Black Seas of Infinity
The Ripple Effect, Pt 2 - A Thief of Five Fates
The statue of living water had surged among them, quickly and brutally. The creature’s mere presence seemed to take its toll – Dren and his companions had to struggle to perform what should have been routine actions. Something about its proximity was clouding his mind, and wave after wave of crashing, biting cold assaulted them.
Dren was lying on his back, having long ago lost his footing and being unable to stand again. The situation was desperate, and growing more so by the minute. Their attacks were successful, of course – their efforts were having an effect, but the creature was able to inflict much more damage back at them. If it was to be a war of attrition, Dren and his companions would lose, and quickly.
Dren struggled to his knees, planning his next attack when another wave of icy water pulsed from the beast. It hit Dren with all the force of a hammer wielded by a practiced blacksmith – he spun in the air and landed on his back, the air knocked from his lungs. His vision doubled, then tripled, and the conflicting pictures danced around, lazily wavering in random directions as they tried to resolve themselves back to a single image.
Like his vision, his mind fumbled to find some purchase – a moment of stability from which he could think, plan, reason through his options for just a second. Alas, the unsure grasping fingers of his focus failed, and his grip on consciousness was lost. The present faded into darkness, and in its place, a memory surfaced.
Avala stood at ease before Dren, wearing the form he though of as her most genuine – a tall and slender Deva, skin tinged an aqua blue; the color more muted than most of the race. The evening’s cloudless sky revealed a full moon, brightly lighting the private section of the valley where they stood, the light playing off her subtle skin tones, adding a level of glamour to her simple clothing and shining in her hair. She appeared as many forms throughout their years together, but each of them was, in their own special way, the very essence of beauty itself.
“The others can be swift or strong, my Love,” she began, clasping her hands behind her back and moving gracefully into the easy back and forth pacing of an instructor whose continuous motion mimics the flow of thoughts within their mind. “Pengu is strong and steady as the earth itself; Grognar moves as a shadow, not being seen unless he wishes. Erishti and Retholien act with all the grace and might of Ioun, and Vaelan thinks and acts with the ease and speed of his most impressive song. You, however,” she continued, glancing meaningfully to the cane at his side, “are not thus gifted. “
Her look did not rankle – it was brief and full of compassion without pity. “At your best, in the throws of your power, you may overcome your disability; however, it is rare that you will ever be able to move beyond that. As I have taught you these many years, while the strengths of your friends reveal themselves in the physical world, your domain,”
And here she stopped, pointing at his head, “must be one of the mind” she slowly pivoted then, opening her hand and spread her arm, indicating the night sky, “and beyond.”
Her arm came to rest at her side, and she was now faced away from him. She stood in silence, her head bowed. Finally she sighed, and he sensed a subtle yet familiar change in her posture. Her head bowed a little lower, and shoulder slumped ever so slightly, as though a great weight were settling on her. He knew this meant she had made a difficult decision, one with potentially dangerous and deadly consequences, and that the night’s lesson was truly about to begin.
“There will be a time, my Love; many times, in fact, where you will face challenges that will so completely and utterly overcome the physical aspects of you and your friends that the situation may seem hopeless. Your enemies will be powerful, beyond your imagining. And while the combined powers of you and your friends can usually overcome these foes, there will still be times where even that is not enough. And in those desperate moments, it will be up to you – for you have the power to even the odds, against a foe of whatever strength. You have the power to give your friends a chance to strike back.”
She turned to face him then, moving closer. Scattered tears rolled down her face, catching pieces of the moonlight and sharply sparkling as they fell, her eyes filled with equal parts remorse and resolve. Finally she stopped and gently reached up, placing the palm of her hand along the side of his face. As soon as she touched him, his mind was alight with the briefest of flashes, information pouring into his mind too quickly to assimilate. It was over seemingly before it had begun, leaving him momentarily shaken. Avala pulled her hand from Dren’s face as he shook his head to clear his mind.
“And now, my Love” she said, walking further away from him, “I am going to kill you.”
She changed forms, then. Rather than the subtle shifting of features that Dren’s own powers allowed him, the air around Avala briefly shimmered, and a completely different person stood there. As far away as she now stood, the new form was still impressive. A man, heavily muscled and large – though calling him simply large was similar to calling an Ocean ‘deep’: it may be true, but in no way reveals the extent of that truth. Avala, now this vicious looking barbarian, reached behind a large rock and picked up an Axe. It was a weapon worthy of the man who wielded it – large, twin headed, sharp as a razor, the leather-wrapped haft accented with vicious looking spikes.
“Even in my weakened state, you know that you are no match for me.” Avala called out. A new voice was paired with her new form: deep, and thick, and accented such that each word took slightly longer to say than you might expect. “this is the night’s lesson, my Love (how strange that common phrase was in the mouth of this hulk before Dren!) – defeat the overwhelming odds that would otherwise mean your death”
Avala threw back her head, and a wordless howl erupted forth – the muscles in her body strained, the grip around her axe tightened and, as the last vestiges of the roar echoed throughout the valley around them, she charged.
She was maybe 50 yards away. “50 yards,” Dren thought – and the beast was covering it in the blink of an eye. “Such a short time to live.”
His mouth had gone dry, and he stumbled, trying to back away. Gripping is cane tightly for support, his mind raced in a desperate search for an answer. Everything he’d been taught, all the considerable power he had learned to wield over the last several years – it was all nothing when compared to what Avala could easily accomplish. She would brush aside any attempt he made to lash out against her now.
He opened his mouth to call out, try to reason with her, tell her that he wasn’t ready and was sure to die this night. Just as quickly, he snapped his mouth shut, both because he refused to give in and beg, and because he was fairly certain it would do no good. This night’s lesson was one that had to be learned under fear of death, or it likely would be impossible to learn at all. He wasted a few moments on a feeling of affection for his teacher – she was willing to kill him, wasting all the work she had put into him and weakening the team she had built to save the world, all because she truly believed he was capable of overcoming this.
20 yards closer, he abandoned those thoughts. It’s difficult to feel affection for someone who is about to expose the inside of your skull to the night air.
The familiar sound of laughter penetrated his thoughts, announcing Argen’s arrival.
I came to be watch you at the end, Dren. Not the most noble or heroic of deaths, but like all inhabitants of your insignificant little world, you’re nothing if not a prisoner to your Fate.
Fate … something about that word resonated within Dren’s mind and he found himself thinking back to when Avala had touched him, minutes ago. Something had happened, but what? He remembered feeling as though his mind had been overrun with information, and that it had happened so quickly he hadn’t had time to process it. He scrounged his memory now, thinking back to that time, focusing and trying to parse what he’d seen.
The first sign that something was different was the warmth. Not warmth, exactly, but rather the absence of the cold. The night had carried a chill Dren had not expected, so he had worn clothing insufficient to fight back the cold. The chill had been with him all night, but now it was gone. His eyes were glued in front of him, on Avala’s towering barbarian figure mere feet from where he stood, axe raised for the kill, but motionless. Frozen in time. Dren found he was as well – his mind worked to unlock the secrets, but he was a prisoner in his own body.
Finally, after mere moments he’d unlocked the secret he needed.
Outrageous! You can not possibly be doing this – you are nowhere near capable
Dren shut Argen out of his mind as the visions he found flowed through him. The flash he’d had – what he had seen but couldn’t process, was the future. Or, rather, the visions of several possible futures. When she’d made contact with him, Dren had inadvertently and unconsciously read Avala’s Fate.
Fate does not work the way that most people assume. You’re neither as trapped nor as free as you think you are: the possible paths are fixed, the events are foretold, but the ones that you end up taking are largely a matter of choice and circumstance. What Dren saw now were visions of the paths before Avala – the possible turns her life took from this moment forward. In that one, she completes her charge, cleaving Dren in half, her lesson failed. Over there, Dren manages to avoid the first few blows and Avala ceases her attack, frustrated that her pupil had failed the lesson. In a third, Avala succumbs to her weakening state, dropping dead at Dren’s feet, the barriers in her vessel failing and the horrors trapped within let loose.
The visions here were many – too many to count or track or explore. Time, he now realized, hadn’t frozen – it had merely slowed as his consciousness and perception far outpaced the normal world. Of all the visions swimming before him, there were five that stood out. Those clearest of the visions – the ones he could easily track seemed also to be the most likely possibilities. He examined them further, hoping to glean some clue as to how to survive the encounter, when he became aware of… well, of what, he couldn’t say. A thread, perhaps. A link. Something that tied these, and all other possible futures together, and bound them to Avala.
He called forth his power, scarcely sure of what he was doing or if it would be at all effective. With his mind and his power, he reached out to this link and took a hold of it. It was impossible to sever, of course – no human has the power to release a person from their fate. But, for the time being, he’d taken control of the link, and robbed Avala of her future.
His mind snapped back into the present moment. He could still feel the mental tug of his power, keeping the Link from reaching Avala. It was all he could do maintain the hold at first, for her barbarian form was completing its charge, and the axe was swinging down upon him with lethal finality. Dren focused on the link, feeding his power, matching his will to Avala’s.
With a thud, the axe landed inches to Dren’s right, burying itself deep within the ground. With a scream of rage, the barbarian yanked the axe free and spun, bringing the blade whipping around. Instead of cleaving through his neck, it harmlessly whistled a foot over his head. And so the dance continued for several seconds more, the deadly and precise strikes of Avala never quite finding their mark, rendered impotent by the power Dren held over her.
Chest heaving from the effort, Avala smiled as she dropped the axe. The air shimmered once more and she was back to her original form.
“There is always a way, my Love. Respect this power, though, for it takes a great toll on your mind. If you lose your focus for a moment, it is gone.” Accompanying her remarks, Dren felt a tug against his power of overwhelming force, and he lost control over the link. The feeling was similar to waking from a dream where you are falling – the certainty of a moment ago of the pain of the inevitable crash mixing with the realization that you’re already secure on the ground. The mind spins for a moment, caught between feeling the pain of the landing and the relief of safety.
After a moment, the feeling passed, and Avala was at his side, helping Dren to his feet with a smile, speaking softly.
“You have made me proud this night.”
The crisp note of Vaelan’s voice cut through the din of unconsciousness, urging Dren back to the present. Above him, the ever-shifting creature had formed a mouth, and was shouting in triumph.
“The Crushing Wave will rise again, Mortals! Behold, the might of Sol’Cara!”
Dren reached out, running his hand under a tendril of water flowing from the creature. A now familiar flash entered his mind, and, for a fraction of a moment, he lost himself in the creature’s future.
The unfamiliar sense of being separated from the mechanics of his fate gave the creature the briefest of pauses before it spun to meet Dren’s unflinching gaze. Around and apart from them, the battle raged as everyone pushed the attack. For now, however, Dren’s part in that fight was done. A new struggle was upon him.
A battle of wills had begun.