(Something of a change in tone this time, but bear with me! It can only go up from here.) “Hello Death,” Dredmor said. “You’ve lost weight.” “THE SAME JOKE EVERY TIME. YOU REALLY THINK YOU’RE- WOULD YOU TURN THAT DAMN THING DOWN?” “What? Oh.” Dredmor adjusted the Staff of THX, still set to amplify after his frustrating encounter with the Diggle God of Secrets. As he did so the Diggle God of Death, one of literally billions of death aspects in the world, stepped out of the shadows and settled his bony body onto the floor. Dredmor also sat on the floor, cross-legged, and said, “That should be better. I must admit, I’m surprised to see you.” “Well,” Death said, “I wouldn’t have sent this aspect if the others hadn’t insisted. Your determination to expand your dungeon has the Diggle Gods really upset, though I’m not entirely sure why. Of course, as a soul that has kept itself free of the afterlife I do technically have an obligation to hunt you down in the traditional fashion, so I really couldn’t say no. But I had hoped to hold this aspect in reserve a while longer.” Dredmor laughed as he conjured a number of bones and stone plates into existence, arranging them on the floor. “What could your diggle aspect possible offer that your more formidable aspects don’t have available to them?” “What have you seen of me so far, Dredmor?” Death asked casually as his diggle flippers summoned his own array of bone and stone. Lich and reaper carefully arranged them on the floor in a checkerboard pattern as the world’s greatest undead considered how to answer that. “A great deal, and yet still only a small part.” Dredmor answered. “So far I have battled you as the Jaws of Death, the Angel of Death, Sudden Death, Death of Obsidian Butterflies, a Shinigami, the Crow, a Doppleganger and as the Gates of Death. Of those aspects only the Gates and the Doppleganger were particularly challenging.” “Death in any form is not an opponent to be taken lightly. Yet if anyone were able to boast of the capacity to do so it would be you. Yet, while most of those forms are quite impressive compared to the average mortal not one of them is as powerful as this. For none of them was truly a god.” Death clapped his flippers together and there was an earthshaking rumble as dozens of huge grave-digging drills smashed into the ground around them. Dredmor recognized the tools, diggles used them to excavate graves, a task to sacred to be done in the usual manner. Small blue lights burned at the ends of the handles, casting enough light for even a normal person to see by. Once again Dredmor forced himself to remember that these were honest to bone deities he was dealing with, not like the half-baked lutefisk emissaries or human heroes he usual had to put up with. Their power and information was on another level. It had been a long time since had faced such a challenge, and he wasn’t entirely sure he could win. Fertility he had surprised, most likely that diggle god hadn’t taken him seriously. Secrets had a weird personality he had been able to exploit. Death was just an aspect of something he knew well. They had an old deal that would keep things on even terms. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure the other diggle gods would have destroyed him had they won. Death had a duty to send his soul to the afterlife. It was potentially a huge problem. And what of future diggle gods? Hopefully after this, that would be an end of it. He focused his attention back on Death, who was admiring the lights he had just made. The skeletal diggle wore a leering grin when he looked back at Dredmor. “I wouldn’t want you to claim you lost because you couldn’t see the board. Now, Dredmor, shall we begin the greatest of games?” Dredmor looked at the Extinction board they had just built. Each of the eight cardinal direction (north, south, east, west, sea level, orbit, entropy and Wisconsin) was clearly marked and it seemed that this time Death had brought Elves, Gremlins and, of course, Diggles to the field. His own usual choices, Gnomes, Giants and Footies were also in place. The game would end when one player managed to drive all three of his own races extinct. Dredmor reached out and moved his first piece. “Your move, Death.” Death and Dredmor had something of an understanding. The Game of Extinction was really just a way for Death to say he was trying to collect Dredmor’s soul, as he must. As part of their bid for immortality, liches ran the risk of seeing their soul trapped in the afterlife every time they were destroyed. Winning the battle to stay unliving was one of the things that made it take so long to come back every time they were destroyed. Dredmor had won over Death more times than any lich. Collecting his soul had become something of an obsession for the reaper, and Dredmor knew it. While he liked to think he had formed something like a mutual understanding with Death, in the end the lich knew it was only a matter of time before Death made a play for his soul that wasn’t a part of the typical lich’s game. In the mean time, Death continued to send throwaway aspects to try and collect his soul. In theory, if he could defeat them all before Death’s plan was ready, none of them would be able to pursue his soul when the time came. In practice, with new death aspects arising for every person born and new thing created, staying ahead of them all would be impossible. But, in spite of his evil nature, Dredmor was an optimist. Perhaps something to be learned from the diggle gods could help him when the time came for his final showdown with Death. Something to put him beyond Death’s reach entirely. Only time would tell, and he had plenty of that. “It seems you’re going to win again, Dredmor,” Death said in amusement. Dredmor jerked out of his thoughts and looked down at the game board. He had dueled Death over it so many times he barely noticed it anymore. His giants and footies were starving while the gnomes burned themselves out preventing magical interference to regrow their numbers. Dredmor tapped his teeth absently. “The sight must warm your heart.” “On the contrary. And not just because I have even less of a heart than you,” Death said, his mirth clearly growing. “Without life, there can’t be death. The reverse is not true. What do you think would happen if everything that lives were to die?” Dredmor shrugged. “You would reign triumphant, I suppose.” “No,” Death said. “I am Death. This is but one of my aspects, my power is much farther reaching than even a so-called deity like this can contain. But I am scattered. If all that lives were to die, I would still have to visit death upon something.” Dredmor felt his eyes glow brighter. “And all that would be left are your own aspects.” “And eventually, even we would be gone. Death must have life. But the reverse is not true.” For a moment, Dredmor just stared at Death in amazement. Such a ludicrous thing had never occurred to him before. “What do you mean?” “Life does not arise from death. It exists because it wishes to. If Life were to be snuffed out even I would end. But Life could rebirth itself. I could not.” Death shuddered, its diggle bones rattling. “Can you imagine such a horror? Life unending. It sickens.” Dredmor began to remove the pieces of his most recent victory from the game board, his mood pensive. “And what do you propose to do about it?” “I have chosen someone to ensure that such a thing never comes to pass.” “Who?” “You.” The Diggle God of Death waved one flipper and his half of the game board vanished. “Mark this, Dredmor. Your greatest trial among the diggle gods is about to start. You have all you need to win already at your waist and,” Death chuckled, “on your back. But keep in mind that if you die you will have to face me again, and I’ll not be so forgiving of one who has failed my expectations.” Death rose, ignoring Dredmor as he started to offer a rebuttal. “And in the future, remember this, mortal soul who’s death has been long avoided. There will come a time when, no matter how much you hate them, you will spare the life of one who lives. At that time, know that you do so not for yourself, but for Death. “And then your soul will truly be mine.” Death vanished, the sound of his hollow laughter grating in the air. And for the first time since his death, Dredmor felt a sliver of fear.