5 Hall of Deities
Rana was having a great day slaughtering slimes. It was just so nice to finally remember her name! More intense than happiness, though, was heady and overwhelming relief. Waking up in a dusty, creepy cave with no memories was not exactly an easy way to exist. The tidbit of memory she just recalled had ignited within her the hope of remembering everything; she had a new lease on life.
However, her joy and relief were making her inattentive; she had slaughtered slimes and descended the stairs to a much deeper extent than ever before, and wasn't slowing down anytime soon... Similarly, she didn't notice that the spike plant on her sword, after having gone through hundreds of mutations from consuming slimes, was reaching some sort of critical point, the 999th transformation...
Sometime later, Rana was still giggling and muttering her name, surrounded by 5 slimes on the seemingly endless stairs and locked in deadly combat. She encountered a lavender, gourd-shaped slime and two pyramidal golden slimes, but was slowly ambushed by a pair of greyish-white slimes that had fallen from some unknown place onto the stairs behind her. The golden slimes began slowly rotating, the corners on the tops of their bodies glowing with a sickly bronze light that seemed to eat away at everything it touched. As the slimes cornered her, catching Rana in a situation she would normally retreat from at the first possible instant, she decided today that she would face them head on!
Rana laughed as she bent her body at an inhuman angle, slithering through the air to obliterate the lavender slime with a well-aimed pierce. As her sword rapidly blended and consumed the slime monster, Rana wrenched her body around the hilt of the blade and kicked off the wall behind her, shooting maniacally towards the greyish white slimes before they could even strike at her, leaving quivering chunks of lavender in her wake. She completely speared through the center of one greyish-white slime with her hellish momentum before using the weight of the slime monster and her embedded blade as a lever to heave out massive chunks of the slimes' inner flesh.
By changing her momentum through shearing the slime, she seemed to liquidly change direction in the air, almost using the comfortable hilt of her blade as a trapeze. In a flash, she had already gutted the second greyish-white slime. Sensing danger, she dropped low to the ground to avoid a barrage of highly corrosive bronze waves. The golden slimes had begun attacking in full, emanating crescent-shaped bronze waves from the tips of their heads. These waves crashed harshly against the stone of the stairs, eroding it away with crackling sounds while releasing a thick caustic smoke.
Pressed to the ground and temporarily hidden by the smoke, Rana quickly looked around the dim stairway to formulate a plan. She slowly let her blade release feelers to quickly snatch and consume as many nearby slime chunks as possible. Once the barrage of bronze waves ceased, she lightly shook the blade of her sword in a whipping motion, causing the tendrils spread across the stairs to spring against the ground, shooting her upwards and out of the smoke. Before the gold slimes could reorient themselves to attack her again, she was already right above them! Quickly, she plummeted into them sword first, impaling and grinding in a frenzy!
After they were dispatched, Rana let her plant sword consume the remaining portions of the slime corpses. However, once it completely finished eating the second golden pyramid slime, the tendrils rapidly shrank back into the plant. Soon, the rosettes of leaves closed in on each other as well, changing from their typical metallic rainbow patina to a muted misty gray. Worried and alarmed, Rana hurriedly brought the spike plant sword back to the small spring in her cave complex. She placed the sword into the small basin, and although the leaves didn't reopen, a few pale tendrils meekly spread into the water. Relieved to see her sword plant was still alive, Rana sat down next to it, watching it closely. Eventually, she fell asleep; however, her sword continued to absorb spring water and slowly, slowly change...
Exenoura neared the city hall after covertly slaughtering any nearby Cursed denizens. She quietly stowed her whip in her comically small bag before pulling out two more weapons -- a wicked cudgel and a greyish-gold dagger. The cudgel ended in many sharp and irregular spikes coated in Pudgala Withering Ash, and the dagger was attached to the very end of a thin golden chain. Wrapping the chain around her right wrist, she slipped through the tattered door to investigate the city hall.
After entering, the murky light and lakeside sounds of the caldera town gave way to absolute darkness and silence. Exenoura's pupils dilated completely, but she could still not make out the grand entrance hall clearly. She quietly removed a luminescent mushroom from her bag. While she held it in one hand, her other hand glowed greenish-brown as she made a few simple runes in the air around the mushroom. The runes fell into the fungus, which seemingly absorbed them before growing vigorously. Exenoura then gently blew on the fungus, ejecting billions of spores into the damp air of the city hall.
Imbued with the power of her runes, the spores rapidly grew once they landed on a surface, quickly forming large clumps of glowing mushrooms. In the phantasmal blue light of the mushrooms, Exenoura was able to see the interior of the city hall. The walls were inlaid with large, multi-story reliefs that seemed to depict a civilization of snail-like beings worshipping many different deities. In the only series of major panels that occupied large swathes of the walls, she could see crowds of these snail beings worshipping the same 5 major deities. She silently recorded the contents of these reliefs so she could inform her Master during her next check-in.
The first deity was a long black dragon biting its own tail. Exenoura noted this down with keen interest; her Master's interests included tracking this and other deities across worlds. In the first, the dragon had bitten its tail to form a circle. As she inspected the relief more closely, the dragon appeared be spinning both clockwise and counter-clockwise, causing an impossible and chaotic presence to emanate from within the circle. The snail beings could be seen lifting their tentacles to offer something, which spiraled like wisps of smoke around the center of the rotating dragon. In the second relief, the dragon had twisted itself once to form a sideways figure eight. From within the gaps made by its body, a divine yet profane gaze seemed to majestically explode outward, as if the figure eight had become the eyes of a being that surpassed gods!
The second deity seemed to be a strange tree. Instead of roots, it appeared to have a second canopy of branches spreading downward from the trunk, giving the impression of a double-sided tree. As Exenoura examined the relief more closely, she could see that the branches above the trunk had many leaves and flowers of different shapes, while the branches below the trunk seemed to be made of coral and sea plants. In the normal branches, she could see reliefs of birds and monkeys frolicking, while schools of fish and dolphins moved between the strange lower ones. The only major relief of this deity showed suns shining from between both sets of its branches; wherever this light fell, snail beings could be seen harvesting food and creating gardens. In the gnarled bark of the tree's trunk, there seemed to be the suggestion of a warm and matronly face in the whorls of the wood. The longer Exenoura peered at this subtle face, the more clearly she could see an old woman's joyous face in the tree trunk, conjuring within her an ineffable feeling... She could feel that meditating and perceiving from this relief would allow her to increase her understanding of Life laws! Reluctantly turning away, she made her way toward the other side of the hall.
Along with the first deity, the third deity was something she would definitely have to report to her Master! The fact that these two beings existed in the same universe may even mean her Master would come here directly, despite the dangers... The third deity was a giant octopus-like creature with a massive, egg-shaped body and countless hanging tentacles. Along the edges of its giant body, ten massive pairs of feathered wings seemed to be resting on layers and layers of clouds, supporting the god. In the center of the body was a giant eye that was closed. In both major reliefs, the god's tentacles drifted down from the sky; each one passed through the shell of a snail being and directly touched its soul! In the first relief, this touch seemingly caused the snail beings to have incredibly vivid dreams. The dreams in the relief were myriad and varied, but all the snail people who had these dreams were depicted with glowing shells after waking up, possibly symbolizing some form of enlightenment. In the second relief, each tentacle of the god seemed to be snatching something from above the shells of snail beings. When the snail beings awoke, the offered sacrifices and celebrated in thanks. Based on what her Master told her in the past, what this deity snatched were... nightmares! It would induce vivid dreams to harvest and eat vivid nightmares!
The fourth god was incredibly strange and seemed to be some kind of mushroom. Three reliefs showed its apparent arrival to the snail world and its subsequent miracles. In the first relief, snail beings were pointing at starlike spores that seemed to fall into many volcanoes. In the second relief, fungal hyphae seemed to grow out of each volcano and intertwine into each other while snail beings moved closer towards the volcanoes. In the last relief, a massive lace stinkhorn seemed to tower over the volcanic region as snail beings built cities and offers sacrifices beneath it. To her, this god was the most likely one to have tamed the caldera around her; Exenoura carefully transcribed all these details.
The final god, however, was the strangest and seemingly most revered of them all. There were four reliefs dedicated to this god that together suggested to Exenoura a hair-raising possibility. In the first, something with many eyes was watching a falling star. In the second, the snail beings were worshipping a giant orb in a mushroom-covered cave. In the third, the snail beings seemed to be performing some kind of ritual of passage on an altar outside the cave, where one snail being would enter the cave and touch the orb. In the last relief, the snail being that touched the orb underwent a shocking change! After touching the silver orb, the snail being retreated into the shell on its back. The relief then seemed to show the shell cracking and the snail being emerging completely changed! The newly reborn being had a slug-like lower body that connected in a centaur-like fashion to a vaguely humanoid torso with eight tentacle-like arms. Instead of a head and neck, there was a raindrop-shaped appendage fused directly above the eight shoulders. Regular snail denizens could be seen prostrating themselves beneath this new entity.
"This final god seems to have been able to stimulate the evolution or mutation of the snail being's bloodline, allowing chosen members of the tribe to leap past the limits of their race... This deity's power and the Curse that has currently corrupted the bloodline of these natives both give rise to massive changes to the bloodline... They are most likely related in some critical way, since it's very unlikely many Life experts at this level would appear here... Maybe this fifth major deity Cursed the bloodline of this race?... If this Curse of Life is at the level of divine, will I still be able to derive an epiphany from those laws with my current understanding?... Or will trying to contact these laws corrupt my blood too?..."
With these strange and anxious thoughts running through her head, Exenoura headed deeper into the city hall as her pitcher plants slowly swallowed the lakeside town.
In a large chamber on the top floor, Exenoura found something critical -- a rough map of the caldera and the snail denizen settlements within it. From the small town she had investigated, it was roughly a two-day journey to the snail being's major city, a metropolis by the caldera rim. After verifying the local geography, she decided to set up a secondary base in this lakeshore town -- the increased humidity would make her pitcher plants more resilient and treacherous, ensuring the town as a secure place for a possible retreat. After using the pitcher plants to briefly update her plant demon, Exenoura sat down to meditate and contact her Master.