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79 Wrath of God

 Fearing unforeseen complications, Xi Wei absconded with the relic immediately, and brought it back to his divine kingdom, where he hastily tore it apart and absorbed the essence into himself. It would take some time to fully assimilate it all, but at least it wasn't lying around out there, waiting to be nicked by someone else.

However, once the deed was done, Xi Wei wondered if perhaps he'd been too reckless.

A divine avatar also possessed some trace of the god's memories. When Xi Wei had first arrived in this dimension, he had relied upon the memories of the previous God of Games to get started here. The Rotten Bones was a similar case, a newborn deity just like him, with little knowledge of his own. The memories that one had inherited were mostly to do with the revenants, and were limited in their applications.

Such was not the case with the Aquatic Lord: He'd been an elder god to begin with, and even with the destruction of his avatar, the remnants still held a wealth of ancient lore.

There were secrets here which mere mortals could never hope to learn:

For example, all life in this world had once gone extinct. The various species which were alive now actually represented a second generation, recreated by the gods.

Another secret was that there had been as many as three Divine Wars in the past: The first one had been between the gods and the exiles. The second one had been between the old gods and the new. The third one corresponded to the memories inherited from the God of Games-the War of Gods and Demons, which had shattered the continent into seven pieces.

A long time ago, the original God of Games had been slain by other gods, and some measure of his power had been stripped away. However, no one had taken up his portfolio or supplanted his role, so a renewal of faith had been able to bring about a replacement.

Of course, these tidbits were a long way from being any of Xi Wei's concern, for one thing. For another, the poor condition of the avatar caused the memories to be hazy and indistinct, so that he couldn't get anything more than a rough idea of what had happened. The details were all in a jumble, and there was no longer any hope of sorting them out.

It was something else entirely which was causing him such dismay.

Even before he laid claim to the Aquatic Lord's remains, Xi Wei had felt that something was amiss. After defeating him in the Divine War, why had Prometheus, the Thief of Fire, not absorbed the Aquatic Lord's essence right then and there?

There had been a simple reason, it turned out: After Prometheus had smashed in his skull and crushed his body, the Aquatic Lord's superior, the Ocean God, arrived just in time to kick his ass in return. If not for Prometheus beating it as fast as he could, he'd probably have fallen during that war himself, ganked by the Ocean God.

Although the Ocean God did not stand among the Seven Divine Fathers, he was an immensely powerful elder god in his own right, and the ultimate authority over the oceans. Besides the Aquatic Lord, he also commanded the fealty of deities such as the Wavelord, the God of Maelstroms and Tsunamis, the Tidecaller, and many others besides.

In terms of power, he was not far behind the Seven Divine Fathers. When the Aquatic Lord was struck down, the Ocean God responded with a furious surge of typhoons to drown the land and extinguish all fires, which would have brought about the end of the Thief of Fire (not to mention all other deities who were associated with fire).

The Seven Divine Fathers, who held the faith of all living creatures across the land, naturally couldn't allow such monstrous folly on the part of the Ocean God. They overthrew him and made him vow never to set foot on dry land again, and then sent him back to his cerulean domain in disgrace.

Afterwards, the Ocean God gathered up the broken remnants of the Aquatic Lord, and buried him in the sand beside the water. He bade the frogmen to keep their faith, hoping that it would heal the Aquatic Lord.

Once the healing process was complete, it would have been up to the Ocean God to anoint one of the faithful to become the next Aquatic Lord, or perhaps to allow a replacement to appear naturally.

And then, right on the cusp of that advent, Xi Wei had broken in and made off with the goods.

When the Ocean God found out about this, he'd likely be facing the wrath of an elder god.

"Don't panic... elder gods are generally slow to act," Xi Wei consoled himself frantically. "I can just keep going as planned. As long as I work fast enough, I'll soon be out of their reach!"

The fat was in the fire now. Even if Xi Wei spat the divinity back out, brushed it off, and returned it to its rightful owner, he'd probably get splattered all over the wall just the same.

That being the case, rather than freak out, he'd use the pressure to become a diamond. He would drive his players onward, recruit more to his side, and keep on expanding.

If he could get himself enough followers, it would be possible to stand against even the Ocean God.

What's more, that guy had sworn never to set foot on dry land, hadn't he? If his crime was discovered too soon, and vengeance came knocking on the door, he'd flee to the mortal world and find a place to hide. In the fullness of time, he'd find a way to turn the tides.

At this thought, Xi Wei's gaze wandered unbidden to the world below, and to his players.

"Do your best, guys..."

***

Joe sneezed.

"Quiet, you fool! What if the enemy hears us?" Edward hissed.

"Sorry, my nose got itchy." Joe sniffed, and muttered, "By the way, I feel like I've suddenly become much more powerful. Our god must be watching us right now!"

"No, it's because you froze to death a moment earlier, and Eleena had to bring you back," Gou Dan whispered. "I'm sure you know that you get full health and mana from being resurrected."

"What! You can die in this snow?"

"Obviously. Doesn't that happen a lot? Even if you weren't paying attention to your health bar, this shouldn't be news to you," Edward muttered. "What do you think that Eggnog is for?"

"Try raising the Pain Sensitivity setting a little," Gou Dan suggested. "That'll clue you in when something bad is happening to you."

"Where's Eleena? I should thank her." Joe looked around, feeling sheepish.

"She's with the frogmen again," Jessica whispered in reply. "Without her looking after them, they get anxious."

Their hushed conversation was interrupted by Joe's spirit whizzing through the snow-laden evergreen forest to appear before them. It was frantically pantomiming something.

Everyone instantly fell silent.

"The enemy approaches. Everyone get ready for battle!" Edward whispered. He glanced at the spirit, and remarked with a tone of envy, "If not for the range limit from its user, this thing would be the ultimate scout."

In the distance, a convoy trundled laboriously down the forest path. The wagon drivers hollered at one another, unhappy about the rough going.

Halfway down the path, the silence between the trees was broken by a battle cry.