Sabine of the Ten Rings: Nothing Noble About It

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below. *** In the beginning, when mortals were simple creatures, they worshipped simple gods. The first deities were those of natural, elemental phenomenon.

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below.

***

In the beginning, when mortals were simple creatures, they worshipped simple gods. The first deities were those of natural, elemental phenomenon. Hostuff the sun goddess, Orang and Lu Be the twin gods of the oceans, Farthompuken the god of grains, their natures were all straightforward and easily understood. Gods are much like the fae, they do not become, they just are. Orang and Lu Be are each fierce and temperamental, and asking them to be otherwise is like asking the ocean to please not drown you. And if the god of grains tells you to throw a celebration in his honor despite your meager yield, what are you to do? If you deny him, he may refuse to germinate the crop next season. Such were the ways and days in the times of the eldest gods.

As humans advanced, so too did the new breed of gods that came. There is philosophical debate even into this age as to what came first, the first philosopher, Chickeanus, or the first god of philosophy, Eggules, but one thing inevitably led to another. As humans constructed the first civilizations, they came to find it was better to be less rash, impulsive creatures. First there came laws, then there came ethics, then there came morality. But while there also came gods of these new ideals as well, the gods never felt a need to follow the same codes as humans. Law gods dealt punishment unto mortals who defied decrees, but the gods were held to no such standards themselves. Even when humans first began to figure out peace, peace and war were handled by the same twin-headed god who switched attitudes whenever he pleased. Mortals were trying to become, the gods, as ever, just were.

This all changed with the birth of Oberus, the god of nobility. That is not “noble houses” nobility, to be clear, but “virtue and good intention” nobility. But of course, to simply be noble is a contradiction. Nobility rests in the ability and the power to do harm, but to choose to do something good instead. For many years Oberus was no better or worse than the rest of the gods of his generation, he went to war alongside his brother Carboneus, the god of steel, partied endlessly with his cousin Sabrius, the goddess of celebration, and complained about petty things with bottomless indignation with Barphurmuir, the god of critical analysis. But even as he did everything that seemed right to the others, still Oberus remained discontented.

Veiled in flesh, Oberus visited a monastery outside a bustling town. The monks within wore simple clothes, refused to eat meat, and whatever meager funds they periodically raised were donated to those who had even less than them. And despite all this self-imposed abstinence, the monks seemed both happier and more noble than Oberus had been since he came into being.

The god approached one of the priests and asked him, “How have you come to such nobility, brother?”

The priest showed him a wide smile and said, “My child, once I was a man of great wealth. I had many servants that toiled in my fields. I hosted raucous parties in my home, and was quick to anger with my neighbors. But again and again, this lifestyle only begot me misery. I only began to feel any better about myself and others when I gave away all those petty riches.”

Oberus asked him, “Is it your abstinence and your vegetarianism and your plain clothes that make you noble then?”

The priest considered for a moment, before he said, “No, I don’t think it is so simple. If a hunter must feed his family, it is noble to kill for meat. If a man loves a woman and intends to care for her, it is noble to know her in bed as well as in spirit. To do the noble thing all depends on knowing what you must have and avoiding excesses while giving unto others.”

Oberus bowed before him. “Sir, I would like to join your monastery.”

Naturally, gods have lots to give. Oberus learned the twenty-seven sins of the twenty-seven hells, and over twenty-seven years purged every one of them from his being. When he emerged from the temple, he unveiled himself to the world, and said he was ready to share his noble intent everywhere he went. Indeed, wherever Oberus tread, mortals treated one another just a little bit better, practiced a little more self-restraint, and did more for their lessers. A truly great golden age was upon this world. And the other gods, as you can imagine, were pissed off.

If mortals became too noble and diplomatic, there could be no war and no praise for the war gods. If the harvest festivals were allowed to become calmer, less damaging affairs, fewer sacrifices would be made to the gods of grain and drink. And if mortals could disagree with one another without it devolving into childish name calling, there would be no further need for the gods of over examining minutia. Unfortunately for Oberus, he’d given his detractors everything they needed to destroy him.

As I’ve already said, gods do not become, they are. But if anything should become, it never does so without leaving some impression. Take, for example, the toenails of Carboneus. For centuries his toenails maintained a single, consistent length and thickness. But one day, out of curiosity because the humans were doing it, he cut off the nail of his pinky toe. Carboneus didn’t know what he was doing and nicked himself in the process. That was no mere decomposing toenail, when it mixed with his blood, it formed a scimitar known as Deathknell, the first steel weapon in existence.

At this point you may well be thinking, “All right, fine, a toenail became a legendary sword, fine. But what do you mean Oberus gave away his own weakness? It’s not like his cast off sins could be used against him. Right?”

Every part of a god can live on. Twenty-seven of Oberus’s contemporaries hunted down his twenty-seven discarded sins. Sabrius the Celebatory took in his drunken debauchery, Barphurmuir the Critical took in his slothfulness, Hothwyng the Cyclic took in his stubborn indignation. And fueled by the cast off, destructive nature of their sibling, they all acted at once and struck him down.

To this day, the kingdom of Serek, like every other land in this world, has lost all sense of nobility. Mercenary business booms, wicked warlocks have an easy time coming up from the shadows, the most noble act you can find these days is men challenging one another to duels. At least then they don’t have to stab each other in the back, they can stab in the front, like sophisticated gentlemen.

***

Sabine contemplated all of this as Dahkhal finished his story. “So, the thing we’re up against, Barphurmuir, he’s literally a god who ate a piece of another god? But… slothfulness? Is that really something to worry about?”

The sin of sloth has two different definitions, Dahkhal said. One is simple laziness. But the other is a loathsome disgust. I can’t say for sure which way Oberus interpreted the sin. If it is the latter, there is a good chance Barphurmuir has become convinced this world has stopped making sense and he’s out to rip it all apart.

Sabine mulled over all of that briefly before she asked, “Is there anything we can even hope to do against him?”

I mentioned the other gods for a reason, Dahkhal said. Sabrius, feeling she could not experience true debauchery as an immortal, took on human form and laid with the legendary King Erik I when this country was founded. She is both your ancestor and your previous incarnation, and gods willing, a match for Barphurmuir.

“So does that mean the other one—”

Hothwyng the Cyclic, with Oberus’s indignation, took the form of a phoenix. But after countless cycles of death and rebirth, he grew weary of continued existence. Dahkhal paused in reflection before he said, I killed and ate that bird a dozen times, each one gave me half of what power he had left. He’s still out there, somewhere, with a fraction of the strength he once had. The jellyfish warlock sighed. But then again, I’m in the same situation.

Sabine was doing the mental math on just what they had to work with when she glanced across the tavern and froze. “Um… you said anything a god does sticks around in some way, right?”

Right.

Sabine got a half-turned look at a slender man dressed all in black with his whitening hair slicked backwards.

“What about scars?”

Scars?

He turned toward her. Three red-hot, almost glowing scars marred half of his face. It looked almost as if lava was cracking up from beneath his flesh. He stopped when he arrived at the chair across from her, leaned downward, and flashed a wide, devilish grin.

“Sabine of the Ten Rings, isn’t it?” Deacon Struct said. “I have a job for you.”

Sabine’s adventure will continue in Sins of the Son…

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