It is said that the dead have no need for sleep, and this is true. In the centuries since my death, I have not slept; my consciousness forms an unbroken line from that day on the altar. An endless, wearying, eternal now. It is not surprising to me that so many of my brethren chose to fade away, rather than suffer the endlessness of existence.
It is true, even in the lesser undead. Vampires, for instance: even though they appear somnambulistic during the day, a portion of their consciousness is always aware. They are paralyzed, but awake; it must be a true torment.
So I do not, and cannot, sleep. And yet, sometimes, quite rarely, I dream.
I stood in a field without a sky. In the distance, inky tendrils reached down and ravaged the ground, churning it over as though to reach some treasure buried below. Occasionally, a somber red glow was revealed beneath the disturbed earth, causing the shadowing tendrils to flinch back for a moment, before attacking the ground again with redoubled efforts. And yet, for all the rage and destruction, there was no sound; except for a gentle breeze that blew in circles around me, further cooling my cold flesh.
Around me, various weeds had grown waist high, and I could not recognize them despite all my years of experience. They waved back and forth, sometimes moving with the breeze, sometimes swaying in opposition. I reached my right arm out to touch one, but it shied away from my hand.
I knew I was dreaming, of course. I didn’t even need the proof of my functional arm; while the sights I saw were unfamiliar, the feeling of this world was unmistakable. This vision, this place, belonged to my Lord.
Lord Baera had called me to him, and now I had to answer to my master.
I did not have to stand there long. There was a crackling, sparking sound behind me, and a sudden, familiar presence. I took an unnecessary deep breath, and turned. I saw withered weeds, surrounding an unfamiliar figure that I couldn’t mistake for anyone else.
This time, Lord Baera had taken the form of a woman. I wondered for a moment if he was mocking me by appearing as a female, but I quickly dismissed the thought. My Lord does not have a fixed appearance, and he has appeared to me as much worse things than a pretty woman, in the past.
Long black hair hung to the ground around him–her, and she wore the simple vestments of a priestess from a culture that had disappeared over three hundred years in the past. For a moment, I tried to remember what god they had worshipped; Silarchai, perhaps? Although it would have been Siricha back then … Certainly, it wasn’t Meserta, or Atarain. I would have remembered if it was one of those two.
:YOUR MIND IS WANDERING, DEAREST METRIA.: Lord Baera’s mouth moved, but there was no sound; instead, her true voice arrived in my mind with an oppressive force. I immediately knelt to the ground.
“Forgive me, my Lord. This lowly one offers salutations–”
:NOW, NOW, NO NEED FOR THAT.: interrupted Lord Baera with a wave of her hand. Her eyes had a friendly sparkle in them, although I knew better than to trust her appearance; my Lord was not subject to human emotion. :I CARE FOR SUCH FRIVOLITIES EVEN LESS THAN ZAGADACTULUS. AND IN FACT, IT IS IN REGARDS TO OUR GOOD ZEDDA-CHI THAT I HAVE COME.:
Lord Baera shook her head and sighed, silently, then looked at me sternly. :WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, DEAREST ONE? TO DISTURB THAT SLEEPING DRAGON.:
I lowered my head. “… My apologies, Lord. I became aware that a mortal organization was attempting to create a Cultivation, and I judged myself unable to properly respond–”
:LIES,: my Lord interrupted me once more. I thought for a moment that she sounded pleased, but it was probably my imagination. :THE BELLVAUNTS ARE DOOMED TO FAILURE IN THE FIRST PLACE. THEY ARE AMUSING, NOTHING MORE. NO, YOU CAN’T FOOL ME, MY DARLING. YOU DID NOT CALL FORTH ZEDDA-CHI FOR SUCH A PALTRY REASON.:
Lord Baera smiled kindly at me, and I shuddered a bit. :I KNOW YOU, MY LOVELY. MY DEAREST METRICARISENIKAI. I KNOW THAT YOU ARE AFRAID. SOMETHING HAS FRIGHTENED YOU. TELL YOUR LORD ABOUT IT.:
I stared at the ground, clenching and unclenching my fists. The bitter feelings inside me were nearly overwhelming, but I waited until I was certain that I could control my expression. I wasn’t sure if it would fool Lord Baera– No, I was certain that it wouldn’t fool her at all. But it made me feel less exposed, and so was worth doing. Finally, I looked up at my Lord. She was looking at me with a loving, understanding expression, but I did not believe what I saw in her simulated face, any more than I would believe if someone told me that Zedda was actually my best friend. It was simply beyond deceit.
I finally spoke. “Someone is trying to destroy me, and other undead in the unnamed city.”
:A MORTAL, YOU MEAN? THAT’S FAIRLY COMMON, IS IT NOT?:
“Yes, there are many humans who hate the undead, but that’s not what’s happening here. I think … some group, or organization, are manipulating other humans into opposing me. But I can’t find them! There seems to be some connection to the State of Derrick, where the new technology originated from, but I can’t catch their shadow even there. And I keep losing agents in that country, which is very upsetting.
“Frankly, I’m not even the major target; they seem to be going after Damoren first, and leaving Rednacht and myself as targets of opportunity. I’m convinced Damoren’s political aspirations are, at heart, a survival strategy. He needs humans who can cover for him, during the day.
“Further, both Rednacht and myself have faced rather debilitating attacks. Rednacht is … difficult to harm, of course, but I could have been destroyed, had I been slightly less fortunate. All of this, over the course of nearly a century. The incident with Serpha Aivon, as well … In retrospect, it seems quite suspicious in timing, and it did remove Zedda from the board.”
:HM, SUSPICIOUS INDEED,: agreed Lord Baera with a crooked smile. :BUT SERRA-CHI WAS UNLIKELY TO BE FOLLOWING ANYONE ELSE’S PLAN. AND SHE DEFINITELY DIED; I MET HER DIRECTLY, AFTER ALL.:
My eyes widened involuntarily. “Your certain? But it was so conveniently timed–”
:ZEDDA-CHI IS NOTHING IF NOT LOYAL TO MY ELDER BROTHER. IF HE DID NOT GO FORTH FOR THE LAST SEVENTY-NINE YEARS, IT IS BECAUSE OUR DEAR LORD JURISANTI DID NOT ORDER HIM TO. AND, RESPECTIVELY, IF HE IS BACK, IT IS BECAUSE JURIS-CHI HAS DECIDED THAT HIS RETURN IS DUE.:
“So, if he did not come forth…” I shivered. “Does Lord Jurisanti want us all destroyed, then?”
:CALM YOURSELF, DEAREST METRIA. SHOULD JURIS-CHI WANT YOU GONE, YOU WOULD BE GONE. HE WOULD HAVE NO NEED TO MANEUVER IN THE SHADOWS; SHOULD HE DECREE IT, NOT EVEN I COULD PREVENT YOUR DESTRUCTION.: A strange expression passed across Lord Baera’s borrowed face; a wistful, longing look. :ELDER BROTHER IS THE CLOSEST TO THE PRIME, AND HIS UNDERSTANDING IS THE GREATEST. WHICH IS WHY HIS TOUCH ON THE MORTAL WORLD IS SO LIGHT; IT WOULD BREAK QUITE EASILY, YOU KNOW.:
:REALLY, ZEDDA-CHI IS AMAZING, WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT,: she added ruefully, shaking her head. I didn’t understand what she meant, but perhaps I simply did not want to think about it. :SO, IN ORDER TO OPPOSE THE ONES WHO SEEK YOUR DESTRUCTION, YOU CALLED FORTH A MORE DANGEROUS INDIVIDUAL THAN YOURSELF, THINKING THAT THEY WOULD TARGET HIM INSTEAD, AND DRAW CALAMITY DOWN ON THEIR OWN HEADS.:
“Something like that,” I agreed softly.
:AND OF COURSE, IF THEY HAPPEN TO DESTROY ZEDDA-CHI INSTEAD, THAT WOULD ALSO BE CONVENIENT, RIGHT, DEAREST METRIA? AFTER ALL,: she said with a teasing smile, :YOU FEAR ZEDDA-CHI MORE THAN ANY NUMBER OF MORTALS. AS PERHAPS YOU SHOULD:
I did not answer.
:I UNDERSTAND, DEAREST. I WON’T SCOLD YOU FOR TRYING TO SURVIVE. YOU ARE ONE OF MINE, AFTER ALL; STRONG, AND FRAGILE, IN UNUSUAL WAYS. STILL, I CANNOT PROTECT YOU FROM ALL CONSEQUENCES. AND ELDER BROTHER JURIS-CHI IS THE LORD OF CONSEQUENCES.:
:METRICARISENIKAI. MY BELOVED METRIA. IN THE END, YOU MUST BEAR THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR DECISIONS.:
She seemed … sad.
- Second appearance of Baera! Well, first appearance, since it didn’t show it’s face while talking to Zedda in part 2.
- Baera is not male or female. Consider the pronouns a matter of convenience, or of Metria’s personality.
- It’s a little on the short side…but it was only an interlude anyway. We’ll be sticking with Metria for a bit regardless. Timewise, this is all happening while Zedda is “imprisoned”, so don’t worry that he and Irene will be getting up to any mischief in the mean time. 😉
- Oh, if the names of the gods are confusing you, don’t worry, Zedda will help with that later. For those who are keeping track, two names here have been mentioned before, while one is new. I’m hoping to not have to introduce more than four or five gods in this arc… 😐