DIVA: A Break from Tradition #2
deucexm at gmail.com
Thu Dec 24 23:21:24 PST 2020
I had a terrible headache and forgot I was going to post this after I came home
from work last night. Well, here it is; at post time, part 3 is done but the
epilogue yet remains to be finished. We'll see...
A Break from Tradition: A DiVerse Alpha Chronicle
Part 2 of 3
"There is a priceless artifact within this tower," the teacher's voice began
with measured softness, slicing through the stagnant, heavy air that remained
after the door was closed. "One that outshines the rest by far; it is not
powerful, exactly, but to the Empire it is dangerous. For it is the essence of
freedom itself, and the Empire is built on slavery; of body and of mind. By now
such an artifact should have been destroyed, so I can only imagine it has been
forgotten, or otherwise hidden."
With a quiet but still startling *kfoomp* two fiery orbs ignited, resting atop
the teacher's shoulders, casting their red-orange light through the room and
making shadows dance weirdly upon the walls.
"Then how do /you/ know it is here?"
"My God has never steered me wrong thus far," he returned, solemnly.
The Empress-to-be stood there in the wavering light, and for a moment She said
nothing. Then: "You have never spoken of this matter before. Or of anything
like it, or about your past."
The teacher nodded gravely. "Indeed I have not."
"Then let me ask you this, teacher: what else would you tell me, of your own
accord, while there are no other ears to hear it?"
He smiled. "An excellent question. Let us descend, and I shall speak."
Just as before, the teacher led the way, and the Empress-to-be followed him down
the first flight of stairs. Though it was difficult to discern details amidst
the shifting shadows, She could tell this floor - much like the last - was a
patchwork mess of cases and cages of every size. Each one contained something
different: a trophy, an item of power, a fragment of something completely
misunderstood - there was no way to tell the difference without further
examination. Regrettably, they had no time to indulge in Her curiosity. At
least not right now, She told Herself, clenching a fist briefly within Her long
sleeve. When I take the throne...
"I came to the Imperial Palace with the highest possible recommendations," the
teacher spoke without preamble, turning the corner at the foot of the stairs and
heading to the next flight down, moving quickly but cautiously, avoiding the
containers. The Empress-to-be followed his example. "For I taught the best
doctrine, and produced the most successful graduates in the service of the
Empire. Loyal subjects, all; and I, the most loyal, for guiding them."
"That is what you do, and what you have done with me."
"Just so. And - as I now have with you - I taught them even /more/ than
doctrine, when no one was around to see or to stop me; I taught them to think,
to see, to judge. And to stay silent, even if it pained them, and to wait for
the right moment."
The Empress-to-be made a quiet 'mm'. "And what moment is that?"
The teacher made his way down the second flight of stairs. "The ascent of an
Empress who also thinks and sees and judges, who is no weak-willed, blindered
puppet like those who have come before her for so many years. An Empress who is
willing to change what must be changed - to /act/. Personally, if it comes to
that; but with wisdom and understanding."
"That is... no small task," the Empress-to-be murmured. "And I must admit, I
fear I am ill-prepared to undertake it, even with the benefit of all your
"That is where the artifact comes in," he returned, slipping between the cases
and heading for the far wall. "In order to provide you with vision and
discernment beyond mortal limits, for nothing else will suffice for one who
shoulders the weight of an Empire that reaches into the stars."
The Empress-to-be stopped abruptly between two glass cases, a wave of cold
washing over Her - even in the stifling room, underneath a heavy fur cloak.
"The s-stars? How...?" For a moment, words escaped Her, only images of the
night sky in Her mind.
"It is never spoken of," the teacher murmured with a deep sigh, "for the burden
is too heavy. Not until the ascent to the throne - and then, the truth is
revealed; that this is merely the First World of the Empire, what other powers
know as the Gray Empire, and that Imperial territory spans... well over one
hundred worlds by now; perhaps two. So many that we no longer call them by
name. And then," he continued, turning to fix the Empress-to-be with a somber
gaze, "we tell our terrified ruler not to worry - that we have everything under
control - that they need only concern themselves with matters here, and be a
symbol of life and hope to their people."
She said nothing.
"I have said too much..."
"No..." The Empress-to-be continued across the room. "No, it is... it is much
to know, but not too much. Better to be forewarned than blindsided..." Her
voice trailed off, and for a moment She let Her guard down. "... Teacher, will
I- can I journey to the stars for myself some day?"
The teacher dropped to one knee again. "If you stay alive from now to your
coronation, my student," he managed, his voice slightly hoarse with rare
emotion, "then you may yet have your chance."
She closed Her eyes, and when She reopened them, She was Her usual self again -
the calm, dispassionate Empress-to-be. "I will trust your words," She returned
softly. "And I will do this - shoulder this weight - of my own will. For you,
and for your students, and for all those I have yet to meet." There was a glint
in Her eyes now, a steel edge that the teacher had suspected but never seen
until now. "And for /myself/. I have much to see - and I would not be deprived
of /what is mine/ by those who would seek to blind me."
The teacher paused a moment, then nodded. "I am glad to hear it." He turned,
and reached underneath one of the cases - and with a quiet *crack* of
splintering wood, pulled a small case from the shadows, where it would have
doubtless remained overlooked. After a brief effort, the lid came open with a
sharp whine of protest-
-revealing a luminous, almost painfully bright blue cube, its surface etched
with intricate patterns that shifted endlessly. "This is a relic from a time
before our time, blessed by the Goddess Eris: the Freethought Core," he
whispered, reverently. "I dare not touch it; it is yours alone, milady. This
is my duty, now that you have accepted your own." He lifted his head to look at
the Empress-to-be again, his face lit by the strange blue light and his cheeks
by the fiery orbs on his shoulders. "But I cannot- I /will/ not make the choice
for you. I owe you that much, and more."
"... And if, at this juncture, I refrained?"
The teacher moved not a muscle. "I would ask my God for guidance."
"Well, at least you have a plan," the Empress-to-be murmured, pressing a
fingertip to the top point of the cube. "Though it comes as no surp-"
Quick as a hummingbird, blue angular veins crawled up the surface of Her white
glove - cold as ice, colder than ice! Up under the cloak, up Her arm, Her
shoulder, Her neck-
The Empress-to-be's world turned blue and deathly cold. Then, black.
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