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Visions out of time

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Zadara the Titan's picture

"You come to me seeking wisdom. Know, that everything I am going to tell you is a lie. Know, that even if I knew the truth, I could not speak of it. Know, that no matter what you do to me, my words will remain the same, for they are all that stands between me and the vision that seeks to burn my mind. Now listen, while I will lie to you about ends that are beginnings."

"Universes end. It happens all the time, everywhere and in numbers beyond counting. Call it entropy if you’re so inclined, or chance if you’re of that persuasion. Neither term is correct of course. And it’s really nothing to make fuss of, except if, by chance, you’re one of the inhabitants of one such doomed reality."

"There was a world once, an old world. There was life in abundance on this world, plants, animals and a diversity of sentient beings carrying with them the stories of their pasts and the dreams of their future. There was song and prayer, birth and death, the full drama of mortal existence, watched over by gods embodying the best and worst of the people. But as I said, the world was old. While the peoples of Proteros were approaching new heights of civilisation and barbarism in turn, every age adding new memories and new rungs on the ladder upward, the end came over the world hidden and unsuspected. Not even the gods, far-sighted as they were, noted the signs of rot, that spread in unseen places, the decaying of reality, where it was not watched over. They did not notice the newcomers coming from without, maybe because at first their intent was not malicious in nature but merely driven by curiosity."

"Even had they become aware of what was happening, they could not have stopped it. When the eschaton began like a hammerblow into the face of the world, fire raining from sundered skies, dreadful moons terrorizing the nights and monsters rising among men, nothing could be done. For there was no face to the attack, that shook the world. No force taking responsibility for the assault on what had grown over countless millennia. Strange folk began appearing from hidden places, the clouds showed sudden sentience and began eating away the mountains. Magic twisted out of the control of its wielders and the very bones of the earth awoke from eternal slumber. An age of nightmares to end the dream of prosperity and enlightenment came over the world."

"Any dark age brings forth heroes and this end of all things did no less. Great poets arose, casting into thought all that was human, weaving skeins of words to entrap and set free the mightiest of emotions. In some unfathomable way their art seemed to hold together land and cities around them. Leaders of men inspired their peoples, taking the fight into their hands to protect themselves. Believers found faith so deep as to astonish even those they worshipped. And the gods, though weakened in the extreme, set sorcery and martial abilities against the beings entering the world to bring madness among their mortal kin. They sought to close the rifts appearing everywhere, from which strange phenomena and trespassers issued forth. But for all the heroics of those nine terrible years, nothing could prevent the inevitable. None of the small successes would be able to save the dying world."

"Finally, even as the conflict raged on all layers of existence, from the material one to that of thought and dreams, a chance encounter between four mortals came to decide the future. Though powerful and great in understanding these four had relinquished the violent struggle against the intruders and the collapse of the world, wandering the remaining fragments and pockets of resistance in search of an answer that would bring an end to the slow death of the universe. They had found none, but be it by chance or higher force, they came together to find a solution."

"The first among these four to arrive at the place, where they would begin their council, was the one called Morphe. A legendary warrior and skilled smith he had fought long and hard to defend the country he’d called home. For all his skill he had failed though, his people slaughtered or worse. And in his failure he had realized, that all the time he’d only been delaying the inevitable. Leaving behind only ruins he turned to the seeking of truth instead of denying it with the bared blade. At the time of the convergence Morphe had been retreating from a monstrosity defiant of mortal imagination that had pursued him for weeks. Finally he decided to make a stand at last and in titanic struggle threw down the behemoth and cut the life from its broken form with the sword he’d made himself, never touched by any magic, only by the skill of his hands and the noblesse of his spirit. As he looked upon the corpse of the broken creature, he knew that his year-long travels had come to an end, that answers would come to him from now on. From the skull he carved a small shelter and from teeth and claws he fashioned a table and four seats to position around it. Then he waited."

"The second to arrive was Xaris, who had treasured above all else the pleasures of live. Art, song and poetry, these had been her favourite pursuits. Over the course of her long life she had been herald to emperors, an unemployed sculptress, a singer before audiences of ten thousands, a traveller in the search of beauty in all things alive, a mother, a nun, a diplomat and so much more. When the eschaton came, destroying all the things she held dear, Xaris succumbed to despair and was close to taking her own life. At the last moment her conscience and love for the world made her reconsider, though. ‘Is it not better’, she said to herself, ‘that I stay alive and preserve within me all that is being destroyed? There are none, who know more of the many forms life takes in this world. There are none, who can keep alive the legacy of all the peoples in word and song better than I, who I have lived among them all and learned of all that is human. Would it not be a terrible crime to let all that knowing of beauty die?" Thus Xaris lived on and travelled through the destruction and transformation engulfing the land, taking note of all she saw and keeping in her mind the painful magnificence of the dying universe. At last she came to the grisly shelter Morphe had built from the skull of an otherworldly horror and like him she realized, that it was here, that all would be decided."

"The third of the mortals arriving was Phronesis, of whom it was said, that he was wiser even than the gods. Once priest to a god of knowledge, he had surrendered the vestments of highpriest to settle far away from all civilization as a hermit. In quiet contemplation he had pulled down the high-reaching towers of thought he had built, had torn down every single perceived truth and assumption in his mind. Then, floating in darkness alone he had reconstructed himself and that, which he chose to know, what he had found to be the truth that could not be touched by the doubting of all. Knowledge, he had realized, could be deceiving. Wisdom alone, the knowing of one’s own self and the few transcendent truths, was worth striving for, though this was the hardest path to walk of all. Indeed, while he had been hailed as greatest thinker of the age upon his eventual return to civilization, he’d always said, that he had but taken a single step towards true wisdom, that the way stretching before him was longer than he could possibly imagine. When the consumption of the world set in, he sensed that his time had come, that all knowledge and power was helpless against the tide of madness sweeping over all existence. So he walked out from the protected walls of the cities into the shifting darkness beyond to find the right place. Though he was an old man, alone and unarmed, nothing harmed him as he wandered through Armageddon until at last he came to the place of convergence, where he was greeted by Morphe and Xaris, who recognized him as one of their own."

"The fourth and last one was Ethelein. Even in that time of heroes there were none like her. No taint of sorcery was on her, yet her will alone had levelled mighty cities, raised mountains into the sky and removed all entanglements of fate or the intents of others from her soul. None were capable of influencing her. For all the power residing within her, for all the inexorable force of her resolve even the gods could not match, Ethelein was lost, though. Though the strength of her determination could have carried her past every obstacle, she did not know her path. A mind liberated of all influences, unmoved by the souls around it and capable of forcing movement on all, possesses the greatest freedom but it is also utterly alone. And mortal as she was, loneliness was hard to bear. Only when the End came, she perceived a tendril of possibility signifying one thing she’d thought extinguished: Hope. Hope for a cause, an end, a path. So she left the mud-build hovel from where she had ruled empires and took up the search. Without opposition on her long way she eventually also came to the place of convergence."

"It is said, that genius recognizes genius on sight. The four immediately saw each other for what they were: The faces of mankind, four of a kind, mortal but possessed of unlimited potential. Their motivations might not be wholly congruent, but how could that be an impediment, when All was at stake? For days the four spoke of the Eschaton, what it signified, how it had come about and laid beyond it. There was nothing they could do from here, they agreed. The world itself was dying and as entities of and within the world, how could they fully understand that? And without understanding, how could they do anything?"

"There are higher truths," Phronesis offered, "than that of the world. Truths that contain all that is. Truths that are other places. From within we can do nothing, but Outside is not Nothingness. From outside the world we can act." Heartened by these wise words, the four set out to find a way to the Outside. Together and apart they travelled far, gaining the keys of Heaven and forcing open the doors of Hell, but the only truth they found in their search was that of friendship – and though few truths are greater, it did not open the gates of reality. Finally they gathered once more within the monstrous skull that served as the room of the convergence. By that time news of their whereabouts had spread and messengers and heralds awaited then, pleading help from the great heroes."

"That night in her dream Xaris visited Ethelein and spoke to her: "Long have we searched the world for that which lets us step out of it. Have you considered, that maybe we went too far? To far away from ourselves?" "Indeed," Phronesis answered. "Truths are seldom found outside oneself. I should have listened to myself earlier." Then he paused. "But how is it, that I talk to you in dreams?" A third voice came to answer. "This house I build with my own hands to find an answer within. See, even in dreams we have not left it. Nor, I suspect, should we have left earlier." Morphe laughed sadly. Looking at the others Ethelein remained silent. No words were needed. The keys to the Outside they possessed together, each of them one part. The merest exertion of will brought about the transubstantiation. Later, in the morning, their corpses were found."

"Hah, what can words do to describe that, which is Between? There’s space that is not space in between everything that is or is not. Time is of no consequence there, nor is meaning to be found. In the face of titanic forces of that non-place, sucking voids of deepest nothingness wrestling with cyclopean suns that consumed sentient minds like a fire consumes hay, the souls of the four were separated, thrown about in the all-encompassing maelstrom. Like candles in a storm they flickered fitfully on the brink of extinction. The Outside is not kind to small minds. Kindness is a word without significance there."

"How did they survive, you ask. In a way they didn’t. Within the branching reaches of possibility, there are large spots, where the four were annihilated utterly. Still, even a candle can be hard to extinguish. Though rendered insensate by the force of the storm of madness, Morphe endured. Instinctively the flame of his life-force refused to be smothered, even devoid of a body it tried to live. *Life* Xaris remembered. Beauty and hateful ugliness. What it means to be human. What it means, to have a self. Finding a core of life on which to hold on, she brought sentience with her. *Awareness*. Grasping like man drowning, the schooled intellect of Phronesis found the two, before the otherness could drive it into comprehending insanity far too well. The door of clear thought were opened again. *Understanding*. And although she would not have ceased to exist, it was only through the three others, that Ethelein persisted as Ethelein even as she merged with the newborn entity the others had become, anchoring herself to the unbreakable core. One fixed point to brace against and entire worlds can be moved. *Will*."

"The force of will is the only law recognized by that Far Realm. Energies beyond comprehension burned over the something that had come newly to the Between, stepping out from an enclosure, within which time had a direction. Screaming with pain, it lashed out. Hard. Probing extensions flinched back. A million eyes averted their gaze. Insensate insanities withdrew to less contested regions. An area of enforced calm arose around Four. Looking out from the eyes of their common form, it briefly glanced at the maelstrom now raging elsewhere, before turning to scrutinize the universe below it. That one was dying alright. Deep wounds marred its body, through which power leaked in thick, cloying streams. Others had become infected, entranceways to microscopic gods and titanic bacteriae. Soon it would succumb to that disease and be consumed by infinite numbers of scavengers and decomposers. For a long time Four did not speak."

"Finally with a dizzying feeling of splitting Morphe began to speak. "We cannot save this one. Nor should we interfere with another’s artistry anyway. If we are to maintain something of our world, we must fashion a new one." "In this place we can," Ethelein answered and a small cube took shape over her right hand. Within it stars swam, were born and died again. But as the friends gathered to marvel at that creation a stream of hungry colours fell upon them. Caught unaware, they were almost broken apart, but this time they remained aware and found each other again quickly. Even as curtains of unfathomable colours feasted upon the world-cube, Ethelein formed arrows of pure black from her will, slashes of nothingness bleeding body and soul alike. With these weapons the four fell upon the parasitic creatures and dispersed many of them. Yet the damage was done. Before the cube had even finished forming, it bled out, leaving behind only a taste of sadness."

"There must be more substance to a world that is supposed to last," Phronesis mused. "It needs a life of its own, and a way to protect itself from within as well as from Without." Xaris, who had been silent so far, then began to speak. "It’s shape must be that of infinity itself. When I married for the first time, my husband gave to me a ring. It was made of stone, strong and unyielding, and veined through it were crystals of many colours. ‘Where does it begin?’, he asked me. ‘Where does it end? Such is my love for you.’ The symbol of a ring is unassailable, its significance eternal." And from her finger she took that very ring. "An artisan puts something of himself in each of his works," Morphe began, "we will have to make great sacrifices for this crafting." In silence the four agreed.

"Working together they separated what laid inside the ring and what was without. An empty cosmos, bound within its confines took shape. Space and time were bound inside, working according to laws set. All inside would be protected from the Unbound, their minds safe within a world of comprehensible forces. But such works attract attention and attention is something best avoided Outside. Attracted by the power pouring into the weaving and offended by the shaping of places beyond their reach, a deformed god-meme approached from below, its assimilator opened wide. Furious Ethelein willed radiant light into a hammer and broke the predator-thought into pieces, some of which left quickly, while others started to cry. "We will have to defend our legacy," Phronesis observed drily."

"Four minds touched. No words were necessary. Nodding at the others Morphe stepped into the gate to the new world, into its center and there he ceased to be. With his sacrifice, the meaningless void Inside was filled with potential. His essence spread out, turned from solid to liquid and finally to mist. Dreams flickered, Form and Substance came into being, the very founding stones of existence.

Xaris disappeared into the bounds of the circle next. From her memories issued forth meaning, meaning attributed to substance. In myriad forms, living creatures emerged, in all their baseness and glory, all the beauty and ugliness of Life.

With a deep sigh Phronesis silver-haired head burst into a silent explosion of light. Inside the bounded cosmos sentience came to life. Self-awareness flowered, faith and logic emerged. Grandiose buildings of thought were crafted once more, gave birth to places of their own."

"Tears in her eyes Ethelein remained in the Unbound alone. Apart from the other three, whom she loved, her sacrifice to the new cosmos would be the greatest, though she had poured only the tiniest bit of her mind into the birthed world to act as protector from within. Her true task would be the maintaining of the universe against all that stood against it. Already weary from the arduous work of creation Ethelein focused her will into a weapon for the third time. Like a blade it became, made of sorrow’s grey, unyielding and unbreakable. Into its point flowed her determination and into its edge the full force of her will, able to cut through anything to achieve its object. Then against the ravages of the Unbound, she clad herself in grey armour, forged of her unassailable ego, impervious to all attacks and itself threatening to cut into the flesh of any attacker. What choice was there but to honour the sacrifices of Morphe, Xaris and Phronesis by preserving their work for eternity?"

"Eternity has different meanings out there. Who can say how much time passes there for every moment here within the bounded cosmos? A second? A millennium? No armour protects against the pain of the soul. Can you imagine the scope of that sacrifice? No, don’t answer. I know I’ve tried and that is, why I’m here, in some nameless asylum on some nameless prime world. Yes, my lying is done. What, I haven’t answered your questions? Hah! Ask Her then."

Archdukechocula's picture
Offline
Namer
Joined: 2008-02-24
Awesome.

Awesome.

sciborg2's picture
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Factol
Joined: 2005-07-26
Re: Visions out of time

Wow.

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