When worlds begin the transition into true peace, many will fight to keep things the way they were. The first indications are always small—minor political dissent, assassins in the shadows… later, if the conflict simmers without resolution… The words pass through the partitioned part of the Imperiled’s mind as the explosion propels him through a portal.
Fiery inferno gives way to cloudy green sky and brown road. He lands hard, slapping the packed-dirt to break his fall. The impact drives the air from his lungs. Ignoring his shortness of breath, he rolls out from in front of the portal.
Green lightning wrapped with thin tendrils of inky darkness thunders after him. It slams into the path where his heart had been. He keeps rolling as secondary discharges lance out in six directions. The attack vaporizes large chunks of earth while blasting others skyward.
One of the bolts pierces the Imperiled’s upper thigh. He screams as it stabs through his black robe, flesh, and bone without slowing until it impacts the road. Another violent blast lifts him off the ground and into air choked with dirt, smoke, and large chunks of debris.
The Imperiled closes his eyes. Will the Shadows take my heart, or will I survive? Will it matter?
He lands hard on his back. Tears roll down his cheeks as he struggles to breathe.
Eyes closed, he suffers as the cacophony spreads around him.
The six secondary lances will expand to three dozen tertiaries, his second mind reports.
Kill me or don’t. Just end the pain. Green light flashes through his eyelids, and yet more thunder booms.
Unable to help in any other way, his second mind releases nervous tension with useless calculation. Thridoh discharges birthed six more each… Onegroh and sixdoh.
With a final, distant boom, the flashing stops. The world around him stills. The attack fades to no more than a ringing in his ears and a hole in his leg.
Slowly, the heavy tension in his abused lungs relaxes. He gasps, breathing in metallic grit and smoke. Rolling onto his side, he coughs and gags until the air clears.
The lightning cauterized the wound. No trace of lingering shadows. The Survivor stands unsteadily and hops on one foot toward the safety of the Great Pyramid, whose golden face is only a dozen metrons away. Unbidden, the second part of his mind recites, The Flame Master’s War had consumed more than half of Zitera’s population. Over at last, the remnant decided they needed a way to ensure no conflict could ever again threaten so many lives. They formed the Council of Peace and devised ingenious ways of—the recitation cuts off as he places a hand on the warm, glowing surface.
The Survivor turns and collapses against the base. The massive golden monolith towers above him, its peak punching through the patchy layer of white clouds. Warm, intense radiance soaks through him, restoring his depleted energy nodes and banishing the pain from his body. He groans with relief and reclines on the smooth face, letting its Benevolent Enchantments work.
How many people died? His throat tightens and his eyes ache. The thumb of his right hand settles on the first finger segment of his pointer finger as he concentrates. Fresh tears roll down his cheeks when the names come and his thumb moves from proximal to intermediate to distal phalanges, slowly at first and then picking up speed. He stops when his thumb and little finger form a circle. “A dozen.” He says, wiping away the tears. “Onedoh lights no longer shine against the dark.”
He lifts his head to survey the road. Deep gouges through the packed turf throb in time to the cauterized hole in his leg. Smoke rises from large impact craters rimmed with charred earth. Less than a metron from the edge of the devastated area, the smooth, hard-packed dirt resumes, stretching to the horizon.
A man pops into existence a metron from the Survivor.
The Survivor bolts upright and the space around him crackles with electricity.
For a tense moment, the Survivor scowls at the new arrival, taking in his tall, slender body and simple white robes. The crackling around the Survivor fades. All Ziterans would recognize that honest face.
The man extends a hand, a wordless offer to help the Survivor to his feet. The damaged ground behind him begins to ripple. His voice is deep and resonant as he asks, “Do you know me?”
Who wouldn’t? “Of course. Happy to see you since I’ve always wanted to ask the Avatar of Peace a question.”
The Survivor shudders in a breath and grimaces. “What is Benevolent Energy?”
The Avatar smiles, but there’s no emotion to it. “The expression of a balanced, all-loving consciousness. Now, you’re here because you need help to make a decision.”
The Survivor shakes his head. The Avatar is out-of-touch. No normal person would… He reluctantly takes the offered hand and his weariness drops away. His mind clears, and vibrant, exuberant health courses through his limbs. The Avatar pulls him to his feet and the Survivor glances at the road, noting that its wounds have vanished as quickly as his own. He closes his eyes for a heartbeat before giving a slight nod. “I’m ready.”
The Avatar places a hand on the Survivor’s forehead. Zitera’s Pyramid Lands disappear, obscured in a gray mist. The fog swirls and darkens to almost black.
A tingle runs over the Survivor’s body. He shakes and jerks until the Avatar puts a calming hand on his shoulder and says, “You struggle with the Timescape. Relax. Let your mind come to terms with a meaningful view of your existence as it appears from outside of time.”
The Survivor flushes. “Chronomaster Dyna constantly points out my failure—” He cuts off as his perception shifts. His entire mind is like the ocean, vast and deep and unknowable. What he usually thinks of as his mind is similar to two tiny ships darting around on the surface. One ship is his original conscious mind, the other is the partition. Those ships cannot handle outside-of-time awareness, but his deep-mind follows the Avatar’s commands.
The fog clears, and the Survivor’s history stretches out before him, a gentle brook bending around the choices he’s made. Above the time-stream, Decision Points rise like eerie, colorless trees. But instead of leaves, a nearly unrecognizable combination of all the sights, sounds, smells—and sensory inputs which have no names—flutter and shift, showing his life choices in all their context and outcome. The edges of his vision turn an angry red and he reaches for a tree near the river’s source.
“No,” The Avatar warns. “We are not here to alter what was.”
“But that wasn’t a choice!”
Disapproval radiates from the taller man. “Doesn’t matter. We are here to make a Decision in the present moment. The ripples will impact what came before but no power can unmake old creations.”
The Survivor sighs and lets his arm drop to his side. He takes several deep breaths before turning around. A small image appears—the choice to look forward rather than back—and passes through him, replaced by two transparent images. The brook around him changes course slightly as the Survivor recognizes himself and the Avatar in one of the transparent pictures.
The Avatar asks, “Would you like to see all of your options, or shall I filter them?”
“Let’s see them all.”
The brook flows into the picture on the right and it expands over and around them both. The Timescape grows outward, the brook and trees morphing into a shimmering golden ocean. The first wave crashes silently into him. His every possible choice floods his awareness.
He smiles, and his dual minds accelerate, the small ships grow larger and faster. The wave coming for him slows slightly, but not nearly enough.
The Survivor’s eyes widen and the two ships split, becoming four. Still, the golden images arrive too fast. He shudders and twitches and one of his minds thinks, A gross of linear minds cannot cope with this much information.
“No!” He grasps his head and closes his eyes. “Too... much!”
“Relax,” the Voice of Peace commands. “Be the Observer until you realize enough to be the Chooser.”
A second wave crashes into him, carrying an unending sea of options for how he could select from an infinite number of actions. The actions swirl around him like dozens of fish, each fish made up of dozens of schools of fish. Frantic, he pulls one in while battering at his temples with his closed fists. “Filter,” the Survivor begs, dropping to his knees. “Please! Show me harmony.”
A tiny golden drop expands out from him. The writhing ocean of competing options dwindles into a forked river. Slowly, the Survivor’s mind clears and his stomach settles. His two extra minds fade, returning to his usual two.
He stands, focusing on the remaining options. “Only two?” He observes them for a long, timeless moment.
“So it appears.”
The Observer stands in the cleft. “This is barely a choice. The harmony of a quick death or… an uncertain trip into the Shaking Empire and then the Echo Space… which could bring a brief period of joy… Afterward more fighting, the outcome of which hides from sight.” He faces the Avatar. “From my sight, for sure. From yours?”
The Avatar nods. “The outcomes are shrouded in choices as yet unrealized. Are you ready to choose, or shall I bring back other options?”
The Observer faces the choices, closing his eyes to understand the probabilities. He takes a slow, deep breath, opens his eyes, and smiles. It’s a bright smile, eager for the challenges to come. “Done. I’ll see you after the Echo Space.” The Chooser dives.
The brook ripples with his passing, but the Chooser’s awareness remains. As he makes the transition into the moment of his choice, the timeless view of a reality within time bends and shifts around the Avatar. The whole brook moves onto a different part of the warped Timescape.
The Avatar stands steady, a motionless point on the surface of a turbulent sea. Their combined focus expands, searching for the impact of this choice on other Decision Points. Far away, through both time and space, at the Pyramid Land District dedicated to the education of all Ziterans, the Mage Sanctum, a subtle twisting of the Timescape reveals a change. Within one of the Sanctum’s dormitories, a short, red-haired young man poses triumphantly atop a staircase made of air. Bits of sky-green robe appear beneath a layer of writhing lightning that shifts against the wards holding it in place.
A young lady watching smiles in anticipation.
As the ripples pass through the Decision Point, the girl’s smile shifts into a frown and the young man’s stance tenses with pain. His first step sends him tumbling down the stairs, the lightning on his robe discharging wildly in all directions.
The Avatar closes his eyes as the shifting of other Decision Points flows to both him and the departing Chooser. Towering Gorgk Dancers stumble. Short Lyek shift uneasily in their clover-capped hills. Rockform shudder and set themselves rolling. Tweener pairs or trios stop and go slack, before turning green and vomiting. Groups of Hee pause in the normally incessant exhalations that carry the odors comprising their language. All of the hazy Wyrd on their remote island blink out of existence for more than a minute. And Humans. Humans of all shapes, sizes, appearance, and Talents across the broad face of the planet make choices leading them to one of three polarizations: love, fear, or compassion.
The whole of Zitera shifts and the young man’s pain is the least of it. A tear rolls down the Avatar’s cheek as the ripples die away.
The Chooser, still in his dive, flinches and puts a hand to his cheek. Out-of-touch, but not inhuman. His feelings run deeper.
Words, old words, fill the Chooser’s ears.
When Auric marks express meaning, after Light and Dark rejoin the scenes,
the Time is nigh to aid the listing ship adrift in stormy Tweens.
When Shadows live in Light and Song, and panthers roar to pounce on prattle,
an All-Bolt screams in voices strong to wake the land with shaking rattle.
Listen well if you can bloom without compassion in your Dreams.
A Son of Peace will Sing your doom if ever he is trained to battle.
The Avatar blinks in surprise, severing his connection with the Chooser before focusing his complete attention on the young, crimson-haired man.