Chapter 93: The Gods’ Questions
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As per usual, Connie was in the Dimension of Discounts, working on her products. Today she was putting the finishing touches on the facilities she was offering as a reward for Amelia’s good behavior; she would be gifting one of them in a day or two, and she wanted them to be in perfect shape when she did.

She found that recently she was spending most of her time in the Dimension of Discounts. She could do all of her normal work from in there, and it was a nice, private area away from the relative chaos that the realm of the gods was in right now.

Or so she had thought. “Connie,” Hector, God of Heroes said, “we need to talk about the swarm.”

Connie sighed, looking up from the bathhouse engravings to find that not only was Hector there, but he was with Matthew, the Lord of Monsters. “Why me?” Connie asked.

“You’re the leader of the pro-swarm faction, are you not?” Matthew said. “We thought you would be the best to ask our questions to first.”

“Um, no?” Connie replied, frowning. “I’m trying to stay away from this particular debate.”

“Yet, your name is the one that always comes up in the conversation.” Hector said. “There is no denying that you greatly favor the swarm.”

“What of it?” Connie asked. “I’ve heard all your arguments, and I’m not changing my mind.”

“It’s not that.” Matthew said. “We just…wish to understand what you see in them.”

“Huh?” Connie said, unable to hide her surprise. “What brought this on? I thought you two were solidly in the anti-swarm camp.”

“Ichiro did.” Matthew replied. “We watched his actions and figured that perhaps, we too were not giving the swarm a fair chance.”

“Yeah, real winner you picked out there, Hector.” Connie said sarcastically. “Why him?”

Hector grimaced, looking away in shame. “I…forgot that the Urge was not there to temper his more unsavory traits.” He admitted. “I was subconsciously assuming we would be using the watered down version we used to give summoned Heroes, and so I focused more on picking someone who would fervently oppose the swarm than the truest content of their character, and amongst the two of those who fit Jerry’s requirement of “likely to wish for a spatial transport item”, he seemed the better person.”

“Maybe it should have been a warning sign when the only two people you could find that would dogmatically ignore the other viewpoint were not great people.” Connie said flatly.

“In my defense, he wasn’t a bad person, just…rash, and in need of some time to mature. In another situation, I’m sure he would have served his purpose well.”

“Hector, don’t kid yourself.” Matthew said. “I’ve seen the type, he was already letting the power go to his head. Without the Urge to rein him in, I’m sure we would have caused some other disaster on that plane. We’re fortunate he was stopped in his tracks before he could get truly problematic.”

“If I had given him some…firm guidance, it could have turned out alright.” Hector protested. “But we’re getting off topic. Connie, why exactly is it that you look over the swarm’s wrongdoings?”

“Because their rightdoings are greater.” Connie said simply. “And, personally, I believe the ends justify the means, at least in this case. Not only have they somehow solved a problem with systems that even Jerry hasn’t, but the leadership is also significantly kinder than most countries, and I’m working hard to keep it that way.

“Have you taken a serious look at Lia and Rose’s minds before, or did you just skim over them because you found conversion repulsive? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of conversion either, but I still sat down and gave it a good think, and in the end, I decided that despite my disdain for conversion, as long as I make a real effort to keep their moral compass intact, that this was the best option in the long run. It’s very tempting to assume that our gut reactions are right because we are the gods, but it just isn’t true; we can become clouded by bias as much as any mortal.”

“Lia seemed unoffensive enough, and I’m intimately familiar with Rose’s psyche.” Hector replied. “But conversion is such an overwhelming issue that I couldn’t in good conscience overlook it.”

Connie sighed. “Look, conversion is not cool, I get that, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Once the swarm has achieved their goals, the converting will stop, and with it so too will many of society’s problems be solved. We have an opportunity to make our people more powerful and put an end to some of the worst parts of the mortal experience. Some heightened suffering at the moment is nothing in the face of the removal of significant suffering in the future. You were fine with the Urge, I see no reason for this to be different.”

“But the Urge was different.” Hector protested weakly. “It was required to stop Heroes from going crazy and causing all sorts of chaos and torment while no one could stand up to them. A few people had to suffer, and suffer badly, but the alternative was worse.”

“And that’s exactly why I’m throwing my lot in with the swarm.” Connie said. “It’s that but on a larger scale. We allow one series of immoral acts, one bit of anxiety and suffering that won’t even be permanent, and in return we get stronger and happier people, and future generations won’t need to experience anything like war or systemic hunger. In fact, they would likely scoff at those ideas as barbaric.”

Hector fell into a stunned silence, but Matthew continued the questions in his stead. “And you’re fine with this, even if it reduces the Worship you’ll gain?” Matthew asked. “From what I’ve heard, there won’t be much commerce in the swarm.”

Connie shrugged. “I may want every scrap of the stuff I can get my hands on, but not at the cost of our people’s wellbeing. Winston is much the same way, even though being the God of War won’t be super profitable in a world without war, he still thinks the end of war is worth the price to him. Besides, when we eventually figure out how Blood Money is generated, Worship will be a non-issue.

“Tell you what, why don’t I call Lia in right now, and we can all have a heart to heart on the subject? If you weren’t paying attention, Rose recently managed to break Amelia’s conditioning on her, so having a productive discussion where we rationally explain our differences of opinion and see if we can change things is more doable than ever.”

Matthew raised an eyebrow. “Won’t that be a little sudden and overwhelming for her? I’m not against the idea, but suddenly defending your actions against two gods isn’t something most people are mentally prepared for at any given moment.”

“It’ll be fine.” Connie said, already pulling up her message window and drafting a message to Lia. “As much as she’ll be shocked initially, she’s surprisingly mentally resilient. Furthermore, this is exactly the conversation she wants to have with the gods. She’s trying her hardest to be as virtuous as she can in her situation, and she’s had a few discussions with me on the topic before.”

“Very well, then.” Matthew said. “Hector, is that fine with you?”

Upon hearing his name, Hector snapped back to attention. “What? I mean, yes, talking with her is fine.”

“Perfect.” Connie said. “I just told her to come, she’ll be here momentarily.”

Lia opened the portal to the Dimension of Discounts, took an apprehensive breath, then stepped in. She had just received a message stating that she was needed for “urgent business” in the Dimension of Discounts, and that was almost certainly a bad sign. Usually, if Connie wanted to talk with her, she would just send a message letting Lia know to come in the next few hours, but this was more immediate.

As she entered, she was surprised to find two men standing with Connie near the facilities area. One she recognized as the God of Heroes, but the other was an unknown. “Um…you needed me?” Lia said hesitantly.

“Yes, thank you for coming on such short notice.” The unknown man said, walking over and proffering his hand. “The name’s Matthew, I serve as…the overseer of the growth of planes.”

“Hector.” The God of Heroes said. “I’m God of Heroes, if you weren’t aware.”

Lia gingerly shook Matthew’s hand. “I’m Lia.” She said. “How can I help you?”

Matthew gave her a smile, waving a hand and conjuring chairs for them to sit in. “To be blunt about it, Hector and I are not happy with the concept of the swarm.” He said, sitting down in his chair and motioning for Lia to do the same. “Admittedly, Hector is much more opposed than me, but given recent events and the fact that you are no longer subject to Amelia’s conditioning, we thought it would be prudent to reexamine our view and see if we cannot come to an understanding.”

 “U-um, okay.” Lia said, trying not to look at Hector’s displeased face. “I…I’ll answer any questions you have, Your Worship.”

“Matthew is fine.” Matthew laughed. “And please, don’t stand on ceremony here, it’ll be counterproductive to our discussion. So…first question, now that your conditioning is broken, why are you still proceeding with this? Surely you understand that conversion is wrong, right?”

Lia hung her head. “Yes.” She admitted. “But…well, admittedly I keep going partially because it’s too late to stop now, but also…we can make the world a better place. It only takes one bad person in power to plunge the entire world into chaos, and if Rose and I are the ones who hold the ultimate authority, we can make sure that everyone is treated fairly, and do away with the pointless, greedy wars people tend to have. It’ll…basically just be working against the Lord of Monsters whenever he appears, but with Amelia and Rose, I’m sure we can stop him from causing too much damage.”

Matthew gave a small smile. “Just Amelia and Rose?” He asked.

“Well…yeah, they’re the only Heroes we have. The swarm and I will do my best to support them, of course, but I know we’re nowhere close to the power of a Hero.”

Matthew raised an eyebrow. “The swarm aside, you personally are, though?”


“Lia, I don’t think you realize the full scope of the power Amelia gave you.” Matthew said kindly. “That reserve of power you use to reincarnate people or make changes to the system is a fundamental part of the universe, usually restricted to the gods. It is what we use to empower Heroes, and you hold more within you than most Heroes get. It is not processed in the same way that their power is, but it is significantly more versatile. You may not have the raw firepower that Amelia and Rose do, but they are exceptions among exceptions; you will be absolutely capable of contributing to your campaign against the Lord of Monsters.”

Matthew paused for a moment, then gave a cough and looked to the side. “Back on topic, what happens if you get corrupted by the power you wield? Absolute power corrupts absolutely, why are you an exception?”

“Because I’m grounded, grounded by my life experiences, and, more importantly, Rose and Connie. I trust them to guide me if I stray from the right path, and that should be enough. After all, not everyone in power will inevitably become corrupted; the gods and Jerry are doing just fine, and I can’t think of anyone more in power than you all.”

Matthew considered that for a moment. “You have a valid point.” He said. “In that case, I would like to extract some promises from you. Nothing magically binding, that’s not my area of expertise, but know that if you break these, I will be given full authority to visit whatever punishment upon you as I see fit. If you keep them, I will throw in my lot with Connie and the others who are on your side.”

“Matthew!” Hector gasped. “You can’t be serious!”

Matthew looked at Hector calmly. “Deadly serious. Hector, we’ve all done things that aren’t completely moral in the name of the greater good. If I can ensure that she actually is serving the greater good, then what reason do I have to object? It would be hypocrisy, holding her to a standard that I myself don’t meet.” He turned back to Lia, giving her a smile. “What do you say?”

“Before you make any agreements, I want one thing to be clear.” Connie said, butting into the conversation. “Matthew, I want you to give her warnings first; so long as she is making a sincere attempt to abide by your terms, you can’t punish her for something she didn’t know was wrong.”

“Of course,” Matthew said. “So, your answer?”

 “If the promises are reasonable, I have no objections.” Lia said.

Matthew nodded. “Very well. First, do you promise to never use people as expendable resources, to make plans that minimize the loss of sapient life? I understand that people will die, that is unavoidable, but I would like it if you kept it to an absolute minimum. No suicide missions, no last stands against impossible odds, nothing of that sort.”

“Of course.” Lia said quickly. “I wasn’t planning on any of that anyway, that’s what the non-sapient members of the swarm are for.”

Matthew smiled. “Good. Likewise, do you promise to treat your people fairly? No slaves, no artificial divisions of people into different categories, to make sure that no one group of people is given an unfair treatment, whether it is positive or negative treatment?”

Lia hesitated. “Um…I sort of already named Alisha as Duchess of Aura, and I don’t think the swarm would let me live in the exact same conditions as them. But I can promise that the people I appoint as overseers of regions are not given preferential treatment, that when settling disputes their word will be given the exact same weight as anyone else’s, and that they will be compensated a fair amount for their work, not an overly inflated sum. And, of course, I can promise that we won’t discriminate based on anything like race or age or…not gender, since we’ll all be female and that’ll be a nonissue, but no arbitrary division of people will be treated better or worse.”

Matthew thought for a moment, then nodded. “That is acceptable. For my last term, I want you to promise to never drag people into battles they don’t want. No conscription, no forcing people to fight against their family or friends, and if anyone wants to leave military service, it must be immediately and unconditionally accepted.”

Lia paused to think on that. While it was the first real limitation Matthew had given her, it wasn’t something unreasonable. She wanted to avoid pressing people into service if at all possible, and this gave her an excuse to shoot down any such suggestions. The downsides would be negligible, so... “I accept.”

Matthew gave her an encouraging smile, standing up and walking over to Lia to offer another handshake. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Lia.” He said.

Lia stood and shook his hand once again. “You as well, Matthew.”

“Now, as a bit of forewarning, when it comes time for me to test the strength of the swarm, I won’t be holding back because of this, understand? We may have dealings, but I won’t shirk my job because of them.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to.” Lia said.

Matthew turned to Hector. “Hector, do you have anything to say or are you just going to stand there and glare at her?”

“I’m still not fully convinced.” Hector grunted. “Individual autonomy is too important to me to outright agree to this. But…I suppose I can wait and see how things actually turn out. I won’t actively work against you for the time being…but I won’t help you, either. Prove to me that people will retain their senses of selves in more circumstances, and I will consider changing my stance.”

“Um…may I ask you a question? Lia asked.

“You just did, and that’s your one question. I’m sure Connie can find out whatever you want, so I’m not going to get all chummy with you.” With that he disappeared, leaving Lia hanging.

“What were you going to ask?” Matthew asked.

“I just wanted to know why Izumi was chosen as the Hero. She seems to be…not ready for the task.”

“Because she was unlikely to cooperate with you, among other reasons. Tread carefully in the gods’ temples and with anything directly tied to them, such as Oaths. You won’t know if that god is waiting for an opportunity to visit harm upon you.” Matthew warned.

Lia looked at Connie. “I thought you said it shouldn’t matter who is on my side and who isn’t, at least for my purposes. Is that wrong?”

Connie shrugged. “Sort of. They can’t do anything to you for just walking into their temples, and your world doesn’t have anything other than Oaths that are directly tied to the gods, so what you do really won’t matter unless you begin desecrating temples, and I assumed you wouldn’t do something that stupid. Their actions will happen regardless, and we were instructed not to give oracles to anyone else on this matter, so who cares what the other gods think? Just keep doing your best and everything will be fine.”

“For the time being, assume the gods of Life, Death, Nature, War, and Politics on are your side. There are others, including Connie, of course, but those five are your most prominent supporters. Likewise, the gods of Law, Tradition, Hearth, Dreams, and Space are your most prominent detractors. Admittedly, the Goddess Hearth has been wavering as of late, but historically she has not been fond of you.” Matthew advised.

“Hey, she’s supposed to pay for that info!” Connie protested.

“Only if you’re the one who gives it to her. This is just…advice from a third party. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some other gods to meet with, so I must be off. Once again, a pleasure speaking with you, Lia.” He gave a small bow and vanished, leaving Lia alone with Connie.

“That man…” Connie grumbled. “Anyway, that’s all I needed you for, you can head back home now.”

“I’ll buy some soda, first.” Lia said.

“Quite the charmer, as always.” Connie said, smiling slightly. “As usual, it’s by the portal, and I’ve taken the Blood Money from you. Oh, and the time is soon coming for me to award you the facility I promised, so if you haven’t decided yet, now would be a good time.”

“Oh yeah, that. I think I have an idea, but I’ll get back to you when I’m sure, okay?” Lia said, turning to leave.

“Bring your lovers, while you’re at it!” Connie called out. “You might as well use it as soon as you get it!”

“Will do!” Lia confirmed, then stepped out of the Dimension of Discounts and back to her home.

I was not planning to bring Lia into this chapter at all. It was just gonna be Matthew, Hector, and Connie, and then things just sorta...happened.

Um...that's really all of substance I have to say, though. Next time we'll be looking at the rulers' meeting about the loss of the Hero, so...look forward to it!

And, as always, thanks for reading!