Black Seas of Infinity
Background Part Four
You’d probably seen her before, from a distance. She’d been watching you for some time, those inscrutable, all-seeing eyes burning like embers in the night as she measured you in silent concentration. Perhaps you’d heard her speak to a crowd of fearful villagers, her calm tones and certain words only inflaming the angry suspicion of the mentally-tainted people even more. But she never spoke to you directly before now. Now, when the grim derangement of everyone around you had become almost unbearable. In the midst of this cloying darkness of psyche and soul, she came to you.
She was exactly as the first witnesses had always described her . . . perfect. Her features transcendentally serene, her posture impeccable, her every motion one of flawless grace, her bearing both noble and humble at once, a queen and a saint in equal measure. Her raiment was so exquisite as to stagger the senses, so exotic and fine of material and workmanship that it made the most well-dressed seamstress of the World look to be clad in rags. Never before had you seen such vibrant colors, nor such intricate designs. And then there was the medallion which adorned her slender neck, obviously no simple decoration. It actually shone with its own inner light, the mystical luminescence of ancient enchantment not seen in the World for countless generations. An odd symbol of a highly-stylized willow tree in bright white, on a pure sky-blue background, and it seemed to gleam even brighter when she neared you. Indeed, you could feel the amulet reacting to you, as though it recognized you.
She appeared before you, just as others had said, in the ideal form to delight, inspire, or comfort you. Most likely she was a young maiden of your own race, or whichever race you’d always found most beautiful, impossibly alluring, a vision spun from your very dreams. Or perhaps she came to you as a motherly figure, radiating warmth and safety, ultimately accepting and nurturing, making you feel as though here, in her presence, you were truly home at last. She may have even had the aspect of a dear sister, or close friend, evoking in you a sense of undeniable camaraderie, a shared understanding, a feeling of long familiarity and fellowship. Or all of these. In any case, she had the look and manner of whatever it is that you most needed, desired, longed for in another human being at the time. And somehow, you knew that this was no mere artifice, no clever illusion, no trick of the eye or mind. Somehow, you were certain that she did not merely cloak herself in an image of what you wanted, but that she truly was exactly the woman that you experienced her as, despite knowing that she appeared differently to others. There was no guile in her, no hint of deception or seduction. You could discern that this was not something that she was doing on purpose, taking a form deliberately, but that it was something natural to her, something automatic, and that she was utterly real. She was not pretending to be anything . . . somehow, this unearthly lady from beyond the Wyrd was, in essence and in truth, all of these people at once.
She came to you when you were alone, with no one around to see or hear your association with her. She only wished to speak with you, she said, and oh, how the sincerity of her voice and the warmth of her smile made that seem like an experience not to be missed for anything. She warned you that the others in your community would react poorly to seeing you with her, but she promised to only appear to you privately, when there was none to witness the meeting. She assured you, and such an ardent and unshakeable assurance you’d never before received, that you would be safe now, that despite the festering insanity in the people of the World, you would be in no danger from them. She would watch out for you, and act swiftly to protect you, if the need should arise. Overwhelmed by the sheer power of her presence, you had no doubt that this would be the case, and for the first time in a long time, you knew that you were going to be all right.
She visited you a number of times, asking you questions about yourself, seemingly fascinated by you, the details of your life, your thoughts, beliefs, dreams, and fears. She praised you effusively, insisting that you were special, that you were a great soul, and fated for amazing things. Despite the gloom and doom which had fallen over the collective psyche of the World, she had no shortage of dazzling smiles, and the sound of her melodic laughter was as a cool spring rain washing the filth of your neighbors’ hostility from your soul. She seemed to take immense joy in your presence, watching and listening to you with single-minded attention, absorbing your every word and expression like a delighted sponge.
You undoubtedly had questions, many of which she answered. Some, she gently deflected, saying that such topics were best saved for another time. But she told you about herself freely. Her name was Avalokiteshvara, an awkward thing for you to try to pronounce at first, but when she spoke it, it was not a word, but a song. You could call her Avala, she offered with an amused glint in her eyes. She had indeed come from the Wyrd, had sailed here through the substance of the surrounding void itself on her astral ship, the Gnosis. She had come from far away, had traveled vast distances of the Wyrd for a great length of time. She was older than the worlds themselves, she claimed, many millennia old. Eons ago, before the Dawn War in the early days of creation, she was one of Ioun’s archangels, and had voluntarily descended from that glorious position to become one of the first mortal devas. After many thousands of lifetimes reincarnating as a deva, she finally reached transcendence, the state of perfect enlightenment and union that devas eventually seek. She was freed of the Wheel, the endless cycle of reincarnation and forgetfulness and fractured memories. As an ascended deva, she had full memory of every lifetime, and could be anyone she’d ever been, or take any form, live any life. So she did, and she re-entered the divine service of Ioun as an exarch, choosing to be reborn time and time again as members of each mortal race, with full memory and access to all the lives before, experiencing everything in the world, doing the will of her goddess and aiding all of humankind as an undying champion, teacher, and guide.
Sadly, Avala told you, those beautiful days were to come to an end, as the efforts of her goddess, herself, and the countless other great souls who fought and struggled to preserve the cosmos would turn out to be insufficient. Promising to explain everything in much greater detail eventually, she related to you a simple tale of how the glorious universe crafted by the loving hands of gods, primordials, primal spirits, and mortals alike came to be destroyed…
“For countless ages, we held the breach. The noble gods who had retained their sanity, the unfailing primal spirits, and the indomitable mortal souls of humanity worked together to protect the planes and worlds of the Inner Realm. Unfathomable eons of war, struggle, sacrifice, effort, faith, and unity had carved out this precious piece of the Vast Chaos for us, the whole and the free, and had kept it intact despite the constant pressure of the hideous corruption of the Far Realm outside of our own universe. But the Lords of Madness would never rest, never cease their battering at the so-fragile barriers we desperately gave our lives to hold up. For this beloved cosmos of ours, as much as we desired it, was never meant to be. All of existence belonged to them, to the Chaos, to the sheer discordance of un-reality. When the first nascent gods and primordials . . . no, they were not even divided into such classifications yet . . . awoke to themselves within the Vast, they desired to create, to make order where there was none, to be whole and free, and give birth to an endless variety of children who could be whole and free as well. These proto-creators stole their piece of existence to make our universe, our dear and wonderful Inner Realm. But the Chaos would never let them have it forever. Compared to the great Vastness of all existence, compared to the immensity and weight of the whole Far Realm, our tiny little bubble of planes was but a pea in the ocean. No, we could never have kept ourselves separate forever.”
“Even soon after the planes were forged, and the barriers erected, after the creators took identity as gods and primordials, and this was divided from that, the influence of the great Outer Realm, or the Far Realm as they began to call it, was making itself felt. The ineffable madness of that outer Vastness, the sheer mind-unraveling Chaos . . . it could not be kept out completely. Some of the great creators were touched by it, and began to change. Those who had become the primordials, those great titans of elemental power, the artists of pure physical energy, they had the wilder dispositions, the most love of change and transmutation for their own sake. That made them the easiest targets for the encroaching tendrils of insanity, and before long, the corruption of the Far Realm had infected them all, initiating the Dawn War which so greatly weakened the cohesion of our universe in its earliest days. Some of the gods, too, were seduced and twisted into madness, turning against their fellows. The newly-created mortals, so beloved of the gods, were defenseless prey for even the slightest touch of the Outer Chaos. That is why the gods gave some of them souls, each choosing a particular favorite race to invest a tiny portion of their own divinity into, a measure of protection from the horrific taint of the Far Realm. These chosen mortal races would be much stronger in resisting the corrupting influence of the Vast, and would be able to maintain their sanity and freedom, as a whole, much better than other mortals. In the earliest days of the worlds, mortals called their divine creators the Huma, the oldest of all words for “gods”. Thus, when the favored races of mortals were imbued with souls, they were called Human, the sacred children of the Huma. And even now, you use this term, humanity, for those mortal races who have retained self-identity, who are sane and free, and possess divine souls to link them to their creators and help them remain whole.”
“The gods won the Dawn War, and chained the insane primordials. But the cost had been great. Even then, we knew that the barriers were too weak, that our strength had been spent too rashly, that the division rent in our ranks would ultimately bring about the downfall of our lovingly-crafted cosmos. But the dream was to remain whole and free, to preserve our hard-won universe for as long as we could. And perhaps, just perhaps, we could find a way to unite our power and faith enough to keep our Inner Realm for good. But the maddened gods, and the many abominations they wrought, would not cooperate, would not work together with the other deities and mortals. They were driven by their insanities, their pride and their suffering. They tried again and again to subvert the universe to their own will, to take over the planes, to usurp the dominions of other gods, to dominate the mortal races. These efforts were generally rebuffed without great damage to the worlds or their people, but this was trouble that we, the denizens of the Inner Realm, could not afford to dally with. Our might needed to be focused on shoring up the boundaries of our universe, keeping the ever-reaching fingers of the Far Realm out of the cracks in our reality. Instead, we fought amongst ourselves, god against god, angel against fallen angel, elemental against spirit, mortal against mortal. Foolish, pointless wars and machinations, all serving to weaken us, to lower our guard, and to hasten the eventual, inevitable day when the dam would finally break, and the Outer Chaos, the great Vastness, would pour into our fragile little creation and wash it all away.”
“My precious and peerless goddess, the all-seeing mistress of perfection, great and glorious Ioun, knew before any other what would happen. The future was as plain to her as the words on a page. She warned her fellow gods, and their angelic and mortal servants. Her warning was not ignored, but there was little that any of us, that even all of us, could do. The mad gods and their monsters had sabotaged our universe for so long, and our days were simply running out. In her unmatched wisdom, pristine and beautiful Ioun formed a plan which might allow for some small shred of hope to endure in the coming age, after the Sundering of the planes, some tiny chance that humanity, blessed and adored humanity, might be able to rise again, and rebuild some vestige of our wonderful Inner Realm. Across the planes, and countless worlds, she hid caches of power, and of knowledge. Fragments of the gods, the elemental lords, the primal spirits, and artifacts of condensed magical essence. In addition, she prepared the other gods, those who were yet sane, for what was to come, brought them all together for one final act of love for their creation, for their most adored children, the humans.”
“Even as the end loomed, as the barriers began to shatter, as the ravening tendrils of pure Chaos began to writhe into our reality en masse, the primal spirits gathered their power to fight back, and some took steps to preserve themselves even after the destruction of the worlds to which they were bound, for the sake of the future hope. Select mortal, immortal, and elemental servants made the preparations to keep themselves safe through the coming apocalypse, so that they might be of service still in the distant age when humanity would need them. I was among those, chosen by my goddess to take a piece of her knowledge and wisdom into this unthinkable future, to be one of her few remaining heralds in this twisted and blasted mockery of reality. At the last, all preparations were made, countless rituals of immense and incomprehensible power were performed as the remaining defenders of our cosmos joined together for the final hours of our universe’s wholeness. And then the gods enacted their final work, and sacrificed themselves, ending their individual existences as divine beings and dispersing their sacred essence across the Inner Realm. Each of the remaining noble gods died in one cosmos-shaking moment, destroying themselves so that their power and divine energy could preserve some small pieces of their universe, some tiny pockets of living beings, some few sacred sites and hidden caches, some minuscule remnant of the precious humans whom they so loved. My holy mother, my goddess, my most adored One, the enlightened and all-knowing Ioun, perished along with them, in a plan which was hers but a fate shared by each of the non-corrupted gods. In so doing, they allowed for the preservation of just enough of the planes, and the worlds, and humanity, to allow for some possible hope, one day, of a second chance at the creation of a realm of reality, where beings could know themselves, and be whole, and free…”
Avala’s sorrow when she spoke of the death of Ioun was intense, and heart-breaking. This perfectly calm, unflappably serene deva, who showed not the least hint of melancholy or discomfort no matter how insane the world around you had become, was utterly crushed by the loss of her goddess, and wept freely upon recounting the tale, making no attempt to hide or suppress her grief. Given her usual composure and personal strength, it was a shocking moment, and for perhaps the first time, you realized what a great loss the World, and humanity, had suffered with the demise of the gods. For according to Avala’s tale, the only reason that the World existed at all, that it and all of the people on it, had not been swallowed up into the maw of the Wyrd, was because of the sacrifice of the divine creators to preserve it. Your very existence, the existence of this small chunk of earth that you called home, was a gift from those dead gods whom folks all over the World now called merely “myths” and “foolish old tales” and whose memory was but a joke to most people.
Her power had waned since the Sundering, Avala told you. She carried within her a spark of the lost Ioun, but a great deal of time and many costly battles against the foul aberrations of the Wyrd had continually weakened her. She’d been traveling all over the remains of the universe, seeking other sequestered servants of the old order, searching for the hidden caches of knowledge and magical power that the gods had hidden away. And that is what brought her here, to the World. One of those sacred sites was concealed within the very rock of this “shard” (as she called the World), and she had come to unearth it. But on her way across the vast reaches of the Wyrd to get here, her ship had been attacked by a far-roving patrol cluster of the Farspawn, including a Caller, one of the horrible abominations which had the power to act as a living portal, instantly creating a beacon and a pathway to the rest of its kind, allowing a massive horde of the terrible alien entities who still hunted for every last sane and free soul in the Wyrd to come here without having to cross the immense distances normally involved.
She had found herself too weak to simply destroy the cluster outright, and she wanted to stop them from entirely overrunning the World, devouring and corrupting all of its people, and preventing her from accessing the hidden site here, so she invested her own soul into a desperate ritual to seal off the Gnosis from the rest of the Wyrd. Her stratagem worked, keeping the aberrant force contained and unable to call for their foul kindred, but she nearly killed herself in the process, greatly diminished her own powers, and crash-landed the Gnosis into a mountaintop on the World. She was now expending considerable energy in maintaining the ward, keeping the horrific mass of aberrant fiends at bay temporarily, trapped inside her ship. But she will not be able to power the seal forever, and eventually the Chaos entities inside will break free, and the strain will also likely take the last of her life force. When that happens, Avala told you, she will be unable to protect the World, or continue to play her part in carrying out the gods’ final plan for the hope of humanity. Thus, she had tried to convince the people of the World to join with her, to let her teach and empower them, while she still had the strength and time for it, so that they, hopefully, could fight off the nightmarish agents of the Far Realm who would otherwise bring an end to their existence.
But the mere presence of the trapped cluster of Chaos beings here on this small, sheltered shard was already rapidly affecting the people’s minds, the madness of the Far Realm leaking out through the ward to twist the perceptions and sanity of the World’s residents. The sinister alien intelligence guiding them had sought out those in positions of leadership to exert the main thrust of its influence, and had been unfortunately very successful. Even though she had them trapped and cut off from their kind, for now, they were still able to begin tainting the humans here, turning them against her, preventing her from rallying them in defense. That is why she had been watching specific individuals so carefully, studying them and assessing their character and their strengths. A few, she had found, were stronger than the rest, born with inherent, undeveloped psionic talent, which shielded them from the subtle warping of mind that everyone else had fallen prey to. You are one of these, a rare and special soul amongst your more common peers. In the old days, before the Sundering and the shattering of planes and worlds into the chaotic, shifting Wyrd, those born with your innate gift were said to be “touched by Ioun”. The goddess is dead, but some slight vestiges of her eternal divine essence remain, spread throughout the Wyrd, and occasionally, some humans are yet born under her blessing.
You were spared from the growing insanity of your people for a reason. You were born to be more, to be great, to rise up against the sickeningly horrific Farspawn whose foul tentacles and unfathomable alien minds rule the Wyrd with terror, domination, and madness. You were chosen to lead humanity’s resurgent hope, and perhaps to usher in the birth of a new realm of reality, wholeness, and freedom, a sanctuary from the corrupting Chaos of the Far Realm. You are destined for incredible deeds, and are the only chance that the World has to survive.
All of this, Avala told you, and there was nothing in her voice, or her eyes, but absolute, inspiring certainty as she spoke it. And she could guide you, she promised. She’d lived tens of thousands of lives, mastered every path of education, battle, art, or mystical power, and all of those memories were hers to share. To give to you, to empower you. She would train you to unlock your inborn talents, forge you into a true warrior against the horrors of the Wyrd, arm you with the legendary abilities of the heroes of old, teach you as much of her vast knowledge as you could learn.
All that you had to do was trust her, and say yes.
It was an easy decision.
On that fateful day when you looked Avalokiteshvara in the eye and said yes, your true life began.