Finding either of my targets out of the many dimensional pathways hidden in the Realm of the Dead was an annoying process.
Although I did find many links to active Realms such as Buddhist Samsara, Shinto Yomi, Norse Hel and Valhalla, a few African ancestral based systems which included a weird one with panthers, and I believe we might have even stumbled on the decaying the Egyptian Duat.
Musashi had some fun when an irritable little beastie decided we looked tasty or was simply too mad to instinctively feel the death sentence attacking us would give. It kept her happy to slay mythical beasts of old and who was I to ruin her fun to squash weaklings?
Beyond that I was being careful to avoid detection from the overseers of those realms and their possible prisoners. I don't want us to get blamed for either allowing something to escape or making other pantheons think that something/one is trying to get into their afterlives. Which I technically am, but I don't want them to know about it.
Over all it took a few hours of trial and error as we journeyed across the Realm of the Dead, avoiding any souls, grim reapers or other guards before we finally found the entrance to Kur.
It was usually easy to tell which afterlife you were in thanks to the cultural and societal touches each possessed, but I was actually surprised to see that Kur was still holding on after all this time.
The hallmark of this particular afterlife was the ruins of the different levels of benefits the properly buried had possessed while their guardian pantheon had existed, and the style of those ruins told me that this was the correct afterlife. I love my spatial awareness as it allows me to scout the entire realm without having to move.
But like I said, the place was in ruins and that wasn't it either. I could tell sections of this realm had be cleaved off to assumedly conserve energy to maintain the rest as dwellings stood cut in half at the realm boundary.
The buildings which should be intact, the ones closer to the once great palace which should be housing the goddess Ereshkigal, even if my senses are telling me she is incredibly weak for a goddess, have all been ransacked as spirits of the dead gathered in them and huddled together in hopelessness.
It told me plenty since these houses should have belonged to those who had been buried with great honors and wealth, and plenty of descendants to care for them, but now it seemed everyone in this realm had gathered there. And that area was at most a large city right now, holding a few hundred thousand souls which should be insignificant compared to the number which should have been here before the collapse.
"I take it that this is it?" Mana asked as she noticed the change in pattern from my usual shake of the head after sensing the realm.
"Yes, but it's pretty bad. Another century or two and this place would be gone unless a miracle happens." I solemnly answered as I gazed on the remains. "Every soul remaining is huddled in the upper section and there is only one goddess remaining, with power you could beat comfortably."
"That is unfortunate for them." Mana replied with a sad gaze.
"So what's the plan my lord?" Musashi asked seriously enough due to understanding the bleakness of the situation.
"We go speak to the one who should be, or should have been, the warden of my target. I sense no other powers large enough to contend against gods, so that means Enkidu has escaped, is gone or has been moved somewhere. But I'm betting on options 1 or 3 right now." I told the swordswoman as she nodded in understanding.
We opened our wings and flew over since taking a portal would have been lazy and slightly rude.
Even if the place is collapsing, it is not polite to enter a goddess' home uninvited and unannounced like that.
Flying by the dilapidated buildings and aimless souls was a rather depressing sight. Even the usually cheerful and carefree Musashi felt down at sight of everything here simply waiting for its end.
We reached the palace which centered the realm, landing in front of giant stone doors carved with great cages filled with souls.
*Knock Knock knock*
The resounding sound echoed as I knocked hard but not destructively.
I could feel the last known god of Mesopotamia rush towards us, hurriedly opening the door and frankly surprising me with her appearance.
What greeted us wasn't a dignified goddess or terrifying embodiment of death itself, but a rather cute girl.
She had sharp but dignified features apparently paused in the middle of blooming as she appeared to be in her mid-to-late teens. Her wavy blonde hair was messy as a black crown rested on her head while her Ruby red eyes had dark circles around them, showing clear signs of stress and sleeplessness. She wore an old outfit composed of a faded purple long sleeve shirt which seems to also be a unitard as it covered her nether region, draped with a tattered purple cape. While her legs only had one black legging on the right and a used pair of golden shoes.
Overall, the state of her pantheon and realm have clearly taken a heavy toll on the goddess.
"Who are you?" She guardedly asked as she took us in and deduced we obviously weren't residents of this realm. "Trespassing in this place is a grave offense, even more so for the living. Leave now or I shall be forced to attack."
Those words caused Mana to ready for a QuickDraw and Musashi placed her hands on her blades.
"I think with both know Lady Ereshkigal, that this realm cannot afford such a thing." I gently told her as she flinched over her bluff being called.
"I don't care. I won't let you harm these souls even if it costs me everything." She stubbornly declared as her eyes shone fiercely with determination.
"Please, I do not wish to be an accessory to your pantheons extinction. I am simply searching for something and once I have either it or some answers, I shall leave peaceful." I calmly told the poor goddess as she seemed to hesitate.
Mana and Musashi knew enough about when to and when not to use force, hence they followed my lead dutifully as they removed their hands from their weapons.
"What is it you want Devil?" She carefully asked as she narrowed her eyes.
"The Chains of Heaven. I am looking for it and my search has led me to you." I answered peacefully.
"Why do you desire that thing?" She asked as her eyes narrowed.
"I wish for it to hopefully join me." I truthfully answered.
"You cannot take it. It was sealed under Anu's order and it is my duty to uphold this order." She immediately replied. "Just as is my duty to uphold this realm and laws. Now leave."
"You are very honorable lady goddess." Musashi earnestly said.
"Hmph, of course. I have never stopped doing my duty, even after everyone… left." She proudly stated before she reminded herself of being the last Mesopotamian goddess.
"Alone?" Mana suddenly said as her eyes softened.
"Hm?" Ereshkigal responded as she hadn't properly.
"Have you been all alone fulfilling these duties?" She clarified as she intently gazed at the blonde goddess.
"I wasn't always. Not before that spoiled bitch Ishtar got my husband killed. At least I was given charge over one of those responsible for his death." Ereshkigal spitefully answered.
"Now I understand your myth." I suddenly said as the pieces finally fit together and why they would imprison Enkidu down here.
""Nii-sama/my lord?"" My two girls asked.
"Gugalanna, also known as the Bull of Heaven, was said to also be the name of Ereshkigal's husband's names. I am guessing they were one and the same, and after Ishtar was rejected by Gilgamesh, because of her nature as a whimsical, selfish and spoilt brat, she went to her father to punish him by sending the unstoppable Bull of Heaven.
It would have worked too, if only Enkidu had not chosen to join Gilgamesh and assist him in defeating the Bull which he couldn't have without its aid. And seeing this failure to punish the man who rejected her, Ishtar once again called for their heads now as punishment for killing Gugalanna.
But Enkidu offered itself in exchange for its only friend, satisfying Anu and pleasing the petty Ishtar who now had taken Gilgamesh's only friend from him. Too bad for her Enkidu's sentence was handed to you too appease you and protect Ishtar from your wrath, since we was of course not to be blamed.
Well later you got your revenge since it was said you almost killed her when she visited Kur to 'pay respect for the Bull of Heaven'." I said aloud as I found this to be another example of a deity ruining lives out of selfishness and stupidity.
"There was no need to remind me." Ereshkigal coldly said in response. "She cost me my love and ultimately everything for our Pantheon as she drove Gilgamesh against us.
And even then. She was coddled and allowed to do as she pleased, running around freely while I had to watch everything that mattered to me fade away slowly.
My husband. My children. My parents. My pantheon. My realm. And all the souls I cared for.
She took everything away as I was forced to remain here. Always in this place."
The cold fury in her words left my two girls speechless and feeling pity for the once mighty goddess which had to lose everything and remain as she desperately clung to the last things she could as they too faded.
"Then will you let her get away with it and choose to remain chained to this place?" I asked the goddess as my words made her snap in my direction.
"She died long ago. What do you mean 'get away with it' devil?" She asked coldly.
"As far as I know, the leftover divine spirit of Ishtar became Aphrodite of the Greek pantheon. Still the same spoilt and pampered brat, free to do as she pleases while running back to Zeus instead of Anu when in trouble. So are you just going to quietly accept your fate and fade into nothing while she simply gets to continue in her new life without any consequences?" I explained to her as gradually her eyes lost their fury and turned into focus as she gazed at me.
"And what is it you propose to do devil? You think you are enough solve my problems?" She questioned harshly.
"Yes. I am more than enough to save this realm and give you the freedom you desire." I confidently replied.
"*scoff* My pantheon is gone and only the Realm of Dead has allowed me to sustain this place alongside my divinity. You might be strong for a devil, but you cannot save Kur." She dismissively responded as she felt my words were likely to be challenging her pride.
"Then how about we make a deal Ereshkigal?" I countered with a confident smirk.
"Fine. Tell me your offer." She said with little care.
"I shall save your realm and ensure its existence, with the possibility of even helping it recover and improve. I will also free you from the laws binding you in Kur to allow you to roam around while not needing to maintain this place. And I will even help you recover as a goddess." I offered rather generously I believe.
"And in return?" She predictably asked as she was pretty much ready to dismiss me already.
"Only a few things." I confidently answered with a smile. "The first being helping me free Enkidu so I may attempt to recruit it. The second would be for you to come under my wing, helping my lands flourish and to protect my people. And finally, at least a copy of all the knowledge regarding Mesopotamian arts, whether it be combat, magic, crafting or otherwise you have."
"You believe I, a goddess, would bow to a devil?" She asked in a steely voice.
"In simple terms, yes. If I can provide what I offered then I wish for you to join me." I answered straightforwardly.
"I will amuse you then. How do you propose to accomplish feats even I have not achieved in the last millennia I have attempted them?" She questioned with some slight derision.
"Like this." I simply answered as I transformed into my [True form].
Due to my control over my form, I could actually master my [True Form], unlike Sirzechs who still had trouble controlling his [Destruction] in canon.
It was the first time Musashi had seen this form, while Mana had aided me in my control training in the past.
"I didn't know you could transform my lord!" A dazzled Musashi exclaimed as she began looking at me from all angles.
"What manner of sacred gear is this? No devil has such an appearance." Ereshkigal said as took in my form.
"This, is my [True Form]. Something achieved by only 4 devils throughout our existence. Reaching this state allows us to surpass our race and gain the strength to defeat even the strongest gods." I proudly told her as she stared in disbelief.
"Impossible. I do not feel nearly enough power for you to match those monsters." She replied incredulously.
"Then let me show you." I said as I let loose my power.
Space immediately began to distort while I protect Mana and Musashi, letting Ereshkigal feel the full brunt of my demonic power is it utterly dwarfed her being.
The palace warped and twisted as the goddess knelt under the pressure of my power and the place trembled.
I then retracted everything and returned to my normal form.
"So, do you believe I can help you now?" I asked the gasping goddess as she recovered from the complete oppression.
"That was incredible my lord! I will strive to be able to cut you even in such a form!" Musashi declared as her eyes burnt bright.
"I don't think most retainers say they want to cut their lord Misashi." Mana responded in amusement.
"You are right Mana-senpai! Forgive me my lord!" Musashi exclaimed as she bowed.
"It's fine, I know what you really meant Musashi and I look forward to seeing if your blade can truly reach this form of mine." I told her with a challenging grin.
"I shall!" Was the completely confident response as her fighting spirit was almost visible.
"Hahaha!" I happily laughed at my motivated Knight.
"*sigh* Why do you encourage her so much nii-sama?" Mana asked as she had difficulty handling the sword user's personality.
"Because it is the best way to motivate Musashi and it's fun." I lightly answered with a smile.
"I can't deny it's effective." Mana admitted as she knew full well how fast Musashi was growing. "Maybe a bit too effective."
"How?" Ereshkigal suddenly said as we turned our attention to her. "How can a devil be so strong?"
"I told you, I surpassed my race and grasped our equivalent to divinity basically. It varies depending on a devils main source of strength, but I know for a fact that Sirzechs [True Form] revolves around his [Destruction]." I answered.
"And yours? What would allow you to warp everything like you did by just existing?" She asked in a mix of fear and hope.
"[Space] and soon enough [Time] as well." I honestly answered the goddess.
That leaves the goddess stunned. Mostly because the only truly powerful beings with authorities close to such aspects are Ophis with her [Infinity], [Chaos], and [Nothingness], and Great Red's [Dreams] and [Illusions]. The rest are usually incredibly weak due to not being able to properly develop their abilities.
"Do you believe I can fulfill my parts of the deal now Ereshkigal?" I asked as I patiently waited for her to decide her next course of action.
Up until now, she had basically been working off her knowledge that beside the Satans, devils were much weaker than gods as a species, thus my power shocking her so much. There is a reason for the arrogance of gods after all. But now she faced me, who is likely stronger than anyone in her Pantheon had been.
"What is your name?" The goddess asked as she met my gaze with determination in her eyes.
"Lith Azaroth." I simply answered.
"Ok then. I, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great Earth, swear myself in the service of Lith Azaroth as long as he upholds his promised terms. So I declare on my divinity." She eloquently said as her being was momentarily shrouded in golden particles before they transferred to me.
As soon as they disappeared, I felt a connection between myself and Ereshkigal, even to this realm.
"Now this is an interesting feeling." I said as I quickly tested a few things.
It didn't seem to be incredibly solid or potentially dangerous, but it was close to a familiar contract at its core mixed with a standard magical contract. With Ereshkigal on the more submissive side of course.
"Ereshkigal now greets her Lugal and begs for forgiveness for her brash and impolite words" the goddess solemnly said as she fell to a kneeling position.
"Ereshkigal, I'm not the type who requires others to kneel to me. Please stand." I told her as she obeyed while keeping a subdued atmosphere around herself. "Now let me stabilize this place and then we can talk about Enkidu and what will happen next."
"Thank you my Lugal." She replied with relief evident in her body as her shoulders relaxed.
To do this right I shifted into my true form. Since I could now feel a connection to this realm, I already had a general understanding of the rules in place for it unlike when I usually find a new dimension or create one from scratch.
Basically every dimension has its core and you can basically program just about anything on it as rules. In the Realms of the Dead, gods are either the creators or administrators of the system, granting them access to the system and permitting modifications as needed. This is part of why Death/underworld gods are usually so strong in their domains but weak outside of it, their divinity is too linked to their domain. And right now I was granted admin access by Ereshkigal.
I quickly reinforced and expanded the boundaries of the realm, while also changing things a bit for the remaining souls as I added a basic river with clean water and some fruit bearing trees near it. The Mesopotamian afterlife was rather harsh as everyone had neither food nor drink unless one received libations from family offering them on the grave of the decease. I thought these souls could at least have water and fruit while I arranger things in the future with Ereshkigal.
Next I closed off any exits beside the main one to the Realm of the Dead, to stop any sort of security risk, and opened a new one inside my territory, while securing both sides of the new gate.
And finally I connected the core of this place to three energy focused pocket dimensions to power the core of this place, by extension Ereshkigal, without the need for the worshippers.
Honestly, it made me feel godlike to be doing such things. I could see why it gets to people's heads.
"That should do it for now. We will be talking about the details later." I announced as I transformed back into my handsome form.
I was surprised to come back to a dumbfounded Ereshkigal who was looking at and feeling the results, with silent tears coming out of her eyes.
"Lady Ereshkigal, are you ok? My Lord didn't do anything wrong right?" Musashi asked as she saw the goddess crying.
"Eh?" She responded in confusion before feeling her tears and beginning to wipe them. "N-no. My Lugal I just, I mean I, it's."
"There there." Mana said as she took the smaller goddess into her mature bosom. "It's ok to care about the people you've been charged with. And it is ok to feel relief once saved."
I hadn't really thought about it until now, but Mana has truly grown into a cool beauty as her face was charming, she had beautiful hazel eyes which spoke of calmness and experience, lush straight black hair, a great body as her bust developed far more than normal Japanese descendants, eye catching legs and her flawless caramel skin covering the whole package. She usually wore a black shirt and enchanted leather armor under her favorite beige trench-coat, tight beige pants and leather boots.
'My little sister really grew up.' I thought as I watched her comfort a goddess.
She might have trouble expressing her emotions, this just being who she is, but she was fairly motherly when she empathized with others, and those who need help like she had when I met her are part of that.
Musashi and I waited as Mana helped Ereshkigal let her feelings out properly without having to feel embarrassed.
"*sniff sniff* I am sorry about this unfitting display my Lugal. But all the same, thank you for saving what was left of my everything and myself. I swear to be your loyal follower until the end." She earnestly said as she wiped her tears.
"Welcome aboard, Ereshkigal. But you can call me Lith. I am no king and generally like being close to my people. My wife and I are actually trying to get this one to stop calling us Lord and Lady, while I had to make Mana call me Nii-sama when she was younger to get her to stop." I responded in a friendly manner as I pointed to the two women.
"I shall uphold my honor as a samurai my lord!" Musashi loudly replied with enthusiasm as she directly ignored my attempt.
"Nii-sama has rather grown on me hasn't it. And we do share some features anyway." Mana shrugged in response.
"Um, i will try then L-L-Lith." Ereskigal said as she blushed heavily in her attempt.
'Huh, thought getting embarrassed saying first names like that was a Japanese thing. Or is it because this is an anime world?' I idly thought as she looked rather cute.
"We'll work on it. I'm sure my wife will have you ok with it once you meet her. But for now I need the know about Enkidu." I said patiently.
"Well, you see L-Lith, it required a lot of power to keep it sealed properly and with the end of my pantheon I just couldn't maintain it anymore. I also didn't have anyone I knew anymore who could be trusted with it, so I asked the only person I knew would never let it go free, the Queen of the Shadow Lands." The goddess explained as she fidgeted on the spot, looking kind of like a nervous child in front of her parents.
The height difference and her cute appearance didn't help.
"So that's the case. Good thing I was prepared to go there if Kur had already faded then." I responded without even a dip in positivity.
"Wait what!? You can't go there! It's far too dangerous with that god-slayer!" Ereshkigal loudly protested as she looked to at me with concern.
"Didn't think you'd warm up to us so quick, but you don't have to worry. Even with all my power I am not actually a god, so anti-divinity skills and weapons don't hurt me more than normal ones, and my power is far from being simply what I have demonstrated here." I lightheartedly said as I patted the blonde goddess' head.
"Who says I care about you?! I just don't want to see my new lord and savior die so quickly! And I don't want Kur to start crumbling away again." She replied as she turned her head away with a pout and blush.
"Haha! That's a fine reason to care too! But don't worry, nothing beside Great Red and Ophis can prevent me from leaving anywhere should I desire it. And even then, it won't be long until even they won't be able to." I boisterously told her as she at seemed to believe that statement or at least my confidence.
"Fine, just be careful. That woman reached us gods through only her skills in the spear and runes. Although I do not know her true strength, she is not be underestimated." She warned as she pushed aside her embarrassment and shyness.
"I know. But I look forward to meeting her. The Queen of the Shadow Lands, Scáthach." I responded with a confident smile.
"She sounds like a grand opponent to test myself against!" Musashi added as she grasped her sword handle.
"Let us see if we can solve things peacefully first." Mana chastised lightly.
"We can always ask if she would be willing to spar with you Musashi. She was said to be the best trainer in history alongside the legendary Chiron. I am sure she would be willing to at least have a friendly exchange with a talented person like you." I said to the girl.
"Yosh! Let's go the my lord! My blood is pumping and my blade itches for use!" The excited sword maniac said as she did her best to drag me by hugging my arm and pulling.
'Hm. Bigger than I thought. And softer than I could believe considering she swings her sword all day.' I thought as my mind was distracted by her precious bounty.
"L-Lith, please take this with you." Ereshkigal said as we were taking our leave, handing me a golden token with a cage on it. "At least this way she will know I sent you with my blessing and it should help keep things peaceful."
"Thank you Eresh." I said to her with a pleased smile, "I am sure this will help."
"E-Eresh?! I mean, my pleasure L-L-Lith." The surprised goddess replied as she tried to play it cool, but her blush had returned with force to ruin the attempt.
"I'll come back later and we can see about you coming to live on my territory. It's a lot less bleak and you can at least be with other people." I said as we were leaving.
The goddess could only stare at our backs feeling slightly stunned at what had happened during our visit.
'I can leave this place?' I absentmindedly thought as what my new lord, no, Lith, made his way to his goal.
'I could actually see the sky? I could walk amongst the living and live an actual life?'
And at those thoughts I cried for the second time today as I felt happiness and hope at his words.
He probably doesn't know, but if he had only offered me a chance at seeing the sky above I would have told him what he wanted to know. But now, Lith has given me so much more.
I can already feel my power coming after whatever he did. And with it my control over Kur.
And I was determined to offer everything I could to the one man who saved my everything even though he could have just taken what he wanted through force.
'He saw through my facade and still helped me. Even if it had some selfish reasons, I will do my best to pay him back.' I thought as I wiped my tears and returned to my palace.
I wanted to look my best for him next time we met. I would show him what a true goddess looks like.
EXTRA AUTHOR NOTES:
About Ereskigal in this fic.
First off, she will not be a peerage member. Gods cannot and should not be turned into devils for multiple reasons. She will be a godly subordinate and I will help her grow her divinity to truly fit her title as the Queen of Great Earth.
Second, she will still be in charge of Kur but it will be a lot less difficult to manage now that she is getting back her full power and then some, the number of souls has drastically been reduced and no new souls would actually come to Kur anymore either. As a result I plan to basically make her the one in charge of agriculture in Azaroth lands.
And third, 50/50 on Lith banging her and having some divine babies later. And yes, she's a tsundere. She will be the Rin of this fanfic in general.
Now about some future plans.
I had this interesting thought about bringing gods whose pantheons have fallen together under Lith, which would later combine with his Peerage to create a new pantheon with him as its leader. Might even go fuck it and have some gods chose to join his pantheon because they are tired of there's.
My first idea for who to join was Quetzalcoatl since Aztec gods haven't been mentioned as far as I know and should be dying out soon thanks to their worshippers getting genocided a century or two back. Suggestions are welcomed.
And as for the harem (deal with it cause it's happening), here's the current list of potential members. Meaning people who could officially declare themselves Lith's and not just having fun from time to time (Need to have appeared to be included, so no spoilers). The list may change in the future.
I don't see Musashi or Da Vinci having a true romantic relationship with Lith as of now. At most maybe joining the fun from time to time since they have needs too. Meanwhile Tamamo isn't going to be into Lith, very thankful and a friend yes, but not a lover.
Hope you enjoy.