Chapter 2 – Preparations
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Even though we were resolved to bring down the gods, we were a great distance away from having even a semblance of a chance of success. For now, the greatest threat to our operation, in my opinion, was the possibility of the gods wisening up to our plans.

I was relatively sure they did not suspect Sarah to be anything but dead — which was still technically accurate, as she was a revenant — but they only needed to accidentally see her, or even just for any of their devout to recognize her and the secret would be out.

For hiding from the gods themselves, my biggest problem was that nobody knew the extent of their ability to spy on people — for certain, treatises on the topic had circulated in academic circles, supporting one hypothesis or another. Some, likely the fanatical devout, maintained that there was nothing the gods were not privy to, and that trying to keep a secret from them was an exercise in futility. I dismissed this one out of hand, partially because it would mean our rebellion was doomed from the start, and partially because it was implausible — it was well known that their ability to interact with the world was limited, and most agreed that scrying fell under the definition of interacting.

There were others who claimed that the gods could not scry our world at all — this treatise was considered heretical and banned in a number of kingdoms — and that the only information they could glean was whatever their followers shared through prayer. This hypothesis also affirmed that the gods jealously guarded information about the mortal world from each other, as they could use it to vie for influence over the mortals. The fact that the text was considered heretical is what made me inclined to believe this particular take, since the gods would not want their particular weaknesses to be known. At the same time, it could have been an intentional misdirection, to get their critics to be less circumspect and catch them in the open.

In the end, I decided that some paranoia was good, especially since they were, in fact, out to get me. That would mean warding myself, Sarah, and our base of operations against scrying. I could only hope my wards were good enough to keep them out, but I had little choice in the matter. Eventually, I would be able to ward my entire territory. I imagined being cut off from a significant chunk of land would piss the bastards off good.

Warding myself was a non-issue — as a mage, it was standard practice to keep yourself protected against rival mages. The same went for the tower, although I would need to touch up the sigils. That left my newest minion, so I set out to find Sarah.

She was not difficult to locate. I had only needed to follow the sounds of wood being smacked.

“What did that poor stump do to you to deserve such a fate?” I asked as I entered Sarah’s improvised training room.

She had been upset with her performance during her attack on my tower, and decided to make up for it by throwing herself into a training frenzy. She had mentioned that in her world, such a thing was called a ‘training montage.’

She turned towards me, resting her sword on her shoulder. “It spat on my honor and refused to give me face,” she responded with uncharacteristic seriousness, “I must avenge myself by killing off its whole clan and— I can’t say it with a straight face,” she laughed as her face broke into a grin.

“Is your training bearing fruit?” I asked, genuinely curious.

She grimaced. “I earned a few levels in swordsmanship, but not as much as I had expected.”

“It’s only been a day. Also, you have no teacher and you’re sparring against a literal log. I’m surprised you were able to make any progress at all.”

“And you would know, oh master swordsman?” she raised an eyebrow at me.

“You don’t need to know how to ride a horse to know you’re not supposed to ride it off a cliff,” I responded with a snort. “In any case, I’ll try to find someone to tutor you.

“Anyway, do you have a few spare moments?”

“Sure Boss, what’s up?”

“I was thinking about how to hide ourselves from the gods. I would like to ward you against scrying, if you don’t mind. That should help with ensuring the gods won’t notice you’re still kicking.”

“Sure, then. Need me to do anything?”

“Just stand still for a minute,” I said as I began to channel strands of Fate around the young knight. Fate was one of my weaker schools of magic, but a shield against being found or seen was one of the simpler spells, and I knew it like the back of my hand. I wove the threads in a cocoon, surrounding Sarah entirely. Each of the threads was imbued with different functions — some were used to misdirect, others were meant to make the whole construct ‘slick’, preventing outside threads from connecting to the cocoon.

“That’s it,” I declared, satisfied with my work. It would do, at least for now.

“I don’t feel any different.”

“You’re not supposed to. Your gate is closed and you have no conduit. Anyway, that’s one item crossed off the list. What else was there…” 

I ponder for a few seconds until I remember. “Oh, right. Do you know if there’s anyone who could see you and connect you to Sarah the Hero?”

“I don’t think so,” she answered after considering the question. “The only one who saw me up close was the Duke of Canneria. Oh, and his secretary. And the General. And I guess a fair bit of his staff, actually. There was also the regiment I accompanied here, but you wiped them all out.”

“So, quite a few people. I’ll see if I can construct a spell to keep them from recognizing you. It shouldn’t be too hard…” 

I was soon lost in thinking of ways to solve the problem of Sarah being recognized, and I wandered away after waving her goodbye. She grinned while giving me a military salute and returned to battering the tree trunk silly.

Arriving back at my main study area, I decided to shelve the issue for now, as it wasn’t urgent, and instead decided to start working on my newest obsession — the mana well I had discovered in Sarah’s soul.

The mana well was one of those “obvious in hindsight” kinds of things, and I was somewhat embarrassed I hadn’t figured it out by myself.

Mana is, for lack of a better term, unrealized potential. The more academic definition goes something like “Mana represents the sum of everything that is not.” It is widely accepted that mana exists in a quasi-physical shape somewhere outside reality, and that we form in our souls some constructs called “conduits”, which we then use to draw the mana from Unreality where it can enact change on the Universe.

It is also generally accepted that while mana in Unreality was complete, containing all six Aspects of magic, it is not possible to draw Origin mana, only mana tinted with one Aspect at a time.

It should have, therefore, been obvious that while you could not draw Origin mana through your conduits, there was nothing stopping you from combining all six Aspects back into one on our side of reality.

Well, “nothing stopping you” was a bit of a misnomer, as there were plenty of things stopping me, namely that you needed to be proficient in manipulating all the Aspects — and while I was very good at Mind and Soul, passable with Energy and Matter and mediocre with Fate, I had absolutely no aptitude whatsoever for Dimension. My talent with it was such that any attempt at wielding it would usually result in a spectacularly destructive disaster.

Back when I was an apprentice, after the extent of my ability — well, disability — with Dimension magic was discovered, I was forbidden from ever practicing it lest I brought the tower down on our heads.

Returning to the mana well, the genius of it was that it used these threads of Origin mana in order to pierce all the way through reality and back into Unreality, creating a kind of conduit — one that could be scaled to draw quantities of mana a normal conduit would never be able to handle. Moreover, it looked like the conduit construct actively pushed mana through, a stark contrast from the active drawing mages needed to do through their own conduit. The applications of having an autonomous mana generator were limitless.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Generating absurd amounts of mana was one thing, but what interested me the most was the possibility of using Origin mana itself for spellcasting. Using Aspected mana for its designated purpose was all swell, but weaving multiple kinds of mana together into a spell framework was usually incredibly inefficient, but the effects you could create made up for it.

My own necromancy, for example, relied on a fusion of Mind, Soul and Energy magic, and it had been considered impressive enough to earn me the title of Archmage. I wondered, now, how much more I could do if I substituted the three with actual Origin mana. The possibilities made me giddy. 

A shiver ran my spine as I realized just how dangerous this knowledge was. It was no wonder the Heroes were able to improve so quickly, the constructed conduit essentially providing them with, quite literally, unlimited potential. It was also no wonder the thing was hidden behind the oddly shaped chains.

I was once again struck with a pang of fear. What if the gods could see everything? What if they already knew I discovered the well? Even if they were normally restricted from acting on our world, I had no doubt they would stop at nothing to prevent this knowledge from spreading or being acted on.

I consoled myself with the fact that if the gods did know everything, I was on their kill list anyway.

I would, once again, act on the assumption that they didn’t know everything, but were still decently informed. That meant I would have to bring up the mastery of my less used Aspects and learn Dimension magic from scratch, all while not raising suspicion that I knew more than I was supposed to know.

Well, what’s the premier villain of a generation supposed to be, if not ambitious?