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[Sooted Star, Part 1] Dimension 1 — The grassy plains, unknown planet

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

The two of them took every precaution to leave no secrets behind in the vast grassy plains. They used reckless new powers that hadn’t yet—and should never be discovered by anyone else. Inevitably, this left them stepping over the freshly dead, blue-faced body of a senergian man in a flexible metallic black uniform, his eyes still glowing blue with wavelength residue against the dark night.

Of the two assailants, the tall, sinewy old man with a long silver beard led the way. To the masses, he was called the Iminon. Of the very few, carefully curated people who knew him, he was called Vahst. The long hair upon his head reflected the moonlight more than it should’ve; he might as well have been a god emitting light of his own. His eyes glowed similarly, the irises so pale that they blended with the whites. He gestured toward the body languidly, the sleeves of his long, silver coat cascading gracefully outward. “Incinerate it.” His voice purred in a bass-like hum. It sounded devoid of emotion, and yet every word held a weight to it that could hold down the flightiest of attentions. He followed, “Oh, and… do keep the light down.”

A smaller young man wore a similar silver coat to Vahst, but it was shorter in length, indicative of a lesser experienced apprentice, and emphasized his youthful stature. He tailed Vahst, keeping a mindful distance. He did as ordered, using nothing more than a glance from his eyes—well, not directly. The top half of his face was covered in white bandages, and yet he moved as if he could see. A black flame blazed outward from the body, purple at the edges, hot enough to render it nothing but fine dust, yet the flame didn’t even singe the grass. The apprentice said, “We’ll need to hurry, Raimsaer Vahst. I sense Rokonian drones heading in our direction, too. Perhaps we should even—well, maybe call it a night.” His words ended meekly as he turned his head toward Vahst but stopped just short of facing him directly.

Vahst disregarded him. “You will train. Your speed of derivation must quicken, after all.” He turned his glacial gaze upon the apprentice and the apprentice froze, unsure whether it was the Iminon’s power that froze him or his own fear. Those eyes were functionally no different than the eyes that had deprived the senergian man of life in an instant just earlier. They were the eyes that had taken many lives with no reprieve, and the apprentice knew the names and the faces of the other apprentices that had succumbed to those eyes before.

Vahst looked back out to the grassy plains and mused, “More importantly, the boy that lingers in your mind overpowers you still. Train if for no other reason than to overcome your childish attachments.” His voice cast an air of disappointment.

The apprentice couldn’t bring himself to answer. It wasn’t like there was anything meaningful to say anyway. And Vahst was right, despite how much he hated to admit it. He clenched his jaw with the only power he could muster and averted his blind gaze toward the grass below.

Vahst closed his eyes and the world pulsed around them. The radius of grass around his feet bent away from him, his invisible surrounding force larger than he. But to the two of them, his force looked like a vast array of glowing strands of all lengths, widths, and colors all squiggling like wavelengths and pulsing with vivacious life. It wasn’t even the full extent of his power, the apprentice knew that, and yet he stepped back as this force was more than enough to freeze him in awe.

Vahst said, “You mustn’t forget that we are not like the senergians. Our power must be kept in check. Don’t let your talent supersede your judgment. This is why you must practice every day without fail. You are the only other one who’s managed to manipulate spacetime by your power alone, and so you are valuable. To me.” He gazed upon the apprentice, his gaze softer than before.

The apprentice looked back at him—at the outline of him surrounded by the intense aura, which he couldn’t see and yet could see in the wavelength aura channel of his mind. He watched in awe, the Iminon who’d amassed hundreds, if not thousands of loving eyes. The wisest elder who’d lived longer than anyone else in the world—on all five of the worlds. The father who’d taken him in when everyone else had left.

The air around them pulsed again. The wavelengths around him vibrated. Now, the sky was like water and the stars rippled like reflections with each pulse. A small, void-like rift grew from an oval speck out of thin air. He continued to grow it for several heartbeats until he relinquished his position to the apprentice.

The apprentice knew exactly what to do. Replaced Vahst in the exact spot he’d been standing. He reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a silver blade. His lucky blade for these occasions. He curled his hand around it until the veins popped out from his purple-tinged brown hands. Unlike the flame, he could not simply will this derivation into being. This could easily untether his mind should he use enough power to no longer sense his body. He needed the sting of the blade while his consciousness flew out of him and forced its way into the rift just in front of him. His consciousness took the form of wavelengths, too. The strands were sparser; much less vibrant than that of the Iminon, but they sufficed. He continued Vahst’s work, and the rift grew in microscopic increments.

Vahst smiled cryptically. “Home,” he rumbled, his deep guttural voice becoming the sturdy earth that the apprentice could ground himself to while he barely hung on to his sense of self. Vahst looked to the stars and his eyes rivaled them with their glow. “A crime of passion brought me here. What do you believe fate is, boy?”

The apprentice continued to concentrate on the rift, trying to focus only on Vahst’s voice and the rift in front of him. He answered in a strained voice, “Isn’t it everything that’s meant to happen? Meant to be?”

Vahst chuckled. Again, no emotion. “And how much do you think we control it?”

The apprentice didn’t answer this time. He couldn’t. The rift put up resistance now. He gouged the blade into his hand, blood dripping quicker and quicker in tandem with his own rising heartbeat. It pooled by his foot, and yet the pain barely tethered him. He tried to concentrate on something. Anything.

Just when he thought he would need to cease, Vahst’s voice pierced through the thick layers of wavelengths clouding his consciousness. “Long have I regretted, but with those who have gained everything from their crimes, regret does not linger for long, for they now have the power to change their fate. That is the funny thing about fate. It is always decided by those with the power to do so. Do you have the power to do so? That is the real question.”

Those with the power to do so. Those who were not the apprentice. Those who’d so cruelly ripped his own fate away from him—the fate he wanted to choose. They began to construct themselves in his mind. They took physical forms. Most importantly, they took over him. It started when parts of him began to glitch and morph—little areas like windows into other universes showing potentials of what he could be. What he longed to be. Black hair replaced his own wavy dark brown, became long, and then short again. He could taste honey on his lips, then burning spice, then sourness. His very body became taller for brief moments and shorter in others.

It was the rift, he knew. The rift always made someone lose their sense of self. He’d let Vahst’s words get to him, and now he was no longer himself. He was now zei but in the purest sense.

Zei, a mere pronoun common in everyday speech, and yet zei felt more connected to it than ever—its lack of specificity and yet its embrace of everyone and everything granted some form of sentience.

Zei, the gender or the lack of one, while his—no huir breasts would grow, huir hips would widen, and then all retract, oscillating rapidly between each instance in the sea of glitching.

Zei, the person, or perhaps not, while parts of him—parts of en turned into animal tails, feathers, scales, and slime. Into vessels of porcelain, water vapor, wires, and frozen grass.

Zei, the boy with the black hair, vague in shape and face etched away to unrecognizability, and yet zei knew exactly who it was. The boy whose hands the apprentice could still feel in huir own hands as warm as the summer they met for the last time under the school’s drooping yellow cantreth tree.

That boy. Zei was the last one who took everything away. And now zei took over the apprentice’s mind. Zei just couldn’t leave that alone.

Parts of that boy’s face assumed shape and color. The apprentice’s face assumed the same attributes. An icy iridescent eye. A stronger jaw. Thinner lips. The name rang in huir head—Haecadian. Haecadian.

No. No. It had become too specific now. The apprentice felt numb all over. The blade in huir hand no longer tethered en. Zei could hear Vahst yell something, but it sounded muddled from under the thick layer of wavelengths.

Zei forced the memory out. Zei forced Haecadian out with what little strength zei had left in huir wavelength aura.

A seething pain cracked like thunder in huir skull and zei yelled, throwing huir hands to the sides of huir head and squeezing as if zei would crush it. Huir wavelengths shredded away in rapid succession just like a trail of falling dominos.

Just in time, zei felt the old man’s own wavelengths snatch onto huir last one before it could snap. “Eramun. You are letting that boy define you again.”

Eramun released the rift just enough that zei was no longer straining, but zei still kept it open with whatever energy zei had left. Zei stumbled back. Clutched huir head in huir hands so hard that zei almost ripped out some of huir hair that had returned to normal. Huir entire body had gone back to its normal form—short, lean, and borderline malnourished.

Vahst drew Eramun into a hug. Eramun shivered. Vahst always emitted a chill, and yet it had come to feel like home to Eramun and zei began to relax.

Vahst purred, “You mustn’t lose who you are. What fate has in store for you. Trust me to bring you there.” Zei released Eramun and turned to the rift. Waved huir hand at huir apprentice slowly. Dismissively. “That is enough. I can see the other side now.”

Despite Eramun’s shaking, blood-drenched hand and labored breaths, zei spoke stoically. “What do you mean ‘other side’?”

“Home,” Vahst said, paying no mind to Eramun’s pain. Zei sounded joyful, even. “And one of my blood who is destined to take my place.”

Someone to take your place? Eramun wanted to ask. Something in huir stomach coiled violently. The feeling rose to huir face but only manifested as a subtle furrow of huir brow. Zei knew zei could not question the Iminon.

Still, what had it meant when Vahst said Eramun was meant for great things? What had all the months of isolation meant? Training to the point of breaking huir body? Was zei not to take the Iminon’s place?

As if Vahst had read Eramun’s mind, zei said, “The day there are no senergians, no exergians, the one who replaces me becomes my new vessel—and yet my mind remains. With a younger vessel, ripe with raw power, I can make us all family, no longer constrained by this rotten world.” Zei closed huir eyes. The air around them pulsed one last time. With both of huir hands, zei detached a single blue wavelength from huir myriad and pushed it gently through the rift.

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