Side Story: Spirit Lords & Strange Towers
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Side stories are like interludes, but interludes introduce major characters and help foreshadow upcoming major arcs. Side stories are more skippable if you don't like interludes. Side stories help show other cultures and diversify the main story, as well as allow me to write something more fun. This takes place following the most recent chapter, chapter 231 and will be occurring at the same time as chapter 232. 

The inhabitants of a small village located at the feet of a vast mountain went about their business as their world's sun began a lazy descent that would end with it disappearing from view behind the mountain. Children played with each other and a handful of adults chosen by the community to serve the village as guardians of children and the infirm. 

The village was made up primarily of adults of various ages. Hunters were beginning to return from a day out on the savanna, hunting local animals such as zebras, and wildebeests. Farmers were finishing up their day's labors and beginning to rest in the shade provided by their simple, wooden homes. The village shaman sat by a small fire and he meekly made an offering of warthog liver to the spirit who dwelled in the mountain, by muttering a simple prayer and casting the organ into the fire. 

The shaman was a kind-looking old man, with a face scarred from a battle he participated in during his youth. He held a simple staff he himself carved from the branch of a dryad's tree, one that was freely given to him as a reward for saving the spirit's life. As he muttered that prayer, his apprentice tended to the fire. 

His apprentice was a beautiful young woman in her early twenties. She had no arcane equipment but had spent many years learning from the strange, yet good-natured old man. She gently used a metal stick to nudge firewood where it needed to be to best ensure that the fire continued to burn. 

She did this silently, and with an almost unsettlingly neutral look on her face. She did not seem to enjoy her work, but she also didn't seem to dislike it. Instead, she appeared, to those unable to read the hearts of others, to merely be willing to do the work she was asked to do.

The young woman, named Vera, patiently tended to the fire while her teacher finished up his prayer to the mountain spirit who had long been revered as a protector of their village. He muttered words in an ancient, spiritual tongue, and she silently listened. Her mind carefully memorized the sounds of his every utterance, determined to safely and securely store away the needed knowledge to protect her people when the day came that she became the village's shaman.

She could also hear the distant sounds of children frolicking. Though she did nothing to indicate this, not seeing why she should waste her energy, that sound made her happy. She knew that the sound of children playing games meant that there was peace in her village, the village that was all she had ever known and indeed at this moment all she felt she ever really needed. 

Vera had no way of knowing this, but as the sun began to dip below the horizon events beyond her control and beyond anything she could ever have imagined were about to occur that would forever change her life. She had no possible way to predict the events that would occur as she and the other people of the village slept tonight.

True higher beings were overwhelmingly powerful entities that either strained reality or were able to break it. One way this level of power manifested in the case of deities was that deities were so powerful they could create and control more than one body. These different bodies had different levels of power and independence, and the greatest of these bodies was the mythical "avatars". 

An avatar was a fully empowered copy of a deity that had a true mind and served its creator by acting as grand, independent agents able to do a variety of tasks that mortal and even extradimensional agents couldn't do. The terrifying eldritch deity Althos used an avatar to explore the cosmos. After he had finished mapping the mortal plane he had recalled all of his avatars. 

At the moment Althos was traveling between dimensions. During the nanosecond it took to go from one dimension to another, the deity quietly created an avatar and unleashed his servant on the universe with one mission: to find a quiet, secluded world and to find a secluded space in that world where it could experiment. 

The being immediately departed from its creator and returned to the dimension that its creator was departing from. The being reappeared in the mortal dimension and went to the tiny world known as Orden, the same world and even the same region where Vera had fallen asleep not long after the sun had set behind the tall mountain overlooking her home.

The avatar appeared in a part of the mountain's valley where it could see the village off in the distance. It was just a few kilometers away from the village and that was intentional. The avatar wanted to be near creatures it could experiment on, and not just create creatures to interact with even though it planned for most of its interactions to be with its own creations. 

The avatar silently gazed at the village for a few moments. Night had fallen and the strange entity watched the villagers sleep. Once it grew bored of that, the creature set about building its home. It wasn't challenging for the odd creature to do that since it had Althos's full powers at its disposal. 

There was something rather odd about the style of architecture that many scholars within the Althonian Empire had begun to identify as the "Althoian take on architecture". It was a style that they said was "obsessed with verticality", and as the avatar set about constructing its home, that idea was proven. 

The avatar quickly and quietly built a tower that was effectively a copy of the strange tower that dominated two distinct divine realms, Althos's personal divine realm, and the divine realm known now as "Paradise", where the vast angelic host that served Althos dwelled. The vast and windowless tower stretched over one thousand meters into the sky, ensuring it could be seen by anyone who looked in its general direction for kilometers around. 

The creature built the tower in an instant, using a number of powers related to civilization, reality, and the powerful earth subdomain. On the inside of the tower, the avatar quietly constructed a number of floors that people could live in, since mortals had needs and weaknesses that he did not possess that would need to be addressed, and he also built a number of floors that housed laboratories and workshops in case he created or recruited mortals with skills such as alchemy. 

The final thing that the avatar would do, which would take several hours, before the sun rose was the most ambitious. Althos possessed powers over elementals and the elements but he only rarely made use of those powers. His avatar on the other hand felt a keen affinity for the powers and forms that its creator didn't, and so he set about creating unique elemental servants. 

The tower was quickly filled with a variety of powerful, unique elemental entities. Beings made of fire, water, stone, and air, were easily created by the avatar whose affinity with life also bolstered its ability to create such unusual forms of it. The avatar also silently bestowed the elementals with sharp minds, a trait which was unusual for base elementals, who mostly tended to be instinctually driven clumps of elemental matter. 

The elementals had a variety of shapes, and could even shapeshift. The most numerous of the elementals were the air elements who were nearly invisible most of the time. Althos's avatar could see them quite easily since he could see spiritual energy, but those who relied on their naked vision would have a much tougher time going about it. Earth elementals roamed the area around the tower and were quite fond of a hulking, only slightly humanoid form. 

Fire elementals roamed the sky around the tower, patrolling it and obeying orders from their unspeaking master. His voice resounded throughout their minds and they eagerly obeyed him. The final kind of elementals were the water elementals who roamed the interior of the tower, tending to it and doing menial tasks that their master commanded they do. They worshiped him as their creator and eagerly obeyed him. 

When the sun began to raise off in the distance and villagers began to awaken, they were quick to notice the strange and ominous-looking tower off in the distance. They quickly gathered themselves around the smoldering embers of the fire at the center of their village and began to discuss what to do.

Vera and every other villager in her community packed themselves into the area right around a tiny, freshly extinguished fire. They all nervously looked at each other, or the gigantic tower that had just appeared off in the distance. 

"That... thing must belong to a powerful spirit or shaman. It is so massive and yet it appeared overnight. That is not the work of human hands." One of the adults whispered, almost conspiratorially. She had a fearful look in her eyes as she spoke. 

"I agree with you. That object is large enough for us to clearly see it despite the fact that it is some distance from us, and yet it appeared fully formed overnight. Our own homes, some of the only things we construct, are not completed overnight and yet the scale of that thing indicates that it dwarfs anything we've built even in our legends." The village shaman replied, concern and awe audible in his voice in equal measure. 

"The two of you are focusing on the wrong thing here. The big question is what, if anything, we should do about it." Vera replied, annoyance audible in her voice. This, in a sense, was a chastising of the shaman who quickly looked chestfallen and internally acknowledged the truth behind Vera's statement. He replied a few seconds after she finished speaking. 

"My apprentice is not incorrect. Our focus should be on what comes next, and if that strange object is indeed a spirit's possession, or perhaps even a spirit itself, we would be wise to go and greet it before it comes to greet us." The shaman told the gathered villagers. His words caused whispers of fear to become audible as people worriedly reacted to his statement. 

"Going to investigate the object is our only intelligent response. It might not be fun to hear such a statement but that doesn't change the fact that its true. That object appeared overnight, we do not understand it, and yet it looms over us. We should send a few people to investigate it. I'll be ready to go within the hour." The shaman declared, authoritatively. This provoked a series of shouts, but only one disagreement mattered and its source was unsurprising. 

"No. You aren't going. I'll go in your place instead. If you go we run the risk of your knowledge being taken from us in a number of ways. You going would endanger the safety of the village altogether. I'll go." Vera declared, which also provoked a few distressed cries. Vera silenced them by gently raising her hand. 

"If Hantheriel goes and anything happens to him we would lose his knowledge. I am his apprentice, and he has taught me a fair deal, including about spirits. I can go in his place and we could minimize the risk we are taking in sending someone to investigate the strange object." Vera said, simply. Her words were true, sending Hantheriel did mean risking his life in a number of ways even just beyond the possibility that the object was supernatural. Her words silenced those who were opposed to her plan.

"I know this is scary, but if we investigate it we could befriend the spirit responsible for it. And the chance to befriend spirits is worth the risks we are taking." Vera told the gathered villagepeople. She then got up and went to prepare for her trip. She was determined to go, by herself if need be. 

The next hour passed in a blur. While the villagepeople conversed with themselves, and eventually opted to send a few scouts with Vera, Vera readied herself.

She performed a quiet, solitary, arcane ritual that involved painting her face with white powder that she possessed because she was an alchemist and made potions from roots and fruits. The ritual was one that was believed by her and by the shaman to mark her as someone knowledgeable in matters concerning spirits and as a friend of theirs, for the purpose of reducing any innate hostility they may otherwise feel to having their territory intruded upon by strange mortals. 

When she was done, her caramel-colored skin was covered in a number of holy shapes and spiritual marks, and she felt confident that she would be able to safely make the journey to the strange tower. She felt her home and walked to the outskirts of the village, only to find three scouts waiting for her. The four people exchanged cautious looks, gentle nods, and without exchanging a single auditory word began to walk away from the village. 

It was still early morning and so the sun was low in the sky. It was warm but not terribly or even uncomfortably so, and the group made quick progress at first. However, after about fifteen minutes of walking something strange occurred. Though the tower loomed in the distance, the group became unable to make any more progress towards it. 

At first they didn't notice this and continued to walk "towards" the tower. Eventually though, after ten minutes of walking their sudden and strange lack of progress became noticeable. They stopped walking, and gazed at the tower, unsure of what to do. 

"It's like it's prohibiting us from approaching." Vera said, surprisingly being the some to break the silence shortly after the group stopped. She kept her eyes firmly locked on the tower in the distance, as if she were afraid it would vanish if she dared to look away. She had no way of knowing that she was actually kind of correct. The tower's creator was actively preventing them from approaching the tower. It was peering at them, from just outside of the tower and actively using "distance manipulation" to make them unable to reach the tower. 

"Should we head back?" One of the scouts asked. He was the youngest of the trio of scouts and a good two years younger than Vera. He was a delicate looking young man, in his late teens. He had light muscles and the sort of complexion one got living and working primarily outside in a dry place like the valley of the mountain. He held a single spear and was quaking as he spoke.

Vera studied him and quietly determined that he was a nervous child, one who was not a good choice for something this potentially delicate. Spirits were temperamental creatures and even the slightest mistake or misstep in dealing with one could lead to fatal consequences. The other scouts looked at Vera and waited for her response, and unbeknownst to her so did the avatar of Althos, silently observing her. Vera eventually nodded at the boy, but quickly spoke up. 

"You should head back. I'll make the judgment call about the rest of us, depending on whether or not we can approach the strange... tower, off in the distance after you head back. I have a weird feeling about this." She says, giving the boy permission to head back. He is quiet for a moment, as he considers her words, but after a few tense moments he relents and nods at her, accepting her judgment call.

Vera's strange feelings and the unconscious knowledge she possessed about the tower, including that it was a tower at all, were bestowed upon her by Althos's avatar, who had silently approved of her response to the scout's inquiry and decided to reward her. The powerful spirit-lord was eager to see what she did next, and as the group watched the boy leave, the avatar that silently watched them opted to allow them to come a little bit closer before he next interfered with them. He was ready to amuse himself with his interactions with the mortals, and had fun games in mind for them to unknowingly play.