Planetside was worse than anything Crystal could imagine.
The local sentients called the world she landed on Shadoth, and it meant in their language “The Hungering Rot.” They called themselves the Sur-nah-him, or “Those Without Hope.” Those vague but horrific descriptors were enough to have Crystal worried, and seeing they were orbiting one of the worst looking green stars was hardly comforting. The view from orbit had been pretty, at least – it was mostly thousands of shades of blue, which would likely absorb the green light better and blended into the ocean nicely. The planet was dotted with cyan lakes as well, at a regularity that Crystal found odd but pretty – like gemstones littered across the landscape.
Unfortunately when she actually got close enough to the ground to see what they were working with, she realized her initial misgivings were far more accurate to what she was dealing with, and she had to wonder if she hadn’t waited too long to try and fix things here.
The planet didn’t have any traditionally recognizable plants. Instead of trees and bushes and shrubs, it had what Crystal could only think of as tentacles – they waved lazily in the air, fanning out in places with blue leaves to catch the sun’s rays but also lancing down to grasp passing animals. They gave the planet its blue color, but up close the effect was far more disturbing than beautiful.
The cyan lakes she’d found so compelling from orbit were monstrous up close. They weren’t bodies of water, but amoeba-like organisms that stretched over miles and slowly rolled along the landscape, consuming everything in their path. In fact…
Crystal’s eyes narrowed, and she saw some of the Sur-nah-him fleeing from one of the amoebas. It didn’t move quickly, but neither did they. They looked almost human, but their eyes were sunken and their skin so taut that they looked almost like skeletons. They had hair, but it was thin and ragged. A few of them turned around and listlessly threw spears into the massive slime that chased them, causing it to spill some of that cyan fluid. Instead of harming it, though, it began extending a pseudopod towards them.
No. With a thought, Crystal shifted back to her human form, thinning her appearance somewhat to blend in more with the Sur-nah-him, and teleported herself to where she was between the grasping pseudopod and its prey – and then with a gesture, turned the entire hungering lake to stone.
She moved to face its intended victims. They gave her dull, vaguely confused looks. “I am Crystal,” she said, using the calm but assured tones she called her ‘goddess voice.’ Over the millennia, it had done wonders to awe the various peoples of her nanoverse.
Not this time, though. The Sur-nah-him lowered themselves to one knee, even the children. “Goddess,” one of them said in their tongue, although the part of Crystal’s brain that was translating told her the word could also mean ‘destroyer’ and ‘glutton.’ He continued, his voice resigned. “I beg you to end our wretched lives swiftly, and thank you for sparing us slow digestion by The Feasting Morass.”
Crystal blinked a few times, buying herself time to make sure she was properly understanding them. “Oh bloody hell,” she said, dropping the imperious tones. “I’m not going to kill you – why would you want that?”
She finally got an emotion out of the Sur-nah-him. Unfortunately, it was terror. “Please, Goddess, I beg you. Spare us whatever Living Death you have in mind. Give us true death, allow us to embrace Oblivion.”
Crystal felt irritation well up in her. She was trying to save these primitive wankers, and they were begging her for mercy? She might as well wipe out the lot of them and start over on another world – hells, she might as well move this entire planet closer to its star and scour it clean. She gave them charity and they begged for death? She would..
She would calm the hell down before she did something she’d regret. Crystal took a few deep breaths. These people are fatalistic because you let their world rot, Crystal. You let this entire nanoverse rot. Don’t let that rot use you to destroy them.
“Why do you think I’d give you some kind of fate worse than death? Bloody hell, get up already and,” Crystal snapped her fingers, “I just cured all of you of your various illnesses and filled your sodding bellies. Feeling better? Now get to your feet.”
The one who had been speaking for the Sur-nah-him rose slowly. His skin looked less sallow and drawn, and Crystal realized that their thinness wasn’t entirely natural – they were also horribly malnourished. He was shaking, and couldn’t seem to speak.
“What’s your name?” Crystal asked, making sure to keep the irritation out of her voice.
“Xurir,” he said, and Crystal’s internal translation told her that the word definitely was his name, but also translated to something similar to “Wretch” in their language.
“Well, Xurir, today’s your lucky day. We’re going to make some improvements so your life is less miserable, yeah?”
He gaped at her, as if she had announced she was going to make some defenestrate that butterscotch run marmalade into kazoos. The stare of someone who understands the individual words you are saying, but cannot for the life of them comprehend what they meant in that order.
This is going to take awhile. Crystal wasn’t sure if making the lives of the Sur-nah-him better was going to help her nanoverse’s rot situation, but it was at least something she could do. “Xurir, I want to help you.”
His eyes narrowed. “Why?”
Crystal threw her hands up in the air. “Does it matter why? Because if this is a pride thing, love, your life is so sodding horrible that you need to ditch that pride but quick.”
Xurir shook his head. “I do not know pride. But you are a Goddess, yes? Goddesses do not ‘help.’ They are like The Feasting Morass, or The Rains of Burning Ice, or The Maws Within Mountains – they destroy and kill and take. They do not ‘help.’ Not unless it leads to later torment.”
Crystal felt her nostrils flare. Who the hell did this pathetic wretch think he was, telling her what a goddess did and did not do? Torment? He spoke of torment? She would show him torment! She would grant him immortality and lock him within the stars core. She would…
Crystal, love. Get ahold of yourself. You’re missing a pretty big clue here. The rage subsided as she tried to figure out what she was overlooking – and then it clicked, and it was her turn to narrow her eyes. “Xurir. Why – and how – do you have any idea what goddesses act like?”
He took a deep breath, drawing his arms around himself like he expected her to smite him at any moment. “I…that is, we have met the goddesses before. They created us, and we are their playthings.”
The rage found a target finally, and the part of Crystal that had been fighting the rage allowed it to flow through her. Xurir seemed to sense it was no longer directed at him, but still shook before it.
“Xurir, I’m the goddess who made them. They will be brought in line. Take me to your largest city – I have much to discuss with the Sur-nah-him.”
Still trembling, Xurir nodded. As the rest of his people gathered their meager belongings, Xurir prepared to lead this insane goddess who spoke of ‘help’ to their city – and silently prayed that when she killed them, she would do so quickly.