A strange, green substance surrounded us. It felt soft under my feet and it was warmed by the sun’s rays. As for what it was – well, do keep in mind that I had never been outside of the volcano at this point.
Deiti’s memories gave shape to a field of grass that surrounded us, and that was my first ever experience with anything outside of my volcano. The grass, the gentle breeze, the vast and blue sky dotted with clouds of white – it was all new to me, and it was incredibly beautiful. Such sights were entirely foreign to me. My visual knowledge of the world included my dungeon, the tunnels connected to it, and the caldera along with what little I could see of the sky beyond its smoke.
I stood in a new and exotic world. A new and exotic world featuring nothing but flat plains of grass. The grass was so exotic to me that I even reached down to grab it and pull some out from the ground. “What is this?”
Deiti, with her hands back on her hips, was more than happy to explain with her usual grandiosity. “You have never seen grass before? Ah, that makes sense, I suppose. The world beyond the volcano is full of sights such as this. I have crossed oceans, I have slept among mountains of snow and ice, I have razed forests! I have – wait, what are you doing?! Grass is not for – are you a cow or a dungeon core?!”
My mouth was full of grass.
Admittedly, it did not taste pleasant. It was not easy to chew, it lacked any hint of a favorable taste, and it clung to my tongue and the walls of my mouth. If you are interested in trying to eat a clump of grass, I highly recommend against it. Unless you are a cow, that is.
And if you are a cow reading this, please make yourself known so that we may investigate why you are a cow with the ability to read. You should not exist as far as I am aware.
It was time for me to ask another question as I poked the soft, brown surface beneath the grass. “What’s this?”
“One, please do not attempt to eat it. Two, it is called dirt. It is the surface for most of the world, oceans excluded. Small creatures live within it and plants spread their roots through it to grow,” Deiti answered, smacking my hand away whenever it started to approach my mouth.
“Where’s the magma?”
“They do not need magma.”
“Because they are not born of the volcano. They did not adapt to make use of the inside of a volcano like the plants that you are used to have. This may be hard for you to believe, apparently, but most forms of life would find you and those within the volcano to be the strange ones. Most species would not even be capable of staying within its tunnels for an extended period of time. Those within the volcano, those who live in the plains and forests, those among the mountains, those deep below the oceans – the world is full of unique life with many different forms of survival.”
“I see. I like my volcano more.”
“You have not even truly experienced the rest of the world yet.”
“I still like my volcano more. Why are you so small?”
I still wanted an answer to the first question that I asked.
“Very well! I shall sate your curiosity. Now then, I… think that my current… size is because of how little aether I have of my own now. You are keeping all of our aether to yourself, so I may only use what little I have to manifest myself here. That is also why this landscape is so plain.”
“You’re small because you’re weak?”
A vein popped in her forehead as she clenched her fists at her sides. “That is not what I am saying, but for the sake of your simple mind, I will allow you to make that assumption. I have no interest in arguing the specifics with you.”
“Why are you a human?”
“I am not.”
“You look mostly like a human.”
“Well, I will admit that I have always enjoyed the physical bodies of humans. They are so soft, warm, tender, and just oh-so-very pleasant on the eyes. Unfortunately,” she looked down at herself, holding her hands up in front of her, “there is nothing pleasant about this body. Even the hair! I lack the aether to shorten it because of you! Look at how long and in the way it is!”
To demonstrate just how troublesome her hair was, she rotated her body from side to side which caused her hair to fly all around her. Some of it even in front of her face.
I nodded. “I see.”
“Then give me more aether!”
“You would not even be alive if it were not for me!”
“You would not be alive if it was not for me.”
“I would be! I would have given something else my aether!”
“They wouldn’t have been as good as me.”
As you can see, I already had somewhat of an ego. As you surely know, it only grows even more grand from there.
Deiti, frustrated and pouting like a child, continued annoying me for a few minutes as I checked out more of the grass and dirt.
Everything felt extremely real. It wasn’t that I had any idea what grass and dirt would feel like in the first place, but every single sensation was as real as the – well, the real thing. As real as real. It was unlike any dream I ever had before, assuming that it was a dream.
“What is this place?” I asked once Deiti finally stopped talking for more than three seconds.
“It is naught more than a simple home I have created for myself within you,” Deiti explained, confusing me even more.
She sighed. “Must I need explain it to you?”
“Very well, since I have nothing better to do.”
“You’re the one who brought me here.”
“Silence. Now, when I say that this place is within you, it is a creation of my aether within your soul. Nothing you see nor feel here is real. Everything present is our shared aether. Nothing more, nothing less. Even this body of mine is not real. It may feel real,” she pinched her cheek, “but it is not. Furthermore, this is where I have been spending my time. Whenever you hear my voice, imagine me shouting at you from this place.”
Her explanation sounded complicated to me, but I somehow managed to understand the basics of it.
Or so I thought.
As it would turn out, trying to understand aether and all of its intricacies is a difficult task beyond most researchers’ intelligence. Aether is too chaotic for a reliable explanation of its workings. It is very likely that, beyond a basic understanding of what it is capable of, we will never fully understand it.
There was one more thing that I wanted an answer to. “Why is your hair long? I thought you liked short hair?”
“Do… do not bring up my hair. It is not a topic that I wish to talk about, and I already told you why,” Deiti answered.
“But why is it long?”
“I want to know.”
She stomped her way over to me and stopped directly before me. When standing this close to each other, it was obvious just how tiny she was – or perhaps how large I was. The top of her head only reached my waist, and I felt like I could completely hide her if I were to wrap myself around her.
“I told you that I have no interest in talking about it!” she shouted, pointing a finger up at me while craning her neck back just to look me in the eyes.
“It’s just hair.”
“I – I told you that I lack the aether to make it any shorter! Such long hair… it serves no purpose but to get in the way and cause annoyances!”
“I think it looks nice.”
“You only think so because you do not know any better. Ahti’s hair is wonderful. I wish I had hair her length, but I am stuck with… this. It will be your duty to prioritize stockpiling more aether so that I may change it. Do you understand?”
She was being annoying and I didn’t want to listen to her, so I did what worked so perfectly with Corra to calm her down.
I leaned over and placed a hand on top of Deiti’s small head, petting her head over her bright red hair.
Not a single reaction.
Corra would have been… reacting like Corra would. Ahti would have closed her eyes and rubbed her head up against my hand. But Deiti? Given the height difference and my arm being in the way, I couldn’t see what sort of face she was making. All I knew was that she was, more or less, letting me do it – letting me pet her head.
Or so I thought.
“I… will destroy you,” Deiti threatened, grabbing onto my wrist with both of her hands. Not even together could they wrap around my wrist, nor was she strong enough to stop me.
My hand continued its job of petting her head until she relaxed.”
“S-stop this! It – it is an order! I, Dyvraldeiti, the Queen of Flames, demand that you—”
I figured that I wasn’t rubbing hard enough, so I moved my hand with enough force that it moved her head around.
“Would you – would you…! Stop!”
She shouted and whined for me to stop, but our shared feelings told me that she found pleasure in what I was doing, so I continued. It was only when she used her wings to propel herself away from me that I was forced to stop.
With reddened cheeks and her arms crossed over her chest, Deiti glared at me and shouted, “Listen to a girl when she tells you to stop! Being forceful is nice and all but you need to learn when to stop! To think that a – a rock would defile me in such a manner…”
I tilted my head, unsure of what she was talking about.
Now that I think about it… nobody else knows yet of my times with Deiti in our personal space. It was never brought up around the others, so I suppose that my wives will be learning something new about me for once.
Back to Deiti, between the feelings I felt from her and how she looked, I had no idea how she was feeling. Was she upset? Happy? Both?
She sighed and uncrossed her arms. “Apparently, I must teach you some manners. Most importantly of them all, never touch my head again. Especially not without my permission!”
“Because! It – you are supposed to only do such intimate things when you are with somebody who wants it! Of all the sacrifices I had, I never laid a claw on them until I had them wanting it! You need to at least ask beforehand if it is alright!”
“Is it alright to rub your head?”
“This is getting nowhere. I cannot believe that I was desperate enough to bring you here.”
“Why were you desperate?”
Yet another sigh escaped her lips. “Do you think that I enjoy being stuck within you? As real as this place may seem, I have lived for a long enough time to tell just how fake it all is. You have provided me with the entertainment that I hoped you would, but I… did not consider just how lonely I would feel. Your touch was the first I have felt in so long. I wish to explore once more, I wish to fight – I wish to be close to others. As endearing as it may be to see Ahti and Corra through your eyes, I desire so much more.”
“Yes. I enjoyed the thrill of battle very much. Many of my scales were scarred and broken from my battles with the other beasts of the world, and I thoroughly enjoyed every single battle. Even those that brought me close to death were pleasurable.”
“We can fight.”
“What? You wish to fight me? Do keep in mind that even if I am in this small body, I will be able to annihilate you where you stand… not that any true harm will come to you. Furthermore, I enjoy equal fights. There is no equal fight for you to offer me.”
Deiti might have lacked the aether that she wanted, but she still had the gathered experience and cultivated talent from her long life. Those instincts were instincts that would never leave. Her muscles, even if in a different form, had it all memorized.
I smiled and prepared myself. “I’ll fight until I win.”
“You will not even be able to fight after my first attack.”
“Let’s try it.”
Despite her warnings, I saw her lips threaten to curl into a smile. “Are you sure? Is the once-rock truly so desperate to foolishly throw itself against a powerful dragon?”
“I’m going to be the strongest. I’m not going to become the strongest if I can’t defeat you.”
“Very well. Keep in mind that you are going to feel everything just as you would in the real world.”
“I will. I’m read—”
Deiti’s wings propelled her small figure at me with incredible speed, allowing her to thrust her hand right through my abdomen with her nails impaling my organs behind my back.
Even if it was not my real body, it was the most painful feeling I had ever experienced.
But knowing that it was a false sensation allowed me to find joy in the prospect of finding such a worthy opponent.
I was disappointed that the leader of the kobolds would not provide me an entertaining challenge. I no longer needed to feel such disappointment since I discovered that the strongest challenger was inside of my soul ready to fight at any time.
And it would only be the first of our many battles!
I slammed my fist into the arm stuck through my body, hoping to break it, but she was hardly phased by my attack. Instead of hurting, she grabbed onto my fist and twisted it until the bone in my arm snapped.
“You may not be strong enough to challenge me, but you are sturdy enough to serve as a target to relieve my boredom on. Tell me, my rock: will you be an obedient target for me? Will you—”
One arm might have been broken, but my other arm was fine and allowed me to slam my fist into the side of her head, staggering her and causing her to finally pull her arm out of my abdomen. “No, but you can be mine.”
Deiti’s eyes widened for a moment before gently shutting them, finally allowing a smile to curl her lips. “I truly did make the right choice with you.” Her eyes opened, her slit pupils glaring straight into my eyes with the intent to kill. “Let us have some fun together. I may even postpone breaking you so that it does not end too soon.”
“We’ll see who breaks first.”