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Where did it all begin? A strange question, and I am not certain I can give answer that would do it justice...but, I will tell you where I have been, and let you decide where, if anywhere, it began.
It's been seven years since I was reborn as you see me; just over nine years since my father was murdered, and just over ten years since my mother disappeared. I shall speak to you of these things anon.
Strange are my recollections of the life that went before; of the life in which I was merely a human girl of no particularly remarkable merit, born to parents that were capable and proud.
It was my mother's undoing. For pride, she betrayed her country and humanity at large. For pride, my father trusted no one in tracking her down.
For pride, he refused her, and for pride, she killed him.
All for that which would wear the face of pride.
That's almost how it is though, isn't it? It was pride that drove me to seek answer for my father's death and mother's disappearance, wasn't it?
A fool's own pride to imagine that I could handle the truth; that I could both find it and bend it to my meager comprehensions.
It was never pride at all though, was it. Not real pride; no, not real pride at all.
Fear wears many faces, yes...and fear masquerading as pride is hubris.
My mother was afraid. For a military woman of three decades' service, it must've been a hard realization to acknowledge, that of being afraid.
Afraid that this was the best she'd ever be...
Afraid that all she'd done was meaningless...
Afraid in greater quantity and quality than her love could match...
Afraid to be weak, and thus...too weak to be strong.
Joining Recluse, bandying government military secrets for her acceptance into Arachnos, murdering her own husband; my father; when he finally tracked her down and refused to join her, was shot to death for his trouble and for her fear.
I saw it in her, almost two years after my father's FBI colleagues broke the news of his murder to me, when I stood before her myself. My fathers' colleagues had never known who'd done it; only that he'd been working "off the clock", as they put it, to track any shred of my mother's fate or whereabouts down.
I didn't know anything back then, not about that and certainly not about what I would someday become. I'd seen superhumans on television of course, read about them in newspapers, heard about them on the radio, even met a few that worked with my parents in their respective federal agencies...but they were never real to me.
Not like the things you're surrounded by every day are real. They were 'less' real, somehow. Real for other people. Real someplace else that had no direct impact ony my life.
Kind've like how death is real to most people, or mortal fragility; they know all about it, but fear keeps most from really thinking about such things in anything resembling a coherent manner.
And, honestly, it was fear that kept me from really ever thinking about superhumans...but I'll get back to that later, as it's a bit of a deviation just now.
It all comes back to fear, doesn't it.
I wasn't at all expecting what I found, when I continued my father's work in tracking down my mother. From when I was nineteen to when I was twenty one, that was what I did with my life. I just didn't have it in me to let it go, to walk away or to leave it alone.
I established a strange friendship with the world around me in those two years, however. I didn't have money very often, and to be honest, I didn't take care of myself at all.
As it turned out, I didn't have to. The world around me seemed to take care of me in a preternaturally surreal way. Even though I rightly should have starved to death or been eaten by a bear or who knows what, not only did I never go hungry, but I always just 'knew' where the nearest shelter from a storm, warmth from a winter chill or water on a parched day was. Always.
I was too stupid to know anything on my own, of course, beyond that I had a mission, and I needed to know why my father had died, where my mother had gone and why my whole life had come undone. I didn't even think to question how or why it was that I just 'knew' where food, water, shelter and everything I actually needed was. I didn't even get around to wondering why it was that no matter which direction I felt like going in, it always turned out to be somehow, in some way great or small, useful to my over-arching mission objective.
Most people, at nineteen, would be smarter than that. They'd probably be too smart, well-grounded or whatever it was that I wasn't to ever set foot out their front door in pursuit of an objective like I did. They'd mourn for a while, maybe eventually get over it, maybe off themselves with a whole month's worth of valium and a bottle of whiskey or a pistol, but most would not do what I did.
Most would, for their superior reasonability, rationality or at least laziness, not see what I did either.
They would never see how the destitute, the forgotten, the unwanted or the forsaken live where no media journalist or cameraman would ever be tromping.
They'd never hear the tranquil silence of winter-shrouded mountains an hour before dawn, when those with the ears for such things can hear the soul of the world herself whisper.
They'd never drive themselves to and past the edges of civilization, chasing gut feelings and random ideas like Don Quixote chasing windmills.
They'd never see how their mighty heroes, so busy saving the world, were very often just figments of the imagination, if even that much, to people starving to death in the alleys of their own cities' slums, or just trying to scratch out a sense of amelioration in their otherwise miserable, static, nowhere-going existences.
Of course, most would call them sane for never doing as I did, and I daresay, I think most would be right to do so. Not everyone could see or hear those things, even if they were tossed right in the midst of it all. You have to want to first, and without that foundation of desire, there is nothing to build a framework of comprehension upon.
Just the same, I spent two years being what you and those like you would call homeless, shiftless, derelict and insane.
I was always learning, of course. Always inquiring after my parents. Always feeling out new, strange things about the world around me and getting to know her better, even if I didn't know that that was what I was doing. It is likely that I was better able to learn such things for not knowing that I was learning them. Mortals as I was seem to need to be tricked into learning, but...I'll spare you my thoughts on that.
As I said before, to get back to my initial point, I established a strange relationship with the world around me in that time. I learned how to live off the land, to uncover nature's secrets even in urban jungles and to live off of them, how to see, to listen, to feel and to know.
I made my way across the country, following phantom lead after vague hunch, led to each by something I'd heard and simply followed, or something I idea inspired by something I'd seen. Eventually, I arrived in Texas, just north of the Rio Grande in some little dust-bin town I don't think I ever knew the name of, which was where I caught the scent of an Arachnos Restoration Project just to it's south.
A gut feeling told me to investigate it and, when I got to doing exactly that, the answers I got fairly well shocked me; the project commander was my very own mother.
She, the spirit of the world, had brought me down a long and winding road to be right there, right then. Couldn't have been anything else; I certainly hadn't gotten there by my own ability, and to chalk it all up to coincidence would be the more extraordinary of the two claims.
That in mind, for the first time in the whole two year jaunt, I set out to investigate. Went for a two day hike right down to the black and red tent-base my mothers' Arachnos team had set up, walked right up to one of the patrol guards and stated my business...and, after a lot of saber-rattling and blustering, they took me to my mother.
They didn't believe me what-so-ever of course, but when they took me to her, I think they changed their minds for the look on my mothers' face.
It was a look that said "baffled", "intrigued" and "surprised" at the same time.
I was so happy to see her, and it seemed that she was happy to see me as well, though as the dialogue progressed, it became increasingly apparent to me that something was off with her.
When I told her about father's murder, she said she knew, and this didn't seem to trouble her. When I asked why she'd never come back for me, she said I wasn't ready to join her back then, and I remember saying that I didn't understand what she meant by that.
And that was when she pulled the big unveil on what she'd done, how she'd done it and why, all in her own words, all with the most casual of tones and fierily determined of casts to her eyes.
It should have horrified me to hear and see her tell thisme in the same manner as most would speak of the weather but glare at the gates of Hell, about how she'd received an offer she couldn't refuse from Recluse himself; a position offering her power, life unending and the chance to lead rather than forever follow the directives of lesser beings.
It should have horrified me, but it just...didn't. It should have been a lot of things, maybe, but all it was to me was the pile of answers it seemed, then, that I'd thrown my entire life away in pursuing. Answers I didn't like, but couldn't very well argue with for how poorly I really understood the gravity of it all.
Then, she decided that finding her on my own was proof of my being ready to join her...but I didn't want anything to do with that either. It didn't horrify me, what she'd done, but it did disgust me thoroughly.
It disgusted me and it showed me just how selfish, ambitious and foolish my mother had become, and I told her so.
In retrospect, it likely would have been wiser to have picked my words better, but if I had it to do all over again, I don't think I'd say a thing differently. They were true, those words, and sometimes the truth just isn't easy to live with.
I died for saying them a short time later as ironic proof of this, in fact. I refused my mother just as my father had done, and for it, she put a bullet through my heart.
I remember the look in her eyes as she raised the gun and pulled the trigger, however. I'll never forget it, even though all the rest of my memories feel like they're being filtered from a time long ago and a place far away.
She knew, one second after she'd pulled the trigger, exactly what she'd done, and I don't think she was as prepared for it as she'd imagined herself to be.
If she had any regret for killing my father, I never saw it in the short time we spoke, but in that split second between her squeezing the trigger and my world going dark after a brief haze of the strangest pain I'd ever felt, I saw regret introduce itself to her eyes with all the gentleness of a falling building.
Obviously, you might indeed be wondering how I'm sitting here telling you this story if that ending were true.
It'd be a fair thing to wonder. To be honest, I can't pretend to fully understand it myself, though like I said before...I'd developed a strange relationship with the world around me.
Seems that the world was too fond of that relationship to let me go so easily, as I woke up some months later, buried in the ground...and very much changed. Roots were growing all through me, nothing really hurt anymore and my whole body had become long, thin and dense as ebony.
The Arachnos base was long gone by that time, which I found after rather easily digging myself out of the grave I'd been buried in, though I only remembered scant fragments of who I was, how I'd gotten buried in the middle of nowhere or just why I'd been there at all.
A lot of it came back to me as I wandered around. I didn't need to eat, breath, drink or worry in any weather anymore; standing in the rain, sometimes putting roots down into the ground, or just standing around in the sunlight was all I ever had want for.
As the memories returned, however, a lot of confusion came with them. I didn't know what I'd become, or how, and certainly not why.
What I did know was that, out in the deepest reaches of the wilderness I roamed before finding my way back to civilization, I was never alone, never lonely, and peaceful in the sort of way words just won't describe.
Nature takes the life she gave, but sometimes...she gives it back for her own purposes.
It's been seven years since I dug my way out of that grave I was buried in. Three years since I found my way back to civilization, and only a single year since making my way to Paragon City.
I came here for a lot of reasons, of course.
Foremost amongst those reasons is that all my time spent wandering the wilds of this beautiful world taught me a lot about what it truly means to listen and not merely hear, to see and not merely look...to live, and not merely exist.
She speaks to me always now, though not in words like I'm using to talk to you right now. The earth, the spirit of the world, the source of all life that was, is or will be here...she is a beautiful, ancient creature, far older than the stone, the water or the tiny lives upon her.
To live as she chose me to live, I needed to know what life was...and to know life, I needed to know death too.
It might sound strange to you, but death is neither the opposite nor the enemy of life. It is a thing feared by many, but many things that are poorly understood are held as fearsome.
I will not ask you to understand this, or even to accept it. It does not matter if you do or do not, because it is a truth that understands and accepts us all, no matter how we might struggle against it.
It is a truth that even gods must bend knee to, for all that which lives must, in it's time, know death.
And that brings me, at last, to why I am here, for what little I understand of it.
I am here to protect life when it is life's time to be, and to give death when it is death's time to be.
Why I was chosen by the spirit of this world to do this, I do not know. That I am not alone in being so chosen is certain, though I do not know others like myself yet; only that it is certain that they are out there, doing as I do in their own fashions.
It is strange to you, I see, to consider death as anything but a foe to outrun, outwit and stave off at every turn.
Perhaps it is that you fight death; the deaths of others undeserved, the deaths of innocents, the deaths of those unable to stand before the threats arrayed against them.
Whyever it is you do this, I do not judge you for your doings, even if you do not agree with how I see things.
Just know that it is for us all to live while it is life's time to be...and that I and those like me shall be there when it is death's time to be.
Those who flee death through unnatural means, such as Arachnos' many cyborgs, the spirits of the Circle of Thorns and many amongst the Banished Pantheon, are the enemies of life.
Those who seek to prolong their lives by any means available and no matter the cost do themselves sore injustice; truly, what could be more tragic than fearfully clinging to life that wishes to depart by force of machines and binding magics? What indeed...what indeed.
I shall leave you now to consider these answers to your questions.
Live well, in the meantime. Live with meaning, and to thine own self be true.
I will see you again...sooner or later. I or another like me.
Perhaps, when we meet at your appointed hour, you will seek to fight me, to cage me with machines and magic; to hide from me by any means possible.
Or perhaps, when next we meet, you shall regard me as an old friend, unafraid and understanding of what it is I have told you.
Either way...you have an appointment with me, or another like me...eventually.
Just what you will do of or about this, well...time will tell.
It always does, I find.