Chapter 7: Party! Party!
by Jeff Grubb
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The Ruttenheimer Theory (named after its creator, Ruttenheimer the Repeatedly Martyred) states that all divinity is but a single divinity, self-divided and subdivided into smaller bits. Because no matter how large such a unified Power may be, the infinite realities are greater and more complex. Therefore, the original Power subdivided itself (and it could, because it is all-powerful), into smaller, more discrete units to handle the complexity. Those subdivided powers divided themselves into smaller creations, while those sub-subdivided powers become still smaller entities.

Each of these fractions are still incredibly powerful, for half an infinity is still an infinity, and even half a real number that is near infinity is near-infinite itself. In this way the elder gods come to be.

At some point, it becomes obvious that you can chip off a part of the large-but-finite parts and still leave most of the original large-but-finite original intact. In this way the lesser gods came to be, and they divided into lesser gods still, down to the godlings.

This theory was not what got Ruttenheimer repeatedly martyred. Rather it was his first corollary to his theory: That to do this in the first place, the original Power had to be completely nuts-up-the-wall.

-- Amandar's Great Big Book of Divine Power

Jest would reflect later that, with the exception of the debacle that ended the party and nearly ended most of known creation, it wasn't that bad a shindig.

It hadn't started that way, of course. Originally it was going to be eight of them. Then it became nine with the addition of the God of Cats, and then there were "a few" additional guests outside the door.

Of course, there were more than "a few" godly invitees. When Jest first looked, he saw about a dozen, and more warping in all the time. Some of them brought food and drink. Some of them brought sofas. Most of them showed up with empty hands and broad smiles.

"Just a moment," said the God of Pranks, and he slammed the heavy orichalcum door on them.

He turned back to the others, his hands splayed against the inside of the door. "So what do we do?"

"Whaddya mean, we?" said Storm, now sprawled out on a divan. "Isn't this Rustbucket's fault in the first place?"

"I knew this was a mistake," said Rust.

"All right," said Leaves, pressing her index fingers to her temples. "We can handle this. Tears, dear, start making a list. We'll need to at least double everything we have here, and add some in addition."

"We send them home," said Sand. "And the little cat-god with them. This was a private party. Note that they all showed up AFTER the hard work was done."

"Tell them it was a joke," said Hammer, looking at Jest.

"Bad idea," said Whisper.

Leaves said, "We're going to need more jackdrawberries, manna, and lembas. Get some of those creamy cheeses from the southern Pogalias . . . "

"Bad idea?" said Jest.

"Bad idea," said Whisper. "We have a large number of our fellow godlings outside. We send them away. What are the odds that one or more of them get the word back to the elder gods about this place?"

"Crap," muttered Rust.

"This is SO not my fault," said the Lord of Cats.

"Don't make matters worse," snapped Sand.

"And we can use those red dragonhearts, but we'll need more white ones as well. And those little puff pastries, the ones you can get at that deli in Muspelhiem," said Leaves.

"Hold it!" said Storm, pushing himself up from his sofa. "Why is this a problem?"

"Because we were hoping it would be a secret," said Tears.

"So it's a secret among eighty gods as opposed to eight."

"Nine," said Cats.

"And we kept it SO well up to now," said Hammer.

"Let's hope that some other nature gods are out there," said Leaves. "They always bring ambrosia. And the art-gods always bring absinthe. Never mind that no one really drinks it anymore."

"Nevertheless, it's still kept from the elders," said Storm. "And who's going to blab if all this works out?"

Jest looked at the others. Hammer nodded. Cats beamed brightly. Sand let out an exasperated sigh. Whisper, with a knuckle to her lips, nodded slowly. Leaves kept dictating her shopping list to Tears.

Rust collapsed on a settee, head in his hands.

"Right then," said Jest, taking a deep sigh and swinging open the heavy main door.

"Welcome, my friends," he said brightly, "to the No Place Room!"

And for the first couple hours, it almost looked like they were going to pull it off.

Jest estimated the house at its peak at about a hundred godlings, none of them in any position of authority. Still, it was a hundred gods, and the potential for difficulties were high.

So Jest circulated. He played host. He served as the social lubricant between the various rivalries, inherent opposites, and various cliques that naturally evolved in any group of this size.

The Weird Sisters and the Norns had already claimed a chunk of couch space, pulled out their yarn, and were knitting and gossiping about everyone else. Knowledge and emotion gods were having a philosophical donnybrook nearby. At the opposite side of the donut-shaped space, a group of heavy weather godlings had arrived with their amps and air guitars, and declared themselves to be the No Place Room's house band, the Thunderjockz. The nature godlings set up mystic baffles around the impromptu stage to keep the resulting cacophony at bay.

Storm, with his own borrowed axe, was at one side, shaking his head in apparent disgust.

"You look unhappy," Jest yelled. "Band no good?"

"They all want to play lead," said Storm. "Except Elmo's Fire -- he's good with drums. But rhythm and bass? Forget about it."

But the storm god was looking past Jest's shoulder. Jest turned and saw that he was looking at Sand, who was leaning on an arm of an overstuffed chesterfield. Perched on the other arm was Hammer. Between the two was Rust, who was becoming less and less worried about his problems.

Jest turned back to Storm. The weather god was frowning deeply.

"Can't see what she sees in him," he grumbled.

"Women," smiled Jest. "Can't live with them, can't turn them into pillars of salt." He paused for a moment, then added, "At least without a permit."

Storm was going to say something else but the Thunderjockz fled the stage for a break. One of them swung by Storm and punched him in the shoulder. "Mead Run!" he growled, and drifted toward Leaves' refreshment area, where the other nature gods were hanging and comparing recipes.

Storm nodded and joined his fellow weather gods. Jest, for his part, drifted over toward the philosophers. Barroom Logic was wrapping up a long story involving mortals and shadows on a cave wall, and the others were laughing. Tears was there, and, though his pants were still smoking from Leaves' various errands, he seemed more relaxed. He launched into his own tale about the importance of grief in human advancement. Jest tuned him out, and instead saw Whisper across the bull session. The god of secrets locked eyes with him, and then nodded over toward a relatively quiet space.

"How is it going?" asked Whisper.

"Surprisingly well," said Jest. "No major pyrotechnic displays. No age-old rivalries coming to the fore. Some minor divine manifestations, but no theatrics."

"So you've been reining in your own tendencies," said Whisper.

"I've just been playing the perfect host," said Jest.

Whisper let his words hang in silence for a moment, and Jest quickly added, "Not that I haven't been tempted."

"No doubt," said Whisper.

"Actually, my palms have been itching," said Jest. "Temptation runs rife. Would love to turn Cats loose on the Norn's yarn-ball. That would be interesting."

"And a fit punishment for Cats blowing the secret?" asked Whisper. Jest shrugged with a smile.

"Well, if it results in a spate of bad fate for Cats, so much the better," said Jest.

"She's been drifting from group to group, as well," said Whisper. "But not staying long. I don't know if it's because she's not comfortable, or because she gets bored easily."

"Probably the latter," sniffed Jest. "If not for her, we could have had this place to ourselves for a while."

"I'm not so sure," said Whisper. "I've been doing my own circulating, listening in and asking a few choice questions."

"Are you ever off the clock?" asked Jest.

"No," said Whisper. "And while a number of invitations stretch back to Our Lady of Felines, others are cagier. The Norns are all 'predestination' and 'divine grace.' The Thunderjockz don't remember who told them. Root and Bough both say they got a note from Leaves. Illegible Runes says he heard it from Summertime Fancies, while Fancies claims she heard it from Runes."

"So?" said Jest.

"I'm just saying," said Whisper, "that if you're planning a prankish revenge against the kitten god, she may not be the only one involved. I'm just saying."

And with that Whisper drifted off again to where Leaves was laying out more roc tongues at the buffet. Jest frowned and headed the other direction, toward the room's thick central pillar, where Rust was holding court. A cluster of other minor gods tuned in to the skinny of their reassembly work.

The entropic god had relaxed a great deal, both from the mead and ambrosia and from the attention, in particular from Sand.

"What impresses me most," Sand was saying, "was the fine nature of the individual grains of orichalcum. It was almost broken down to the molecular level."

"Part of that is the nature of the material itself," put in Hammer, obviously trying to keep up with the conversation. "Its outer orbit shells are extremely tight. It's extremely rigid, but once broken, these tight shells create a cascading failure model."

"True," said Rust, "but that's exactly what makes impurities so difficult to remove. You have to attack the oxidation without kicking off the effect."

"And you did a bloody fine job of that, didn't you, Rustbucket?" said Storm, and Jest jumped slightly. He hadn't heard him come up. The weather godling was standing there, one hand behind his back, his posse of Thunderjockz a few steps behind him.

Rust frowned but Storm continued. "What matters is not the matter, boyo, but the energy, as any damned fool knows. Given enough power, you can pull anything apart."

"I wasn't trying to pull it apart," said Rust sternly.

"But you did, and I'm just saying you didn't need to do much," said Storm. "Observe" he said, and pulled from behind his back the upper fragment of the duocorn golem's head, the largest surviving piece of the No Place Room's original guardian.

Jest started to protest, but Storm barreled on. "Any fool with a basic understanding of energy states can do the same." He cast a glance over his shoulder at the Thunderjockz. Elmo gave the thumbs-up sign.

Rust rose from the couch, but Storm already had sparks dancing from his fingertips. He passed a hand over the top of the skull.

Nothing happened. Rust relaxed for a moment, but Storm raised a hand to the Thunderjockz. The other weather gods summoned their air guitars, and lightning sparked off their strings.

Jest saw what was happening. Already the other godlings were scrambling away from the couch. Rust held his ground, and Sand shifted behind him. Hammer looked frostily at Sand.

Storm again ran his hands over the smooth dome of the duocorn's head, and this time, lightning arced from the Thunderjockz to Storm. The top of the head bubbled with eldritch energy and began to crumble.

And then the lightning arced elsewhere. A bolt sailed across the room, scattering the philosophers and the Weird Sisters. Another caught Hammer square in the belly, knocking her from the couch.

Another struck the heavy central column in the center of the room.

Rust snarled and grabbed the now-disintegrating skull out of Storm's hand. "Jerk!" he shouted. "Aren't we in this mess from playing with this stuff?"

He was interrupted by a large crackling snap, louder than any thunder. Storm and Jest both looked up, above Rust. Rust turned as well.

The huge central pillar was beginning to crack and flake apart. Already, a dark viscous smoke was pouring out of the seams. And as they watched, a huge clawlike hand emerged from within the pillar and started pulling away the fragments of the column.

Multiple sets of glowing eyes regarded the godlings from the emerging, swirling darkness.

"Oh crap," muttered Rust, in a soft voice. "Not again!"

To be continued...

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Chapter 8: Rage Against the Shadows!
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