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Generated: May 31, 2021 9:47 PM
Post last updated: May 31, 2021 9:47 PM
as water has no constant form
anakin did not have "getting adopted by a god of war" on her clone wars bingo card
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Ares buries Xena and Gabrielle outside of Xena's home village. The temple that once stood for him here, where Ares tricked the man who would've been Xena's father, is nothing more than an outline of stone in the dirt. The buildings and fields that once sheltered his daughter are little more than skeletons, the village abandoned after the gateway to all the Hells of this world was ripped open under it. 

Ares has no idea why it wasn't abandoned earlier. Mortals are strange. 

Well.

He's mortal now, too. His godhood still lurks in the back of his mind, in the weave of reality, but the world has changed. No more room for the gods or heroes of old. Just mortal bodies and minds and fates, and he doesn't really know what will become of him and his siblings anymore. Xena will be reborn someday, he knows - time has tangled and looped back in on itself enough to confirm that -

But it won't be his Xena. No one will, but...

Especially not some girl born to peace. 

He can't stand this 'fixed' world. 

But outside of this world - it's still true, fundamentally, that Ares is a god, and he is not bound here. 

He steps out of reality and turns his gaze further afield, to worlds that still have room for war. To see if there's another Xena ready for war, perhaps without a him looking over her. 

...Or one with a him who needs a slap upside the head still. 

He casts his gaze far afield, to strange worlds. Many of them have no room for gods, either, though the ones with reflections of his Xena do more frequently. He sees many shadows of those reflections, some more warped than others, and narrows his search to just those reflections that resemble Xena most strongly.

Not many of them have an Ares at all. Fewer need him. 

But -

His gaze draws to one world, to the shadow of a girl that resonates with similaritues to his daughter. Nearly the same mold. The world different, the logistics of the wars grander and more complicated, but -

Still the same. Still warlords. Still the great and the small, a land without enough heroes. A young reflection of Xena, not yet a warlord, certainly not yet the hero she ultimately grew into and died as. Already swept up in war and the futile effort to preserve her homeland, though, a home that will ultimately have no place for what the effort of defending it will shape the girl into.

A strange birth, questionable parentage, but - no Ares involved. He squints at this Xena's father. Specifics of a world are hard to get without immersing himself in it - and therefore removing this distant view - but there's something to the patterns...

Rage floods through Ares, an old, familiar friend, long since thought killed by exhaustion.

He was a terrible father for Xena. But he wasn't as bad as the shadow lurking over this war. 

Ares steps into the world, searching out the local reflection of his daughter. 

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War sucks.

Anakin's somewhat past having moral opinions about the grand sweep of war. What it's for. If it's righteous on either side. Who's the worst bastard. If it'll ever be worth it. 

She hates it, and it sucks, and every death feels like it's chipping away at her mind, her sanity, and she wants it to stop

Her formless anger and exhaustion hasn't dulled her one bit, though, and she senses a stranger manifesting suddenly near her as soon as he materializes in the world, spinning, lightsaber in her hand and already lit, held defensively.

(Okay, she's maybe a bit on edge. Still, she hasn't lashed out, and if she's hallucinating or something dumb this room's at least empty. It's her meditation room on her ship, which lately has meant her 'stare blankly at the wall and try not to scream' room.)

She narrows her eyes at the man. "Who are you?"

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"My name is Ares," he says. "I'm not here to harm you."

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"Then what are you here for?"

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"To help you," he says. "You appear to be at war, and that's rather my specialty."

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"You're rather lost if you were looking for a recruitment office."

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"I wasn't, in fact - I was looking for you, and it's you, not whatever flag you march under, that I want to help."

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"Why?"

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"You're interesting, and I recognized the pattern of your life even from outside this universe."

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"...Outside this universe," she repeats in a flat, skeptical tone. 

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"As I said. I have the power to move between them, though not trivially."

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"Can you prove it?"

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"Depends on how skeptical you're feeling."

And he vanishes, reappearing behind her. 

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She turns immediately and squints.

"...Do that again."

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"As you say."

And again - and again - turning around the room, sometimes moving quickly, sometimes fading in and out slowly. 

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"That's possible with the Force," she concludes after a bit, with perhaps more certainty than she should have given she's never seen anyone do that. "But you're not using it that I can feel."

Squint.

...She tries to levitate him.

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He doesn't move. 

"...You just tried something, didn't you?" he asks. "Also, what's the Force?"

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Hmm...

"The Force is a kind of energy that nearly everything is partially made of or interacts with. Its exact nature is unclear. I was trying to use it to make you float, which didn't work - but you interact with it, since I can feel you in it and you felt me doing something..."

Shove him back? 

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"What other things can you do with it?"

He doesn't react. 

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Read the emotions of, make herself invisible to...

"Lots."

"You want to jump on one foot." Mind trick? She's not very good at it, but...

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His emotions are curious, amused, but also somewhat oddly muffled and distant. He doesn't lose track of her. 

"Are you trying to mind control me?" he asks, sounding very entertained. "I felt that, by the way, but it didn't feel like my urge."

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"Not very effectively, apparently."

"Congrats, you're weird. Not sure I buy 'alternate universe,' and I definitely don't buy 'no ulterior motives,' but I'll acknowledge both are possible."

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Heh.

He's felt how she's poking him...

He tries to stop interacting with her - magic system? Weird physics?

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"And your Force presence just vanished. Feels a bit different from when most Force sensitives hide themselves..."

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And interacting fully...

"Try floating me again."

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Strange dude go up...

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He does, laughing a bit, then cuts himself off again, dropping to the floor.

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"Huh."

"It's entirely possible you're using the Force for all of this, of course," she says, examining him. "That'd be a weird lie, but I've heard weirder."

"Still, I won't try to stab you unless you go into a restricted area or threaten someone I care about," she says with a shrug. 

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"What if I ask you very nicely to try to stab me?"

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"Then I'd ask that we go to somewhere better suited for sparring first."

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"A true warrior should be ready in any environment."

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"But the best chooses her battleground," she says with a laugh. "And I prefer my stuff not knocked around."

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"Fair. I'll let you decide where, then."

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"There's places to spar. But I'd like to know how you got on the ship, first."

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"Magic," he says, wiggling his fingers. 

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That is a very unimpressed look she's sending him. 

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"Seriously. Alternate universe deity magic. Or in more straightforward terms, I entered this universe next to you. Wasn't aware this is a ship we're on."

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"Does your teleportation have a range limit?"

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"Well, I've never had a reason to try interstellar teleportation before, and I need to know where I'm going..."

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"So you're stuck with us until you can walk off."

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"Or you go somewhere else. I should be able to teleport to your side from wherever."

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"Uh huh."

"Can anything stop you from teleporting? At all, or into an area?"

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He raises an eyebrow. "You're welcome to try and find out."

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"So gracious of you," she says, voice dry. "Please tell me you at least show up on cameras."

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"Nope!" he says, popping the final consonant. "I'm a spook's worst nightmare."

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"I doubt that, unless you can read even protected minds or slice computers with a thought."

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"Fair. Literal mind readers running around does change the security situation."

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"Not so much if your security teams think most Force powers are a myth and that everyone with the Force is a hidebound Jedi."

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"Yes, idiots are a universal."

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"Scale works against us, anyways - there's a lot of galaxy and not a lot of Force users, let alone trained ones."

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"That just means the most efficient bastard wins."

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"Which unfortunately doesn't seem to be us."

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"Well, you're in luck, because I've been waging war longer than your civilization has existed."

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It's her turn to raise an eyebrow now. "Our civilization is very old," she says. 

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"Three hundred thousand years?"

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"...Not that old."

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He laughs. 

"Warfare has changed a lot over the eons, of course. But trust me when I say I have been at this a very long time."

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"As a deity," she says a bit slowly, as if tasting the words, rolling the idea around. 

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"Ares, God of War, of Courage, of the untamed wild and the field wrested by force from it, of peace through victory. Sometimes the god of brutality, and sometimes the god of treaties. And many other things; mortals enjoy piling epithets onto their gods."

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"Peace through victory and treaties both sound nice right now," she says, voice a bit wry, examining him. 

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"I won't even demand any sacrificial bulls for my help with that."

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"Then what do you demand?"

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"Let me train you. Let me see what you make of this world, when you have come fully into the power that is your right."

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She pauses, examining him, gaze heavy.  

(She doesn't think he's lying.)

"What would you teach me?" she asks. 

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"War," he says. "It's what I am. You have the air of a general - and one woefully unprepared for this role, but one who has soared to the challenge all the same."

"You have learned the movement of opponents who don't wish each other dead in a controlled, friendly, personal arena. You have seen the shock of clashing armies. You know something of diplomacy, of people. You know something of deception, though you were not taught that."

"Can you picture in your mind's eye the world you have, the world you want, and how to get between them?"

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"...The first, at least in the broad strokes. A - distant vision of the second. None of the third."

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"Mastery of war will require - will entail, inherently, at its core - all three."

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"...Obtaining goals - fixing the world - is about more than violence."

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"It is," he acknowledges. "Because only fools set their armies apart from the rest of their state. Only fools look at the shrouded path to their goals and throw swords and blood at it in a blind attack on the world. Only fools draw a neat little line around their army, and say this is an exceptional thing, a terrible thing, and we'll only use it if the alternative is more horrible yet. Only fools pretend violence doesn't even exist."

"War is about far, far more than putting one downtrodden man before another and telling them to murder each other."

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"Some would then say 'war is violent state action,' and dispute 'all state action is war.'"

Her tone's neutral, her gaze piercing.

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"Oh, I'm sorry, does your world work by magic rules where no one's ever been killed by forced work, or unregulated environmental damage, or decisions about resource allocation, or trade regulation, or burdensome taxes? What about borders? Or state appropriation of land and resources beyond taxes, I bet that's never killed anyone. And maybe even no one's been harmed by laws about what can and can't be taught, or what can and can't be published, or who can take certain careers, or how crimes are reported and handled, or how non-state actors are treated... Oh, and we can't forget states that decide their action will be 'nothing,' surely that causes no harm - "

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"...I get your point."

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"Do you?"

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She pauses and mulls his words over. "...Categories of action aren't good or evil. Results can be harmful or beneficial or neutral to people's well-being, and can hinder or advance or not really do anything for your goals, but - "

"I've been told violence against slavers is still violence. Still causes harm. But I - can't believe that it's inherently bad in a way that even balances slightly against letting them keep enslaving people. Don't unthinkingly leave enormous power vacuums, sure, and don't blunder into situations half-cocked, and don't put a ton of freed slaves on a ship where they'll just starve before you hit help unless they agree death's better than slavery, but..."

"Upholding the status quo isn't a neutral action."

"Nonconsensual violence harms people. Violence on a massive scale harms a lot of people."

"But a lot of things harm people, and - states are big. Their actions inherently impact a lot of people, for better or worse, and some forms of violence can be - less harmful if done by a state than if done by private actors. Like breaking up slaver cartels."

Pause.

"And if anyone in this entire mess knows what they even want, it's news to me."

"There's nothing beneficial or good about this war, unless your one overriding and eternal goal is fucking over the galaxy. But - you're saying that's because we're bad at what you'd call war?"