Dee had once again turned into her nine-tailed fox form and had shrunk herself to the size of a kitten, as she leaped on top on Mina’s head. She lay there completely exhausted, with her feet spread and tails drooping down Mina’s neck.
“Feed me, please.” She said in an exhausted voice.
Mina wasn’t the least bit surprised. This had become something familiar in the last few weeks, as the two had spent quite a lot of time together. Mina felt safe with Dee around, and she also felt good about Dee’s obvious appreciation of her talents as a cook. Dee on the other hand got to eat yummy food and spend time with someone roughly her age that knew almost nothing about her past. That’s one of the reasons why Mina acted so normal around her, which was rare for Dee. Mina had been a little skittish at first due to the way they had met, but had gotten over it pretty quick.
Dee hadn’t really had friends of her own age before. Although the Jun girl was couple of years older than her, Dee had developed mentally much faster due to her nature and experiences. So at least it felt like they were of similar age. Furthermore, Dee looked older than she was due to her height and her trained physique. There were some things that were more unfamiliar to Dee, whereas Mina on the other hand was more familiar with them due to her age. That would only become apparent later on though.
“Did Moirai work you to the bone again?” Mina asked with a sympathetic smile.
“If by work you mean she tried to attack my mind for the whole day, while I just defended then yes. Funny how mental exhaustion can be so much worse than physical sometimes.” Dee complained with a sigh.
Once Moirai had shown Dee the most common ways of defending against mental attacks, she had started to constantly attack her mind at the most awkward timings. The timings forced her to be in constant state of alert. Sometimes it was a constant bombardment of heavy attacks on her mind, while at other times it was a sneaky quick strike when you least expected it. Moirai had even once tried attacking her mind while she was taking a bath. Luckily for Dee, she knew the most awkward moments one could be attacked much better than Moirai did. She had used those same moments as an assassin after all, and constant alertness was nothing new to her. Dee was on constant alert anyway. Now she simply had an actual reason to be alert.
The idea was to have the mental defenses become something like second nature to Dee, so that it no longer required constant effort or alertness to defend herself. The goal was to have her be ready at all times. While the way she had to be prepared was new, the concept or constant readiness wasn’t, as it was once again something that she had learned among the assassins. The problem was being able to defend against the attacks while in the middle of doing other things.
It was planned that soon Dee would start learn to defend herself mentally while in the middle of a physical fight, and this was preparation for it. Next she would be taught to attack the minds of others, and then she’d be forced to do all three at the same time. If you couldn’t focus on all three at the same time, you’d lose. Dee suspected this would be especially bad for her, since her fighting style already required such focus on her own and her opponent’s actions. She suspected that she’d get kicked around at the start. It was already hard enough to defend against Moirai as it was.
“Are you still coming to the party tomorrow?” Mina asked hopefully. She was hired as a musician for a party the next evening.
Dee had wanted to listen to her play for a while now, but she had been too busy to really dedicate time to it. So she was supposed to watch over Mina’s safety tomorrow, as the community that had hired Mina and some other Jun musicians was located on the other side of the city surrounding the teleportation gate. It was not uncommon to keep a friend around for protection during the evening, and Mina still felt a little insecure to walk around by herself. There was little Moirai could say about giving Dee an evening off for a good purpose like that, so Dee got a free night as a bonus, while also getting to finally listen her friend playing.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’m looking forward to it. I just hope Moirai will be merciful with the training tomorrow. I wouldn’t want my yawns to give the impression that I wasn’t enjoying your music.” Dee replied with a wide smile, before she dove right into the food Mina was setting on the table. Even mental fatigue was best cured with good food in her opinion.
As soon as she fell asleep that night, Dee noticed that something was different. Grey fog surrounded her everywhere, and she couldn’t sense any ambient power in her surroundings. “This feels familiar.” She said with a wry voice. She already knew what to expect and followed the glow of a campfire through the fog, arriving at an austere campsite where a familiar gray haired and bearded old man was waiting. He still had that odd feeling of the passage of eons about him.
Dee once again decided to just sit opposite the man, and wait for him to make the first move. Judging by the symbol of the blessing she had received, the old man was some sort of deity representing time. Playing a game of who runs out of patience first with him would most likely be a bad choice, but trying to hurry him might be just as bad, and he had brought her here. He’d get to it eventually.
The old man suddenly gave a small chuckle. “That’s not entirely wrong, but my eventually might be much slower than you anticipate. To me, a thousand years is a blink of an eye, so I’m sure I could outwait a young one like you.” He seemed highly amused.
“You can read my thoughts.” Dee said, not at all happy at the prospect.
“Partially, and that’s also part of the reason you are here.” The man said with a slightly apologetic smile.
“Explain.” Dee said simply, her wariness only growing.
“Well, I should probably mention that I can only read your surface thoughts, and I could not read them the last time we met. The last time you were brought to us. This time we’ve come to you, and we are inside your mind. Partially anyway. It’s a bit hard to explain to someone not versed in such things. Suffice to say that we are partially in your dreams and partially in our domain, one foot in both places. That’s also why I can read some of your thoughts.” The man explained patiently. One would assume someone like him needed a lot of patience.
“So why are we here? I’m gathering there’s more to this than just a lecture about the nature of realms. As interesting as that might be.” Dee’s patience on the other hand was wearing thin. She really disliked the idea of someone in her head, especially in the light of her recent training. A rather ironic position for a psion.
“Ah, speaking of your recent training, that’s why we’re here. Or at least that’s why we are here now.” The man’s words were still cryptic and he was still reading Dee’s thoughts, which pissed her off.
Continuing with a slight chuckle the man said. “You see, it’s a common method for the deities to contact their servants in their dreams. They’re easier to approach, as the walls around their mind come down while they dream. However, the training you’re receiving will make this impossible very soon. In a couple of weeks you’ll be able to defend your dreams against outside influences, which is great against various enemies that would want to attack you while you sleep. Less great when it comes to us contacting you. We could also contact you while you’re praying to one of us, but you’re not really the type to do that, as evidenced by the fact that you haven’t done so since receiving the blessings.”
“So that explains the why now, but you still haven’t told me why I’m here in the first place.” Dee replied a little grumpily. She was a little mollified by the old man’s explanation, but only a little.
“That’s for the other two to explain. I just wanted to see how you were developing and tell you what’s going on. It’s the two troublemakers that actually had business with you. Normally this business would come in maybe a hundred years from now, but things being as they are…” The man gave a small wave of his hand. They had already gone through the why now part.
‘How I’m developing?’ Dee thought confused. For the first time she looked down at herself. She expected to see her normal form, but was immediately proven wrong. What greeted her wasn’t her original form or her angelic form, but something that was in-between and neither. She seemed to be made of pure psionic energy without a solid form or clear features, but she had some pars from her actual forms. She could feel several tails waving behind her, and the halo above her head. She could also feel the enormous wings flapping slowly behind her, moving the mist around ever so slightly. There was something else on her head, but before she had time to study what it was, the old man interrupted her.
“You don’t need to get it. You will later on, and that is enough. It’s time to send you to meet my troublemaking daughters.” And with a wave of his hand, the space around Dee bent in a weird way. She felt a twisting feeling in her stomach.
Once the feeling passed, and she could pay attention to her surroundings again, she noticed she was standing in a very dark place. Her feet were half sunk into pitch black sand and dust, and in front of her was nothing but more of the same. The surroundings were dotted with small craters, but otherwise the ground was nothing but black sand and dust as far as the eye could see. Except if you looked slightly up, towards the sky.
The view took her breath away. Very far away was a blue, green and brown mass, covered here and there with white clouds. Even from this distance the world looked enormous and she could see two large anomalies on the opposite sides of what she now recognized as a planet. The two anomalies baffled Dee until she recognized them as the two cities of Day and Night. One covered in the light of several suns, while the other was covered in the dark of night. One would think that with all the suns around the planet, this weird dark landscape around Dee would be also lit, but the light seemed to avoid the dark surface of what Dee now recognized as a moon.
“Do come in. No need to stand out there for the whole night.” A soft a seductive female voice came from somewhere behind her.
Dee spun around to see the source of the sound, and was astonished to see a large palace made of black marble reaching to the horizon. A palace that was definitely not there a few moments ago. Dee thought it best to follow the invitation, and she walked into the palace. As she entered, the ceiling seemed high enough to disappear into the darkness above her. Despite the size of the palace, Dee somehow knew exactly where to go.
After a few minutes of walking, she arrived in a garden filled with various black flowers. The garden opened up to the same view of the planet. In the middle of the garden was a gazebo made of black wood, and in the gazebo was the form of a familiar looking woman seemingly made pure shadow and darkness. That didn’t mar her otherworldly beauty. In fact, it only seemed to enhance it.
“Why thank you. Very kind of you. Do you like my humble abode as well?” The woman asked, also replying to Dee’s thoughts, showing she too could read them.
“I see, I should’ve connected the dots sooner.” Dee simply said out loud, while in her thoughts she couldn’t help but praise the view and the palace, although she might have preferred a little more color personally.
The woman gave a small laugh. “Occupational hazard I’m afraid. And yes, the symbol of the black moon should’ve been enough of a hint. Though you should know that my home really isn’t on a moon orbiting the Pantheon of Heroes. “
“Yeah, the part about your palace appearing out of nowhere was something of a hint.” Dee replied a little sarcastically.
“I’m glad you’re starting to put my gifts to good use. You have a long way to go, but it’s a start, unlike with my sister’s gifts. Shows that we have a better affinity in my opinion.” Umbra said with a slightly self-satisfied voice, suddenly changing the topic.
“Well, neither of you left me an instruction manual. I don’t suppose you want to rectify that?” Dee asked a little hopefully.
“I’m afraid not. One of our more annoying little rules. Even I couldn’t go around breaking those. The other deities would have a hissy fit. And while that would be amusing in itself, it would also be too bothersome.” Umbra’s smile and tone were not apologetic at all. She wouldn’t break the rule even if she could, mostly because she had more fun this way.
“Oh well, worth a shot. So how about we get to why I’m here instead.” Dee suggested. She hadn’t really expected any hints anyway.
“Either the old fart told you, or you should have figured it out by yourself by now, but both my sister and I need something from you in the future. Since we might have trouble communicating later, thanks to your training, we want to tell you what we need now that we have the chance. It will also help you in making certain choices in the future, if you know a little about what to expect.” Umbra said.
“I don’t suppose it would help if I refused?” Dee asked, testing the waters.
“Oh you can refuse. In fact, I’m fairly certain that you’ll try to struggle against the future I and Lumen haven planned for you. I personally won’t hold that against you, since that is part of the nature of chaos and darkness. However, I have a feeling you’ll find it much harder to fight that fate than you think. You could always kill yourself out of spite I suppose, but that is in stark opposition to your nature isn’t it?” Umbra looked at Dee with piercing eyes. “Yes, I though as much. You are fairly complex for a mortal but survival is still at the very core to your being. You’d let the world burn rather than die, wouldn’t you?”
Dee wanted to argue, but wasn’t entirely sure Umbra was wrong. That said, she also realized that whatever she might be now, she might also be something very different in the future. Some races had sayings about people being unable to change, but that only applied when the timeframe was counted in decades. With the passing of centuries and millennia everyone changed.
“If that thought makes you happier, then go ahead and strive for it. Change is at the very core of what we are. Some things never change though, and you will not take the coward’s way out to avoid your future.” Umbra said, her tone making it clear she was confident in her assumptions.
“You’ve made a couple of remarks about ‘our’ nature, change and chaos already.” Dee used air quotes when she said ‘our’ and her emphasis on the word chaos was a little different from Umbra’s. “Care to explain further?”
Umbra was happy to oblige. “I assume you think you know something about the nature of darkness, light, chaos and order. It might be better to let go of those pre-conceived notions. The mortals usually get things wrong, most of the time on purpose. It serves their purposes, you see.”
“Well then I suppose it’s good that I can get the totally unbiased thoughts of the Goddess of Darkness.” Dee pointed out a little sarcastically.
Umbra only laughed at the barb. “Of course I’m biased, so you’ll have to make your own conclusions, but you’ll note that I actually have very little reason to twist the truth too much. I’m rather proud of my nature. I sense however that you find it a little odd that a goddess of darkness is so tied to chaos.”
“Well, now that you mention it, I know that there’s a god of order, so it would make sense that there would be a god of chaos as well. Yet you seem to talk as if it is part of your domain.” Dee replied.
“Very astute of you. That’s also the reason why my sister will always be weaker than me. Her domain and the domain of order are connected by common interests, but they also have their differences. While there are several deities that represent chaos, when everyone thinks of chaos, they think of me in addition to my role as the Goddess of Darkness. That’s because these two domains are inexorably linked, both because of our nature as well as the beliefs of the people that serve me. In the minds of the believers, there’s no real difference between darkness and chaos and so it goes for us. Why that is, is harder to explain but I can give you some of the reasons, as they also apply to what I want from you in the future.” Umbra explained.
Dee simply waved for the goddess to continue, as the talkative deity was a great source of information.
“At its very roots, chaos is all about two things, both of which are embodied in the question that represents us. What do you want? Chaos is all about change and the individual’s desires and will to change their lot in life. At its worst, this leads to wars, destruction, exploitation and trampling on the wills of others, which is why both darkness and chaos are associated with evil. While order and light are associated with the good of the many, stability and stagnation, chaos and darkness are about the desires and good of the individual. Those that dabble in philosophy call it the battle between individualism and collectivism, though that doesn’t really tell the whole story.
At its best, this focus on change leads to progress, innovation and the good of everyone. The good of self doesn’t have to be in conflict with the good of many. The mortals tend to forget this. Without change, all we’d have is stagnation and strict adherence to hierarchy as people wouldn’t strive to better themselves. That stagnation and adherence to strict structure is the downfall of order and light. As for darkness, well most things that drive change are connected to darkness. Either thorough the fear of the dark, or the machinations hidden in shadows from the prying eyes of those that would stand against change. Creatures of the dark are also usually the ones that cause the most change and chaos, although that too contributes to the feeling that change and darkness are evil because that change is often brought about by the shedding of blood and the suffering of those that get crushed under the wheel of change.”
“And what would Lumen say about this?” Dee asked shrewdly.
“Actually pretty much the same. She of course would emphasize the good points of her domain, and the bad points of mine, but I already mentioned the latter ones. I probably should mention something about the good of her domain, something trite about harmony, sense of belonging and the strength of the group versus the strength of the individual. You get the idea.” Umbra scoffed at her sister’s domain.
“And that brings us to the point of this visit. Why am I here?” Dee suddenly prompted, noticing that they were straying too far from the real issue.
“Ah yes. I’m sure you have noticed that I’m not too worried even though ostensibly the bastion of my side, the thirteen hells have been destroyed, along with most of the demon kind. That’s because chaos and change can never be defeated. We can be suppressed, but as long as there are living beings, there are those who will desire change. And the power created by those desires will sooner or later find a way. The question then becomes, what outlet will that power create?
Have you ever wondered how the forces of darkness and chaos can stand against the forces of light? I mean yes, numbers, sure, but we can never properly bring the numbers to bear, since our nature prevents us from true cooperation as that would require putting the good of others above our own. The light side doesn’t have this problem, as they almost gleefully join forces to stand against us. So why did the stalemate between angels and demons last so long?” Umbra posed a question to Dee.
Dee gave the question a long consideration before answering. “Well, as the side focused on individual power, one would think you would have the strongest individuals.”
“Correct. The old stories are always about a ragtag group of heroes challenging the demon lord, who stands against them alone. Yes usually with an army threatening to end the world, but it always comes to a confrontation between the lone demon lord against the group of heroes. Maybe one of the heroes is the focus and finally deals the final blow, but it’s always accompanied with jibber-jabber about the power of friendship, love or their dead companions standing with them in spirit. Now where the stories usually fail, is the part where the lone demon lord always loses. In reality it’s about fifty-fifty, but you never hear about those stories, do you?” Umbra asked with a small smirk.
“You’re not asking me to become a demon lord are you?” Dee retorted with a raised eyebrow.
Umbra barked a laugh in response. “Not quite, but you’re not entirely wrong. The power of change and darkness always finds a focus. Something that keeps the forces of light and order on their heels. They can’t fully commit to the fight, because they fear the power of that that individual who becomes the focus. They will always hold back and protect Paradisia, instead of putting all their effort into an all-out desperate attack, because they fear they won’t have a home to return to otherwise. The focus would make sure of that.”
“So you want me to become this focus?” Dee asked to make sure.
“Someone will sooner or later become the new focus. That new focus will then shape the future. If it won’t be you, it will be someone else. Someone less…preferable by the rest of the universe perhaps. There will be new hells eventually as the power of chaos gathers. That’s how they work. If not hells, then the deep shadows and abysses will spew forth the forces of darkness instead, to bring change and chaos into the universe. That part is not important. The face of change may change, the methods may change, the races involved may change, but there will always be something taking their place. What is more important is the will of the focus. The focus can direct those forces to either be wholly destructive, or to create something new. Or a bit of both, if that’s how want things to play out. I’m simply saying that I would prefer you over some of the other candidates. You don’t have to be an active leader if that’s what you want, but you would have to be the blade that keeps the other side honest.” Umbra let her chin rest on her hand, looking inquisitively at Dee’s reaction.
“That’s sounds like a lot of work for very questionable rewards.” Dee pointed out.
“Of course it does. I would further point out that I don’t hand out the position as the focus, as it is not my decision to make. It’s something you would have to fight for. I’m simply stating that I would like you to fight for it. I know you have the potential for it, that’s partially why you were created after all.” Umbra decided to drop a juicy little nugget to entice Dee’s curiosity.
“Elaborate.” Dee looked sharply at the goddess, her voice clear that it wasn’t a request.
“I’m afraid that will not happen, for now at least. However, I can tell you that your, as you so quaintly put it, clusterfuck of races heritage isn’t what it is by accident. You were made this way on purpose. I’ll also mention that I’m not the type to put all my eggs in one basket, so while you are my preferred choice, you’re not the only choice I have. However, going along with my wishes has its benefits.” Umbra was being deliberately vague.
Dee simply looked at Umbra expectantly. The goddess continued. “I know that there are certain fears that drive you. One in particular about all of this being a dream or hallucination, if I’m not mistaken?”
Dee shuddered due to her deepest secrets being found out so easily. Clearly her thoughts had betrayed her when the goddess had mentioned fears. That, or the goddess had other sources of information. Suddenly she heard Umbra say a few words in a language she couldn’t understand. She understood the meaning and power behind the words however. When those words were spoken, the universe bent its knees to follow the command uttered. Dee knew that the reality outside this land of deities would be changed. If Dee had dreamed everything after Zabaniya, that dream would now be the new reality. If she hadn’t, then nothing would change. Dee could feel that such a huge shift in reality would take enormous power, and the goddess didn’t seem to have spent any. So the reality remained unchanged, and the only result was the dispelling of Dee’s deepest fear.
“How…what?” Dee only managed to faintly utter.
“Let’s just say that there’s a reason why the ten most powerful gods have remained as the top ten for as long as there have been gods to rank in such way. And there is a reason why I’m number three on that list. Now off you go, my sister awaits you. I have told you my wish, and whether you want to act according to that wish is your choice.”
Dee suddenly felt the space bend around her again, just as it had when she had arrived on this moon.