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“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.

“I accept.”

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.

Chapter Text

So I had just caused the apocalypse of nine worlds.

Well, then.

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. 

There. 

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.”

Hecate laughed.

“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...

Chapter Text

… 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.

“Hi.”

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.”

Chapter Text

“You want to... talk... to the monsters that attacked us,” Avilla said, slowly, trying to wrap her mind around that idea. She turned to Cerise, taking her hands and looking at her pleadingly.

“You're not really going to let him do that, are you?”

“I kinda wanna see where this goes,” Cerise said apologetically, “We can always go back to killing them if his idea doesn't work out.”

“Hey, I said no killing!” I protested.

“You also said that you could keep us safe without killing them,” Cerise pointed out, “Well, this is your chance to prove that.”

I sighed, but she did have a point. I couldn't claim to have the power to protect them without excessive violence and then not back that claim up. Their lives were at stake, after all. I took a deep breath, and then beckoned one of the goblins to me. The air around her swirled and obediently moved her in my direction. My language sorcery provided my with knowledge of the goblin's language.

Then I paused, and glanced at the two women looking at the little creature with a mixture of hatred, disgust and fascination.

“Do you two know how to speak goblin?” I asked. 

“Some few phrases I should be able to figure out,” Cerise said, “Their language shares some similarities with trollish and demonic languages. At best I'll speak with a heavy accent, though.”

That... was a lot more than I would have expected. If she knew that they had a language... how could Cerise still consider goblins as monsters, to be killed on sight? Was it just because they had attacked this house now? No, there was something deeper than that, something that I was still missing. But there would be time for that later, because there were other puzzle pieces as well. Such as why the goblins were attacking in the first place. And where better to get that information than directly from the source? Still... better to keep Cerise and Avilla in the loop. Otherwise they might get suspicious when I went off talking in goblin.

Giving Cerise temporary knowledge of goblin was easy, since I already had a mental connection. I just tagged the translation spell onto that, and that was it. Avilla... well, that was a bit more complicated. I could either modify the sound, so that she would hear everything in her own language. It would mean casting a spell around her, but not on her. It also would mean that she would still be speaking another language, and not goblin. I kinda feared that there might be nuances lost in such a translation. The other option was to change her mind, allowing it to understand goblin. Much cleaner, but it would require her permission.

“Would you mind if I made you capable of speaking goblin, at least for now?” I asked Avilla.

Avilla immediately glanced at her friend, but Cerise just shrugged. Through my mental link, I got that she didn't think it would be dangerous, so there was nothing to protect Avilla from. And beyond that, it was Avilla's choice.

“It is mind magic,” I added, feeling that I should be up front before magically altering somebody's mind, “But it should be temporary. Though the mind is a fickle thing, so there may be some lingering effects.”

“Like... what?”

“Well, if you ever do decide to learn goblin the slow way, it should be faster.”

Avilla took a deep breath, and squeezed her eyes shut. 

“... fine,” she spat out the word, “I don't want to miss this conversation. Who knows what dark pacts you could make with goblins if I weren't there to keep an eye on you. But if I feel you do anything to my mind beyond what you said you would do, you are dead.”

“Noted,” I said, hardly worried. After all, I had no intention to do anything else. I called upon my sorceries, Mind, Language, Translation and Understanding, and let them weave my magic into a spell which coalesced in the palm of my hand. I brought my glowing hand up and lightly touched Avilla. The magic slowly soaked into her, gaining speed as she reluctantly relaxed when she felt nothing untoward. The spell took hold, but the bond did not break. Avilla's body kept drawing magic from me, greedily drinking in as much as she could. I got the sense that she was magically starved. Since I seemed to have an ample supply, I didn't see the harm in giving her some of my magic, so I created a proper flow towards her rather than the passive leeching she had been doing.

Instead of a trickle, there was now a rushing river. Avilla could not absorb it as quickly, so some of my magic flowed into her before becoming hers, and that gave me a sense of her body. It was... intriguing, made up of baking ingredients and held together with magic. But I was drawn out of my fascinated musing my a sense of alarm from Cerise. Through the mental link, she had sensed what I was doing, and gotten some idea of just how much magic I was giving her. From experience, Cerise knew that Avilla would get tipsy from magic, and drunk if she got more. And that was just from what Cerise could spare, which I had handily exceeded. Luckily we had that mental bond, and the whole exchange happened within moments.

I felt the effect that Cerise had described, now that I knew what to look for. Avilla was absorbing the magic, sure, but integrating it took time. Until she could do so, there was raw magic buzzing around her system and basically causing the drunkenness effect. And sure, I could have just stopped the flow of magic. Instead, I decided to see what I could do to just avoid the negative side effects. Raw magic was making Avilla drunk, but magic was just patterns and potential. So I wove some basic pattern into the flow of magic, stabilizing it. The magic would still be easy to draw upon, but it wouldn't act on its own and just sit there waiting for Avilla to fully process it. The pattern latched on to the magic already in her system, making that behave nicely as well.

And so Avilla was suddenly sober again, looking at me with confusion.

“What... did you do?” she asked, “You were giving me magic, and it felt so nice, and now... it's... it's still there, but I feel...”

She held out a hand, and light smell of homemade cookies and rosemary emanated from her and spread throughout the house. With my magic sense, I could see that she was renewing a subtle spell covering the cabin, giving inhabitants a sense of comfort and aiding in recovery. Doing so cost her more magic by far that she'd had before I touched her, but a mere fraction of what she held now. A grin slowly appeared on her face. And still I was pouring magic into her, there didn't seem to be any reasonable limit to how much she could hold. Well, there probably was, my Magic sorcery supplied, since too high concentrations of magic would literally rip apart the world. But while there was a theoretical limit, it was also ridiculously high.

Avilla considered the goblin contemplatively.

“I could probably take him now,” she said, and runes appeared on the blade of her knife, glowing ominously to underscore her point, “Your barrier won't hold against this.”

That was true, though I could likely summon a stronger barrier. Or teleport her away, disintegrate the dagger, drop her out of accelerated time... there was a lot I could do. Still, just stopping her with force would mean that I'd always have to pay attention to her to make sure she didn't kill anybody. I waited, tense, to see what she would do.

Avilla kept staring at the goblin for a long time. Eventually she sighed, and lowered the knife. The runes dimmed until they were invisible. 

“Cerise said she wanted to see where this goes,” she ground out, “Far be it from me to deprive her of entertainment.”

“Aww, thank you, that is so sweet of you,” Cerise said, and went to hug Avilla. I did my best to ignore the sensations of the hug that I got both through the mental link with Cerise and the magic I was still pouring into Avilla. 

“So... there is a goblin to question?” I said, and thankfully they broke the hug to watch. I extended the acceleration effect to cover the goblin as well. Immediately, she slashed with her knife wildly around herself. It didn't really do much because she was still held by the air, and nobody was within reach.

<Hey,> I said, <I am Daniel Black. May I have the honor of knowing your name?>

The goblin stopped, and tilted her head to consider me. Then she ignored me, and looked around. She saw her companions, seemingly frozen, and Cerise and Avilla, both of whom were not. Avilla glared at the goblin, and the runes on her knife flared to life for a moment.

<I will not break, no matter what you do to me,> the goblin said proudly. My sorceries helpfully supplied enough context to know that she was expecting to be tortured for information. I frowned. That wasn't at all what I had intended, and it would make my goal quite a lot harder. After all, I did want information, even if I had no desire to take it by force.

<I do not intend to hurt you,> I said, <But I cannot allow you to hurt my charges, either.>

<I fought her,> the goblin said, and waved in the direction of Avilla, <She did not seem to need any protecting.>

<It's Ragnarok,> I said, and grimaced, <I think everybody will need all the protection they can get.> 

That gave the goblin pause. But then she shook her head, and crossed her arms, clearly dismissing my outlandish claims.

<He speaks the truth. My Goddess informed me personally that Ragnarok is coming,> Cerise added. The goblin cocked her head, and her expression became grim.

<You would not dare to lie about the word of a Goddess,> she said, <But still I find your story unbelievable. If I find out that you lied, then I will make it my personal mission to make you suffer for that affront. Simple death would be too good for you.>

<Duly noted, but there is no need for such threats,> Cerise said, and held out her hand, palm up. A symbol made of three interlocking circles appeared there and slowly rotated, <As you can see, I am a priestess. I cannot lie about my Goddess.>

The goblin glanced around the room once more, at her frozen companions and at the blade that Avilla had shown glowing with runes. Finally she looked back at me.

<The final battle has begun, then,> the goblin said, now talking happily and freely, rather than guardedly spitting out each word, <Why would you declare that you wish me no harm rather than simply kill me? There is a lot of fighting to be done before this will all be over, and no time to be wasted with idle talk.>

I blinked. That was not a direction I had expected this conversation to go. Raknarok was a terrible tragedy, prophesied to end with everybody but two people dead. It was something that I had thought everybody would instinctively want to avoid and work against. Yet the manic anticipation that shone from the goblin's face clearly indicated something else. Then again, if you'd grown up with tales of the final battle... of great heroes and epic last stands... great charges... I could see how that might have gotten into your head over time. I wasn't sure how to deal with that, so I decided to focus on something else.

<If you didn't know, then why did you attack this house?>

<Oh, that. Well, they build this house on our farm, so we assumed that it was some sort of forward fortification. Given the amount of magical protection, I would say we were correct. I guessed that a bigger attack would be following, but Ragnarok itself... I would never have guessed that. Oh, that I get to experience this.>

<And you would just assume that this was a hostile act?>

<You are humans,> the goblin shrugged, <Violence is in your nature.>

That... sounded suspiciously like the opinion that Cerise and Avilla had of goblins, just reversed. They simply assigned to an entire species characteristics without thinking there might be differences between individuals. Yet I knew that humans could be peaceful, and if goblins had farms then they could be so too. There was something more here, something driving people to fight each other, I could feel it, if I could just...

There was a touch on my shoulder, and I turned to see Cerise smiling amused.

“How are you going to deal with that?” she whispered, “Hah. A lying crazy bloodthirsty monster. Remember, you said you'd have her doing housework.”

“Relax,” I said, “I have a plan.”

And indeed, I did. It just had nothing to do with the goblin. The plan was to just sit down somewhere comfortable with a cup of hot tea, curl up with a book and just forget about the fact that I had probably doomed nine worlds worth of people to a fight to the death.

Except... I couldn't forget about that fact. It was my fault, my responsibility. And so I would do something about it.

<So... Ragnarok,> I said, turning back to the goblin, <Tell me more about what you plan to do. Just fight whomever you happen to come across?>

<Well, no. The point is to fight the most glorious and epic battles, to defeat the greatest of foes. So you can ignore small-fry if there is something bigger you are chasing.>

<Hmm... what about working with others? Is that something you'd consider?>

<Oh, sure, why not. Finding somebody whom you can trust not to turn on you would be tricky, but if you can do that...>

<What about working with me?>

The goblin considered this offer for a while, but shook her head. She strained a bit against the air holding her, but my magic kept her in place.

<It is an interesting offer, given how easily you could kill me right now. I do not know what you hope to gain. But I must decline, for you are the greatest opponent that I am likely to meet. I will fight you, though I don't know how yet.>

I started pacing, trying to think this through. There were more powerful opponents than me, of course. I myself – or rather my other mes – were currently fighting pretty much all of the Gods and Goddesses of these Nine Realms. But bringing a goblin or anyone short of a Goddess like Hecate into that fight probably wasn't a good idea.

And even if I did find somebody else for this goblin to fight, that would defeat the point of getting her to not fight. That was a whole lot more difficult... I stopped with sudden realization.

<There is a greater challenge than any opponent that you could find in the entire world,> I said.

She didn't look convinced, so I pressed on.

<The Nine Realms are crashing into each other, blending together. That would probably be why there is a house on your farm now. The farm from your Realm and the house from this Realm were pushed into the same spot. The same will be happening everywhere, and soon people from all Realms who were in separate worlds before will be facing each other. It will look to everybody like hostiles appeared in their own backyard, just like you think this house was invading your farm, and Cerise and Avilla think you invaded their home. Even without knowing that this is Ragnarok, there will be brutal fights, and that is before food gets short because of Fimbulwinter. And I intend to stop it. I will not let anybody die.>

There was a brief silence, as the goblin thought this through. Then her eyes went wide.

<You talk about defying prophecy. About fighting Ragnarok itself,> the goblin said with awe in her voice. Not quite the way I would have put it, but if that made her understand my point, it was good enough.

<Yes. That is exactly what I intend to do.>

There were some strangled noises coming from Cerise... or Avilla... I was too focused on the goblin to pay much attention to them. I could see indecision on her face, which changed into resolve after a few moments.

<I... actually, could you let me down?> she asked.

I nodded after a moment, and lowered the her to the floor, dismissed the wind magic keeping her constrained. She stretched a bit, before turning back to me and giving me a grin.

<Excellent. Then I can do this properly. I am Viola Olden. I pledge myself to your cause. I will aid and protect you. I would give my life, if necessary, but that seems contrary to the cause. Should you stray from your cause... well, again, the usual promise would be to kill you for the good of the cause you'd abandoned, but in this case that is unsuitable. So I will promise that if you stray to beat sense back into you until you see reason once more. By my name, my blood and my kin I give this promise. I will see Ragnarok undone, and all it represents fail. All this I pledge to you, if you will have it.>

She knelt in front of me, and I was struck with the sudden realization that no more than a day ago I had been in a hospital bed. I'd been in a world where an oath like that would have been unthinkable, or merely in jest. Yet this was definitely serious, far more so than anything I'd ever encountered in the world I grew up. I supposed I had grown up sheltered, in a part of the world that did not know true strife. I had never known hunger or war, never lacked shelter. I had lived in a luxury that was unimaginable by medieval standards, and so in this world only through great magic. And so I had never had to make a choice of this magnitude, been offered a commitment of this gravity. I took a deep breath to calm myself. This was the path I had chosen, and I would see it through. To save those I had put in danger, to atone for the damage I had inflicted upon these realms. But even more than that just because it was the right thing to do to help people if you had the power to do so.

<I accept,> I said, and felt the oath create a bond between us much in the way that the deal with Hecate was binding me. It was a weak bond initially, but attaching to my vast reserves of magic strengthened it until it shone to my magic sight like the bond godly Me had with said Goddess. Radiating out from Viola, lesser bonds that had been near invisible started to glow as well, connecting her to the other goblins.

One by one they started to move as well, brought into the accelerated time by the bonds. I was concerned, and readied to block any attacks. But none came. Instead, they all just watched Viola with confused expressions.

The walked over from the others rooms, and crowded around Viola. Avilla glared at them, and made sure to step between the gathering goblins and Cerise.

<Why do you feel like a chieftain?>

<What is going on?>

<Did you freeze the knives in the air?>

<How are you suddenly so powerful?>

They were talking over each other, not giving Viola any time to answer. But then one voice cut through the din and made everybody shut up and listen.

<Does this mean that you are challenging me for leadership of our tribe, sister?>

Viola wavered and squirmed under the gaze of the goblin who had stepped forwards. He wore the same clothes as the others, but held himself with an authority and confidence that the others lacked. Viola glanced at me, and found something there. She stared back at her brother.

<Challenge you? No. There will be no challenge. If I wanted to take control of the tribe, you would not contest it. I am powerful enough to beat you now, but that hardly matters. What matters is that I have purpose for us beyond anything you can imagine. Ragnarok has begun, and I have been shown a target so great, all others pale in comparison, even among the final battle. But I am not here to take over the tribe. To accomplish the goal I have sworn to work towards, I will need... more. Yes, you may lead this tribe, but it will still follow me. As will all other tribes, for I shall become Goblin Queen, ruler of all goblins.>

Chapter Text

A subtle pulse of magic emanated from Viola as she made her declaration.

Avilla screamed, and clutched her head. Cerise was with her in an instant, drawing power from me to do so through their connection, which I readily gave her. Still connected to Avilla's magic, I could feel that there was a strange pattern. It was wrong, it was attacking her, and it was fast... I dropped her out of the time acceleration. Avilla seemed to freeze, a statue in anguish. But at least she no longer got worse at a notable rate when the rest of them were still sped up so much. Still, whatever was affecting her was still progressing, so something needed to be done fast.

Cerise was still holding her. I rounded on Viola.

<Did you do this? She did threaten you, but... she didn't deserve.... I felt the magic, so I know you...>

I paused my jumbled unfinished questions. There was plenty to be said, to be asked and speculated. Yet there was no time.

Viola shook her head. <Not me.>

<Alright. Can you... keep the other goblins calm while I deal with this?>

This time she gave a toothy grin in response. I nodded, and hurried over to Cerise and Avilla.

“Cerise. Do you have any idea what is going on?”

Cerise just looked at me with wide eyes.

“Save her. Please. Anything, I'll give you whatever you... just don't let me loose her.”

“Of course. I'll do what I can. Trust me.”

Then at least one of us will trust me, Daniel thought. Alright, then. Magic time. Would have been easier if somebody knew what was going on. My knowledge, while vast, was quite fragmented and far from organized. Ah, the perils of incarnating at a moment's notice without a plan or experience in the matter.

But at least I was still connected to her magic, so sensing what was happening was easier. There was a pattern in her magic I had felt moments before I had dropped her out of accelerated time. Now I searched for that same pattern, the spell or whatever it was. A curse? But it was difficult – there was no foreign magic there, just Avilla's magic. And what magic I was providing to her that she hadn't absorbed yet. Some light influence from Cerise. But no strange foreign magic that might want to attack her.

“What is it? What is wrong with her?”

Cerise sounded very worried. I looked at her, and noticed that I had been frowning. I smoothed my expression, and gave her a faint smile instead.

“I don't know yet, doesn't seem to be any foreign magic. Or something that is pretending so well that it fools even me. Don't worry, though, I will figure this out.”

There had been an obviously wrong pattern, but it was far more subtle, now that it wasn't moving and acting fast and greedily. Or rather, it was still doing so, but at the same glacial pace as she was. Slowing it down along with Avilla had camouflaged it. It wasn't worth the risk speeding her up again just to find it, though.

But I had seen the pattern for a moment, and that was surely enough. I had Sorceries, after all, to take care of minor details like this. Magic. Recall. Understanding. Comparison. The relevant aspects responded readily, and I saw a full replay of the invasive magical pattern as it had been at full speed, and the same pattern highlighted now with Avilla in suspension.

Now knowing what to look for, I followed it to its source. There was a core to her, which acted like an anchor for the complicated blend of spells that made her who she was. And there, mixed in with everything else, I found it.

“Seems to be a love spell... triggered by meeting royalty, apparently.”

I glanced over at Viola, who was talking to the incredulous goblins of her brother's tribe. She noticed my gaze, and gave me a toothy grin, before returning to her conversation. Cerise followed my gaze, and narrowed her eyes. Then they widened in sudden understanding.

“... and she just declared herself Queen. Fuck. Whatever spell that was must not have distinguished between races. There was no way she was supposed to ever meet somebody not human, so it was likely supposed to trigger on some strapping young prince or princess – out on a hunting party or something. But who would have done... no, that's not important for now, we can worry about they why after the problem is fixed. So, mister Chosen One, tell me why this is so strong? Avilla is good with emotions, she should be able to handle most attempts to manipulate her. And can you with all your powers just vanish it?”

I was tracking the seed of the spell, mixed into her core, the essence of what made Avilla herself. There, that was was one part of the love compulsion, but that over there was not, but... in between it was both.

“Both those questions are related to the fact that this is very much a part of her. The love compulsion is strong because it feeds of her own magic. And... I've given her a lot of magic for it to feed on. As for removing it... sort of. Yes, it could remove it, but it is too tightly intertwined with other parts of her core. Removing it will damage other parts of her. I can restore those, fill in the gaps and heal the scars it will cause... but that still means she'll be different. I can get close, but I won't be able to make her perfectly the same without recreating the compulsion.”

I bowed my head. That was what my Sorceries had told him about the issue, I couldn't just remove it. Mental surgery was very complicated. And while I probably could shape a mind into something I wanted – barring ethical concerns that would stop me from even attempting this – restoring a mind to a previous state with different parts was a trickier matter. My Divine Self would have managed, but here on this world I had just one mind.

“Now, I could do that, with her permission... she's out of commission, though, and not in a state of mind to give proper informed consent. You are the closest one to her, so the decision defaults to you if she can't make it...”

“Yes. If it can save her, do it.”

I held up a hand. “Let me go over the options first.”

“There are options? Besides fixing her? You wouldn't... you can't mean...”

“No, no, no, nothing bad,” I quickly reassured her, before the panic I could feel welling up in Cerise made her do something we would both regret.

“Calm down, and listen. Letting her get hurt is not an option. But there are some, in addition to rewriting her mind. There is... well, I guess it would still affect her mind. This is a compulsion, and can be overwritten by a stronger compulsion. Not many of those out there, but devotion to a Goddess or God would probably do it, as well as some of the stronger magical bonds. Most of those are icky, but quite a few can be bent in more palatable ways. A familiar bond, a slavery bond which you are immediately ordered to ignore and keep acting as if its not there, the magical marriage bond, coven bond, as well as some fealty bonds if the organizations, concepts or people in question have enough of a magical presence to support a bond of sufficient strength. And a lot of minor weird edge cases and unique magics that people have invented that just weren't spread around. So... if you happen to know whether there is anything that Avilla was going to devote herself to anyway, we could just do that...”

“Well... I mean... not like that, I think. Not without carefully thinking about it for a long time. Though, if the other option is to rearrange her mind, I suppose it might be better.”

“There is another option still. It's... the least thorough of the methods. Which means that might be possible to cancel or undo it, or it could just fade it it's improperly done... though I assure you that with my power and skills it won't be improperly done, and quite hard to spot or mess with. Basically, we can leave the compulsion intact and inside her, and just... attach another spell to it. A modifier, if you will. It will alter the effect of the compulsion without touching her core at all. And as for altering the spell, I don't think there is much of a limit. It can be something very different from a compulsion even. Maybe... extra senses? Protection from physical damage? Hmmm... for stability, though, it would be useful to keep the effect as close to love compulsion as possible. Compulsion for some other emotion – or just a different target for the love – would seem closest, but is quite iffy. How about the opposite then? Resistance to emotional manipulation? Should be good enough to resist anything short of a Divine being given the power this thing has already drawn...”

“That one. Definitely that one. You can just redo it if it fails, right?”

“Well... I suppose so, I can add a tracker to it, and as long as I'm not otherwise so occupied that I cannot do anything...”

“Then go with it.”

I focused back on Avilla, and the love compulsion. Just above her core I crafted another layer, to intercept and modify the compulsion. Add a bit here, mix it together to give the magic another flavor... and there it was.

I let her back into accelerated time, and she kept screaming for a bit before stopping looking confused.

“... wha...”

Cerise tackled her with a hug. They both started crying and just holding each other tightly. I smiled, happy that I could no longer feel the love compulsion affecting Avilla. I stood around awkwardly for a while, not wanting to interrupt them. Eventually I realized that this would be a while, and it would be less awkward if I didn't stand around watching them cling to each other for support.

“Alright, Cerise, I'll let you explain things... I can answer questions about details later. I should to check on Viola first, though, so I'll leave you two to talk things out.”

I wandered over to where the goblins were talking, dodging some cutlery still suspended in the air. As I came near, the goblins stopped talking, and subtly brandished their weapons. They also shifted so that Viola was protected in their middle.

<Stand down.>

The goblins shot unsure glances at Viola after she made that proclamation. She impatiently waved at them to comply, and they reluctantly lowered their weapons.

<Our fates are tied together, there is nothing to be won by treating him as an enemy. Not to mention that you could hardly stop him if you tried.>

She nodded respectfully at me.

<Sorcerer Black.>

<Viola. Or it that... Queen Viola?>

A Sorcery poked at my mind, trying to inform me of the correct titles and mannerisms when dealing with goblin royalty. I ignored it; I had been informal with Viola so far, and that should be fine. I would not be adverse to learning how to properly act, but he saw no need to suddenly magically know such things which would would need more of an explanation than continuing to act as I had before.

<I have stated my intention of becoming such, but as yet... there is but one tribe following me, so I can hardly claim such a title for now. Queen To Be, I suppose.>

<So... a Princess?>

<Ah... I suppose so, though that is usually an inherited title... and it doesn't tend to end well. In the rare case that a Goblin Monarch manages to unite goblinkind, their rule tended to fall apart with their demise, and what children remained were crushed under the overwhelmingly high expectations people had for them. I am a special case, though. I am not aware of anybody declaring that they will take the title in advance.>

There were mutters around them. Viola grinned.

<And yet, circumstances have demanded such an unorthodox action. That is what I have been explaining to my dear subjects here.>

“Daniel!”

<Ah, it seems I am needed elsewhere. Princess, is there anything you need...>

<Some food would be helpful. Our fields have frozen over, after all.>

<I'll see what I can do.>

I nodded to Viola, and went over to see Avilla and Cerise. They both looked uncomfortable, but at least my changes seemed to have taken. Avilla was herself still, no longer in the throes of any compulsion.

I took a moment to double-check my work, just in case. Magic flowed from Avilla's core, fed by my own magic. One of these streams was the love compulsion, but it was altered as intended. Good, everything seemed to hold, and it had also stopped growing uncontrollably.

“Daniel,” Avilla said, “It is good that you are here. Cerise has... informed me of what happened. I owe you thanks, for saving my mind and, I suppose, innocence. Hush, Cerise, there's no need to giggle.”

“Happy to help. Also, I guess, kinda triggered by me in several ways; the compulsion wouldn't have worked as fast if I didn't feed you my magic. And it only triggered on Viola after she swore to help me and declared herself royalty to do so. Basically don't worry about it, you wouldn't be in this position without me.”

“You were not the one who put the compulsion on me, so I insist on giving my thanks. There, I thanked him. Happy, Cerise?”

Cerise chuckled. “It'll do.”

“Good. In that case, Daniel, can you actually get this freaking thing out of me? I don't care that you transformed it into something useful, I just... I can imagine it squirming inside me, and I just want to claw it out of me. And... I talked to Cerise, we have an idea who may have done this, and we are fairly sure that there are a least a couple dozen more triggered compulsions and other nasty surprises hidden inside me. Please remove those as well.”

“Ah... are you sure? I talked the options through with Cerise, and removing the compulsion would make it necessary to basically recreate you, and I'm not confident I'd be able to do so perfectly even though I'll get close...

“Yes, she told me. And I appreciate that you decided to take the less invasive option. It was the right decision. But now that I am conscious again, and can make my own decisions, I say you get this filth the fuck out of me no matter the cost.”

“Errr...” I glanced at Cerise, who shrugged and started to say something but was interrupted by Avilla.

“Ah, nope! My decision. My... magic core whatever. Cerise doesn't get to overrule me on this.”

“I wasn't...”

“And she also doesn't get to allow me to do this. I don't need her permission. I value her council on the matter, but I have that already.”

Avilla glowered at the two of them, and I had to remind myself that she couldn't hurt me, that I had the power to resist anything she might want to do. And still I couldn't help but feel a bit intimidated.

“Okay, I can see this really matters to you. You are of course correct, and we will do as you wish. But I need you to calm down first. Can you do that? Take a deep breath?”

Avilla glared at me, and I took a step back. Then she sighed and a few deep breaths. Cerise and I exhaled in relief.

“Feel better?”

“I'll feel better after you removed this stuff from me. But I do feel a bit more calm, yeah. Sorry, Cerise, for going off like this, but I just discovered somebody interfering with my... self... in the most despicable manner, and feel very protective of it. I trust you as much as anybody, but right now... I'm sorry.”

“It's fine, I understand. I'd be worried if this didn't set you off. I won't try to talk you out of things anymore, but listen to Daniel explain it once more, now that you are calm. Please. Just so you actually know what you are getting into, rather than rushing to a decision just because you feel wrong.”

“... fine. Daniel, explain.”

“Ah, very good. So, you have harmful spells as part of your core. Or, at least the one, but I'll probably find more if you suspect they are there. With them being part of you, that makes it difficult to remove them. You can overwhelm the spell with a stronger spell or bond of some kind. The available options for this kinda suck, but I can probably modify one to be better. You can overwrite the effect, which is what I've done – spell is still there and active, but it does something useful instead of harmful. Resistance to emotional manipulation, in this case.”

“But both of those options still leave the original disgusting magic as part of me, just rendered... impotent.”

“Yeah. So there is the option to remove it completely. That one isn't as clean, because it's an intertwined and integral part of your core. Removing it damages other vital functions and aspects of you. I can fill in the gaps, but... I can't just copy the structure of what was there before, that would just be rebuilding the harmful spell. I'd need to rebuild the essence of what you are with a different magic pattern as substrate. I'm not confident I can do that with perfect accuracy. Close, but... there will be changes.”

“What kind of things are we talking about here?”

“Well... likes and dislikes, probably. Suddenly liking licorice, distaste for the color blue, stuff like that. Presumably more subtle, which makes it more problematic because it harder to catch and correct yourself. You'll probably need to redecorate the entire house because it won't suit your tastes anymore, everything being just a bit off, which can be worse than being completely wrong. Memories, while still having the same content, may have different interpretations or emotions associated with them. Emotional reactions may also shift – like, you might suddenly be more prone to happiness when seeing chairs while smelling cinnamon. Minds are confusing and interconnected things, and I would like to stress that I am not an expert on this. I have a Sorcery... several Sorceries... to guide me, but that just means I hopefully won't screw up too badly.”

“Hmm... sounds like nothing that you might not experience after just living your life for a decade or so. People do change. It's fine. People do not have malicious knots of magic intent on ruining their life slithering inside themselves, however, and I don't intend to have that either.”

“... and, ah, I'd, well... I would need to examine your mind very closely, for this to work. You were worried about mental magic before, so...”

“It's about purpose, Daniel. I would not have random people touching me either. But if that person was a doctor needing to examine me to save me from some illness, it would be a different story. That's what we have here, in essence. That does not mean you get to take any liberties – I expect professionalism and respect. Now, I have calmly listened to your arguments and options, and logically thought them through, and... oh, would you look at that! My conclusion is still the same, because I am a freaking genius or something. Or maybe I just don't let emotions cloud my judgement when it comes to important things like this and just because I'm riled up does not mean I haven't given things proper thought.”

“... I still think it was a good idea to have you calm down first and...”

“I know you did, Cerise. Of course you did, and I appreciate you looking out for me even if I don't agree with the methods and... and I'm not getting into this argument again, not now. Magic man, do your thing.”