Black Seas of Infinity
Background Part Five
After you agreed to be taught by Avala, she took you up into a uninhabited region of the rough mountains along the western edge of the World. A number of ancient, crumbled ruins dotted the mountainside, long-abandoned and forgotten by the World’s residents. It was there that Avala had set up her encampment, and this secluded site would be your home for the next several years. There were a few buildings yet intact enough to provide shelter, and with a bit of effort, the camp was made reasonably comfortable and secure. In the middle of the ruins, a mammoth gateway was carved into the rocky side of the mountain itself, with a pair of colossal stone doors, carven with the runes and sigils of far antiquity and sealed impenetrably shut. Avala told you that this was the entrance to one of the hidden caches of Ioun from before the Great Sundering, an ancient temple built into the mountain to guard documents and relics that had been set aside for this very future. The time would come, eventually, to open these gates, she told you, but first there was much for you to learn.
Whether you arrived first or last at Avala’s hideaway, very quickly you found that you were not alone there, that you would not be her only student. Six of you, she had chosen. Six out of everyone on the World, of a variety of races and walks of life, an odd mix of personalities, from different settlements. But you had some things in common which set you apart from the rest of the people you’d lived around until now. Each of you had proven unaffected by the dark, creeping malaise of mind and soul which had stricken the people of the World, which meant that each of you had been born with some largely unknown and untapped innate psionic gift. Each of you had always been a bit of an outsider amongst your peers, your thinking sometimes different from everyone else’s, some secret longing for an undefined greater purpose lurking deep within you, and a bizarre affinity for the Wyrd that was not shared by others you knew. Rather than terrifying or bewildering you, the Wyrd overhead seemed to comfort you, to call to you, to arouse your curiosity and a vague sense of wanderlust, rather than making you want to scurry inside and hide your eyes from it, as most people seemed to. You’d always been a bit unique, each of you, and now, for the first time, you were surrounded by others like yourself, touched by Ioun and destined to travel beyond the confines of this tiny shard of earth, born to live a life much larger than the confines of the World.
Avala introduced you to one another, and encouraged you to become friends, to come to know each other as well as she knew you. These would be the allies who would spell the difference between survival and destruction for you, in the years to come. She always stressed that, the importance of unity and trust between you. She could teach you much, make you stronger than anyone on the World could have ever imagined, but even so, alone you would surely fall. There were long sessions each day in which Avala would address you as a group, lecturing on topics of general education, on harnessing and mastering your psionic gifts, leading you in meditations and physical exercises, and moderating discussions among you so that you might teach yourselves, and each other. Anything which was valuable to all of you, and not related to your individual areas of special talent, she would oversee your learning as a group. You were encouraged to help one another, to make up for each other’s weaknesses with your strengths, and to progress as an interdependent team. She was a superlative instructor, and you found yourselves growing in knowledge, discipline, skill, and power very rapidly, learning much more in a relatively brief period of time than you’d ever gained from any prior form of education or training.
But while the group sessions were valuable, and effective, the true growth and fulfillment of your days came in the one-on-one work that Avala did with each of you. She was not merely one woman, but countless thousands of past souls, of every shape, demeanor, and expertise imaginable. And she was capable of being more than one of her past incarnations at once, splitting herself into several teachers at a time, so that each of you could be personally instructed simultaneously, by whichever of her wondrous panoply of possible selves was most appropriate or useful in guiding you at the time. She worked carefully with each of you to find your own personal inclinations, predispositions, talents, and strengths, insightfully seeing the hidden gifts in you and then drawing them out with a surgeon’s skill. She might take several different forms to each of you, every day, depending on what she was specifically training you in at the moment. And all of them had their own personality and teaching style, each of her incarnations developed its own special relationship with you. It was like having a limitless supply of different guides, helpers, and friends of every sort imaginable, available to you instantly and at all times. Your capabilities developed with incredible ease and unbelievable speed, and you could feel yourself growing stronger, more knowledgeable, and more skilled each day.
Avala was all things to each of you, whatever you needed or wanted her to be. She held nothing back, had no perceivable needs or demands of her own, but seemingly existed only to aid, support, and empower you. Her incarnations took every form you could imagine, and were always there in the most appropriate and beneficial way possible. When you needed a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a lover, a buddy, a sparring partner, a slap on the back, a warm embrace, a stern disciplinarian, a gentle encourager, a spiritual guide, an expert sage, a joker to laugh with, a comrade to commiserate with, a tender caress, an exemplar to mimic, a storyteller to transport you to other times, a leader to inspire you . . . whatever would help you and whatever you desired, Avalokiteshvara would be for you, as one of her countless selves perfectly suited to the role. And at the same time, she was everything to the others, as well, and always pushing you to develop such close relationships and bonds with them, too.
This is not to say that everything was always fun and games at the encampment during those years. An amazing experience it was, and Avala did her best (which was very good, indeed) to fill the days with joy and excitement and satisfaction for each of you. But it was work, too. Hard work. She was always kind, but could be as strict and tough as she needed to be, in order to press you forward, in order to ensure that you constantly grew and overcame your weaknesses. She might be a doting grandmother one moment, feeding you all the kind of meal that takes a thousand lifetimes to learn to prepare, or a sensual nymph behind closed doors with you the next, demonstrating other talents which benefit well from vast experience. But when the time came to get down to business and drive you past your own comfort zones and self-imposed limitations, she was the most unbending taskmaster you’d ever know, working you beyond the point of exhaustion, not taking any excuses, forcing you to dig down into reserves that you didn’t know you had. “I can’t” was not an idea that Avala allowed you to entertain.
In a few short years, working together and availing yourselves of all the resources Avalokiteshvara had to offer, you transformed yourselves from a handful of nearly-helpless and totally clueless common folk with no chance of standing up against anything more dangerous than a mildly ornery badger into an elite force of heroes, bursting with psionic and magical power, well-informed and martially expert, educated and competent in a wide cross-section of fields, true warriors who need fear little in the entire Wyrd, and whose legendary abilities and strength of will and purpose would send any sane foes running for someplace to hide. You had transcended your humble beginnings, and risen to the challenge of taking up the defense of humanity. It seemed that anything was possible for you and your new family, your mighty brethren in this unimaginable new adventure.
The rest of the World did not fare so well in the years that you spent at the mountain ruins. The barrier that Avala had raised around the horrific Farspawn trapped inside the Gnosis was weakening all the time, allowing more and more of the aberrations’ psyche-warping taint to leak out. People became darker and more twisted, and the idea of civility, order, or family became little more than a sick joke. Robbery, rape, and murder became more commonplace, and people began to form into various bands and gangs in an attempt to outmuscle their neighbors. A few more sinister groups sprang up, as the most insane formed secretive cults actually worshipping the unthinkable terrors of the Far Realm, some of these “orders” even engaging in human sacrifice. But all of this was a pale shadow of how things would be if . . . when . . . the Chaos horde actually escaped to wreak their full havoc on the World.
The effect that the ongoing struggle to maintain the wards was having on Avala was increasingly obvious and tragic as well. She grew ever weaker, losing her incredible vibrancy and vitality bit by bit as the years passed. This became especially true in the last year or so, as your beloved teacher began to decline more quickly. Her ability to manifest many incarnations at once was diminished, her energy level dropped drastically, even the colors of her skin and hair were growing pale and ashen. She was dying. But with an intensity of focus and the iron will of a true believer, she hung on, continuing to instruct you, always trying to appear as strong and confident as she could, worried more about inspiring you than her own condition, or her own eventual fate.
As your training reached a certain level, she began to send you out from the camp, into the World. Often alone, but sometimes in pairs or small groups. She sent you to observe the state of the World and its people, and even to act against the more egregiously wicked victims of the spreading madness, at your discretion. A way to put your newly-learned skills to the test, and to remind you of the terrible nature of the threat you faced. Each time you returned to the ruins, you’d find her waiting to hear your tales, but she’d always seem worse off than when you left. It was clear that time was running out, that she would soon perish from the strain of keeping the aberrations contained.
Finally, the day arrived when Avala gathered you all together and declared your training complete. She said that she wished she’d had a bit more time, but that she simply could not continue teaching you, for the barrier around the Gnosis was on the verge of breaking. But she had some ideas, she said, a plan that would allow you the chance to put all that you’d learned to use, and possibly stop the impending disaster. Maybe you could even save her life, if all went well. But first, she would administer your final test.
Today is the day that you cease to be students of Avalokiteshvara, and embark upon your own path, undertake your own journey, embrace your own destinies.
Today is your graduation day, and with the last strength left in her, your dear mentor will put you through your final examination.
And then . . . the dam will break, unimaginable alien horror will descend upon the World, and all will be doomed if you are not ready.