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Philosowurm

Alpanon Feb 9th, 2015 (edited) 2,785 Never
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  1. Erik's arrival on the island was far less dramatic than he had imagined it would be. The voyage had consisted of tedium without even seasickness and storms to make it a trial of any kind. There had been no shortage of foodstuffs or drink, and the crew had not needed him to help in sailing the vessel, in rowing, or in repelling pirates or lusty sea creatures. The uneventfulness of the journey had certainly left him with time to think, and thought he had, pondering on what little he had learned of philosophy during his life thus far.
  2. Ever since his youth Erik had been groomed for a life utterly different than the one he now led. His father had been a successful military commander, and his career had at least been long, if not illustrious. Holding physical abilities as the most important for a man, he had seen to it that Erik had become a well trained athlete, with only the bare minimum of studies in reading, writing and mathematics required to keep his workout schedules and diet in order should he find himself without a competent coach. Of course Erik was happy to be doing sports rather than studying in those days, and gladly welcomed the strenuous exercises as a delightful game most of his schoolmates could not take part in.
  3. Veteran warriors taught him the martial arts, while retired athletes taught him the skills of whatever sports they had practiced. During his adolescence and early adulthood, Erik bordered on a polymath athlete, and earned great acclaim from his victories. That is until he slipped on a wet flight of stairs and broke his leg before an important competition.
  4. Fickle fortune denied him this glory, and his recovery took months. During these months his muscles atrophied considerably, and when he finally could move about freely again - a small miracle, said the doctors - he had fallen behind of all those who he had considered his rivals. The various coaches and trainers his father had provided for him had found a new protégé, a boy younger and more gifted than he.
  5.  
  6. During his recovery, Erik had entertained himself as best he could with slave girls, but the mouth of an Elf grows boring after a week or so, and so he had begun to read. First he had read illustrated manuals on the subjects he held closest to his heart, the fitness of the body and the techniques employed by martial artists. These too grew abysmally boring to him when he could not apply them himself.
  7. Some of these manuals, however, held mentions of things like breathing techniques and meditation, and so he began to read up more on these. Some authors claimed that there dwelled within all living beings a life-force equivalent in power to that of magic, and that with proper training one could master this to the extend they may cast spells without the affinity for the otherworldly. This was utter garbage, but following this line of inquiry Erik discovered that some martial arts originated not from the battlefields, but from meditative techniques.
  8. Once healed, Erik killed time by going to one of the larger cities in the area and scouring the library for more on these matters, and became engrossed in the philosophical musings of an Eastern master, a Panda called Zany Kong. This led him on the path to discovering other philosophies, most of which went over his head, but it was a novel distraction all the same, and the enjoyment he derived from it all made him reach a decision.
  9.  
  10. Returning home, Erik went before his father with newfound confidence and said to him, "Father dear, though you may be disappointed in me now, there is yet a competition and trial that I may win for the glory of our family and my own that this ward of yours cannot"
  11. His father looked at him as if he had gone mad and inquired as to what such a competition was.
  12. "I'll travel to Omphalos Island and take up the C"hallenge of the Philosopher King!"
  13. His father laughed at him so hard he went blue and purple in the face. Erik left without saying goodbye to anyone.
  14. And now his voyage ended on a day like any other, with no heroics to speak of after weeks at sea and half a dozen ports visited.
  15.  
  16. Omphalos Island was, so it is said, at the very centre of the world, though many challenged the notion, saying the Earth was a sphere and thus any point on the surface was as much the middle as any other. The port was busy, noisy and smelly, same as any other, and nothing there pointed towards anything on the island being special in the least. For awhile Erik got used to this idea, that the place of myth was every bit as real and mundane as his home had been, and set out to head to the high hills, where a paved road led. In the bustle of the crowd he was like any other, his body relatively toned even after months of recovery, his skin tanned from the voyage, his clothes airy and casual. He did not look like a man seeking to take up the Challenge, and this suited him fine. What a story it would make, a humble man who had lost his greatest passions appearing out of nowhere and doing what few others had done before!
  17. Of course, as he walked further and further uphill along that road, he began to realize how wrong he had been. There was a progression of ascetics heading up the road toward the distant temples that were barely visible in the horizon, and their condition was far humbler than his. Each walked barefoot, covered only in sackcloth, ash in their hairs. They didn't carry even water with them, and the sackcloth was torn on every man's back, revealing the scars left by flagellation.
  18. Seeing this procession and their pained steps, Erik slowed down and walked behind them leisurely. He was in no hurry, and he had never seen such a curious group, as all the priests and priestesses he had ever known had been the kind to celebrate life and all it had to offer instead of denouncing it.
  19. "Make way! Make way for the king!" came a shout from behind, and Erik turned around to see a harbinger riding on horseba- no, on a Centaur!
  20. "Make way! Make way for the king!" he repeated, and Erik went to the side of the road, as did the ascetics.
  21. A little while later there came a rumbling, and a procession of more men on Centaurs rode in, each armed with halberds and wearing armour and helmets with elaborate ornaments. After them came a chariot, pulled by four Centaurs, and on this rode the charioteer and the man who so obviously was the king: a mountain of meat covered in a fur cloak, an iron crown on his brow, a fearsome beard on his chin. After the king had passed, row after row of foot soldiers, men and women, human and monster, marched; their armours ornate and unique looking, their weapons varied. Every single one of them was a hero of some kind, this Erik could tell just by looking at them. Veterans of wars, slayers of beasts, soldiers of fortune, adventurers. Such a procession was not often seen!
  22. Looking back to the docks, he could see the magnificent galley from which they had emerged. Now what king was this that sought to take the Challenge?
  23.  
  24. The contingent had passed, and the wavering ascetics trod on. Erik lagged behind them and enjoyed the sight of the backs and behinds of some of the more attractive soldiers, covered in armour as they were. There was little enough to lighten his mood otherwise. What chances did he have of overcoming the Challenge when this king was here? Surely a king had been trained by the greatest of philosophers in these matters! And what of the ascetics? They dedicated their lives to spiritual matters by abandoning the pleasures of the flesh. How could he compete with either?
  25. But stopping here was not a choice now was it? If he stopped, what would he do? Go back home and beg father for a chance to take up some menial job in his service? Waste away his days as an idle fool? Become a drunkard and a gambler? No. He would go in all the way, and who knows, perhaps the gods would make it up to him that they had taken from him all that he had ever cared about?
  26. Erik was not a pious man, and when he had been in his sickbed he had often found himself cursing the gods for this fate. But perhaps they weren't responsible. He just slipped. What pleasure could this give the gods? Unless they had intended for him to make his way here, in the end. And that would guarantee his victory. Unless they expected him to prove himself.
  27. Maybe the gods had no part in this. That meant he was on his own.
  28.  
  29. The hills ended, and the road turned into a paved clearing, with a well to left of the road, latrines to the right, and a fountain in the middle. At the opposite end stood a staircase leading up into a temple. This temple was high up, and though most of the outer walls consisted of pillars, nothing could be seen of the inside, save for a few flickering lights.
  30. The king's soldiers were setting up tents around the clearing, leaving the paved ground free. The ascetics, having reached this destination, immediately headed for the well to draw water, and found themselves at the tail end of a long line, as the soldiers were doing the same. Erik saw no reason not to follow suite, as he was unaware of the correct protocol in this situation. Could he just walk up the stairs and head into the temple?
  31. By the time he got to draw water, he had already actually gotten thirsty, and had quenched this thirst from his skin of water, so he now filled it.
  32. Looking around himself after that, he found that the ascetics had situated themselves on the left side of the stairs, on the grass, finding shelter form the Sun. Now what should he do?
  33. One of the soldiers was passing by on some errand, and as she was a Salamander, Erik decided to take advantage of his natural charm and ask her some questions.
  34. "I've not the time for you, I'm on duty!" she snapped, misunderstanding him.
  35. "Please miss, just tell me what it is that everyone is waiting around for!"
  36. "Hmm? I'm waiting for orders. None of my business what they do here!"
  37. That was not an enlightening conversation.
  38. Seeing little other choice, Erik went to lie down on the grass himself, but after a bit he grew anxious. The soldiers were cooking meals and playing dice and making merry, the king was nowhere to be seen and the ascetics were in a tight circle, their heads close together, mumbling together. To hell with it!
  39. Erik got up and walked over to the stairs. As none tried to stop him, he began walking up them, nervously at first, but feeling more confident with each step, and he counted them all. At around halfway up, on step 34, he stole a glimpse back and saw some of the soldiers following him with their gaze, but none of them did anything about his actions.
  40. At the top, having scaled 68 steps, he found himself greeted by a hallway with pillars to all sides, leading into the interior of the temple. With a sigh Erik walked in.
  41.  
  42. On the inside, the temple was dimly lit, but not oppressing. The air was heavy with the scent of incense and Erik found himself remembering back to the orgies he had partaken in during some of the rituals he had been required to attend as part of his athletic career.
  43. "Can I help you?"
  44. The voice belonged to a woman. She had emerged from the gloom of the temple quite suddenly, but she did not frighten him. If anything she had a calm, soothing presence. Wearing a gown that was dark green at the bottom, pale blue around her midriff and almost transparent around her chest, she appeared to be a priestess of some kind. Her hair was grey and there were a few wrinkles on her face, but she wore her age gracefully and had Erik not been here with a purpose he would have gladly partaken of carnal pleasures with her.
  45. Of course, she was not a human, but what Erik recalled being called a Kikimora in distant lands. Her arms were bare of clothing, but her wrists and forearms had feathers on them, a beautiful grey like her hair.
  46. "Ah, I, I'm here to..." Erik found it difficult to produce words. Her warm smile made him feel like an awkward youth. Her lips were so sensual, her eyes gleamed with an impish mischief...
  47. "Oh, don't be so stiff, I won't bite. Unless you want me to, ufufufu..."
  48. She turned slightly sideways so Erik got a better view of her curves, and the cuts on her gown, revealing shapely, pale thigh, avian claws and a feathered tail... was this seductress some kind of test?
  49. "I'm here to take the Challenge of the Philosopher King!" Craig said firmly, crossing his arms and spreading his legs. He was hard and light headed, but determined.
  50. "Ooh, are you now?" the gleam in her eyes grew stronger as she looked him up and down.
  51. "But there's only one of you!"
  52. "W-well, yes?"
  53. "Ooh, but that's no good! Three must take the test together, don't you know?"
  54. No, he didn't know. Is that what they had been doing out there, the king with his soldiers and the ascetics among themselves? Choosing champions? But wouldn't they have made those decisions BEFORE coming here?
  55. "There's no telling when two more will come, so why not come wait with me? I've wine, oysters, a soft bed... maybe a bath?"
  56. Erik swallowed. If he went with her now... oh, she looked so welcoming with that body of hers! Was she working some sorcery here? Was the incense an aphrodisiac? Was this a test? The first test of the Challenge?
  57. "T-there's plenty of people outside right now..." he muttered, noticing his feet were getting weaker, and that the Kikimora was approaching him in an almost feline gait.
  58. "Are there, now?"
  59. She was close enough to touch him. She did touch him, running her fingers along his cheek... the touch was barely noticeable, but it made him take a step back.
  60. "Ooh, scared of an old lady, are we? A little boy like you should stay home, this is a test for true men!"
  61. Erik took another step back.
  62. "You just wait right there!"
  63. With that, he turned around on his heels and marched with all the dedication of a drunkard to the entrance and the top of the stairs. The light of the Sun blinded him, as if he had been in the dark for a long time, and he had to support himself by leaning against a pillar. After he got a hold of himself, he shouted to the people below.
  64. "Two of you need to come up here right now!"
  65.  
  66. The flaps of the largest tent were opened and the king marched out, looking up towards the temple.
  67. "Is it not so that three are to take the Challenge at once?" he bellowed in a voice becoming of a king.
  68. "Yes, and I'm one!" shouted Erik back to the king, and felt butterflies in his stomach when he had not addressed this royal man properly. Not like he had any authority over him though.
  69. "Moreover!" he added, getting an idea, "One of you is to come from among the ascetics, the other from... whoever you people are!" he ordered. Whether he did this to spite the king or to make things more fair, he couldn't say.
  70. Without any hesitation, the king tosses his cloak on the ground and marched up the stairs in a quick stride, two or even three at a time. Standing right next to Erik, the king was of a considerable size, Erik's head reaching only up to his chest.
  71. The third man to scale the stairs was bald-headed and bearded, his body clearly malnourished and battered, his ribs poking out of his sides and his eyes red from fatigue. He was by far the smallest of the group.
  72. Erik led the way into the innards of the temple, and the two followed without a word. If the king had been offended by his actions, he did not show it.
  73.  
  74. The king sniffed at the incense like a dog and made a satisfied sound.
  75. "They're burning sandspice here! Such extravagance! Gahahaha!"
  76. The ascetic coughed, but whether this was a coincidence or a response was unclear.
  77. "Oh my, there ARE three of you!"
  78. The Kikimora was smiling a much wider smile than before, measuring the two newcomers carefully from head to toe.
  79. "You are all here, then, to take the Challenge of the Philosopher King?"
  80. "Indeed!" roared the king.
  81. "Aye" muttered the ascetic in a raspy voice.
  82. "Hmm~! How delightful! Speak your names then!"
  83. "I am king Aristarkhos II, sovereign of the land that is called Marcelona!"
  84. "I'm Erik, Son of Stefan"
  85. "Brother Playdough"
  86. The Kikimora eyed them all again, licking her lips with a moist tongue.
  87. "You may call me Megan, though I doubt you'll have much chance to call out my name in ecstasy today, ufufufu~!"
  88. "Gahahaha! Wisely spoken, crone-vixen!"
  89. Crone-vixen? This king was not a tactful one.
  90. "But that's that! When can we begin?" the king Aristarkhos II demanded, and Megan made a little curtsy.
  91. "Of course, if you three would please follow me to the next chamber..."
  92.  
  93. She began to trot off, swinging her hips from side to side in an exaggerated manner and humming to herself. Following her, Erik began to notice curtains placed between the pillars, and from behind some of these curtains he could hear sighs and moans. Ghosts, or lovers? Most likely the latter. This temple was a temple of love, it seemed.
  94. The four of them headed past these, and came into a larger hall, this one much better lit, as there were fewer pillars and more braziers. None of them burned with incense though. At the far end, covering the pathway leading even deeper into the temple, was a pile of rocks.
  95. "Mistress, here are three who would seek to take the Challenge of the Philosopher King" spoke Megan, and Erik found himself wondering who she was speaking to, as there was nothing here but the pile of ro- oh.
  96. It was not a pile of rock at all, but the scales of a Wurm, that now stirred as she turned to face them.
  97.  
  98. Never in his life had Erik seen a Wurm before, though he had seen the tunnels they had carved into solid rock as a worm would into an apple. She was longer than any Lamia he had ever seen, twice again as long as they normally were, and twice as wide. Her scales looked rocky and hard, but her upper body was not at all unpleasant to look at. The woman's parts were covered in a stained and loose gown, her hair was all ruffled and unkempt, her eyes squinting, and a moan erupted from her lips.
  99. "Whaahh?"
  100. "I said three who seek to take the Challenge of the Philosopher King, Mistress" repeated Megan, louder than before.
  101. "I got, I got it, you don't have to yell in my ears. My head hurts! Why'd you serve me all that wine last night Meg? I thought we were friends!"
  102. "Mistress, you yourself chugged the barrel against all protests!"
  103. "Oh, I did? Don't remember that. Oww! Medicine!"
  104. "I don't believe such a medicine exists that can cure a hangover, Mistress"
  105. "More wine! It'll go with what it came!"
  106. "Mistress, please, you're making a fool of yourself before our guests!"
  107. "What guests?"
  108. The Wurm looked the three men as if only now noticing them.
  109. "Who the hell are you?" she asked.
  110. "Gahahaha! What a delightful beast this is!" king Aristarkhos bellowed, pounding his chest. "Is this out first challenge? To do battle against a Wurm, of all things?"
  111. The Wurm scratched her head.
  112. "This guy is loud and obnoxious. Is he a king?"
  113. "I-indeed he is, Mistress! These three are king Artistarhkos II, Erik Son of Stefan, and Brother Playdough. They are here to take the Challenge!"
  114. The Wurm ruffled her hair, sending dandruff flying around.
  115. "Well why didn't you say so, you silly old crone! Now bring the guests some wine! And music, we need music. And softer pillows, mine aren't working!"
  116. The Kikimora sighed.
  117. "You weren't sleeping with any pillows, Mistress, you coiled up on the floor"
  118. "That explains it. Now go do whatever I just said!"
  119.  
  120. Megan clapped her hands and soon there was a small army of Kikimoras all around, bringing pillows and small tables and chalices of wine, setting up harps and even a few Satyrs showed up with flutes, their breasts bare. This sight pleased Erik greatly, and king Aristarkhos seemed to find it all only natural. Playdough, however, refused to sit on a pillow, crossing his legs and sitting on the floor instead. He even refused the wine, asking for a cup of water instead. Was he trying to impress someone, or was he seriously this dedicated to his beliefs?
  121. The three were now settled in and the Wurm was beginning to feel less pained. She sent Megan and the other extras out, leaving only the musicians in the room with them.
  122. "The three of you are seriously thinking of taking up the Challenge, then?" she asked, regarding them all with eyes so blue it was clear she was accustomed to using a certain aphrodisiac.
  123. All three gave affirmative nods.
  124. "Very well then. I am Philosowurm, and I will be conducting the Challenge. I'm in no hurry with it, and I hope none of you are, either, because this is something that cannot be rushed. So please relax, make yourselves comfortable, and look forward to the meal Megan's kids are cooking up"
  125. "Bah! Is the Challenge a test of patience, then?" inquired the king.
  126. "Oh no, not at all. I'm just lazy"
  127. "What exactly is this Challenge then? I mean, obviously it's about philosophy, but you're a Wurm!" Erik blurted out, feeling comfortable enough to not mind his words too much. The size of the woman he might have been insulting made him regret it though.
  128. "Ah, you believe my kind to be dumb then?"
  129. "W-well I..."
  130. "And all Elves yearn to be raped, all P'Orcs enjoy being spanked raw, and all Lizardmen defend the honour and virtue of men they don't even know?"
  131. "I..."
  132. "Meant no offence, yes. Erik, was it? You will find that one's intellect and one's wisdom are separate things, and that philosophy is about wisdom more so than intelligence. Hmm. Words and their meanings are a good enough starting point as any, I suppose..."
  133. Erik went quiet after this. He might have already failed.
  134. "Words and their meanings? Gahahaha! You speak foolishly, Dragon! Isn't the meaning of a word obvious?"
  135. "That it is not, your grace" said Playdough with his raspy voice.
  136.  
  137. Playdough turned slightly so he was facing more towards the king and spoke to him as if a tutor would to the child of a patron.
  138. "There are many words in our language borrowed from others, as well as many that have changed their meaning as the years have gone by, yet more that mean one thing in common parlance and another in the vocabulary of a special group. Jargon can be troublesome to those not well versed in it"
  139. The king nodded.
  140. "It is true, what you say. But how many words are there for us to ponder their meaning? Surely we can't sit here and go through a dictionary to find every single one that could be in dispute!"
  141. "Yeah, and then there's idioms and such" added Erik, feeling left out all of a sudden.
  142. "You all seem to have grasped the gist of it, dear guests. It is good that you recognize the issue, and it is true we shouldn't spend our time glossing over every word or term imaginable. What would you suggest, then?"
  143. The king fingered his beard and remained silent.
  144. "I say we think of the issues we are most likely to encounter and try to reach an agreement on such matters" offered Playdough.
  145. Erik shook his head, feeling frustrated at the mere thought of it.
  146. "And I say we just get going already, meet the problems head on as they come, and figure out what to make of them when they're there!"
  147. "Hmm. I find myself more partial to the lad's ideas. I say we meet our problems as they come rather than fretting over them beforehand"
  148. "You would decide this in a democratic manner, though you are a king?"
  149. "Gahaha! King or not, here I am among peers, as I'm but challenger, same as them!"
  150. With that, he slapped both smaller men on their backs. Erik was quite accustomed to such shows of camaraderie and took it well, but the poor ascetic doubled over. The king must've hit his still sore wounds.
  151. "As a matter of fact, let it be said that I allowed these two to call me Ari, as does my elder sister, who was once my older brother! Gahahaha!"
  152. Erik did not quite understand this statement, but decided to keep quiet about it.
  153.  
  154. "I see. Hmm. Quite. But Brother Playdough does not seem happy about this, not happy at all!"
  155. As Philosowurm said this, she twirled her hair around one of her massive fingers, and Erik noticed for the first time her freckles. Dark hair, green eyes, freckles... had her size and strength not been so great, she would have been quite an enticing woman.
  156. "I find this course of action rash and disagreeable. It has been said that if names are not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth, and if is so, no affairs can be successfully carried out" he said confidently.
  157. "That's Zany Kong, ain't it?" Erik asked, feeling a quite satisfied he had recognized the words, even if they weren't ad verbatim.
  158. "It is, it is" admitted the ascetic, nodding his approval.
  159. "You're familiar with her writings, so you must understand the importance of this!"
  160. Erik crossed his arms and leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling. What was he to say to this?
  161. "It seems that Brother Playdough seeks to yet convince you to change your minds" noted Philosowurm.
  162. "I am indeed. I wish to build solid ground on which to stand before moving on, lest we be stuck in some bog later on"
  163. "Gahahaha! What bog could there be but your inability to accept our common decision!"
  164. "I could bring up the problem of solipsism, for one, your grace"
  165. "Speak sense man! And call me Ari!"
  166. "Hmh. Ari, then. You at least, are aware of solipsism and the problem it presents, Erik?"
  167. Did he?
  168. "That, uhh, we could be dreaming?"
  169. "Yes, that's close to it I suppose. We cannot be certain of anything being real but our own minds, for all that we know of the world we know through our senses, and our senses may be deceived by drugs, or madness, or dreams"
  170. "What a load of Bahamut crap! Would you still deny the existence of my fist if I broke your teeth with it?"
  171. Ari showed off his massive, hairy fist, and it was indeed a thing one could not ignore if hit by it.
  172. "I suppose Brother Playdough means that it is by virtue of thinking that we know we exist, and that all else could be a mere illusion, whether it be made by a Nightmare or a... what was it called again... Kesaran Pasaran, yes"
  173. Erik had, while lying on his sickbed, often pondered whether it would be better to simply slip into a dream where he was still healthy and forget all his troubles. It seemed that he had some use of his misfortunes after all!
  174.  
  175. "It is as Erik says, Ari. If we were dreaming all of this..." he gestured around the room, "we would not be able to tell, would we? And all our dreams would be but dreams within dreams"
  176. "Such poppycock! What use does this kind of foolishness have? If we are but mere dreams, what matters it? Dreams or not, we live in this world, be it real or not, and know of no other. To spend our time pondering such possibilities is as meaningless as waiting for the sky to fall on us! Let us ignore this babble, there is no wisdom behind it!"
  177. Erik nodded, he had always found  this kind of thing to be a waste of time. Nobody could prove the truth of it, nobody could disprove it; it led absolutely nowhere but into madness and circles.
  178. "Fair enough, if it is what the two of you say. This is the second time I have been silenced by you two, and I find it most disagreeable that I should be overcome by popular vote!"
  179. "Hear now what Brother Playdough says" Philosowurm said, her voice ringing with delight, "for he has stumbled upon quite the problem!"
  180. "How do you mean?" Erik asked.
  181. "Let the man himself explain it, I have grown hungry of this discussion. I do believe I smell some pork!"
  182. "Pork? Ah, a wise woman this Megan, to cook worthy meals, fit for we three kings and our empress! Gahahahaha!"
  183. "I would appreciate it if you did not call me a king, even in jest, for I have yet to won the Challenge, and lest I do so, I am not allowed to carry a crown of any kind"
  184. "Suit yourself! And what of you, Erik? Do you find it a disagreeable position, the right to rule?"
  185. "I can't say that I am opposed to it in principle, though I grew up in a republic"
  186. "See there? A republic is how men should govern themselves!"
  187. "Hoo? I may rule a kingdom only by virtue of my brother's peculiar tastes, but I still find it a curious notion that anyone should hold a republic in such a high regard. Why should it be any better?"
  188. "It is said since ancient times that power corrupts, and the more power there is, the greater the corruption. Kings, by this rule, are not virtuous men"
  189. "Gahahaha! You would insult me so? Ah, but I take no offence! My excesses are a source of pride to me, for only by them have I shown myself more than just one who was born under lucky stars! But you speak of power, and how it corrupts. Are not those who lead a republic powerful? Are they not corruptible?"
  190. "They are" Erik butted in, having seen much of this in his life. Very few were the men in that city of his birth who had not bribed his father or taken bribes from him.
  191. "Oh, see? The lad born and raised in a republic speaks thusly! Should you not, instead of being a republican, extol the virtues democracy, then?"
  192. Playdough shook his head furiously.
  193. "No, this I cannot abide by, and a common folly it is among lesser men to think democracy better! When the ignorant masses come together as a mob to decide their fates with no more understanding of politics than a Manticore has of consent, they doom themselves to the greatest follies! No, it is not for all men to rule themselves, but for the wise to rule above the foolish!"
  194. "Gahaha! You would call yourself wise, no doubt! But is it not so that a king must be wise, so he can rule well?"
  195. "If it were so simple, if only it were so simple. Erik, surely you understand the folly of democracy?"
  196. "I can't say I do. I've heard it said that in democracies, they can choose a tyrant to protect the people from the elite, and then remove him from office when they get sick of him. The difference between a republic and a democracy is small, but to me the one that offers the greater freedom is the more appealing"
  197. "Hear him now! Such speech is most wise for one so young! In my kingdom, no man, woman or Monster is a slave, for I believe all should hold their fate in their own hands, to do with it as they please! Should they seek to live elsewhere than under my rule, then let them! I'm not so thin-skinned as to be afraid of people calling me a fool, or a glutton, or a drunkard! It is with the strength of his own arms, and the wit of his head, that a man makes himself into something, and it is by choosing wisely those he trusts in that a king becomes great! I count myself among the best in these aspects in our time, and once I am crowned the Philosopher King, I shall let the kings and, uhh, public officials of the world, to bend their knees and submit to me! Those who would not accept me, would then face me in battle! What a glorious war it will be, ending in me as king of all the world! Gahahaha!"
  198. This was ambitious talk, Erik noted, but looking at the man and having seen those who had accompanied him, he felt the boast was not entirely empty.
  199. "I don't know much about the world and all the realms in it" said Erik, "but if I was asked to choose someone to follow, I may well choose you, Ari!"
  200. "Haah! The lad is indeed wise beyond his years. I'll drink to that!"
  201. The two banged their chalices together, but Playdough shook his head violently.
  202. "Folly, folly, endless folly! This is the talk of fools who should be servants at best, maybe slaves, even!"
  203. "Has my great ambition left you frightened, Brother? Hmm, it feels strange to call a man brother when he is of no relation to me. What mystery order are you a member of, anyway?"
  204. Playdough looked at him with those tired, reddened eyes of his.
  205. "My brothers and I are members of no order, we are but a few men of a like mind. As for your ambition, it is indeed folly, but the worst folly of your speech is the talk of freedom!"
  206. "I'd hate to interrupt the heated discussion, but our meal is prepared. If you would please just pipe down for the duration of it?"
  207. Erik jumped a little. He had almost forgotten that Philosowurm was even in the room. And when did the Satyrs stop playing their musi- where were they even? Hmm. He had been quite engrossed in this talk.
  208.  
  209.                         ***
  210.  
  211. Philosowurm burped loudly, and Ari followed suite. Erik managed to force one out himself. The servants giggled while cleaning off their plates.
  212. "Does mistress require anything else?" Megan asked.
  213. "Hm? Your girls want to dance for the guests?"
  214. "Ah, that's..."
  215. "Try to reign them in, would you? We're going to need to concentrate here"
  216. Megan curtsied and shuffled off.
  217.  
  218. "Hm, hm, hm, quite, right" the Wurm mumbled as she shifted down on to her side, rubbing her belly. She ate more than all of her guests combined.
  219. "You were all over the place, I had trouble keeping up. We need to back down a little. Whoah. So, like... whaddya guys think it, like, means to... oh wait a minute. MEGAN!"
  220. The Kikimora had not gone far, as she showed up in the blink of an eye, carrying a device Erik recognized as a waterpipe.
  221. "Ooh, goodie, that's the thing!"
  222. The Kikimora withdrew and the Wurm began to smoke.
  223. "Mmmh. Much better. Ah! Right. You guys are dumb"
  224.  
  225. Erik felt his jaw drop. What on earth was this?
  226. King Aristarkhos laughed, but not from his heart. His was a laugh of disbelief.
  227. Playdough darted up.
  228. "Is this some manner of jest? We are here on serious business!"
  229. The Wurm twirled her hair around her finger.
  230. "That's dumb too. Challenge of the Philosopher King isn't something serious. It's anything to get mad about, either. Geez!"
  231. Playdough's beard was fluttering with anger and veins popped on his forehead.
  232. "NOT SERIOUS?! The title of the Philosopher King sets one above all others in the potential ability to govern wisely and well! Anyone who is awarded such a title earns the right to call themselves the most qualified person to reign above any and all!"
  233. The Wurm stared at him and smiled.
  234. "No it doesn't"
  235. "WHAT?!"
  236. "I never meant it that way. Beating the challenge doesn't give you any right to rule or anything. I mean, come on. All it means is you can talk bull"
  237. King Aristarkhos hit Playdough on the back, laughing from the heart this time.
  238. "Sit friend, sit! Can't you see she's trying to get under your skin to see how short your fuse is?"
  239. Playdough remained red in the face, but sat down.
  240. "It is shameful that you should see through it and I could not" he mumbled.
  241. "I'm still on the fence, actually" Erik said, rubbing his chin and hoping he'd had a beard to stroke like the other two.
  242. "It could be she's trying to make it look like that, just to see if anyone here is smart enough to figure it out"
  243. "...or to see if anyone here has enough faith to take her words at face value!" Playdough said, his embarrassment replaced with a delight.
  244. "What a load of Bahamut crap!" Ari disagreed. "Faith and the ability to discern sarcasm are not the qualities a good king needs. Temperance is!"
  245. "Now there you spoke foolishly, for faith and faith alone is the single most important quality in anyone!"
  246. "Hoo? You hear that Erik? The Brother says faith is the most important quality in a person!"
  247. "I say it and I mean it!"
  248. "Why?" asked the Wurm, blowing a ring of smoke.
  249. "Why? Because it is the will of God that dictates all things!"
  250. Erik, having worshipped his share of gods, found this statement to be confusing.
  251. "The will of god? Which god?" he demanded.
  252. "The one and only God. Of course you would not know, as you have not studied the philosophies and theologies as my brothers and I have..."
  253. "Hoh! Now he says there is but a single god in existence! Tell me Erik, how many gods have you met in your life?"
  254. "Personally? None" Erik admitted.
  255. "I've met many. My children have all drank from the breast of Hathor, I have courted a Pharaoh and once I spent two days in my tent masturbating when Apophis bit me in battle. That makes three I've met in person!"
  256. Playdough shook his head.
  257. "Folly, folly. There is but one God, and throughout history have all the manifestations of the True Gods been merely His incarnations!"
  258. Erik and Ari looked at one another, smiling. This man was a fool.
  259. "How do you propose that many can be one?" Erik asked him.
  260. "'tis simple. Is not the Pharaoh the incarnation of Ra?"
  261. "No, the Pharaoh is the incarnation of the Sun, while Ra is the woman who reigns over the Sun" Ari corrected the ascetic.
  262. "Trifles of a fallacious theology. The truth remains unchanged. There is but one God, too great for humans to comprehend, and He has appeared to us in a myriad of forms, as the Twelve True Gods, around which every heresy and foolish false faith has been built"
  263. Erik sighed. The man was quite mad.
  264. "I don't know about all that" the Wurm said, "but it seems to me that whether or not there is one god or many, it makes little difference. As long as there is but one, then faith in it has some meaning. Go on about that, if you've a point to make"
  265.  
  266. Playdough inhaled a long breath and then exhaled sharply, calming himself.
  267. "My point is simply this: it is the will of God that dictates that which is right and that which is wrong, and if we wish to have a wise and good ruler, it is from God's will that they must take their guidance!"
  268. Ari spat on the ground.
  269. "Your words are all well and good, but have nothing to do with reality, they're but idle talk. You say there is but one god, even when there are many. You say that the many gods are but one, even when they are friends and enemies to one another. You say some of them are real and others not, even when they all are made of immortal flesh or spirit. Who is there to say which of these gods are counted among those twelve you speak of? They themselves certainly don't. Nor do they agree on what is this "will" you speak of!"
  270. Erik nodded. These were wise words.
  271. "You only speak these foolish words because you have not learned the truth, like me and my brothers. Our Brotherhood knows the truth, as well as the truth of what is God's will! It is ours to interpret from the texts of the Twelve True Gods and their prophets' words. These were filled with hidden messages and codes, so that one day those of ability would be worthy of receiving this revelation, and becoming truly enlightened!"
  272. "And to reign over the lesser men, eh?"
  273. "It is so" Playdough nodded enthusiastically.
  274.  
  275. Erik had heard enough. He got up now and walked over to Playdough.
  276. "You're keeping us down, man" he said grabbed him by the waist and lifted on his shoulder. The bugger wasn't all that heavy, being starved and all, but in his current shape Erik found him to be quite a challenge.
  277. "Unhand me! UNHAND ME I SAY!"
  278. Erik ignored him and his flailing, carrying him all the way to the entrance, then tossed him on the stairs. The ascetic tumbled down them, shouting and cursing, and groaned once at the bottom.
  279. "AND STAY OUT!" Erik shouted.
  280. Playdough got up on his feet and looked up at him with the fury of a million exploding suns.
  281. Carrying him had left Erik worn out, and he was breathing heavily. Of course, to put on airs he had crossed his arms to covers his heaving chest and breathed through his nose, which didn't really help him recover. Bravado was important in situations like this though.
  282. Aristarkhos II's soldiers encircled the ascetic, who now hesitated to climb up the stairs. His fellows were not stepping up to help him, sitting instead in a circle and humming something, rocking back and forth. They were ignoring him completely.
  283. Seeing his situation was hopeless, Playdough gave up.
  284. "It seems evident to me that the Goddess of Love and all her followers are indeed villains" he said. "And I will see to it that when my Brotherhood gains hegemony on this Earth, such sinners will be put to the sword"
  285. With that, he shuffled to his companions, no doubt to speak with them of the evils of the physical act of love. Erik shrugged and returned inside.
  286.  
  287. Walking back to the inner parts of the temple, Erik's heart fluttered, his muscles rejoicing at the exercise they had gotten. There was a thought nagging at him, though. Had he just committed a gross faux pas? Throwing out the raving lunatic had been a good thing in his book, and most people would agree with him. But this was a temple, and there was a ceremony being conducted. Had he ruined it now? That would be like him. Being rash and foolish. His father and his coaches and his teachers would all nod when they heard of this, thinking to themselves "as expected". Tsk.
  288. Erik took his place again, and saw that Playdough's spot on the floor had been cleaned up, left as if he had never been there.
  289. "That was very forward of you" Philosowurm said, matter-of-factly.
  290. "Did I do wrong?" Erik asked, feeling confident he had not.
  291. "I don't know. Did you?"
  292. "No"
  293. "What do you think, Ari?"
  294. "I say he did no wrong" the king agreed.
  295. "Jolly!"
  296. The Wurm clapped her hands happily.
  297. "To tell you the truth, I was thinking of doing that myself, but for a priestess to throw someone out of the temple of love, well, wouldn't that be the same as rejecting that person's love? I don't have the gall for that. Everybody can love, can't they?"
  298. Now that was a curious statement.
  299. "I beg to differ" said Ari, stroking his beard. "I've seen evil incapable of any kind of love in my share of wars. That man reminded me of many a fiend near the beginning. They start off so full of themselves, and then they turn bitter when things don't go their way. Fools, the lot of them. Most of them not even dangerous. But give them power? No, it was not a bad thing to throw him out. Should he have stayed here for too long, some may have believed him to be a man with valid thoughts, and then they would have listened to his ravings, not understanding them, and said 'If it is good enough for Philosowurm, so too it is good enough for us! Surely his words seem incomprehensible to us because we are not learned in the same mysteries as he', and so he would became the head of a cult. No I say, such men can only be said to love themselves, and even then their narcissism is only a thin veil, hiding their loathing even for themselves!"
  300. The king's tirade seemed to have been well thought out in advance. Maybe it was a speech someone had written for him once, with slight modifications to make it more topical?
  301. "Yeah. What he said" Erik blurted out, just to say something.
  302. "Ehehe, you really made him sound way scarier than he was, Ari. But I'm just a priestess, I haven't seen much of the world outside of this island, so I'll trust your judgement on this. But there is one thing you said that I think we should latch onto for a little while longer!"
  303. "Indeed?" the king asked, sipping his... ale? Where did he get ale from? There wasn't any being served.
  304. "Indeed! You see, when you said 'They start off so full of themselves, and then turn bitter when things don't go their way', yes?"
  305. "I did"
  306. "See, that reminds me of something very important, and that's hubris. Now our departed, umm, I won't say friend since we didn't like him all that much, but anyway, he was full of it. He put on pretences of humility as would be appropriate in this context, but he only did so because he first presupposed the context, you know? Like, I don't care if people bow and scrape before me as long as they don't throw stuff at me. But he thought I did. Because he would. Care I mean. You know what I'm saying?"
  307. Having said all that, she took many a more puffs from her pipe.
  308. "I think I get it" Erik said. "You mean that the guy thought you would share his views as a given, that it didn't even occur to him that since you were considered 'wise', that meant you were like him, since he too was 'wise'. And it's because of that he was upset when it turned out things weren't so"
  309. "Yeah, just like that!" Philosowurm said happily, clapping her hands again.
  310. "So what does this mean for us?" Ari asked, tilting his head.
  311. "Huh?"
  312. "Did we not come before you in a similar manner? Erik was the first to climb the steps to the temple, the first to realize that perhaps you were not going to come greet us as subjects do when their king comes, that it was us who sought you and so we should not expect you to come seek out us?"
  313. "Heeh, you catch on quick, kingie!"
  314. "Kingie?"
  315. Tee-hee went the Wurm.
  316. "No more of this for me then!" she said with a determined look on her face and had her attendants take the pipe away.
  317. "In any case, you did, all of you, come here with a lot of assumptions. Like, that the "Challenge of the Philosopher King" was something that actually exists here, rather than just out there, you know?"
  318. Erik thought he did. "You're saying that people have spread false rumours. But the fact remains that you, the Wurm who speaks philosophy, dwell here. What is the truth of the matter? I've already understood that to seek validation for some... position of power here is not possible, and I didn't come here for that in the first place. But what is this challenge about, or rather, how did it come about if it isn't real?"
  319. The king lifted his pint of ale - where did he get his ale, seriously? - to signal his approval of this question.
  320. Philosowurm squirmed, and seeing a fully grown Wurm squirm is a sight indeed.
  321. "Weeeeell... okay, I'll tell you"
  322. She cleared her throat.
  323.  
  324. I was but an acolyte then, and the priestess was out on an errand when a warlord entered the temple. He was a scary guy, like, way bigger than Ari, and he had a wild beard and a wild head of hair and wild chest hair and he wore furs and a horned helmet and all these trinkets made from teeth and claws and horns with gold and jewels mixed in.
  325. So he came in, and he asked if I was the priestess of love, and I was too scared to say anything because he was big and hairy and I was just a little Wurm, I mean I couldn't even lift a bull on my own. I ended up nodding, even though I tried to shake my head. Lame, right?
  326. Anyway, he then took off his helmet and sat down right on the stone floor and asked me how to turn hate into love. Now how was I supposed to answer that?
  327. I tried to smile like a mystical oracle, but I've never seen one so I think it looked kind of dumb. He then asked me again, and the only thing that I could utter was "why", because I didn't understand why he'd want to do something like that.
  328. "Because I feel only hate, and would wish to change that!"
  329. "Why?" I asked him again, shaking so hard I think he might've believed I was channelling an oracle or a spirit or even a god or a goddess.
  330. "Because I grow weary of the endless wars! I've ridden a thousand times a thousand miles on my campaigns, from the barren steppes to the lush jungles, from the frozen wastes to the deserts even the Sandworms don't dwell in, I've seen wonders and horrors, and I've grown jaded to all that is good, all that should make me look at the world and say I'm glad to have been born! I've known only endless conquest and death, death, death. Cavalry charges, sieges of ancient cities, one slaughter after another, mass rapes of Elves, hunting Manticores and Dragons and Krakens! Every act of violence imaginable, and never have I left in my wake a single thing that was good, only scorched and salted earth and piles of skulls! I see only nightmares in my sleep, visions of horror haunt in my waking hours, my arms tremble when I try to hold a weapon or a pen or a spoon, I am broken and battered on the inside in the same manner my victims are on the outside! I've tried to love, but every woman I've had, be they human or Monster, have rejected me in the end, saying I am fiend and a villain, a brute and a barbarian! I yearn liberation from this, but my priests have told me that to end my own life would only send me to eternal suffering far worse than what I get in this life! So I thought to myself, should it not be the way to redemption, to turn that which I am to the very opposite? Some thought I meant to become an Alp, but I had their tongues cut out. No, I yearn to love, rather than to hate. I wish to look at a sunrise and praise the Sun, I wish to look at the stars and call them by name and think to myself that one day my children's children's children will look at these same stars and call them by name as I have! I wish to love!"
  331. Now how was I to answer such a man? Even Ari would have feared such a fearsome ruler, I'm sure. All I could think to do was lie down as I lie down now, rest my cheek to my hand to keep myself from trembling all over, and asked him again, why? It was my hope you know, that he'd think I was touched in the head, and since I'm a Wurm, maybe he'd believe all the old jokes and think them true after all. But alas, he thought it a serious question.
  332. "I wish to love so that I may leave behind heirs to the massive wealth I have. All my generals are as fearsome as I, but their consciences are not weighed by guilt. If I die without an heir, they will take my armies and wealth, split them amongst themselves and continue to raid, pillage and plunder to their heart's content, and so my legacy to this world would only be more devastation. But if I had children, I could raise them to understand the horror of this, and then they could learn to raise crops rather than to trample them, to build houses rather than to tear them down, to write poetry and literature rather than to burn them on a campfire. I am too far gone to ever redeem myself by my own actions, and to go back where I have once trod would only be seen as a sign of weakness by my men, and they would abandon me and choose another to lead them on their eternal raids. No, I must go on, and I must remain strong and cruel. But I must learn to love, if not all the world, then at least a woman and the children she bears me, so that I may raise of my own flesh and blood those who would repair the damage I've done to the world. Let the generations to come hate me, but not my children! I alone must bear the blame!"
  333. By now I was less scared of him, since he wept as he spoke, you know, cried like a man, not like a girl. It's weird, there were tears in his eyes and snot running down his nose but he wasn't sobbing at all. I don't know how to do that. Still, I had very little advice I could offer him, since I'd never really hated, so how was I supposed to know how to turn it into anything? That's why I simply asked him:
  334. "Why?"
  335. "You ask me why I blame only myself? It is true that I did not lead the hordes on my own, but I am the one they call their khan, and it is my steed that rides at the head of the hordes, it is my tent that the war council meets in, it is I who sacrifice to the gods for thunderstorms and hail and storm winds to ride into battle with us. But were it not for my generals, would I have pressed on the way I have? I've been plagued by these regrets for months. Had I not been egged on for fear of losing my power to them, would I not have stopped? You're right, priestess. I beat myself too much. If I would slay my generals and their heirs, it would be a horrible thing, but it would let me stop the hordes, to reign over them with undisputed power, and there would be no need to ride on. To go against the traditions and laws of my people and to slay my own generals though... I cannot do it!"
  336. "Why?"
  337. "My people has old traditions by which to abide, laws passed on orally since times immemorial by our priests and elders. To defy these is to be cursed by gods and ancestors. But I am already cursed by myself, and to be damned by one's own conscience is worse than the condemnation of others. Yes, you speak truly, priestess. My men must learn that I alone reign above the hordes, that my generals and their heirs are not as I am. But would they obey me if they thought me cursed? To choose me over the gods and ancestral spirits... surely they would not do that!"
  338. "Why?"
  339. "Because I am but a man. To convince them to follow me to what they viewed as damnation would mean they'd think me more than just a man. But no man can be a god!"
  340. "Why?"
  341. "How could a priestess question such a thing? Or perhaps... yes, I've heard the stories in these parts of the world of heroes and of demigods who rose to become worshipped deities. Yes, it is possible! And why wouldn't I be the one to do so? Have I not left my mark on the world forever already? A god is dreaded and feared first, and do they not say in the desert that fear of the Pharaoh is the beginning of wisdom? Yes. I will make them fear me first. I will strike swiftly, and I will destroy those who are closest to rivalling my power. And then... then there will be changes. I... I can't thank you enough, priestess, but there's much I would still ask of you. You've helped me see things more clearly, but all I've learned to do is hold back the tides of violence with yet more violence, to stem the tidal waves of hate with more of them. Is that all I can do? I guess it is so. I am unable to love" the warlord's voice trailed off, and he looked so miserable and sad that I choked a little. Poor little, big mass-murdering conqueror! And what did I do?
  342. "Why?", that's what I asked him.
  343. "I simply don't know how! I've only ever slept with women who had no choice but to give themselves to me. I don't know how to woo a woman. Just half a year ago it wouldn't even have occurred to me to even try! And I've always remained childless because... because..."
  344. "Why?"
  345. "...because I've taken the lives of my unborn children. When I've seen the bellies of the women in my harem bulge, I'd take a warhammer or a club, and I'd..."
  346. "W-why?"
  347. "So I would never have anyone waiting in the wings for my death, to take all that was mine after arranging for my death. I never dared to do so to my generals, of course, as I said before, but it was a different matter with my own issue. I slew them and sometimes the women did not survive it. I did it every single time!"
  348. "Why?"
  349. "Because I was afraid!"
  350. "Why?"
  351. "Because I got all my power by killing my own father and my uncles and brothers and cousins!"
  352. "Why?"
  353. "My mother had been told by an oracular vision that I was destined for greatness, but I was not at the head of the line of inheritance. She guided my hand at first, and then when she passed, I kept on doing it myself. I believed it to be my destiny to live up to the highest standards of my people, that of the nomadic warrior who went where he willed and took what he wanted. Perhaps I was wrong. Maybe my destiny is to change my people. To usher in a new age, one where we don't roam the lands as locust, but do as those we have always plagued upon have done, and become as ants, building things rather than tearing them down. But they will not accept such a change so easily"
  354. "Why?"
  355. "Because they have been taught since birth that the highest measure of a man is to ride a horse, to wield a weapon and to take from others rather than to make themselves, to have slaves dragging their feet after the horse, and that for a man to touch the naked ground is only a shame"
  356. "Why?"
  357. "It is said our ancestors lived side by side with the Centaurs of the steppes, but after they tamed the horse, our people moved north and the Centaurs moved south, and our companionship ended forever"
  358. "Why?"
  359. "The old stories tell of a conflict. The Centaurs were loyal and powerful like the horse, but they had the hearts of women. It is because of this that the horse was more desirable as a companion to the ancestors, and it is because of the Centaurs that our people still treats horses better than women. This should be another thing to change. If I could teach them to be better to their women, or to accept Monsters as wives rather than simple sex-slaves... but I am a dreamer. All the peoples we've conquered have lived like that, and my people only hates them, despises everything about them, for they are not as we are. Yes, I would need absolute power over them to convince them to change so greatly, and it would take more than simply killing my generals and their heirs to force them to worship me"
  360. "Why?"
  361. "Is it not obvious? Any man may defy the gods and be damned. But to succeed? What could I possibly do to convince them to believe in me? Here I am in this temple, and my bodyguards await outside. I've told them I came here rape the priestess of love on her own altar to defy the goddess, but what if... what if you blessed me?"
  362. This time my question was honest.
  363. "Why?"
  364. "Don't you see? My people only despise the other people's faiths and defy their gods, but do not deny them. Your goddess is every bit as real as Perkele is, love is as real as thunder, but considered weaker. That is the key! If you bless me, I will be blessed by a goddess, the goddess of love, and so if I defy the other gods, they will think me chosen by one, and then they will wait and see how powerful this one god is, and then, and then the guiding principle of our people will be love! And I will be able to direct them to change as I please! I, I... no. I still could not do so, after all" he hung his head in defeat.
  365. "Why?"
  366. "I know nothing of love" he said, his voice wavering.
  367. "Why?"
  368. "You already know, priestess. I've only ever known hate"
  369. "Why?"
  370. "You know that too, priestess! It has always been the way of my people!"
  371. "Why?"
  372. "Because so it was with our ancestors!"
  373. "Why?"
  374. "Because they grew bitter over the womanly hearts of the Centaurs!"
  375. "Why?"
  376. "I... I don't know, I never questioned it..."
  377. "Why?"
  378. "Because my mind was always preoccupied!"
  379. "Why?"
  380. "Because I had responsibilities!"
  381. "Why?"
  382. "Because I am the grand khan!"
  383. "Why?"
  384. "Because it is my destiny to be so!"
  385. "Why?"
  386. "Because my mother's vision revealed it so!"
  387. "Why?"
  388. "Because such is the will of the gods!"
  389. "Why?"
  390. "I don't know!"
  391. "Why?"
  392. "I don't know the hearts of the gods!"
  393. "Why?"
  394. "Because I'm not a priest!"
  395. "Why?"
  396. "Because I'm a warrior!"
  397. "Why?"
  398. "Because I was born one!"
  399. "Why?"
  400. "Because my father was one!"
  401. "Why?"
  402. "Because his father was one!"
  403. "Why?"
  404. "Because HIS father was one!"
  405. "Why?"
  406. "Because his father was one! And so was his father, and his father, and his father, as far back as our people go!"
  407. "Why?"
  408. "I don't know! I simply don't know"?
  409. "Why?"
  410. "Will you stop it with that question?!
  411. "Why?"
  412. "BECAUSE IT ANGERS ME!"
  413. "Why?"
  414. "BECAUSE YOU KEEP ASKING IT OVER AND OVER AS IF I HAD ANOTHER ANSWER TO GIVE! STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!"
  415. "Why?"
  416. "AAARRGH!"
  417. The Warlord assaulted me then, rending his shirt and ripping apart my dress. But I was no longer afraid. He was a scary man, but a sad man. I wanted him to feel better already. So I let him strip me naked and carry me to the altar with some effort - even as a young Wurm, I was heavy for a man to carry. He pinned on my back on the altar on which countless men had slept with our priestesses, and stuck his member into me. This wasn't my first time, of course, but his size was still rather impressive.
  418. I let him work himself into a frenzy as he thought he was raping me, and as he became careless, I slowly coiled around him. I may have had trouble lifting a bull then, but the bull had been an aurochs, and those are much, much heavier than men. I had no trouble trapping a human man in my coils, and soon he realized his own helplessness. And then, he was filled with anger and fear, for never before had a woman done such a thing to him. I turned us around and took the top, and all his curses and spitting couldn't save him, and even as he ejaculated, I moved my hips harder, and harder, and faster, and faster. His shouts were loud and terrible to hear, but after a couple of rounds his stamina failed him. The warlord's next reaction was to try and bite me, but the teeth of a human can't harm a Wurm, whether he bit on scale, bare skin or even my nipples. I liked it when he did it though, it felt nice, so I told him to keep it up. This was a humiliating experience for him, and he tried to bite harder, and to grind his hips harder, thinking he was being defiant. My cries of arousal excited him, and he thought he was overcoming me, so he worked himself up into the berserker rage of his people.
  419. I don't know how long it took for us to finally finish, and I don't know how many times both of us reached climax, but what I know is that the longer we kept going, the less anger there was in him, his movements becoming more and more in tune with mine, and when I loosened my coils to free his arms he immediately began to grope and caress and fondle me, so naturally I returned the favour by ruffling his hair.
  420. After he lost consciousness, I left him on the altar to sleep it off. Turning around I saw his bodyguards, armed to the teeth, standing in a semicircle around us. When I turned to face them, they dropped their weapons and kowtowed before me. They had seen what I had done to their khan, and they feared me.
  421. Once the warlord awoke from his daze, dehydrated, confused and his pelvis and back aching, he was no longer filled with hate. His anger had been purged from his system. He returned to his camp with his bodyguards and it was within the same day that his generals and their heirs were slain. He held a great speech to his hordes, speaking of how he had become anointed by the goddess of love, and how he intended to change everything. I heard later from his children that he had married a Centaur. His son and daughter, twins, a human and a Centaur, came to meet the wise Wurm who had helped their father to change their people for the better, and to learn from her.
  422.  
  423. "So that's how I think it went" said Philosowurm, a slight blush on her cheeks. Whether she was embarrassed to recount the tale of making love to this warlord of to have been called a wise Wurm, this Erik and Ari could not say.
  424. Bottoms up went the pint of ale in Ari's hairy hand - seriously, where did he get that?
  425. "Aaahhh, what a load of Bahamut crap!" he said, wiping his mouth.
  426. "I beg your pardon?"
  427. "A lie, a fabrication! I'll not believe it, not a word of it!" he pounded his breastplate for emphasis.
  428. "Why not?" asked Erik, who found nothing in the narrative to complain about.
  429. "You really ask me such things? Have you not studied history? The man she spoke of was quite obviously Gauf, grand khan of the galloping hordes! They once swept across all the lands in a great fury to the point all the people in the world came to be their enemies, and though they were unstoppable, they burned themselves out. Like locust they fell upon all the armies and cities of the civilized world, from victory to victory they went, losing not a single battle, until the wars ended in them falling into obscurity, a footnote on history! Was there ever a greater fool than he, who took all he had and threw it at his enemies, thinking he had enough men and horses and weapons to never run out, only to then starve? He only survived by marrying a Centaur, and how many do you think his hordes numbered when he did so? A couple hundred at most!"
  430. That was a rant Erik couldn't argue with, for he had never even heard of such a man as Gauf before. A man with large armies who made the mistake of wasting his resources because he thought they were endless? A fool, perhaps, but as it is said, a candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long. He made no judgement, as he couldn't say he would have fared any better in the same circumstances.
  431. "And another thing! All of this took place over six centuries ago! Do you expect me to believe you were here for it?"
  432. Philosowurm twirled her hair around her finger and rolled her eyes.
  433. "You shouldn't bring up a girl's age..."
  434. "Do you still claim to speak the truth?"
  435. "What use would it be to lie to you? And what did you expect? You know that this... this challenge, as you people have been calling it, has existed for centuries. Did you think it was always a different Wurm? Generations of Wurms, posing philosophical questions to the would-be rulers of the world? Isn't that a lark!"
  436. "You have a fountain of youth hidden in the back then?" continued the king, still sceptical.
  437. "What? No. Wurms just live to be really, really old"
  438. "A questionable statement"
  439. "Oh, it's just easy to mistake us for young'uns because we retain our youthful looks and spirits" Philosowurm winked at them with puckered lips.
  440. "Just to clear the air here, I don't care one way or the other, but tell me Ari, what reason would she have to lie about this?" Erik asked.
  441. "To test us!"
  442. "Oh, not this again!"
  443. "Hah! Do you think that this supposedly wise beast would be here, in this temple, to pose this challenge, if it was not her intention to test our mettle? Did not brother Playdough say that faith is most important? For his blindness, he was cast out from this company! So a wise man is left to conclude that it is required to doubt the words of all, even her? You know little of playing the games of statecraft, Erik, and this is why you'll never sit on a throne!"
  444. Having heard this, he found himself wondering if he could pick up Aristarkhos II and carry him out of the temple. No. Even in his prime he'd had trouble with it.
  445.  
  446. Philosowurm yawned and stretched.
  447. "All this empty talk... it's so booooriiiiing. I don't do this stuff to be bored! Can't you two like, talk about what it means to be good, or, like, what's the purest form of love, or if it's right to eat pork! This is so dumb I feel like trashing around and throwing boulders at ships! And people always yell at me when I do that! So appease me, you mongrels!"
  448. The king stood up, his eyes ablaze.
  449. "A challenge of a different kind, is it? I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a temperate man. But threaten me, and you will know why I am the king!"
  450. Erik saw no merit in standing against the Wurm. There was nothing he could do to fight it. The very idea of wrangling with a Wurm was preposterous. Instead, he thought it better to take the side of the obvious victor.
  451. "I thought you were the king because your older brother Alped?"
  452. Ari turned to face Erik.
  453. "You take that back, cripple"
  454. "Cripple, am I?"
  455. Erik got up. He didn't think he could win the fight. He had the Wurm to back him up though. Maybe. At least it was opposed to the king, right?
  456. "So much for temperance" said Erik, grinning smugly at the angry man. Someone once said that big fellows became smaller with anger.
  457. He didn't. The punch came too fast for Erik to do anything but see it coming, and then he saw the ceiling and fell on his ass, his nose hurting.
  458. And then the king stepped on his belly.
  459. "I am a temperate man. I am a fair man. A just man. A wise man. But also a strong man. A relentless man. A great man. And you..." he stepped on his chest with another foot.
  460. "You are just shit I stepped on. I understand the challenge now. Just like you threw out the fool before, so too shall I remove you. And then I alone will be left, and so will I be declared the winner. THAT is the answer! All of philosophy boils down to just one, simple fact. Might makes right. Gahahaha!"
  461. Erik found there was nothing he could do. The king had a lot of mass. Immovable mass. For him. And he couldn't breath.
  462. "You really are a dumb-dumb!" Philosowurm said, and then there was a noise and a wind, and the weight of king was gone.
  463. "Huh?"
  464.  
  465. Getting up, Erik saw that Ari had been thrown into a pillar, which cracked a little. from the impact.
  466. "H-hghrrgh..." groaned the king as he fell to the ground.
  467. Philosowurm's tail had smacked him. Now that same tail was lifted up, ready for another swing.
  468. "Go away, dumb-dumb, you're no fun!" she said.
  469. "Hghrh" groaned the king, and then coughed.
  470. "Oops. Umm, his ribs are kinda broken now..."
  471. Four Satyrs showed up from the shadows and picked up the king, each grabbing a limb, and they carried him off.
  472.  
  473. "He lost" said Erik, now seated again, enjoying fresh refreshments that had been brought to him and the Wurm.
  474. "Yes"
  475. "Does that mean I win?"
  476. "That depends"
  477. "On what?"
  478. "What do you think it means to win?"
  479. Erik pondered at this while Megan rubbed an ointment on his nose. He had a wonderful view of her cleavage from this angle... and she smelled nice.
  480. "I'm a simple guy, really" he said, trying not to betray his boner to the Kikimora. "I haven't given it any real thought..."
  481. "Hmm"
  482. "Will things be alright with you though?" he asked.
  483. "How do you mean?"
  484. "He's a king. He's got troops out there"
  485. "Oh, bugger his troops. I could beat them all up if I had to"
  486. "If you say so. But what if he goes home and brings back more?"
  487. "Unlikely. Lots of people fail the challenge. When they do, they leave, and try to keep quiet. Some of them come back and try again. But nobody tries to attack here. Because this is a temple of love. Nobody attacks the temple of love. There's not a single ruler in the world who could stay in office if they attacked the temple of love. And he won't tell anyone about what happened here. He's a proud man. Playdough is too. And so was everyone else. Nothing will happen. Don't worry about it"
  488. Erik had no reason to challenge this notion. Besides, he was busy following the bead of sweat running down Megan's chest...
  489. "Are you going to keep staring at her saggy tits, or are you going to answer me?" Philosowurm asked, now frustrated. She was still hoping to get something out of him.
  490. "I guess..."
  491. "Yes?"
  492. "I'll answer alright!"
  493. Megan finished with the ointment and backed away from him. She didn't walk far, Erik noticed.
  494. "I... don't really care"
  495. There was a stunned silence.
  496. "Coming here was a mistake. The challenge is just a mirage, you know? It ain't real. Like that story about the Emperor's new clothes. It just ain't there. There's no challenge. So I can't win. Nobody can win. That's it, isn't it? I've never heard of anyone winning. So I don't win either, right?"
  497. Philosowurm nodded.
  498. "True. You can't win. It's all just a bunch of fools coming here, thinking they can get something that doesn't really exist. Like, if they're smart enough, I'll tell them they're the best kings ever and then the whole world would be theirs. That's dumb. Anyone who comes here is always dumb. They think they're smart because they know all kinds of stuff about things that don't help people feed themselves or build houses, which is all stuff they can't do. So they think they shouldn't have to, either. That's why they come here. Some of them are fun to listen to, but others aren't, and sometimes I get really mad at them. And I feel awful, too, because I can't tell the world not to come here, because if they don't come here, then the town gets less commerce. This place was never an important trading port, not until people started to come for me. Know what I'm saying?"
  499. Erik nodded. He understood perfectly.
  500. "That means I'm a dumb-dumb, too. And I knew that already" he said.
  501. "Being a dumb-dumb isn't so bad. Back when this stuff first started, I used to pretend I was listening to the people who came to me and just thought about the orgy I was in the night before. I am a priestess of love, you know. My duties are mostly about sex. When I was a young Wurm, I became an acolyte just so I could have lots and lots of sex. I never wanted to become the Philosowurm. My name is Ellie. And who calls me that? My servants, when nobody else is around. I'm smart now, I guess. Wise and knowledgeable. And what do I get for it? Arguments, ad nauseaum. Used to be I didn't know what that meant. Ignorance is bliss, Erik. Don't you go getting smart. Stay a dumb-dumb. Have sex with lots of different people. Hell, start with Megan if you want!"
  502. Megan curtsied, lifting her dress up to her waist and revealing she was wearing nothing under it.
  503. A smile spread on Erik's face.
  504. "Maybe I'm a winner after all" he said. "But I've got an even better offer, if you're willing to listen, Ellie"
  505. "I'm all ears"
  506. "Marry me"
  507. "I beg your pardon?"
  508. "Marry me. Think about it! I'll get what I want, that is,  I'll show my father I'm good for something, becoming the head priest in the temple of love, and you can retire from the challenge, saying that you're married now and the gods want you to be a mother now!"
  509. Ellie the Philosowurm stroked her chin.
  510. "If I take you up on your offer, will you be happy?"
  511. "That would depend. I've been raised in a land of monogamy, so it would not please me to let you take part in orgies, or be part of them myself. But with the proper aphrodisiacs, I could keep you satisfied, I think. And I've no real purpose in life. I came here because I lost all I had ever strived for. I'll never be a great athlete. Why not dedicate myself to love?"
  512. Ellie smiled an impish smile.
  513. "You know, to qualify as husband to a priestess of love, you would need to prove yourself..."
  514. Erik's grin reached from ear to ear.
  515. "And what challenge would I have to take to do that?"
  516. "Hmm. There are eight Satyrs living here as servants, two Lamia acolytes, and of course Megan. If you can adequately satisfy them all within, say, twenty four hours, I'd say you qualify"
  517. Erik got up, walked over to Megan and took her by the waist, pulling her in close.
  518. "No time to waste then" he said, planting a deep kiss on the elderly Kikimora.
  519.  
  520.                         ***
  521.  
  522. The taste of mint spread in Erik's mouth. She'd been chewing some, no doubt to make her breath fresher in anticipation of this. Clever old girl.
  523. Erik found her tongue to be even more eager than his, and while he was distracted by her sucking on him, her hands undid his clothing. Not willing to lose out to an old woman in this, he quickly undid the shoulder pins keeping the dress on her. Once they were naked, they parted to admire one another.
  524. Megan's clawed, birdlike feet transitioned into finely shaped human legs below the knee, and her thighs were as smooth as a twenty-year-old's. She'd been using Anubis Butter for that, to be sure. Her ass was a little bony, but the fluffy, bushy tail more than made up for it when it came to attraction. Erik got a good view of this part of her as she slowly twirled around, soaking in his gaze. She had a bit of a potbelly, her tits hung but not enough to be an unpleasant sight, and finally, her face... beet red and grinning, showing her perfect set of teeth, her fluffy ears drooping with uncertainty.
  525. "Well? L-lost our ap-appetite yet?" she asked, her stutter a result of heavy breathing.
  526. "When there's such a delicious dish in front of me?" Erik replied, falling victim to the cheesy lines he'd heard in theatre so many times.
  527. He was hard already, but decided to tease her a little. Grasping the old Kikimora by her shoulders, he turned her around and gently guided her down on all fours above the pillows he'd been using during the philosophical discussions.
  528. "Ahh, I'm not sure I'm up for this..." she protested, but Erik ignored it, grasping her tail by the base, the only part where he could reach all the way around it with a single hand.
  529. "Ass up, face down" he said, pulling her tail up, causing her to obey quickly. Her ass now up closer to his crotch, he rubbed his member on her cheeks, letting her wait anxiously whether he'd stick it in up or down. Her skin was soft enough to almost make him release already. That was no good. Erik stopped rubbing himself on her and instead gave a good slap on her ass, causing it to jiggle delightfully. There wasn't a lot of meat on her hiny, but what was there was pleasant enough. He yanked her tail harder and higher, forcing her to get up from her knees and stand with her ass in the air.
  530. "T-that's too much!" she whined without even trying to resist.
  531. "Quiet" Erik commanded, spanking her again, harder.
  532. "Ahhn!"
  533. "Quiet I said!", he hit harder.
  534. "AHHN!"
  535. "Oh for the love of...!", he pulled on her tail again, forcing her to get on her toe tips, which wasn't quite so challenging for her as it would have been for a human. Her ass was starting to have a red handprint on it, and Erik was starting to worry if the old woman could handle it. But she seemed to be having a good time, her juices were running down her thighs.
  536. An impish spirit overtook Erik, and he decided to make Megan remember this for years to come.
  537. He brought his face to her crotch and sniffed deeply at her scent.
  538. "H-hey! That's not..."
  539. "Lovely..." he replied, giving a light slap on her ass to remind her she was to remain quiet. He kept sniffing, making sure he was unnecessarily loud so she couldn't escape the reality of a young man sniffing at her crotch. As expected, she loved the shame this brought about, which became clear as she tried to stifle her moans.
  540. "So lovely... you must drive men like me crazy all the time, Megan dear..." he whispered, breathing into her hot and bothered pussy without touching it. He'd let her beg for it.
  541. "Oh no... I'm just...j-just a servant... hu-hump-humble servant!"
  542. He caressed her butt cheeks and the inside of her thighs, reaching for even her belly with his fingers, but making sure not to touch her in the place she really wanted him to.
  543. He inhaled deeply with his nose almost buried into her.
  544. "Surely you're not just a servant... woman like you could claim to be the priestess and nobody would doubt you!"
  545. "Ooh, oh you... st-stopp teasinghh mhee!"
  546. She was on the edge. She's break soon.
  547. "Teasing you, dear Megan?" he whispered into her slit, letting his breath tickle her. "Whatever do you mean?"
  548. "Ooohhn, just fuck me already!" she cried out, shaking her hips and ass wildly. That was good enough.
  549. Erik slipped inside her with no resistance, and she let out a relieved cry. Of course, to make it easier on himself Erik let go of her tail - his arm had been getting tired - and let her hips fall. He lowered himself to his knees and moved slowly, since the lusty Kikimora was doing most of the work on her own. She might not have been as tight on the inside as some of the women Erik had been with during the orgies he'd partaken in, but she felt plenty good all the same. Given the ease with which she had been tricked into doing the heavy labour, Erik thought that satisfying the damsels of this temple would be no great feat.
  550. "AHNHGH-kyahaha...aaaah..."
  551. Megan let out a curious noise and went rigid. She finished before he did? That was good. For him. For the challenge before him.
  552. Erik prepared to pull out of her, but suddenly the old Monster moved with speed and agility quite unbecoming of her age, tossing her entire body in the air and turning around to face him, his member still inside her. This sudden movement not only caused him to climax, it got him off-balance, and so when the woman's arms crossed behind his neck and her legs crossed behind his back, he was pulled to the floor on top of her, his face buried in his cleavage.
  553. "Round two, big guy!" she said, all weakness gone from her voice.
  554. "W-whoa, wait a minute!" Erik protested, pulling himself out from her bosom. "I already finished you off!"
  555. "You made me come, sure. But Ellie said it, didn't she? You've got to SATISFY me. All of us. Once doesn't satisfy me"
  556. "You've got to be kidding me!"
  557. "Buck up!" she said, giving a hard slap on his ass and kissing him to keep the cry from leaving his lips. She groped his buttocks with both hands, and greedily. After their lips parted again she licked her lips and winked at him.
  558. "Your turn to do all the work, boy"
  559.  
  560.  
  561.                         ***
  562.  
  563. Ellie the Philosowurm lay on a bed large enough to fit her massive body, with soft pillows everywhere. She was on her back, and on her belly rested Erik on his back, his head in her cleavage. She poured water down his gullet, which he drank greedily.
  564. "How much longer?" Erik asked.
  565. "Six more days. You should've paced yourself better"
  566. "Why can't we conduct the ceremony lying down?"
  567. "Because we couldn't consummate it when your pelvis is like that"
  568. "Isn't there some mixture or ointment that'll make me recover faster?"
  569. "No"
  570. "That's a lie, isn't it?"
  571. "I'm not teasing you"
  572. "I think you are"
  573. "Why?"
  574. "Because all the centuries you've lived have only made you more clever when it comes to driving men crazy"
  575. "Why?"
  576. "I suppose it's because men have always been driving you crazy"
  577. "Why?"
  578. "They've always been spouting their philosophical nonsense at you"
  579. "Why?"
  580. "I'm not that much of a dumb-dumb, you know"
  581. "Why?"
  582. "I swear by our future children, if you say that word one more time I'm going to rape you even if it kills me"
  583. "Why?"
  584. "TITTIETWISTER!"
  585. Erik grabbed the Wurm's nipples and made good on his promise.
  586. "KYAAH~! LET GO LET GO!"
  587. "Not until you bring me the miracle tonic to fix my pelvis!"
  588. "Fine, fine, just let go!"
  589. Erik let go.
  590.  
  591. The Wurm applied the warm ooze on his pelvis, and he immediately felt all of his pain and fatigue disappear.
  592. "We'll have to wait a couple hours before we do it" Ellie said after she was done.
  593. "Why?" asked Erik.
  594. "It makes you feel better right away, but it will take a couple more hours for it to fix everything" she replied.
  595. "Why?"
  596. "I dunno. That's just how it works"
  597. "Why?"
  598. "NO!"
  599. "Why?"
  600. "You're not doing this to me!"
  601. "Why?"
  602. "If I rape you now, you won't survive it!"
  603. "Why?"
  604. "Is it really worth it? I won't hold back, you know!"
  605. "Why?"
  606. "Oh for the love of..."
  607. "Wh-hmhp!"
  608. She kissed him to get him to shut up, and didn't stop until he tapped out.
  609. "Your pelvis might be broken, but your mouth and tongue work just fine..."
  610. Erik opened his mouth to reply something, but Ellie pressed her clawed finger on his lips.
  611. "No more talking. Talking is dumb. Let's just love, lots!"
  612. And love they did, lots.
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