AN: This is intended as a prologue for a much longer work. Obviously. All the chapters I post here are like that. This one, though, I at least have general plans to continue this. I just need to finish a shorter fic I've been working on to get back into the writing groove. I'm considering a few big ideas as a follow-up, so if you want to see more of this, leave reviews!
Once upon a time, there was a universe.
And within that universe, a mere five million light years from the edge of expansion, spins a young galaxy. A galaxy observed by a figure in white lying in space, palms cupping her head, and wearing a fascinated smile.
Her name, once, was Madoka Kaname. Before she made a wish, and remade the fabric of reality, and in doing so became a living concept. A goddess. One of hope, shepherding magical girls in their death, cleansing them of despair and guiding their souls to a place of rest.
Of course, as a goddess, even such a task was well below her full capacity, and so she found… diversions. Such as this galaxy. More specifically, a planet accreting around a star in the galaxy's core, a process she has seen a billion times before, and yet finds just as fascinating now as the first time she decided to watch. Each planet is unique. Its formation, logically, would be the same.
Under the goddess's gaze, gravity slowly draws the material into a spherical shape. Soon it will be formed. Twenty seconds. Ten-
The words are not words. The force that hammers the goddess' mind, that pitches her off her platform, clutching her head, is a probe. A broad-spectrum energy probe that spreads throughout the universe searching for information. For truth.
She falls, and lands sprawled, a pained heap lying on solid space. For a short eternity, she lies there, recovering. Then, pulling herself to her feet, the goddess known as Madoka declares, with a defiant expression, "No. You're not getting any further, whoever you are. Not when it's threatening the entire universe! I won't allow it!" Her fists clench at her sides, and her determined frown deepens a notch. "Who are you? And what are you looking for?"
The probe, visible as a black surface around a pair of glowing orange eyes, pauses, draws back. Perplexed, perhaps, at the thought being even momentarily denied.
Abruptly, it expands. Colors, in grey and orange and black, bleed out of the very fabric of space is if made of smoke, coalescing into a humanoid figure. She – for the figure seems female – can be seen clad in an armored bodysuit of dark grey before a cloak in a lighter shade settles around her body, obscuring it. Long, dark, and curly hair streams down her back, and though her face is human her eyes are orange pits more resembling hot coals than any eye seen in nature. And when her form is still and clear, she speaks, in a rasp akin to metal bristles.
"What do I seek? I seek the Source of All Things. Who am I?"
A sneer spreads over her face.
"I am Khepri. And I will not be denied."
The goddess' expression softens, curious. "Khepri?" she repeats, curiously. "I know a lot of things, but that name doesn't ring a bell."
"Then think of me as likely death," is the reply. "Death for this entire universe."
The frown returns, stronger than before. "Explain."
"I was a hero, once. I saved the world." The words are soft, almost wistful, Khepri's expression matching. "And in saving it, I saw every problem that faced it. So I fixed those problems. Gathered all the power I needed to do so. And when I was doing so… I discovered the Truth."
The word rings with some sort of weight, and Khepri's expression turns stormy. "Somewhere, out there, there is a man with a computer. A man who created every single problem I saw. Every hurt, every injustice, everything. And then made it worse. For some sort of sick entertainment. I could not let this stand."
"I searched the multiverse, every square inch I could reach. And in time, I learned of the Source. That it was the one place I might find the Man with the Computer – and that it was unreachable." A thin smile. "I didn't believe them. So far, though, it has proven… accurate. No matter the methods I try, no universe has survived my investigations. So now, here I am, ready to try once more."
Through the whole speech, the goddess had gone from wariness straight into horror. A horror she now expressed, eyes wide and expression aghast.
"You… You would sacrifice an entire universe for your this?" she breathed, eyes shining. "A universe?"
"I have," Khepri replied, stiffly. "And I will do it a million times over, if I have to. Now, I have told you this because you have actually managed to block my latest probe. But I have the power of all I have destroyed, so stand aside, or-"
"Well, I don't want my universe to be destroyed," the goddess interrupted, to much clenching of teeth. "And, well, if you're looking for the Source, this isn't the best place to try. I know a universe somewhat up and strange of here that's much closer to the Source, and-"
The goddess flinched back at Khepri's face in her… well, face. "Then tell me!" she demands. "Tell me where to find this universe, and I will-"
"Personal space, okay?" the goddess admonishes, warping space a little to move Khepri back. "Anyway, it looks like we each have something we want. So how about we play a little game for them, hm?"
"A game," Khepri parrots, incredulous. "What sort of game?"
Smiling, the goddess snaps her fingers, and images bloom to life. Images of objects: a small wooden mallet, painted in red and gold and ornately decorated; twenty-one jewels shimmering in a dull purple; a golden sword, tarnished and battered and yet still gleaming with power; and a golden cup, malevolent black streaked through it.
"A scavenger hunt, essentially," she explains. "Each of these are artifacts of considerable power, scattered throughout other universes. I'm sure you can contribute four yourself."
A snap from Khepri, and another four images join their brethren: seven orange spheres, each containing a number of red five-point stars; a heart-shaped jewel in silver filigree; a black key, a glass globe at the handle end, and giving off an impression of size; and a sphere in bluish-purple, enclosed in crystalline, angular case.
"Good!" the goddess chirps, clapping her hands. "Then we each choose a team of champions, and send them off after the artifacts. Whoever gathers more wins!"
For a moment, Khepri is silent. And then…
"Let me verify the stakes. If I win, you will give me the location of this universe, a universe I am free to do whatever I wish with." A reluctant nod. "And if you win, I leave this universe and seek my answers elsewhere." A more eager nod. A silent moment of thought, and Khepri grins. "Oh, why not? This will make for an interesting diversion, if nothing else. Just two things. First, I'll not have you weasel out of this deal through a tie."
Snapping her fingers again, six objects burst into reality. Real objects, not images. A tiara and five torcs, they are made of gold and each inlaid with a single gem. The tiara holds a six-pointed star in lavender. The torcs, an orange apple, a violet diamond, a pink butterfly, a blue balloon, and a red lightning bolt. The goddess recognizes the objects; her eyes widen, her face pales, and a small intake of breath breaks the silence.
"Fine," she says after a moment. "And the other?"
Khepri's grin widens. Any good cheer that had been present is now utterly gone. She speaks. The goddess hesitates, begins to stall. A threat, snarled. And finally, submission.
"Fine. We're agreed."