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Generated: Jun 10, 2022 5:09 PM
Post last updated: Jun 18, 2022 1:52 PM
Starlight and Sin
Permalink Mark Unread

Far to the west, in the Land of Darkness, whence come all Grimm, there lives a witch. 

She is not lonely, for loneliness implies a desire for company. She is not bored, for boredom implies a lack of pain. She is not afraid, for what is left for her to fear? 

She was human once, or something like it. A scholar, a heroine, a queen. No longer. Once bereaved, twice cursed, thrice betrayed; now she is something else entirely. She finds no solace in solitude, for all that she seeks it. 

And yet, there is a kind of serenity in the darkness at the edge of the world, alone with the monsters and the moon. Sometimes, she imagines, it is almost like death. 

Evernight is neither restful nor peaceful, but it is hers. And there is always work to be done. 

After all, the world won't end itself. 

Permalink Mark Unread

About a hundred meters above her head a small device with four rotors and a crystal at it's center appears and begins to descend transmitting audio and video back to its controllers.

Permalink Mark Unread

Curious that she missed its approach. She knows every trick that can be pulled with Dust or magic, so it must be someone trying out a Semblance. Presumably Atlas decided to pay her an unannounced visit. How rude of them. No matter; it can get struck by lightning. 

Permalink Mark Unread

The rotors and cameras short out and spark from the massive burst. The crystal at the center seems unaffected as it goes into freefall. Just before it hits the ground it flickers and loses all speed.

Siobhán frowns, "Well, probably for the best I didn't go in person."

The operator glances at her and let's out a short chuckle. "Seems so. We've switched to backup telemetry."

The screens which briefly showed full color images are replaced with wireframes of the nearby objects.

"Let's see if anyone investigates we can always replace the broken drone with a new one if nothing happens for a bit." Siobhán decides.

Permalink Mark Unread

That's not a Dust crystal. She glides over and picks it up, frowning. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hopefully her reaction to a person will be less aggressive."

Siobhán straightens and an insubstantial semi-transparent hologram of her appears about a meter away from Salem.

"Greetings."

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh, we are bold, aren't we. She memorizes the face in case she has to kill it later. She doesn't bother replying; she just raises an eyebrow at the image. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you understand this language? It's unclear to me how much contact you have with the other peoples of this planet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Of course I understand." A few millenia ago, she might have discounted the words of an obvious crazy. But that was before she grasped how useful they could be. She assumes a sweet, attentive smile. The teeth will come later. "What is it you want me to hear?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I represent an organization that plans to improve conditions for the people of this planet and you're a person. I'm curious as to why you live alone so far from others."

Permalink Mark Unread

Naïve, driven, competent, thorough, and with a groundbreaking Semblance. Yes, this one could be quite useful.

Find out what makes them tick. Break it. Build a tool with the pieces. 

"That's quite the ambitious goal." And appropriately vague, for a delusion. "What organization, and what improvements?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm an Envoy for Starlight we're from another world. At the moment we're working towards building a satellite communications network, that should be in place in the next few days. We're also preparing rapid evacuation for outlying settlements that fall under attack. And of course once the satellite network is complete, we'll start releasing more of our knowledge to the general public, especially medical resources."

Permalink Mark Unread

...maybe she shouldn't have tortured the spy who told her that aliens had contacted Atlas. In her defense, what the fuck. She did wonder why he was so insistent about it.

She revises her impression of this visitor to very useful. "And, pray tell, what does Starlight gain from this generous largesse to the people of Remnant?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Honestly very little, your population is too small to make much impact on our civilization and so far we haven't seen too much useful in the local magic. Still, the resources we're expending are similarly minor. The task group I'm working with is only ten thousand people."

Permalink Mark Unread

She recognizes a veiled threat when she hears one. But she's had a long, long time to learn how to make civilizations destroy themselves. This meddling, if true, will only delay the ultimate end. Best to seem cooperative, for now. 

"Indeed. Well, if you intend to distribute goodies, you deserve a fair warning. It is not the Grimm that cause the most destruction on this planet, nor were the Grimm responsible for its fall. What will you do when the good people of Remnant seek power you are unwilling to share?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, eventually we'll share everything that isn't restricted among our own people. In our experience, people become nicer as their needs are met. A lot of negative impulses are based in fear."

Permalink Mark Unread

Yes. Yes they are, that's rather the point of all the Grimm attacks. This one would be such a useful tool, but separating her from her support network might be a challenge. 

"You have experience with...improving...other peoples as well, then?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have people working on 500 different worlds in the dustscape cluster and a number of other unrelated worlds. So far our only complete integration is that of the Hearthians but their civilization is small even compared to yours. Generally though we've been successful at improving quality of life. Medical technologies generally have the most impact but ensuring the availability of nutrition and education are also important."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The dustscape cluster? Worlds with Dust, such as ours?" She may have to revise her theory on the origin of Dust if it is found on other planets. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's a cluster of worlds with a shared afterlife and a strange form of exotic matter unrelated to the Dust of your world that they also call dust and which has something to do with how auras work on those worlds. It's still an area of ongoing research."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Perhaps I could shed some light on that topic. I happen to be an expert in many forms of...exotic matter. And I am always interested in learning more." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's possible, though I expect you to know more about the local types. We can recreate the local substances called Dust and whatever the Grimm are made of but we're not sure where either originate. Any insights you have to offer would be appreciated."

Permalink Mark Unread

She didn't expect a simple request to convince them to share their secrets, but the manner of their refusal is informative. This "envoy" is no fool, though why they chose to contact her after working with Atlas remains a mystery. Did they reach out to her before, or after, Ozpin and his little circus...? 

And...they can recreate Grimm and Dust, can they? The one is easy enough, but the other... "I would need to see your work in person before I could speak to it." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not sure what you mean by that? I was trying to ask if you know anything about where Dust and the Grimm come from. I don't see how our work would be relevant. Perhaps you were proposing an exchange?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Hmmm, to bargain or demur? Perhaps a compromise... "I am unaccustomed to simply handing out knowledge. Surely you have learned that certain...insights...can be dangerous, in the wrong hands. I know many things about Dust and Grimm; I am not at all sure that they are things which should be...released to the general public, as it were." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's a reasonable position to take. Dust seems quite important to the economy of this world. The fact that it destabilizes without a particular magical effect that only occurs naturally on this world makes it mostly useless to us. We're much more interested in the Grimm but mostly for the purposes of planning how to protect human settlements and to confirm that they won't begin spontaneously generating themselves elsewhere."

Permalink Mark Unread

So, they are not driven by knowledge alone...or else this envoy does not want those listening in to know that she is intrigued by such secrets. Shame; the Dust one could be quite divisive if it were to leak to the aliens at the right time. She'll find another way to mention it, perhaps. In the meantime, a different angle. "I see. Fortunately for you, not all of my insights are so dangerous. But considering what they cost me, I do not think I shall reveal them for free. What do you have that you think I might find use for?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's a hard question to answer, you live apart from most other humans so it seems unlikely you desire companionship. You also haven't moved much over the past few weeks so it seems you're comfortable with your location. We can certainly offer luxuries if that's what you desire but I don't get the impression that you're a person to be diverted by such things. If there's knowledge you desire we might be able to help. And if you're willing to share your goals I can say more about how we would be willing to assist."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Perhaps you could start by telling me how Starlight came to visit Remnant, and who you've chosen to contact thus far." The foolish naïveté of this "Starlight" reminds her of Ozma's incessant meddling, but she is unsure if his hand is guiding them. Maybe they'll be kind enough to tell her. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Your world was chosen as a priority target for exploration due to relatively low population and relatively high death rate. We can derive details like that from outside of a world. Our initial explorer landed in Atlas selected at random from among the large settlements. Since then we've contacted each of the other kingdoms and Menagerie."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And how receptive have they been to your...improvements?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Atlas has embraced us the most though they understand the power differential and that concerns them a lot. Mistral is still not sure we're not a trick by Atlas though I think we've just about convinced them. Vacuo has accepted some food aid due to a bad harvest this year. Vale is still somewhat reluctant to accept most of what we're offering and Menagerie is currently undecided."

Permalink Mark Unread

Reluctant to accept...what are you playing at, you old fool? Surely you've heard. Are they perhaps not so benign, or are your old suspicions surfacing, hmmm? 

The game - the true game, the one she's played for countless millenia - has only one white king, and only one real player. The addition of more pieces merely makes it more interesting - and perhaps gives the players new advantages. For the moment, it seems the advantage is with White - but that is only for the moment. It is a very, very long game. 

"The Headmasters of the various Huntsmen Academies command significant authority and respect among the Kingdoms. What has their stance been?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"They were our first point of contact in Atlas and Vale, Mistral and Vacuo we approached the governments more directly. And Menagerie doesn't have an academy. If you're curious Vale's main reluctance is due to our offer of widespread immortality."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"It would be, wouldn't it. Always the fool, playing out his assigned part, a better pawn than a king. This, then, is my price, Envoy. Tell me truly what Ozpin told you, in its entirety, and I shall tell you the source of Dust and Grimm." 

Permalink Mark Unread

Siobhán sends a message to Ozpin asking if anything he shared is a secret that must not be shared with Salem but begins by telling Ozpin's version of Salem's history.

Permalink Mark Unread

It takes a few bare moments, then: I would strongly advise against revealing to her my suspicions about the dangers posed by immortality. She thinks I oppose it in blind obedience to the gods. Your tests may yet prove her right in this, and myself wrong, but until that moment I would not wish her made aware of another way to bring ruin unto this world. All else I have told you, she already knows. 

Permalink Mark Unread

That seems like a reasonable omission, she had already planned to omit their discussion of Grimm sentience. She relates everything else. Given that she's intentionally paraphrasing and relaying things in a different order these omissions aren't likely to be obvious.

Permalink Mark Unread

When she reaches the part about wanting to die, Salem starts laughing. It's a cold, humorless sound. 

Permalink Mark Unread

She pauses, "Is that inaccurate?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes." 

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"Would you like to set the record straight, take a break, or have me continue?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Don't patronize me, girl. What I would like is to tell you what I promised: the origins of the 'exotic matter' that interests you and yours so. Would you care to hear it?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I apologize that my attempt at kindness seemed patronizing, my initial training was as a therapist and some of that informs how I communicate. I would be happy to hear about the origins of Dust and the Grimm."

Permalink Mark Unread

"In time older than memory, the gods claimed to have given humanity magic. There were billions of people on this world, and magic was commonplace among them. They used it for more than just protection - cooking, cleaning, sport, merriment - they raised their children with the aid of magic. It was one of the few unambiguous goods that humanity could call its own, and so I highly doubt the gods intended it so. 

"If the gods did bestow this gift, they never bothered taking it back. They stopped it easily enough, when that magic was raised in rebellion against them. They obliterated all those people, but not their magic. Now all that remains of them...is Dust." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ozpin did tell us of the God's genocide, though he didn't call it that. I'm not sure what implications you hope for me to take away from that account of the origins of Dust."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You'll start to see a pattern, in time. Have patience. 

"In the early days of humanity, a young man came to the God of Light. 'Please,' he begged. 'My sister is suffering a terrible sickness. She is in agony, night and day, and no herb nor magic can cure her.' 

"'Alas, I cannot aid you,' replied the God of Light. 'To act upon your sister's torment would upset the great balance.'

"Devastated, the young man left the Land of Light. But he was not yet ready to give up on his sister, who suffered beyond endurance. So he journeyed to the Land of Darkness - to this very place, in fact - and begged the same of its ruler. The God of Darkness heard the young man's plea, and was moved. He promised that the woman's suffering would be ended that very night. Overjoyed, the young man returned home, ready to greet his recovered sister and family. 

"But when he reached his ancestral home, no joyful family greeted him. The door was smashed to splinters, the interior wrecked and stained with blood. The man fled in horror. He sought answers among the townsfolk, and pieced together this: that on the very night he petitioned the God of Darkness, a terrible monster broke into the home of his family, and murdered all those within. Unable to bear the loss of his family, the man retreated into the dark woods, and was never seen again.

"And so it was that humanity asked the gods for mercy, and the gods gave humanity death. Made of the gods' own substance, the creatures of Grimm grew fat on the blood of humanity, and wore our bones upon their faces to bring us fear. They are drawn to suffering because they are the gods' answer to it - namely, 'go away and stop bothering us; if living hurts too much, you can die.' 

"Pleased with his little joke, the God of Darkness kept these creations as pets. When the gods left - deeming Remnant a failed experiment, unworthy of further investment - the creatures of Grimm roamed free, to prey on all those who would come after." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I have lived in those days, and I have walked among the gods. I know their minds better than any who yet live, even the one who thinks himself their servant. I was there when they cursed me with immortality for the sin of loving my husband; I was there when they murdered him anew. I was there when they scoured my home of life for the sin of seeking freedom from their tyranny. I was there when they departed this shattered world; I thought, once, that they were gone forever. 

"I learned later that they planned to return, and judge us. And if they found us wanting, the true death would come to all. 

"So tell me, O wise and kindly therapist, if you have half a wit to consider. What do I desire, and why?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"What almost every person wants, freedom and safety. And perhaps revenge."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not entirely wrong, but insufficiently specific. What I want, Envoy of Starlight, is to destroy the gods before they can obliterate humanity a second time. Until I develop a means to accomplish that, it falls to me to ensure that the gods, in all their alien wrath, do not return prematurely." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I certainly support the goal of preventing genocide. I'm curious if you have any insight you'd be willing to share into what might cause the gods to return and repeat their atrocities. Ozpin mentioned uniting their relics as a condition. Is there another cause he didn't share that you're aware of?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The gods could return at any time they choose. It's not as though they are constrained by interstellar distances. Only their creations are tied to a single planet, after all. 

"But so long as they choose to stay away, it would be foolish in the extreme to summon them. Ozpin, fool that he is, refuses to believe this." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"He seems to be under the impression that you wish to unite the relics and summon the gods. I'm not sure how he came to this conclusion. Perhaps it simply follows from his belief that you wish to destroy yourself and all the people of this world."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's how he sees it, of course. In Ozpin's mind, any rebellion against the gods is not merely unwise, but heretical. What else could result but destruction? No, I want to summon them when we are ready for them. Let the fight be on my terms, when the chance of ending those monsters is highest." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"How do you plan to prepare people for that fight?"

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"I don't. People won't be fighting it. I tried that once, and failed. I have something more...targeted...in mind." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are you presently seeking to arrange that conflict?"

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"I have done little else for millenia. But in the immediate sense, no, I am not yet ready to destroy the gods." 

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"We would appreciate being made aware when that changes, if only so we can evacuate bystanders who might be harmed in the conflict."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That can be arranged." If it suits her, of course. Then again, with most of Starlight's capabilities still unknown, it might prove difficult to operate in the shadows. "In the meantime, I trust Starlight will not be as foolish as Ozpin?" For now, keeping Starlight from interfering with her plans is enough. She has some...adjusting to do. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"We certainly won't seek to see the gods reinstated if that's what you mean, nor will we assume that you're suicidal. I'm not sure what other foolishness you might be referring to."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was referring to the former brand of foolishness, yes." It would not be diplomatic to point out how many of Ozpin's brands of foolishness are contagious. She's a bit rusty at negotiating without having the power of life and death over her targets, but such is the price one pays for ruling the Land of Darkness. "How shall I contact you in the future?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We can leave this probe here, I can also provide you with contact information on the local networks if that would be preferable."

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"Both, if you wouldn't mind, I prefer contingencies." 

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"A reasonable preference. Contingency planning is something I'm quite familiar with. I've had to memorize a few thousand contingency plans as training for this role." She gives a few contact numbers they have in the local networks.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Your Semblance is related to enhanced memory, then?" The eidetics are always troublesome to gaslight. It took her an embarrassingly long time to learn that the most effective amnesiac is pain. Not an option for this one, not yet, but perhaps one day...

She recognized the veiled threat, of course, but she needn't bother responding in kind. True rulers do not need to make threats. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh I don't have a semblance. I was modified to better suit my role. Enhanced memory was part of that."

Permalink Mark Unread

Curious choice of words. This creature looks human, but might she be an automaton like those of Atlas? Or...the more interesting question...like her own creatures of Grimm?

"A very convenient gift, that. I would love to meet your designer. What other enhancements do you possess?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"The design team for the Envoy tweaks is several thousand people so it would be difficult to meet them. Generally the tweaks are designed to make us better at our jobs, we're less likely to hold grudges, harder to traumatize, more perceptive and as mentioned our memory is enhanced."

 

Permalink Mark Unread

Less likely to hold grudges implies a degree of precision in mental manipulation superior to almost any unspecialized Semblance she's ever encountered. If she had access to that kind of technical skill - a team of specialists, just for designing this one set of modifications - her mastery over the Grimm could be multiplied a thousandfold or more. 

If humanity had this degree of coordination, they might have won against the gods...

 

 

...or they might merely have marched more efficiently to their doom. Without the mutation of silver, they still would have had no way of actually harming the gods. The gods' invulnerability to magic was the most costly lesson in the history of the world.

At any rate, it is futile to muse about what could have been. That way lies shattering, and years to put the pieces back together. She can ill afford such errors now. 

 

"How is this customization accomplished?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Our people have done extensive research into how minds work and with a combination of magic and technology some of us myself included were moved from a biological substrate to a technological one. That makes modifications easier to implement. For ethical reasons, we're very careful with how we apply and share this knowledge."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I see." Ethics. How typical. These fools have the power to create an army of flawlessly obedient servants, and they hold back because it wouldn't be nice. What a terrible waste. She simply must get her hands on this technology, if only to show them how much more effective it could be when used intelligently. Well, at least now she knows what is possible. Interesting, as well, to learn that this envoy is not herself biological. A far advanced form of robotics. Perhaps it is time to examine Atlesian technology more thoroughly. An old Grimm can, in fact, learn new tricks. 

For now, though, it pays to be useful to those in power. 

"Is there anything else you would ask of me?" in trade is left unsaid. She can decide later if she wants to bargain for more than goodwill. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not sure, it's not clear what resources you have. You seem to be able to survive in an area with a high concentration of Grimm but I'm not sure why. Do you have the ability to control them?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Her mastery over Grimm is no secret, but there's no need to go into details without good reason. "To an extent, yes." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's good to have that confirmed. We would appreciate it if you would make Grimm especially the more exotic types available to us for research purposes. Understanding is one of our primary goals."

Permalink Mark Unread

Ah, perhaps this Starlight is not so hidebound as they appear. This request should be handled delicately. The Grimm were one of her most powerful pieces in the smoldering war for Remnant. But it looks like the game is about to change; perhaps she can leverage an advantage on this new field.

"If any lesser polity had asked me for exotic Grimm, I would think them either mad or suicidal. It would be foolish in the extreme to deliver them to you without being first assured that you can handle them. In any event, I will need to see your facilities in action before I bring you lethal weapons to study."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you know if Grimm dissolve in orbit like Dust does? It's easiest for us to place new facilities there. We can probably test that ourselves if you don't know. Oh, Ozpin said you couldn't leave the atmosphere though is that correct?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Hmm, there's a test she hasn't done in a long time. "Grimm cannot survive in space, no. And I am indeed tied to Remnant's inner atmosphere." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's strange how much of this world's magic is locked here. The only exceptions seem to be aura, the Gods themselves and whatever they did to the moon. I expect we'll need to find an isolated island or deploy an aquatic facility. Somewhere on the ocean floor is probably safest in the event of a containment breech."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Aquatic Grimm exist, but land and flying Grimm typically cannot swim," she offers. In truth, the aquatic varieties can be enormous and quite powerful, but there's no need to explain that just yet. if she can steer Starlight into relying on the ocean as a defense, then she keeps the option of using Leviathan, Karkinos, or the others to stage an "accident" later, and gain access to their research. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"That aligns with expectations. The Grimm mostly seem to behave like biological creatures. Our main motivation in choosing a facility location is that our research not make things worse for the people of this world. That would be impolite of us as guests."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Naturally. Assuming, then, that you are able to build an appropriate facility...My control is not absolute, and my time and resources are not infinite. What you ask is no small favor; what are you prepared to offer in exchange?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have a lot of resources but it's not clear to me what you might need I expect material wealth is largely beneath you at this point having lived as long as you have."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Largely correct. In many ways, I seek the same things you do. One never tires of the pursuit of knowledge." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"That makes sense, knowledge remains even as material things fall to the sands of time."

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"This then, is my offer, in exchange for providing Grimm to study. In addition to assuring myself of the safety of your facilities, I want to know what aspects of my planet you are studying, and what you learn therefrom. I want to know the results of your experiments. I want to know the manner by which it is accomplished, and the means to replicate your experiments myself. I want to meet your scientists and engineers, and work directly with them on these projects. 

"Simply put, I want in."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm afraid that's not possible, even if we trusted you enough to grant your request, it's simply impossible for us to provide you with the means to replicate all our experiments we often rely on individuals with a certain type of magic and the only way to get that requires travelling far from Remnant."

Permalink Mark Unread

How convenient for them. "If I cannot at least oversee these experiments, I see little reason to waste my time enabling them. My own projects demand much of me, and I have a world to save." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oversee seem to imply a measure of control and therefore seems unrelated to the ability to replicate an experiment. Maybe that isn't how you were using that word though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am content to be present while the experiments are conducted, if you cannot share the magic itself." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think that's much more within our ability to accommodate. In the short term we're looking to refine our models of less exotic Grimm, to identify any other magics present on Remnant we've yet to encounter, and to locate a few things like the pools of the gods that Ozpin mentioned. Once we're ready we'll reach out about experiments with more exotic Grimm. Determining whether our teleportation works on less exotic Grimm will figure into how we design our research facilities and where we build them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am curious about these interactions as well. I will acquire a selection of lesser Grimm. You may contact me when you are ready to accommodate them." They don't need to know she has a small army of Grimm at her beck and call, or that "acquiring" them is as simple as focusing her attention upon them. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"We'll let you know when we're ready to proceed."