With Somn leading them, the group heads towards the cluster of temples and buildings that makes up the city of Godville. The new boys stare in amazement at the awe-inspiring monuments to the more-established deities, trying not to let their jaw drop as each structure they pass by raises their expectations, only to have it all come down with a crash when they finally see the actual campus itself.
It isn't a particularly shiny, large, or clean cluster of buildings, especially compared to its neighbors, but it is the building that, according to the signboard, plays host to the Godville Academy for the Training of Young Deities. As they approach the building, a slightly larger group of young gods comes into view. They are a rather strange group, consisting of plants, animals, human-like beings and even a flaming energy-man-bird thing.
"Okay guys, go this way,” says Somn, gesturing with both arms towards the main doors of the school. When she spots the group, she gives them a friendly wave, which a few respond back with a wave of their own. “That’s our batch,” she explains. “They’re nice people. Hopefully, you’ll get along with them too.”
Krill does a quick comparison to the Academy and the next building. “That’s the Academy? It’s not very… impressive.”
“Considering how many repairs we have to make?” snorts Neko. “We’re lucky the thing is still standing.”
Almost as if to prove her point, a section of the structure shudders, then disintegrates violently, spewing debris across the grounds. Seconds later, a flailing figure can be seen sailing out of said exit hole.
Luke and Krill look at the young gods, then at each other in bewilderment, then follow Somn to the doors. "So, Somn," Luke says. "Where exactly are the elder gods?"
Somn winces a little. "They... are at the very top of the school. The very... very... top."
Luke tilts his head up. While not the largest by far, it is still a pretty impressively tall building by any standards. "Isn't that just a bit inconvenient for new gods?" Krill asks tentatively, unsure if this query will bring down the wrath of the elder gods upon him.
Fred looks at him, still glaring a little. "It used to be a test of sorts. If the new gods are weak--or stupid--enough to not make it, then they are undeserving of their godhood. Personally, I think was cruel and unnecessary, but the tradition still sticks around."
“I think that was an urban legend, Fred,” says Neko. “Those seniors didn’t look too--”
“Wait a minute!” exclaims Somn suddenly.
She abruptly stops in mid-step, causing an instantaneous pile-up from the ones behind her with the exception of Neko, who had somehow managed to avoid getting caught up in the pile.
“What is it this time?” she huffs.
“Well…” Somn turns to Neko and Fred with a confused expression. “Don't you two have to get ready for tonight?"
Looking altogether much too eager, Fred immediately walks off with Neko, deliberately steering her away from Krill while calling over his shoulder: "Yes! Yes we do!"
Somn stares after the two, wondering what triggered Fred’s attitude--she had never seen the god ever acting anything short of friendly before today. She decides to brush it off with a shrug, then walks forward, pushing open the door to the school and beckoning for Krill and Luke to follow. The two enter the hallway after her, looking around expectantly.
No thanks to the amount of damage and chaos an over-enthusiastic young god can accidentally create, the place is decidedly spartan-looking. Everything here is centered around a simple set of criteria-- sturdiness and easy repair. All is made from solid, renewable construction materials, be it furniture and doors, or walls, ceilings and floors. On closer inspection, even the glass has a fine wire mesh running through it to strengthen it. Krill pauses for a moment to contemplate the necessity for physical reinforcement, as from what he deciphered from Somn’s rapid-fire commentary, one could just magically strengthen the glass--
“... and then one of the seniors told me that apparently someone managed to drain the entire Academy’s mana!” says Somn. “Right down to the bricks and mortar! Of course, it might just an urban legend, but the Academy does stay off the main mana grid if they can, so maybe there’s a grain of truth in that. Oh, and over there is…”
Well, thinks Krill. Now I know. Thank you, Somn.
Luke nudges Krill in the arm. “Is it just me,” he whispers, “or is there more rooms than then the actual building?”
Krill nods in agreement. To him, the whole Academy so far seems to consist of nothing but hallways and classrooms, all now crammed full of people. He scans the place and is content to see that the halls are dark enough that he could hide in a corner somewhere. Luke, on the other hand, is more interested in the people around him, the crowd ambling past the three of them with their own agendas in mind.
Somn leads them to a pair of doors, which she opens to reveal a swirling white ball of energy sitting in a darkened room. She walks in, then realises that Luke isn’t following her. "Something the matter?" she asks in concern. She notices Luke’s hesitation and draws her own conclusions. “If you’re scared, don’t worry-- actually, it is rather ominous-looking, isn’t it?”
"I'm... not..." Luke starts, before noticing that Krill is staring oddly at the portal. Krill sticks his hand in tentatively, then his eyes widens in a sort of subconscious recognition, for the place-in-between feels soothingly familiar to him. He then steps inside and the portal begins to swirl faster. Krill relaxes, obviously at ease in the portal.
Not wanting to seem afraid of something that Krill can handle, Luke walks towards the orb and hops in after his friend. Somn then slips behind them and closes the door after Luke. The moment the doors shut completely, the ball begins to spin faster and faster, until it resembles a small sun.
At the top floor, they emerge from a closet, fumbling through several winter coats, into an even dimmer lit room then the one they came from. The only light in the room comes from a single lamppost that looks extremely out of place, the object shining a cold, yellow light onto a smooth, dark-coloured desk that circles around the entire room. Sitting around this desk are several elder gods, including a dragon-human with a dangerous-looking runic blade. Yet no god can compare to the god seated directly across the circle from the wardrobe. This god emits an aura of undeniable leadership despite his fragile appearance. It is to this god that Somn walks.
Somn swallows a nervous gulp, trying to recall the correct names and proceedures. "Vetruvius, sir, these two young gods have made it from the Origin and need their followers," she says, gesturing to Luke and Krill.
Vetruvius, despite his imposing presence, appears as a sleeping elderly man with a waist-length white beard and a plain, bone-white wooden staff. When Somn speaks to him, he raises his head from where it previously lay on his desk and speaks. "SO, THEY NEED THEIR FOLLOWERS?" he shouts.
A young secretary goddess promptly strides up to him and taps him on the shoulder before whispering something in his ear. Vetruvius blushes and continues in a more modest voice. "Ah, thank you, Adrua. I beg your pardon, young gods-- it is heroes that you need?” That can be arranged." He stands up, his joints creaking, and walks over to a model of what seems to be, at first glance, Godville. His secretary, Adrua, follows him over and beckons for Luke and Krill to follow as well, leaving Somn behind.
The model, on Krill's closer inspection, reveals that this device is mirroring a Godville that is not as grand as the city outside the Academy's walls. Buildings he recognises from his quick tour of Godville seem to have their equivalent on this strange model, but their structures lack the grandeur and architectural feats that could be seen in their actual setting. The beings that travel through this city are, as a rule-of-thumb, uninteresting to look at, with an occasional oddity here and there. Krill wonders if this strange device is possibly a conceptual model of Godville without magic, then puzzles over why there needs to be such a thing.
"Now, young ones," says Vetruvius, stroking his beard. "In order to pick a hero or heroine, simply reach down and touch them."
Krill looks at him in complete and utter disbelief and begins to speak. "But that's impos--"
He is quickly cut off by Adrua, the secretary with a shush. "Don't ask HOW it works," she says. "Just do it." She swivels a magnifying glass over the model, allowing Krill to see individual mortals on the surface. For a brief moment, Krill tries to rationalize this idea, then realises that no matter what he does, the whole thing wouldn’t make sense anyway and decides to just go with it. Both him and Luke reach through the glass and tap on one of the tiny figures, hoping that they chose correctly. Upon making their choice, they both feel the strange sense of doom that has been unconsciously hanging over them since the pit leave.
"Now," says Adrua, "you must understand that your followers are both your life force and your power. If a god or goddess has absolutely no followers whatsoever on the mortal plane--represented by this model here--they will die. The more followers they have, the more powerful they become. Your hero, which you have just chosen, will travel the mortal realm and recruit others to worship you. Make sure to tend to your followers carefully. Remember to show them miracles and signs, so that they do not lose faith and that you can have a steady supply of mana. You also have the power to revive your fallen Chosen One--in other words, your hero--and because of his or her special status, you need not use any power for his or her revival--they supply you with the necessary magic themselves.
"Now, have any of you developed any abilities yet?" asks Adrua. At Krill and Luke's blank stares, she explains, "Eventually, you will develop abilities unique to your individual selves as gods. This will be made clearer in orientation. Your power will potentially determine everything--from your job to where you live, so you better hope it's a good one." With that, she shows them to the exit, where the boys quickly rejoin a nervous Somn.
As they turn to return to the ground floor, Somn breathes a huge sigh of relief. "Praise TGR, that god was intense, and his secretary worse," she says. Then, her following words start pouring out like a waterfall. “So, did you guys get a good one? Mine already gathered a few followers for me! What kind of powers d’you think you'll have? Wait, never mind, it’ll show up soon-- I can’t wait to see it!"
Luke laughs and makes a warding motion with both hands. "Okay, okay! Yes, cool, no idea, and awesome. In that order. How about you, Krill?"
Krill shrugs. "My heroine is fine, I guess. I have no clue what I'll be able to do. I'm not even sure what I want to do."
Krill’s strange look of familiarity jumps to Luke’s mind. An idea fits Krill like a glove, but Luke isn’t sure if he is right.
"Oh, don't be so grumpy, Krill!" Somn says, punching the drow god playfully in the shoulder. "I'm sure you have some idea what you want to do, right?"
Krill rubs his shoulder and ignores her question. Instead, he asks, "Where do we go next?”
“I believe you should be heading to orientation,” says a deep voice from right behind them. The three spin around to find an intimidating dragon-humanoid god standing only a few steps away, his runic blade now hidden from sight.
“Professor Domerthos!” yelps Somn, jumping in surprise. “D-did you teleport again, sir?” she asks, recognising him from the room earlier.
Something that could count as a smile twists the god’s face, displaying rows of razor-sharp teeth. “I wouldn’t exactly call it teleportation. Now, hurry along you godlings. It wouldn’t do to miss the first official day of classes now, would it?”
“R-right away, sir,” says Somn. She whirls around, grabs the boys by their wrists and speeds down the hall, pulling them along with her. Luke somehow finds his cheeks burning at her touch.
“Somn, slow down!” yells Krill. He then notices Luke’s tomato-red face. “Dude, are you okay?”
Luke surprises himself by being able to respond smoothly. “Perfectly fine.” he says. He avoids his friend’s curious stare by looking around as the trio speeds along. “What do you think orientation would be like?” he wonders aloud.
“I have no ide--WOAH!” Krill dodges a student-goddess, narrowly missing her shaky stack of books. “Umm, sorry!” he calls.
“Dude, we’re gonna have to turn,” says Luke, seeing the hallway splitting into two paths.
“HEY!” yells Krill, trying to get Somn’s attention. “SLOW DOWN!”
“Sorry,” apologizes Somn, “but the prof’s right-- we’re gonna be late if we don’t rush.” She suddenly swerves hard to the right, sliding along the ground before picking up speed again.
Luke finally recognises the speed they were travelling at. “You’re using godpower?” he asks Somn.
“Yes,” says Somn, rushing past a few more classes and weaving through surprisingly calm students. “Almost there… Bam!”
The goddess puts on the brakes, skidding to a halt. She looks around, then chuckles and walks backwards a few steps. “Overshot,” she explains. “Here we are.”
She steps through yet another pair of double-doors, leading to a large courtyard. Here, young deities of all shapes and sizes gather around a physically middle-aged human god, looking rather normal in his aloha shirt and cop jacket compared to those around him. He spots the the newcomers and smiles warmly at them. “Just in time,” he says.
“Nice to see you too, Professor Azz,” says Somn, smiling back in return. “This is Krill and Luke,” she adds, nodding her head in the said person’s direction to indicate who she is referring to.
“Welcome, both of you. My name is Azzageddi, but my students usually call me Professor Azz. Now,” he says, turning to the group at large. “I will be briefing all of you on some absolute basics--some which you may already know, depending on when you have arrived, who you have been talking to, where you have been and what you have been doing. Nevertheless, listen closely, as you might learn something new.
“All gods are born in batches--one per seasonal cycle. You are all the youngest. As the youngest batch of gods, you are the weakest. You will be unable to prevail against certain monsters in a direct battle until you are older and have become more skilled, so above all, do not bite off more than you can chew. You can have all the revenge you want on the monsters later.
“As you mature, you will gain special powers unique to you, what we call 'niche powers'. These powers normally can be divided into two rough, broad categories-- they can be active and possibly assist in a violent confrontation; or they can be passive and influence others or yourself. They can also awaken almost immediately after birth--" Here Azzageddi dips his head in Somn's direction. "--or only show up under special circumstances. The categories we have set, however, are broad for a reason-- your niche powers can be almost anything, and will set your role in the eyes of potential followers. Do not laugh at late-bloomers," adds Azzageddi sternly, " for there is always a reason The Great Random has decided it so."
"Excuse me, sir," says a god who, to Krill's disbelief, is a literal walking, talking eggplant. "Forgive me for asking, but who or what exactly is The Great Random? I feel like as if I know who he--or it--is, but only in the widest sense."
The crowd immediately breaks out into a babble of agreement, all of which Azzageddi shushes with a wave of his hand. "That is an excellent question, Brinjal. The Great Random, or TGR for those who find its full name a mouthful, at its very basic, is a force who influences all that we deities do. Some refer to it as He, some as She, others are nothing more than a cosmic force."
"WHAT, SO BASICALLY IT’S JUST LUCK PERSONIFIED?" blurts out a being which Krill could only describe as energy somehow compressed into the form of a human with falcon wings erupting from his back.
"I suppose you can say that," says Azzageddi with a knowing smile, "although truth to be told, it is not my place to tell you. I will tell you right here and now that some of the stranger gods actually worship TGR, but this practice is generally frowned upon. Whether or not there is a sentience behind TGR, among other things, is something you will discuss in your Immortal-Mortal philosophy classes in your senior years, if I'm not mistaken. For now, simply consider it as just an elemental force that drives the known planes of this universe, both that of the mortal and the immortal. Nonetheless, you are free to believe as you please. Now, where was I... Ah, yes. Your niche powers.
"Now, this doesn't mean that without your niche powers, useful or not in battle, you are completely helpless. You will be taught sealing very soon, which is a young god's main form of defense against monsters, though I'm afraid it serves more to slow them down and to give you time to call for help than to stop them in their tracks. Spells, which will be taught later, will be your most likely form of offense; among their uses for other things, such as--"
Without warning, another section of the building's block explodes, large chunks heading on a direct collision-course with the hapless young gods and goddesses. Some of the newer deities who have yet to see the occasional result of the seniors' classes start screaming and scrambling for cover. But before they can do anything, the chunks of building material smashes into and disintegrates against a warding spell, the barrier glowing white as it vapourises the flying debris. After the last speck of rubble gets turned into nothing but smoke, Azzageddi looks pointedly at the crowd of alarmed godlings around him.
"-- the protective barrier," he finishes calmly. He waits till they re-settle down, then proceeds with his orientation.
"As I was saying," he continues, "Spells can also be sealed into scrolls, sealing both the incant and the prayers necessary. Now, as all of you will have learned when you acquired your Chosen One-- in other words, your heroes or heroines-- they sustain us. As long as we have one follower, we can live indefinitely. As long as we have one unused prayer, we can cast a spell. The mortals give us both immortality and power through their following, and this is why we keep them--and why we should always treat them well. While the individual number of prayers goes down equally for all who cast the same spell, not all will gain the same effect. Some are naturally better with magic, some are better warriors. This is the way of things, so I suggest teamwork to utilize specialization.
Azzageddi pauses, looking surprised at himself. Then he smiles at the young, eager faces staring at him. "It seems that this rambling old god is finally wrapping up his speech for today. I'm afraid there's one last thing I must tell all of you before I can let you guys off for the night. I regret to say I'm not teaching any of you this year, as I have been delegated to some of your seniors' classes--"
The older students watching the proceedings from above immediately erupt into an ground-shaking cheer, with someone casting confetti and streamers and another blowing it all over the grounds. Azzageddi simply shoots a warning glare at the seniors, leaving the magicked streamers and confetti to fall to the ground in silence before vanishing in a puff of smoke.
The professor shakes his head, trying not to show his pleasure at the cheering, then turns back to the younger students. "You get the idea. I’m aware that you all may have things to do and places to be, but it's been nightfall for a while already, so I recommend bed rest first. For those who have been here for a while, please guide your fellow students to the apartments and help them choose a room. If you wish, you may share a bedroom, but I would like to bring to your attention that a room has already been provided for each and every single one of you. Goodnight."
And with that as his parting words, Azzageddi disperses the assembly. Seizing the opportunity, Neko and Fred hurry over to Somn, Luke and Krill. Somn grins at Neko. "I guess you can't enjoy your nocturnal habits for much longer."
Neko brushes it off with a wave. "Eh, I'll live. So," she says, turning to the new boys. "Apartment block's that way,” she says, pointing in the general direction of one of the Academy’s buildings. “Any preferences and customization you want, you'll have to figure out how yourself. We'll take you shopping. If there's any interior renovation to be done, cast a silencing spell or I will rip out your eyeballs. If I don't, someone else will-- our entire batch stays in the same block. Whatever you do, try not to stare into people's bedrooms. If that doesn’t guarantee your eyeballs gouged out, I don’t know what will. Now," Neko snaps her fingers, turns around in a swift motion and starts blending in with the throng of trainee deities going back into the building. “Come on,” she says curtly. “We’re not done just yet.”