When it was finally over, when at last he'd had won, Viridian didn't hesitate to get started. There was too much to do. Twenty years, this world had been without a God. He could see every second of those two decades, stretched out before him. It was a tapestry of profound hopelessness, of endless despair, stretched across so large an area that it seemed ready to tear. It was too much for the world to bear, for its people to bear. They wouldn't last much longer without something to hold on to.
He looked at his own reflection in the scrying pool, still trying to reconcile the changes to his appearance. He didn't remember who or what he'd been before the implantation, but he knew that this wasn't it. He could feel the lingering taint of whatever dark and twisted force of creation had wrought him, could see it pumping through the veins of deep green that spiderwebbed across his body — and when he listened, he could hear that same evil lurking even deeper in the Emerald Heart, itself.
He was convinced now, in hindsight, that this evil he felt was responsible for the pain he'd undergone. The dichotomy between the Heart's purity and the...sickness of whatever had placed it inside him had been too much to bear. Overcoming that sickness had been the first step — but he hadn't been able to purge it completely, only lock it away. And now it was the one dreaming, preparing itself for a second fight, festering and gathering its strength.
But as different as he felt he must have been from his previous self, it all felt so right. The way that his alabaster skin deflected light instead of absorbing it, giving him an otherworldly glow, felt natural. His eyes, behind whose pupils he could see immense, crawling starscapes burning against the vastness of empty space...they could see parts and pieces of the world that must once have been beyond his comprehension, but which now felt as natural as breathing. It seemed strange to imagine that he had ever been any different.
But he'd have time to be fascinated by himself, later. The scrying pool had shown him a world in an advanced state of decay, had given him insight into its every last detail. A world bereft of unity, where people fought over scraps too small to sustain them. It had shown him every face, every family, every township; every plant, animal, monster; every dream dared throughout these two desolate decades, and every nightmare lived alongside. He had learned their names — all of their names — he had seen evils so grand that he almost wished to forget them, and had been witness to acts of generosity so extraordinary that all the evils put together almost seemed small, by comparison.
That was the first thing he came to understand, staring at the world in that tiny pool of water. By its nature, evil was limited. There was only so much you could do to a person, or to a group of people. You could enslave them, oppress them, torture them, kill them. You could hurt their loved ones, destroy their livelihoods, and leave them so broken that they would go on to perpetrate those same evils against others, but ultimately, evil was not fairly balanced with good.
Done properly, one act of kindness could overturn a lifetime of torment. One act of mercy for a tortured soul was like giving food to a starving man — the starvation can only take a man so far, while one meal can bring them back from the brink. It seemed for all the world like good ought to have won out millennia ago, and yet here he looked on at a world being crushed beneath the weight of all its evils.
And so that was the second thing that he'd come to terms with: it's easier for a man to destroy the good inside himself than to fight the evil all around. Since the Disavowment, it had been easy to feel like you stood alone against the sum of the entire world's evils, and that was too much for all but the most stalwart of warriors. So people had surrendered themselves over to that darkness by the millions, leaving only a dedicated few to hold the line.
That line had been buckling dangerously since long before the Disavowment. These last two decades had worn it away to almost nothing, with only the most fanatical defenders standing fast against the wicked colossus looming beyond. On their own, they were doomed to failure, fated to be crushed beneath that colossus as it stormed across a line that one day would only exist in the imaginations of those who sought to defend it.
That colossus had never met Viridian. The world had never met Viridian. This darkness wasn't something that could be fought directly, but that just meant that he would get to deconstruct it, piece by piece, and it wouldn't be able to defend itself. For Viridian, it wasn't easier to destroy the light within himself than to fight the darkness all around. He was the light, and this darkness he saw throughout the world, daring the stand so brazenly against him, was laughably inadequate by comparison.
But he couldn't risk failure. He was this world's one hope, its one chance at salvation. If he got careless or overconfident, he risked everything. So the third lesson he'd learned from his time staring at the scrying pool was that he needed to make himself stronger. He wasn't a God. As much power as he could feel coursing through him, he knew that he was just a very powerful mortal. Perhaps the most powerful mortal, in his own way.
But he knew of the Starstone Test in the mighty city of Absalom, into which tens of thousands had stepped, hoping to achieve divinity, and out of which only four had emerged. Aroden, whose immortality had turned out to be relatively short-lived; Iomedae, whose immeasurable faith in her God had carried her through to the end; Norgober, who pretended mystery to those who tried not to see the truth; and Cayden Cailean, a mercenary who had taken the test on a drunken bet.
There was something common to all four of them which had allowed them to complete the test, and it was not necessity. If the Starstone cared about how much the world needed a God, then it wouldn't have rejected the thousands who had taken it since the Disavowment. It wasn't power, either; Cailean was a fighter of transcendent physical prowess, but many had come and gone who were at least as strong, and many who were stronger. It probably wasn't random chance, because that seemed like a poor metric by which a God-Machine ought to judge its applicants; and also because the number of people undertaking the test had increased dramatically since the Disavowment, without any success.
But it was selecting for something, he was sure. He couldn't very well just strike up a conversation with the Gods to see what made them tick, though, and he couldn't identify any specific characteristics that the four of them had shared which weren't also possessed by at least one of the many who had failed.
But he'd known since the moment the scrying pool had shown him: he would take the Starstone Test. He would pass it, too — perhaps it was a matter of self-assured overconfidence, but he practically dared the Test to reject him. He was a source of power unto himself, drawing on the power of the Emerald Heart to fuel a new type of magic that this world had never even heard of. If the Starstone tried to deny him, he would show it exactly what the world's most powerful mortal was capable of.