruit, dried meat, as well as jars and pots filled with conserved food. In the middle space was cleared for an altar, upon which I had been summoned. Cerise knelt before the altar. Looking down upon myself, I found that I was naked.
I willed it not to be so.
Sorceries of Fabric, Clothing, Fashion, Art and Creation responded instantly, guiding me in how to shape magic. Ripples of fabric appeared around me, and flowed together into a simple but stylish outfit, perfectly shaped to fit my figure.
“Champion,” Cerise said, and I heard the echo in her thoughts as she did so, “Please, save my friend. She is upstairs.”
And indeed, I could sense that too. Beyond the standard senses, I did have more esoteric ways to perceive my surroundings. All obtained during my rush to get as many concepts locked into Sorceries back in the medium between world. It was just strange to be the only one getting that sensory input, rather than having hundreds of versions of me interpreting each one. And, of course, the senses here in a world worked quite differently. I started going through the ones available to me, to get an idea of what I could do. I had a life-force sense, which told me that there were seventeen large living being on the floor above, and a plethora of smaller life all around the house, from insects to microbes. I had a magic sense, allowing me to perceive the flow of magic. I also had a more specific version for identifying shaped magic, mostly in the form of spells. I noted that there was still a spell effect speeding me up on me. That would be from... back in the medium, the first spell I had forced. The one that rippled out and caused... better not to think about that too much. The spell extended through the mental bond to Cerise as well, but everything else moved with glacial slowness. Which I was extremely grateful for, because it took me a lot of time to acclimatize to my current situation. Without the extra speed, I couldn't be sure whether I would have managed to save Cerise's friend in time. Now... I sensed a weak link between Cerise and one of the lifeforms above. That would be her friend, then. Avilla, the mental link supplied the name. Time to get to work. I lowered the section of the floor on which she stood, still in a fighting stance and with cutlery hovering around her looking threatening. I carefully tipped the section of kitchen floor once it had reached the bottom, and she slid off to stand in the cellar with us. Then I raised the floor section back to its original position. Most of the hovering cutlery went with it, leaving only a nasty knife that Avilla was holding.
Cerise watched fascinated and walked around her friend who was still so slow compared to us as to be frozen.
“Some sort of goblin magic, it looks like... can you unfreeze her?” she asked.
“She... not really frozen,” I said, “She's moving normally, really. We're just a bit sped up. I can bring her up to the same speed, if you want.”
I extended a tendril of magic and included her in the time acceleration effect. Immediately she swung her knife, only to stop short when there was nothing to hit in front of her. Looking around, she lowered her knife when she saw Cerise. Upon seeing me, she raised it again slightly, just enough to be easily useable without being openly threatening, and stepped between me and Cerise.
“This is the Champion that Hecate sends us?”, she asked.
“Yup, that's me,” I said, suddenly very unsure of how to do introductions in such a situation. I had not yet been in the position of meeting two admittedly quite attractive women, one of whom had just seen me naked, while I had moments before been a God and was still suffering a case of comparative sensory deprivation. So, when you don't know what to say, fall back to the classics.
There was a pause, and I nervously continued: “Um, I'm Daniel Black. It's nice to meet you, I guess? And... well, before you introduce yourselves, I already know that you are Cerise and Avilla. I kinda read that from Cerise's mind, it was hard not to get the surface stuff...”
I was cut off by a blade suddenly at my throat. Avilla had moved in an instant and there was rage in her eyes. I wondered what was holding her back from killing me outright.
“Cerise,” she said, “We need him, right? To protect us? So, please, give me a reason not to take his life for invading your mind.”
“I gave him permission,” Cerise answered.
Avilla swiveled, staring at her friend with incredulousness. Which I could still feel, even though she was turned away from me. Emotion sense. Cool. I really needed to find some time to go through all I could do, but this didn't seem like it.
“Why?” she asked, “We have... secrets.”
“He is our champion,” Cerise said, “We will need to trust him with our lives. Maybe... we can also trust him with our secrets. Regardless... if you had felt his fear and need for confirmation that anybody was there at all when he tried to establish a mental link, you too would have wanted to reassure him. He is... quite fragile, emotionally, I'd say.”
“That's not really what I'd want from a Champion.”, Avilla said.
“Well, I'm not sure about fragile, but I'm certainly new at this,” I said.
“That's definitely not what I'd want from a Champion,” Avilla said.
Cerise hummed, “To be fair, he has shown some potential. Mastery over cloth – what you see him wear he casually summoned. And so far he has managed to save you, though I guess the goblins are still there upstairs? But they should be fairly easy to kill while we are this fast; they won't even have time to react. I'd say if there is nothing else he can do, just for that he is powerful enough to keep us safe from most things. But just in case... is there something else you can do, Champion?”
“Oh, I... well... call me Daniel, please.” I said, while trying to think of an answer. It wasn't that I wanted to hide anything, but I wasn't really sure. There were a lot of memories there, including sorceries. But I no longer had a group of my selves looking over everything and keeping an overview. And therefore while I could easily access individual parts of my memories, getting that overview wasn't as easy by myself. But last I knew, there were dozens of groups of me getting as many sorceries as the could think of while modifying themselves to be better able to think of more things.
“I don't really know,” I said, “Like I said, I'm new to this. I came from another world, and the trip to this one was... well, things happened quickly, and I'm finding it hard to keep everything straight. But as far as I can tell, when it comes to Sorceries I have... all of them.”
There was stunned silence at that revelation. Both Cerise and Avilla opened their mouth to make some remark a couple of times, but closed them, unable to find words to actually say. I could feel the turmoil in Cerise's thoughts, the way she kept trying and failing to understand the extent of such power.
It wasn't really something I had given much thought to, but I did have quite a lot of power at this point. I didn't know a lot about this world... well, actually, I did, but there was the overview problem again. I had so much knowledge in my mind, but only one thread of consciousness to experience it all with so I could not use all that knowledge or even know what there was. But Hecate had chosen me, and assumed that I'd get something like three sorceries, maybe six tops. And she'd still seemed like she expected me to be able to protect Cerise like that. Now I had... quite a bit more. I could reshape the world to my will, and still keep my promise. Which begged the question: What did I want the world to be like? What would I do with my power?
“I still don't like him,” Avilla said, and crossed her arms, “Can't you just summon another Champion so I can dispose of this one?”
“That's not possible,” Cerise and I replied in unison. We stopped and looked at each other for a moment, before I gestured for her to voice her objections first.
“Hecate is kinda running low on followers, with me being her last one,” she said, “So I doubt she has the power left to grant another such summoning. I'm surprised that this one worked out so well, actually. I was almost expecting a diseased cripple with a wooden sword, if anything. So as far as last desperate calls for help go, I think this worked out remarkably well.”
“Actually, I don't think power is an issue anymore for Hecate,” I said, “but I still wouldn't count on any help anytime soon because she'll be... busy. Fighting all the other Gods. On... well, kinda on my behalf, I guess.”
Again the two of them stared at him as if he'd grown a second head. Though, to be fair, they probably would have let that slide easier than his revelation. The silence dragged on long enough for him to consider to maybe telling a follower of a Goddess that he had put said Goddess in mortal danger wasn't the best idea he'd ever had. Was it mortal danger when applied to a Goddess? Or immortal danger?
“Cerise,” Avilla said, slowly and deliberately, “He is just messing with me. With us. Right? … right?”
Cerise shook her head.
“I don't even know anymore,” she said, “He doesn't seem to be lying, but I don't know whether he is just really good at faking it, whether he is crazy or, Hecate forbid, whether he may actually be telling the truth. And while I intend to find out which it is, it doesn't really matter right now. There are goblins in your house, and I for one intend to take care of them while we still can. We don't know how long our Champion will be able to keep up this Time sorcery.”
I wisely realized that I didn't know either, and so kept my mouth shut, and followed the two women up the stairs to the ground floor.
“So... when you say taking care of them...” I prompted.
“We will kill them before they can realize what is happening.”
“See, I'm not really sure I'm comfortable with that,” I said, “Killing defenseless people.”
“They are hardly defenseless,” Avilla said, “I fought them, I should know. And I wouldn't really call them people either. Monsters, perhaps.”
We reached the top of the stairs, and entered a scene of frozen chaos and destruction. Goblin in the air, mid-jump, snarling and swinging wicked blades. Furniture, cutlery and other household items were fighting a loosing battle against them. Even with time frozen, that much was clear. Too many trashed tables and chairs, too little damage on the goblins.
“They are wearing clothes and using tools,” I said, “That implies intelligence and some form for society, so I'd say people is more appropriate.”
“Well, either way they attacked me, so now they get to die,” Avilla said and slashed with her kitchen knife at the neck of the nearest goblin, only for her blade to be stopped in mid air by a shimmering surface. She turned to me and scowled.
“Did you really just stop me from killing this little bastard? He would do the same to me if he had the chance. Which he almost did. You would deny me revenge?”
“Yes,” I said, “I don't like revenge. It just creates more violence as people take revenge on you in turn for what you did in revenge. It makes the world an unpleasant place to be.”
Avilla poked at the shimmering surface blocking her knife, but found it unyielding.
“Fair enough, I guess. Though I personally like a good vendetta, can't really argue against what comes down to preference. And I do seem to need your approval if I want to hurt this... thing. What about simply ridding the world of a terrible little pest?”
“Also not allowed,” I said, and frowned, “No killing just because you don't like somebody.”
She nodded, as if having expected this. Then she turned to me and became very serious. In a low voice she asked: “And what about self defense? Would you have me give my life just to spare the one who attacks me?”
“No,” I said, “Though there are situations where that might be the best option, but I do not think this is one of them. However, now the situation has changed. And lethal self defense is no longer justified when I can defend you non-lethally. If I promise your safety, is that sufficient?”
Avilla glared at the barrier in front of her, and then at me.
“I don't really have much of a choice, do I?” she demanded.
I considered this. I couldn't really let her kill somebody if it could be easily avoided – it went against my morals and would also violate Friendliness. However... that didn't mean that I had to make her let this go.
“They did invade your home,” I said, “So some retribution is due. However, not their lives. Maybe make them do some housework or something... do you think that is acceptable?”
Avilla smiled at the mention of a goblin doing housework. However, that smile faded as she slipped deep into thought. After a while, she nodded once sharply.
“Very well,” she said and pocketed her knife. I breathed a sigh a relief. I could have stopped her, but I really preferred her willing cooperation. I knew too few people here to make enemies.
“Well, this was fascinating and all,” Cerise said, “But it does leave us with a goblin problem. What would you have us do with them if not kill them, oh Champion? Does your plan extend to anything beyond sparing their lives? I would presume that they will not just start doing housework just because you said so.”
My command sorcery helpfully supplied that I could totally make them do that or anything I wanted with a single word as long as I added enough of the right magic. But that ran into ethical problems as well, so I dismissed the idea.
“I could just talk to them, I suppose,” I said, “Knowing why they attacked should help us figure out what to do about them.”