The Immortal Choice


Stories from the Realms

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Post Tue Jan 03, 2006 4:18 am

The Immortal Choice


This is the sequel story to Alexidra. It chronicles 'what came after'. This and the Alexidra story are, from a historical perspective, the only depictions of a "true" first one before their blood weakens and gets polluted. The character of Alexidra and her protege are fixtures in the Ring Realms cosmos. The race they interact with are early offshoots of the Numanorians, which places this story over 50,000 cycles previous to most of the stories that are depicted in the novels. I don't know if Alexidra or Nim will show up in the novels but it might be interesting. Nim is already hundreds of years old in this story, her mind possessing a serenity that humans would not normally acquire in their chaotic and competitive existences.

The Immortal Choice
<br>

The storm raged across the planet, a tempest of winds that wept and screamed. Lightning licked against the darkened acropolis, the beautiful evergreens bent double in hurricane winds. The hillside was flooded with pilgrims who flung themselves into the maelstrom in an attempt to end their tedium. Like broken dolls, they shattered against the rocks below, only to shake themselves minutes later and shamble away in anger.

The boldest men and women struggled toward the summit to beseech the goddess. To seek an end to madness. To end their immortality. Most were hurled back by the savage winds, others too daunted by her wrath turned away in dejection.

The cathedral loomed around Alexidra, the high winds a constant drone that echoed throughout. The marble pillars, inlaid floors, vaulted arches, and muraled ceilings were all for her. Dedications to a love now lost.

She leaned on the arm of the throne, chin on fist, her platinum hair stirred by the occasional draft. Her golden eyes gleamed, and sparks spiraled in firefly dance around a twinkling cloak of stars.

The woman stared down the dais steps toward the starfield mural in the floor. The stars, soon she must return to them. This world wanted her no longer. The sting of failure bit deep, a pain she'd never experienced. Love had begot hatred. Kindness gave birth to fury.

Why do they have to die?

A man's voice impinged on her thoughts. "Goddess?" She ignored it.

Had pride blinded her? Was all this maneuvering simply to ease her conscience? An attempt to wipe away the guilt of a thousand worlds dead and gone?

The voice rose, more insistent now. "Goddess?"

Selfishness? Because Nim, her adopted child, needed to be with her own kind. A private playground erected for her benefit. With the people granted the same gifts so she would not be ostracized for being immortal.

Almost a yell now. "Goddess!"

Alexidra glared at him. Balthen stood at the top of the steps. A blocky man with broad shoulders and a baby face, his blue tunic crimson with blood. He held out his shredded hands in appeal.

Were he not Nim's consort she would have expelled him from the temple with the others. Alexidra wanted to grieve in solitude.

What brought him here now?

"Call me that no more. I am not your goddess, nor do I think I ever was. No real god could have failed as I have." Her voice echoed through the hall, tremulous for all its power.

Balthen bowed his head. "Mother, Mallick's disciples have taken Nim. I could not get her back. Though I cannot die, neither could I defeat them."

Alexidra frowned and several bolts of lightning twined down into the courtyard in a rumbling flash. Vexed, she quieted the storm with a sweep of her hand. The shrieking gale subsided.

"What can they seek to do?"

"She cannot die Mother, but she can suffer. Unless their demands are met they will put acid in her veins."

"What do they want?"

Balthen looked into her eyes and swallowed. "To be gods."

Alexidra's eyes flashed. "Half of you want to kill yourselves, and the other half want to rule the cosmos. Is there any end to this insanity? What Nim sees in your people is beyond fathoming. Once, I felt humans were precious; that their dreams were treasures to nurture and protect. Now—" her voice trailed off.


I was so naive. Nim helped me to fathom my existence. The beginning was so beautiful, why couldn't it have stayed that way?

Nim was born on a dying world that breathed its last half a millennia ago. The last human alive on that distant sphere. I gave her life, she gave me purpose. I taught her to tap the universe's infinite power. Together we learned harmony and union.

We came here and tried to share what we'd learned. I gave them eternal life like our own. Life without death, disease, or infirmity.

Nim called it paradise.

Then the eruptions. The people proliferated and food became scarce. I solved that too. I made the crops more bountiful, and births became fewer. Neither of us foresaw the conflicts between generations.

War.

I stopped the killing. I made their flesh more resilient. Knife wounds and gunshots no longer killed. The feuds continued, they devised even stronger weapons.

Finally, I had to destroy the arms themselves. Nim tried to counsel them, cool the rage. Paradise was quiet for a time, but I could feel the explosion building. They who once worshipped, now resented me. They wanted the right to die.


The right to die. Alexidra shook her head and looked at Balthen.

"Where is she?"

He frowned. "In the Temple of Jherick."

She nodded, her features taut. "Am I wrong, Balthen? Should I let them die?"

"You aren't wrong to abolish war. I don't wish to grow old."

The Cura closed her eyes and sighed.

<Nim.> Her thought flashed out.

<Mother.> The answer was serene; no fear, no anger.

<Have they hurt you?>

<No.> Alexidra felt concern in Nim's thought, but it wasn't for herself.

<If they do, I will unmake them.>

<Mother, please.>

<I have shown them kindness and this is their repayment? To threaten you? I will unmake them.>

<Mother, they are confused, they don't understand.>

<Nim, you have the power, free yourself.>

<I would have to kill them, Mother.>

<Give them their death, if they desire it.> Tears welled in the Cura's eyes. <You are what is precious to me. They will learn nothing from your becoming a martyr.>

Alexidra could feel the sadness. <Mother, I can dissuade them.>

<Can you? You have been trying for centuries. I refuse to let you suffer for their sake. Come home, Balthen is here, at least he is sane.>

<No, Mother. I must try.>

The Cura's features darkened, and the ground trembled. <They want me to make them gods.>

<Foolish desires from misguided men. They cannot kill me, I will make them see reason.> The telepathic rapport broke.

Alexidra stood up and bit her lip. She clenched her hands. "She is convinced she can persuade them to peace."

Balthen bowed his head. "Mallick is insane. He cannot be reasoned with."

She nodded. "I can make everyone in the temple mortal again. Then you can retrieve her."

"Won't that—"

"Yes. You must retrieve her before they realize."

"Can't you—"

"I will not kill Balthen. Not if there is another way."

"If they would torture her to see their desires met, I will kill them." He made a fist, his shredded hands had healed. "I know the violence bothers you. Sometimes there is no other way."

The Cura's features were stiff. "It seems some life is not worthy of preserving." She paused as if the words stung. "I will send you as close as I can. Nim can call me when you are ready to return." She put her hands on his shoulders. "I have always thought that Nim chose wisely. You have not disappointed me."

Balthen took a breath, eyes glistening. "I will not fail."

"I know you won't." She nodded and he was gone.

Alexidra sat again in the great throne and put her face in her hands and wept.

This decision has no options and all my power cannot alter it.


Alexidra felt the scream with all her soul. A single dispairing thought that trailed off.

She shot to her feet.

<Mother! Bring us home, now!>

Before Nim completed the thought she and Balthen were on the dais. The man lay still and cold, a blue-green burn on his chest.

Nim's golden hair was matted, a torn and bloody blouse hung loose on slumped shoulders as she clutched Balthen. A blackened bruise stood out on her cheek.

"Mother, a new weapon— I—" she shuddered and stood up. "I unmade a man—" she choked. "I was so angry, so afraid. Say you can help Balthen, my healing does not work!"

Alexidra hugged Nim, no longer the little girl she could enfold in her arms. She'd grown up tall and straight and every bit as beautiful as the she first envisioned. The goddess' eyes were dark as she knelt next to Balthen.

The Cura's finger's shook as she traced the wound. "If any life remained, I might have revived him. This evil they have created is as close to unmaking as to make no difference."

"No!" Nim struck her temples with her fists. "I was so sure— so sure—" she bit her lip and tears streamed down her face. "Balthen saved me. He stepped in the way— he—"

She fell to her knees, wailing.

Alexidra knelt and held her tight. "You want so much from them, perhaps too much."

"But I—"

"They are not you. You were always special. It is what brought us together. We have made each other strong. Our harmony cannot be imposed, it must be learned. They are not ready for the lesson now, perhaps never."

"No mother they—"

"Listen." Alexidra shook Nim. "The dream is over."

"No goddess, it is only beginning."

"Mallick." Nim choked.

The wiry cultist sidled across the temple like a snake, his slicked back topknot wavering in the air behind him. He clutched a metallic abomination in his hands. The unmaker, a gordian knot of glass and steel that glowed and throbbed with energy. Ten of his cultists followed him carrying more of the same device.

Alexidra rose to her feet, her glistening cloak fluttering in a draft.

"What do you wish?"

Mallick grimaced, wild eyes glittering. The man's sallow skin gave his face a skull-like appearance.

"Were you not told? I wish to take your place. I want to become a god." He pointed the weapon at Nim as she knelt on the dais.

"You think to acquire divinity merely by asking for it?"

"I will acquire it because if I don't, your daughter will die."

"I will not give you such power."

Mallick's finger twitched on the trigger. "I will do it. I have nothing to lose."

Alexidra's voice dropped to a whisper, still audible throughout the hall. "There are worse things than dying."

The corners of Mallick's mouth twitched, as he stared into Alexidra's fiery gold eyes. "You cannot kill, you don't even know how."

The Cura did not smile. "Would you teach me then Mallick? Give me a reason to learn?"

"Mother." Nim's voice trembled. "He means to do it."

"You cannot raise the dead. I can pull the trigger before I die. Suffering for my crime will be a pyrrhic victory at best."

Alexidra narrowed her eyes. "If you are so certain, do it, I will not honor your request."

The Cura watched the knot in Mallick's throat, the shaking of his hands. Sky blue eyes narrowed to slits.

<Mother,> Nim pleaded.

Alexidra moved as Mallick's mind snapped. The green blue radiance struck her in the chest as she lunged into the beam's path.

Nim yelped in surprise.

Alexidra was engulfed in anti-life, and the Cura's howl brought stone crashing down from the ceiling. Gale winds ripped through Cathedral, and lightning boomed. The goddess dropped to her knees and clawed at the coruscating energy.

Like she tore through a barrier of paper, the goddess shredded the clinging force and cast it aside. The Cura's face was pale and her hands shook.

Staggered, many of the men fell, others dropped to their knees in awe. Mallick, eyes wide stared up at Alexidra.

"Stay behind me!"

"Mother, you're hurt."

"Child, disobediance cost you Balthen's life, listen to me." She glared down at Mallick. "To kill her, you must slay me first."

The man looked at his weapon in disbelief.

Mallick glanced back at his followers. Four remained steady. "Fire!"

Five beams of death. Alexidra threw up her hands to ward off the blow. Energy cascaded across the dais, shattering the stone and scortching the air. The Cura cried in anguish, but refused to be unmade.

"I have always been, I will always be. What was not created cannot be unmade!"

As she felt her resistance dim, the goddess doubted the truth of her own words. Reality itself could be unmade with enough power.

She heard Nim's anguished sobs and mentally whispered her goodbyes.

One, two, three, the beams winked out. Four, a scream. Five, the sound of metal imploding.

"No. You will not die for me."

Nim caught the staggered Cura as she fell, and cradled the goddess in her arms. "I refuse to let you be more noble than me."

Alexidra's hands were blackened and blisters pocked her magnificent face. She forced a wan smile.

"I unmade them mother, it was right."

The Cura nodded. "Mallick?"

"He weeps." Nim closed her eyes.

The temple echoed with mad Mallick's sobs. Nim leaned over Alexidra, hands seeking out the wounds.

The Cura smiled, remembering centuries ago, how Nim always seemed to be tending her wounds. Then Alexidra was new to flesh, having previously existed as nothing more than a ghost that lived in the cores of worlds. Injuries were common until she acquired more coordination. Even before she taught Nim the ways of power the girl could heal, able instinctively close a wound or cleanse a festering.

Alexidra sighed as the pain lessened. "The people ascend the hill. I cannot stop them."

"I know. We will face them together."

"Help me."

Alexidra stood with Nim's help. She wavered.

It may be millennia before I regain the strength I lost today.

She staggered to the throne and slumped down in it.

Nim knelt next to Balthen and shed a last tear, kissing his forehead she bid him a final farewell.

"Mother?"

Alexidra stared at Mallick who lay sprawled on the Cathedral floor. The weapon of unmaking lay as a mangled mass of steel and shattered glass. The cultist's mind was clearly gone as he laughed and sobbed beat the floor with his fists.

She looked at Nim. "Some fates are worse than dying. I think he shall live a very long time."

Nim glanced at him and she swallowed. Alexidra knew Nim could forgive much. Mallick she did not forgive. Nim's gaze turned to her.

"Mother, we should do something for Balthen."

Alexidra looked at the fallen man and took a breath. "He kept his promise. His only desire was to keep you safe." Her eyes flashed and energy swept across Balthen's still form. He grew brighter until the nimbus collapsed upon itself, coalescing into a fist-sized crystaline sphere. "Even unmaking could not destroy his love."

Nim cradled the sphere in her arms. "He will live on in me."

The first of the pilgrims crossed the cathedral floor. Many of them knelt but others gazed up unabashed at the goddess. Mallick whimpered and scrambled out of reach of the ones who approached him.

The hall filled with seekers, and the bravest climbed the first three steps of the dais.

Some of Alexidra's strength returned, though only a fraction of what she'd lost in the fray. Nim sat on the arm of the throne, a disheveled herald.

Robes soaked and torn the tallest of the men climbed to the last step and bowed. The man's blue-black hair hung in long braids around his neck, his chestnut eyes were earnest and calm as he scanned her face.

"Goddess."

"Seeker Poul." Alexidra strained to make the words heard throughout the hall.

"Goddess, I—"

"The will of the people proceeds you. It saddens me greatly. I am disappointed—" she paused, eyes flickering to Mallick. "Very disappointed."

Poul glanced toward the cultist. He nodded to some men nearest the gibbering Mallick. Shrieking and writhing they dragged him from the temple.

When the last sounds of the struggling Mallick faded in the distance, Poul looked back to Alexidra. "Some are ready for your gift, but many are not."

Alexidra nodded. "I have been considering the dilemma for hours. The decision is clear, but it is one I do not wish to make."

"Goddess?"

Alexidra sighed, then rose and looked out at the throng that huddled underneath her gaze. She held her hand out to Nim who looked frightened. The young woman took it and stood clutching Balthen's crystal.

"There are two choices I might make. To ignore your protests, force you into a mold you are not ready for. The other is equally cruel. To take away a chance for greatness humans have never achieved throughout their history." Her golden eyes panned across the crowd. "A damning decision whichever I choose."

Poul swallowed and the crowd went silent.

Alexidra took a long breath. "I find I am a coward. Refusing to choose is itself a choice. That is my decision." The crowd started to stir as the meaning struck home.

Alexidra's hand glowed and a single dot of light began at her fingertips. The spark swelled and grew. The Cura's face went pale, and she gritted her teeth. In a minute the sphere became a seething mass of energy hovering a few feet above the dais. With a sweep of her hand the sphere of glass enclosed it. The globe lowered gently into the cradle of the throne.

Nim had to hold her up. "As my last act as goddess I give you this. I leave you with the decision." She gestured to the crowd. "The unmaking of immortality is simple. Shatter the ball and all that I have wrought shall be undone. Any strong man may do it. Consider carefully, ponder long and hard as I have. To do this is to bring back disease, death, and infirmity. It will reinstate all the things that men strive to defeat."

She looked around the multitude. "Anyone who can break this is far stronger than I." She pulled the cloak from her shoulders and in her hands it became a long iron bar.

She stepped down and handed it to Poul.

"You choose."

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Post Tue Jan 03, 2006 4:39 am

Additional Commentary

This was still very early in my writing development. There are a great number of things I would probably change given many years of experience. I've left the story as it was, still a bit rough with some dangling anachronisms and "earthisms". The biggest one that stands out to me is "humans". It always is a challege to refer to "men" or "man" in the broadest sense without saying "human". A creature can look like a "human" or "humanoid" and not be human-- it is what it is.

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