Chapter 9: Aftermath
by Jeff Grubb
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Beyond the question of the existence of evil, the other major challenge to a deity-heavy omniverse is what to do about said evil. Many cosmologies portray a balanced universe, with evil and good on separate teams, such that gods are assigned sides like jerseys being passed out at a dodgeball game. Others deny the existence of good and evil as recognizable tags, instead concentrating on the situational ethics of the gods involved (one god's good is another god's evil). But even in situational cosmologies there are those incorrigible godly creatures, the irredeemable and unforgivable ones, the original monsters of which all others are mere reflections.

Then most faiths speak of the Pit, the Lower Reaches, Gehenna, the Phantom Zone, and the Abyss. Regardless of name, it is a place of nothingness and nonexistence, where the great beasts are distilled down to their basic essence and kept away from the greater universe.

Yet deprived of their essence, they still have their intellect, trapped in their crowded hells. And they dream of freedom. And they plot.

-- Amandar's Great Big Book of Divine Power

The celebration after the battle was (unsurprisingly) short-lived, and in ones and twos, each of the guests begged off. Other pressing matters. Chores left untended. Need to check in with the elders. Just gotta go. We should do this real soon, but without the Creatures of the Abyss, eh?

Whisper and the other knowledge gods circulated through the departing groups, collecting information and asking favors. Then the gods of knowledge congregated and conferred with Whisper, and left themselves.

Whisper looked out and realized that night had fallen in the world outside, a warm night alive with blue-green fireflies sparking in random circles. She sighed and closed the great doors, surveying the damage within.

It looked like a battle had erupted in the middle of a party, which was pretty much an accurate description of the evening's activities. Most of the furniture was broken, and the walls were spattered with food, ale, and alien dust. The central column still dominated the room, but had a definite, unfashionable crimp around its middle.

Leaves was busying herself around the room, muttering that no one offered to help clean up, not even the hearth gods. Tears, his arms loaded with plates and platters, watched her in silence as she bundled past him.

Jest had collapsed on one of the few surviving davenports, his arm folded over his eyes. Rust was perched at the end of the sofa, his head in his hands. Storm was poking at a cracked and twisted lamp -- its bulb flickered feebly at his attempts to resurrect it. Growling, he let the lamp fall over.

"What now?" asked the Lord of Storms.

"We COULD be cleaning up," said Leaves, carrying a huge stack of permaware containers.

"We could just close the doors forever and lock them behind us," said Sand, leaning against the back of Rust's sofa.

Jest sat up. "After all this? Throw all this away?"

Cats sniffed. "Yeah, we could keep throwing parties, but put a big sign on the column that says 'Doorway to the Abyss -- please do not open.'"

Jest looked hard at Cats. "That was a joke?"

Cats shrugged. "Maybe."

Whisper shook her head. "We let the forces of darkness out into the wider world. We have to do something about them."

Cats said, "So what is the problem -- they were just smoke and ash."

Sand sighed. "I am afraid 'were' is the operative phrase."

Cats arched an eyebrow and Hammer put in, "The smoke that came out was the essence of these creatures. When established in reality, they soon take physical and long-lasting forms, much like a crystal dropped into a supersaturated solution establishes a larger crystalline matrix." She looked around at the others, staring at her. "What? That's what happens."

"What happened," said Storm, picking up another shattered light fixture and flicking his finger against the shattered bulb, "is that a few beasties got out. All the Thunderjockz were talking about going after them."

"That's the one thing they should NOT do," said Whisper. "And I talked to Elmo and the others about it. These things are going to show up on the elder's radar sooner or later, and a big pile of storm gods haring through the dimensions would guarantee that it would be sooner."

"So we confess," said Rust. "We take it like gods, tell the elders, and get them to fix it."

"Hold it!" said Jest. "Are you kidding me? If they were going to be peeved at us about using the Noplace Room for a crash pad, they're going to be Armageddon-level peeved if they found out we sprung some of the nasties."

"So what do you suggest?" asked Rust.

"We could pretend it never happened," said Jest. "It is a big omniverse."

Sand reached out and thwacked the back of Jest's head, knocking his hat forward. He let out a surprised yelp.

"Think about what you're saying, Jester," she said. "Once the major deities find these shadow creatures, they'll wonder about how they got loose."

"And that's why we should tell them now," said Rust.

"If you're a wimp, you would," said Storm, shattering the remnants of a bulb with a squib of lightning.

"Who are you calling a wimp?" asked Rust, standing up.

Storm stood up as well, and the lamp crashed to the floor. "If the wimp-suit fits . . ."

Despite himself, Jest moved further away on the couch.

Sand maneuvered between the two large gods. "Cool your jets, boys. We're looking for answers here."

"I say we should go after them," said Storm. "We beat them before. We can beat them again."

"That was with a roomful of gods," said Whisper, "and when the things were weak."

"Before they crystallized," put in Jest.

"And over time, their solidified forms will become more stable and strong as their original matrices acclimate to their surrounding environments," said Hammer.

Everyone looked at her. "What?" she added.

"And as they get stronger, they will show up on the elder's radar," said Cats.

"Likely," said Whisper. "It would be a crafty monster to damp its own power so soon after release. The escapees are probably gobbling up as much raw power as they can to sustain themselves."

"So we tell the elders now," said Rust.

"No, we go after them now," said Storm.

"I think you're right," said Tears, standing very quietly, permaware tubs of lembas in his hands.

"Who's right?" snapped Storm, his eyes flashing with bolts.

"You are," said Tears somberly. "We need to go after them."

"A-HAH!" said the weather god, pointing a finger at Rust's snarling face.

"And Rust is right as well," continued Tears. "We need to face up to this with the elders."

"HAH, yourself!" Rust grimaced at Storm.

"Now wait just an Olympic moment . . ." said Jest, but Whisper looked at him and shook her head. He quieted.

Tears set down the containers and continued. His voice was soft but firm. "We tell the elders AFTER we bring in the big bads. That way we show them that we are smart enough to clean up our own mess."

"But the Noplace Room . . ." sputtered Jest.

Tears continued, "The elders could move this dimension so that it's at the bottom of a mile-deep ocean, or put it in the heart of a volcano. But if we don't tell them, and they find out, and they WILL because they're gods, then they'll do that anyway. This way we at least have a negotiating position."

"But, guys," Jest leapt to his feet, "think about what we're giving up!"

"You mean, all this?" said Cats, waving an arm at the surrounding destruction.

Jest looked around at the overturned ottomans and the stained walls. He shifted his feet and broken glassware cracked beneath them. "Fine," he said, "we go after the monsters of myth and legend. And when we get them, we'll go to our respective elders and fess up. But I'm telling you, we're all going to get grounded."

"The punishment would fit the crime," said Rust.

"Not me," said Storm. "My elders are worse offenders than I am."

"Don't be too sure," said Whisper. "Storm gods have a particular dislike of apocalyptic beasts. I think they see them as competition in destruction."

Storm's face clouded at the thought, and he looked away.

"How many got away?" asked Cats.

"One or two, tops," said Hammer.

"I thought more than that," said Leaves.

"Three," said Whisper.

"You sure?" said Rust. "I thought we were looking at bigger breakout."

"Just because they knocked you on your butt, doesn't mean we couldn't handle them," said Storm. "I say one -- a big dragon thing."

"Three," repeated Whisper. "I checked with the other knowledge gods. They are busy tracking them now. There was a consensus. Dragon, Chimera, and Cyclops."

"Doesn't sound too tough," said Storm. "I've fought dragons before."

"This is the original Dragon," said Whisper. "The one from which all others are based. The Midgaard serpent is its bastard child. You have fought copies of copies. Or rather the great-grandchildren of copies of copies. When at full strength, the original Dragon can swallow suns and excrete black holes."

"Hmmm," said Hammer. "It is still early in their regeneration cycle. Even if they go to someplace with a faster relative timeflow, they will still be fairly brittle."

"You know something that can capture them?" asked Rust, leaning over her shoulder.

Hammer blushed at the sudden attention. "Yeah. A Djinn-jar."

"Ginger?" asked Jest.

"DUH-Jinn Jar," said Hammer. "An ifrit bottle. A marid tube. It is a short-term container for such essences, but only if they are sufficiently granulated."

"That means 'broken into little bits,'" said Rust to Storm.

"Har-de-HAR," snapped Storm.

"Take long to build one? Or three?" said Rust.

Hammer looked up at Rust, then away. "Will only take a moment. Two moments, because I want to do it right. We have enough leftover orichalcum, which is usually the big limitation on creating them. Carved brass will also do, but it is not as strong. I'll need some help with a liquid suspension. Tears, can you help?"

Despite himself, Tears gave a head-jerk toward Leaves, seeking permission, but the Nature God was busying herself among the leftovers. He looked back, realized that everyone caught him looking, and let out a sigh. "Of course," he said. The two moved off to one side, and Tears kept checking to see if Leaves would notice.

"So we hit them one-two-three?" asked Storm. "I say we take the Dragon down first."

Whisper shook her head. "If we do that, the third one will be strong enough by that time its existence will grab the elder's immediate attention. I think we need to hit them all at the same time. Three teams, each with a jar."

"Oh yeah. Split up the party. That ALWAYS works," said Jest.

Whisper ignored him. "I will take one team. Jest will take one, and Rust the last. I'll take Leaves and Storm. Jest gets Hammer and Cats --"

"Oh, dandy," muttered Jest. Cats winked at him.

Whisper finished, "And Rust gets Tears and Sand."

"Hey!" shouted Storm, springing to his feet again. "How come Rusty gets paired up with Sand?"

"It can't be a pair," said Jest quietly. "There are three to a team."

"She's going with me because I know what 'granulated' means," said Rust.

"You just want to be able to show off," snapped the weather god.

"Then Jest can take Sand and Rust gets Cats," Whisper said.

"Why do I have to take Cats?" asked Rust.

"Don't I get a say in this?" asked Sand at the same time.

Whisper let out an exasperated sigh. "Fine. I'll take Leaves and Tears. Rust gets Sand AND Storm, and good luck to him. Jest still gets Cats and Hammer."

Jest opened his mouth to complain, but she curtly added, "And I DON'T want to hear anything more about it."

"Fine," said Storm.

"Fine," said Rust.

"Fine," said Sand.

"Fine," muttered Jest.

"About time," said Leaves, holding out tubs of permaware. "While you were arguing, I packed all of us a lunch."

To be continued...

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Dreamblade Store Demos
Dreamblade Fiction: The Visit
Gideon: Chapter 7: A Deal with the Devil
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Dreamblade Fiction: Cathedral of Thorns
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