Chapter 7: The Dark Truths
The sun had set on this side of Coruscant, massive windows set high into the vaulting ceiling and walls of the temple were showing starlight instead of a warming daylit glow. The only light now filling the cavernous spaces that were the chambers of the Jedi Temple were the soft walk-way lights set evenly along the broad walkways. The result was a barely lit, yet calm and serene view from above.
Seren and his master were walking slowly along one such walkway now, their speed slowed to match that of the short jedi beside them to whom they were giving their unofficial report.
"-and so with Kuat being so close to Neimodia, direct action was the only possible solution. Any delay would have simply allowed the trade federation to reinforce their forces beyond control. I cannot agree with Seren's actions any more than I do now Master Yoda."
"Hrrmm….Important to the Republic Kuat is…aligned with the separatists…tragedy it would be." The diminutive green Jedi Master mused to himself as he hobbled forward down the length of the main hall of the temple on one of the raised side balconies. The group was not going anywhere in particular, Master Yoda had expressed a simple desire to walk while the freshly arrived team gave their informal report. "Best option to take, you think it was padawan?"
"Doubtful Master." Seren's quiet voice carried just enough to reach the ears of the masters he was following respectfully behind. "A good option of several good possibilities perhaps, but the best…I do not know master. I simply let myself relax and listen, and exposing the ambassador seemed to come as naturally as my next breath."
"Hrmmmm…" Though his response was nothing but a thoughtful hum, masters Yoda and Maseet shared a glance and slight smile at the surprisingly old padawan's response.
"Will of the force you did listen padawan. Excellent senator will be this Senator Danu. Worrying…this attack. Kuat and Naboo alike…at work…a larger plan than thought I think."
"There was no sign of a sith as at Naboo Master Yoda, so the…confidence…the Nemoidians possessed was worrying to say the least. They expected aid far beyond what they should have had available to them." Master Anaris pointed out. "Kuat and Naboo were successes of a sort, but Sullust appears to have at the very least agreed to increase trade deals via the confederation. I worry at what will come there."
"Pardon me masters, I will return in but a moment." Both masters simply nodded in calm acceptance as Seren suddenly made his statement before turning to stride away towards the central aisle below their balcony. Below, a jedi and a young boy were walking from the main entrance, the pair his apparent target as he hurriedly stepped down one of the circling staircases.
"Qui-gon's loss will be felt for some time I believe." Anaris could not help but comment as she looked down on her former partner's former padawan. "Obi-wan will make an excellent knight and eventually an excellent master I believe, a good testament to Qui-gon's legacy."
"Gone Qui-gon is not, one with the force he has become, closer to us all…now he is." Anaris Maseet nodded as Master Yoda's calm response echoed the beliefs of the Jedi and the solace that was supposed to be found from their code.
Anaris was silent for a moment as she watched Seren walk towards the pair below. "Seren was meditating before we came out of hyperspace master." Master Yoda remained silent as his fellow master and former padawan gathered her thoughts.
"When he awoke, his first words were rather troubling. "Chaos has come…a dark seed is sprouted."
From below, the pair without focusing could make out only the occasional word as met his quarry, even in the near silence of the temple that despite the hours and darkness remained mildly active even now.
"-urat…am…-an Kenobi…rentice…ywalker…a pl…ure."
"Growing it was this secret war. Unknown it was, newborn…it was not."
Anaris nodded in response to the famed master's words but responded in turn.
"That's what I said as well, but he simply looked at me with that far off look he can have...and said that this was new…this one was young. 'Two shadows and a curtain' he said"
"Alert then we must be…open to the force your padawan's eyes surprisingly have been. Disregard this…we cannot."
Seren opened his eyes, the dream fading away at the speed of forgotten dreams. As he sat up, he was confused for a moment as he looked around the small room with its simple furnishings. Only when he saw his armor and gear stacked on the small table next to the door did reality seem to snap fully back, the images of the temple like the after-flashes of lightning; there but only if he focused on it as it faded away.
Surprisingly, considering his propensity to being a light sleeper, on top of the stack of random stuff and gear and Rolly's still form was a small note, propped up and positioned to be easily seen even from the bed.
'Guild sends regards…presence requested soonish nyah'. -Chloe '
Seren couldn't help but grin, the cat people even wrote that sound. Well, at least he now understood Bell's rush to guide him to safe haven; the kid couldn't lie to save his life and the entire walk from the blue pharmacy to the pub had been filled with Bell nervously chatting his mouth off. That random individuals from the central authority of the city had found him so early in the morning, if the sunlight coming through the shutters was any indication at least, then they had an informant, of which Bell was the most likely culprit.
'Well I can't fault him for that, he's a kid of order and rules after all.'
Fortunately for Seren's sanity, the city had running water. Of a sorts at least. In this case, it was a spigot outside that led from the wood burning water heater, but even just wiping off with hot water and a cloth was better than a cold water bath…or nothing at all. In the last twenty-ish years, Seren had become quite fond of actually being clean, a state that wasn't so easy in most parts of most universes. As he closed and locked the door to his temporary home, Seren took one last look at the manner in which his possessions were laid out. Rolly was leaning half against the wall and bed, the bag of currency behind it. With any luck, if theft was a problem the plate-sized rock would be able to defend its current home…without leveling it. Any thoughts of rocks and rock-throwing, scrubbing and rubbing and rubber duckies fled his mind however as he stepped down into the empty hall of the pub below; money bag, utility pouches and lightsaber swinging from his belt. His armor was on, but the pinching of the slightly spaced out plates was annoying, clothing was going to be a priority before he went anywhere else.
"Ya' didn't say you had issues with the guild…" Mama Mia was doing some math while a sleepy looking Anya was straightening chairs and tables. The mortally wounded table from the night before was nowhere to be seen. "Every place in the city gets along because the guild doesn't have any reason to notice them, if you've problems, I need to know."
"Information gathering." Seren yawned as he went to grab some peanut-looking stuff out of a bowl. A hard whack from a spoon killed that idea. "Oh…closed. Anyhow, there were…issues…regarding the stuff that went down the other day down below. I'm pretty sure they just want me to go share my side of the story."
The matron's eyes narrowed in suspicion but relaxed when she gave a sharp nod in return.
"If that changes bud…I still need to know."
Seren threw a lazy salute in response as he headed for the swinging doors that was the entrance. Just as he reached it, he stopped to glance at the brown-haired cat-girl that had switched to sweeping.
"You wouldn't know of a place to get…clothes by any chance would you?"
A grin followed by a "yawn-nyah" was his answer.
"Ok…whatever they use for their leather…I like it…"
Seren was headed (finally!) towards the guild headquarters he had been in yesterday. Anya might be sleepy in the mornings, but apparently the thought of shopping was mental caffeine to the cat-girl. Her requests…or beggings that is…to Mama Mia to escort him had been so fast that Seren and the Matron had both covered their ears to avoid damage to their brains. Eventually, the broad-shouldered owner had just pointed out the door in desperation.
"Go! Go! Just come back as soon as you can and you're not getting out of your work!"
After that, her view had shifted to Seren with steadily squinting eyes.
Seren had grabbed the suddenly wide-awake girl and bolted for it as the sound of invectives chased him out the door. Anya simply giggled the whole while.
"Gotta' admit…that girl knows her style…"
Anya hadn't even needed to look around or try any different shops out. Straight away, she pulled a nearly running Seren along the winding side-streets southwards to the market district. There, like a mynock to an electrical junction she shot to a small side-store that sold…leather.
"This is what you need Mr. Seren nyah! You'll look great in this nyah!"
The item he wound up holding was a thin black leather jacket that incredibly enough…fit…perfectly. Wearing it, the armor plates of his outer armor slid right over to their natural position. Truth be told, it felt almost exactly like his previous outfit that the plates had been woven into. Throw in the fact that it apparently came from a flame salamander and, as such, it was somewhat resistant to flame…Seren was sold. He had learned his lesson from down below. Eight thousand valis? Done.
"How did you know about a jacket that would fit me perfectly in some side-street shop?" Anya had simply grinned and gave a completely nonsensical response: "Cats know everything nyah!"
In this at least, Seren wasn't going to disagree.
Plus…it was soft. Seren liked soft things.
And, so it was that he found himself walking the streets back towards the main guild office. Anya had pulled him so fast through so many alleys and side streets that he didn't even try to make his way back the way he had come, but had quickly found the main street that was the western spoke of the wheel that was Orario and simply headed back towards the tower. In the end, all he would have to do is head back northwest and he would be set.
It was as he was once more walking away from the tower to the northwest and his destination of the guild office that he felt the attack.
Like a shaft of bright light through the gloom of a foggy night, a lance of…something seemed to suddenly strike Seren in the chest. The emotions and imagery that flashed before his eyes in that moment absolutely screamed of the force and the usual whispers in the aether had become a crescendo in his mind's ear, like the inner voice of one's consciousness suddenly becoming an opera singer. Behind it all, was the after-image that was like a ghost, a pair of silver eyes looking through the light and into his very being.
As was Seren's want when things happened that he wasn't expecting, he simply relaxed and let himself act. His first response was a sudden spin in the middle of the street, looking for whomever was stripping away his mental and emotional shields like butter before a hot wind. Besides the quartet of store stalls with the scattered shoppers here and there, and the child playing down the street, there was no one. Only when he again relaxed and tried to hear where this song through the aether was coming from that he turned again…to look at the tower of Babel. Precisely, he found himself looking up…at the very peak of the tower that was fully exposed on this cloud-free day.
"Hatred by Love, Refusal by Lust…Hatred by Love! Refusal by Lust!" Quietly, yet with incredible passion, Seren let slip his utterance that he used as a cheat-sheet of sorts as he momentarily closed his eyes to the image of the tower peak and reached out with his mental arms and ears to grasp and listen to what was true…to what was the will of the force. The height of heresy to the Jedi, it was Seren's furious seizing and utterance of balance that so set him apart to the angst of many a master, and delight of one in particular. Had any of those masters seen the mental image that accompanied his words, they would have been yet further repulsed by his rejection of the core beliefs of their order.
It was a quick sequence of memories that raced through his mind that he used to set the foundation of his grasp for the force; A memory of standing over a terrified yet haughty and furious queen, a red-hot axe in hand as he, with a furious and twisted grimace upon his face, swung down time and time again, severing the limbs from her body in sprays of blood and bursts of smoke, the sizzling of flesh in his ears and nose, her screams of both terror, pain, and rage echoing in the throne room.
The sensation of rocking on the gentle waves of a lake, the feeling of the young woman in his arms asleep against him, the sense of love exploding in his chest as he stared down at his new bride in wonder; the smile upon her lips even in sleep spoke volumes to him even then.
The disgust as he strode down the steps from a massive palace, shimmering glass, gilded steel and brass everywhere he looked. Behind him the figures of the politicians that would not stand to defend the lands they had sworn to protect, the scent of smoke from the burning fields beyond the walls in his nose. They had been weak and afraid, unwilling to follow either logic or passion in their fear of loss.
The final image had been the most recent to be applied to his mantra. One evening after training, Seren had been in the cargo bay of the Rising Fire. Master Anaris had been ill again, and Naya had wobbled in behind him while Seren had been checking on their latest shipment. The teen twi'lek girl had been drinking…something…and was for some reason angry at him. One thing had led to another and finally to their first time together, the young and now thoroughly bruised twi'lek bent almost double over an inactive r-five droid, screaming in drunken ecstasy from Seren's own angry, and passionate, response.
It was as the final scene faded away from his mental view that the sound around him seemed to just…go silent. The scent of lilac and honey filled the air and his eyes felt like they were on fire. The image of the tower, like on a longshot-sniper cam, seemed to snap closer and closer until he was looking at a shimmering figure standing upon a balcony…looking at him…at his soul. Seren's response was immediate and in hindsight…far out of proportion…and beautifully perfect.
Reaching back behind him as though for something to throw, he let his will guide the glowing motes of light in his mind, and the sensation of tiny invisible tentacles erupting from his pores set his senses on fire. Like a whip, each mental tentacle seemed to snap out before grabbing a mote and pulling it inwards. Within a moment and almost without thought, Seren had summoned enough aether from without to the core of his body to level entire buildings. That power nearly on instinct raced to the outstretched hand held behind him, where in a flash, five blue-white stars erupted into existence with a -whoomp- of suddenly compressed air as the very oxygen around the compiled aether was ignited and consumed.
Ignoring the sudden uprush of air and dust, Seren kept his focus on the figure's outline in his view…and threw.
To those around him, his actions had been so sudden that for the most part, all the surrounding shoppers and shopkeepers saw was a strange adventurer suddenly standing in a triumphant, overly heroic pose pointing towards the tower.
'Another strange one…won't last a day…crazy.'
It was the young girl with the dirty bow in her hair playing in a fancy red dress with a small ball that was the sole witness to his sudden and explosive throwing of stars bright enough to make her eyes water in response.
On Seren's part, he only fully realized what he had done when he stood there, hand outstretched and a manic grin on his face as he saw the stars vanishing upwards in the distance, his eyes widening in sudden understanding as his instinctive and reactive response to the force finally registered like the moment of combat startlingly coming to a close.
She had been focusing on the soul that had caught her eye down below a few moments before. Granted, her suite on the upper floor of Babel was high enough that her physical vision couldn't actually see what she was looking at, but her Discerning Eye was able to see the souls of children no matter the distance. Most souls moving about below were singular in color, making the entirety of Orario one great mass of color shifting about in waves and tides, seemingly random and all mixed up. Of late, only the soul of one other had caught her eye so; a young man, a boy really, whose soul had shimmered as clear as crystal ice. This soul however…
It was like the star Sirius in the summer night sky, shimmering and shifting from one color to the next, so fast and bright that to look at it was to make her mind's eye spin. As she gazed down upon it though, trying to see through those dizzying colors to perhaps the core of its owner, that random array of light for a moment froze before with almost the practiced beat of a drum flashed color to color: From the dark red of oozing blood to a shimmering purple, from the color of lovers to the sick yellow-green of rejection and jealousy, to the burning red of unbridled lust to settle finally on the steady orange glow of satisfaction.
Her body's reaction to the sudden stab of emotion through those colors was almost her undoing. The sheer fury first sent every hair on body standing on end, her mortal senses coming alive in a primal instinct for survival to either fight or run. The next, again overwhelming, sensation literally took her breath away as a sense of intense and absolute love washed over her, the combined sensations of being absolutely completed covering her like a blanket.
It was the puke-green of rejection, jealousy, and dismissal that robbed her of speech though, the contrast so sharp and sudden the physical part of her mind came to a halt in confusion. The previous and current sensations were simply…incompatible so close together.
It was, however, the second to last and yet most overwhelming sensation of them all that almost sent her back to Tenkai. Staring down into that soul, she suddenly felt such a drive to take and be taken she couldn't move. Her already skin-tight clothing became even tighter as goosebumps erupted along her flesh, her nipples tightening in response, her sex suddenly wetting as she had not experienced from a lover in so long. She was rooted in place by a passion that was…so alive and animalistic and focused.
But now…satisfaction? Freya placed one hand on the wall as she leaned forward in confusion, blinking to clear the light from her eyes before she suddenly realized that this light…was not being seen by her remaining godly ability. The shimmering blue-white light of a new-borne star was burning below her…and growing still brighter…and closer.
She was barely able to gasp out a single terrified word: "Ottar!"
Her most senior, and loyal, member of her familia was, as usual per his wont, watching over her. The Boaz adventurer had noticed the sudden focus his goddess had acquired while looking outside, but as ever stood silent in observation. The sudden gasp from his Goddess was certainly unexpected, but it did not matter. He reacted immediately.
Moving so fast that his first step shattered the marble floor, Ottar had moved beside his Goddess and in one arm swept her into his embrace while with the other held out a massive black sword. He was but a moment of a moment in looking outwards at the scene before throwing himself, and his goddess, down and to the side.
Freya did not return to Tenkai this day.
Just as Ottar cleared the balcony archway, five fist-sized burning stars struck. Two impacted outside, just below the balcony itself where they would burn into the rock before exploding outwards, and inwards, in a deadly spray of shards that would turn to dust on the wind and shred the fine upholstery of the well-furnished room.
A third star flashed almost perfectly through the center of the archway, exactly where Freya had been standing barely a fraction of a second earlier, before screaming upwards and into the ceiling where with a blinding flash and -shaboom- caused a spray of lethal shards to shred the library shelves, carpet, chairs, and large bed. The exquisite and delicate crystal chandelier would be sent spinning in the chaos.
The fourth star would come the closest to actually harming Freya despite Ottar's efforts as it impacted on the sword the boaz was holding. Had the angle of the blade or its position in his grip been any different, then the result could have been far more lethal. However, as it was the entirety of the black blade suddenly flashed red-hot as it was sent spinning from his smoking grip. The projectile of, whatever it was, was however reflected and slammed into, and through, the many bookshelves lining the wall. The resulting explosion from that impact sent burning paper, wood, and even more stone flying through the air.
The fifth and final blast however, while the least dangerous, was by far the most extravagant and visually impressive in terms of its results. The chandelier that had been sent spinning had only barely shifted when, just in time, the central crystal made of a rare eastern gem was struck dead-center by the final blue-white…ball.
The room was destroyed.
Superficially, granted as the holes made from the now internally reflected blasts were all fairly minor, but the clear gem that was effectively melted by the sudden intense heat survived long enough to act as an internal lens that sent hundreds of smaller beams throughout the room. Ottar, holding Freya below him, snarled in pain as several lanced his leg, back, and shoulders. The freshly burning bookshelves were turned to splinters, the papers already filling the air ignited midflight, the marble scorched and, in many places, shattered. The thick oak doors that served as the gateway to her inner sanctum were pockmarked and, in several places, burned clean through.
Almost in declaration of the finality, and conclusion, of the absurdly sudden destruction and near death of his goddess…the chandelier fell to the floor, the few remaining unshattered crystals doing just that.
Amidst the sound of falling rock, flickering flames, settling papers and panicked yelling from outside, came one sound that confounded the massive boaz.
Freya was giggling like a little schoolgirl in his arms.
Gently releasing her at the same time as the doors were kicked open by Allen and Hogni as they raced in, Ottar looked down at Freya who, holding her fists to her mouth to try and suppress her laughter, was almost crying in her mirth. Ottar could only look up at the cat-man and dark elf in equal confusion and concern at Freya's reaction.
"I…I think-" Freya could not continue for a moment as she practically spasmed in a fit of giggles before suddenly settling slightly.
"I think I made someone angry…" Freya finally managed before bursting again into a fit of near-childish laughter. Ottar simply turned to Allen and Hogni with a snarl:
The sudden and furious investigation by the Freya familia into who or what had attacked their lady was stymied by the fact that it had happened at such a unique time in the morning: Too early for workers to go to lunch, late enough that most traffic had settled. Unbeknownst to the almost hundred Freya members that flooded the streets, there had been but only one actual witness to the use of magic within Orario against the tower of Babel.
That witness was a young girl of no more than six who was, even as Freya enforcers raced past the window, having her eyes washed out with water as her mother angrily scolded her for running around outside in the dust in her nice dress. What happened when bad girls ran around outside? They got sand in their eyes, that's what.
Seren simply skulked away in surprise, and embarressed regret, at his sudden and completely unrestrained action. If there was one thing the Jedi never spoke about, it was the possible consequences of so blindly following the will of a force that cared nothing for the opinions and attitudes of individuals.
All Seren could do was hope that he hadn't hurt anyone too badly…and that they weren't anyone important. He had enough to deal with as is.
Seren had barely stepped inside the guild offices when a pink-haired girl suddenly stood away from her counter desk and, with her arms flapping crazily, started yelling.
"Mr. Serreen…yooohoooo! Over heeerrree!" Unbeknownst to Misha, her arm motions were eerily similar to those made by the launch techs on a star carrier. Between her pink hair and the bright pink pen in her hand Seren could easily see this girl guiding in a ship for landing.
"Okay! So, I figured out a perfect way to communicate to you where to go!" As Seren walked up about to open his mouth, Misha held up a large sign with a big arrow and the words "Go!"
"But THEN I realized…you might not use arrows where you're from…so I thought of this!" At this, Misha pointed to the far corner of the counter where, when Seren walked around to the other side, he saw carefully drawn chalk footprints that led deeper into the building. The (again!) pink powder on Misha's hands and work outfit indicated clearly who the culprit behind the defamation of the tiles was.
Seren opened his mouth to point out that he didn-
"But Eina made a good point, why would you think those were meant for you instead of simply being from an adventurer who somehow got covered in chalk? So I thought of this!" This time to Seren's growing amusement, Misha picked up a stick with…a piece of food…hanging from a string tied to the end. "Every man gets hungry…so I decided that I'd just lead you to Royman's office this way!"
Whatever that food was it looked like it had gone cold some time before…if the congealed grease on the outside of the fried…thing…was any indication. Glancing around, Seren saw the woman from the other day that had lambasted poor Bell sitting a few seats down, chin in her palm as she stared with a look of absolute and dejected surrender at Misha.
"To think she actually gets work done…I don't understand how…" Eina was shaking her head in distraught confusion, other nearby workers biting their lips as they looked on at the scene as well.
Seren opened his mouth to reply…to say something…and paused…waiting for Misha to interject yet again. For her part, she simply stared at him, pink eyes wide in expectation. After a moment he simply closed his mouth and shook his head in amazement. He would definitely have to see how long he could push this little miscommunication. And so, he simply gave Misha a nod and smile before turning to follow the pink footprints further into the structure, leaving the girls behind.
"Yes!" Misha pumped her fist in the air in success as she jumped up in joy. "It worked! I'm actually good at this! I am soooo going to ask for more of the foreign adventurers…pay raise here we come!"
Eina, who had noticed that at no point had Seren had a look of confusion or misunderstanding on his face, understood that Seren had comprehended far more of what Misha had been actually saying than she thought. Even so, she didn't want to burst her friend's bubble quite yet.
"Perhaps…some more practice first Misha?" Her friend's response was almost terrifying from the near evil look of manic glee on her face as she stared out over the room to focus on one of the eastern adventurers that had recently arrived. Perhaps sensing the approach of a dangerous predator, the young woman in the multi-colored wraps was looking around the room with a concerned look on her face, hand on the dagger at her waist.
"Oh yessss….I've got this…!"
The pink footprints led down several halls to a door with a gilded plaque on it that read simply "Director". Outside said door, a stunningly fat elf was on his knees wiping at the footprints that led inwards.
"Silly…girl…fee…property…argghh!" The footprint gone, the elf groaned in frustration when he stood only to see his fine suit pants covered in pink dust from the other footprint he had been kneeling on. Already Seren could see the flush beginning to overtake his rotund cheeks.
"My apologies…but if that footprint was anything to go by…I think I have an appointment in there." The wide and intelligent dark green eyes that turned to him in response were in fact not what Seren had been expecting. Contrary to this elf's physical well-being, the intelligence that reflected from those eyes was startling almost.
"If you are the man I think you are…I was led to understand you did not speak koine…" Those eyes had narrowed in suspicion by the time that sentence was finished.
Seren could only shrug in response, "Language magic is an amazing thing. Painful perhaps…but I can't argue with the results." The elf, Royman if Misha was any guide at all, simply stared at him for several heartbeats before nodding in return.
"Indeed, I have heard of such but even in Orario, there is often little need. Please mister…Seren I believe it was…come in." With one last anguished look at the pink footprint-covered hallway, the director walked back into his office with Seren following behind.
The office was entirely what Seren had come to expect from powerful people in administrative organizations. Thick carpet, extravagantly decorated tables, chair and desk behind which the obese elf was settling, massive wood bookshelves crammed with neatly ordered, and likely never read books of likely high value…if the gold lettering on many covers was any indication. This man understood wealth and its trappings if appearances were anything to go by. The massive piles of papers and forms spread across the broad desk also indicated that the man understood work as well too.
"I am Royman Mardeel, Director of the Guild of Orario. Could you please confirm for me please your name good Sir?"
"Seren Nas' Surat Andanahe' Christian Terrance Purdell," The director's blinking continued for several moments longer than necessary, so he thought it might be best to keep it simple. "Seren Nas' Surat sir…the rest is more of a title I suppose."
The director was filling out a form as he concluded and when he looked up continued, "And are you the individual reported by several sources as appearing to have…and I quote…"somehow entered the dungeon without entering the dungeon…?"
"Aaahhh….yes I suppose that's as good a description as anyth-"
The sudden appearance of a folded letter on a gold plate set to the side of the desk interrupted Seren, his eyebrows lifting in curiosity at the unique method of mail delivery. The director's…Royman's…reaction was far more interesting however as his head snapped to the side so fast that Seren was not only certain he heard cartilage crack, but he saw waves flow through the man's cheeks as the fat caught up with the violent motion. The look on the his face as he reached surprisingly gingerly for the note was pure frustration.
Seren simply sat there in silence, one hand in his lap and the other resting on his lightsaber that as ever rode high to his side. The director in turn however was reading, and re-reading what appeared to be a rather short letter that he could only assume was about himself as the director's eyes, repeatedly, flickered in his direction.
"It seems we are done here." Seren could only blink in surprise as Royman sighed as he set the letter down before ponderously standing again. "Please follow me, your presence is requested."
"Ah." In truth, there wasn't much to say to that as Seren followed the rotund administrator out of his office and down the hall in the direction of a dark corridor.
"Lord Ouranos has requested your presence. It seems our Lord is aware of your…unique…circumstances and desires information directly." As he finished, the director stopped next to a staircase cut into the wall that went down into the dark. The steps were covered in what looked to be red velvet, and railings had been cut directly into the stone wall. This was not a mere connecting set of stairs.
"Below is our Lord's chamber of prayer. You will remain respectful and silent until our Lord has spoken. If due respect is not paid to our Lord…you will deal with the Guild good Sir. Am I understood?" Royman was, even in his obvious frustration at having his investigation pulled out from under him, speaking from a clear sense of dedication and duty. Seren had no doubt that if he angered this man, his time in the city would likely be short.
"Understood. Thank you for your assistance and…assuming that all remains well…I look forward to being of assistance in the future." Seren gave a quick bow, a custom he had observed repeatedly already in the social interactions around him, as he said farewell. Keeping this man on his good side…couldn't hurt. Royman in return simply nodded, his face relaxing slightly at Seren's words before turning to stride back to his office. Seren simply proceeded downwards into the darkness lit by only the periodic candle.
In the end, he was rather surprised at just how deep he had to go before exiting into a chamber large enough to be cloaked in shadows on all sides despite a quartet of large braziers burning at the top of a dais. Upon said dais was what could best be called a throne upon which sat…an old man. The closer he got to the base of the stairs leading up, the older, and yet more refined the old man appeared. If his eyes hadn't been closed in prayer or mediation…heck maybe sleep…then Seren wouldn't have been surprised to see an intelligence or vibrancy that defied his aged appearance.
It was also in his mind's eye that saw the deeper reality of the situation as well. Similar to the many deities he had already seen or encountered walking the street, this man had that flow of aether through him that made him seem to shimmer a bit when he focused. The difference here though was that this man's shimmer was far, far more intense than any of the others. Seren could only assume that his deity…ness…was closer to the surface as well.
Seren wasn't entirely surprised by the non-greeting he received. Be it religious ceremonies, pompous behavior, or power-plays at work, he had dealt with this behavior from authority figures for as long as he could remember. So…he waited. Assuming a classic military waiting position, Seren clasped his hands behind his back and set his feet comfortably apart to wait however long this was going to take. Perhaps it was the flickering flames, the darkness or cool air that still somehow managed to circulate, but even though in the time that would pass the sun climbed to its zenith, it was as though but a moment passed below in that chamber, Seren lost in his thoughts.
The quiet, and yet still intense words, snapped Seren out of…wherever he had been. His reaction was immediate, and almost violent in how it shook him back into full awareness below the gaze of the sky-blue eyes above.
"No!" There was no thought or intention behind his words until, after his almost-yell had stopped echoing, that Seren realized that probably wasn't a good start. "Ahh..ah hmm…I mean…well…no…I'm not a Guardian…neither new nor old."
The aged deity's eyes widened slightly at the end of his actual response before narrowing in thought once more.
"You know that name…a Traveler at the least then I assume…"
"Yes, definitely a Traveler." Seren nodded in reply, his mind racing. The number of those who understood what lay on the other side of the gates tended to be few and far betwe- '...wait a minute…'
"You know about Guardians and Travelers!"
Ouranos nodded slightly in return. Overall, this man's responses had been…restrained to say the least. Controlled. "Indeed. I had the pleasure of encountering one of your kind once long ago. Many millennia in fact."
Seren blinked, "My understanding from one of your kind was that your people only started descending from your world about a thousand years ago…"
"Indeed. In fact, our city just celebrated the one thousand year anniversary of that moment when I descended to this very place where you stand."
Do the math do the math do the mat- "So…there's a Gate in Tenkai…"
"There is. It has been one of the few mysteries of the Gods. Even Aetherious and Gaia were never able to say where the rings came from. As all we knew, they had existed in Tenkai for time immortal, before even we the Gods emerged." At this Chronos' gaze on Seren grew sharp. "For you to be here, I must assume that such a gate resides below as well."
The only thing Seren could do in response was nod while his mind continued to race. It had been so long that he was no longer even certain where or when the knowledge had come from, but at some point, he was fairly certain it had been Jax that explained a unique occurrence in the universe.
"So if the gate was there, then where did the dungeon come from? Dungeons don't just…pop up…and swallow gates. Especially considering the time frames involved here…"
Ouranos, who had been watching Seren's eyes bounce around in thought, merely motioned slightly with his hand: continue.
"Ok…so I'm not even remembering very well when I was taught this, but damn if I can't still hear Jax talking my ear off about this. He I know has dealt with dungeons before at least." For the first time in the encounter, Ouranos had actually moved, in this case only to very slightly lean forward in interest.
"Dungeons can happen in two ways: naturally and unnaturally. The natural way is kinda sad actually, and it's always from a concentration of life ironically. Take a burrow of…rabbits or something ok? Ok. Well your rabbits have baby rabbits…and most of the rabbits leave but one stays to make more rabbits…and more…and the cycle continues…onwards and onwards."
Seren had finally abandoned his formal stance and was now pacing back and forth before Ouranos who's only action was to follow with his eyes.
"-And this cycle…it can continue for millennia. Life, death, life life death…on and on. But…the important part…the burrow…it remains. It exists, and after time the sheer focus and concentration of aeather and released enneagrams sees that burrow slowly develop…well…not consciousness…but awareness I suppose."
"The burrow becomes alive?" Ouranos felt he had to clarify at least this.
"In a sense…but only a sense and that's the point. It's not until after this naturally shaped and fueled burrow-enneagram thingy that the real catalyst has to happen…everything needs to die." Ouranos merely very slightly cocked his head in response to this.
"That's the trigger. This enneagram has helped protect, feed, hide, nourish, and comfort a constant chain of linked descendants for oh Gods knows only how many years…as much as a piece of rock or dirt can love…it loves. And then…death."
"Death. Maybe it's a flood, earthquake, fire, poison cloud, comet…so many possibilities…but everything related to that burrow dies. No more bunnies or whatever…the family tree is done, over, kaput. But the enneagram…it's very purpose for existence…that still exists. Now however…there's nowhere for it's energies to go…so they start to rebound back into the enneagram itself. Now it's growing strong from its own very existence, every bug and insect and varmint that wanders in only to be drained of life feeds not any of the usual inhabitants…but it. With that energy comes now…a form of consciousness emerges…but it's sad, alone, angry, and by its very nature…hungry."
Ouranos focus was laser sharp on Seren now, and even the shadow that had lingered behind the dais that he had sensed upon entering had finally abandoned caution and stepped out to listen better. Seren simply continued the lesson that was bubbling up from somewhere in his memory.
"So now it's actively luring creatures in. It's not a burrow now…but a trap. Nothing will live there ever again, but life…is drawn in. First it's the bugs, then the small rodents, then the larger rodents…eventually large-scale life forms like dogs, deer, wolves, whatever…all lured in…to die and be consumed. It's around this point that consciousness becomes so much more…and it starts growing. The burrow that was a hole is now a pit…then a cave system…then a system of caves…and then a group of levels of systems of caves…and on and on and on."
"The dungeon expands on its own…?" It was the shadowy figure, in his or her deep and yet seemingly orchestral voice that spoke this time.
"Yes. Eventually, the dungeon stops merely drawing in life because over time…life adapts. Spirits become hardier, more resistant, like an immunity. So, it's not merely enough to try and snuff out their spirit…but they have to be actively killed…so the dungeon creates its own life forms to fight. Only now…it discovers that one of the consequences of conflict and violence…is yet more release of life energy. Especiallyfrom a violent death. Spirits and souls don't like being defeated and sent onwards, and the release of energy is…relatively speaking of course…immense. From there…it's just a repeating cycle. Eventually, if sapient beings decide to try and destroy said dungeon…well…they have to enter and fight…"
"So, more conflict…and more death…so more energy released…" The shadow murmured.
"Exactly…what is sought to be destroyed, is in the very act fed and nourished. It's what makes destroying dungeons so hard. You have to be able to identify, locate, reach, and then destroy the core all while your very actions are sustaining and helping it protect itself. For a dungeon like…it would be…that's a sharp spike after all…"
Fels and Ouranos simply looked at each other as Seren began muttering to himself, his pacing having transitioned slowly into an oval circle he was tracing, no longer even aware of his audience for the moment. Finally, Fels spoke up, snapping Seren out of his inwards calculations.
"How long would this take?" The answer was immediate.
"Millennia. You're talking thousands of years of an uninterrupted life and death cycle in one place. That alone isn't easy as life…is rough on everything and everyone. Then, once a core is established…you're talking another several hundred years of insects and stuff…even if people were around, they would never notice it. It wouldn't be powerful enough to cause harm so would just be a hole in the ground as vulnerable to random destruction as ever. Once it's actually gained awareness though…a century or so to reach the point of killing and actively seeking powerful food sources…another couple to start shaping itself, a few more still start crafting life. 'll go for fifteen to twenty thousand years all in all to a natural dungeon that's actually hazardous to humans and others."
It was Ouranos who spoke this time. "The dungeon of Orario has existed for far longer than a mere twenty millennia. It served as source of danger and threat to Gekai, it fueled the drive for life and aggression amongst all the beings for so long…" The deity went silent in thought, and Fels picked up the questioning.
"You said there was an unnatural way for a dungeon to come into being as well."
Seren perked up, "Oh yes…you can make one."
If one could freeze even flame in time, it seemed for a moment as though just that had happened. Fels, Ouranos, even the flames of the alter seemed to pause in existence at this utterance.
"Continue!" Not a request this time, nope.
Seren held out his hands, palms upwards. "What are the two things mortals in general tend to seek?" He continued before either of his audience could answer. "Wealth…and life…or existence one could say." Cue again the pacing.
"All a dungeon really is after all is a complex enneagram that's tied to a place. That's not that hard to make. I took an enneagram of an ancient sea-lobster and made a rolling magical artillery in a couple hours down in the dungeon. It's not that hard. What's hard…is using yourself as an enneagram. But if you can…" At this, Seren simply waved his hands vaguely in the air as if to show how limitless the possibilities were.
"Dungeons by default…when civilizations exist around them at least, serve as hubs for conflict. Young men and women want renown, wealth, fame…that kind of thing. Some get it…some don't. As a result though, the dungeons are always gathering. It's why in most…you can find all sorts of stuff…usually from a poor sap who wasn't as good as you. So…the more creative and …willing of the magically inclined…decide to try and kill two birds with one stone." Seren held up two fingers to his audience.
"Wealth, and life. The wealth accumulated by a successful dungeon can be immense, though let's be honest…a hole doesn't really have a use for wealth after all. It's not like you can buy a boy-hole a girl-hole and start making baby-holes after all." Seren was so focused on his lecture that he didn't note the sudden and inquisitive tilt in the heads of his listeners.
"So all that wealth can just…gather. I imagine your dungeon has all sorts of stuff sitting below from adventurers who go kaput…yes?" Nods. "So…now look at life. What's the point in wealth if you aren't alive to use it? Being a dungeon core…you're practically immortal. Sit around for a couple millennia, gather who knows how much wealth in the form of weapons, money, magical items…then recraft your body…pull out your mind…slap it back in said body…and boom…you're wealthy as can be!" Seren spread his hands wide as if in success. It was Fels that had to ask though…
"Then why does this not happen elsewhere…and everywhere?" Seren was already set with his answer.
"Because you forget. That's the key that stops most smart mages. Why risk losing your mind for the mere chance of wealth and extended life. After all…someone might beat you, destroy your core…which of course kills you…and then to add insult to injury makes off with all the stuff you were collecting. That's not a good system. But the worst part is that…creatures are tied to their existence…by their existence. What you are is, in a way, what you are becoming. A human becomes a better, or worse, human over their life for example. So what happens when you set aside your living body for a body most often made of rock?" At this, it was Ouranos who seemed to ever so slightly look down at Fels.
"You forget. There has to be something that binds you to who you were, reminds you of what it felt like to hunger, thirst, love, hate, need, reject…all of that. And when you forget those things…you start forgetting what it even felt like to be you in the first place. That's usually where the beginning of the end is. Even if a mage has a copy of his body's physical pattern stored…if you can't remember or recognize that's what it was or why it was even important in the first place…you're stuck as a rock…or cave…or dungeon…and game over."
"How long for this?" Fels was as ever grasping for more knowledge himself and seeking answers to questions he did not even have yet.
"Similar, minus the whole life cycle thing. You're a conscious dungeon from the get go, lets assume you chose a fancy cave…but you're limited on initial energy so you're still stuck drawing in the cycle of insects and animals. Let's say two thousand years for a dungeon with three or so levels and able to self-shape life. To get much bigger than that though…you're looking at a seriously exponential power demand. Four levels would be maybe six thousand years…five levels…twenty or more."
Silence except for the flickering flames reigned for several moments before Ouranos asked the final question.
"For sixty or more levels covering hundreds of kirlos each…?"
Seren frowned in answer, silent for a moment. This had been what he had been focused so intently on earlier. Without access to a calculator or computer, his math skills were only sufficient for day to day life. But to follow the general pattern though…
"I suspect…longer than life would have been viable there in the first place…I think."
"And so…defying both concepts you have put forth." Fels mused out loud, "Without life, the natural pattern could not begin in the first place. At the same time, neither would a sentient being be able to intentionally become one since a sentient being would imply life."
"Yep…it's a regular chicken or the egg scenario." From the sudden tilt in the cloaked figure and Ouranos head… "Yea forget that one."
With the lull in the conversation, Seren backtracked a bit. "You mentioned earlier a Guardian arrived on Tenkai thousands of years ago. On most worlds I've visited, the Guardians haven't existed for hundreds of thousands to millions of years. Legends and stories at most. Does time pass the same on Tenkai as it does here?" Fels also looked upwards at Ouranos at this.
"No…it does not. Time in heaven for the most part is considerably faster…but sometimes slower. Never the same however." Ouranos responded in turn. "You mentioned the new and old. The Guardian I knew spoke of a power that stretched far and wide, thousands of universes. Did they fall?"
Seren nodded. "Yes. Now that I think about it, the irony between my recent circumstances and…that…is impressive. The Guardians were betrayed by one of their own. He…or she…caused the quickening." The looks he received demanded an explanation to that one.
"The quickening was where the ways…well the best way to say it is that they hardened. The aether didn't flow anymore between the universes and the Guardians and Travellers who were by nature connected to the aether…died off. Without access to the ways, even those who would be reborn…simply died, their souls or spirits or whatever they were, were unable to go out and find new bodies to inhabit. Some of us find ourselves living a long time thanks to travelling, but again that's because of something to do with the aether. Without access to it…even those who seemed immortal…weren't."
Fels in particular was almost leaning forward about hearing this. While he himself had never heard of the ways before today, the mere concept of life and death being bound by energy…well.
"Eventually the quickening was broken, the ways have begun to relax and the aether is flowing again, and Travelers are travelling again. In some places…that happened just a couple years ago. In others, it was tens of millenia. As you pointed out…time doesn't exactly flow the same everywhere. And so…the said person who kickstarted things again…restarted the Guardians as well." Seren's face was blank at this point. "Thankfully, they're no longer what they were, and very few, but they're trying to exercise the order and calm in the places they can."
"You do not sound as though you approve, if your reaction in the beginning was any indication…" Fels was pointing out his rather enthusiastic initial response.
"Guardians…they tend to play with time. Well not play…but they have no problem using time to their advantage. Because of that…they're arrogant, I think. They're not bad from what I hear…but how can you not be something when you're literally going through existence helping make the rules as you go…by being there before the rules even need to be made. It's dangerous, and a slippery road. Neither me nor my friends have any interest in trying to play at being Gods, whether we intend to or not."
Seren suddenly stopped and sighed a deep breath…he was exhausted all of a sudden. "In the end, at least for now, I can't do anything anyways. I'm stuck until the gate settles, not to mention getting back down there is going to be difficult at best. I can…jump a bit…to places I can see, but that's hard and I never got the hang of it. Cadmin always laughed every time I almost broke my neck or buried myself in the ground." Seren chuckled at those memories. "For now…I'm just…here. It's as good time as any I suppose to relax and recover. I lost a lot of friends not too long ago and frankly…I'm tired of fighting impossible odds for now."
Fels and Ouranos were both silent for a time, allowing Seren's thoughts to play before him as his eyes twitched back and forth, seeing things they could not. In the end…
"Welcome Traveler." Seren's head snapped upright at Ouranos powerful voice. "In memory of a man who once inspired even Gods to dream, I welcome you to Gekai. Do as you will that does not disrupt this city or the dungeon; the gods here are difficult enough to manage."
Seren bowed deeply in response, no shallow honorifics this time. "As you wish, I have no interest in undue disruption of your world. That being said Lord Ouranos, if my services are required in the future…do not hesitate to ask. I do get bored after all." Seren looked at Fels this time. "Just…pop a letter in anytime." After a moment, Fels nodded in return.
With that, Seren bowed once more before turning and striding back to and up the stairs leaving the deity and mage below.
Both of whom who simply remained still for some time. Eventually however…
"This changes little as things are I believe." Fels mused in conclusion to his thoughts. Lord Ouranos response however was not what he expected.
"On the contrary. I did not tell our not-so-young Traveler…what happened after the Guardian arrived on Tenkai." The aged and wizened deity turned his gaze to look down upon his ancient companion.
"There is a reason we came to Gekai after all…"
To this…Fels was silent.
Seren practically bounced through the guild halls on his way out. Perhaps fortune or fate, the pink-haired Misha was still without customers when he returned to the main entrance area.
Misha was straightening out the recent collection of forms she had gathered. Already, she was rather confused as the young woman she had…tried…to speak with simply didn't understand koine as much as she would have thought, Misha was…fairly certain…the young adventurer girl understood that Misha had volunteered to be her advisor.
So focused was she on the papers and and strange writing on the forms that she didn't notice Seren standing before her until he was patting her on the head. When she looked up, Seren had a broad grin across his face as he pointed first at himself and then at her. Before she could ask, he was making a broad arching motion through the air with one hand while his other made small swirling motions along the desk. Then, before her mouth could open any further, his right hand hit the counter four times in quick succession but never in the same place, while with his left hand had pointed at the center of her chest and made a slight spinning circle. Finally…with his left hand he drew a broad arc in the air back the way it had first come…while with his right hand he simply…-booped- her on the nose.
With that done, Seren made a deep, formal bow to her before turning and heading for the door, leaving the speechless and utterly confused Misha holding out her hand as though to grab him. Eina, who had finally finished her work, had simply sat off to the side observing. The grin that looked like it would tear his face in half as he made for the door made Eina realize that Seren…knew exactly what he had just done.
Eina could only sigh.
'This might be fun though…'
Outside, Seren turned towards Babel. On the wall next to the door within the guild office he had seen several signs and posters about armor and weapons for sale and repair, which was exactly what he needed. All he had to do was go find this Hephaestus place and-
Outside on the street, the lunch crowd was definitely out and active. However, everywhere Seren looked, he saw that anyone who was holding a staff or rod, like the purple haired prum with the moon-capped baton over there, was being accosted by people in armor…weapons in hand.
'This…might be my fault'
Seren had been about to skulk away when he remembered not only who…but what he was dealing with: authority figures.
As he slowly began strolling past the group that was obviously terrifying the prum mage, Seren turned to the grey-furred cat-man in charge.
"Uh oh…was a mage girl a naughty prum?" The response he got was just about on par with what he expected.
With nearly no warning, he found himself being held by the collar of his new jacket by the furious cat-man, his blue eyes burning into Seren's own.
"Are you a mage?" From the look on the furious man's face, Seren could tell this was a rhetorical question as this cat-guy glanced down at his mildly rent and melted armor in disgust.
"Um…definitely a no?"
Seren let himself be thrown. He was even thrown in the direction he was wanting to go…down the street towards the tower.
"Then shut up and move along!"
Standing, Seren kept on going, only this time with his usual grin and go-lucky attitude glowing about him. After all…he was only doing what he was told!
'Authority figures…always the same.'