So, there'll be another Vanished coming as soon as I read through the multiple pages of stuff that I've let slide. In the mean time, I once again resume trying to wrap up this bloody epic.
â€œSomething should be happening.â€
Tenrek's words echoed out over the massive crystal tower on the edge of which he sat. Behind him, Kieran shrugged. The young Twilight was sitting cross-legged, eyes closed and facing towards the tower. â€œMaybe. Maybe not. Maybe Draniel broke something on the way down.â€ Before anyone could respond to his statement, he quickly amended it. â€œThe Essence is flowing from Creation into the core. From everything that I was told, the Maker should have woken. Maybe he did, and we just don't rate a mention.â€
Fokuf frowned, looking back towards the valley into which the Paladin of Adorjan had fallen, his anima winking out to nothing as he crashed to the ground. They had all agreed that Draniel was dead â€“ even if he could have survived his self-inflicted wounds, and the fall afterwards, Autochthon's custodians had swarmed towards his crash site, and he could not have avoided them. â€œI don't like this. There's too much going on that we haven't been told about. Draniel's suicide, Autochthon's silence, those ghosts appearing at just the right moment to help us.â€ He shook his head.
Alina frowned. â€œI trust Steel. He died saving my life.â€
â€œMaybe. But he's a ghost now, and by his own admission his orders came directly from the Dual Monarchs.â€ Fokuf shook his head. â€œThe Monarchs knew everything about Draniel â€“ how to manipulate him into joining us, how to place him in a position where he would have to die to do what he believed was right. That's not an accident. They would have no way of getting that knowledge, not without someone living to pass it to them. They have an ally in Creation.â€
The voice echoed through the spire. Tenrek and Alina shot to their feet, shifting into combat stances, as Fokuf twitched in concern. Kieran raised a hand, opening his eyes. â€œDon't. It's him.â€
â€œYes. Welcome, Chosen of the Sun.â€ Before them, the crystal rippled and twisted, blocks springing up organically and folding into one another. In moments, there stood on the platform a twelve-foot-tall man made of the living crystal of Autochthon's core. Lightning flowed through his body like veins, and purest steel made up his faintly-seen bones. He smiled paternally, looking over the four people standing before him. â€œI see that time has not dulled your instincts.â€
â€œGreat Maker.â€ Kieran bowed his head. Behind him, Alina did the same. Tenrek frowned.
â€œHang on.â€ He gestured around him. â€œI don't want to sound rude, milord, but I thought we were... inside you?â€
â€œYou are.â€ The response was simple. â€œAs am I.â€
â€œYou're... inside you...â€ Tenrek trailed off, looking uncomfortable. Autochthon let out a hearty chuckle.
â€œDo not fear. The complexities of my existance were never meant for human minds.â€ He looked over the four seriously. â€œI apologize for my delay in coming to speak with you. I have been communing with my sister, learning of all that has happened since I was trapped here.â€ His face shifted, expression flowing into one of sorrow. â€œMuch has changed, and not for the better.â€
Fokuf had not calmed, nor had he moved into a respectful pose. â€œGaia said that you had locked yourself away. What did you mean, trapped?â€
â€œGaia lied.â€ Autochthon spoke sadly. â€œShe never trusted the Exalted. From the first, they were a weapon, the proof that everything that she believed in was wrong. The Exalted meant that she could not find a peace with her brethern, that she could not make everyone happy. I made glorious weapons of you, and weapons are the one thing that my sister cannot stand.â€
There was a long silence, which Fokuf broke. â€œShe thought that we would turn on her.â€
â€œOf course. You may yet, when you know the truth.â€ Autochthon sighed, and his great form sat cross-legged, still the height of Tenrek standing. â€œBut I do not believe that you will. And I cannot act as I once planned to, no matter what my sister believes. The time has come for you to remember, because you are who I have here. I would ask all the people of Creation if I could, but we simply do not have time.â€ He looked over each of them in turn. â€œDo you trust me to do this?â€
Kieran swallowed heavily. â€œYou're the Great Maker. I trust you.â€
Alina hesitated, looked at Kieran, and then nodded. â€œI want to know the truth.â€
There was a pause, and Tenrek looked at the others, and then up at the great god. â€œI do.â€ He turned his attention to Fokuf. Kieran and Alina followed his look.
Fokuf stepped forwards. â€œI don't know about trust, but I'm tired of being a pawn. We couldn't stop you, and you asked our permission regardless. That's good enough in my books.â€
Autochthon smiled, and he closed his eyes. â€œVery well, then, my old enemies and older friends. Remember. Remember four thousand years ago, a lifetime that you never lived. Remember the incarnations that Lytek, God of Exaltation, removed at Gaia's behest. Remember your betrayal, and what it meant for the world.â€
And as he spoke, his words merged with ancient memories. Landscapes unfurled in their minds, and the truth of every word echoed in their hearts. â€œAt the fall of the Primordial War, many of my brothers and sisters were slain. In their deaths, they levelled curses against the gods and their weapons, terrible curses. We thought that we had prepared for them, that we could shield you.
â€œWe were wrong. Each death hammered at the Exaltations I had designed, those supposedly perfect and indestructible weapons. And eventually, they created a crack. It was almost nothing, nearly invisible. But it was enough. Enough that the Exaltation did not fully harmonize with the soul. Enough that some of your virtue and strength was corrupted. It was almost nothing, but it was also the end.
[i]â€œI found those cracks. I knew what they meant, and that the Exalted were already so powerful that they could not see their own flaws clearly. I spent a century devising a way to repair them, and the result... was not perfect. In order to repair Exaltation, I would need to prune it, to use the damage in the crack to break each Exaltation and make them smaller, less potent. It would mean the end of immortality, and of the heights of power of the war. But in the end, I decided it was for the best. The Primordial War was won. The Exalted did not need the powers that they had wielded â€“ more humble powers would suffice. I knew that the Deliberative might not see the truth â€“ already blinded by the curse, they would see betrayal in my actions. I gathered human worshippers to me, and prepared to hide while the aftermath of my actions resolved itself, to return when you had been given time to realize I did not intend to overthrow you.
â€œYour Circle was faster. The five of you learned of my strategems, of my goal, and you turned the Deliberative against me. You bound my people to the darkness, destroyed my power to repair the Exaltations within their hosts. But your greed disguised itself as virtue, and rather than revealing my 'crimes' to the Solar Deliberative you locked me away secretly, and claimed that I had simply left when faced with the Deliberative's concerns. You intended to use my talents to win yourselves a place at the forefront of the new age, with no one the wiser.â€
The images changed, grew darker. â€œAnd the Great Curse spread, and its power only grew more dramatic as time went on. Your empires fell, and the Solars were bound. Gaia, alone, could not maintain the world as she had done with the support of her siblings, and the shadowlands grew, and the Wyld pressed closer. And still the Exalted could not see the path that was leading them to destruction. And so she embarked on a truly desperate gamble.â€
And then the memories were done, and five pair of eyes opened. Autochthon watched the young Exalted before him as they digested what they had seen.
â€œGaia wants you to finish what you started.â€ Kieran spoke slowly, trying to follow the strange thoughts that Autochthon had shown him. â€œAs soon as its activated, she's going to use the Sword of Creation to precisely shatter every Exaltation in the world, remove the taint that the Yozi have used to control their Conduits with your help.â€
â€œEvery Primordial will have to choose whether to incorporate their Conduit as a part of themselves, changing their nature, or to abandon them to death.â€ Autochthon agreed. â€œThose who incorporate them will understand humanity as never before, as one of the components within them will be human, born of a great compromise. But there will be a cost. Creation is weaker than it has ever been, and it is in that hour of greatest need that your powers will be reduced yet again. The repaired Exaltations will not sit well with human souls â€“ they will no longer fit properly, and as time goes on they will tear themselves free, a fatal process for their hosts. Any elder Exalts who remain will not long survive the procedure. Younger ones will live at most three to four centuries before they die.â€ He looked over the four Solars. â€œYou understand the risks. Some would say that it is better to use the Sword as it was first intended â€“ to wipe the Yozi from Creation, to shatter the nations that follow them, and to wait to repair the Exaltations until the world is safe.â€
â€œThe world will never be safe.â€ The words were soft. Tenrek looked to the others, and then to Autochthon. â€œThere will always be another crisis, another temptation. The Yozi will rise again, and again, unless something changes. This could be it.â€
â€œIt may fail. Gaia is daring, but she undertakes this plan out of desperation, not certainty.â€ Autochthon warned.
Tenrek looked to the others. Kieran nodded, and Alina. Fokuf closed his eyes, and then smiled. â€œWe're only four people. I don't know if we can speak for the world. But... like you said, we're here. Let's forge a new path.â€ He looked up at the Great Maker. â€œWhen the Sword comes online, I say do it.â€