The Divine Temple that was the Denny’s off Exit 13 did not grow more divine with addition of another god to the ranks of those present. The High One knew his presence alone made the site supremely holy. Under normal circumstances the only reason another god would be allowed into a temple of his would be as a sacrifice to be absorbed into his greatness. In this case however he was willing to make a temporary exception.
“You started early,” Aranea said, beckoning one of the waitresses over with a wave of her hand.
“Who is this?” Supreme Marshal Penk asked. The Pure One looked ready to climb over Ambassador Brams and smash through the window to escape from being within arm’s reach of Aranea.
The High One grinned. Penk could probably see the spider goddesses true aspect. Her avatar wore the guise of a dark skinned human but Aranea’s divine portfolio was only held in abeyance by the crushing mundanity of the world where they’d chosen host their negotiations. The reality of who and what she was remained clearly visible to any with the eyes to see it, and any who was capable of that would also be aware of just how easily the spider goddess could slip free from the shackles which she was choosing to allow to bind her power.
“This is our secret weapon,” the High One said.
“She’s a goddess of Earth,” Brams said. He was less phased by the new arrival than Penk was, but he had the advantage that he was less likely to be first one eaten if the negotiations went poorly.
“Very observant,” the High One said. Also, foolish. By showing off what he knew, Brams clearly hoped to retain a position of authority. All he managed to accomplish though was to provide the same proof Penk had that even on a mundane world, they were still equipped and willing to push the boundaries of what was possible.
“How will an Earth goddess help us?” Penk said. He didn’t try to hide his distaste, which the High One suspected was more of a calculated ploy than an honest reaction. The Pure One was fishing for concessions. He was clumsy about it because Aranea’s appearance was unexpected and struck at fears the Pure Ones had long insulated themselves from. The High One saw an awareness of that flicker across Penk’s eyes but correcting for missteps was difficult under the best of circumstances and Aranea didn’t appear to have any interest in improving relations with him.
Just as the High One had planned.
He felt delighted that Brams caught on to that fact. It was so nice to see his work being appreciated. It wasn’t proper worship of course, but even the small victories could be sweet ones.
“She’s here to direct our actions,” Bram said, leaping to the correct conclusion because he wasn’t as much of a thundering idiot as Penk was.
“Our actions will not be dictated by our enemies,” Penk said. He knew better than that, but his words were being heard back in his homeworld as he spoke them, so he needed to spend as much time looking good for his people as he did working towards a solution to their problems.
“She’s not an enemy,” the High One said. “Our new friend here knows how the Earth will die. Through her we can see the fate that is laid out for those who defile our realm.”
“If the Earth is fated to be destroyed then why should we do anything?” Penk asked. He wasn’t happy being left out of the loop and Aranea’s presence was doing wonderful things to his nerves.
“Because we can gain even more security by being the agents of its passing,” Brams said.
“Exactly,” the High One said, pausing for a moment to worry about how quick Brams had shown himself to be. It suggested the Preservers would be ready for the inevitable moment when the High One turned on them. Or they would think that they were ready. No one was ever truly ready to face the wrath of a god.
“Involving ourselves will mean a risk of contamination,” Penk said. “Describe the payoff the will compensate for that risk.”
“There is no risk,” the High One lied. “All of the threads which lead to the future show the corpse of the Earth at their end and none of those ends are all that distant.”
“If that’s true, then we can afford to take a more aggressive footing,” Brams agreed. “With a guarantee of victory, the Preservers will be willing to invest a force capable of matching a third of the overall requirement for victory.”
“You’re willing to jump ahead to that on the strength of one Earthling’s word?” Penk asked. “How do we know she’d not lying? What is her stake in all this?”
Aranea looked over to the High One and smirked.
She’d predicted Penk’s exact words prior to the meeting even starting.
“She can see the strands of fate and has the wisdom to seek refuge with the one power who can grant it,” the High One said, adding “me,” despite the declaration being obvious and unnecessary.
“And you would grant this traitor asylum on your world?” Penk asked.
“We have come to an arrangement,” the High One said.
“Understand that arrangement cannot include my world,” Penk said. “She would be even more toxic than the Potestate’s agents were.”
“I’m not going to ask any other power to shelter her,” the High One said. “I found her. I was the one who unlocked the secret weakness in Earth’s preparations and who discovered how to use it against them.”
“Does this mean we will need less force than we were discussing?” Brams asked. From how he glanced at Penk, the question was less about obtaining the tactical information he requested and more about planting an idea in Penk’s mind.
One which the Supreme Mashal predictably accepted without question.
“If you know that much already, what do you even need us for?” Penk asked.
“This weakness requires a greater expenditure of resources than your plans called for,” the High One said.
“Then is it really a weakness?” Penk asked, eager to appear witty and score points with those watching on his homeworld.
“If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t have called us here,” Brams said. “I gather the information you gained about Earth’s future also showed you a number of possibilities which would not work? And those likely included the paths the Supreme Marshal and I were discussing?”
The High One hadn’t thought to check the viability of any else’s plans for the simple reason that those plans were inferior. They hadn’t come from him after all.
Also, they weren’t the path which was fated to lead to the Earth’s demise, so no matter how good they might appear to be, they were doomed to failure for one reason or another.
“That’s correct,” the High One said. “My plan is what we are going to go with because it is the one that’ll work. You are both going to contribute fifty percent of the required forces to make it happen, and for your efforts you will be rewarded with a three to one return on your investment.”
Or rather, they would be rewarded with searing pain and death, followed by a trip through the depths of the High One’s Hell Engine so that their spirits could be repurposed to act as worshippers native to his world. Since that fact lacked the proper motivating power though, the High One stuck with the “three to one” lie.
“And what will your reward be if we are to contribute everything needed to destroy our common enemy?” Penk asked.
“You’re not going to be contributing everything we need,” the High One said. “All that power’s going to need someone who can control it and direct it properly. That’s what I’m going to provide.”
“So we’ll turn over enough power to destroy a world to you, you’ll destroy the Earth, and then where will we be?” Brams asked.
“The destruction of the Earth will be severe enough that not only will no one escape from it, no matter which shadow plane they hide on, it will also push that world completely out of alignment with our own. When we’re done the Earth will be a burnt cinder falling into the Abyss beyond all worlds.”
Brams and Penk smiled at the image.
“But wouldn’t it serve as a better example to others who might try to repeat the Potestate’s mistake if it remained in the Celestial Constellation?” Penk asked.
Even with his limited imagination he could see the dead world for the prize that it so clearly was.
“It might be possible to contain and direct the Rain of Vengeance that will destroy the Earth,” the High One said. “The vision of the Earth’s demise ends with the planet’s death. What happens beyond that isn’t a matter for the Fates who will die with the Earth.”
“What of the Potestates?” Brams asked. “She is not bound to the Earth’s fate is she?”
“She’ll probably choose to die with her world,” the High One said. “Even if she should flee though, with her dominion fallen and all of her allies dead, she will be reduced to less than nothing.”
“Perhaps,” Brams said. “But those with nothing left to lose can still prove to be quite dangerous.”
“Her importance is exaggerated and her claims are unverifiable,” the High One said. “More importantly though, we are far from her only enemies. Once she is brought low, we would be hard pressed to fight through the horde who will be out for her blood.”
It was questionable how true any of that was. The High One had no direct understanding of the Potestates powers or capabilities. All he knew was that she was inferior to him. Because everyone was inferior to him, in general, but most especially people like her who should have known to stay in their place and been content because they were already getting more than they deserved.
“And what about her agents?” Brams asked. “They’re fated to lose but do we know what sort of price they’ll exact on their destroyers? Do we even know if they will fall with the Earth?”
“We know they can world travel,” Penk said. “When the end comes they will either flee or launch an assault, however desperate in an effort to avert the inevitable.”
“Given their successes so far, that seems like something which could have dire consequences for all of us,” Brams said.
“They will remain on Earth when you final assault arrives,” Aranea said. “They have assembled a coalition of worlds who are willing to stand with them. From the Physicians Guild of Telidees to the Champions of Castorvell and dozens of others.”
Penk blinked at the litany of supporters who might be rallied against them. Brams merely went quiet, his gaze turning inwards.
“And this final attack will succeed in spite of the support the Earthers have assembled to protect themselves?” Brams asked after a long moment.
“It will,” the High One said. “I have seen it.”
“Seeing the future is unreliable though,” Penk said.
“For a mortal, yes, it is,” the High One said. “It is why the Potestates agents will remain on Earth. They will cling to the hope that they can save their home because they cannot see that all hope is already lost.”
“But how will we get through their allies?” Penk asked.
“Their allies will not be present on their final day,” Aranea said.
“Thanks to our friend, we know who they have sought out,” the High One said. “Before we march into battle, all of their support will have vanished into the empty night sky and the Earth will stand alone before our judgment.”
Brams looked over to Aranea, one last question in his eyes.
“And you would let your home burn? You would sacrifice for your divinity to escape Oblivion?”
“I have pledged to throw the Potestates agents into the Abyss and I am defined by my words,” Aranea said, her face momentarily flickering to show her true, remorseless visage. “So have I sworn and so by my hand will they be cast down.”