Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: Introduction

* * *
Arrival...acknowledged.

Enter primary password: ********* ** *****

First stage of identification, complete.

Enter secondary password: ********* ** **********

Secondary stage of identification, complete.

Welcome, visitor. As First Scientist, we, the Shaper, will guide you through the Reptilian Collective's files on our allies, assets and opponents. Collaboration, optimisation and neutralisation are all important facets of the war against irrationality, for none could be attempted, if the others failed.

An ally/asset/threat classification has been uploaded to your mindframe. Do you wish to peruse it now?

...Very well.

The Collective classifies entities, objects and locations of interest using a scale focusing on, but not limited to, how large an area of the macrocosm they can affect. Other traits, such as aptitude, resilience and the nature and duration of said effect, factor into classification, but broadly, it can be used as follows:

-"local" entities are not necessarily native to any location, nor do they dwell there. This classification is used to express the fact they represent potential threats to baseline humans, up to large groups of them. In some cases, they represent a danger to human dwellings or settlements, and are able to fight an unmodified reptilian without equipment.

-"regional" entities can affect large parts of a notable Terran landmass; a mountain range, for example, up to a continent.

-"global" entities can affect, at a minimum, the entire surface of Terra. In more powerful cases, they can affect its moon, or the entire planet.

-"planetary" entities are able to affect celestial bodies larger than Terra, up to and including brown dwarfs.

-"stellar", "galactic" and "universal" entities are, as the names suggest, capable of affecting varyingly large areas of the cosmos.

-"macrocosmic" entities range from beings capable of affecting two or more realities, to those whose very existence warps all of creation.

This classification system is a new development, and, in many ways, a prototype. Your perusal of the archives might help us improve it.

Now, what do you wish to analyse first?

* * *

This is the start of a series of sidestories that will deal with how certain paranormal beings (both species and specific persons), objects and locations from the Strigoi Soul setting are viewed by the Reptilian Collective.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: On science and aberrancy

* * *
'Insane? You have trekked through the stars to me, fought wars and passed through the gate, to call me mad? Ha! You truly are something...an ignoramus, I mean.

I am crazy? The Zhayvin Collective inhabits the dream of a blind idiot god, yet believes creation has laws. But I am insane?'

-unknown. Attributed to Solarex.

* * *

Mocker raised a finger as the datastream between the Collective and the visitor stopped.

'You disapprove of this.'

Mocker half-closed its eyes at the Shaper's unprompted, but correct statement. 'Letting whoever leaf through our records when every human agency worth its name turns us away in the name of operational security? Yes, but you already know that. The way people shouted me down during the debate was somewhat hard to miss.'

'They disapproved of your paranoia as much as you approve of the overworlders'.'

Mocker's grin was amused, but tight. 'Never said otherwise. The reasons differ, though, but I suppose not all of us can hold on to the guilt for atrocities eons past.'

The Unscarred - they had started calling it the Unscarred Prime, in light of the replicas - crossed its arms, pink eyes turning orange. 'We have nothing to lose. Sharing information will improve Earth's wellbeing, and if the overworlders wish to be secretive, let them. We learn enough in the field, and from looted scraps.'

'That's the-' Mocker stopped itself with a sigh. 'Fine. Fine!' No wonder the humans didn't value knowledge more. They probably looked at the Collective picking the hardest way to obtain it while giving theirs away, and decided curiosity wasn't worth the added scholarly masochism. 'Have it your way.' This was directed at the seventy-three percent of the Collective who had voted for allowing visitation of their archives. 'But,' Mocker scratched between its scales with a monomolecular claw, 'didn't you see who they sent? Obviously new.'

At least there wasn't some series of half-baked infiltration attempts going on. Mocker had once heard about a fairly hilarious event concerning a terrorist cell formed of ninety percent undercover counterterrorists, with none of the moles aware of the others. This reminded it of a guinea pig rather than a mole: a rookie, sent to test the waters, allegedly unbiased to neither a country nor the reptilians.

Mocker saw ARC's hand at work here, but that mattered little, in the end.

The Unscarred's eyes became pink once more, its expression turning flat. 'We are perfectly capable of simplifying-'

'Yes, yes.' Mocker waved its hands. 'But you could put up an index while you're at that. Maybe some of those colourful signs to mark records that have been studied, I've heard they like them bright up there.'

'The archives are a work in progress. An "index" would be a sham.'

Mocker rolled its eyes, but it could not deny it was enthused, or pretend it didn't share the Shaper's confidence, if to a smaller degree. Their work in the Realm of Forms that formed the metainformational core of the macrocosm meant that, perhaps, everything could actually be know, and any new events could instantly be studied and added to the reptilian's database. But the First Scientist's perfectionism prevented it from merely starting something. Still...

'You could just make a hologram and update it as needed. And,' Mocker shrugged, 'why not add some definitions to the bottom, as well?'

'If you're so opposed to the idea, why do you want to make our data easier to process?'

'So the guests go home faster!'

* * *

Hello. To your right, you have noticed a hardlight construct appear. That dot next to the entrance represents you, and, as labeled, here are...hmm? Why not simply upload the information into your mind? You believe we can do that, despite...?

...Ha. Fair enough. Fair enough, and closer to the truth than farther. Yes. Such a procedure, however, would defeat the purpose of this tour, but would not be truly successful. As has been pointed out to us, with more insistence than politeness, our knowledge changes with the macrocosm, and such updated would have to uploaded into your mind, as well. With the scale and rate of our research, that would require and all but permanent link. Unless you wish to turn back?

We thought not.

Before you continue, we must establish something. If you look to the right, you will see your guide hologram being updated as we speak. We must draw the line between the fruits of science, and what we Zhayvin classify as aberrancy.

Are there laws in the macrocosm? We believe there are. Some argue it is only governed by the perception of its inhabitants, but in that case, it must be orderly, as so many believe it to be. Is there an universally-agreed upon set of laws, then? Of course not. But more similar ones than you believe. For example, most cultures and beings with knowledge of FTL travel agree that is it impossible to achieve something to lightspeed without infinite energy, and that doing so with finite energy breaks physics.

This is just an example of aberrancy. Aberrants are those who deviate from this model of existence, through various means. Humans distinguish between "supernaturals" - beings resembling figures from their folklore - and "paranormals" -beings who defy nature, but do not feature in human tales or myths. The Collective finds this distinction arbitrary and useless. All aberrants are aberrants, no matter what the proponents of anthropocentrism argue. Moving one's boy without propulsion, generating mass from nowhere...these are but some of the most common forms of aberrancy there is. Aberrants are as varied as they are intiguing.

What, then, of science? Is the study of aetherkinesis not scientific? After all, it employs the scientific method. Aetherplasm - "mana" - and those who use it know it reacts to thoughts, and what it takes to have this ability.

That may be so. But the Collective defines aberancy by what could be found in nature on our lost homeworld of Zhay, and there, there was no aberrancy.

But, you will say, our technology seems to break physics as understood by mankind. Does that not make it aberrant? Perhaps it does. Perhaps the abilities we see as unnatural are misunderstood science. Our quest for knowledge is never-ending.

The Collective is aware technology that is unexplained or misunderstood can appear magical, and vice versa. Earthlings and aliens have claimed we use everything from hypertech - something that seems to rely on scientific principles and mechanism to function, yet to advanced to properly analyse, much less understand - to "technosorcery". We have even encountered devices that appear to us the way ours do to humans.

So, what conclusion is there to draw? If reality is shaped by perception, is there truly anything abnormal?

We shall see.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: And God's Mouth Sayeth...

* * *
AN: This will be another series of short sidestories, focused on God's Mouth's opinion on various aspects of creation. The format, which will be mostly adhered to following the next chapter, was inspired partly by Zahariel's Chaos Flavour Quotes, partly by Magnus the Red's monologues in his Roboutian Heresy (a scene from this chapter is a homage to one from the RH, from the aforementioned monologues).

* * *

Constantin - Uriel - raised-lowered his-their eyes as his brother, the Archangel Gabriel, touched down without a sound, the tips of his silvery blue wings brushing the ground without stirring up any dust.

'Father Silva', he greeted. 'Brother.' Gabriel tilted his head slightly, brushing a lock of raven hair out of his steel-blue eyes. 'You are growing closer.'

They were. So much closer, in fact, that their spirits had started bleeding into each other, so that, even if he knew he was not the Archangel, Constantin had no problem speaking for both of them, nor did Uriel.

And, with ichor burning behind his eyes, he could see past the guises Gabriel wore so humans needed not fear, and into his core. One moment, the other Cardinal Archangel looked like he was wearing black plate armour, the trim the colour of his wings. He looked like a mailman, hair just peeking out from under his cap. Like a town crier, a newspaper seller, a...

Constantin had once watched an explanatory video about quantum superposition. He mused that the Archangel looked like every type of messenger possible, until observed by someone with expectations. But behind that, like a fire casting shadows, was the true self of the Archangel, through which flowed the power of information in its deepest form, granting him control over the senses in the most fundamental manner, those of creation included.

God's Mouth clasped his hands, slightly bowing his head. 'Thank you for coming, brother.' He did not mention that this was another self of Gabriel's, and that the original was conveying the Lord's words across existence. The Archangel could replicate himself endlessly, like all his brethren, for they were ever needed. 'We know that you speak for God, yet, we would trouble you, if you would bear our words for once, to whoever may listen. We believe they might prove some use, these kernels of lore, in the right hands.'

'Even if they are not, this should prove an interesting break from bearing father's messages,' Gabriel replied, before smiling ironically. 'But, no offence, Uriel...I somewhat doubt you have anything to share that I do not already know. I am the bringer of knowledge, and you have never been the most scholarly among us.'

'Indeed, we have not been. But here this, brother: do you remember how Michael got his sword? The one he cut Samael's eyes out with during the War in Heaven, leaving only fires burning as hotly as his pride?' At Gabriel's expression, he went on. 'The one he shattered on the Serpent's face, yes. He never did speak about that, did he?'

'He did not,' Gabriel confirmed, walking closer as God's Mouth formed a seat of gold-tinged crimson flame, before sitting down. Gabriel leaned in, an elbow on the chair's armrest, his ear close to his brother's mouth. 'Speak, then. I am curious, and could use a lesson as much as a diversion.'

'Ah, brother...Michael did not share the weapon's origin with you because he did not believe it had any place in Heaven's history. How often do you hear about the beasts in the waters above Heaven and beneath Hell in scripture? It was from there that a beast came. I remember...I fought it for a trillion years - or was it a heartbeat? - after its shining shadow snuffed out a seraph by passing over him, with the effect and effort of an ocean snuffing out a candle. The universe would've been scorched bare by that flame, yet even the creature's approach was enough to extinguish it. I kept it from our realm's gates, while Samael harried it, but it was Michael who put it down, and wrought its remains into a hiltless blade. He has always been able to do anything he must to defend Heaven...this makes him so lonely, we think. Like God, indeed.'

Gabriel nodded, glancing into the white-hot shapes that might've passed for his brother's eyes to someone whose sight was less clear. 'I did suspect none of us had forged that ugly thing. Still, at least something good came of it, in the end.' He closed his eyes, remembering his elder brother's, before they had been replaced by pitiless infernos. 'Was that what you wanted to share?'

'Oh, no, brother. Of course not. That was to give you a taste. Not all the lore we have accumulated will be new to you, but we hope our insights will interest you.'
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zayvhin Files: Zombies

* * *
Note: the Collective is aware of the differences between semi-autonomous necromorphs animated and directed by thanatophiliac aetherkines ("necromancers") and certain theophiles with thanatophiliac leanings ("faithcrafters"). This file, ascan be inferred, deals with the former.

* * *

Classification: semi-autonomous necromorphs (thanatophile aetherkine minions);

Colloquial name: zombies, walkers, shamblers;

Origins: the first magical zombies were raised in different locations across Earth shorthly after the first ancestors of mankind developed aetherkinesis ("magic") with few, if any necromancers being aware of their fellows' existence.

Description: a zombie is created when a mage casts a spell or performs a ritual designed to animate a corpse. Such procedures vary depending on their skill and understanding of the macrocosm, traits that are often intertwined. The zombie will be reanimated in the state they were in while classically dead, though more physically capable. They can be modified in accordance to the necromancer's wishes and capabilities, with extra body parts, for example. Though most necromancers need at least a skeleton in order to perform necromancy, more skilled ones can restructure corpse powder into a more formidable shape. Most zombies are mindless shells, animated by mana, though perfectly able to function in antimagical areas (it should be noted that corpses made to move through biokinesis rather than mana infusion are not traditionally considered zombies, and some necromancers see mages who do this as hacks). However, should a person (or their animus - "soul" -) if they are already dead consent to having their mind bound to the body, a thinking zombie can be made. Although necromancers have to pass several tests before being allowed to raise thinking zombies, most humans are still wary of giving another person the ability to override their free will on a whim. Lastly, it is illegal to bind a person's animus back to their body following death; doing so is a violation of the Syncretic Treaty and will result in sanctions from thanatophiliac theomorphs ("death deities"). Zombies can be made from animal, vegetal, fungal or aberrant remains, and, in some cases, the abilities they had in life are retained, with physical traits the most likely to be enhanced, though esoteric abilities are not out of the question. Certain abilities being altered in accordance to a "death theme" has also been observed. Zombies are immune to pain and esoteric effects (they cannot be transmuted, mind-controlled, moved with telekinesis, frozen in time, and so on), need no sustenance, and will regenerate from any damage as long as their necromancer is alive or otherwise active. Once the mage is eliminated, zombies cannot regenerate.

Behaviour: Most of the time, mindless zombies do not act by themselves, except to defend themselves or their necromancer. Once the necromancer is eliminated, they become feral, wandering randomly and attacking anything their limited minds perceive as a threat.

Threat level: local (human zombies); varies depending on base species. Human zombies have been observed moving, fighting and reacting at Mach 4. In addition to their regeneration and endurance, they are durable enough to take no damage from impacts that would pulverise humans, and are able to damage each other, smashing humans and concrete walls into pieces by running through them, or punching through human flesh and armour with the force of a cannonball. Ignoring leverage, zombies are capable ripping out spines, throwing cars across city blocks with one hand, swinging buses and trucks like batons and lifting tanks overhead with one hand.

Neutralisation: the most practical way to reduce the threat of zombies is taking out their necromancer (see file: mages), then picking off the feral undead. Should a reptilian be confronted by a zombie defending their necromancer, placing them under an object weighing three hundred or more tons, or in a container built to withstand multiple megajoules of force, is recommended. Generating a constant force (locally-intensified gravity, ball lightning, plasma field, etc.) can also neutralise them, as zombies cannot move while regenerating their whole body.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: Ghouls

* * *
Classification: carnivorous anthropomorphic aberrant.

Colloquial name: ghouls.

Origins: the first ghouls appeared in the Arabian Peninsula, before the rise of Islam. Much like therianthropes, ghouls can turn humans (baseline, magical, psychic) into more of them through bites, scratches and the exchange of fluids or tissues. Unlike weres, ghouls can be made "automatically". Dying while unprepared to depart and hungry can cause a human to rise again as a ghoul, if their animus has not already been claimed by the deity they worship.

Description: ghouls appear largely human, though paler, their skin being milky to grey depending on hiw dark it was in life, like in the case of vampires. Also like their undead cousins, ghouls possess sharklike fangs. Their organs do not function and their eyes are completely, milky white. Their nails can become clawlike at will.
Ghouls are carnivorous and constantly hungry, this need to feed varying in intensity depending on how often and much they eat (a mouthful of flesh us enough to render it negligible for minutes). Upon consuming flesh, the matter is instantly converted into energy, which is absorbed by the ghoul's body, resulting in dramatic increases in strength and durability (consuming the average man, for example, will result in a ghoul hitting like one and a half gigatons of TNT), and somewhat less impressive but notable increases in speed (a mouthful of flesh lets ghouls move too fast to be perceived by those equal to them before feeding). This ability is even more pronounced in the case of ghouls who consume paranormal flesh. For example, the smalles part of a vampire body will make a ghoul as powerful, fast and tough as said vampire upon consumption.

Behaviour: early ghouls' tendencies to steal coins, drink blood, eat corpses and hunt the young, elderly and infirm did not make them popular among humans, but this behaviour is widely-agreed to have been the result of particular ghouls' personalities, largely unchanged since undeath, rather than anything instinctive. Nevertheless, "ghoulish" became synonymous with "gruesome" after humans came in contact with them. Aside from their constant hunger, ghouls are not psychologically-different from humans to any serious degree (a far more laidback attitude when it comes to cannibalism is an arguable divergence, but this is considered synonymous with ghoul hunger, as they are not particular towards any species, including their own).

Threat level: local (ghouls that have not fed yet); variable depending on the quantity and nature of flesh consumed. Ghouls are capable of withstanding tank shells with nothing more than bruises that heal within milliseconds; it takes tens of megajoules to give one a black eye. They are capable of hurting each other to the degree baseline humans can hurt each other, drawing blood and breaking bone. Ghouls are capable of easily reacting to attacks moving at (and fighting at) hypersonic speeds, up to Mach 12, running fast enough to melt granite, and will regenerate from any damage not inflicted by holy means, including quantum destruction or removal from the timeline. They are immune to direct esoteric effects and do not need rest, air or (other than psychologically) sustenance. Ghouls also possess limited shapeshifting, being capable of assuming the form of a hyena, or that of the latest person whose flesh they have eaten (abilities cannot be replicated, barring a handful of fringe cases). Ghouls have enhanced senses, equivalent to those of vampires, strigoi, weres and most Terran paranormals. When focused on spotting details, they are capable of distinguishing the individual hairs of a fly over twenty kilometres away, hearing its heartbeat and smelling its blood.

Neutralisation: other than borrowing blessed items or the services of faithcrafters (it is likely the pantheons would take exception to the Collective imitating their abilities through quantum entanglement or similar means) to deal permanent damage to ghouls, constant destruction areas should be set up. Restraints capable of withstanding hundreds of megajoules should be enough to contain fledgling ghouls, though materials capable of withstanding gigatons of energy would be necessary for any ghoul who has consumed even a few dozen kilograms of flesh (muscle, fat and bone fall in this category, though hair and blood do not; a quirk of aberrancy, doubtlessly).
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: God's Mouth: Heaven

* * *
"It is not a place - as such. And yet, brother, would it not be so easy to forget it is a state, of mind and spirituality alike, when you hear so many speak of "travelling to" it? Such wanderers bend and fold creation through will alone, so of course they can make it appear like something you can move to and away from...but we know better."
-on Heaven;

"Three Spheres, three times three Hosts - there is power in numbers, brother, for mathematics is one of the purer reflections of perfection one can find in nature. It is, in a way, as much a language of divinity as Enochian. And there is power even greater than that in these numbers. Infinity ninefold, indeed. Michael knows that infinity, like divinity, is the only thing that can contain or - truly - represent itself, and what are we but the echoes of our father's boundless words?"
-on the angelic Hosts;

"If Hell is the absence of God, are those who stand the closest to our father embodiments of Heaven? Perhaps. Certainly, they represent the boundless reach of its love, and warmth - and how easily they can both scorch as easily as warm."
-on seraphims;

"Not our eldest brother, to be sure, but he might as well be. He has filled the void left by the Betrayer in such a way that the fact there has ever been one might slip even our kin's timeless memories. It is not hard to see why, it should not be, yet the reasons is too often misunderstood.
Why is he the most like our father? Because of his power? Of course not. Any angel can increase their power endlessly, even if their mind changes to fit their might: one cannot be as powerful as a seraph and think like a Throne. The few who can remain themselves were never meant to change, not in this way.
Is it the fact he can do anything necessary for Heaven's safety? No, for that is a facet of his power as well, just like it is a facet of the power wielded by the father he so resembles.
He is a champion of children, brother. You know how difficult it is not to do as much good as you can, and how deeply it can wear at one's spirit. It is in feeling and fighting this urge every instant that he is like God."
-on Michael;

"We have never been close, brother, even when we strode side by side across Egypt to bathe it in firstborn blood. I checked the marked doors and he severed their spirits, but we never spoke, before, during or after. When he turned his back to me, a brace of segmented souls slung over one shoulder, it was without a word.
It is ironic. One could be forgiven for thinking the gatekeeper would be cold and the executioner hot-tempered, and yet, we are the opposite. Hm? Yes, brother. We are capable of admitting our flaws. Only one of our kind has ever truly believed to be perfect, and we all remember how that ended. Constantin helps me keep that in mind, and so, we think as one."
-on Azrael;

"Angels might be made from men - this, we have always known. Yet, their spirits are not usually transfigured so literally. It is a joyous occasion whenever it happens, and its rarity does not diminish the elation; quite the contrary.
Mirrors, these two. They complete each other because they are different, not mistaken. Regent and maker of crowns, herald and speaker of prayers.
We still remember how our kin below raged when father turned Metatron's blood to ichor and his flesh to fire and light and set him on a throne besides His own. Their outraged denial failed to drown out his grateful gasp, but it brought us great amusement."
-on Metatron and Sandalphon;
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: God's Mouth: Hell

* * *

AN: Hopefully, I'll resume the longer sidestories fairly soon, since my schedule is relatively light at the moment. The first will likely by Coldest of Wars, followed by a series of sidestories, similar to Aftermath, called Family Matters. It will be, as the name implies, focused on various families from across creation. Unrelated, standalone sidestories might still be posted in-between, though.

* * *

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here! Ah, brother, the Florentine was more right than he knew. So close to the truth, yet the pit's sight would have dismayed even him, with no Vergil at his side. For what is Hell but the absence of God? And where can those who find themselves here find hope, which is bound to Him as tightly as faith?"
-on Hell;

"We shell not teach you how to reat them, brother. You know enough, and I know better than that. Pity them, disdain them, hate them; but do not forget that their nature alone does not make them monster. Remember the mage who harboured such thoughts before he formed a holy union with a demoness? She is one of the loveliest souls we have seen, we dare say."
-on demons;

"Behold, the Serpent! His eyes see more than most, but he is blinder than any. He believes - he truly believes, Gabriel; he has faith in this, not merely confidence - that not only can he, somehow, topple our father, but that he will. For His own good, of course. We wonder, does sinfulness erase self-awareness as easily as it does virtue? For our eldest brother sneers at mankind with the same contempt with which he ignores his self from before the Fall. And yet, when he looks inward, he finds only things to praise."
-on Lucifer;

"The Beast of Revelations. Many beasts are spoken of, there, but this one? This one is the Beast, brother; the dragon of the Apocalypse. It is burning rage and unclean wrath, the bared, bloodied face of our slighted brother. Anger, not against the dying of the light, but against everything that offends when it should not.
...Is it any wonder, Gabriel, why the Beast can reach so easily into the heart of man?"
-on Satan;

"He wants more, brother, and the more he gorges, the more he hungers. He knows this, but he will not stop, for he knows starvation is beneath him. Perhaps he cannot stop. It seems ridiculous for such an exalted brother to end up representing such a crude sin as gluttony. Perhaps he is as amused by irony as he is by the snap of bone and the taste of marrow."
-on Beelzebub;

"Oh, black despair, oh, bleak hopelessness, thy name is Belphegor. Twin of the Lord of Flies, he who tempted my son in spirit if not in person, and almost doomed everyone, and everything. We have little pity for him, brother, and less mercy. He found the reach of omnipotence dismaying rather than comforting, and seeks to share his false revelation with everyone. He shall not succeed."
-on Belphegor;

"He takes, and takes, and takes, and keeps, and does little. Such a miser, this brother who never lacked for anything, as selfish as he was once generous. And realms unnumbered turn in his coils, even those who have exchanged coin for power, and believe themselves beyond his reach."
-on Mammon;

"He wants what others have as much as Mammon wants to keep what is his, but his gaze turns only inwards enough to take note of what he has, and find more to covet. How much power, brother, does one need before enough is enough?"
-on Leviathan;

"We hold a special loathing for this creature, Gabriel, and you know well why. This shell of a sibling that calls itself Asmodeus has violated more souls than almost all of creation's other monsters put together. More than Lucifer, more than Belphegor, it has tainted the bonds of our family, through a mockery of love our father never intended to bloom between His children.

But there will be a reckoning.

In the name of my father and siblings, in the name of my son and his children unborn, for Sariel, our departed sister, lost love of our human half, and every innocent being it has broken, we will destroy this creature, and burn creation clean until no trace of its passage remains.'
-on Asmodeus;

'A good enough commander, as Hell's warlords go. He has only ever been content with being second in command, so he must at least be good at something, no? This is why he went from lieutenant to general. Do not believe he would ever fancy himself a kingmaker, a power behind a throne. It is not that he is incapable of that, brother. He is too servile, too unambitious - but not humble; never believe that - to crown himself. It is why he makes such a good scapegoat, we believe.'
-on Azazel;

"Woman born of clay and dust. Wife that never was. Mother of no man. Are you amused, brother, that the friendship between her and her successor grew quickly and subtly, while her contempt for the first man grew slowly yet obviously? Oh, I know I raged at that, at first. I raged day and night, for my heart blazed at the though of mankind in those times. And yet..look how one soul might change yours, brother."
-on Lilith;
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Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Coldest of Wars, part 1

* * *

AN: A longer hiatus than I'd have liked (but then, I'd update all my stories daily if I could), but here is the next sidestory concerning the aliens, this one dealing with the past of the reptilians as relived by a former general of the Zhayvin Technarchy.



I will try to post longer sidestories more often, as well as shorter ones between substantial updates. I would have posted more short stories before this was done, but I was feeling kind of guilty for not writing anything substantial in a couple months. I've had to deal with more irl stuff than I expected, alongside updating my other stories, so I haven't found the time and energy until now.



More alien factions are introduced/namedropped in this chapter, alongside a homage to two of my favourite cosmic antagonists. There will be sidestories about them, but I want to do more Earth-centric stories first.



* * *



There had always been, among the children of lost Zhay, a love for symbolism.



Despite the rationality and detachment encouraged by the Shaper, certain patterns that had endeared themselves to the reptilians persisted, for reasons that had little to do with practicality or logic, and much to do with sentimentalism.



Of course, the Shaper had an explanation for their continued existence - "the state of mind one can enter thanks to cherished things or symbols can often heighten productivity" - but everyone knew how things stood.



One thing, one word that stuck, was the engine. Not the device that generated power for a vehicle, necessarily. The vehicle itself, or greater constructs of the Collective, were often called engines by outsiders, and, sometimes, the term slipped into the reptilians' conversations too.



A Zhayvin had once commented that it fit, like a Warscale gauntlet, or one's fangs around the throat of prey. "Engines, indeed - are they not the sources of our power and reputation? They might not consume fuel to produce energy, but they produce results. Information. The engines of the great apparatus that is the Collective. Do you disagree?"



Said reptilian had not received a name. The members of the Collective knew each other's thoughts at all times. What one felt, all felt. What need was there for names, designations, in such a society? Nicknames were a matter of affectation, titles, like the Shaper's, of nostalgia. Everyone knew who everyone was. What was there to add?



The spires, too, were symbols. The reptilians reserved a deep disdain for the idea of the scientist-hermit (not least of all because it was an accurate description of them before the Shattering of the Anthropocentric Quantum Separation Effect) and the white tower they lived in, isolated from the world. The spires might have evoked that, in terms of mere shape, but that was not what the Zhayvin were going for.



They had been told their starscrapers instead brought to mind the mad scientist's mountain lair, or the tower of the warlock-alchemist. Not exactly flattering comparisons, but certainly no mentions of ivory towers, either. Even if some reptilians had groused that it was better to stand apart from the world and bring nothing into it rather than create dangers.



'I think you misunderstand,' Mocker (for who else could have it been?) had said, clearly struggling not to smile. 'The archetypes mentioned push the boundaries of science and understanding. Their creations might seem insane, in every sense of the word, but...I do not think it is an insult. Unless you subscribe to the notion madness is genius that brings nothing to the community, that is. After all, thinking atypically does not make one evil...or useless, as we have seen enough times.'



'Are you calling us insane?' the grumbling had went.



But Mocker had always taunted and challenged, even before receiving its name, which, some said, seemed to goad it into being more annoying, so it'd be seen doing it justice. So, in the end, even those who hadn't indulged it had stopped paying it mind.



Starscrapers resembled the skyscrapers and other high-rise buildings raised by mankind, in terms of shape and function, if not scale. Starting at seven light years tall, with some several times taller, skyscraper could have stretched between solar systems in normal space. Each floor, trillions of kilometres wide, would have comfortably fit most of the Sol System, well into the Oort Cloud.



Starscrapers were not a new idea. By human standards, they were literally prehistoric. Arcologies had been a defining feature of reptilian archtecture since they'd lived on their birth world and called themselves Zhayvi.



"Build taller, not wider" had been a popular suggestion among humans, before aberrancy had spread wide enough to make space irrelevant. The reptilians had once shared the sentiment, and, even after they had learned to bend, fold and make space thanks to a deep understanding of it.



That, the space remade through magic (a word no Zhayvin had ever used seriously), stung. Not because it did anything to them. Not because they, according to some amusingly wrong conspiracies, wanted mankind to rely on them and their technology, rather than the aberrants among them.



Ridge knew that. Eidetic memories were standard among the Zhayvin, and while any reptilian could move information to the back of their minds, in order to focus on something else, or simply stop thinking about it, they did not forget.



That was why it was baffled. It wasn't even human, to have the excuse of brain damage. Ever since David Silva, the aberrant they now called the Keeper of Endings, had turned one of them into paste on Mars, during the Cold Madness, they had worked to increase their regeneration.



Years ago, reptilians could have healed from being diced into pieces: a genegineered upgrade to their regrowth of limbs and body parts. Further upgrades had followed, so that now, as long as any of the matter making up their bodies survived in any way, Zhayvin would heal on their own, no technological resistance needed. The continuation of consciousness was assured, of course...



...so why the gaping void did ridge feel like it had hit its head and scrambled its brain? That wasn't supposed to matter.



Scowling - a facial expression hard to detect by outsiders when it was worn by a Zhayvin; their muzzles meant they mostly scowled with their eyes -, Ridge tried to reach out to the rest of the Collective through the yoctomachines embedded in each and every particle of its body.



That it couldn't sense the Shaper or its fellows was even more absurd than the apparent memory loss. Why couldn't it remember?



They, it, did not want mankind to rely on them...didn't mind if they leaned on the aberrants...but why was that?



And what was wrong with its machines.



Tch. No matter. Ridge, like all its kind, was a scientist. It would find out, as soon as it got up from the rough ground under its scales. Another gap in its memories...



Ridge remembered Mocker, and the fact that pain in the neck was as clear as crystal in its mind, but how it had ended up in what felt like a desert wasn't, vaguely irritated it.



Maybe that was just the sand. It was coarse, rough, and got everywhere.



Mocker lived right under Ridge, in their starscraper, owner of an apartment as large as the domain of most civilisations that reached the second level on the Kardashev Scale.



Last night, as the humans measured time...damn, but it felt slow. Last night, Mocker had jumped out of one of its windows, scrambled up the side of the starscraper, and started making a racket.



In-between bouts of cackling, it had hammered on the roof with its feet and fists, like it was performing the world's most insufferable tribal dance.



Ridge had stared up at one of its living rooms' ceilings, unamused, after some time. It would have heard Mocker no matter where in the Collective it would have started monkeying around, but the fact it was doing it right on top of its head meant Ridge essentially heard twice.



The smug little by-blow had worn its Warscale, too, else how could it have shaken a building nearly ten billion times heavier than the Milky Way? And while the Collective could draw energy from practically everywhere - celestial bodies, by matter converted into energy, from the Archetype that represented said concept in the Outer Void - the fact Mocker had increased its Warscale's power merely to be louder...limitless power generation did not mean there was no such thing as waste!



As Ridge had told Mocker, among other things.



"If you don't stop banging on the roof, I'll throw you off the building!" Ridge had snapped at one point. "And you know what'll happen then?"



"I'll faaaaalll?" Mocker had drawled, to the laughter of octillions of Zhayvin, the imbeciles.



"This horseplay is pointless! You know-'



'Ridge, Ridge,' Mocker had interrupted, voice almost soothing. "I know you're a leathery old gruff and all the werelizards want me, but calm down and listen: you know why I am celebrating, so it's your outrage that is pointless. You should be joining me!'



"Absolutely not!' Ridge had protested.



But the Shaper had joined in, eventually, acting as the voice of reason. The Collective had rarely been safer, and never more powerful. The macrocosm, as a whole, had been set on a brighter path, with the threat of omnicide at the whims of a dreaming First Principle no longer possible.



It was, the Shaper had thought, a good enough reason to be festive.



'But it can do it in its home!' Ridge had replied, gesturing in Mocker's direction. 'Quietly!'



'But then, you wouldn't be apoplectic,' Mocker had sniggered.



Ugh. As Ridge dug its claws into the orange sand and tried to stand up, it imagined the ground was Mocker's throat.



As it looked around, however, and tried to look down at itself, Ridge realised it had much worse things to worry about than annoying neighbours.



For one, the desert it was in looked exactly like one it had often visited on Zhay, many billions of years ago. When it had walked on all fours, as it did now, in fact.



Its body was wrong; it was the one with which it had been hatched, before the genemills, the looms and the splicing. It resembled nothing more than a Terran Komodo Dragon, except bigger than most horses and covered in emerald scales the size of a human eye. Its machines, its cybernetic and genetic enhancements, they were all gone.



Getting to its feet and making a few steps made Ridge realise all of its old traits were back. He began walking forward, then sat down on his haunches, running its paws over its body.



Whoever had done this would pay. Had the Shaper, somehow hiding their thoughts from him, modified him? Uploaded his mind into another body and placed him in this simulacra? But why? And doing so without it knowing, much less consenting...



No. That was not the Shaper he had known. Perhaps he had agreed to some experiment, with memory erasure a part of the procedure? But that sounded dubious too, and...



Ridge froze. Craning his neck up, a rather awkward motion given the unfamiliarity with his new, old physique, he saw another memory. This old nightmare, like everything else, seemed very much real, but Ridge was not about to dismiss it as an illusion and get torn apart. He didn't trust his senses.



Digging rapidly into the sand, Ridge covered himself and, holding his breath, began slowly, slowly digging his way down.



He could still feel its gaze on his back, somehow, for all he was hidden and it eyeless.



It would have seemed out of place even to someone with no knowledge of Zhay's biosphere. The ghoulish thing might have resembled a cloud, but it was the only one in the crimson sky, like a maggot wriggling in a pool of blood. Here, the glare of Zhay's three suns only allowed clouds to form rarely, and briefly.



Among the Zhayvi and their descendants, such creature had been called the End From Above, though few had ever referred to it by that name, rather than that of the Flying Death.



It was no animal or plant, no fungus. Its composition, which it could alter at will, was that of an ordinary cloud, except it was sentient. Sapient, even, some Zhayvi had argued, even while debating whether it was an aberrant or not. The detractors of that theory had mostly insisted the Deaths hadn't been native to Zhay.



The world where the reptilians had defined science. This planet, mundane yet filled with life, the standard by which the rest of the cosmos was judged, and classified in terms of natural or aberrant.



Their opponents had simply said they didn't want to admit that, maybe, there was no such thing as aberrancy.



Flying Deaths could take whatever shape they wanted, fill the sky from horizon to horizon or bombard its prey with lightning, hail and snow. But, while such a living weather hazard would have been dangerous enough, especially in flocks, it had been the Flying Death's method of reproduction that had appalled the Zhayvi, making them hunt the creatures to extinction.



Perhaps, had they not been pushed to dabble with weather machines, and thus with the atmosphere itself, the Zhayvi would have never looked at the stars, wondering if there was anyone out there.



What might have been didn't matter. Ridge might, at any time, come face to face with one of the things he'd despised about his homeworld, and he wasn't eager to relive the experience. Not with no Shaper around to put him back together.



A Flying Death took a day to reproduce. First, sent a sliver of its body away, which dispersed across the air, undetectable, then entered a living being's airways.



Lung diseases seemingly followed, as said organs filled with water and wheezed, in excruciating pain. The mindless sliver eventually developed a consciousness, draining the heat of the host's body for power, causing colds.



When the victim was half to death, bodily fluids followed, until the larval Flying Death burst out of the husk, ready to hunt and spawn new creatures.



Entire species had thus been wiped out by the parasitic predators. Nests and tribes of Zhayvin, in their thousands and millions, had been slaughtered, choking, freezing and dying to death, over the course of an hour - for a Flying Death could divide itself many times. As long as even a molecule of its body remained, it could heal, drawing on the environment.



The Flying Death could sense him, Ridge knew. His bioelectricity. He could only hope it would decide he was too much of a hassle to reach, and look for easier prey.



He was not, so it did not. And so, Ridge died, eaten from the inside out, torn apart by a monster's spawn.



Or, at least, that was what he'd expected would happen. No Zhayvi had survived a Flying Death's attack in such conditions.



But he did, in a way, thoughts not stopping, even after his brain did.



He, Ridge deduced, must have still been alive, or at least aware, in some form, despite the fact he could see his desiccated body kilometres below.



He was at cloud level, he calculated quickly, then dryly noted that the Flying Death approaching without looking like it was flying low was evidence enough of that.



Death had a way of clearing the mind as it approached. He supposed it was not so strange for said clarity to persist, even in this strange state.



His field of view was the same. His sense of proprioception, though stunted, let him know he retained the shape of his birth body, even if he could not see himself, and could only faintly feel his own movements.



Was this undeath? Ridge knew reptilians possessed the aberrant energy known to most overworlders as a soul. Even if the Shaper preferred to remove it and reanimate bodies through yoctomachines where possible. Zhayvin dropping dead upon losing their souls was not only a risk, it was a stupid death, in the way only aberrancy could make something look absurd.



No damage, consciousness intact, and yet...poof. A life cut short, just like that. Ridiculous.



Though he could move faster than he had been able to while alive, Ridge failed to escape the Flying Death, which surrounded him and began tossing him around.



Its insides, if they could be called that, tore at his incorporeal form like flensing knives, even though the creature looked like a cloud. Ridge thought he was bleeding, but that made no sense. Probably post-mortem trauma...pah. As if that made sense.



After the manhandling came lightning that burned and blinded, and thunder that deafened, and hailstones, and snowflakes that carved into Ridge like cold blades.



This went on for what felt like forever, but could not have been. Flying Deaths could not manipulate time any more than he could. Just the pain talking. Just the pain.



Ridge allowed himself to sneer through shredded, bleeding lips. Pain, he could handle. It was an old enemy, one which he'd become intimately acquainted with in his days of generalship, before collectivisation had made ranks redundant.



If this stupid monster could only smack him around, it was wasting its time. He didn't think he could die again, and this crude attempt at torture was not going to make him despair.



As if sensing his disdain, the Flying Death grew more aggressive. It filled Ridge with slivers of its body, then spiked him into the ground, so its soawn could tear his broken spirit apart, only for it to reform, flying out to fill the crater...he was in...



Ridge looked sharply around himself. Souls, if that was what he was, were unable to interact with the material world like this. He should've been sent flying through Zhay, not...hm.



Was he going mad? He didn't think he was, but then, did anyone? Was the torment taking its toll, or was the creature trying to break him so he wouldn't notice such incongruences?



But it was too late. He should have been d-



Ridge snapped his jaws, trying to hurt the Flying Death as it snatched him up and accomplishing nothing. So, they were back to square one. Might as well see how long this hallucination, or whatever it was, went.



It felt like days - what would have been months on Terra - before Ridge thought he started hearing voices. Then, thanks to the voice's insistence, he began to humour the idea that, maybe, the Flying Death was speaking to him.



That was even harder to swallow than the crater he shouldn't have made. If this was some artificial hell, meant to torture his Zhayvin mind through absurdity...well. He'd have to admit it was creative, at least. Any logical being would have been gnashing their teeth at this ridiculous world.



Ridge decided that he was either seeing this, or being made to. The only third option that came to mind involved time travel and Flying Deaths that could touch souls, which, while by no means impossible...seemed very, very improbable.



There were enough insane beings, and not just aberrants, who'd have devised such an illogical realm to hurt him, but he struggled to think of any who could also pierce or bypass the Collective's defences.



Better hear the creature out. Not that he particularly valued its opinion, but he hardly had anything better to do. Had Flying Deaths always been able to communicate, but chosen not to? It was...intriguing.



The scientist in him would have probably appreciated the whole thing better if he hadn't been involved. Still, he would do his best to remain clinical and rational. Either this was all in his head, or he would being something new to the Collective. He'd either find his way back, or they'd find him. He had to believe that.



But belief is conviction without evidence, said a treacherous, sibilant voice. Not the monster's; while it could speak into his mind, it didn't sound like this. It sounded, and felt, like nails on his flayed back.



The shallowest of hypotheses, the voice continued. You might as well start praying.



Yes, definitely his own voice. Few but the Zhayvin radiated such contempt for so-called deities and the cultish behaviour they encouraged.



Pessimism is not going to help me. Low morale is detrimental to progress, Ridge argued back, knowing he was just trying to convince himself.



He had to remain optimistic, despite the odds. It was easy to be hopeful when all was going well.



The Flying Death...



"Do you understand now?" it asked, voice surprisingly civil, despite its menacing tone. They could have been talking about the...tsk. Weather. "Do you...no." Ridge had the impression of the thing rearing up, to better stare down at him. "You do not even know why I am doing this, are you?"



Ridge didn't answer. He could already tell the Flying Death was one of those people in love with their own voice. If it didn't end up telling him the secrets of the universe, he'd eat his damned tail.



"I am a monument to all your sins, Zhayvin," It continued in what Ridge guessed had been meant as an ominous tone. The thing, however, sounded too overtly evil for him to take it seriously. He was already dead, after all. Maybe, if it could control his mind... 'I am Justice.'



At that, Ridge looked up, wondering if it could see his flat expression. 'Justice?' he repeated, deadpan. 'What justice was there in anything you've done so far?'



'Justice,' it spat in response, 'for the crimes of the Zhayvin. For the atrocities of your shameless, heartless, verminous kind.'



Now he was sure he had gone mad. A Flying Death torturing him in the name of morality? No, this was the plot of a comedy. Beyond unexplainable.



'My kind,' Ridge said affably. 'All of us? I was not aware species as a whole can be condemned for the actions of certain members.' Mimicking curiosity, he cocked his head. 'Can they?'



'All of you are bound!' The Flying Death thundered, lightning lighting up its body so dramatically Ridge wondered if it had been intentional. 'Linked, mind with mind. All of you know what the forerunners of your ilk, yourself included, have done, yet you don't bring them to justice.'



Ah. That was more articulate. Still, between the accusations and the accuser, Ridge could not help but feel like he was talking to a composite caricature of the Collective's detractors. 'That is not how we do things. Whether we have redeemed ourselves or not, if we can ever atone for our warmongering, is a matter of perspective. But what you suggest will not happen.'



Turning his head down and away, Ridge spat, seeing the sand darkening. Immaterial...or was he? 'You might as well take the humans' gods to task for their madness.'



'Whataboutism,' the Flying Death dismissed his words. 'Their time will come, too. How quick you are to change the subject, however, after admitting you are sinful.'



Ridge shook his head. 'That is not what I am doing. You wish to speak of the Zhayvin's past? Fine. Nothing we did was truly justified, I admit freely. We made excuses at the time, but that does not make it right. And, for more than four billion years, we have been nothing but altruistic.' As much as anyone in their position could be. 'Whether that makes up for everything else, I do not know.'



The Flying Death laughed. 'I'll save you you some,' it growled, sounding amused but irritated, 'and tell you it does not, Zhayvin. It does not.' The false cloud split open, allowing scarlet sunlight to fill it. 'Did you think it would?'



Ridge might have shrugged - he did not truly understand this new form of his. 'Then that is that,' he replied, defiantly staring up, wishing the creature had eyes he could meet, or at least a face. 'Trying to alter the past would only change the present for the worse. All our simulations agree.'



A more benevolent Zhayvin Technarchy might have done more good across the wider universe, but it could have never approached Earth without being rebuffed by its gods. And Earth...well.



That little blue world was a fulcrum. As the Shaper had used to say: "Give me a world, and I'll move the cosmos."



The reptilians had only been allowed to settle because they'd posed no threat on arrival. Alter that, and...



'So you say,' the Flying Death's voice was acidic. 'If your puppeteer and its machines agree, they cannot be wrong, can they? After all, they are the peak if all that is natural. The epitome of science.'



Ridge sighed. 'Do you have a point?'



The pressure around him changed as the thing tightened its grip. 'All of you must suffer,' it declared with the conviction of the insane, the fanatical. 'Nothing you will ever do can mend the tears left in your wake.'



It sounded almost placid, Ridge reflected as he was pushed out of the main mass, held by the tip of a tendril. Maybe it had reached that point beyond anger, where wrath turned cold.



The cloud split again, but less dramatically than before. Just enough to create something like a jagged tear at the top, like a grin.



'You lived through your kind's era of bloodshed,' it said, voice thick with what sounded like satisfaction. 'You remember the pain. Not like those flesh dolls put together in labs. Truly remember.' It pulled him closer, voice becoming almost conspiratorial. 'But you still took place in the exercises. Memories made reality through hardlight and shaped matter. True pain, old yet new.'



As its grip tightened further, making blackness begin filling Ridge's vision, the Flying Death's voice rose and rose, yet, at the same time, it felt deeper, somehow, as if he felt it in his bones rather than heard it. 'Let us see you live through that again,' it sneered, like Ridge had earlier, 'far from your place of power.'



* * *



Reliving historical events and the lives of their forebears was a matter of course for the Reptilian Collective. How else could they hope to understand their predecessors than by looking backwards in time, sharing their pains and pleasures?



The Zhayvin had always stared inward deeper than most species and civilisations. Many of their technologies had been invented to broaden, deepen and sharpen that sight, only to be gleefully turned into weapons by the Technarchy, or regretfully turned to such purposes by the Collective.



The reptilians had often been told they were unhealthily close to their thoughts, and those of their fellows. Recently, they had most often heard this from humans.



It cut both ways. In the reptilians' opinion, humans were, all too often, an isolated people, living apart from their kindred in a way that sometimes led to loneliness and melancholy.



Ridge himself had often asked how could anyone live without sharing everything with their species. What did they have to hide? Only those who did not belong in a society had anything to hide from it. Instincts, impulses? Those were not shameful. Merely reflexive.



Much like the way Ridge's jaws clenched whenever he glanced at the Flying Death, or vice versa. The reptilian knew that was useless, just like how clamping his paws over his snout, as his forelimbs itched to, would have been.



That last thought tried to lodge itself into Ridge's thoughts. Why would that have been useless? Was he not dead, and in some aberrant state of being as a result? What need did he have to breathe? Why...?



But it was borne away as the pain flooded in. It felt like an old scar being torn open by white-hot claws, and Ridge screamed despite himself. His bellows was a low sound, which would have been felt more than heard by any observer, interrupted by horking coughs.



It was like the reenactments, but worse, in some way Ridge could not place, and-



There was a hiss, followed by a crack. Not like the energy weapons used by less advanced species might have made. More like a bone being boiled, and...ah.



Ridge tried to press himself into the cold ground beneath him, as macabre as the idea of becoming one with it should have felt. As if sensing his thought, the soil became as hot as his insides, to the point he struggled to tell where he ended and the world around him began.



Bah. He might have appreciated the philosophical exercise if it hadn't reminded him of becoming one with the ground, not that said mental image had been comfortable in the first place.



Had that been detected, too? Was that another power of the Flying Death, hitherto unseen and unheard of?



In the past, he had...hadn't...



The...past...



Ridge tried to gather his wits, pressing his forepaws against his head, in the hopes the outside pressure would at least distract him from the blaze scorching his insides.



Funny. Usually, his attempts to hurt himself were more fruitful.



Despite any impression they might have given, the reptilians held a certain disdain for pure theory. Simulations alone, the Shaper often said, were not enough. Seeing something from outside, without feeling anything of the events taking place, was more likely to inspire detachment than understanding.



Not caring enough, like caring too much, was useless. Balance, balance, balance.



'Pure theory is useless,' the Shaper had said once. 'Until you do something with it, or at least unless you can do something with it...it can do nothing but fill your mind.'



The Collective's First Scientist had said the last part with something almost like tiredness. "Fill your mind..." it had said it like knowledge was a burden until applied.



Ridge was sure there was something to be learned there, but remembering this was all he could do while writhing like a worm on a hook.



'But is learning, and thus knowing, not an admirable endeavour?' a reptilian had asked.



The Shaper's avatar had inclined its head. 'To a degree. It is better to be informed than ignorant, of course, and learning is a pleasure, but learning for its own sake is pointless.' Its eyes had been sad as it had swept them across a small crowd. 'We do not live in a macrocosm kind enough to let us pursue knowledge and nothing more, our friends. If we desire a world where we can do that, we must build it ourselves.'



And yet, for the first time in a life longer than some stars had existed for, Ridge wished to know no more. To shut out the agony coursing through every fibre and cell of his new, old body, at least until he could concentrate and find a solution to...to...



Well. It was a problem, wasn't it? This torment. Ridge remembered it, as the pain grew. The Zhayvin had ever been inclined towards remembering their failures before their accomplishments, so how could Ridge have forgotten his first defeat?



When he had gone through the simulation of his first meeting with the Shaper, Ridge had felt the bitterness of a memory he'd have rather forgotten more than anything else. He knew how it had happened, the pain had been familiar, so there had been nothing to do but grit his fangs and get it over with.



But now...this felt more like the moment itself, not a reenactment by means of artifice. And yet, it couldn't have been natural. He couldn't have really been sent to the past. No one could have taken him from the Collective, so what-



The Shaper's forepaw pressed Ridge's cracked head into the bloodied sand, his namesake splintered as it added to the desert heat by oozing vitae.



The defeated warlord tried to glare up at the victor with his remaining eye, but it was swollen shut, and covered in gore besides. Still, defiance was better than nothing. Resignment would serve no purpose beyond embittering him.



'Do not bother, my friend,' the female Technarch said. 'I've always known you look up to me.'



Ridge tried to spit out something biting, but only managed some splintered fangs, covered in bloody sand. The Shaper tightened her grip on his scruff, before lifting him and slamming his face into his attempted insult.



'A strange away to celebrate, to be sure,' the Shaper continued, as if nothing had happened. 'But who am I to quash uniqueness?' she asked sarcastically. 'Everyone has their own way to show joy, and you should be joyous, Ridge. With your defeat, the Selfish Tendency will die out.'



The Individualists, Ridge knew, were more vulnerable to such strategies than they would have liked to admit. The Zhayvin warlords who fought and conquered for themselves had nothing that resembled an alliance, of course, much less a leader, but Ridge had always been viewed with a sort of grudging, jealous respect by his peers.



Part of it had been his sheer success. Ridge sought out worlds he could zhayform into shapes resembling that of his birth planet, and asteroid belts or other great clumps of raw matter to reshape when he could not find those. And, as much as the other Technarchs liked to sneer at him for avoiding populated planets, they knew Ridge was neither cowardly nor stupid. He simply preferred getting results with the least effort possible.



Ridge's domination of the moutainous area that had contributed to his name as much as the ridges on his body was proof that he did not shy from bloodshed. The mountains were filled with predatory and parasitic beasts, not to mention small nests of grasping, desperate Zhayvin. Anyone who could hold them against all comers while using the fauna as training knew what they were doing.



Ridge, he knew, was something of a first among equals when it came to the Individualists. Living proof of the fact the greatest Zhayvin did not have to band together to survive.



The rise of the Shaper and her Collectivists, who espoused the opposite, had only fuelled that quiet admiration, for Ridge had repelled every attempt to dislodge him from his seat of power.



Until now. Using technology cobbled together from the plundered treasures of a dozen strongholds' vaults, the Shaper had ground his mountains to dust, and then the real fight had started. It had ended almost as quickly as it had begun.



Easing on the pleasure, the Shaper almost withdrew her paw from Ridge's cracked skull. 'So brooding. You do remember why we fight, don't you?' The Shaper looked down with a condescending smile, which grew wider and sharper when she received no answer. 'This cannot go on, old lizard. You should be thanking me.'



As she launched into another of those speeches Ridge had had the displeasure to hear in recordings and propaganda vids, he tried to put his thoughts in order, so he could think of the future.



'...been spreading through space for billions of greater cycles, and for what? Oh, we take what we want, to be sure, but why do we want so little? Why should we?' The Shaper tapped her head, as well as Ridge's, at the same time. 'Think, Ridge! There is strength in numbers, and only with strength can one build anything of worth in this cosmos. Without strength, you cannot do anything but be crushed. Life on Zhay has proven that amply enough.'



Sneering at something Ridge could not see, the Shaper withdrew her paw. 'Everyone is carving out petty fiefdoms while headquartered on our homeworld. We fight foul little civil wars on Zhay instead of presenting an unified front to the universe, and we are the ones who suffer, mark my words.'



The one they already called First Technarch continued speaking in an amused, softer voice. 'I do not speak only because I dislike silence, you know. Already, I can see my truths are spreading among the masses, even if they misunderstand them half the time. Why, I was at a war council the other cycle, and one of my generals spouted some of the funniest nonsense I've heard in a while. Want to know what she gibbered?'



'What?' Ridge wheezed, trying to rise to all fours. He figured he'd be told anyway, before he was killed or enslaved, so he might as well play along. Maybe if the worm spawn was amused, she'd kill him quickly or lobotomise him.



'She said the Arkhitects - void knows there have never been greater genetic engineers, but they were no authority even before they cut off ties with the macrocosm - created entire species to stand against the Sun That Shackles. They forged the Sunlit Pact. How can we do anything less than unite all beings under the stars against the Golden Tyrant?'



As the pathos left her voice, the Shaper burst into a hissing laugh. Shaking his head, Ridge tried not to lash out at her. It would have been pointless at best, deadly at worst.



When the aberrant that called itself Solarex had entered the universe, shortly after its formation, the Arkhitects - beings older than some galaxies, named for their desire to build things that could protect life - had armed themselves against him. They had made beings that could harness the power of stars, of anything that had and would ever causebpain, pleasure and death, who had themselves wrought devices to make every dream of nightmare reality.



But when Solarex and his menagerie of a court had found themselves faced with the Arkhitects, the Sunlit, the Agonised, the Grateful, the Deathly...they had not wanted a fight. They had opted to stay in deep, empty space rather than interrupt their pleasures facing armies of peers. The Arkhitects, guilty and loathing themselves for the torment that had gone into the Deathly's creation, had got the early species to sign a Pact, swear they would rally together when the false god came to crush their cultures and take everything they had and were.



Then, the great shapers of life had become hermits, doubtlessly watching and waiting for Solarex's return somewhere. And while the Sunlit Pact's signatories had tried to at least pay lip service to the agreement, they had known Solarex could be appeased rather than fought.



Let him pick at a few lesser species, who were conveniently unaware of the Sunlit Pact, and he would busy himself with his living toys. No one would have to shed blood, or an equivalent.



The Zhayvin had signed too, of course knowing there was nothing preventing them from attacking fellow signatories. The Arkhitects had known conflict was natural in life, Solarex's perverse tendencies, which ended much and gave lottle in return, aside. And King Sun had not lifted a finger against anyone worth a damn in eons.



As such, Ridge could understand why the opinion of the Shaper's general had come across as absurd.



'Does...' Ridge rasped as he finished healing. 'Does she think you want to unite us so we can stand against Solarex?'



'I know, right? It is practical enough. The more united we are, the better we can fend off that preening deviant, even a hatchling could tell you. But she thinks this is the ideal we fight for. Defenders of the universe against Solarex?' The Shaper scoffed.



They talked until dusk. The Shaper had attacked at dawn and won at noon, and Ridge had been brought to her camo halfway through the discussion.



Her plans were simple, as were her aims. In her own words, the Shaper disliked strategies with too many moving parts. Something that could go wrong was bad enough without multiple ways to do so.



The Zhayvin had set out in the name of conquest and resources, marked by life on a world where no one could achieve anything without power. Ideals were fine and all, but unless they could be backed up and enforced by might, they were worth little. That had been what the reptilians had told their new subjects as they had brought them to their knees.



That had been the one thing they'd shared. The reptilians had not worked together, for why should they share anything? It was this selfishness, in the Shaper's eyes, that she had to abolish.



And, soon, she would. Many individualist Technarchs had surrendered to her following Ridge's defeat (what travelled faster than bad news?), either out of despair or caution. Others had shamelessly lied that they'd been on her side the whole time, but had waited until they could build forces worthy of fighting in her name.



A few Technarchs, gone mad with paranoia or despair, had thrown themselves at the growing coalition of the Shaper, and had died when they hadn't been forced into service.



All the while, their offworld forces had watched, waiting to see who was a worthier leader. The Technarchs had made a point of ruling from home, so the colony governors and their enforcers had been left to deal with smaller tasks.



'See?' the Shaper asked her inner circle - and Ridge, he supposed - as she gestured at the reports on the wall screen. 'No loyalty. But why would there be any when the little screen-clickers are left to run wild, as long as the ones holding their leashes get to gorge on their tithes? I am telling you, no real intergalactic civilisations' leaders should have to fight only with their homeworld's resources when assaulted. They could have only taken revenge if I hadn't crushed them, but at least the lackeys will fall in line quickly.'



The Shaper huffed, turning the screen off and looking away to give a few former enemies an ironic look. 'Do we have to go through why the half-independent colony organisation doesn't work, again? No one who tries that gets anywhere. Look what Grandia turned into because the Builders got greedy, or how well Xenobia is doing for not having colonies.' There was much grimacing at the mention of the Alien Realm. Well was certainly...a word. 'And how about the Starwheel Coalition? Only one galaxy under their heel, so far but they've never allowed even their newest worlds such leeway. Not one planet has slipped from their tentacles. We could learn something from them...by which I mean, I will teach you.'



And teach she did. Without enemies to sabotage her projects, and scientists to assist her, the Shaper made scarcity a thing of the past, with age, illness and the need for sustenance soon followed. Of course, by that point, Zhay had been reduced to a scarred shell. The destruction of the homeworld had not been necessary: the planet could have been zhayformed back to a pristine state, but the Shaper had wanted to make a point.



The Zhayvin were not sentimental. The Technarchy could remake worlds, but their home had been used and abused, drained of resources with more greed than care. The Shaper had stressed that this had been no mercy kill, no revenge against those who had despoiled Zhay. It had been a warning against incompetence and sloppiness. Draining planets of everything valuable was not the sort of behaviour she'd allow under her rule.



Ridge let out a rattling sigh as campaign aftsr campaign passed once again, seeming to last an instant, yet stretching into eternity. The Shaper had placed him in charge of the Technarchy's expansion fleets, following behind the explorators and building up or conquering worlds marked for being brought into the Technarchy's fold.



He did his work in silence, and found it good. Conquered every world between the orbit of lost Zhay and the worlds that clustered around Zhal and its beetle-like inhabitants, when the wars turned bad.



And all that time, he became closet to the Shaper, even as the void separated them more and more with every campaign. Or so he'd thought.



The Shaper maintained a harem, of course, as Technarchs were wont to do, no matter how they tried to frame the practice. She had males to fill her with their seed, so they could breed strong children, though the Shaper rarely opted for mating rather than artificial insemination or gene mixing.



The First Technarch's interest lay in her fellow females, though, a kind of coupling she had outlawed in the name of necessity. Everyone knew better than to care her companions lovers rather than handmaidens, and clandestine pairings were common enough. As long as they kept it subtle (lest the policy's enforcement highlight its creatir's hypocrisy) donated genetic material and contributed to the war effort, the Shaper was willing to turn a blind eye.



But Ridge had hoped, against all hope, that he'd be the one to break the mould. Hope to the point of arrogance? Maybe. But he felt what he did.



So, after the last defeat of the Zhayvin Technarchy - they'd all called it a victory, a great, terrible victory, but the truth was plain - he went to her. The Shaper had returned to her void palace and beaten her harem to death with her bare hands, putting the then-new genecraft to the test. Ridge had believed telling her he had grown to love her over the eons, despite himself, and that he'd always be there for her, whether she returned his feelings or not, would help.



Perhaps, in a way, it did. The Shaper turned melancholy, yes, but her wits returned.



'Oh, general,' she whispered. 'You are wasting time you should be spending with a female who can appreciate you. Not...'



'I surround myself with enough pale reflections of you,' he replied, 'to feel like a fool. I thought...I still believe you deserve to know.'



'Yes, yes,' the Shaper murmured, absentmindedly stroking her muzzle. Their civilisation was falling apart around them, and... 'They know where we are,' she said suddenly, referring to the Vyzhaldi, and those strange bipeds that bent spacetime and fought in tribal confederations. 'They will come back, for we would do the same. Do not believe we can recover faster than they can, general. They'll grow stronger, while we've sealed our worst monsters.'



Do you remember them, Zhayvin? The horrors you wrought, which could spawn more of theselves until the macrocosm entire teemed with them?

It was the Flying Death's voice, scraping the inside of Ridge's brainpan. He temembered, yes...and wished he hadn't. He'd always commanded the replicating forces from a distance, and now, the despair their enemies had felt flooded his thoughts.



He remembered the Spined, like sentient spinal columns crawling on bladelike spikes. The substances they spread transcended species, drawing possible hosts, and that had nearly got them hunted to extinction.



The Spined had never been evil, though. Without a host, they could not feel or think about anything but emptiness and a need to belong. They had never been parasitic, either: the Spined, once latched onto a being's back or equivalent, enhanced their abilities by an order of magnitude, while removing weaknesses and things like pain or the need for sustenance. And sharing the host's mind, of course. But they did not take ir weaken anything, and could be persuaded to remove themselves.



Then the Zhayvin had found them, and overclocked their attraction ability, turning it into a compulsion: perceived in any way, through natural senses, remotely, in real time, through recordings, the Spined would bring beings without mental protections to them. Once hosted, a touch upon their shared body, as simple as a poke on the arm, would create an identical replica of the Spined, an extension of their mind as much as a reflection of their power.



The biological ancestor of Warscale. Hosted Spined could not attract other beings, but their compulsion could freeze most in their tracks. Ridge shuddered as he felt himself crushed and torn apart by creatures he - they - wanted nothing more than to become one with.



After the Vyzhaldi War, the Spined had been removed and placed on their homeworld, lonely and bereft. It had been part of a disarmament program encouraged by the Shaper. Not everyone had obeyed, especially when they'd learned she wanted to stop waging war and find a new world, forge a new future.



She had led them to ruin, and now she wanted them to turn their swords into ploughshares? Free their slave species? Even the reassurances that it was better to let such beings go their own way than risk their enmity hadn't deterred some who still called themselves Technarchs.



The Spined had been the first, but far from the last.



The Qhamandi had been slated for assimilation since first contact. The towering, scaled creatures resembled quadrupedal mountains that could curl into balls, and everything that came into contact with them, or a part of their body, was converted into energy, with no damage to their surroundings.



The Zhayvin had built a species just to properly harness the enslaved Qhamandi. The Green Growth was amorphous, a collection of hyperdense regenerators, with the mass of hypergiant stars compressed into bodies the size of a fly's eyes. Upon contact with a Qathmandi, tremendous power could be obtained, especially since the Growth grew more numerous with every self-replicating generation.



Ridge shuddered, not even knowing where he was anymore, as he felt himself filled with Green Growth, moulded by gravitic fields so they would only burst through his body due to numbers. The Zhayvin had done this to defiant prisoners, and their half-dead bodies had then been fed to the Qathmandi.



Ridge felt he should have let out a bloodcurling shriek as he felt the matter making him up change at the most fundamental level, but his jaws felt locked. And he's always so enjoyed doing this to others...he'd hated it when they didn't scream, he rembered. Frigid void, how glad he was he'd changed...for the...bette-



Coldness suddenly speared Ridge, and he managed a choked gasp at the change of temperature. What...what now? More...monsters?



More. The Zhayvin had made and remade countless abominations to use as war beasts.



A black sun rose in an empty sky - the Black Sun. Shining with impossible light, orbited by its Cold Worlds and their Mad Moons. Invulnerable, the idea of the immovable object made reality by the cold sciences of the Zhayvin. They could appear almost anywhere and anywhen they wished, save for a handful of warded strongholds. Anti-teleportation defences were useless, for the Bleak System did not cheat distance. It simply moved, with no care for it or time.



Anyone and anything that perceived a component of the Bleak System, or heard or read a description of it, saw a painting or depiction, had their line of sight filled with identical clones of themselves, constructs of the living celestial bodies, their hands and eyes in the world. A human would have found themselves surrounded by a horizon-spanning army by glancing at a Mad Moon, but against aliens or machines with sharper senses, forces that could have toppled empires could be born from a look. The Zhayvin had used this to great effect to replenish themselves, and, at the end of their wars, had sealed the willing Bleak System in an unbreakable sphere. Nothing could leave or enter, look in or out, and the Zhayvin counted themselves lucky that the System had turned contemplative.



As he briefly found himself surrounded by a sea of scowling faces - his own - Ridge understood why the Black Sun rising in a cloudless sky had heralded doom on so many worlds.



And then...then, the Grand Harvest. How fitting, to come at the end (he dared to hope) of this nightmare, when he was too tired to hate and rage and contemplate fear anymore. It had always made for a great weapon of terror.



To Ridge, it appeared as an amalgam of spinning blades and creatures like winged lampreys, the pests that had plagued the prehistoric Zhayvin's attempts to raise something from the sands of their world. What passed for its face was dominated by a gaping maw, filled with rows of fangs, that overshadowed its eyes, even if they were larger than any star and brighter than any hypernova.



At its side, as always, was the thing that called itself Argent Walker, the Herald of Hunger. Argent could develop whatever powers and prowess he needed to pave the way for the Harvest, soften the targets it chose.



The Zhayvin hadn't known what the Grand Harvest was when they'd found it, and recently learning the truth had brought them no joy. They'd had their theories, yes, everything from a runaway war machine to a Gardener gone mad, eating its errant children, but the Harvest had warned them not to pry. Even so, they'd managed to forge an alliance. A flimsy one, relying on the reptilians being able to point out interesting potential meals for the Harvest, but at least it had fought alongside them.



So had its Harvested. The reptilians had craved weapons that could spell their enemies defeat just by being observed, and, with their help, the Harvest had broadened the scope of its powers. Recreating what it consumed had been expanded into an ability that could hardly be stalemated by most. Like the Bleak System, those who perceived the Grand Harvested started being assaulted by replicas of themselves. First one, then two, four, never stopping, always increasing, doubling every unit of time the observers could perceive. In ten seconds, a human would have been surrounded by five hundred and twelve clones, but destroying those would have done nothing.



The process was automatic. As long as the observer alive, the number of clones would double every moment, until they either killed themselves or died to their mirrors under the Harvest's control. It was automatic, and like the power of every multiplying monster the Zhayvin had employed, worked on everything from nanomachines to space fleets.



The Grand Harvest had split off from the reptilians without much fuss. It had only ever been a mercenary, despite their conviction they could make it follow them. At least it had taken their clones with it, and recalled all subsequent ones to it since then, moving them through creation through will alone.



Ridge twitched and shuddered as he felt himself cut open by the Harvest's blades, even as its myriad mouths devoured him from the inside. He understood now. The Flying Death wanted him to break, to give in, so it could do whatever it truly wanted to. It expected him to be crushed under the weight of past atrocities, and he was sure he would be made to relive them if he persisted in...in...



Rudge didn't know what he was resisting for, except the eternal reasons. He was Zhayvin. It was his purpose to bear the torch of enlightenment into the darkness of ignorance, dispersing shadows such as this creature's sadism.



If that was why it was torturing him. He somehow doubted this had anything to do with justice, if only because Flying Deaths did not work that way. Almost certainly, it was some aberrant, bearing the guise of a monster of yore, for the sake of cruelty. He would not surrender to that. He could not. That was not who he was.



He had to forge on, for...



'You don't even remember, do you?' the Flying Death sneered, snatching him up in a cold tendril. The charred, mangled ruin that had become of Ridge's body wanted to fall apart in its cold grasps, but the Flying Death kept that at bay, by some means. 'You don't know what you fight for, and how could you? Faithless!'



Even as the monster tore at him, roaring invective, Ridge tried to look inward. He had only a hypothesis, but what scientist would he be if he didn't have the force if will to test it? And even if he failed...well. Not like it would make this any worse.



He, Ridge believed, had focused too much on the present, this recreation of a past steeped in blood. He had forgotten to remember what mattered.



And so, as his body crumbled into ruin, Ridge of the Reptilian Collective closed his eyes, and began something like a prayer.



This was, he believed, something of a milestone in Zhayvin history. Religion had never agreed with them, but one did not need to worship in order to have faith.



'Shaper,' he rasped through bubbling, melting lips. As if trying to compensate for the Flying Death's freezing grip, his body had overheated to an impossible degree, and was now smoking. 'If you can hear this...I have always loved you. Not just the form of flesh I met. The shining intellect whose foundation and core that became. The civilisation we've built together, for the sake of knowledge, and the ones we've nurtured on Earth.'



He gulped, blood steaming in his gaping throat. 'I only wish I had been able to help more, before this death. I do not know how I came to be like this, but I hope...' No. 'I know you will remember me as I was.'



With a contemptuous sound, the Flying Death tightened its tendril, and Ridge died once again.



And, in the heart of the Reptilian Collective, Ridge opened its eyes, as the memories of a being who had never been it, but had always believed it was, joined its own.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Coldest of Wars, part 2

* * *
The reptilian stood up, Warscale colourless as it rose in the middle of a bare room. Ridge's starscraper floor was more spartan than those of most, and he had always rolled its eyes at those who claimed it was a hidebound old miser.



As it strode forward, it felt the Shaper's presence intensify at its side. It was one with the Zhayvin as they were one with it, which was how Ridge could feel everyone else in the Collective gearing up as it had. But ever since they'd delved into the Realm Of Ideas that represented the deepest level of the macrocosm, the Shaper, and its Collective, had gained new powers. Mastery of technology in a sincerely conceptual manner, for one.



The Shaper's avatar appeared, a metre-tall, light green reptilian crouching atop the shoulders of the Unscarred Prime. When it spoke, every reptilian heard it in the core of its being, but they knew it wasn't addressing them. Just the way its eyes were trained on the outside, beyond the Collective's borders, was indication enough.



Of course, given the limits of physicality, one would normally have been unable to tell the Shaper was looking beyond its realm, rather than, for example, a point on one of Ridge's walls.



And beyond those walls - not of the building; of the realm it embodied in a purer manner than some of its inhabitants might have believed, beyond the walls of the Collective, outside the sphere of craft and knowledge the Zhayvin had laboured to create and defend, the creature that had taunted the false Ridge lurked.



It was circling, as its ilk were wont to do. Like an animal beyond the circle of light cast by a bonfire, or an invader outside a city's walls. It had shed the shape of the Zhayvi's skyborne bane, though it had never hid its spite.



'And in that,' the Shaper murmured as the Collective mulled over its previous thought, 'is proof of its honesty. For what is there to it except spite?'



'You have a hypothesis,' Ridge said through the reptilians' network.



'Oh, I think it has been all but proven,' the First Scientist replied. 'Some time ago...not too long ago - but, ah, we are still attached to the perspective causal; sentimentality is hard to let go of, when it does not harm - we would have thought it some sort of unusually active metainformational entity, the sort that seem to inexplicably cluster around Earth and its inhabitants.'



It did not have to be said that the Shaper considered this the result of intelligent design rather than coincidence. The symbioses humans especially, entered with Archetypes were not something that could simply happen, in its mind. Perhaps the same force that had caused the formation of the anthropocentric quantum separation effect had ensured these cosmic union...almost as if in apology.



'But it's not?' Mocker inquired while its body kicked its legs.



The Shaper shook its head, the Unscarred following. 'In scale and nature, it could pass for one of the most powerful ones, true enough. But we can see - yes, now we all see - the trail it left through the macrocosm as it came from outside. The residue surrounding its thought pattern is purer information than most things we have ever perceived.'



There was something like a rustling among the audience of the metaphorical forum that was the Collective's communication network.



'You believe it comes from the Prime Cause's realm of origin?' Mocker asked, its joy closer to giddiness than anything sardonic for once. The nature of the macrocosm's creator was still obscure to the reptilians, which, they supposed, was only fitting, but that did not mean their curious minds were less frustrated. Hence the various names of the being or force (but at that level, what was the difference?) being thrown around.



The Shaper shrugged, hiding a smile. 'We do not see why not. Our scanners are still being improved, but everything points to a macrocosmic paradigm shift following David Silva's plan to contact the Absolute.' Then, more subdued, 'Several aberrants swear that the supreme entity once dreamed the macrocosm, distractedly treating it as a simulation when it turned in its metaphorical sleep. Now that the Absolute is awake, it supposedly has always been, and the macrocosm has never been a dream.'



Such shifts had no regard for beings to whom the concept of time was laughable. Timeless or not, everything had changed and always been thus now, memories from the previous iteration of everything still lingering, real but not anymore.



The Shaper's reserved manner now gave way to harshness. 'This might not be the first extra-macrocosmic intrusion - the hyper-entropic aberrant they call Nightraiser claims to destroy such disruptive creatures on a regular basis - but it is the first we have encountered.' Its shoulders slumped. 'We had hoped for a better first contact.'



In the instant of silence that followed, Mocker decided to chime in, seeing everyone else was being awkward. 'That is not so, right? Our meetings with the Ischyros aberrant have always been fairly productive.'



The Shaper waved a dismissive claw. 'Ischyros has been part of the macrocosm since conception, and in any case, its purpose is closer to ours than not. It does not, for lack of a better term, feel foreign. This...does. Even leaving aside its goals.'



'Which we will not.'



'Quite, Ridge.' With a determined expression, the Shaper turned to face the not-Sky Death with eyes that had first seen the cosmos on Zhay, but which had been shaped by the gentler light of Earth's yellow sun. It saw, as the other reptilians did, a shadowy silhouette, rampaging beyond the Collective's borders, only half-glimpsed, as its other half was void.



It brought to mind images of horns and antlers, of claws and fangs and talons, of monstrous appendages, uneven and numberless. At times, it seemed like a hollow creature, like a skeleton that had pulled its flayed hide around itself. It was covered in something at once leathery and furred, feathered and scaled, chitinous and-



'It wants to break in,' Ridge said gruffly, the way a human might have done at the sight of a fly trying to ram through a window. In truth, the flly would have had a far greater chance at shattering the glass than the would-be invader had to scratch the first level of the Collective's infinitely-layered outer defences. Attacks that shook the macrocosm as a side effect, rending the substance of the Outer Void and leaving howling gaps, failed to crack the first screen, but the monster persisted, growing stronger, to no avail.



It did not stop to consider that, ironically, it would have been easier to talk the reptilians into letting it in than attempt to break through a barrier that was meant to ward off anything. The idea of a forcefield did not care one whit whether an assault was mundane or aberrant in nature. Escalating merely goaded the shield to become tougher.



The outer defences' second layer was based on the Grand Harvest's capabilities. Its false echo of the unliving weapon had not been activated, which was why the intruder hadn't been drowned in doppelgangers, but the Shaper had half a mind of going ahead.



In a way, it was thankful for this intrusion. The Collective's metainformational abilities, the absolute forces at their command, could not yet be activated outside their artificial reality, no matter the specification. Clearly, the Atlanteans still had them beat when it came to harnessing Archetypes. But, thankfully, the monster had done them the favour of knocking on their door.



'Actually, it loathes the thought of being in our home even more than the idea of us,' the Shaper corrected. 'Even briefly, to destroy it. We think you will understand shortly...'



'Let me in,' a voice snarled as the Shaper trailed off. Ridge might have not recognised it, for its growling tone was even deeper, somehow angrier, than the one it had used as one of the reptilian's ancestral enemies. 'Open your gates, that I might stride through them and topple your walls from the inside.'



'Who-' Mocker sniggered. 'Who talks like that?' Then, addressing the creature, it added, 'Are you begging? You should avoid gargling gravel before doing that in the future, it might make one think your are somewhat peeved.'



'Does your court jester speak for you, construct queen?' it asked the Shaper. 'Are you so cowardly you would cower inside your fortress rather than face me on the field of battle?'



At half of the Collective's bemused silence, the Shaper said, 'We believe its characteristics are reactive - that is, it appears as whatever an observer considers primal, in the most monstrous way.'



'That would explain the Flying Death,' Ridge agreed gruffly. 'Because my replica had been wrought in the form of a Zhayvi. But what's this patchwork savage banging on our windows supposed to be? Besides loud.'



The Shaper's muzzle was split by an affectionate smile. 'We have grown attached to Earth enough that this world's ideas of barbarism have become ours, as well. Does it not seem like the humans were carving their first spears yesterday?'



'Your affection for mankind does not seem relevant here,' Ridge said in a vice the Shaper knew the former general would have never admitted was jealous. 'I, for one, do not-'



'Ah, but you do not perceive it alone, do you, our friend? We all do, and enough of us cleave close to the Terran idea of atavism.'



'Just like voting,' Ridge said, vaguely disgusted. 'I have to watch nonsense because the majority is tasteless.'



The Shaper laughed at that, making the Unscarred place a hand on Ridge's pauldron. 'We are sure you will survive, somehow. Even this apoplectic aberrant, yes.' Tilting Ridge's armoured muzzle up with its other hand, the Unscarred made Ridge look up at the Shaper. 'It's not going to reveal anything meaningful about itself or its motives, you know. Except by mistake. We would prefer to weather the storm, and if it somehow forces its way past the Infinity Sphere...we'll burn that bridge when we get to it.' Scoffing lightly, the Shaper let go.



Ridge shook its head, a motion reminiscent of a dog clearing water from its ears, but less useful for clearing things up. The Shaper was affectionate towards most of its acquaintances. That was it. Nothing untoward.



Besides, the Shaper's feelings were as clear to Ridge as its own. There should have been no room for confusion. So, to brush it off, it asked, 'Indeed? You believe such a blustering aberrant could hide its motives indefinitely? That it could bear to do so?'



'You're judging a recording by the first frame,' the Shaper replied. 'Look at it this way: it's so angry, we're almost surprised it can communicate at all.' For a moment, so brief it could not be divided, the grin of the Shaper's avatar resembled Mocker's usual one. Ridge swore he'd find a way to delete that memory. 'If you ask it, if you let it scrabble at our walls and rage, it will tell you it is here to make us answer for our crimes, bring justice to the universe by making us suffer as we made others. But we all know it is not so.'



Ridge nodded curtly, directing its gaze at the monster outside. 'You lose,' it began, eyes hardening as it glared. 'Does that worthless wager still amuse you? You were so sure my clone would fall apart without our technology! That he would crumble without our science to strengthen him...fool,' Ridge hissed. 'Science is not a matter of gadgets and enhancements and implants. Those are baubles. The fruits of labour matter little compared to the thoughts that brought them forth.'



The Shaper's smile widened, becoming more serene. Outside, the creature had retreated away from the Infinity Sphere's first layer, and was now circling it. 'We would like to say that this will end soon, but how can it? It is, after all, a representation of the struggle that has plagued the macrocosm since its formation.'



And with that, the Shaper turned its attention to its fellows, and the Collective began communicating as only it could.



The monster, the Shaper was almost sure, was some sort of metainformational entity or equivalent, likely an embodiment of all that was primal, aberrancy included. All that could be achieved without technology, but manifested in the most animalistic, most destructive way possible.



What it forgot, of course, was that technology was the practical application of knowledge. Just because aberrants changed reality by means of their powrrs, that did not mean they did not use technology. Was the macrocosm itself not shaped by one's perception of themselves and others? That, as the Shaper explained, as close to giddy as it could sound, meant existence was, in a way, the most complex machine ever, if not the most stable.



'A few centuries ago,' the Shaper said roughly halfway through the lecture, 'some humans started thinking of their god as a watchmaker, and of all there was as a time piece. We cherish that analogy. Not the idea of godhood,' it added, 'for such supremacy is abhorrent, poisonous. There should not be a monopoly on power. It...'



The reptilians understood. What the Shaper cherished was the idea of the macrocosm as an intricate machine. It was more elegant than if it had simply apleared out of nowhere, for did that not mean a mind, developed enough, could create a new macrocosm?



The thorn in the First Scientist's side was the idea of an omnipotent mechanic, because it was plain that their - if there were others to be found - macrocosm was not under the care of a kind, loving being.



'Consider,' Mocker said, a hand splayed and extended, as if pleading with a hidebound audience. 'The Absolute might not be liable for its deeds during its "slumber", but it still ordained the macrocosm in such a way that an Archetype could cause its collapse through a chain reaction without a person fit to channel and guide it.'



David Silva's crisis of faith had been a disastrous moment, but, as the reptilians had learned, not the first such event a Keeper of DEATH had almost caused. By using the Idea of Scanners, and, they suspected, with DEATH's permission, they had glimpsed previous Keepers, and they had all failed in their own way: a bloodthirsty lunatic; a lecherous lout; a pacifist to the point of spinelessness.



And, of course, they could hardly forget about how David had only been the second Keeper to want to destroy everyone and everything. The differences between him and his predecessor were that he no longer wanted to send all creation to oblivion, and that he had recovered from the damage done to him to prepare him for his role - unlike the being whose power of destruction had nothing to do with DEATH or the Unnamed Darkness, and who now languished in the depths of DEATH Keep's Spiral Atrocious.



The flimsy cosmological mechanics, the weaknesses in the structure of the macrocosm and the fixed points in its history...it was little wonder that many had seen the Mover's Dream as a nightmare.



And now that it was awake? It still insisted on certain events unfolding the way they had, when alternatives might have spared suffering, and gave no explanation.



Perhaps history would have changed greatly if things had gone differently, but what did that matter to an all-powerful being? Why not make it so that everyone had always been as powerful, as wise and as happy as possible?



Was suffering worth that much? Was so much virtue given meaning through struggle?



The Mover hadn't answered the questions in the reptilians' thoughts. It hadn't reached out to snuff out pain and despair. Unmoved, indeed.



And that was why the Collective's plan had to succeed. There could be no certainty, no true safety, with the macrocosm at the mercy of such a powerful being. It was aloof and best, sadistic at worst, and its aims incomprehensible.



'That's all you managed to make him forget,' Ridge told his replica's murderer, devoting a shard of its consciousness to taunting. 'Well - that, and what the starscrapers stand for. He was so close to remembering, even with his new, stunted brain, so you drew his attention, and tried to break him until he forgot everything. Until the entirely of his being was a ragged, endless scream.'



Using its Warscale's tachyon field emitter, Ridge paced the length of its flat, speed tripling every second. 'Ambition, to reach ever higher, and plenty, for everyone has as much as they could want. They are us, in microcosm. No one has ever toppled our towers, not like that pompous self-declared god did after it made humans unable to understand each other, so they'd never reach its abode. Such potential to bridge this cosmos and the Yahweh Cluster...unfinished, yet destroyed...'



Ridge trailed off, jaws clenching. 'And our ideals? It took brainwashing to remove knowledge of that - torture, again! You bet we're nothing without our artifice? But you are nothing, in the end. What benefit have you brought the macrocosm, or any of its inhabitants? What have you achieved? And even in your clutches, that pale copy of me never gave in, never gave up. It just died. You couldn't silence a faint echo after you failed to make it think like you, but you thought you could topple the Collective?'



By the end, Ridge was almost screaming. Ridiculous, it knew. Pointless. The monster's hearing relied as much on sound as Ridge's did on scent. It would hear no matter how the reptilian spoke. Ridge...was being sentimental, and that, in a way, meant playing into the creature's hands. Admitting it had been rattled.



'We will bring about a new age, and you will have no place in it,' Ridge resumed, calmer, almost cold. 'There will be nowhere left for your ilk to hide. Hurting others because you can and want to, like we did in our foolish youth. We will make you a thing of the past, and then you will be forgotten. And we will not do this by razing everything in front of us, but by lifting those behind us up.'



That was, Ridge would have said, more than a promise. A...premonition. Promises could be broken, but the Collective's dream would become reality.



Some looked at the surface and stopped there. They thought "aberrant" was a slur, or that the reptilians despised those who deviated from reality. That was untrue, and had always been. Yes, some Zhayvin might have been frustrated by how aberrants broke every law of existence they thought they had understood - there might have been some jealousy there, for the Zhayvin had always been powerless, paranormally-speaking, not that they had ever seen it that way.



The Zhayvin were isolationists, yes. Partly because of their old pact with the pantheons, partly because of guilt over everything they had done. That most humans would not have accepted to live like them did not mean they shouldn't allow more visitors. As for the aberrants?



There was, at the heart of paranormal power, the seed of elitism. It could be inherited, it could be awakened or given, but it could not be shared the way inventions were. No human would ever be able to become a mage and a vampire and a were and...the aberrants suffered too, so many set on a single path, controlled by forces that were, in the end, part of them.



And, of course, some aberrants congregated, like ethno-states in all but name, with more power than any nation in human, history, because they often had no alternative. Who could understand them and provide for them best but their own kind?



And aberrants were unique. They were more than the humans they measured themselves again, more than the mundanes, the worldly - and less, in some aspects. The way they had quietly made their way into power had been inevitable. Even if only mundanes governed openly, it would not change the fact any decently powerful para could end them in moments the instant they disagreed with a policy.



Then there were those who sneered down at the powerless for not being born special, and at the Collective for relying on engineering - biological, mechanical, spatiotemporal, abstract - to bridge the gap between themselves and those who had entered the world with the power to mend or scar it.



The reptilians knew they could change that, in time. Their quantum entanglement was proof. By binding the information that made up their smalles components, and the metainformation behind and above that, to that of aberrants, they could gain their abilities. These quanta could be chained, so that any member of the Collective could gain any or all aberrant abilities. Provided retaliation did not occur.



And more devices were in the works. Ideal Scanners that could analyse the macrocosm and its components on a metainformation level, and convert anything into them after being connected to Ideal Forges. Turn a clump of dust into Ischyros, or...



​The Unscarred, as it often had been, would be a testbed for a new way to tap into power. If the Shaper was right, the Idea of the Unscarred would be invulnerable, able to be anywhere, and thus everywhere...if only such technologies and techniques worked beyond the Collective's realm.



But there was time. Eventually, they would achieve their dream, and everyone would have everything. All the power, shared freely. There would still be conflict, for insanity was a hardy thing, and evil even more so, but the Collective would never stop seeking to remove scarcity. Not that of resources, for that was a paltry thing, with their technology. The dearth of happiness, of safety, of love and respect between all beings who grew and dreamed and struggled.



Ridge turned away. Its contempt of the nameless creature might have been warranted, but it was an ugly thing. There was place for more, for better, in his mind.



​So, instead of continuing to bandy words with the monster, Ridge sat down, and sunk into its memories.



​This time, it was of its own choice.



* * *



Error. Error. Errors, everywhere. Every damned machine in this ramshackle ship is blaring about errors, Ridge swears, but that's only to be expected. The former Technarch is half sure the whole shot in the dark was an attempt at martyrdom of the Shaper.



They released all their slaves, cut off ties with their allies, and then, assembling the little working tech they still had, they returned to one of their few remaining worlds, creating an unstable wormhole, and sailing a starship through it, so it would take them where it may.



Rdige executed all of the few Technarchy Wars veterans who had disagreed with the plan. He's never killed so many Zhayvin in one day.



He knows the Shaper is half-mad, and mad with grief besides. Grief, for her people, guilt, over her conquests, mixing with doubt. If they die, they died. If not, they'll build a new, better life. Surely.



Ridge is not sure where this squeamishness has come from - sheer bloodshed has never made her recoil - but he does not care. She is the mistress of his life, the goddess he has worshipped in everything but name. If he does not obey her, who will?



They find a young planet. Still burning and quaking in the throes of its birth, and no satellites. Already, the presence of aberrants can be detected on it, even by the ship's defective instruments. There are other aliens here, too, and across the rest of this star system.



The Shaper looks up from her command throne, and a bloody smile graces her visage. Yes. They will make a new home here. A new world, for a new life.



There are changes to be made, of course, agreements with the local powers to be drafted. The Zhayvin must be remade, too, weaknesses and distractions removed. Sexual traits, mutations, overly strong emotions and wants, they must be discarded, so that the Zhayvin might look upon their new world with pure eyes.



The reeducation is decried as brainwashing by some of the ship's crew, as expected. Ridge and his enforcers take them and the other dissenters, and quietly eliminate them. Their personalities and memories are uploaded, so they might be given new bodies at a later date, and remain aware of their kindred in the meantime.



He does not regret anything for even one moment. For that to happen, he would have to think the Shaper is wrong, and that is, obviously, untrue.



He is the first to be remade, and she strokes his face in farewell, as he takes his last breath in this form. There will bee no cessation of consciousness, so Ridge knows he will remain himself. He dares hope this devotion will change something, that the Shaper will take him into her confidence. Maybe now, they will grow closer.



They do not. He is an old acquaintance, and they are beyond such sentimentalism now.



Ridge expected this would happen. He does not resent the Shaper. That would imply she is flawed, and...



* * *



'Sibling,' the Unmoved Mover sighed impatiently, leaning back in its throne, 'this is not the way things should be.'



The other Maker growled, before grumbling incoherently. It hunched over the table between it and the Mover's seat, and the other Creator reciprocated, the beings' hands performing another series of intricate movements over the tabletop.



Starlight Crowned With Ivory's creation might no longer have been its dream, but to it, everything from a zero-dimensional point to the Ultimate Void were less than nonexistent, compared to the deepest level of bein the Unmoved Mover operated at. So, thought it might have seemed it and its sibling were manipulating its creation, that was untrue.



​Starlight was fending off the other Maker's attempt to unmake everything it had wrought.



And it had started so well too! But, and it knew it was spiteful, no one would have lost much if this Creator went to sleep again. Awareness did not agree with it.



The Mover's androgynous features grew stern. 'Enough. You plop down your half-cocked attempt at a being in the middle of my everything, then you want to tear it down yourself? I will not allow it.'



​The Maker grunted. 'The lizards deny facts. They think they live in a realm of logic, with laws. They look down on power, true power, power like ours. And yet, without their trinkets, they are nothing.'



'And yet, they plan to better everyone's lot. A nobler goal than yours, I would say.'



The Creator made a cutting gesture. 'They do not realise the primacy of that which they call aberrant. If they share it with everyone, what is the point? They already disrespect it enough, but this...this is monstrous​.'



'Monstro-'



'When your creation almost died, who saved it? The "aberrants"!' the Maker ground out into the Mover's face. 'And do not tell me everyone contributed. An "aberrant" came up with the plan, and what have these toymakers given him?'



​The Mover shook its head. 'David already has nearly everything he could want, but the Collective would not deny him a boon. Be serious.'



The Creator looked aside, which made the Mover raise its voice. Its words rang out through the Ur-City, shaking it with power unimaginably greater than the nameless Maker's attempts to destroy creation. 'Remove your creature, or Ischyros will do it.'



The Creator stiffened. Ischyros had a certain reputation. Ur-mites did, as a rule. They were meant to encourage the creative process, both by needling the Makers and by entering the realms they crafted. Ischyros knew how much conflict and struggle could encourage and strengthen, which was why it could see strength, all strength, as easily as it could channel said power. It knew what to do.



'...As you wish, sibling,' the Maker snapped. 'I would have thought removing this eyesore from our city would make you remember your family, and treat us as you promised you would.'



The Mover spread its arms, one hand holding its sceptre. 'Do I not lead you? Do I not aid every unsleeping Maker in creating, advise them how to treat their children.' Lowering its arms, the Maker's voice became sardonic. 'Am I to forgive and forget because we are alike? Even though you tried to wipe out an entire civilisation because you disliked them? And then tried to make it so endless lives had never been out of petty annoyance?'



As the other Maker was consumed by a pillar of power and hate, its bloodcurdling shrieks echoing endlessly, the Mover lounged across its throne, musing about the foolishness, and the even greater cruelty.



Ischyros hopped onto its mantled shoulder, making it smile slightly. 'Not a friend anyone would want, Ischyros thinks. Are you going to ever let it out?' Softer, the rotund being added, 'it is awake, and aware, because it is in agony. Perhaps, if you let it go free, it will remember you enough to focus, create something good?'



The Mover laughed musically. 'Are you playing devil's advocate, my friend? Or perhaps, if I let it go, it will remain aware because it will hate me, attempt to strike back at me, or my children. It will fail in either case, and I will cast it down again in revenge. Why interrupt the burning? So the memory of a painless instant can haunt its mind after it is punished again?'



​Pretending to consider, the Mover looked up, seeing only itself. It was one with the city, and its inhabitants, but the greatest part of it. Reminding the unruly Creator of its place had taken it less effort than a human would have expended crushing a zit, for the mental gap between such a blemish and a person was far smaller than that between the Mover and its fellow Makers.



Knowledge was power, and the Mover knew all there was to know. Even so, the delight at crushing the fledgling that had attempted to destroy all it had built, in a manner crueller than any of its nightmares could have, was boundless. The Creator had malice to spare, so malice would be its lot, until it only retained enough awareness to scrape before the Mover's throne, and beg for oblivion, in whatever form its master chose for it.



'I am a gentle god,' the Unmoved Mover whispered. 'I do not demand, I defend.' It blinked. 'And yet. I let my children climb to greatness on mountains of cadavers, and you think I would tolerate omnicide, Ischyros? No...only through misery can such presumptuousness be repaid, such evil be punished.'
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: Therianthropes

* * *

AN: The first Family Matters sidestory storyline will be focused on the Silva family, as well as certain people close to them. In the meantime...

* * *

Classification: metamorphous aberrants (ability to change into the shape of animals or aberrants, as well as states in-between, while possessing enhanced traits in comparison to the "template" being).

Colloquial name: weres.

Origins: the appearance of therianthropes, in terms of both date and nature, is a hotly-debated subject among several communities, not least of all weres themselves (see attachment "Lore: Weres"). Weres are former humans and related humanoid aberrants (aetherkines, psychics) who have been damaged by or exchanged fluids or tissue with another were. This process of "turning" is inevitable and irreversible, as well as limited to the aforementioned groups of sapients. Other aberrants are unaffected by therianthropy, an immunity that has uncharitably been likened to a parasite resulting to share its host in the case of vampires and other former mundanes.

Description: therianthropes, whether they began life as animals, humans or other beings, retain their original appearance, to an extent, the process of turning mostly removing blemishes. This is a were's default state. As mentioned above, they can assume the form of animals or aberrants, as well as a hybrid shape. Most often, this shape resembled the were's default form "overlaid" with the traits of their beast (as most refer to the mental manifestation of therianthropy. Depending on the were's self-control and beast (for example, most tortoises are less aggressive than, say, a honey badger), the beast can range between something like a persona that can be assumed or discarded at will, a very active subconscious or set of instincts, and a different personality altogether.

As has been detailed in the "Lore: Weres" attachment, weres vary massively in terms of physical prowess and esoteric abilities. However, they are universally far more powerful than they were before being turned (it has been observed that a mage so saturated with mana they no longer need to actively boost their strength will become a stronger were than most, even if their beast should be weaker than others), with keener senses, an immunity to direct esoteric effects, and regeneration that will heal any damage not caused by silver. Experiments point to this having more to do with silver's metainformational abilities, such as being perceived as a cleansing metal (weres who see their therianthropy as a blessing are not partial towards this view, as it implies their powers are an infection or otherwise corrupt), than its chemical composition or other mundane aspects.

Mana and psi can also be enhanced by therianthropy. As mana is the result of one's body, mind and soul working in harmony, a stronger body and a broader, faster mind can help, much as the latter can boost psychic abilities. Provided, of course, that the mage or osychic in question can control their beast.

Behaviour: weres' personalities are most often altered by the process of being turned, even if only in terms of trauma, which can linger for weres who are completely in control of their beast. The beast's instincts bleed over even in their default form, causing them to mimic the traits of the animal they resemble, which can lead, among other things, to clashes with both other weres and non-weres over territory and possible mates, even if the were's rational mind does not desire such things. It can also lead to attraction towards animals, something most weres, perhaps understandably, prefer not to talk about. The closer a were is to their beast in form, the more the beast is in control, in most cases. This is another reason, besides power and the ability to communicate with both people and animals, that many weres prefer spending time in hybrid form.

More experienced weres can transform fractions of their body for a few moments, serving as a way for the beast to relieve stress while keeping the rest of their body unaltered. This de-stressing method is risky among recently-turned weres, as their instincts' spikes in intensity can prove disorientating.

Threat level: local to stellar, depending on were subspecies. The weakest weres vary from being able to destroy city blocks and outpace tanks shells in their default state to pulverising mountains and moving thousands of times faster than sound in hybrid or beast form. The most powerful weres are hundreds of times faster than light and able to destroy stars; some also possess enhanced versions of their aberrant abilities prior to being turned.

Neutralisation: reshaping Warscale into a silver-metamaterial alloy is sufficient for most weres, who can easily be dispatched thanks to the power armour's baseline combat capacity. The rearranging of preexisting materials into silver projectiles to be launched and accelerated by tachyon fields would also prove sufficient for the elimination of most weres. Goading a therianthrope and placing them into situations likely to make them retreat or become sloppy is also effective, although unlikely to work with most experienced weres. Also, any therianthrope that requires a Warscaled reptilian to combat is almost certainly capable of seeing through such ploys.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Family Matters: Silva (One), part one

* * *
Cloudshade was a woman on a mission.

She did not think of herself as such, of course, for multiple reasons, but it did not change her purpose. A purpose Cloudshade was so focused on, she barely even questioned how she could see the world around her. Hadn't Oberon removed her eyes? Or had that been a hallucination born of pain? It mattered not, compared to her quest.

Firstly, she did not think of herself as a woman. Oh, she was female, yes, though she'd have ripped out anyone's tongue if they dared to refer to her as if she were an animal. Women were the counterparts of human men, and of the males whose species mankind surrounded itself with, pretending to live in harmony.

The very word was structured in such a manner that thee thought of it being applied to her nearly made her grind her teeth. "Woman"...a man with something? Without something? It baffled her that their females (humans were a species for which such labels worked much better), clamouring for equality as they had for a while now, called themselves a word so similar to "man".

But then, the same word was sometimes used to refer to the whole species, so...she was not surprised. Mankind, humanity...equality, yes. As if.

Cloudshade did not spare much thought for the fact that, if she'd felt better, she'd have never busied herself with something as trivial as language. Language was a construct of civilisation, that rotten, chimeric madness that made Cloudshade's blood boil long before she laid eyes on any example of it. The thought, and that it still existed, despite her people's noble efforts, was insulting enough.

But then, Oberon had broken her. Not completely, not enough to reduce her to a drooling, gibbering imbecile, but enough that she'd actually listened to him - King Seelie. The Cloudshade who had been could have never imagined obeying Oberon, even in her most insane moments.

And that wasn't even the most frustrating part! She didn't even remember what that godsdamned bastard had done to her.

He...he...no.

Oberon's torture (for what else could it have been?) might have twisted her into something resembling his spineless vassals, but that wasn't the most frustrating part of this ordeal. Not truly.

He'd demanded she go to the Silva strigoi and his pet bitch, and apologise. Her mission rankled, as much as the memory of the order, but she couldn't bring herself to stop and turn around, and not just because she knew Oberon would obliterate her the first chance he got, or far worse, give her to his wife.

If Titania was even a trillionth as bad as the rumours about her implied, Cloudshade would much rather face the corpse and his lizard. Queen Seelie was, allegedly, viciously obsessed with making sure no woman (there was that damned word again...) her husband spent even an instant focusing on influenced his behaviour in any way.

Cloudshade had never met the old sow, but she had a feeling Oberon using special tools to torture her had offended Titania, for some reason.

Still...

The Unseelie bit her lip as she strode towards the gaggle of hovels Silva called home. It had nothing to do with nervousness - it was just a way to stop gritting her teeth hard enough to crack them, which was annoying, regeneration or not. And not just because she was doing it unintentionally.

Sadly, King Seelie's attention had reduced her once full lower lip to a thin, ragged strip of flesh, barely enough to cover the bottom of her teeth. The iron implements' touch meant the Fae had to struggle just to reach her lower lip with her upper teeth, and her rickety jaw didn't appreciate the motion. An iron hammer had left it half-shattered, and the ache flared every time she bit her lip, as if in protest.

Worse, the taste of her own blood seemed to irk her. Cloudshade's vitae resembled lead in terms of taste rather than copper, unlike the thin sludge that ran through human veins. Whenever blood toucher her tongue, Cloudshade felt her nostrils flare, and her jaw clench, almost reluctantly, until her teeth shattered against each other, only to heal.

It was the reminder of the torture, she told herself. That she'd been disfigured using artifice, and by King Seelie at that, hurt more than the mutilation itself ever would. It had nothing to do with her blood triggering some sort of brutish reflex. If Oberon had done something to make her bite herself, like some animal trying to escape a trap, and the process had made her react to her blood like this, she was sure she'd have remembered.

It was better than believing the opposite. More...reassuring.

Cloudshade smile humourlessly, an expression that did her almost lipless face no favours. She was sure most humans would've gasped, at least, at the sight of her, but she'd seen none so far. No patrols of the slave-minders they called law enforcement (as if there was any law besides do as thou wilt...), much less any of their disgusting settlements.

Cloudshade stopped, pulling her bland, shapeless garments tighter around herself. None of their vehicles, either? No aircraft above? She knew Oberon had opened a portal in such a location she could reach her destination with minimal fuss, in his own words - he hadn't trusted her to leave using her own powers over spacetime -, but the Fae knew Earth should have been busier than this. Even this stretch of countryside in a backwater nation.

Had King Seelie sent her to some wasteland? But that made no sense. Even at the relatively leisurely pace she'd been instructed (instructed! Her!) to follow "so as not to attract undue attention", she should have spotted something, with her senses.

Had Oberon tricked her into thinking he'd let her go, then? Was she actually in another chamber of his torture dungeon? This was clearly a subtler form of torment, as she hadn't been harmed yet, her tics aside. The pompous ape probably though he was being clever.

Cloudshade had only started contemplating a setup when a yellow-orange missile slammed into her from above, flattening her without so much as stirring a pebble on the lonely road. Mia knew her own strength well enough not to affect anything beyond the target of her ire.

The Unseelie rose on all fours, but a yamadium-toed combat boot crushed her face back into the road. If Cloudshade hadn't managed to glimpse her assailant, the weight and the odd shape of the boot, made to fit a zmeu, would have confirmed her suspicions. Mia had tried to stomp her to death in her first encounter, though that attempt had been less effective.

The ARC agent then placed something around her wrists that felt like handcuffs, and Cloudshade almost scoffed out loud. She might have been doing Oberon's bidding, but she was not going to humiliate herself more than necessary. She was an agent of cleansing destruction, tearing away the farce the wicked had plastered over the face of nature. The whore above her had no right to treat her like this, no matter what her lords and masters had trained her to do when seeing her betters.

The Fae thought about unmaking the restraints, but, instead of falling apart, they merely sent out something that felt like a pressure behind Cloudshade's eyes, and reality stayed the same.

Mia retracted her boot, allowing Cloudshade to speak. 'What are you doing to me?' she asked, turning over to glare up at the younger woman.

The zmeu's smile was as cheerful as her earlier one had been, and showed more teeth. 'We don't exactly have anything like antimagic or psilencers for most reality warpers, but we can counter the effects even if we can't turn off the source. Pretty nifty if ya ask me. Do you like it?'

Cloudshade managed a more genuine smile this time, though it was still close to a sneer. 'Strange to hear you say you cannot turn me off, but yes, 'tis an interesting trinket.'

Mia matched her expression. 'Oh, cute. Look who's learning some slang. You almost sound like a person! Yeah, I'm sure I turn you off, Shade. No ears, no nose, no hair, and I look like a dragon fucked a bodybuilder. Don't worry, I'd rather be loved than pretty and rotten like you...well. Looks like you'll have to settle for rotten.' The zmeu's voice, already resembling a lioness' growl, dropped as she laughed, which sounded like a series of cannon shots. 'Ahh...I'm not sure whether I wanna hug whoever rearranged your mug, or smack 'em for stealing my thunder. You look a helluva lot better now, by the way.'

'Thank you,' the Fae sneered. 'I'll be sure to send Oberon your regards.'

'Oh, he did this?' Mia scratched her head, tugging at one of her crest's spikes, while her other hand cupped her chin. 'Guess I could thank even him...before I bite his throat out. Seems like he hates your guts almost as much as I do.'

Cloudshade shook her head, biting back a comment. 'Regardless of how you feel about me, I am here at King Seelie's behest-'

'Oh, bull...' Mia interrupted, but trailed off, eyes narrowing, as if listening to something Cloudshade could not hear. 'Huh,' she grunted. 'Guess he did, eh?' The zmeu nodded. 'Goddamn, if I'd known Oberon could make you monsters do anything good, I'd have suggested handing you over to him long ago. Maybe we'd have got some goodwill and convinced him and his toadies to stop stealing kids. Guess we'll never know...' Mia's uniformed shoulders rose in a shrug as she smirked sardonically. 'Gotta ask the postcogs next chance I get. 'Not that it matters now. You're all done.'

Cloudshade's breath whistled through her teeth. 'That is one way to look at it,' she said, trying to keep her voice level. 'Now, if I may inform you of my purpose here...?'

'I'm pretty confused about that, yeah. I mean, the hole you should crawl and die in is all the way over there,' Mia said, pointing to a spot behind the bound Fae. Not waiting for a response, the zmeu kicked out, nearly twisting Cloudshade's neck backwards. A slap finished the process.

The Fae seethed. She knew Mia could've just kicked her head all the way around - the slap had been pure spite. As her neck and bones realigned, Cloudshade tried not to spit at the overgrown maggot that had left a red imprint on her sunken cheek, along with five claw marks.

Smiling down at her, Mia placed her boots on the Fae's legs, before squatting down, crushing bone under her boots. Cloudshade made no sound as her thighs were reduced to crimson paste and bone gravel, making her fall on her back, hands trapped under her. She tried to shapeshift and slip out of the cuffs, but the contraption generated some sort of forcefield that gripped her flesh and kept it in its original shape.

Tch. Not clever, but effective. They could not simply nullify her dominion over existence, much less her own body, but they could counteract it with brute force. Much like the reptile above her was doing for her already awful mood.

'Don't try to get away~' Mia said in an infantilising tone, wagging a clawed finger in the Fae's face. 'This is your last day alive! You don't want it to last much longer, do you?'

'You cannot kill me!' Cloudshade screamed. 'I...I am here to make amends! Listen to me: I was sent by Oberon, who believes you and your lover seek satisfaction. He ordered me to remain after the apology and do whatever you two command, if that is what you wish.'

'It's not,' Mia replied bluntly. 'And I don't see which part of that is supposed to mean I can't shove your head up your arse and throw you into a pool of molten iron.'

Cloudshade gulped, in outrage rather than fear, at the mental image. How dare this thing... 'I must fulfill Oberon's order. Whatever your feelings, I must apologise to you. You cannot end my life yet.'

'Aww! I can't kill you cuz we're not friends yet? Look at that!' Mia put her hands on her hips. 'You have no right to sound so hoity-toity while begging. You have no right to beg. How many families pleaded for lives that actually mattered before you stitched them together?'

Despite herself, Cloudshade chuckled hollowly. 'First, you imply I am not a person. Now, that my life has no meaning...'

'Feeling's mutual, I'm sure.' Mia frowned. 'It doesn't matter to me, no. What is a life dedicated to tearing down what other people build? Meaningful?' The zmeu huffed. 'You're less than nothing. And yet, look at me, bantering with a terrorist...'

Living iron replaced Mia's flesh up to her elbows as he grabbed Cloudshade's throat, her touch searing the Fae's skin. 'Wait! Wait, Mia. I am so-'

'No, you're not. You're sorry we stopped you.' Mia's grasp tightened. 'You're feeling sorry for yourself, because this happened to you. But there's no room in that heart for regret.' The agent's fanged grin returned. 'Guess I'm not "zmeu" anymore, huh? What do you think using my name will make me do? Tear you to shreds faster?'

Cloudshade gasped as iron claws began parting the flesh of her neck, rivulets of dark blood making their way to her chest. 'L-Listen to me!' the Fae sputtered. 'I must...' but why did she feel this need? Oberon couldn't have placed some spell on her, to bend her to his will. Unseelie, like many paranormal beings, were immune to such alterations.

King Seelie must have done something else to her, something she couldn't remember, and which had obviously instilled this need in her by purely mundane means.

It couldn't have been her guilt talking. Of that much, she was certain. Like the musclebound cow crushing her had said, there was no room for regret in her.

'What...what do you want me to say?' Cloudshade burbled between gasps, her large, inky black eyes boring into the zmeu's crimson ones.

In response, Mia carefully cradled one side of the Fae's face with an iron hand. It would have been almost tender, if not for the burning sensation the touch caused. 'Your eyes are like David's,' the zmeu said, sounding pensive, before nodding to herself. 'You do not deserve them.'

Faster than she could react, Mia grabbed her eyes between her claw tips and pulled. If not for the pain tolerance widespread among paranormal beings, Cloudshade's shriek would have been of agony, rather than anger.

Before she could find her words, however, it hit her.

Her eyes? What eyes...?

Oberon had removed them, during his clumsy attempts to torment her. Hadn't he?

But she'd been so relieved at the chance to finally appease the ridiculous fool that she hadn't questioned how she was able to see again. New eyes could not have been grown by paranormal means, not when her first ones had been removed though iron, and she was fairly sure there weren't any alternatives.

Was she going mad? Or had she imagined...but what had she imagined? Losing her sight then? Or having it until now?

Cloudshade stopped screaming, drawing in a breath she did not need, as she felt Mia dangle something in front of her. Judging by the air disturbance...yes, it felt like her eyeballs.

Tch. Impudent child. She did not even have the skill to mangle the Fae's body properly, but what could you expect from a leathery winged ape?

A burning backhand smashed her head into the ground, before the zmeu leaned closer, so that her mouth was next to her ear. 'I caught that, you know. And every snippy little remark you made in that head of yours.' At the Unseelie's grimace, the zmeu made a derisive sound. 'Don't look so surprised. You think you're entitled to surface thoughts? Please.'

Mia stood up, almost turning the Fae over with a kick. With how it burned, she must've turned her boots to iron, too. But why all this grandstanding?

'You asked what I want you to say? Nothing, you moron. If you scream yourself hoarse before you die, it'll be enough for me. You think I'm the stupid animal, but you believed there was any chance David or I would ever give a shit for your excuses? Oberon knew this was pointless. Wake the hell up: he sent you to die.' There was a rasping sound, which made Cloudshade think the zmeu was licking her fangs. 'Why else do you think you made any progress instead of catching an iron spike through the skull as soon as you showed up? The Fae can't operate on Earth without advanced warning anymore...not that they were supposed to before. But we've got them by the balls now. This was all arranged, trust me - and you walked right into it, as stupid as you believed everyone you've slaughtered to have been.'

Mia's voice broke a little there, but not as if she wanted to cry. More like she was holding herself back from screaming in rage. if Cloudshade could've got her face to work properly, she'd have smirked coldly at the hypocrite. For all that she and her ilk bleated about being civilised and defending their putrid realms, they were chomping at the bit to destroy those they hated, like everyone and everything was.

'And you can fuck right off with that bullshit,' Mia said tersely, her anger turning as cold as her voice. 'You saw the world was having a happy moment, and thought "damn, but wouldn't it be great if we crushed that wilted flower of joy this stupid little holiday brings them?". You wanted to destroy the world as we know it, and why? Because you anarchist sons of bitches can't keep your hatred to yourselves?' The zmeu pushed a cold hand into Cloudshade's back, iron claws gripping the Fae's spine. 'Sometimes, I wonder if you're wired that way, or if you're just jealous we have better things to do than beat each other to death the moment we look more organised than an ape troop.'

'They are nothing without these lies,' Cloudshade hissed. 'Take away their baubles, and the humans you coddle would be alone, and naked, and afraid.'

'Unlike you, who are so strong without anything to aid you?' Mia asked drily. 'Well, you're in luck. I could've killed you in that first hit, but I think the cuffs have added some insult to injury, hmm? If might makes right, there shouldn't be any problem. I think that, by now, you've come to grips with the fact that idea starts to suck balls after you run into someone stronger than you.' A cold hand, covered in the Fae's hot, steaming blood, lifted her by the throat. 'Don't worry about not meeting David. I promise, you'll be seeing him every day left of your eternity.'

A contemptuous chuckle was the last thing Cloudshade heard before a fist smashed through her skull, silencing the world alongside every voice in her head.

* * *

I managed not to show any fangs as I frowned at Cloudshade's soul. The trapped spirit hadn't prayed to any gods, and had only praised herself. Something I was grateful for, if only because it had brought her to me after death.

Mia leaned against me, crouching a little to rest her chin on top of my head as she hugged me from behind. I grabbed one of her wrists and squeezed, feeling her smile and beginning to do so myself. Cloudshade's soul was coherent enough she would say whatever was on her mind the instant I let up. There was no chance of her losing her mind, so I let her spend some more time in a sphere of spikes and the storm of blades it contained, until I felt she'd been through a fraction of the pain she had put so many innocents through.

Mia let go, rubbing my shoulders as I turned away and began to walk the section of the aether were so many souls were imprisoned. To her, it must have appeared like a network of prison cells or the like, ever-growing as more damned were added to it.

The Fivefold and I might have agreed on many things, but I wasn't sure about her dreams if she became Queen of Hell. A finite life can't be cause for infinite punishment, yes...it sounded good, until you met some of the people I had here. It wasn't just the Christian in me (dunno how the guy got in there. Swear I'm straight as an ostrich's neck, officer...) talking, but some days, the idea of any punishment being enough for would-be genocidal headcases like Cloudshade, who wasn't even in my top ten trillion monsters, felt almost as ridiculous as that of them repenting, or redeeming themselves.

It's easy, isn't it? my strigoi side whispered. Thinking that they're only going to pretend they regret, out of self-interest? Beg for forgiveness or do as we say to spare themselves the pain?

I didn't answer the rhetorical questions, which made it chuckle softly.

Of course, that's not what's upsets you, is it, human? Not the evil in heart of LIFE's castoffs, but the fact that, even if you hated someone for their past deeds, you'd have to give them a chance to perform good works if they endured their punishment and wanted to be better.

Why are you saying it like I'd only do it grudgingly?

How could it be any other way? my worse half asked, sounding amused. I'm not saying you're going to take them to a paradise and plop them down in the lap of luxury, David. You'd keep an eye of them forever, yes, we'd never let them out of our sight, yes...but if they truly suffered and wanted to remake themselves, even if it meant doing as you say forever, you couldn't deny them.

That wasn't actually one of my duties as DEATH's Keeper, but my instincts meant something else. It's not up to me to deny someone the chance to make it up to everyone they've wronged.

Its laugh was like tombstones grinding together. That dead, bleeding heart wouldn't allow it, no. It must be so disappointing that you don't have it in you to play Devil, isn't it? Now that you can, you don't want to anymore. It's like that saying about giving power to those who want it least.

I sighed, filling my mindscape with a cold mist. Having everyone cower and weep at the thought of what you might do does not warm my heart.

You could even say learning that was the nail in the coffin. Fixer knew what he was doing. There was a grudging respect in its voice, and I found I could not quite disagree. Ned's purpose had been to repair and reshape creation and its contents so it could go on. Maintenance, and nothing more. Manipulating events to make me the Keeper I was now had been outside his purview, but it hadn't been a bad choice, looking at my predecessors.

And his plan to wake the Unmoved Mover? Even more so. Ned had wanted the Mover to wake up, but preserve creation so it could be left in the care of an effectively almighty being. Of course, keeping things chugging along would have been part of his duty, even if it meant defying omnipotence as it awakened and risked unknowingly bringing everything into oblivion.

When we met before I gave Ned his new duty, he confessed what he had been working towards, and that he did not have a way to prevent the Mover from forgetting us, or turning out to be evil and doing worse. He had wanted, and still did, to achieve macrocosmic harmony, so that everyone could become like the Mover.

So, I'd gambled. I'd given God, for all intents and purposes, the best existence had to offer. Not power; the thought of impressing the Mover with that made me laugh. Power was the one thing you could not accuse it of not having. You could have pointed at the various mimics and power copiers in creation and asked why they didn't just turn into the Mover, but you had to remember Starlight Crowned With Ivory was the type of being that could make a boulder too heavy too lift, then beat you to death with it anyway. Little things like logic, paradoxes and other creations of its did not apply.

And the Mover had been, if not impressed, then pleased. Everyone working together? Good. Very good.

"My son," it had told me during one of our discussions, seeing I was brooding, "I know what lays heavy upon your soul. Rejoice! For it is not something to look down upon your fellows for."

It had been referring to my doubts, I suppose you could call them. Yes, Sofia and Grey and I had reached out to everyone in a timeless moment, and explained how destruction threatened everything, told them we had a possible solution and tried to assuage their fears.

But how much of that cooperation had been born out of genuine desire to help everyone, as opposed to self-preservation?

"That is not something worthy of contempt," the Mover had told me, as close to stern as it ever sounded. "Indeed, it would be more contemptible to lie down and die in the face of oblivion. Is it not commendable to wish to live when threatened with such destruction, even for one's own sake? I say it is. It is a worthier endeavour than refusing to help because of some blinkered set of ideals."

A shadow had passed over its face, which had become slightly sad. "I understand that you wish everyone was noble, David. I do, too. But my children, your fellows, are not at that stage yet. Not all of them. The moment of unity you caused is proof of their potential to be better, but even then, there were voices who rose against harmony."

The Black God, and the Crawling Chaos. But I didn't mention them. Instead, I asked, "Why do you call me your son?"

Its wistful expression had almost disappeared, a side of its mouth rising. "Because you are, of course! Are you not part of the creation I dreamed into being? You, and all those tied to it, are my children, whatever the relations between yourselves."

If it had started rambling, I thought, I might as well go all the way with the questions. "Are you God, then?"

A soft laugh. "That depends entirely on what you mean, David. I am the most powerful being there is, yes, and the overseer of all that is. I do not allow anything I disapprove of to go on for long, so you can say I am the arbiter of morality, too. So, yes, I am God, David." Its smile had become brighter, though smaller. "If you wish."

"Then the deities so many pray to? The supreme beings of various faiths? Are they you, assuming different roles? Parts of you?"

"Perspective, my son," it had said quietly, like it was reminding me. "When creation and my mind were one and the same - for, believe me, they no longer are - everyone was 'part of me'. Now that said bond has been severed...look at it this way: if you cut off a finger, and it kept thinking, not necessarily like you do, would it be a different being?"

I nodded, understanding what it was getting at. "But since you are so powerful, isn't creation still fictional to you? As easy to unmake as it is for a human to forget something? Don't your thoughts define what is real - and if yes, how can there be anything separate from you?"

"Ah - that is the dilemma of the reality warper. I, for one, would say that anything that can stand on its own, without my intervention, is real." I'd got the feeling it had wanted to roll its eyes, or whatever dignified alternative supreme beings went for. "Of course, you will meet people who say everything is a simulation you can only escape by doing what they say, which usually involves payment and favours you'd rather not give and do, respectively."

Though I'd felt no hostility from it, I'd thought it better to make sure. "Am I bothering you? I can leave."

"Oh, no, no!" It had waved both hands. "Just thinking how little sense some of my once-dreams make. And this phenomenon is not limited to my creation either, you know. I like to think the other Makers are not imitating my former Dream's flaws. Intentionally, I mean."

I hadn't scowled deeply at that. My face just sort of moved downwards when I heard about stuff I dislike. "I gotta ask 'bout that, too. If you wouldn't mind."

"Certainly!"

...It would certainly answer? Or, it would certainly mind? Or, not mind? Or-

I liked it better when my pessimism didn't talk unprompted
, I told said chatterbox. "Right." Inhaling, I'd tried to smile wryly, which, I've been told, makes me look like a curious serial killer. "I suppose you get asked about the Problem of Evil and all that all day, every day, right?"

"Trust me, David: people will appreciate the power that comes with being a Maker better if they ascend on their own."

"But couldn't you make it so things have always been swell, and just have people know they could've been bad?"

"I could, yes. But you might as well ask why Earth's inhabitants don't remake its timeline. You know I took pains to make sure your development was not stifled by petty paranormal despots - why do you think paranormal beings used to be unable to even be perceived by humans unless they were believed to be real? Why do you think they only used to be able to do what folklore indicated they could?"

"And because of this barrier, many did not even try to make things better for those they were able to interact with," I'd retorted mildly.

The Mover had made a dismissive gesture. "Tellus still complains about that, but just because she arranged for my barrier to be torn down, it does not mean she doesn't appreciate what said bulwark prevented. You can go ask her son."

I'd nodded. Italy's senior Scion agent had, if anything, become busier after things had quieted down, but I wasn't surprised. The Tellurian Titan, like the Golden Guardian who ran External Affairs in Japan, had always loved creating good things far more than striking down those who destroyed them. Titan would likely appreciate talking with someone who didn't work under him and wasn't Elsbeth. If nothing else, it would prevent him from, in his own words, sounding too much like a hippie while thinking about the world's beauty out loud.

However, I could take care of that on my own time. It wasn't really pressing, unlike what had been eating at me. "The boon you gave me," I'd said, leaning forward, "makes me able to do anything it takes to keep creation safe." I'd have liked to think that, between my powers as Keeper and the weapons of the Neverwhere Vaults, another power that could make up new ones and endlessly boost me would have been redundant, but I knew better.

At first, I'd thought the flare of holy energy I'd received from the Mover had been meant to merely alter my being, so that I could receive my Keeper powers. But it had stayed, growing alongside them in an instant that had lasted forever, until they had become intertwined. Like a helix, defining my being as much as DNA defined a human.

"Quite," the Mover had said. "Any invader you stand against might as well be facing me."

"What about the other Creators? From your city?"

"Them? You can stand against them too, David. Turn them away, and more, if necessary. I saw to that. You would hardly be the first Keeper mighty enough to crush them into endless sleep." Its eyes had become hollow and faraway at the last words, which I hadn't liked.

"Arvhek was nothing that could be called a Keeper by the time he rampaged through your city." I'd felt his indulgent smile right then, making me grimace. "And his power is nothing like what you gave me, except in scale."

"Perhaps, my son," it had replied, its distant gaze becoming clearer. "But his grief is much like what almost pushed you to let everything wither."

I'd snorter. "No, it's not. I thought I'd lost my family, but Arv's is never coming back. And it's not like DEATH talked him into staying his hand by appealing to his kindness." Listening to me, you'd have thought I knew what it had appealed to, as opposed to merely what it hadn't. It'd been impressive, anyway, considering it had dropped the ball preparing Arvhek even worse than it had with me, which was saying something. Ned hadn't confirmed anything, but I thought Arv had been the reason he'd chosen to direct my training.

At that, the Unmoved Mover had become distant again, and I'd changed the subject, or rather, returned to the previous one. It, much like being flayed alive while gargling acid, beat talking about Arvhek. "That wasn't what I meant about the Makers, though. I'll stop them if they threaten our creation." I'd frowned at it. "You should've let me take care of that smug bastard who tried erasing everything. It's one of my jobs."

"You could've defeated it as easily as I did, David, yes; but you aren't siblings. That...was a matter of family." Sounding darkly amused, the Mover had added, "Children so often feel jealous when their elder siblings make friends outside the family. Your intervention would have merely fed its spite, so I chose to deal with it myself."

I'd conceded that point, seeing no reason to continue the discussion. I wouldn't have taken kindly to the Mover stepping in between me and Andrei, for example. "I suppose. But what if the next mad Maker isn't focused on our creation? What if it's tormenting its own, creating people just to hurt them?"

"Are you supposed to just stand by?...Is what you wanted to ask." The Mover had smiled. "Are you, David? I think you have some experience with a couple of people like that, hmm?"

We'd talked about more, and still do. Most people who want to talk to the Almighty do so because they don't know what it's like, but it offers you certain...insights.

Deciding I'd wasted enough time reminiscing - not that any had actually passed - I looked back at Mia, who was thoughtfully looking at the shredded web of spirit that was Cloudshade, arms crossed. I moved closer to her, a quick application of my power taking care of the half-metre heigh difference between us, allowing me to place a chaste kiss on her full lips. 'What's with that face? You look like you've seen a ghost,' I joked lamely, glad we were at that stage where she loved me too much to ditch me for being a giant dork.

It's never too late, if you ask me-

That's why I
don't, I told my mental roommate tightly, cupping one of Mia's cheeks. Returning my expression, she grabbed my wrist, holding me in place, then pulling me closer with her other arm. I hovered, to spare Mia the bother of having to hold me at eye level, not that it stopped her from wrapping her arms around my torso.

Her tongue easily wrapped around mine, being several times longer and considerably thicker, which was useful for far more than kissing. Her eyes were hooded, caught halfway through one of her horizontal blinks, and she was beaming, showing a glimpse of her knifelike ivory fangs, cheeks glowing with inner fire. Then, looking in my eyes, she said, 'We need to talk.'

Welp. I'd say it was nice knowing you, David, but I hope to become senile as far as you're concerned-

For a guy who refers to her as our lioness, you're sure a pussy when it comes to anything more serious than sex.

I am
not, my strigoi side glowered, the liar. And you're fucked, by the way.

You wish. That would be an excuse to keep your mouth shut, which is the opposite of what Mia wants.


It rolled its eyes. Our mouth has better uses when we're servicing her, genius. Though I suppose you might've forgot that, with how excited you get.

Its voice became almost gentle at the end, as did its expression, to my slight surprise. I'm always paying attention, ink spot. Now, are you done wringing your hands about the Scary Girlfriend Phrase, or should I call the waaahmbulance?

They're still looking for you since you escaped, huh? You might as well come up with a plan to hide. I don't think our zmeu wants to make love.
My worse half had a certain, heh, tenderness when it came to Mia, its usual contrarian attitude fading like morning dew to be replaced with an eagerness to please her. With how enthusiastic it was to be put on a leash by her, sometimes even metaphorically, it had almost been disappointed to learn Mia was actually a switch, which meant we topped half...alright, one-third of the time.

Yeah, I gathered. That's not exactly her "gonna multitask while banging you like my shin on a coffee table" face. I squeezed its shoulder. Don't worry, man. We're gonna pull through, no matter what.

Ahem - phrasing. Are we still doing that?

Archer still wants to know, huh? Tell him to piss off. I'm not getting badgered by a guy who calls himself "Duchess".

'Sure,' I told Mia. Then, in a lighter tone, 'Shouldn't we go to a landfill first if you're gonna dump me, though?'

Her eyes softened, before she blew out a breath tinged with fire. 'Don't be silly, David. I just wanted to talk about what's happened until now. I know your brain ain't rotten enough to think anything will ever do us part.'

Aww~

Calm down, you're gonna get the vapours.
'Thought you wanted more time to mull it over, or I'd have suggested doing it sooner. Sorry.'

' 's no prob.' She nodded at Cloudshade's cell. 'Wanna hear her out before we go?'

'That's a roundabout way of suggesting a threesome...' I muttered, rubbing my chin and ignoring Mia's tail as it lightly slapped the top of my head. 'I know, I know, bad joke. Hate the bitch too, but you know I run my mouth when dealing with stuff I'd rather not.' I ran a hand through my hair, remembering Mia's face last time she'd ruffled it and I'd pulled out a comb.

"A real man is always prepared to spruce up," I'd grunted in my best cigar-chomper impression.

"Why'd you steal it, then?" my zmeu had asked, sounding fascinated as she'd steepled her fingers.

"Envy! Envy, woman! I am a jealous soul!"

'She doesn't really have much left to tell,' I said, indicating Cloudshade with a shoulder as I returned my attention to the present, inasmuch as such concepts applied to me. The Fae indeed didn't. She'd been honest, if nothing: said Oberon had ordered her to apologise for trying to ruin what Mia and I had, which had been better than the insincere apology that had followed.

I could tell she was as unrepentant about that as she was about the attempted genocide. In her eyes, anyone who didn't live in a cave and ate insects was vermin, and it was her right, duty and pleasure to torment such pests as badly and long as she wanted, which almost always overlapped.

I doubted even Christine would've let her go, at least anytime soon. Even leaving aside the attempted rape.

"Because that's what you threatened me with, you sow!" Mia had growled at the incorporeal Fae, claws making the otherwise-intangible substance of the Unseelie's cage screech upon contact. "You were gonna have David and break me if that's what it took to stop me from ruining your fun - remember? And you knew he wouldn't have accepted even if he wasn't mine, but you didn't care about his consent either. What did it matter? He was one more parasite coddled by civilisation, only worth anything because he got you hot and bothered."

Mia's glare had persisted as she'd turned to me, though her ire had been entirely directed at the Fae. I'd hugged her as tightly as I could without hurting her, reminding her nothing would take us from each other. It'd been among the things I'd made the Mover swear.

"I will fulfill any wish you have, my son - besides taking the chance to grow away from my children. But I know you do not truly want that, anyway, even if you think you do," had been its response.

'Actually, I was suggesting she might be interested in asking you to spare her, provided she tries to become better.'

I shot Mia a bemused, disbelieving look. 'I know you usually need to write what you mean on a bat and smack me with it before you can get anything through my skull, but - are you serious?'

Mia looked displeased as she answered. 'You know you'd have to do it. You promised yourself. She can rot in there forever, as far as I'm concerned, but you care about these scumbags.'

'Don't misunderstand - I don't care about them. And my newest guest hasn't even felt a fraction of the pain she's inflicted, much less of that she intended to. She might get a chance to make creation a better place, but only after.'

* * *

Cloudshade tried to scream her hatred at her jailer and his pet as they departed. She knew David was not far away: he could easily create as many bodies as he wanted, not that he needed them to exert his will over creation. That wasn't what stopped her.

It was the bloody - literally, and wasn't that ridiculous? She remembered having blood, so her ectoplasmic corpus was filled with something like it - blades that kept shredding her. They were made of hateful iron, which hurt because she remembered it did. Cloudshade, who had never regretted anything, had never thought she would ever end up loathing her memories.

At that thought, a grating, mocking laughter filled both her mind and her surroundings. It wasn't Silva, or one of his puppet-bodies come to gloat over her, though. It was his patron.

Its ridged form was studded with barbed spikes, seeming to have no end or beginning, just as it had no shape. Like a tide of molten iron (the ghost's form quivered angrily as she remembered the brutish zmeu's threat), rising tall as forever to surround her oubliette.

For a moment, Cloudshade glimpsed a black-robed silhouette clutching a wicked scythe, its pale visage staring at the core of her soul, seeing all and forgiving nothing. Then, the image was gone, and the iron colossus was back, leering though faceless, spinning around her trapped form like a snake.

CLOUDSHADE OF THE UNSEELIE. YOUR INANE PLAN WOULD HAVE UPSET COUNTLESS PREPARATIONS, AND PLUNGED EVRYTHING YOU HATE AND HOLD DEAR INTO ENDLESS NOTHINGNESS - FOR YOU WOULD HAVE SHATTERED THE HEART OF MY KEEPER, BY BRINGING HIS LOVER LOW. THAT IS NOT THE REASON YOU ARE HERE...BUT IT ADDS TO YOUR ATROCITIES, AND THEY LAY HEAVY IN THE BALANCE AS IS. THERE CAN BE NO MERCY FOR YOU; THERE MUST BE NONE.

DEATH voice lowered as it finished its proclamation, but its following words somehow boomed, echoing in the Fae's mind. I SEE MY KEEPER HAS TREATED YOU WITH GLOVES. DO NOT BE SURPRISED: HE IS KINDER THAN I HAVE EVER BEEN. I WILL BE SURE TO THANK HIM NEXT TIME WE SPEAK, FOR...PREPARING YOU. A sound like a knife cutting open old leather followed. I HAVE ALREADY GIVEN HIM MY DEMESNE AND MY ARSENAL. I MIGHT AS WELL GIFT HIM THE PAIN OF SHE WHO SLIGHTED HIS LADY IN FLAMES. SCREAM, IF YOU THINK IT IS A GOOD IDEA.

As the raw, undiluted pain that was the essence of the Fae's aversion to iron, and every time it had ever manifested and would ever manifest lanced through Cloudshade's being as too-real memories and visions, she remembered what Oberon had done to her, too, and shame disgust and hatred at herself joined agony in an aether-rending shriek. 'AAAAAAGGGGHHHHH-'

I AM FLATTERED THAT YOU LOVE MY PLAN SO MUCH, DEATH chuckled.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidesotry: Family Matters: Silva (One), part two

* * *

'I wanna talk to Costi about this, too,' Mia began as she sat down on a bed I'd created in one of DEATH Keep's endless rooms. If she wanted to clear the air, the least I could do was help her get comfortable. 'But...after we set things straight. Between us.' Her eyes were pleading and wide, which made me spread my hands as I stood before her.

'Anything you need to say, I'm here, love,' I promised, noticing the way she was practically silently begging me to hear her out. I'd have been somewhat hurt, in the past, but I now knew how reckless I could get when angry, so I didn't blame her for her caution. Even if the thought of hurting her in any way made my dead insides churn, and my strigoi side seethe.

Mia nodded, grateful, before patting the bed next to her. I appeared at her side, clasping my hands as I looked up at her. Then, thinking better, I slung an arm over her broad shoulders, pulling her close to me. 'Whenever you're ready,' I reminded her.

Mia rubbed her face, starting from the slit-like nostrils she had in place of a nose, before paling her whole face as she hung her head slightly. I was struck by how human she looked. Despite the fangs, the snakelike eyes and the lack of ears, Mia resembled a human, at least in my eyes, much more than I did, and was more beautiful than most. But, hell, she'd have looked more human than me even if she'd had a muzzle instead of a humanlike mouth, not to mention hotter. I just had one of those faces.

'Just to be clear: I'm not saying our relationship's isn't gonna get better. Just that I'm surprised it's worked well so far.'

'Thank...you?' I ventured, getting her to smile behind her hand. before she lowered it. Mia was still in her ARC uniform, a pair of combat pants, boots and black turtleneck with the flaming shield symbol of the Drake division marked in white over her heart. The clothes had been modified to accommodate her wings and tail, which moved slightly behind her, passing through subtle openings in the back of her sweater and trousers.

You sure they modified the uniform for her tail and not that ass? my worse half muttered, latching onto my comment.

Quiet, you,
I told it, not trying to hide my smile. Mia took it as further encouragement, because she resumed talking.

'I guess we should start with the elephant in the room, right?'

'That's a roundabout way of su-'

'Nuh-uh,' my girlfriend said, playfully punching my shoulder. 'You already used that one.'

That's one thing you never tell me in bed, I thought. 'Whatcha mean, nuh-uh?'

'Nuh-uh, David. Stop recycling old stuff. That's my job.'

'Alright,' I said. The banter was a sign things weren't that bad (said every guy who then ended up in the doghouse). 'So...this big problem.'

Mia met my eyes with an effort, and damn if that didn't make me check myself. What had she seen on my face to make her uncomfortable about anything? 'I haven't been with anyone else yet,' she said, voice hoarser than usual. 'And I know you said you don't mind. That's a relief, sweetie, I promise - but I still feel like I'm gonna hurt you when it happens.'

Oh. that was it. I was gonna sound like a patronising shithead if I told her she was too great to worry about that crap, but it was the truth. 'I mean...what do you want me to say?' I looked aside, lips pulling back from my fangs. 'I'm pissed I can't please you all the time, and I'll never not be. That's just what I'm like.' I looked back at her, meeting her ruby gaze. 'But you'll never have to worry about me loving you less or, God forbid, lashing out at you, Mia. So you can lay that fear to rest. I can handle it.'

Mia hugged me close to her broad chest, leaning forward to whisper into my ear. 'I know it must look ridiculous from outside. Everyone sleeping with a zmeu has to go through...tch. Not everyone,' her eyes darkened, 'but most of them.'

'Mia - you know I hate giving you orders, but I'm going to repeat myself: I'm not going to let you change what you are because you're afraid you might offend me. Is that clear? There's no need, and I don't want you to. I wish your instincts didn't pull you along like this, but I don't want some quack to fiddle with your mind and make you stop thinking like a zmeu, either. Yes, it makes no damn sense. I'm aware. But I don't want you cutting out what makes you you, just because your boyfriend's stuck in the Middle Ages and thinks monogamy is the shit.' I raised a finger. 'And - though it doesn't affect my decision, mind - the way Nacht offered to do it still makes me feel slimy, because it knew there was a stupid part of me that wanted that, even if it will never end up in charge.'

Mia chuckled darkly. 'Yeah, Nacht's an arsehole. Reminds me of this lil' nightmare road trip back in middle school - I gotta tell ya sometime.'

'Was it at that museum dedicated to how the communists reeducated problematic paranormals?'

'Yep. I'd have never thought those things had once been zmeoaice if the guide hadn't told us.' Her grin was dry as she looked at me. 'Don't wanna end up as some overgrown scaleless lizard with twisted knees and no desires of my own in my head. Used to have these nice dreams about you getting sick of my lusts and deciding to put an end to 'em, made a nice balance to the ones about you killing me in a fit of rage.'

I gave her a dry look. 'What, did you read the Stepford Wives when I wasn't looking or something? I told you, just because it's satire, doesn't mean the writing's worth a damn.' Maybe I was just being humourless, but I really couldn't stomach stories that ended with decent people being mutilated for no reason, physically or otherwise.

Mia showed her fangs in a sarcastic grin. 'I'm past the age where I have bad dreams about make-believe stuff, David. If I ever need nightmare material, I'll open a history book.'

'I'm not holding my breath. You need about as much sleep as I do.' The difference being that she could actually go to sleep when relaxed enough.

'You're not holding your breath because you don't need to.'

'Yes, I just proved how lame jokes in this vein are. Can we move past it?' I held up my hands. 'Listen, Mia: nothing is going to change between us, no matter how many flings you have. It's not like you're going to fall in love or have children with someone else, and that's what actually matters to me.' My strigoi side's voice mixed with mine, creating a multilayered sound. 'It doesn't matter who you are with for a few short weeks, months, years...or a lifetime. You're still ours. And we, yours.'

As I rose and began to pace across the room - a four-dimensional extension of the dimensionless space that was the Keep. made for Mia's benefit - she drew her legs to herself, as close as she could come to laying her chin on her knees. 'So...you do want kids.' She didn't question the possibility, or lack thereof, of them coming to be.

Because it was only impossible right now, as she saw time. I'd shared my idea with her - less of a longshot than the moment of unity, thought it had me about as wired, because it was more personal. I'd told her that, yes, I could find a way to bypass the infertility common to undead, though it would take something of mine, not to mention restore every other undead's fertility; and trust me, you didn't want some of those people to start building families, and not just because they'd make shitty parents.

'Not right now, baby. It's not like we don't have eternity before us, anyway.'

She gave a small nod. 'Can I be honest? I don't really care for the idea right now, either. We're young, as immortals go. I don't think I'll be up for it for the next few...millennia, at least.'

I turned to her, spreading my arms. 'And that is perfectly fine. I know our opinions are supposed to matter equally, but it's not like I'd be the one giving birth or laying eggs, so I'm not going to push you. Not even after I trust myself not to be an aloof deadbeat.' Which would take longer than Mia wanting to be a mom, mark my words.

Mia sighed, staring don at nothing. 'It's not that I don't want...I mean, I'm not opposed to having any. I just don't wanna tie myself down with responsibilities right now. I wanna come back from work to fun, not more work.' Her voice was almost subdued as she continued. 'And it'll take a lot of work to be a good mom if I ever become one, instead of seeing my hatchlings as noisy roommates. But we already talked about how you don't want me to change myself, so...'

I leaned against the wall at her self-deprecating tone. 'Mia, I know my mad sex skills have your head spinning, but we haven't even been together for a year. It will take a while before we even get engaged, alright? Much less married.'

I don't know who was more shocked, honestly. Me, that a woman like her was willing to give me the time or day, or her, because I wanted something serious and didn't see her as a hussy.

Smiling demurely at the reference to my prowess in the bedroom, like the proper lady she was, Mia said, 'Right. Just hoping you're not planning to propose to me in public or something mortifying like that.'

'I'd say I expected you to be too confident to get embarrassed by anything, but I know better.' With a look even more solemn than my voice, I added, 'You have hidden depths.'

Her smile thinned, but the earlier glowing blush returned. 'Thank you.'

'Well hidden.' I wiggled my eyebrows. 'But I know how to reach them.'

And that was how I got a pillow thrown at me for the second time since we'd started dating. She's a monster, man, but I love her enough to forgive her cruelty.

Have you noticed our zmeu is much more casual about matters of the body than those of the heart?

About at the same time I noticed you talk like a hack's self-insert.

What?!

An incel's, probably. Mi mi mi, "matters of the heart".

You have no idea what you're talking about,
my worse half sneered.

Bro, if we didn't share a body, you'd be so single.

As it descended to the depths of my mind to sulk, I picked up the pillow and tossed it back at Mia, who laid back on the bed after it landed on her chest. Managing to push down my jealousy at said pillow, I said, 'Since we're sharing our darkest thoughts and all that, and you started, I might as well reciprocate.'

Mia propped herself up on one elbow, moving the pillow so that it laid on a generous hip, and looked at me with one eye closed. 'Don't tell me you wanna be a dad because the other you was.'

I blinked as if slapped. '...Would you mind not implying I'm ever gonna do anything because I wanna follow in that sad bastard's steps? Cuz I don't,' I said tensely. 'Thank you.'

Mia winced. 'Sorry, that came out wrong. I know you wanna do everything better than he did, so-'

'What, including starting a family?' I flicked a hand. 'That's not something you're supposed to make a competition of. If we ever become parents, it will be because we both want to be, not because of whatever our other selves did.' Maybe I should tell Mia about the other Keeper me, one day. We really didn't have that much in common. 'No...forget him. He's gone. I wanted...I need to talk about what I almost did.'

In moments, Mia was sitting again and I was at her side once more. I inhaled, using the moment to gather my thoughts, but before I could say anything, Mia placed a clawed finger under my chin, using it to tilt my head her way. 'No stressing over my reaction, you hear? It's over and done, and I'm still here. That should tell you something.'

'That your taste is even worse than I thought?' I laughed at myself. 'I mean, hell, I realised you're tasteless the moment you started sleeping with me-'

'You're babbling, David,' she pointed out calmly.

'Right.' I began wringing my hands absentmindedly. 'I'm never going to forgive myself for it. I'm not going to hide behind the reveal of creation as a Dream, or claim there was a point in getting pissy over learning what happened to Chernobog.' He and his brother hadn't been the first gods to refuse the creation defined by the Syncretic Treaty, and be mostly forced into irrelevance. 'I just used that as more material to rant about to Uriel - I didn't care what had happened to Belobog, and bringing up something like that just to have another reason to scream was dishonest.'

A rumble rose from Mia's chest. 'I imagine you're not going to apologise to Uriel, though.'

'Fuck me, no. He's a blackhearted bastard who revels in genocide. Like if I never got out of that dark mood, except I didn't get happy about destroying everything.' I closed my eyes. 'I just didn't care. Thought if nothing was real, nothing that happened mattered; besides, wasn't it all, every action, part of a dream.' I grunted. 'Solarex used to think the same, and look at him now.'

Mia made a rude noise. 'Right, because your first reaction to learning about that was to turn into a genocidal serial rapist. Be serious, David. You were never as bad as that shiny prick.'

'I still shouldn't have planned to do that. I should've been thinking about how reality is relative, how lower dimensions appear fictional to the inhabitants of higher ones, and-'

'Ok, stop.' Mia slapped her hands on her thighs. 'You planned to do what? From what you told me, everything would've collapsed anyway, and only didn't 'cause you stepped up. That's what you told me.'

I looked her in the eyes. 'That's right. And I shouldn't have thought about standing by when I was needed because I'd been through shit. That's the same reason I couldn't keep a cool head.' I grit my fangs, grimacing. 'I can't afford to throw tantrums like that now, and I definitely couldn't then. I'm not entitled to putting my hatreds over everyone's lives. I just wish I'd accepted that earlier.'

Mia was quiet for a few moments, then said, 'Don't know if I'd have got to that point in your place. Between Chernobog's bullshit and the conspiracy around you...eh. I'd say I'd have gone crazy, but there's a decent chance I'd have killed myself. Definitely wouldn't want to meet a me who lived through that, wanted to keep doing so, and was sane.'

I stared up at her, saying nothing.

'I'm not saying entertaining omnicide wasn't a total dick move, David - I'd be concerned if you ever started brushing it off. But it seems awfully convenient, for them, that the assclowns who elected themselves to groom you could only do so by breaking you down then slapping you back together, and doing so without being caught until after the fact.'

I rolled a shoulder. 'The Mover's Dream. Or its hand at work now, I guess.'

'From what you told me, the Mover is the biggest dick in the history of existence. Everyone could be living in paradise now and only imagining what struggling is like if it didn't pop a stiffy watching people work themselves to the bone for what it could make with a finger snap.' Before I could reply, she groaned, almost roared. 'This is why I've never prayed, and I'm not planning to start, either.' Her voice took on a high pitch. 'Oh, the gods will guide you to plenty, they swear, as long as you do exactly as they say. I'm not going to trade favours just to ensure a spot for my soul. Maybe it's a human thing, but I'm not scared of death. I'm not that mortal.'

'No, really, tell me what's on your mind,' I snarked, earning a lazy, narrow-eyed stare. 'You don't have to worry about that, Mia. Your soul will end up with me, like all the godless ones. Nothing will change.'

She hugged me close with one, kissing my cheek. 'I know you're going to take care of me,' she whispered. 'Now, why don't you follow your own advice?'

'I've never been good at that,' I answered. 'Do you want to know why I went around asking everyone but you if they wanted to live? Because I knew you did, but was too much of a damn coward to face you.'

Half of Mia's mouth curved downwards. 'The man I love is not a coward, and has never been. But what does that have to do with being bad at following your own advice? You just admitted-'

'Yeah, but I never practised what I preached until it was too late. You know what I mean.'

Oh, yes, I'm content with my lot. I have where to live, what to eat, what to work. I have several close friends and a loving father, b-but my books aren't liked by people I'll never meet, much less ever care about. Better kill myself!

Daily, I looked back on that choice and cringed. How could I have been so selfish and not give a damn about what pops an my friends would think? Or, for that manner, how could I not have taken the risk of returning as a strigoi into account? Which did happen. If not for my relative lucidity after undeath, I would've rampaged. Even leaving the danger aside, what if pops had been forced to kill me? Stupid, stupid...and so weak-willed, giving in to despair because I didn't have something I wanted. Entering ARC and learning how some people had lived and still decided to help the world had been humbling.

Or how about a promise I'd made to myself? When I'd advised myself to always see the good side of things? I guess that didn't matter for shit either, when I got sick of existing and decided I might as well let everyone be dragged along. If there hadn't been people to talk me out of it, I'd have done it.

Which brought me back to Mia's point.

Her nostrils flared, small flames shining inside them. 'Yes, I know. So you were an ungrateful moron - you shuld be happy you got chances to make amends, make things better.' She held up a finger. 'But don't change the subject, David. I can tell you're more bothered by how you avoided me than I am. So?'

I leaned forward, hugging myself. 'As I said, I knew you'd tell me you wanted to go on, and that it was stupid to decide for others, no matter how hurt I was.' I should've asked myself, even while I was doing it: why am I running from Mia? Am I scared of her, scared she'll be ashamed of me, angry at me? Do I want to draw things out for as long as possible, so everyone dies without me doing anything? Or am I just unprepared to confront the fact that, if my girlfriend tells me she doesn't want to die, I have to either stop - to my displeasure - or keep doing, essentially telling her that her opinion doesn't matter?

Mia caught all those thoughts, of course, felt them trail across the aether. 'Goddamnit, David,' she murmured, rubbing my back, one hand moving in circles. 'You should've come to me, and I'd have helped. Did you think I wouldn't have? You couldn't have been scared of me...' Her voice grew firmer. 'Look at me, David.' As I did so, she continued, 'If I'd have said no, would you have stopped and listened? Or would you still have gone on to ask everyone you talked with? I like to think,' she added in a deadpan tone, 'that you wouldn't have just ignored me.'

'I couldn't have,' I admitted. 'I care too much. I don't know what I wanted. Maybe to see if there were people worth fighting for, besides you and the others.' My zmeu needed no clarifications. 'But that feels so fucking stupid, in hindsight. So what if everyone else was a complete scumbag? It wasn't like I could've chosen to let them perish and save those close to me. And I shouldn't have wanted to, anyway. It's not up to me to choose how they live.'

I looked up at her. 'I'm glad you don't hate me, even if it makes me feel guilty as sin to love you, touch you, after that.'

Mia sniffed. ' "You are a better woman than I deserve, but then, anything is better than nothing, eh? Eh?" '

I boggled at her. 'Is that nasal voice supposed to be mine? And I don't talk like that!'

'Of course you don't, darling.'

She's patronising you, human.

I
noticed.

Not that there was a problem with that. I did sound ridiculously maudlin, some-most of the time. 'So...' I began after gathering my thoughts. 'It seems you're about as optimistic as I'm full of love for myself,' I joked. 'I'm open to ideas, if you've got any suggestions for improvement.'

Her tail swished irritably, twitching upwards as she spoke. It was not a gesture directed at me, but rather, a nervous tic that manifested when she couldn't find a solution to a problem. 'Might as well clear the air since we've started, right?'

So, we did. Decided to play questions and answers: she'd ask something and I'd answer, then reverse the process. Helping questions were added, since neither of us cared much for the rules we'd set, except the broadest one, the order. Mia started.

'I know you don't find me domineering, but you can always tell me if you feel I'm emasculating you. You know that, right?' she asked, sounding sheepish. 'I've scared off a few girlfriends and one boyfriend away by coming on to them too strongly early after a hookup.'

I gave her a considering look. 'Would any of them happen to be the cause of those marks you insisted weren't from fights back in tenth grade? The ones that coincided with your concentration plummeting?'

Mia glowered. 'I didn't say it was always unintentional.'

'Mhm...'

'Look, I took care of that shit. Got tired of getting burned in both senses of the word.' Interesting. Zmei being immune to heat, that suggested acid or the like. 'Are you really gonna bring up high school? You know it makes things weird for both of us.'

True, but it was a good way to get to the next point. 'Yes, it does, and I'm sorry. But I'm also glad you don't find us awkward as a whole.'

Mia's eyes darkened as she remembered the party I'd helped ARC organise, even as her smirk brightened. 'Oh, no need. You've got so many people doing that, I couldn't bear to steal their thunder.'

According to some of my newly-declared detractors, I was a pedophiliac piece of shit who'd been grooming Mia since ninth grade, and who'd followed on that by stalking her after graduation, before finally capitalising on a moment of weakness on her part, making her feel responsible for me after she'd brought me back from the dead.

It was funny. Their version of me seemed way more competent than I was, though for all the wrong reasons. 'They obviously don't know what a pain in the neck you were for most of high school. The only reason I didn't throw you out of a window was because you could fly.'

Class, describe the most important, for you, change your supernatural body went through during puberty. Motivate your answer.

What did Mia write? "Go answer go!"

She giggled, guessing the memory by the look on my face. 'You thought it was funny, admit it. Just because you nearly tore my paper and your desk in half doesn't mean you didn't.'

'I was actually disappointed by such a bright girl squandering her grades for the sake of jokes.'

Her face grew more serious. 'Ah, shite...I passed, didn't I? The past's the past. Like how we got together. People should be way more worried about why I'm robbing the cradle and obviously stringing a skinny old corpse along.' Her eyes were predatory as she said this, but her tone took all the bite out of her words.

'I don't know, Mia. What if their souls end up with me? I'll have to take care of them, provide the afterlives they deserve. And for that, I'll have to learn about them. Intimately.'

'David.'

'What?' I asked innocently, as the weapon rack that had mysteriously appeared next to me disappeared just as mysteriously. 'You know I love meeting new people and getting to know them.'

'No, you don't,' Mia said dismissively. 'You think people who annoy you should pay to talk and have a mute button.'

'I thought we all wish that. No?' I looked around, seeing only the most beautiful being in creation. 'Just me? Alright.'

'Just you,' she confirmed, with her usual crushing honesty. 'Might want to mention it next time you update your book, in an inner monologue, maybe.'

'I never miss a chance to brood more than usual, especially with a good reason,' I said fiercely, making her crack a smile. 'And, hey, talking about the book, you can always write some chapters of your own, if you want.'

'Yeah, I do kind of come across as a satellite character, don't I? Even in the sections focused on me, or when we're not together. And I wrote those.'

'Well, biographies never really manage to convey the full character of a person,' I reminded her. 'Even in the case of chumps like me.'

'Are you sure you're not just a bad writer?' she asked, peering dimly at me.

'Mia, please. That's the one thing I'll never have to verify,' I said dismissively, and leaned into her touch as she took my right hand into her larger, rougher one.

'The one thing?' Mia asked, eyes gleaming with mock-offence.

I chuckled. 'Besides how much I love you, obviously.'

* * *

Mia was unsurprised to find Constantin in the Urziceni church. She was, however, a bit taken off-guard upon being told he was also manifesting somewhere else, and not to rub elbows with religious bigwigs at some function, as she'd expected, but to, essentially, dictate his thoughts to the Archangel Gabriel.

'It does me good to share some things with my brother,' God's Mouth added in Constantin's voice after the explanation. 'And he enjoys conveying information of a less vital nature, for once.'

Constantin's verger, an energetic young woman the zmeu wouldn't have minded getting to know better, was making herself busy in another part of the building, though Mia could feel her love from the priest all the way from there. She looked up to him as if Constantin were her actual father, who she wished had resembled him more. Mia could agree with the sentiment, though Constantin insisted on reminding his verger about respecting her father's memory, and not making up some competition or considering him replaced.

After being told about her heart to heart with David, God's Mouth had nodded approvingly. 'That's great news, you two!' He clasped his hands, a section of the flame making up his face flaring brighter. A smile? 'You have my blessing, of course, whenever you want to make the next step, as well as any aid I can offer.'

Mia wrapped him into a grateful hug, managing not to give Uriel a piece of her mind. 'Thank you, pops~' she replied warmly. 'But we're not in any hurry. In fact, David wanted to know if you wouldn't like to hang out, slow down for a while.'

Though curious why his son hadn't asked him directly, Constantin agreed with the proposal. 'Of course. We'll have to discuss what you have in mind. I know I can get tiring, especially lately, with two voices in my head.'

Mia put the priest down and, shortly after, they were strolling around the church, though the zmeu was sure God's Mouth had left a replica inside, just in case. 'Well, a little birdie told me you've been encouraged to shoot your shot again, but I won't pry. I'd like to meet,' Mia's voice deepened, becoming sagely, 'the chosen one, anytime you want to introduce us. Provided you hit it off, naturally.'

Constantin's stride became shorter, his back bending until his small silhouette, swaddled in the black and crimson cloth he always wore when he wasn't wearing Uriel's modified armour, resembled a man his age. 'You probably know each other already,' he said in an unreadable voice. 'But she and I are barely acquaintances at the moment, so I won't bother her to take time out of her schedule too soon.' He stroked his storm cloud of a bear, crimson sparks dancing within it at his touch. 'As for hanging out...I do want to have some discussions I should have, but never managed to. We always think we'll have time...'
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: Vampires

* * *
Classification: hemovorous necromorphic aberrants.

Colloquial name: vampires.

Origin: the original vampire is Primus, who was cursed, in a multi-pantheon punitive in action, in retaliation for violently murdering his young daughter, a potential champion of and mediator between the pantheons. Primus would go on to turn various early humans, but, finding this first generation of children unsatisfactory, the Bloodfather would destroy or otherwise dispose of them by various means, before turning new humans, who would go on to sire vampires themselves. The process of turning involves a vampire biting a the neck of a human, animal, mage or psychic and drinking some of their blood. This bears significant metainformational weight and results in resurrection moments after the being dies.

Description: vampires vary in appearance, but all of them sport a certain unnatural paleness, along with black-slit crimson eyes, the red iris covering the sclera in stressful or emotional moments. It has been observed that the amount of melanin in one's skin dictates their appearance as a vampire, as humans of a darker complexion will have grey skin, as opposed to the chalk-white hide of vampires who were fair-skinned in life. Animals vary in appearance more, but all of them are affected by a pallor that could trick an unaware observer into thinking they are sickly. Human vampires possess centimetres-long fangs, while vampiric animals either keep their fangs or grow rows of them in defiance of their anatomy.

Behaviour: vampirism enhances the most notable aspects of a being's personality, which can often lead to strange obsessions or tics. It has been theorised that this obsessive behaviour is the reason vampires cannot help but count large numbers of small objects laid upon the threshold of homes they wish to enter, even if they have been invited. This very need to ask for permission to enter might be a result of Primus' experiments with his descendants' collective unconscious. With the Bloodfather's desire to create a vampiric civilisation, draconian laws are to be expected, given the First Vampire' known desire for control.

Across history, many vampires turned outcasts, criminals or people dissatisfied with society. As their worst traits were inflame by vampirism, this led to some concluding that vampires are inherently evil or violently insane; in reality, it depends on the vampire.

Vampires constantly thirst for blood, a thirst that does not worsen with time but can me momentarily quenched, with the necessary quantity of blood seeming to depend on the vampire; a mouthful of blood is enough to lessen a human vampire's first for fractions of an hour to multiple hours. Since drinking blood also enhances a vampire's powers, various blood substitutes that do not strengthen vampires have been developed, as few vampires have the fortitude to drink blood like humans drink water and not lose themselves to their instincts. Much like a were's beast, a vampire's thrist, as most refer to it, can vary in terms of self-awareness and free will, but is always looking to take over the vampire's body.

Threat level: regional (fledgling human vampires who have not drunk blood); varies depending on the vampire's original species and the quantity of blood they have consumed over their unlife. The average vampire can output several hundred gigatons of energy with a single strike, enough to vapourise tens of billions of tons of rock or deal serious damage to countries. They can move and react several thousand times faster than sound, do not feel pain (aside from damage caused by holy power, the only thing they cannot regenerate from) or exhaustion, are immune to non-holy esoteric effects and do not need sustenance, the thirst for blood being purely psychological. Some vampires possess enhanced versions of their species' common abilities (see attached file: "Lore: Vampirism"), such as hypnosis by means of eye contact, shapeshifting, or the creation of wights by killing beings through means other than biting their throats out.

Neutralisation: the Collective is perfecting its ability to channel the pseudo-energy of the theophilic metainformational datacore (colloquially referred to as the Idea of Holiness), as this is the easiest way to bypass a vampire's durability, regeneration and resistance to esoterics, and we would rather not ask religious organisations for help with every vampire. Otherwise, constantly destroying a vampire's body is an effective stopgap measure, as it is with most regenerators who cannot move their consciousness while disembodied, a relatively rare ability among vampires.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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