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Ataraxy

From Nothing We Start; To Ash We End

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Iblis grinned widely at the spectacle that played out before him, one that he had seen play out a thousand times before this day. To be sure Lilith was more powerful, and more interesting, than most of those he had watched, she still played the role of the temptress. While the temptation itself often varied, there were always people who offered to grant the desires of those weaker than themselves. More often than not, the offer was accepted, heedless of what consequences might come. The interesting part was finding the one who would resist. It seemed he would not be finding any such person here today.

At Lilith's insistence, he snapped his fingers and teleported them back into the city; as well as teleporting himself into the air above Everrun. For a moment he felt a pang of sadness at the thought that it would all be gone soon. But he quickly dismissed the feeling. Death was only tragic when it held no meaning, and the deaths of the citizens of Everrun would not be meaningless. 

 

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The power surged though his arm and into his body, leaving Shane's eyes wide open as he felt rush of both pain and elation. But the more it flowed through his body, the less unbearable the pain was, and he could finally calm himself to a semi-normal level. The woman, the one from whom this power had came, now spoke a command.

"Man Who Burns. Your task is to start a fire that burns everything but the skin of living beings.  That is it. Though, if you wish, you may... help the city burn a little faster."

Shane's face went blank with confusion for a moment. How could a fire not burn the skin of living beings? How was he supposed to do that? Did he... did he have the power to decide what his fire could burn? But before he could question it, they were outside again, the other man in the room having teleported them there. The streets remained largely bare, as the people were in hiding just like before. 

"Start the fire..."

At the first command, Shane raised an arm toward the building, trying to reason out how it was he could use this newfound power that flowed through his veins. Unlike others that Lilith had accepted into her cult, he had no power to begin with, at least, none that was tangible. What she had unlocked was the faintest spark, that dormant magic potential that was suppressed and unexploited thanks to the ignorance of his homeland. But because of that, he hadn't the faintest clue how to use this ability, for while others saw their powers increased, he was only experiencing his for the first time.

"Tell me your names, my new Paragons. Simply being called the Man Who Burns and Oracle is beneath your new statuses as Paragons."

Grateful for the moment of distraction to take the attention off his failure to produce even a candlelight, Shane turned back to the commander and responded to her inquiry.

"Shane. Shane Haydes. That is my name." he stated, though a bit awkwardly.

tenor.gifAs Vetiver likewise answered the question, Shane turned back toward the building, raising both his hands again and concentrating. Nothing seemed to be happening at first, and the frustration began to mount. He could feel the power within him, like a volcano on the edge of eruption, yet he couldn't seem to let out it. The more he tried the concentrate, the more it seemed like a useless effort, finally causing him to lose his temper in anger.

Only then, did the volcano erupt.

Fire flowed not just from his fingertips, but it leaked out from all across his body, as red-orange flames jetted forth to consume the dying structure before him. The angrier he became, the more freely, and uncontrollably, the flames seemed to come forth. Even his clothing was not immune, as parts of it began to catch on fire as the power seeped out of his skin. His eyes, once vibrant green, turned an orange-rimmed gold, while his face contorted into that of a man, or perhaps just a boy, letting years of frustration, anger, and greatest of all, pure hatred, convert itself into a tangible form befitting of itself.

By the time his own flames began to subside, the structure before him was a massive pillar shooting up into the sky. Only now regaining his senses, Shane realized he might have overdone it just a little, especially if there were people inside. In truth he still wasn't sure what his benefactor meant when she said to burn the city but not the skin of living beings. Did that mean she just wanted the town leveled, but for all the people to live? He needed to know, but he feared to ask her again, as it seemed she was irritated enough by his previous questioning. 

But it'd be far worse if he acted without clarification and did his task wrong.

"How am I supposed to burn the town, but not the people?" he wondered, looking to Lilith, "These powers are new to me, I don't know how to control what I burn and what I don't."

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Rage, ecstasy, sense of purpose; Vetiver felt none of these. As the power bloomed in her third eye, she felt certain

Her pupils and irises disappeared; she looked for all the world like the gift had struck her blind, but that perception was so far from the truth that it would take six months on the slow boat to Taen just to say 'Hi!".

Vetiver saw everything

 The threads of the great weaver surrounded her and everyone in the room; great heaving beasts that linked the beginning of the world to the end of time, and tiny, microscopic filaments that twined around the Djinn's choice of breakfast and tied it to the color he'd pick for his shoes and whether or not he'd forget his wallet when he left the room. Just as Vetiver adjusted to this flood of infinite -- but intensely local -- information, there was a lurch and suddenly she could see the same tableau as it depicted the relationships of everyone in the town. Then the scene zoomed out again, and Vetiver fought to hold down her own breakfast as a hundred-mile radius from the Everrun was exposed, and then she did lose the contents of her stomach onto the Djinn's fine rug as her perspective soared higher still, and the whole continent of Terrenus glowed and squirmed and breathed beneath her.

Vetiver covered her forehead with her hand, displaying the crescent moon marking that had materialized on the back of it, a vantablack tattoo, the symbol of her contract, stopping the process before the entire world was open to her Sight. Soon, perhaps, she'd play with that, but it felt like she might be getting a little too close to the sun already. She forced herself down, past the mountaintops and the roofs of the buildings until she was where she needed to be: focused on Lillith, watching the pulsating, writhing threads that twisted themselves into new, impossible patterns around her as she wove her own fate, as if Lillith was saying "Fuck you" to the Great Weaver herself with every breath. 

She didn't need to study them, to catalog them,  to analyze and trace and think about them; Vetiver just knew what they meant without even trying to know. The understanding of a million different futures, some very probable and others vanishingly unlikely, simply rushed into her conscious mind, effortlessly and unbidden.

"Oh," said the white-eyed young woman, her lips forming a perfect circle as the word escaped her mouth. "Oh my. Oh dear."

With a tiny force of will, the physical world returned to Vetiver, though the afterimage of the threads remained, turning and twisting like pale ghosts. Her eyes became blue again, though they were distinctly paler than they had been a moment ago. 

"I am called Vetiver al-Lient, oh Fateless One."

And then they were outside, and she watched as the church erupted into a beautiful conflagration, which unfortunately would spell the end of Iblis's forgotten wallet. 

"How am I supposed to burn the town, but not the people? These powers are new to me, I don't know how to control what I burn and what I don't."

Vetiver looked at Shane, and it was a look that would cause most people to shudder with discomfort, a soul-penetrating look that would leave many feeling naked in front of her.

"Burn every third structure, and every other tree, except for the tall oak on the corner at the town square. Do not allow your flames to block the well." 

The she turned to Lillith. "I will ensure that none here shall burn, Fateless One. No resident of this town will so much as redden their cheeks on the flames, and your deal with the Djinn will be fulfilled. But you must be prepared to bargain again when we are done. Bargain with Zengi. When the time comes, I will tell you what to do."

Deep inside Vetiver, Victory pondered. Was it murder to allow others to die, when one had certain knowledge of their deaths? Or was Vetiver trying to save them by keeping them safe from the fire? Could Victory even save the townspeople under any circumstances, regardless of what Vetiver did or did not do? Was that possible? Moral quandaries were not the AI's forte, and it certainly knew nothing of augury.  As long as Vetiver's hand did not move to commit a murder, and she truly did use her power to keep people from the flames, perhaps this should be allowed to continue, she decided.

The AI also knew very little about slippery slopes. 

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Rather than receiving an immediate answer from Lilith, it was the other woman who spoke first. Shane turned to look at her, finding her gaze to be unnaturally penetrating, prompting him to break eye contact rather quickly. But her words were the outline of a plan, one that she seemed confident in. Looking back to Lilith, and gaining her approval for the plan, he separated from the group to do as directed. 

The first building he approached was mostly made of wood, which made it a perfect structure to start with. Attempting to better control the fire as it erupted from his fingers, Shane targeted the upper level of the building, giving any people inside a chance to escape to the lower levels before the blaze consumed them. The idea of burning a place but allowing the people to escape seemed a very strange task, but it was what he had to do now, so he had to be careful not to fail his new master. His flames were weaker this time, as the action was not enhanced by his emotions, rather, it was focused on and deliberate. His powers got their strength from his anger, so this method meant he had to concentrate very hard to make the fire strong enough to accomplish the task. 

Still, he did, and soon the upper level of the building was slowly being eaten away by flame. He moved away, before the inhabitants had even exited, and began burning the next building, a block further down the road. And from there he went on to the next structure. The more he used his power, the more proficient he became, and the more quickly he was able to set buildings ablaze. Those fires spread to the neighboring homes, and within a few minutes, the whole town was rapidly being consumed in a fiery inferno. People abandoned their homes left and right, fleeing onto the streets. Not really sure how to keep them from leaving town, Shane tried to shift his focus to setting the outer buildings on fire, though this was more difficult since there was a larger perimeter to cover. But it was the only thing he could think of to keep the people from escaping... unless people escaping was part of the plan too. 

Either way, his task was on setting the fires themselves. The rest he left up to the other woman and Lilith, whatever nefarious plan they had for the people of this town. This was not Shane's concern, he already had what he came for, burning the town down was just him paying for the service he'd been given. He hadn't come here seeking fire, rather, he had actually hoped for a means to be able to better bring people to his cause. Charisma, charm spells, or something along those lines. He desired to change people's hearts and minds and push them down the right path. He had desired the power of persuasion.

But instead, he had obtained something far more direct, and arguably, far more effective. He had been granted the persuasion of power...

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Her lips pursed at the titled Fateless One. She rather liked it. Granted it held a bunch of different meanings that not even Vetiver could likely unravel, but nonetheless Lilith liked it more and more as she rolled it around. 

Fateless One.

One without fate. Without a future? Without a predetermined future? 

Didn't really matter. For all that she'd done in Terrenus to date and all the titles she'd been given, Fateless One was perhaps the one that Lilith found most intriguing, though it was less of a title and more like a description similar to the Unsung Horror. 

Still, she didn't say much out loud. But Lilith did deign to raise an eyebrow when Vetiver advised Lilith that she'd have to bargain with Zengi and that the oracle would tell her what to do. The young woman was either exceedingly brave and confident or incredibly stupid. But Lilith had never interacted much with Oracles, preferring to simply kill them on sight. The power to tell the future was without limit and, used properly, could potentially outrank even Lilith's. Not in raw energy, obviously, rather in influence. But this oracle had volunteered herself into Lilith's grasp. To take her mark. The Commander found that curious. 

If an oracle was pinning their future on her, what did that say about Valucre's future?

Turning back to the situation at hand, Lilith nodded toward Shane when he looked at her for approval. Good. He's learning already. Then the Paragon of Fire and the Oracle of Paragons started to work, blasting fire where it was needed and avoiding where it wasn't. Shane's flames would increase with heat as his rage built while Vetiver would feel her grasp on tracing future events becoming increasingly clear. 

Those that ran instead of being crushed by debris or their fellows didn't get far. Casual finger snaps and hand waving by Lilith crushed their bones and ripped muscle. A few managed to run out of Everrun. They hadn't escaped, however, Lilith simply hadn't felt the need to put in enough effort to squash every last one of the bugs. Enough would die either way. 

As the two worked on setting Everrun aflame, wicked fires licking their way through structure after structure, Lilith imbued her voice with a bit of energy and broadcasted it. "Djinn, in moments our work will be done. Prepare to complete the trade."

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If asked, Iblis would admit to feeling a bit conflicted as he watched the city of Everrun and its people be destroyed by the Cult. He had put quite a bit of time and effort into them after all, and now it would all be reduced to ash; scattered to the winds and erased. Part of him was even angry with himself that he didn't live up to the trust and love that the people of this city had placed in him. But he had always known that he would have to let them down one day; unless he planned to play the patron deity to a city for the rest of his life. He also took some comfort in knowing that they were not dying in vain. Those that died this day would increase his power, and help him in his goal to push humanity towards its full potential.

Upon hearing Lilith speaking to him, he zeroed in on her position, and landed in front of her.

"Once you have payed the price, I will summon what you have asked for. Unfortunately, I cannot do so beforehand. But you needn't worry; as we have made a pact, and I am bound to fulfill it."

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Lilith nodded, temporarily satisfied with the Djinn's placating promise of the future. As Shane and Vetiver worked together in controlling the flames and what they burnt so that only structures collapsed, the powerful necromancer took a short stroll through the previously growing city. It was a short stroll since it wasn't minutes before the majority of Everrun was burnt to a crisp. Not that there had much to see before that either. As a growing city, the infrastructure of Everrun had been mediocre at best and shit shacks at worst. Nothing to really be an awe at. 

In fact, as she walked through the burning city Lilith felt that she was actually more in awe of Everrun now that it was mixed with the flames of destruction. Or flames of rebirth. Depends on your point of view, she supposed. 

The entire burning took less than an hour. And, true to her word, Vetiver's directions had made it so that the fire only burned the buildings. As Lilith finished her walk, she also noted how many of the charred buildings had buried many people underneath the weight. Squashed. Brutally. Maimed. Most dead. Some dying. The occasional struggler escaped just as they had at the beginning, but Lilith stopped breaking their legs a few minutes into the burning. Enough souls would be collected just from the natural collapse of Everrun that wasting her energy on the scrambling insects proved inconsequential to the furthering of her plan. 

When finally Everrun was nothing black black char, silent in all parts except for the casual flickering of remnant flames Lilith ended her walk. Stopping fully once she reached Vetiver and Shane, Lilith cast a glance over at where Ilbis hovered quietly in the air and motioned toward Everrun with her hand. A small white square gem appeared in her hand as little wisps of white life energy struggled within. 

"Take your souls, Djinn. It is complete."

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Vetiver had been silent throughout the destruction; this task -- one which would have taken all of her concentration and direction and probably incurred some significant amount of snapback -- had been so incredibly simple. She had been limiting her own power by trying to control events as they happened, she realized; what she should have been doing all along was setting things up so they would follow the thread she wanted them to follow, all on their own.

She was used to trying to handle the bounces of the pool balls after the break. True power was setting up the initial position of the balls on the pool table, and telling others where they needed to shoot the cue ball from. Even more subtle, she discovered, was that it didn't really matter how well or how poorly the others followed her instructions; what actually mattered was the type of instructions Vetiver gave.

The mystery of the master oracle has been solved: why were they always so vague, why did they always speak in poetry and riddles? Because it was the advice that mattered, not how effectively it was taken. The advice itself caused others to act a certain way, to express confusion in a certain way, to interpret in a certain way, and those variations where what brought the prophecy to pass. 

Paradoxically, Vetiver had all the power, and she also had none of it. 

Her every move, every gesture, every fidget, every word, changed the threads slightly. Slight changes had a butterfly effect on the end result. And now she could see the end result. All of the possible end results. Vetiver just had to pick the one(s) she wanted, and allow them to happen naturally.

It was overwhelming power, and overwhelming enslavement. Lillith thought she enslaved people? Hah! The threads of fate, the lines of destiny, that was the true slavery, the true cost of unlocking incredible oracular powers. Lillith could never be as perfecting a master as the Great Web was. It was possible that such a path existed in which Vetiver only had to blink at the right time -- or the wrong time -- and empires would fall. 

But Vetiver had no regrets, except that she had been so foolish and so ignorant in the past. She could have saved all those people in Yh'mi. She could have made it so there had been no casualties at all but for the evil ones; a victory so easy and so complete that they'd celebrate it for five centuries. If only she'd seen then what she could see now. 

 

On 3/16/2019 at 9:17 PM, Ataraxy said:

"Take your souls, Djinn. It is complete."

 

Vetiver turned toward Lillith and lowered her gaze reverentially. "For your safety, Fateless One," Vetiver said calmly, her eyes milky pools in her face, "when you are offered the gift, take it with your left hand. When you are brought to the field of parley, you will see a dead tree; it will spread its death to you if you move too close. The pale sun will shine on the spot of your victory."

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The time had come.

Lilith and her followers had done everything he had asked of them, which meant that it was now time to keep his part of the deal. A dead woman and a book were what had been asked for. For a normal person they would both be very difficult to find, but that was the beauty of his power. So long as the conditions of a wish were met, he could bend reality to make it happen. That was why when he snapped his fingers, two portals opened up before Lilith. From one of them came the book she had asked for, while the other produced a coffin.

"Delivered as promised," he said, "You didn't ask me to revive the witch... but I trust that shouldn't be a problem."

Iblis raised a hand and summoned the white crystal to him, feeling the energy coursing through it. He closed his eyes and the stone glowed intensely for a few moments before it was absorbed into his body. He still wasn't back to his previous level of power... but he was getting closer all the time.

"Well then, if our business is complete, I shall take my leave."

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When Ilbis left, Lilith said nothing. Not that the djinn would likely be surprised by that. She’d ignored enough people that day that he probably should have realized her disinterest in things once they lost their purpose to her.

Her eyes had already landed on the grimoire, a small book in terms of length but rather large in width. Thousands of spells were locked away in its pages. Ways to wield unimaginable strength lost to the ages. The Supreme Witch’s Grimoire outdated even Zengi himself, though it didn’t necessarily grant equal strength to the witch king. But it was certainly a large step in that direction.

She grabbed it from where it floated in the air, doing so with her left hand, and quickly flipped through a few pages, her gaze jumping from words as if wanting to swallow whole all it’s information in a matter of seconds. But after a moment she closed it and handed the book off to Venus. It was only after that Lilith realized Vetiver had said to grab the “gift” with her left hand. Lilith hadn’t meant to follow the instructions, but found it interesting she had despite the lack of intention. Though considering a gift was something given for free or in response to an action of sorts, something told Lilith the grimoire was not what the Oracle saw.

With a shrug Lilith turned to the coffin and waved her hand, the motion closely followed by a group of cloaked Paragons who lifted the coffin into the air and took off into the sky in surges of black smoke. Now wasn’t the time to rise the Supreme Witch from her slumber. But it was a good idea to keep a potential power like that close.

Looking back at Shane and Vetiver, Lilith nodded. “The mission for today has been accomplished. As new Paragons, you both now have a choice. You may choose to follow me, though retaining your freedom to wander whenever you please. Or you can take off now and return to your old life with your newfound power. The choice is yours. Chose wisely.”

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Shane stood back as Lilith went about her magic rituals or whatever it was she was doing, instead just panting and trying to regain his strength after having expended so much of it over the past hour. In truth, he was barely standing, as he had not yet built-up the necessary endurance to be able to use his magic so much, and he'd likely spend days recovering from the exhaustion. But in realizing this, Shane knew he needed more time to learn and hone these newfound abilities before he dared strike-out on his own. He was still no match for the beings he desired to face.

Thus, when Lilith presented the offer to follow her or to go his own way, he concluded that it would be far more prudent to stick with those who could help him as he learned. Or at the least, give him a supporting cast to "protect" him while he learns and gains experience. When he is ready, then he can leave. But until then...

"I will follow you, my lady. Just tell me where to go."

He didn't care for being subservient, but this wasn't the first time he'd had to resort to it. Whatever it took to prepare himself to achieve his goals, he'd do it.

For now...

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Vetiver had a mission, but she also had a choice.

She could see a million possible endings to her story if she went off on her own with this new power. She could be the Queen of Terrenus, or the Prophet of Gaia, or the blackest evil to walk the earth since Zenghi himself. She could mold the entire world to her whims, with the right application of augury and will and discipline. She could unite the continents; Terrenus, Genesaris, those crazy little islands that called themselves a bunch of weird countries -- they could all be hers, under a single flag, worshipping and loving their eternal Empress of Valucre. 

She could have the wealth of all the national treasuries, willing harems of the the most beautiful and skilled men and women the world had to offer, political power beyond belief; it could all be hers if she just decided what she wanted, and reached out her hand to take it. Even Victory couldn't stop her.

But Vetiver had a mission. 

She already knew what she was going to do. 

All those potential futures faded like phantasms after the opium wears off, crumbling to dust and blowing away in the incessant wind of duty and loyalty.

"I, too, will come with you, Fateless One."

It was a simple declaration, but it caused a hundred thousand possible timelines to violently shatter. In their place was a misty horizon; following Lillith meant even the most powerful oracle of the age was left with some significant degree of uncertainty.

Inside, Vetiver cried a tiny little tear for everything she was forsaking. But she wasn't a Queen. She was a soldier. 

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