Chapter 185: Apex predator
Since it's relevant to things discussed in this chapter, I'm going to post a section that I'm adding to Book Three for publication, to bring you guys up to speed ^^
From Book Three, chapter 19:
Goddess shakes her head. “I’m afraid not, child. Technically, this Realm is even farther from your home than the Realm of Yin and Yang.”
The Realm of Yin and Yang? Not the Realm of Crystals? Interesting.
“Technically?” I ask, latching onto the opening, desperate for any kind of information on how to escape.
Goddess cocks her head to the side. “I suppose this is common enough knowledge. All Realms have their place in Realmspace. You could consider it as a tower, with different Realms being different floors, except there are gaps between the floors, and no stairs to connect them. Oh—can you follow such a metaphorical description?”
I blink. “Ah, yes, your Highness. Please, do continue.”
She gives me the slightest of nods. “Good. Realmspace is furthermore divided into Material Realmspace and Spiritual Realmspace. Consider them like two towers standing next to each other, yet also overlapping without touching, in a sense.”
I frown, but nod for her to continue when she pauses.
“The Yin-Yang Realm exists in Material Realmspace, and crossing over from there to the Spiritual Realm of Imagination is easy, because they are at the same height, more or less. You don’t have to climb up or down.”
Something starts to dawn on me. “Where is the Entropic Realm in terms of metaphorical height?”
I swear I see a pleased twinkle in Goddess’s eye at my demonstrated understanding. “Somewhere in the middle, relatively speaking, way down below this one.”
Huh. “Are we... at the top?”
Goddess cocks her head sideways. “Now that is an interesting question. We are as high up as anyone ever has been, I suspect. I can vaguely sense the existence of something, higher up, but whatever’s there, it’s beyond even my understanding. Either way, there are many things I can do, but remotely crossing the boundaries between the Material Realms to send something from one Realm in Material Realmspace to another, is beyond me.”
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“The truth is, I came here to petition you... to send me to one of the lower Realms.”
My statement hangs in the air for a moment as Goddess studies me, her white feathery brow steadily furrowing.
“So, you wish to grow stronger by devouring the weak, to crush everything in your way in the pursuit of power?” she finally intones distastefully, her choral voice turning dark and heavy. She turns to glare at Akir. “Was this your idea?”
Akir ducks his head under the weight of her disapproval, wringing his tentacles nervously. “I told her of my past, your highness. It was meant to discourage her.” He draws himself up a little, daring to meet her gaze. “I will say though... while I’m no fan of this hare-brained plan, I sincerely believe Emma’s motives to seek power are pure.”
Goddess makes an impatient clicking noise with her tongue. “I’m sure she believes so too. She’s not the first, and she will not be the last.”
“Goddess, I’m not asking this because I want power, but because I need it,” I emphasise.
Goddess laughs, the sound full yet strangely hollow. “Everyone thinks they need power. The fearful need it to survive. The neurotic need it to control. The most craven, weak-minded lot need it just to feel superior.” Her image seems to grow larger in my vision without moving, to tower over me, despite remaining distant. “Tell me child, why do you think you need power. Revenge?”
“No!” I practically shout in defiance. “I need it to save my friends!”
Goddess maintains eye-contact with me, but her image seems to retreat a little, looming over me less threateningly as she considers that statement.
“Actually, I need it for more than that,” I mutter half to myself as realisation sweeps over me. “The things the Peilor made us do... it was all a showcase of my species, a commercial for us as hosts.” My voice grows stronger as I continue, gaining steam as I go. “The ones responsible were just whetting the appetites of the other Peilor, and there’s no telling how great their hunger for my people has gotten. At some point, those assholes are going to start... harvesting, and if left unchecked, they might very well drive my whole species to extinction!”
“So, what,” Goddess intones. “You need to grow strong enough to defeat them? To defeat Starmother herself?” Her tone of voice is more than enough to express her opinion of my chances of succeeding at that.
“No!” I snap. “Look, this may be a foreign concept to you, but even if I stood a chance of reaching a level like that, I wouldn’t have time to do it. All I need is to acquire enough power to reclaim my body in a reasonable timeframe. If I can do that, I can do something, rescue my friends. Then, I don’t know, maybe free more human hosts, start a rebellion, show the Peilor humanity is a bloody tough bone to swallow.”
Goddess cocks her head to the side and considers me, unblinking, her stark white brows furrowing once more.
I lick my lips nervously, shaking with adrenaline from standing up to a being that could snuff me out with a thought. “Look, you say I’ve become a pawn in your war with them, but the truth is, you’re still in a truce. I’m not. My friends are held captive, and my people are under attack. I am at war. And I can’t just be a pawn, I have to make a difference. My friends, my people, they need me to make a difference, if they are to have any chance at all.”
Goddess finally seems to deflate a little as she lets out a bone-weary sigh. “Bearing the power to protect is a heavy burden, child,” she says, her voice lowering to a whispered choir. “Moreover, your chances of success, of survival, are exceedingly small. Is this really worth risking your existence? There is no old age in my Realm. If I reach some sort of accord with Starmother, you could live here—happily—for a very long time. Perhaps build a nest with Raindrop, hatch some eggs of your own...”
I blink, startled at the unexpected turn that took. A small part of me balks at my implicated gayness, which, honestly, is almost kinda nostalgic at this point. It’s hard to care about such a thing in a Realm like this, where matters of gender and sex are probably even less relevant than in the Yin-Yang Realm. “Raindrop... is a lovely being,” I finally bring out, finding I actually mean that. “But my heart is set on another. And I will do whatever it takes, become whatever I need to, just to get back to her, or die trying.”
After a moment, Goddess nods grandly. “Very well then. Make your preparations, and I will send you down to whatever Realm you deem fit. At the very least, it should set back Starmother’s military agenda.”
Akir sucks in a shocked breath. “Can it really be done? Forgive my rudeness, your highness, but any Realm suitable for Emma will be very far down, is it... will it be safe?”
Goddess observes him, giving away no hint of displeasure. “It can be done. And I can mostly guarantee her safety up until her arrival. Reaching across the boundaries between the myriad Realms is hard, even for me, but it is at least down. Pulling something up from too far down would be nigh-impossible. I would have to actually travel down to fetch it, with all the consequences thereof.”
She turns back to me. “Which means you’ll be on your own as you fight your way back up. The good news is, should you succeed in reaching this place under your own strength, you’ll have all the power you need.” What I hear in her choral voice this time is not so much distaste as it is disheartenment, mayhap even begrudging acceptance. “Go now. Return when you are ready to leave. The clock, as you say, is ticking.”
I quickly make my way to my vessel, and spread my tendrils down into the wood, still shaking.
“She actually agreed,” Akir mumbles, still looking shell-shocked. “I never expected...”
I pull him into a hug—or try at least. It’s not unlike yanking on a mountain.
Akir budges eventually, and oh-so-gently wraps some tentacles briefly around me before swiftly pulling back.
“We did it!” I exclaim, starting to get excited now that the nerves are wearing off. “Thank you so much, Akir; I really don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”
“Faded, most likely,” Akir grumbles, seemingly starting to get back to himself now that the pressure of Goddess’s presence is wearing off.
“Well, duh, but you know what I mean,” I reply chipperly.
Though I’m feeling some nerves towards these chaotic lower planes, I mainly feel excited at the prospect of going down there to emerge with the kind of power Akir has. Maybe I’m nuts for wanting to throw myself into mortal danger again already, but part of me actually misses it, misses the pressure, the need to improve myself, to adapt and overcome.
I may need some therapy after all this.
Akir mutters some choice words under his breath, before he turns to me, pointing at me with a single, indignant tentacle. “All right, listen up, missy. If I can’t stop you or protect you, I’ll just have to prepare you. You have a lot to learn, but you wanted this, so I don’t want to hear any complaints. Is that clear?”
I suppress my smirk, and salute him. “Sir yes sir!”
He nods. “Good. Since you’re currently on Starmother’s radar, we’re going to hop to it, so keep up that enthusiasm. You’re going to need it.”
Akir wasn’t joking when he said there was a lot to learn.
From what I understand of what he tells me on the way back to Hangspire, countless beings live and Fade in the Realms below, and only very few ever make it up here.
There are several good reasons for that.
First of all, surviving in the lower Realms is tough. The lowest Realms have nothing in the ways of civilisation, as the creatures there hardly generate enough Espir to sustain a form of sentience, let alone sapience.
Only the laws of the jungle apply there; it’s eat or be eaten.
In the middle Realms, forms of civilisation can occur. Groups of similar beings, united in their struggle to survive, sometimes fighting wars against each other. That doesn’t make it any easier.
The second reason it’s difficult to climb, is that in order to move from one Realm to the next, one has to cross the Realmvoid, which is especially difficult to do in an upward fashion. Moreover, it becomes more difficult and dangerous the higher you get into Realmspace, as the void becomes... denser somehow.
Which is a very weird thing to say about a void, but I guess comparing it to a physical void from the Entropic Realm is kind of a futile effort to put it into terms I understand anyway.
Anyway, the Realmvoid becomes harder to cross the higher you get into Realmspace, so the only way to keep climbing, is to keep hunting, to keep growing stronger.
The final and most important reason it is so difficult to climb, is that leaving a Spiritual Realm isn’t exactly a straightforward process.
Apparently, Spiritual Realms are... alive, in a sense. They’re like bubbles of existence, and they all wish to remain in existence.
Or maybe it’s simply that the ones who didn’t wish to remain in existence, ceased to exist.
Either way, the Spiritual Realms themselves all have a form of sentience, perhaps even sapience, but due to their size, their thoughts—as far as they have them—move incredibly slow.
They can’t respond quickly to threats, so they designate a creature to do it for them.
As far as is known, every Realm has an Apex, who ensures that the integrity of the Realm is never threatened.
And bubbles don’t take too well to being pierced, so Apexes don’t like it when beings try to leave their Realm.
They seem to be relatively okay with beings entering though, probably as most Apexes are ruthless predators, who consider anyone coming in simply additional prey.
Moreover, such Apexes will generally see any being trying to cross upward as a challenge to their authority. Essentially, any time I wish to move on up, I will have most likely have to defeat or Erase the current Apex before I can leave. The ones who are more than just a ruthless predator... well, they’re each their own beast. They may demand some kind of tribute for passage.
Or seek to enslave me.
It’s not entirely understood why every single Realm seems to have an Apex. Perhaps the Realms communicate with each other somehow, at a wavelength too slow for anything but a Realm to parse.
Or perhaps it is—again—simply only the Realms who appoint one that survive.
At first, the Realm of Imagination appeared to be a bit of an exception in this, considering how easily I’ve always come and gone, but according to Akir, crossing over from Material Realmspace isn’t quite the same, and that strange chaotic space I’ve experienced in between isn’t the true Spiritual Realmvoid.
Because if my fragile little spiritform had been exposed to that at this height in Spiritual Realmspace, I would’ve been crushed into oblivion.
Yup. I’ve got my work cut out for me.
And then, after delivering the general gist of things, Akir goes into detail. With props.
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