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Metaphysics Expanded

Dintin Dec 20th, 2015 (edited) 933 Never
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  1. You brush your consciousness across the various branching paths connected to your mind, settling finally upon Darzi's. {I have something important I need to tell you. Promise me you won't be angry.}
  2.  
  3. Her response is colored by irritation and worry. {I can't promise that. Honestly, if you're worried it's going to piss me off it's probably going to do just that.}
  4.  
  5. She doesn't seem quite herself, her thoughts are muddled for some reason. Perhaps she's only just woken up? You did rise rather early this morning after all. {I'm about to step inside a giant levitating orb created by the ancient Hiacians for some unknown purpose. It is, in all likelihood, going to stab me in the forehead with a magical metal spike. It's in my brother's study at the top of the central tower. I just wanted you to know this, in case I die.}
  6.  
  7. That seems to drive off the cobwebs of sleep. Suddenly Darzi's thoughts are a chaotic flurry of emotions blending into an incomprehensible mash. {For Pani's sake, Mikhael! Can you not even give me an hour to enjoy my morning before throwing yourself headlong into some fresh new crisis?}
  8.  
  9. You don't even know the meaning of the word restraint. {No, I'm afraid not. Anyway, I'll hopefully see you in a few hours.}
  10.  
  11. With that you sever the connection and start to climb the ramp into the giant floating sphere. As you settle into the surprisingly comfortable seat, ducking your head around the needle, you feel your limbs lock in place. Suddenly you're immobilized, and the ramp is rapidly closing. You'll be sealed off from the outside world, housed completely inside this possible death trap.
  12.  
  13. The ramp merges with the outer layer of the orb and you feel something tighten around your chest. A blinding light emerges from the crystalline needle at the top of the metal spike poised above your forehead. Once your eyes adjust you're able to see the reason why. From the neck down you've been encased in what appears to be Elaudian Steel, judging by the way it flows across your body.
  14.  
  15. The voice you heard before forces its way into your head, a pain just as intense as a hot brand pressed against bare skin shooting through your skull. {So you have accepted my offer of communion.} It remarks, approval clear by its tone. {The pain is only momentary, I promise.}
  16.  
  17. The light intensifies until you're forced to shut your eyes, but even then it burns your retina. You feel a pressure against the skin of your forehead, and then a sharp pain as the needle breaks skin. Bone cracks loudly as the needle pushes itself ever onward, your thoughts growing scattered as it pushes yet deeper. You feel something give, and suddenly you can't breathe anymore. There's blood streaming out of your mouth and nose, dribbling across your chin and mixing with the steel encasing your torso.
  18.  
  19. Never in your life have you wanted more to surrender yourself to unconsciousness but the needle refuses to release you from this torturous existence. You want to scream but you can't even open your mouth, let alone give voice to the pain you're experiencing. Fortunately there's a flash of light, and then everything seems to dim. You can't feel the pain anymore, you can't feel anything at all.
  20.  
  21. You open your eyes, and you're not encased inside a claustrophobic orb floating in your brother's study. You're standing on a vast, black plane without beginning or end. Before you stands the Entity, as you know her, and next to you stands a creature you can't really make heads or tails of. It has three human face emerging from a mane of golden hair, with the arms of a man and the feet of a chimp, both with strangely elongated digits. A lion's tail wraps around it where it sits, and feathered wings emerge from its back. It bows its head to you, and an orb above its head bathes the black plane on which you stand in harsh white light.
  22.  
  23. You raise an arm to shield your eyes, spots swimming in your vision. When your eyes finally adjust, you see for the first time what lurks behind the Entity you've seen repeatedly in your dreams. Extending from the back of her head is a fleshy tendril composed of ten thousand interlocking hands, connecting the warped little girl to a creature you can't even begin to comprehend.
  24.  
  25. Rotting flesh hangs loosely from her bones, swollen black veins bulging beneath the surface. Tumorous growths extend from the back of her head like some perverse crown, glowing an angry red with barely contained magic. Her lower jaw has split in half, the bones clicking together rhythmically as the creature breathes. Perhaps once it was a woman, but whatever it is now only vaguely resembles mortal form.
  26.  
  27. The Chimera opens the lowest of its three mouths, the words it speaks not quite matching the motions of its mouth. “We have found an interloper.”
  28.  
  29. You stare up at the immense creature before you, what you can only assume is the true form of the Entity which, until recently, you thought dwelled inside your head. Now you're not so sure. You really don't know what to make of it anymore, after what Surya's servant said when he poked his grubby fingers through your mind. “Can you get rid of this interloper?”
  30.  
  31. You're consciously aware that you're the one speaking but rather than come from your mouth, the words spill from the Chimera's middle head. Again, its mouth doesn't seem quite synced with your own despite mimicking your movements. You grow increasingly unsettled.
  32.  
  33. It's the lowest head which responds. “Perhaps this one might remove the link between the interloper and Mikhael, but not while preserving the integrity of Mikhael's consciousness. The man who would emerge from the process would be fractured. Broken. It would take time for the wounds to heal, perhaps more time than we could afford. Were the intruder not so bound to the very core of his divinity, this would not be the case. If Mikhael could find someway to weaken that connection, perhaps then we would be able to safely cut the binding cords.”
  34.  
  35. So that's a yes, just with some drawbacks. Some fairly severe drawbacks. You've never been the sanest individual, not since your banishment at least, but having your psyche fractured by some foreign spirit's meddling doesn't sound like the sort of emotional and mental strain you've grown accustomed to. “What do you mean he would be fractured?”
  36.  
  37. Again it's not you speaking, it's the creature's head. It's horribly disorienting. “The cracks are already there.” The creature intones gravely. “Spread across the gods' stolen essence. Removing the intruder would too greatly strain the shard, shattering it. Such an event tends to adversely affect fragile mortals in a number of unfortunate ways.”
  38.  
  39. The top mouth speaks for the first time since your arrival. “I am afraid I cannot permit communion while this uninvited guest still winds its tendrils around his person. I would risk exposing the Paramatma to corruption.”
  40.  
  41. The bottom mouth speaks again, it's like the Chimera is hosting a conversation with itself. "Indeed, and a shame it is. His memories would serve well if incorporated."
  42.  
  43. You're getting real tired of this creature conversing with itself as if you're not even here. “If you'll permit me a few questions, just what is this Paramatma, and what in Pani's name would incorporating my memories even entail?”
  44.  
  45. There's a long silence before the lower mouth speaks. “We apologize. It has been quite some time since we encountered a suitable mind. The Paramatma is our greatest work. It is, or rather we are, a collective composed of copies of the greatest minds to ever walk the sands of Pidjata. It was tradition for those greatest enchanters to journey to our temple and add themselves to us before their deaths. This orb was constructed to facilitate exactly that, mobile so that it might be brought to the most distant and secluded of our number. Incorporation is painful, we cannot lie. It is the last thing ingrained into all of our memories, one last moment of mortal struggle before ascension.”
  46.  
  47. You don't know if you like the sound of that. “What happens to me, to my body I mean? Am I just left a soulless husk?”
  48.  
  49. The bottom mouth speaks. “No, you are merely copied. For the rest of your brief existence there will be two of you, one joined with us and one walking the Gods' dominion. We understand that a connection to the cage which houses you is normal, but trust us. Once you have ascended you will not miss your mortal form. You will be as the Gods are, unconstrained.”
  50.  
  51. More like you will be as they are, your consciousness subsumed as part of the whole. "But are you not a collective consciousness? Would you not be required to destroy any concept of the individual? Can I truly be said to live on if I only live on lacking any concept of self?"
  52.  
  53. The lower mouth is silent for a time, but eventually speaks. "It is more complex than that. Yes, when we come together the individual must be destroyed so that the collective may thrive. However, when there is no pressing matter to attend to, such as the potential induction of a new member, then each of our numerous and manifold minds remain separate but interconnected."
  54.  
  55. Okay, maybe that doesn't sound so bad. Still, he said it would hurt. They said? “Why are you even interested in me? I am barely past the age of boyhood, and inexperienced as an enchanter besides.”
  56.  
  57. This time it's the top mouth that speaks. “Over the course of the past thousand years I have determined only six eligible candidates.”
  58.  
  59. The bottom mouth takes over. “Yes, Mikhael. You must understand that we thrive on new ideas and new insights. Fresh minds are perhaps the most valuable contribution a mortal could make, and it seems as though in our time dwelling outside of the Gods' creation the arts of enchanting have been forgotten, or at least the traditions of the Paramatma have been lost to time. We cannot afford to pick and choose.”
  60.  
  61. You're a little offended. The only reason they want you is because you're the only one available? “Well, what exactly is my connection to this 'intruder'? How would I be able to go about weakening that connection?”
  62.  
  63. The bottom head draws its brows together, the first expression you've seen any of the Chimera's three heads make. “Mikhael's connections to this creature are complex. It is not like anything we have ever seen. We believe that a thread was woven through the husk and the shell to join itself to the shard and joining Mikhael to the interloper, who uses the shard to leech from him some small portion of divinity. Over time this thread has grown so interwoven with, and integral to, the shell that to remove it would shatter the shell, thus exposing the shard. Weakened as it is, the shard would in all likelihood shatter once exposed to base reality.”
  64.  
  65. Why did it switch back to referring to you in the third person? Some of that went a bit over your head. You think you got most of it, the husk is the outermost layer of the soul and the shell is the inner layer, with the shard obviously being the shard of divinity. You don't really know what it means by 'base reality', though. Nor do you understand why the shard would break upon being exposed to whatever it is.
  66.  
  67. After a brief pause the bottom mouth speaks again. “We believe that you ought to be able to weaken the thread by weakening the husk and the shell to the point that pulling the thread will not shatter them, merely strain them. A tenuous balance must be achieved, for if you weaken the shell too severely then you risk shattering the shard in your attempts to save it. You might try mending the cracks in your shard, but that is a lengthy and time consuming process. You might also attempt to sever the cord at some intervening point between you and the interloper, but you would need to locate it. The thread is not in phase with base reality, it could exist on any of the two hundred sixteen layers of existence, or on several at once.”
  68.  
  69. It sounds as though, whatever you finally decide to do, you won't be able to accomplish it here. Not in a timely manner at least. Going on some mad search through the void, and whatever lies beyond the void, would probably take years. Butchering your soul would probably be the fastest method but you worry what effect weakening the shell would have, since you've only ever strengthened it in the past. You'd be required to first erode the husk as well, which means you'd probably be very low on vys throughout the process. A dangerous prospect.
  70.  
  71. On the other hand, you're speaking with the collective consciousness of what is probably thousands of the smartest and most powerful men and women to ever walk the Earth. You'd be surprised if there was a question they couldn't answer, or at least theorize about. “What do you mean base reality, and what are the two hundred sixteen layers of existence?”
  72.  
  73. The face of the lowermost head relaxes to the default of passive indifference. “What we refer to as 'Base Reality' is the core of all creation. You see, when the gods first entered this space outside of creation the found that it was hostile to outside influence, quite unlike their own. So in order to shelter their most cherished creations they created two hundred and sixteen barriers between the space beyond and the core, where all of their true children dwell. They in turn filled each layer with guardians to protect their children from incursions by the outside. We, after much trial and error and at the cost of many lives, have replicated this feet by creating the Paramatma, a separate reality outside of the Gods' creation.”
  74.  
  75. Why on Earth would anyone do such a thing? Go through that much effort, ripping their way through each and every level of creation and presumably fighting off whatever guardians were placed there by the gods, simply to recreate their own, separate version? “What purpose does having the Paramatma outside of reality serve?”
  76.  
  77. The face of the lowermost head scrunches its brows together. “What do you mean purpose? Is not the ability to say that it is possible and that we have achieved it reason enough to pursue a goal? With that attitude it is not surprising that the art of enchanting seems to have faded from the world's store of knowledge.”
  78.  
  79. You should probably get explaining what to them is recent history out of the way. “Actually, knowledge of enchanting has been lost due to the collapse of Hiacia and Rhynia roughly at the same time one thousand years ago. Hiacia was destroyed by a cult's attempts to recreate Prthvi by forcing a mortal to ascend to godhood. I'm not sure why Rhynia fell, it was before Hiacia but nobody seems to know the details. I've heard a plague ravaged their lands, and that the government collapsed, but that's all I can say with any degree of certainty.”
  80.  
  81. You wrack your memory for what else you've learned about the fall of history's greatest empires. “Enchanters grew increasingly insular as the centuries went on, and seemed to be targeted. At least, that's the only reason I can think for the Hiacian enchanters living isolated in the mountains to have died after the cultist's attempt to create a god went wrong. I've heard that the Gods themselves were involved in the destruction, but I have the creeping suspicion that this is merely the superstition of a political faction in what was once the Rhynian heartland that now fears magic in all its forms.”
  82.  
  83. Silence reigns, interrupted only by the rattling breaths of the twisted corpse god looming over you and the Chimera. Finally its lower mouth speaks. “We believe that many of the enchanters living, as you said, isolated in the mountains were simply unaware of society's collapse. As the Guardian of Communion stated, we have incorporated several enchanters over the course of the last thousand years but none of us were aware of this tragedy. It is important to understand that most powerful enchanters do not dwell within the base reality, but usually on the first several layers beyond. We were content to pursue our research in peace. Relieved even that the burden of expectation had been lifted, and no longer did we receive messages from the world outside our sanctuaries.”
  84.  
  85. You suppose when one can quite literally create from thin air anything and everything that they could possibly desire, there is little reason to venture very far or even interact with anyone at all. These people have quite literally created a reality all their own, as the gods once did. They could probably even create their own company, certainly their own servants. “Have you ever considered teaching others, rather than merely passively waiting for an enchanter to wander past? What do you do while sitting outside reality?”
  86.  
  87. The upper mouth speaks. “From what I can tell they mostly argue about obscure points of doctrine.”
  88.  
  89. The lower mouth responds. “The Guardian is correct. We spend much of our time embroiled in discussion with ourselves. We also seek to expand the reality that we have crafted, and fend off incursions by those beast lurking in the dark. You likely think of the first layer as a vast expanse of nothing. It was called the Void in our time, and we doubt that it has changed much. This is not the case. Compared to the space outside, the void is a densely populated and remarkably peaceful. It is where many young enchanters first venture to create their sanctums.”
  90.  
  91. “As for why we do not teach others the arts of enchanting, it is because we have never felt it was an avenue worth our time investment. Few people have the talent, and those that do are better off simply incorporated. Once incorporated the vast sum of our knowledge becomes theirs, and theirs in turn becomes ours. We are of the same substance, with natures both divine and mortal mixed unconfusedly in one conglomerate entity. With the combined metaphysical and divine weight of our souls, we could quite easily rival almost any creature that is not itself a god. Though we have received fewer new additions in recent centuries, we do not have any real need for more power.”
  92.  
  93. So they're self-obsessed and lazy. That's about what you would expect from a hive mind of enchanters, a group notorious for withdrawing from the world and isolating themselves even from each other. “If I may, I'd like to run some of the information I've gleaned from my studies past you. I feel I should take advantage of this opportunity while I can.”
  94.  
  95. When you receive no answer, you assume that's an agreement. “By my understanding, vys is not truly magic. Rather, vys is simply the result of the 'husk' degrading. The large the husk built up around your divine shard becomes, the more vys you can toss around. However, if one were to find a way to do so casting directly with the substance which makes up the husk would be a far more powerful and efficient way of casting.”
  96.  
  97. The lower mouth speaks. “Well, you're partially correct. Casting with the husk, the leaving of divinity I suppose, is how the spirits employ magic. However, it is not exactly efficient for mortals. It is certainly more powerful, but even casting a simple spell using the husk is more draining by several orders of magnitude. Still more worrying is that with each spell you cast, some small aspect of your memory is lost. That being said, the most powerful feats of magic can only be accomplished by using the husk directly, so you're not wrong. You're just not wholly right either.”
  98.  
  99. Okay, so you're doing well so far. “Is casting magic really just subtly manipulating the strings of reality? Say I throw fire from my fingertips. Am I really creating that fire, or am I just manipulating my vys reserves in such a way that the strings of reality vibrate and create fire?”
  100.  
  101. The lowest head seems confused. “Does a harpist create music or does her instrument? Is it not true that one without the other would be useless? Magic is the same way. The strings of reality, as you've dubbed them, are useless without Vatis to play them. Well, not useless. They bind things together and give us life. However, if that is all they were capable of would not existence be boring indeed? You are not the one that creates fire in your example, but nor are you simply manipulating vys into clever patterns. You are running your fingers along the strings of a harp and producing a melody.”
  102.  
  103. Seems like out of two guesses you've been right both times. “Are people just particularly complex enchantments? What is the nature of the divine shard at the root of all souls? What is the relationship between the gods? Are our modern divisions of magic into well defined categories merely artificially constructed?”
  104.  
  105. The lower mouth smiles, revealing a row of sharpened teeth. “Indeed, you have been studious. People are more than simply complex enchantments. Their mortal shells are certainly nothing more than complex enchantments designed to house their souls, but their souls themselves are something else. Divorced from the strings but simultaneously moving amongst them. You see, the divine shards which form the seed of any man, woman, or child's soul were originally apart of Surya. Surya himself drifts through the space beyond, bound to Pani's will. It is he that she employs as a guard upon the Gods' collective creation, and it is he who protects it from the greatest outside incursion.”
  106.  
  107. “He was less than willing to sacrifice the shards, as they were part of his 'heart'. To conceptualize the gods as anything resembling mortal is a fallacy of the highest order, but suffice to say the shard in your soul was once the part of Surya that made him a god. Now he is reliant upon Pani for divinity, and thus her slave. Surya originally surrendered this piece of himself willingly, along with small pieces of the other gods, to create the Dragons and the Dwoveth. However, he feared that if he sacrificed more then he would lose coherency, or be forced to return to the realm from which the Gods came.”
  108.  
  109. “Surya was forced into submission by the divine might of Pani, Prthvi, and Srsti. However, Srsti desired to subsume Prthvi as she viewed him as naturally belonging to her. Nature grows atop the Earth and its roots invade the soil. Similarly Srsti's influence corrupted Prthvi, and she ripped from him as much of his divinity as she could. Even with Surya's aid, Pani would not have been able to match this new entity. So she called a new god from their homeland, and this god was Dhatu.”
  110.  
  111. “The three gods were able to best the entity that was once the two separate gods of Srsti and Prthvi, and they robbed this entity of its divinity. It was in turn forced to return to the Gods' homeland, and they employed her essence in strengthening their creation.”
  112.  
  113. You glance up to the looming figure of the aborted near-god. “So... What do the gods do now? Do they just battle off those creatures seeking to destroy what they've created?”
  114.  
  115. The lowest head frowns. “Not exactly. We have seen Surya. We have witnessed his might. We have seen the tether binding him. We have seen Dhatu. He dwells within creation, content to observe. We have not seen Pani. We are not sure what she does. This is merely what we believe to have learned. Much of it could be wrong, or misinterpreted. We make no claims to omniscience.”
  116.  
  117. There is a pause. "What about the divisions in the various schools of magic? Are they innate, or merely artificially constructed to help apprentices conceptualize magic?"
  118.  
  119. The Chimera bows, an odd gesture considering most of its torso is composed of its three different heads, and then the lower head speaks. "The schools of magic are, as you phrase it, artificial. Created by mortals to explain magic as they understood it. However, the schools of magic are also useful. If that were not the case, they would not have survived. At some point it is important to break outside of these schools, for there are many feats that lie outside and would be impossible if you kept yourself constrained, but at your level I would not concern yourself."
  120.  
  121. While you're here, you might as well knock out a few other questions that have been bothering you. “While journeying through the void I've noticed a number of gateways which seem to be used by the Children of the Gods as pathways. I've seen them created in real time by a Child's passing. I went inside of one once, and came out mostly alive. The experience seemed to provide some insight that I haven't been able to grasp. I know that I learned something, and my control of Fire magic grew, but I can't put words to what I learned.”
  122.  
  123. The collective speaks, it almost sounds excited. “Ah, yes. We know of what you speak. These gateways serve as shortcuts between the layers of creation. The Gods' servants use them to quickly get from one place to another. We used them to quickly ascend from base reality to the space beyond. Traversing these gates as a mortal is difficult, but useful. They rely on a magic which might fall under the general umbrella of 'Fire Magic' but really exist outside of any modern category.”
  124.  
  125. “These 'Children of the Gods' as you call them. We refer to them as Servants, and this is an umbrella term for all beings which serve the gods directly or indirectly. Separate from spirits, which once served the gods but do not any longer. Regardless, these most powerful servants which the Gods created possess a form of divine magic. It is akin to enchanting, in that it relies upon directly affecting the strings which bind reality. Fire magic can be conceptualized as the magic most concerned with directly manipulating the world around us. This is a debatable claim, but it is a claim we make nonetheless.”
  126.  
  127. “The insight you gleaned likely pertained in some way to this form of magic the Children employ. Directly affecting the strings which bind reality without using vys, or the husk. I imagine when this happened you were not physically inside the void, correct?”
  128.  
  129. You nod, then realize they might not be able to actually see you. The Guardian seems like some sort of middleman. “Yes, that's correct. I was a disembodied soul.”
  130.  
  131. The lower head smiles wider. “Ahh! What you likely did was tap into the divine shard itself. You used divinity to cast, rather than the husk or vys. This is truly the root of all magic, not part of any one school. You likely merely interpreted it as Fire magic, and thus improved in that fashion. Since your perception is what shapes reality around you. We have never heard of a mortal accomplishing such a thing, but neither have we ever submitted ourselves to the ministrations of a gateway without the protective cover of our mortal forms.”
  132.  
  133. They mentioned that they simply call all void creatures regardless of status 'Servants', but the three skeletal figures which seem to be spectating your life spring to mind as entities of neither the void nor base reality. "Can all non-mortal entities be classified either as servants or spirits? I ask because I can think of three creatures which could be exceptions."
  134.  
  135. The lower mouth splits yet wider, nearly impossibly so. "Would these three creatures happen to be skeletal imitations of mortal form dripping golden nectar from their shattered skulls?"
  136.  
  137. So they know of them after all? "Yes, that's them exactly. I've taken to referring to them simply as the Three, for I've never seen them separated. They seem to have taken an interest in me, specifically. To the point of granting me favors to which they demand repayment. They seem mostly interested in pursuing their own amusement."
  138.  
  139. The lowest head adopts an even, sagely tone as it begins to speak. "Their names are many, but we all know them. They have variously been called the Gallery, the Trio, the Triarchs, and the Manes. Any name is as good as any other, they never seem to give themselves any titles."
  140.  
  141. "From what we have been able to glean in our research they were originally creatures from outside of the Gods' creation, here before the gods entered this realm. We do not fully understand why they now dwell within reality and are not hunted by the Servants, but we believe that they have formed some form of pact with the gods. Their form is likely merely a facade, or if not it is certainly not how they originally appeared. Beings from beyond the Gods' creation are rarely corporeal, and when they are their physical forms do not follow any sort of rhyme or reason."
  142.  
  143. "They seem amicable. They have aided all races of mortals at various points throughout history. They helped the Dragons against their first war with the Dwoveth, and were known in that time as the 'Bufoiak', or the Jesters in the draconic language. They aided the first King of the Elves in his uprising against dragonkind, and the genocidal hunt that followed. They aided the Dwoveth in their conquest of Elven lands and the Rhynians in their subsequent war against the Dwoveth. They have even aided the us in our defense against Rhynian invaders."
  144.  
  145. "In essence they have been involved in some small way in each and every major conflict to plague Mundus since before recorded history, and they have always been on the side of the victors. Some of our numbers contacted them and established a pact, a pact which stated they would aide us in assuring that the most talented Samjan vatis reach their full potential. Unfortunately it was the case that their aide often took rather unorthodox forms, sometimes appearing as sabotage. Regardless, it is a relief to find that they honor their obligations still after all these centuries."
  146.  
  147. You wonder how much time has passed? It feels like you've been speaking with this strange 'Guardian' for hours now. You'll ask that actually. “Does time here pass at the same rate as in the base reality, or is it faster? Slower?”
  148.  
  149. The topmost head is the one that answers. “Time here passes at a slightly slower pace than time on the base reality. Where we lie is technically on the first layer. That is, the void. This is a space constructed for the containment of new inductees. Where they might be interviewed without risking the sanctity of the collective. However, for your purposes, you can think of time as passing at roughly a rate of one to one. In reality, you would advance nine thousand, nine hundred, ninety nine seconds for every ten thousand in the base reality. The farther out one travels, the slower time advances.”
  150.  
  151. The lower head pipes up as well. “Indeed, outside of Creation, where the Paramatma lies, time does not advance at all. Inside the Paramatma, time is actually significantly accelerated in comparison to the base reality. In large part due to the fact that the Paramatma is much smaller than Creation yet has the same number of layers.”
  152.  
  153. A thought occurs to you. “Is everyone dwelling within the Paramatma a Samjan, or did you include Rhynian enchanters as well?”
  154.  
  155. There's a hesitance. “Is mingling with the other races acceptable now? We admit that it has been many years since we walked Pidjata but in our time it was unimaginable that a Samjan would join in any shape, form, or fashion with the elves or humans. The Paramatma was originally conceived as a secret weapon of sorts. A collective of knowledge which future leaders could address for insight, and who's collective intellect would be able to conceive of devices and stratagems the Rhynians could never hope to match.”
  156.  
  157. So it's only Samjan. That limits you somewhat, but at the same time you're relieved. Your consciousness wouldn't be fusing with any dirty elves. “No, things remain much the same even after the fall of Rhynia and Hiacia. The humans and elves are fractured. As are we, to a lesser extent. Two warring kingdoms in comparison to thousands.”
  158.  
  159. You think the lowest head actually sighs in relief. Actually, speaking of elves. “I know that elves are not immortal as we are, but they can still live forever by regularly performing certain rituals which are incorporated into their religious ceremony. Do you know anything about these rituals?”
  160.  
  161. Its eyebrows draw together in thought. “We are aware of the nature of elves as draconic servants, little more than golems given true souls torn away from rival dragons and their offspring forced to serve a master which detested them. We know that over the years the nature of their soul degraded in a housing not suited to contain it, degenerating until elves were entirely unlike their originators. We also know that the Gods in turn blessed one sect of Elves with a form actually suitable to house the divine essence they contained without slowly but surely degrading. However, we are not sure how the elves actually maintain themselves. Our best guess is that they employ draconic magic in their religious ceremonies, perhaps repairing the strings which determine the shape and form of their mortal shells.”
  162.  
  163. Huh, something the collective doesn't know for once. Leave it to the elves to remain an enigma even to the closest thing to a god mortals have ever created. “What about Elaudian Steel? The substance which flows like water yet seems unbreakable once solid?”
  164.  
  165. Their brow creases further, mouth sinking into a frown. “We know only little of the Elaudians. They were not one people but many. Never united under any one banner but rather a vast tribal confederation. They worshiped the True Gods as we do, but worshiped spirits in the same temples. Some claimed that their forms were mutable, and shifted as they willed. Others merely claimed they were many different races working in concert.”
  166.  
  167. “We know that tribes of our own ancestors, whom we referred to as 'dark elves' for they lack the Gods' gifts which define us as Samjan, lurked in the deep recesses of that forest. We also know that a sect of their population were known as 'Spirit Touched' and believed descended from the coupling of mortal and spirit, though such a thing is impossible. The rulers of this confederation were not unlike humans. We believe they were originally among the first human settlers of the Provinces, who didn't stop at the grasslands but kept going over the mountain range. The forest changed them, and over time we have heard they took on aspects of the forest which surrounded them.”
  168.  
  169. “The forest is a strange place. It has a mind of its own. We believe that the being which was once the two gods Srsti and Prthvi fled there during its battle with Pani, Surya, and Dhatu and permanently left its mark on the landscape, changing it. However, this is merely conjecture.”
  170.  
  171. “As for Elaudian steel, it is a draconic ritual. It fuses the concepts of liquid, solid, and metal into one inseparable whole. Rather, the ritual is merely a tool. It can be used to fuse many concepts together. Fusing liquid, solid, and metal is merely the particular combination that creates Elaudian steel. We are not certain of the actual mechanics of the ritual, unfortunately. The Xalisc, as the ruling elite called themselves, were never forthcoming with their secrets.”
  172.  
  173. Did you hear them right? Tribes of 'dark elves', your ancestors who did not receive the god's blessing, still dwell in Elaudia? "Would you mind elaborating further on our ancestors? It was my understanding that all those not blessed by the gods were killed for imprisoning spirits and using their essence in enchanting."
  174.  
  175. The Chimera shrugs, the muscles in its back and shoulders rippling unnaturally. "What we know of our early history is fragmentary at best. We did not have a writing system of our own, for our people fled draconic enslavement long before they dragons saw fit to grant the elves the gift of writing. Thus, we are forced to rely upon the oral tradition, unreliable at best, and what we might glean from spirits. As we are sure you're aware, spirits are self-serving and conniving. They will tell you whatever they feel is most to their advantage. Thus, one must employ appropriate skepticism in regards to any knowledge they feel fit to bequeath upon mortals."
  176.  
  177. "What we know with a high degree of confidence is that there was once a civilization in Northern Pidjata which built large cities primarily out of mudbrick. Stone was only rarely employed, and only in their greatest monuments. One might still find some of the remnants of their structures when wandering near the city of Apejo, which we believe sits on the site of their former capital. We likewise know that they were capable of imprisoning spirits and using their essence in the creation of immensely powerful artifacts."
  178.  
  179. "Beyond that, we can only theorize. The Al-Hikars were probably a powerful nomadic tribe but we've also heard that they were actually a vast tribal confederation, only some of which were blessed by the gods. We've heard that they were not blessed by the gods at all but rather altered their forms through enchanting, though we find this theory particularly unlikely. We have alternatively heard that it was Srsti who blessed them and Srsti who imparted knowledge of imprisoning spirits upon the northern kingdom, but Srsti by this point had already subsumed Prthvi and subsequently been banished to the Gods' homeland."
  180.  
  181. "If we could perhaps attain some concrete, physical proof of the existence of the Al-Hikars and the artifacts this northern kingdom created we might be able to say with more certainty what occurred those many thousands of years ago, and though we know of seven ancient vaults likely created by the Al-Hikars following their war against the northerners, we have never been able to open any of them. We have tried everything from digging in from outside to disassembling the enchantments on the doorways, but each attempt has failed. Often disastrously."
  182.  
  183. "Supposedly the key to the vaults is the armor of the Al-Hikar, which should be stored in the Imperial Vaults. However, we have searched those vaults from floor to ceiling and inspected each and every suit of armor stored within but none have been the armor we seek. Some among us theorize that it may not actually be a suit of armor, but rather some sort of metaphor. Others think it is hidden away somewhere underneath the Imperial Vaults, which were reconstructed based on the designs of the original following the catastrophic collapse of a runic array. We are not certain."
  184.  
  185. You rub your bare chin contemplatively. "Has anyone ever managed to replicate the feats accomplished by that ancient northern kingdom? Enchanting with the essence of imprisoned spirits, I mean."
  186.  
  187. "Not that we're aware of." The lowest head ventures. "Though some theorized that the constructs the Rhynians created may have employed spirits in the process of their creation. The gems which contain the bulk of the enchantments which animate them seem to have many of the same properties as spirits, including the creation of a separate reality within the base reality when supplied with sufficient power. However, all our own attempts to enchant using spiritual essence have inevitably ended in failure and many a good enchanter has died in the process due to insufficient caution."
  188.  
  189. You rack your thoughts for other questions you've yet to ask. This isn't exactly an opportunity you can afford to waste. “What about Dhatu? You mentioned he resides inside reality and is content to observe. In the sources I've read regarding him, he is 'asleep'. What is he really? I know of, vaguely, where to find him and I have been thinking about an expedition through the void to get there, but I want your insight first.”
  190.  
  191. You think the Guardian might sit a little taller, maybe even preening itself. “Dhatu could be said to be asleep, insofar as the Gods can sleep.” The lower head says. “He lies dormant, watching the course of history unfold before him in deep meditation. He is not of this world. He does not truly understand it and, in many ways, usurped his position from Prthvi when that god was subsumed by Srsti. We believe that he will emerge from his meditation one day and likely seek to shape creation in the same way that Pani, Surya, Prthvi, and Srsti did before him. Likely by crafting a race of mortals and placing them somewhere in reality. Whether they will be placed on Mundus is questionable, as reality is a very large place.”
  192.  
  193. That reminds you, actually. “I once walked through a portal in an old Rhynian ruin and emerged elsewhere, on a planet ravaged by war. Humans dwelled there, much as they do on our own, but Samjan and Elves were entirely unheard of except in fictional tales. They told stories of the Rhynians once visiting, but did not understand magic nor did they have souls in the traditional sense.”
  194.  
  195. A moment of silence passes before the lower head speaks. “That is odd.” It declares. “So far as we are aware humans arose due to the interbreeding of Elves and the Dwoveth. If they were to arise on some other body drifting through reality, which lacked both preceding races, they would need to have been placed there independently by the gods. Perhaps, curious as to what would happen, Pani took a sample of Mundus' most numerous race and placed them on a separate version of Mundus. She could have stripped them of their divinity and thus their ability to use magic, or altered them somehow so that they were incapable of collecting vys. We cannot be certain, the motives of the gods often seem incomprehensible.”
  196.  
  197. Speaking of the motives of the gods. “A messenger appeared to me and claimed that he was a servant of Surya. He said that I stole from Surya what was his rightful due, the spirit of a boy whom I revived after he had well and truly died and his soul had left his body. I did something wrong, because he lost all his memories, but this servant told me that unless I sacrificed the boy to Surya than my soul would be trapped forever in the cycle of death and rebirth.”
  198.  
  199. The lower head frowns. “The Servant did not lie, but nor did it tell the whole truth. Surya is occasionally able to consume the souls of those who die near areas where the veil is weak. Incidentally, large battles often weaken the veil. You see when a person dies the husk of their soul is shed, and all that energy is rapidly released. When this occurs repeatedly, the veils grows frayed. When the veil is frayed, Pani has difficulty locating these shards because the threads are in many ways like a spider web. Vibrations travel across the threads and inform her of all that occurs inside creation.”
  200.  
  201. “So Surya is able to reclaim these shards and reincorporate them into his being. Some claim that symbiosis with a god is a desirable outcome, others claim that life within Creation is the greatest gift the Gods have given us and to flout this gift is to offend them. We are of the opinion that neither option is desirable. We think that Pani seeks to limit the knowledge accumulated by mortals by recycling their divine shards and that Surya merely hopes that, eventually, he will be powerful enough to challenge Pani. We have created a third way. Immortality as a part of the collective.”
  202.  
  203. Something's been bugging you. “We've discussed the soul and the mind quite a lot in this conversation. Rather, you've explained quite a lot about both to me. What exactly is their relation? I know they're interconnected, but how are they interconnected?”
  204.  
  205. The lowest head relaxes, assuming its original, passive expression. “The nature of the mind was one of the greatest questions of our time. We have spent many trillions of collective hours pondering it. In all our wondering we have not determined anything with certainty, but we have a theory. The soul is the source of who you are. It contains your memories, your hopes, your dreams, and it allows you the ability to shape the world. The body is the container. The vessel. It houses the soul and keeps it safe, for if the soul was not housed within a vessel it would slowly but surely degrade.”
  206.  
  207. “The mind then is an anomaly. It arises from the interplay of the soul and the body. Imagine that as you move through the world, the collective weight of the enchantments employed to create you are warping and twisting the strings of reality around you. We can confirm that this does, in fact, occur. The mind then arises from these warped strings. It is an enchantment created by the weight of the body and soul moving through the world, independent of the god's interaction. Thus the mind is unique to each individual, in very small ways. In fact, this ties in with your failed attempt to revive that youth. You preserved his soul but not his mind, and when you placed his soul back inside his body, a new mind was created. Similar, but not the same. Thus his memories fled.”
  208.  
  209. You think you've asked all of your most pressing questions, though a few more occur to you. This has been perhaps the most enlightening conversation you've ever enjoyed. Honestly, joining the collective when the collective is so polite and forthcoming, and more than that knowledgeable, might not be such a bad thing. "Do any of you know of a Varistha Sehzade? He was my mentor for a short while, before venturing into the void to end an incursion and never returning. I'd likewise ask if any of you know of a particular palace constructed inside the void. Very large, with a runic array tying it to a ruined tomb deep inside what was once the heartland."
  210.  
  211. There is a brief pause before the lower mouth answers. "We knew of a Sehzade. He was called the Bulwark of Azash, and the Pale Death of Rhynia. We are disappointed that he has passed from this world. Perhaps he would have been worthy of ascension, despite his lack of talent in the art of enchanting. We have fought beside him and we have known the fear of him. For in our time he was not known for mercy. Brilliant, and a talented Vatis. It is strange that he would go on to join the clergy."
  212.  
  213. "As for the palace, yes we believe one of the collective may have been the one to construct that particular sanctuary. You may have it, if you wish. We have no use for our mortal possessions. We were attempting to construct a barrier around the fortress to keep out unwanted intruders but only partially succeeded. The throne serves as the center from which all else is commanded."
  214.  
  215. Speaking of unwanted intruders. "What's the best way to deal with void creatures? I noticed when I was investigating that sanctuary a glowing plane of light, which I presume to be the experimental barrier, dissolved the vague outline of my mortal form my soul constructed around itself whilst I traversed the Void. Would Earth magic be something I ought to look into?"
  216.  
  217. The Chimera shakes its upper head while the lower simply frowns. "Earth magic would most likely simply slide off of any Servant, regardless of which layer of reality they originate in. The Servants are the creations, directly or indirectly, of the Gods themselves. Though it is true that over the eons the power of the average servant has degenerated, and that those which exist today can be effected to some limited extent by vys, it still stands that fighting them physically is the best method of getting rid of them."
  218.  
  219. "We recommend that you look into Nature magic. The core of a void creature appears to an experienced Nature vatis as a void, a place without any magical presence. This is their equivalent of the soul, and to us it appears lacking. We believe that their core is derived from the same overall source as our own souls, that is the heart of Surya, but that in the process of crafting what we think of as Servants the Gods transmuted their divine shards into a separate substance. Likely to protect them from the trials they will face combating creatures from outside of creation."
  220.  
  221. You have a thousand more questions, but you've been in here an awfully long time. No doubt your companions are growing worried. You'll just ask one more question, perhaps the one that will most directly and immediately affect you. “Do you have an advice for advancing my skill both in enchanting and the magical arts in general?”
  222.  
  223. “Indeed we do. Thousands upon thousands. We could speak for millennia regarding the subtleties of magic that have aided us on our journey to our current position. However, we have selected several that we have deemed most important for a Vatis of your level. First, the easiest way to learn new runes is by toying with the threads which bind reality directly. Identify threads which correspond to certain aspects of the world around you. The threads which create a chair, or the threads which create a person. Then try to disassemble these threads, slowly but surely pick them apart and really study the individual frayed strands. Each seemingly random split is an enchantment, which is incorporated into the whole. The enchantments you make in turn are replacing threads wholesale, overriding whatever other enchantments were once there simply by the weight of their magic.”
  224.  
  225. “Second, you must achieve Grandmastery in what you would consider Fire and Nature magic. These are the schools which are concerned with changing perception, and often enchanting is the practice of altering one's perception of the world. Metal magic is likewise important, since the practice of enchanting is often straining on both mind and body. Water Magic is useful in general. No Vatis survives past their two hundredth year without at least a passing talent in Water magic. However, you have already completely mastered Water, so focus first on Fire and Nature.”
  226.  
  227. “Third, if something is worth doing it is worth doing well. Get yourself a set of tools. Magnifying lenses, or learn the art of magnification using illusion. Fine engraver's tools for carving runs on surfaces, or simply significant training in Earth magic. A meditation chamber is absolutely necessary for any practicing enchanter. Often we find that it is nearly impossible to properly finalize the most complex of our works without one. Likewise, if you're able to, use assistants. Either those you trust or create a helper. The enchanter should only conceptualize, design, and finalize. Let the busywork be handled by others.”
  228.  
  229. You bow low, touching two fingers to your forehead and chest. “I thank you for granting me this audience. I shall endeavor to weaken this intruder's link to my soul, so that one day I may return and be purged of their presence. Then we may speak again.”
  230.  
  231. The Chimera dips its head, its uppermost head. “I look forward to our next meeting Mikheal.”
  232.  
  233. The lower head pipes up as well. “We look forward to your communion as well. Your knowledge of recent events will greatly enrich our collective consciousness.”
  234.  
  235. That's the last thing you hear before you wake up, with a needle jammed through your skull and unimaginable pain wracking every iota of your very being.
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