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The Enlightened

Written by Akane :: [Friday, 03 April 2020 21:07] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 11 December 2021 23:41]

Art by Devil-V used with the permission of Lonely-Lion700

Some schools of thought advocate for the existence of two extremes; heat and cold, love and hate, death and life. Others, believing themselves more forward thinking in this respect, consider the continuum between these two diametrically opposed poles. Still others, taking a more absurdist approach, measure these extremes by the perspective of others.

The most popular pair to consider is the perennial battle between good and evil.

What is good, when considered from the perspective of evil? Evil itself, of course.

A philosophical case could be made for the existence of empirical morals, absolute in nature; another for measuring good not by perspective, but by effect. Thousands of years have been dedicated to such debates, and thousands more will still follow.

Such thoughts did not trouble the thing streaking through the sky, hurtling through the cosmos, the stars streaks of hideous light flitting by. Good and evil, order and entropy, they did not matter. It embraced a far older, more brutal moral paradigm.

Whoever was stronger was right.

The spring sun was gentle on the valleys below, blooming with the first blush of the season. Birds cried as they returned from their winter retreats, carrying the joyous crows of couples reunited. A serene, cooling wind blew through the vale and around the imposing, white-crested peaks of the encircling mountains, carrying with it the heady, calming scent of budding flowers and fertile soil.

This was Life. And with it, Death. Just as plants grew, creatures died to sustain them. Just as animals mated and brought forth new life, they hunted and wrought death. A balance, an eternal, cosmic cycle reflected across all things. In her old life, she would have contended that of the two halves of the cycle, Life was by far the more pleasant. But she’d known better for many years now. There was beauty in death and decay, as well. The last beat of a butterfly’s stained glass wings. The striated, vibrant lines of a rock worn away by the winds. The blooming of a tree atop a dead deer.

She breathed deeply of the aroma of spring, and smiled as she sat on the window sill, the stone cool against her dark skin, and not for the first time, she felt privileged to watch over the ephemeral cycle, each iteration as fascinating as the last.

Almost a thousand kilometres south of the idyllic vale, peace and calm were wishful thinking. Men and women scrambled as alarms blared, and a single man stood still amidst the chaos, his eyes wide and unbelieving as he stared up at the massive screen that dominated the projection room. This was the Indian Deep Space Network, in Byalalu, their task to monitor the oft silent expanses of emptiness past their atmosphere. Now, the quiet centre of scientific learning was a raucous cacophony as panic, as scientists screamed into telephones and generals barked orders back, while others called their families in a last, desperate, and ultimately futile bid to get them to safety.

On the screen, an object. Prajesh had dismissed it as a meteor, at first. Then one of his staff had pointed out said meteor was moving at 0.97c, past Jupiter- and then curving to ignore its gravitational pull. Of course, he’d said it was an obvious error with the instruments. It was merely a fast moving celestial object, and the instruments, not calibrated to deal with higher speeds, were grossly overreporting. They’d sent the statistics and observation data to the ESA for verification, naturally, and Prajesh had spared a few minutes to dream of what fascinating discovery they’d just made.

He cursed himself for that now. The ESA confirmed their measurements; and worse, it was now aiming at Earth. Still at 0.97c.

They had a few minutes to impact.

In a half-hearted attempted at solace, Prajesh ran the calculations in his head. A coin travelling at 0.97c would decimate the planet. Crack a tectonic plate, wipe out entire countries in a flare of plasma and light. It would undo the 4.6 billion years of evolution and growth Earth had undergone, and return it to a smouldering ball of molten rock. He grinned ruefully, and chuckled. At least humanity would only have a few moments to suffer.

Around him, people cried and screamed. Then they fell silent, and he knew why. For half a heartbeat, a blinding light filled the sky.

Then the end came.

Asia could be considered lucky, in relative terms. Half of it instantly destroyed, crushed into a crater stomped into the earth, like the fist of an angry god. The rest scoured by a wall of flame, a stormfront of fire moving at speeds never before measured on their once-blue Earth. The seas evaporated in a matter of seconds, the sky dark and thick, blotting out the sun. Where the flames did not reach, the tremors did. The Indian Plate cracked, the two halves slamming into the planetary mantle. Earthquakes reverberated from that single point of impact, liquefying the surrounding plates. Magma bubbled up through great rents of the earth, and cavernous subterranean gas pockets ignited and detonated in explosions that rivalled nuclear weaponry. Cities sank beneath the ground, swallowed by the earth, and mountains crumbled and toppled, while plains were thrust up into cruelly jagged peaks. Volcanoes, active and their extinct brethren alike, spew forth fire and brimstone, ejecting matter into orbit with the violence of their eruption.

And with barely the time to scream, the apocalypse ended. The world a cracked, molten wasteland, sizzling as seven seas worth of rain poured down in a lamenting dirge. All life extinguished, their bones ash, from mighty humans to the lowliest bacterium.

Save for one.

The ‘meteor’ stood slowly, rising to its full, towering height. His height. 30 feet of rippling muscle, each fibre and tendon imbued with fiery hatred and fury, his inner animus deriving from an eternal anger towards anything that wasn’t him. Eight arms, like the Rakshasa of ancient Hindu mythology, each thickly knotted with muscle and branching into two more limbs at the shoulder. His dark skin was black as the ash-struck sky above, save for pulsating lines, throbbing veins through which boiling blood flowed, glowing a bright red. His muscled form, devoid of the grace of the Greek gods and endowed with a brutality and crudity unbefitting of the lowliest animal, was clad in armour the hue of ashen steel, complex plates interlocking in alien geometries. It had no face, but the chaotic collection of lines, lights and displays that splayed across the plane of its head nevertheless formed the snarling visage of a demon. This creature, this monster, was a conqueror from the deepest reaches of space, past the cold edge of the galaxy, a devourer of civilisations, a barbaric warrior with a soul stained with blood, skills tempered in the blood of his foes. He had stared into the void of a black hole, and left it cowed. He had seized the raging heart of a supernova, and snuffed it. He was a being unto Gods as Gods were unto men.

He turned his faceless glare on the woman before him, humming in savage satisfaction at having found his quarry. She sat in an alcove, a thin shell of rock woven above her, shielding her from the elements. Her stance was serene, sitting in the lotus position, her eyes closed and face calm, a small, beatific smile gracing her lush lips. Around her, the ground flourished, carpeted with a rainbow of flowers. A pair of small, colourful finches perched on her hands, tweeting nervously as they watched the monster advance. At her feet, does lay, looking up curiously as the titan’s footfalls thundered.

A roar blared from the warrior, a raw wave of sonic devastation that cracked the tortured earth before him. The birds fled in alarm, past the protective canopy of stone, into the boiling vapours of the harsh, dead world beyond-

The woman’s eyes opened slightly, and she snapped her fingers.

Instead of flying into a superheated cloud of vapor and organic radicals, the birds flew up into the warm, pleasant summer sky. The titan froze, and looked around in shock, his hands balled into fists, knotted with rage. The earth below his feet, once a pleasant shade of magma, gave way to a lush carpet of vegetation, trees sprouting around him, shadowing him from the sudden rays of the sun above. The sky was clear, a brilliant azure, water restored to the oceans. The torrential winds and rains were no more, dust and ash turned back to their original states. Cities rose once more, plains collapsed from their forced mountainous peaks, while former mountains rose again from the fiery depths of the Earth’s core. Life bloomed again on the restored Earth, as they were reconstructed atom by atom, electron by electron, a perfect restoration of their former selves, before the titan had slammed into the planet. At a distant observation base, far to the south, a lone astronomer wondered what had alarmed him so but a moment ago, before his memories were erased. All records of the monster’s arrival were purged from the collective consciousness of the planet, and all consequences of the planet undone.

The titan wished to rage and rant, tear the grass at his feet asunder and once again blacken the skies. But he stilled himself, instead turning back to the figure, who still had not moved. She now sat in a circle of blooming lotus flowers, blooming vines creeping up the boles of trees around her. Who was this being, he wondered, to defy him so? To undo the beautiful entropy of his coming, to wipe his masterful canvas of destruction clean with a snap of her fingers?

A powerful warrior, a voice in his mind whispered. And a good fight.

Had he had a mouth to grin with, a wolfish smile would have graced it.

To his receptors, she was a fragile thing. No muscle rippling beneath her skin, no armour protecting her slender frame. She didn’t even have talons. She was a typical representative of the mostly hairless primates who called this ball of dirt home.

A more human observer would have recognised that she was anything but typical. Her skin was of a dark olive hue, smooth and flawless. Her hair fell down to her waist in a black, silken cascade, cut to frame her beautiful features, but without any trapping of vanity or pride. The only mark on her face is a small red bindi on her brow. Her bountiful frame was excessively curvaceous, the woman’s nun-like composure belied by her succulent body. Her breasts were large, straining against her clothing, a bust befitting any fertility Goddess, a chest ancient Demeter would envy. Her wide, shapely hips were complemented by a thin waist, supported by thick, well-toned thighs. She had long legs, half of her total height. Further accentuating her natural assets was the attire she wore; an ill-fitted business suit, a pencil skirt that ended abruptly at the crotch, and a blouse that performed the heraculean feat of containing her ample bosom, the buttons long since popped open to reveal an expanse of caramel cleavage.

She sipped from a fine, but plain porcelain cup, her shapely lips curving upwards in a small smile as she savoured the tea within. Surrounding her, even more animals had arrived, laying in her lap, nuzzling against her or perching on her shoulder. She paused, then glanced up somewhat, her eyes still closed, and opened her hand, another teacup perched on her palm.

“Tea?” She asked the monster, her voice a rich song, a symphony of warmth and love that would melt even the coldest of hearts.

The titan roared in response, a growling, grating burst of static rippling forth. Her animal companions fled in panic, calling out in terror as they ran. The monster watched them flee, relishing their cowardice, his muscles flexing as he imagined ripping them limb from limb.

The woman sighed, in the slightly scolding tone of a disappointed mother, and the teacup vanished. “It appears you are not here for tea. May I ask, then, what is your business?”

When he spoke, the beast’s voice was like the tumbling rocks down a mountain, a thundering, unnatural bellow, belied with an echoing growl that reflected untold eons and distant nebulae, a thing of cosmic despair. “I am Ygnor, Conqueror of the Night Skies. My might eclipses supernovas, my power quells black holes. I have torn civilisations asunder and drank deep of the hearts of their stars. None have offered me even the palest semblance of a challenge. My conquests are writ across the stars, and I have darkened entire galaxies in my quest for a worthy foe. I had hoped, when I sensed a disturbance in the very laws of physics, a tear in the fabric of reality, that I had finally attained my goal, found my opponent.”

Ygnor folded his arms and leaned in closer, the lines etched on his face humming, red and orange light pulsating in an angry pattern of displeasure. He took a moment to study her once more, from her buxom breasts to her shapely hips, and he snorted in derision. “…I have found no such thing.”

“Your conclusion is correct,” The woman admitted, cradling her tea in her lap. “War and battle hold no interest for me. To battle is an endeavour of cosmic futility- the harming of others in a quest for glory that will only wane- to rise up, only to fall once more. You will have found, I hope, that the Universe does not condone, or care for, your self-imposed grievances.”

She punctuated her point with a sip.

“I believe you might be, as they say on this planet, chasing wild geese.”

The conqueror remained unmoving, but the strange, chaotic pattern on his face shifted quizzically. “…And from what fount of knowledge do you derive such conclusions, strange one?”

The woman raised a conciliatory hand. “I do apologise for not introducing myself. My name is Rishabha Nambiyar. I trust this is a more comforting mode of address.”

“I did not ask for your name. I asked you for the source of your conclusions, so that I may adequately discern and inform you of why you are mistaken.”

She fell silent for a moment, and although her eyes remained closed, she seemed to be studying the monster. At last, she motioned for him to sit down. “As you wish. But to satisfy your desire, I must tell you the story of my life. Settle down, if you will.”

Ygnor’s fists balled up, audibly tensing as the enormous tower of muscle and armour loomed over the curvaceous woman. “I take no orders,” He growled, his face shining red, “From inferior beings.”

If she noted the titan’s protests, she made no sign, as Rishabha began to speak, her voice a sing-song, motherly tone as she told her story. “You are unfamiliar with the cultures of this planet, so perhaps you will be unable to understand it all, but I shall endeavour to explain it as simply as possible.” She finished her tea and set it aside, folding her hands in her lap. “I was once an endeavouring businesswoman; however, past financial gain, I had an interest in matters spiritual; namely, Buddhism, Eastern mysticism, and their esoteric relatives. As a result of my passion, I founded several successful yoga studios…”

“I am aware that your kind uses tenuous belief in false gods to substantiate your arguments, but I am not ignorant, like your kind. This tells me nothing.”

“Hold, if you would, and ignore the minute details. I must impart the entirety of my experience to satisfy your query.” She replied with cool equanimity. “As I said, I founded several successful yoga studios, and my business enterprise was wildly successful. Each and every one of our customers was intent on becoming a regular. The atmosphere within was harmonious and genuine; this held true for all my studios. What I helped crafted allowed one to lean into silence and, just for a moment, peer past the veils of what is real.”

Rishabha smiled, a slight, elegant quirk of her lush lips, the glint of mischievous curiosity in her eye. “Naturally, the results were obvious. Their health, both mental and physical, was vastly improved. Their lives enriched and more fulfilling. But- this was but part. My regulars said they could perceive things, see through the meta of all into the realm of the Socratic ideal.” She shrugged a slender shoulder. “At first, I believed it to be merely correlation, not causation. A false association. Perhaps those who made the effort to learn the art of yoga were merely more focused on self improvement to begin with? It was a doubt that was short-lived, however.”

Ygnor cocked his mighty head, his face smouldering. “Elaborate.” He demanded, his voice the echoes of primordial tectonic plates grinding and crushing as they shaped the world.

“One day, during the third quarter of our session, one of my regulars, Jade Brooks, rose from her tatami and took flight. She had touched the essence, the umbilical cord of life, the Root of All, and was imbued with the surplus of its incalculable magnitude. Transcended, just like that, and no longer burdened with the problems of life, which suddenly seemed so pithy and trivial.” Her smile grew, and she leaned back, stretching her lithe, toned form, her breasts straining against her blouse, heroic in its efforts to contain her.

“That was when I knew I was doing something right.” She raised a finger, her eyes opening a sliver, boring into the titan’s face, and the conqueror from beyond the stars found himself bound to the spot by their quiet intensity. “But it was not enough. I had to hone my philosophy, my techniques. To carry on would be stagnation and rot- I sought evolution, nothing short of ascension. And so I left my home, and travelled through the world, poring over the holy texts and sacred chants of dozens of religious systems and cultures. And, just as life and death inexorably circle one another in the eternal Cycle, all pointed back to Buddhism.” Her tone reflected that she had probably told this story many times, and she enjoyed doing so a lot. “Can you believe I was expelled from a monastic order? Well, that’s what they did after they saw me tapping into the beyond for the first time and sprouting butterfly wings from my back. They were scared I was the real reincarnation of Buddha, and not who they predicted. I took pride in having achieved the same ascension as Siddharta but that was not enough for me. I needed more.”

She closed her eyes and folded her hands in her lap, pausing for but a heartbeat before continuing. “So I went back and sold it. I sold it all. My studios, my home, my belongings. I used the money to come here, and settle in a vihara in the Himalayas. In the solitude of their pristine peaks, the serenity of their aeon-old cliffs and winds, my work was brought to perfection.” She cocked her head. “I became absolutely and undeniably omnipotent. At first it was very difficult for me to control my powers. In my newfound joy I appeared in the middle of New York and my magnificence turned everyone blind. Then I became distraught and my subconscious erased reality in its entirety. Fortunately I later learned that I had the power to rewind time and used it to fix my mistake, then learned to keep my emotions in check.” Ygnor could swear she had just giggled after retelling her casual but catastrophic feats. “And so here I am, sitting before you. Achieving ascension not through violence, not through conquest, not through bloodshed and ruin.” She tapped her head. “But from within. To borrow the words of a man perhaps more akin to you: there is nothing outside yourself that can ever enable you to become better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.” Rishabha smiled, a radiant bloom that was painful to Ygnor’s twisted senses. “Miyamoto Musashi. A swordsman and a warrior, who sought meaning in death. And one who turned to Buddhism in his twilight years, and realised a fragment of the truth.” She spread her hands, her palms wide. “It is not too late to follow that path, I should say.”

The titan, the towering warrior of knotted muscle and hardened armour, stared silently at the woman before him. Then his shoulders began to tremble, and the ground at his feet shook. A deep, dissonant rumble rose from him, a cacophonic bellow of crashing waves and sundering mountains.

“Proselytizing! Preaching! Inner peace?! Perfection within yourself? Ascension through reflection?! I expected nothing from you, and still I am disappointed! You are delusional, lost in a dream of mediocrity. Your ascension means nothing! Strength is not defined from within, but without! To test your strength against the fury of the elements, your arms against that of your foe, your wit against the strategies of the enemy! You can only claim conquest when you stand above all others, and they lie as rubble beneath your feet.” He stepped closer, quivering with rage. “But enough. I shall shatter that illusion of yours. Prepare to be…” Ygnor clenched a fist, the lines on his face throbbing with deadly intensity. “Enlightened.”

The air warped as his punches defied the laws of physics, light itself screaming as he tore through it, each strike carrying the force of a dozen suns. Blow after blow rained down on the woman, her frame, however curvaceous, tiny and fragile compared to his own. The earth around them cracked and boiled away with the fury of his assault, his eight arms a blur, crack after deafening crack booming out as he shattered the sound barrier again and again.

A finger. A single finger was what Rishabha moved. Punch after punch stopped dead on her soft skin, her finger unbending and unyielding, and Ygnor was utterly repelled. But her defense, her mockery of his martial skill, only infuriated him more. The mantle beneath them sunk, then rose, as his fury reached a peak. He stepped back and pulled down on the fabric of the sky above, and the conqueror of the stars hurled down super condensed gas as a hail of plasma. Rishabha rose, and calmly waved a hand, restoring the sky. He stepped in to the opening, aiming a strike at her gut. A canyon opened behind her, stretching to the horizon, and the noxious fumes of the Earth’s core spewed forth from the great rent. But she merely swept the blow aside, and looked at him pityingly.

Ygnor leapt back, then gathered his strength and leapt into the sky, shooting for the sun, plunging into its igneous shell within seconds, then wresting the core from the star and launching it towards earth, enveloping Venus along the way, sending a wave of molten meteorites the size of continents soaring towards Earth. The woman snapped her fingers, and then the wave of destruction was no more, and Ygnor was back on the planet, his hands empty. He bellowed at the sky, roaring as he beat his chest, and continued his ruinous assault.

He focused his energy and launched a blast that would make nuclear bombs pale in comparison; a single palm stopped and absorbed the blow, and Rishabha used the energy to make a forest bloom anew. He summoned a nebula of protoplasm and slammed the unborn stars together, enveloping the solar system in light and death. Undone within a breath. The inevitability of a black hole was brought to bear, its devastating pull shredding the planet in nanoseconds. And it, too, was banished to whence it came.

Over and over, again and again. With a fury unmatched an anger unquelled. Ygnor beat at her, bellowing in wordless rage, plundering the underlying forces of the cosmos and bending them to his will, tearing atoms asunder to slake his lust for violence. And similarly, the woman said nothing, watching it all with a face of slight, motherly disapproval, her delicate, slender fingers barely moving as she undid all he wrought, long legs moving lackadaisically as she elegantly sidestepped his blows. Ygnor lost himself in a mindless rage, all of his focus on one goal: to exterminate the creature in front of him.

Since physical attacks were not working, he changed strategies. Ygnor tapped into a more demonic kind of energy and summoned the ghosts of the billions of aliens and monsters that he had defeated in his quest for power and glory. The extremely malformed and ghoulish phantoms of deceased warriors pounced on the much smaller woman. But she didn’t fret, and as the terrifying shadows of pure power engulfed her, she nonchalantly opened a third eye where her bindi was before. The light was so pure, so awesome, that they all were magically transformed into pure, white doves. As the birds flew away from the scene, set free from their former master, it was starting to become more and more clear that her claim to godhood was not a mere boast.

He forgot his objective of enlightening her in the first century of their battle, but then again, it had been merely lip service. He had never had any real intention of settling their philosophical differences. He held on to his singular hate for another three, but, in time, it dwindled. He tore the universe into subatomic shreds, and the next moment, it was made whole. He made tatters of time and hurled the wild, chaotic energies of the quantum stream at Rishabha, but she merely caught them and reknit the fabric of reality with ease. By the time they were in their fifth century, he had forgotten why he was fighting. Merely that he was.

By the seventh, he merely wanted it to end, as, for the first time in his eons of life, he felt his muscles grow tired and his energy ebb. His anger at this newfound feeling called exhaustion spurred him on for another century, but such renewed conviction was only ephemeral.

At the dawn of the ninth century, his last, feeble punch brushed against Rishabha’s hand, his skin hard and cracked after almost a millennia of battle. And the woman’s, he noted, as his thoughts faded, was soft and supple, as it always had been.

How.. ridiculous…

Ygnor never regained his balance from his strike. He pitched forward, collapsing onto one knee, bracing himself with his arms against the ground, his bellowing breathing ragged and shallow. The lines on his face glowed with only a faint, feeble light, and his frame, once a mountainous mass of muscle, seemed emaciated and depleted. His armour was rent and torn from his own violence, his knuckles ruined, hands clenched in arthritic rigor. And his voice, when he spoke, was but a whisper, almost lost in the gentle breeze.

“I… see…”

Ygnor the conqueror, bane of empires, drinker of stars, destroyer of worlds, looked up for one last time at the woman before him. The words foundered in his throat, and instead, he raised a single arm, still clenched in a fist. He grunted and strained, and with all of his remaining energy, opened his hand, offering it to Rishabha. And for the first time, she opened her eyes completely, twin dark, scintillating pools holding eternal wisdom, and the warrior chuckled quietly. She stepped closer, taking his massive hand in her own, and the two stared at each other for a moment, a single breath, but to Ygnor, that moment seemed longer than the nine centuries he’d fought.

“Yes… I see.”

The light faded from his eyes. But the titan did not buckle as he died; he remained a proud figure, an immutable statue, even in death. Rishabha gave his hand a final squeeze, then gently lowered him down to the ground, handling his enormous frame as if he were light as a feather.

“I told you it was not too late to follow the path of true enlightenment.” She whispered, her voice thick with sorrow and regret. She knelt down beside him, resting a hand on his chest. “And I am glad you saw the truth at the end.” She gave her foe a small, secretive smile, then closed her eyes once more, folding her hands in her lap. Her breathing slowed, and her smile grew, as she gave herself over to Morpheus’ caring hands. And for the first time in almost a thousand years, the ascended one slept.

Her dreams were not like those of mortal men. She was in a realm of light, colours swirling all around her in a kaleidoscope of emotion and experience. They danced and sang in scintillating voices, using not words, but the chimes and chords of the universe’s pulse. The realm of the dead, where souls, no matter how tortured or content, unfulfilled or complete, went to enjoy their final repose. Other ones exactly like Ygnor had challenged her before, and now they resided here. Still trying to find what truly matters, and making real progress at it. She turned around, and saw a dark red form, shrouded in a black haze, kneeling before her. Its mighty head looked up, and she saw that within its chest, a white light pulsed and grew. She offered her hand, and the form looked at it, hesitating, before reaching for her and clasping her tight. She smiled, a thing of radiance, and the white light flared, banishing the nightly shroud enclosing the soul. And so, hand in hand, she led Ygnor into the light, into the network of pulsating, shining rainbows and music, and to the fulfilment he’d so craved, and so futilely, tragically fought for in life.

For such was her purpose. She was not a saint, or a god, or an eternal pinnacle of power. She was a Guide, and she would guide others to their own enlightenment.

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