Sunday, September 10, 2017

What once was me (super universe)

Zinna had finished up in her office and was headed to the door when she noticed someone was in the shop.  She was almost entirely sure she had locked the door, so odds were good that things were bad.  Still, she found it best to not assume the worst at the first possible moment.

"We're closed," she said.  "So while your nocturnal interest is most gratifying, you'll just have to come back and get your flowers during normal business hours like everyone else."

"I'm not here for flowers," the person said.

In general, that was never a good sign, however Zinnia kept an open mind because there was some possibility that this wasn't one of those 'run and scream' situations.

The sound of the voice combined with the better look she got as the stranger moved closer caused Zinnia to give a tentative identification of "young woman" to the stranger in her shop.

"What do you want?" Zinnia asked in as level a tone as she could manage.

"In the dark places where people speak in whispers," the young woman said as she moved closer, "I've heard it said you have a healing touch."

Definitely leaning towards 'run away screaming and pick a new type of flower to use as your name' territory, but the possibility of things not being horrible did exist.

The woman didn't appear to be armed, on the other hand she was wearing an ankle length coat that could, presumably, hide any number of things.

Zinnia stepped back and sideways to put a rack of geraniums partially between her and the woman.  "If you've got a house plant on its last legs I'll see what I can do."

"In the land of whispered voices and hushed tones they say you can do things even after the last legs have come and gone."

"As complimentary as that is," Zinnia said, "nothing good comes from such praise."

"It is said that you can restore life to dead things,  Dead cells, dead tissue, dead organs . . . even dead bodies," the strange woman said.

"Ok," Zinnia said quickly, "I only did that once."  Some part of her mind, hidden way in the back, indicated that she shouldn't have said that and should backtrack immediately.  It was ignored in favor of the less hidden parts.  "It was a mistake.  Admittedly not a catastrophic mistake --it didn't start the zombie apocalypse or anything-- but the kind of mistake I'm not planning on repeating.

"Until we have way more understanding of the nature of souls and how they relate to people, my kind of ability should never be used for resurrection because it simply doesn't work," Zinnia was aware she was rambling by now, but as per usual the knowledge did not grant her the ability to stop.

"Once the soul is gone the individual can't be recovered by simple healing, instead you create an entirely new life and new people should not be brought into the world in an adult body, with a history no less, and shoved into the cultural deep end of being expected to take care of themselves as self sufficient experienced individuals possessed of common knowledge and common sense.

"I was lucky language was one of the smattering of things retained from from the body's previous inhabitant because I don't even want to think about what it would have been like to try to teach an adult language acquisition," Zinnia finished.

"Well," the strange woman said, "at least I don't have to convince you to admit you indeed possess the power."

"Yeah, sure, whatever," Zinnia said, "but whoever your dead friend is, I can't help.  Sorry for your loss and all, but once someone's dead the soul generally hightails it in a hurry, and if that weren't the case for your dead person there'd likely be magic involved and you'd have gone to someone who could actually pull off resurrection instead of finding me.

"I don't deal with bodies after the soul is gone.  That's the end of it."

"I assure you," the strange woman said, then pulled her coat aside as she spoke her next words, "my soul isn't going anywhere."

What was revealed when the coat no longer obscured the clothing underneath shut down Zinnia's brain for a solid minute and a half.  When it rebooted she blurted out her first thought:

"How are you even conscious if you lost that much blood!?"

"It's just a dirty t-shirt, you--"

"And your jeans!" Zinnia glanced down quickly, initially to appraise the blood soaked garmet in question, but it quickly added a new thing to the list, "And your socks," and another: "and how didn't I notice the blood on your shoes earlier?"

"You're lucky you can't see the wound itself, it never closed.  It just . . . stopped bleeding.  I think I might have run out of blood or something."

Zinnia took a deep breath.  "That's not at all reassuring."

"Look, I've got no worries about shuffling off this mortal coil, but I'd prefer to have my biological processes jump-started before I begin to decompose.

"Ok," Zinnia said, she had basically decided to ignore the details of the situation in favor of having sufficient free brain power to think and speak, "I can see how that would be desirable.

"How are you still alive?"

"I wouldn't exactly call it life," the very fucking strange woman said.

"Ok, how are you still moving, because if this is your gift--"

"It's not; it's more of an inherited curse," the strange woman said.  "I've got powers, don't get me wrong, but they have nothing to do with my singular inability to die."

"What powers?" Zinnia asked, "because I need to know if there's a chance they'll interact with my own."

"I doubt they would," the strange woman said, "I'm an earth elemental.  Nothing healing related."

"And you can't die because?" Zinnia asked.

"Long story," the strange woman said.  "Will you heal me or not?"

"Are you evil?" Zinnia asked.

"If I were, would I tell you?"

"If that's your 'Help me because the world will be better with me still in it' sales pitch, it needs work," Zinnia said.  "How did you get in here?"

"As much as I'd love to say that I used my powers to move the metal of the lock," the strange woman said, "the truth is that I'm not that good.  Dirt and stone is what I control, not much else.  I picked your lock.  Simple as that."

Zinnia sighed.

"Come on," she said, "we're doing this in the back room."

"We agreed," Zinnia said, "as payment for my services you'd tell me what was up with you not dying in spite of the fact that your body was completely kaput."

"I do my best storytelling near loose soil," the strange woman said.

"We're in a flower shop," Zinnia said, "there's soil everywhere."

"Soil with plants or seeds in it," the strange woman said, "I don't want to disturb them."

"How would telling a story . . . wait, no, nevermind."  Zinnia walked to a large open-top elevated wooden container she used for starting plants, "I've transplanted everything that was in here into individual pots and haven't reseeded yet.  Go wild."

"Alright," the strange woman said, and walked to the opposite side of the soil container as Zinnia.  "Once upon a time there was a perfectly ordinary girl."  A handful or two of soil jumped up and formed itself into a vaguely girl-like shape.  It wasn't even close to realism, more like a very basic doll or some such.  "And she had a loving family," more soil illustrated a mother and father, "who lived with her in a nice house" more soil, more visual aid, "where there was absolutely no tragic backstory whatsoever.

"Now, don't get me wrong, this wasn't one of those situations where everything was so perfect that the girl was, intentionally or otherwise, taught that she was better than those who didn't come home to such perfection.  There were problems, but they were all small, perfectly manageable, and generally not the sort of things you'd expect to lead one into a lifetime of cackling villainy.

"Aside from rolling a natural twenty when it came to racial and economic privilege, she really was completely normal," the strange woman said.  Zinnia thought that the icosahedral die shown rolling over the surface of the soil for the figurative rolling of the natural twenty was a nice touch.  "Granted she was an earth elemental and this particular once upon a time was far enough back that people didn't openly admit to the existence of such things, but that's not much of a big deal.

"Anyway, somehow she got it in her head that she was better than everyone else," the 'girl' rose up on a pedestal while many other figures arose around her.  The girl surveyed her domain, not even seeming to notice the other figures whose heads she was looking over.  "This did eventually cause the kind of isolation one expects of villainous origin stories, but only because she drove everyone around her away."

The girl was returned to the top of the soil where she heatedly argued with with a handful of other figures.

"Most she drove away by being the kind of jerk that thinks most people are beneath her, the rest when they realized that she classed them with 'most people'."  The girl stormed off through a newly arisen doorway and slammed the door shut.  "But she wasn't angry.  No, really, not angry at all.  She didn't need any of those lesser beings to help her."

"She traveled the world for a time, went to university and such," an entire miniature campus erupted from the soil, "and eventually reached the logical conclusion that if she was better than literally everybody else, she should obviously be ruling the world." The campus collapsed back into flat soil and then a globe arose with a hand reaching up to grasp it.

"Of course ruling the world was no small task, and she never really made much progress on that front.  She studied the cogs of power and the inner workings of political systems," globe and hand were replaced by a detailed rendition of the US Capitol Building, "like you do, but she also witnessed from the sidelines as supervillains first became a thing.

"A thousand different attempts, and the exact same number of failures," the soil shifted into various shapes, death rays, doomsday machines, and the like, "and with each it became even more clear to her why all others had failed where she would succeed: they rushed things.

"It took Rome," what Zinnia guessed to be a legion of soldiers took form next, " more than eight centuries to take over just 21% of the human population and that involved three distinct forms of government, numerous coups," Zinnia was glad for the lack of detail in the soil 'people' because various deaths were dramatized, "and several bloody civil wars.

"So our little protagonist knew that just trying to take over the world in a single human lifetime was probably doomed to fail.

"And then we have an interlude in our story.

"While living alone, and painfully lonely, our little protagonist was found by an elemental magician," two figures formed, met, and began a silent conversation, "and while elementals and magicians with an elemental focus are very different things, there was and is enough overlap that a sufficiently knowledgeable elemental magician," a soil arrow arose to point at one of the figures, "can teach a lot to an untrained elemental," the first soil arrow collapsed and a new one appeared, "and so began a rewarding mentor-apprentice relationship.

"But things would not be good forever because, while having her power appreciated made our little protagonist feel good for a while, she still wanted to rule the world."  The two figures started to argue.  "Being around magic so much convinced her that immortality was within her reach, and --as is fairly common-- the magician kept an emergency stash of books relating powerful, but dangerous, magic that she hoped she would never have to use.

"As the books were only meant to be touched as a last resort, our protagonist wasn't allowed to read them.  That, she was told, would be dangerous.  She didn't believe that.  She thought her mentor was holding her back.  She flounced."  Again one figure went away, slammed a door, and ended up alone.

"Without the moderating influence of her mentor, and with a way to attain her goals in sight, our little protagonist set out on a quest that ended with her cutting a swath of death and assorted other trauma across three continents," again Zinnia was thankful for the lack of realism in the depiction of the soil figures, because again things got violent.

"She eventually found what she was looking for in an underground cavern.  There was an entire dead city, and in its theater, oddly enough," a standard Roman theater formed from the soil, "was immortality.  It was in the form of a sort of dragon thing," Zinnia definitely agreed that the thing depicted in the soil was a thing that was sort of dragon-like, "that could not be ended.

"Hurt it, kill it, it didn't matter.  The most that anyone could do was incapacitate it.  Well, the most anyone had ever done before.  She incapacitated it," the dragon thing collapsed, but maintained its form and simply lay still above the soil's natural level, and a figure arose above it, "and then did what no one who had faced the beast before had been willing to do.

"She ripped out its soul."  It was difficult to describe what the soil showed Zinnia, but at the end the dragon thing withered to a skeleton and then dissolved leaving the figure triumphant, "and used it as a tool to make her own soul like its had been, just stronger.  It was forever bound to the mortal plain, and theoretically bound to her body."

"With all eternity on her side our little protagonist realized she'd have to prioritize certain goals because, unlike the world itself, not all things would wait around to for her to deal with them at her leisure.

"So the first thing she decided to do was get back at that damned magician who hadn't let her read the super secret books."  All of the soil had collapsed back to flat under the influence of gravity.  Apparently there were no illustrations for this part of the story.  "She didn't realize that in the years she'd been involved in her bloody quest for immortality the magician had taken on a new apprentice.

"This . . . I guess you'd say 'person', I've always called her a 'her' because that's how she looks to me and she accepts all pronouns, but if you want to call her a 'he' or a 'they', that's fine too.  Anyway: story.

"The apprentice had activated a powerful magical artifact in some previous adventure or other, still had it, and was therefore easily able to stop our little protagonist."  Three figures now appeared, one positioned on the ground as if wounded, one standing triumphant, one on the ground but not showing signs of injury, "The defeated, nearly dead, magician made a request of her apprentice: 'Save her soul,' she said."

The standing figure reached toward the the uninjured figure on the ground and a vortex of soil began to form around all three figures, "In a storm of magic the apprentice separated our little protagonist's soul from the undead monstrosity her body had become," the vortex had reached the point where it obscured all the figures, "and doubtless the apprentice thought it would do whatever human souls do.

"It didn't.

"Our little protagonist's plan had succeeded in anchoring her soul to the mortal world, but she'd never expected to be without a body.  A wounded body, a dead body, a skeleton body, a dust or ash body, all these things and more she had contingency plans for, but to have the soul be unbound to any body whatsoever . . . that was outside her plans," the vortex of soil continued to spin.

"The soul was meant to be tied to a body, and without conscious thought it set out to make that happen.  It took years, but eventually," the vortex started becoming less dense, "it somehow gathered enough magic to create a body.  Thus did a naked little girl," the vortex cleared to reveal a small figure, "come into the world in an unusual fashion.

"I don't know how they found her, or how they worked out what she really was --I would have assumed 'clone' myself-- but the magician and her now-graduated former apprentice did find the little girl.

"The former apprentice took her on as a student and became the girl's teacher."  A larger figure appeared behind the small one, and placed a hand on the small one's shoulder.  "I'm going to call the former apprentice 'the teacher' from now on, because it's shorter.

"Our little protagonist's soul may have been laden with memories, but her brain wasn't ready for that much information.  She knew her name, and she had an extensive vocabulary, but she didn't remember what had come before. Even so, bits of her former self seeped through into her new life.

"After screaming at the magician one day for no discernible reason," the small figure shouted at a new figure, while the figure behind her held her back, "our little protagonist asked the teacher why and how she hated someone she barely knew."

The scene shifted, the small figure was sitting cross legged looking up at one of the large figures as it paced and, presumably, spoke, the other large figure was nowhere to be seen."

"The teacher didn't lie, but neither did she really tell the truth.  She took refuge in vagueness, saying only that our little protagonist had an unusual soul and as a result she'd been born with memories.  Memories that were locked away for now, but seemed to influence her emotions nonetheless.

"The teacher said she didn't want to awaken the memories yet because she was afraid they'd be overwhelming at that point." The small figure stood up and and the large figure stopped talking and pacing "And so our little protagonist grew up" the small figure started to grow larger, "never knowing that she was an amnesiac murderer with designs on world domination who attained a bizarre form of immortality via a positively grotesque magical process," the formerly small figure finished growing when it was slightly taller than the large figure.

"Every bit the earth elemental that she'd been in her previous body, but this time trained from a young age, our little protagonist eventually set out to do something with herself," the now-larger figure started walking and the other figure disappeared back into the soil.  "It was also partially because some of those feelings she couldn't explain, ones like the hatred for the magician, kept telling her she was better than everyone else, and she didn't like that.

"She wanted to prove to herself that she was good person.  Now, she might have grown taller than the teacher, but that was just because her growth hit early, she wasn't old enough to become a hero through legal channels because it'd be a good long while before the first sanctioned junior hero team was set up.  That didn't stop her."

The figure stopped walking and was joined by five more.

"For a while everything was good," the six figures did standard crime fighting moves against unseen enemies, "but slowly things began to unravel.  In the fights she kept having thoughts about more brutal means she could use.  Eventually she learned that these were flashbacks both to things she had done and to how she had operated in her previous body.

"Eventually she learned that she was a monster.  And it was around that time she met a different monster, one drawn by the call of the compact earthquake machine that an earth elemental could be.

"You know, it's always us they go after," the soil started illustrating examples, "Want to cause an earthquake?  Earth elemental.  Flood?  Get an earth elemental to break the dam.  Tsunami?  See: earthquake.  Hurricane?  Good luck with that.  Firestorm?  No need for an elemental, just get some hardware.  Volcano?  Earth elemental.  Ash or poison gas?  See: volcano.  The villains always want to use earth elementals.  It's unfair really."

For the first time in what felt like weeks, Zinnia spoke, it was pure deadpan: "Truly earth elementals win the Oppression Olympics."

"I get it, I'll get back to the story," the strange woman said.  "Monster number two," a figure in what Zinnia guessed was meant to be armor arose, "was some dude with low ambitions --he just wanted a single city-- but Grade A manipulation skills.

"He could say the stupidest least convincing things, but somehow when he said them they sounded like the most rigorous logical proofs in the history of human reasoning," Apparently meaningless equations briefly appeared behind the armored figure.  "Plus, he somehow figured out what our little protagonist had done in her previous body.

"Through lies, half truths, blackmail and the like he turned our little protagonist against the rest of her team and was in the process of having her devastate the city --his takeover plan relied heavily on how he had infiltrated local emergency management services-- when her friends finally got through to her.

"He died," the armored figure lost all form and dropped into the rest of the soil.  "She had lost the will to live, but had to undo the disaster she'd been halfway through causing, and her lack of will to live didn't get her excused from that.

"Stopping a disaster like that, once started, is way harder than starting one.  Disasters take the path of least resistance, and if you remove the one you've set up to guide it, it'll just find the new path of least resistance.  You can't just slam on the breaks the same way you applied pressure to bring things to the shattering point, you've got to dissipate all that force in a thousand directions, and you've got to do it fast, otherwise all you've done is take away whatever control you had over the disaster without actually taking away the part that causes it to be a disaster.

"For an elemental to tap that kind of power and survive requires a combination of utter desperation and a will to survive.  Without the first they don't tap the power, without the second they're consumed.

"But, again, earth elementals are set apart.  An air elemental who is consumed is scattered on the winds," a figure rose up and then was blown into a formless  eddying current of soil, "a fire elemental extinguishes when the fuel runs out," a flaming figure rose up and then died down, "a water elemental goes splat," a figure rose up, then lost cohesion and spilled to the ground like the water in a popped balloon, "but an earth elemental becomes their own statue," a figure rose up and stayed perfectly still.

"And so it was with our little protagonist.  She had the desperation, she stopped her disaster, but she lacked the will to live.

"While there was no confirmed case of depetrification, there were rumors that it was possible and so our little protagonist's team hid her away in a safe place in hopes she could be revived one day.

"So it was that she remained on pause underground," the figure sank into the ground without losing its shape on the way.  "The world above," a cityscape rose up, "did not," the cityscape quickly progressed through years worth of construction, demolition, and reconstruction.

"Seventeen years after our little protagonist turned to stone, something happened.  Exactly what is a secret --apparently, attempting to duplicate it would likely have catastrophic consequences.  What isn't a secret is that it led to the first confirmed recovery of a petrified earth elemental."  A figure appeared, was completely still for a bit, and then fell like a rag doll.  "In hopes that the recovery could be duplicated without duplicating the unknown something, it was closely observed using both the best science had to offer and the magic of a demon from the Fractured Plain.

"Some time later the demon was able to use what she observed to recover her own petrified friend albeit with side effects."  This time two figures appeared, only one of them completely still.  The other seemed to give up, and was walking away when the surface soil exploded off of the still figure.  Then it collapsed as the previous still figure had.  "The information generated by that, combined with the scientific observations of the first, was used to recover a third person, this time with fewer side effects."  It was, more or less the same as the first time: a completely still figure suddenly went limp.

"It was nineteen years after our little protagonist turned to stone that she was recovered, with no side effects.  Being frozen in stone was probably as close to true death as she'll ever be able to come, and she still doesn't understand why her team would return a monster like her to this world.

"Still, that's what they did.  They'd all outgrown her, of course, and she didn't let them know that she probably would have told them not to revive her if it had been possible for them to ask.  It would be unnecessary to burden them with such things.

"With the world greatly changed, our little protagonist took to walking it in hopes of finding a place she could fit."  A wall arose and two figures shoved a third against it.  Then a fourth figure showed up and distracted the two while the third ran away.  "That went about as well as you'd guess," one of the two looked to see the victim gone, both got more animated, and the other of the two stabbed the fourth figure.

It . . . wasn't a quick stabbing.

The stabbed figure fell to the ground, the other two dissolved, after a moment the stabbed figure picked itself up, "And it wasn't long after that that our little protagonist came to a flower shop because she'd heard rumors that the owner could restore life to dead things, like our little protagonist's body.

"You know the rest; you wrote it."

Zinnia took a moment to process all of that and finally said, "I don't think you're a monster."

"You don't know me," the not-monster strange woman said.

"That's true, I don't even know your name."


"Well, Patricia, I still don't think you're a monster," Zinnia said.

"I've killed people, and I felt no guilt while doing it."

"In a past life, if what you told me is true."

"It was me.  What happened to me doesn't map onto reincarnation, it's closer to getting retrograde amnesia for a spell."

"Unless you mean 'fantastic beast', in which case I hate to burst your bubble but it's my duty to inform you that against dragons and unicorns you don't stack up," Zinnia began, "monsters are monsters because they do monstrous things.  Other than breaking into my shop, what horrible things have you done this decade?"

"I haven't had a chance, I was stone."

"Past ten years of your life, the non-stone years."

"Thanks for healing me," Patricia said.  "I've paid you with my story.  Maybe we'll meet again during normal business hours someday."

Zinnia watched as Patricia made her way out of the store's back room.  Zinnia swore a bit then followed Patrica and caught her halfway to the front doors.  "It was nice meeting you, and you should know that the world is full of therapists," she said.

"It's nice that my body isn't decaying," Patricia said back.  She kept walking for two steps, then stopped and faced Zinnia.  "If you should think of something that I can do to pay you back that doesn't involve my mental health or self image, and if I'm around at the time, I'll probably be willing to help if time and ethics allow it."

"I'll remember that," Zinnia said.



And with that Patricia, the strange woman who was almost certainly not a monster, walked out of Zinnia's shop.

* *
* * *
* *

This was originally going to also contain Patricia visiting her now-aged teacher.  I think it's long enough without that.  Plus, I haven't written that yet.

Desdemona is the the demon of the Fractured Plain who preformed the magical observation of the first confirmed depetrification.  (Named locations in Hell thus far are "the Outland Reach", "the Cursed Dome", and "the Fractured Plain".  "The Shattered Dome" is also in my head --there's more than one dome in Hell after all-- but I'm pretty sure I haven't used it yet.)

Patricia's character comes from two places.  One is that I was planning on having a depetrified character who was out of it for about twenty years who used her earth moving powers as a storytelling aid for ages.

The other place is a story I read in which a telekinetic does storytelling in much the same way, just with branches and leaves instead of soil and stone.  For whatever reason having similar storytelling techniques really connected the characters in my mind, and I decided to steal the basic outline of the telekinetic's origin story.  (Evil person reinforces own soul with undead properties, when soul is separated from body a new body is formed, boom: main character.)

Granted that story was a time travel story set in a twice-alternate alternate universe of My Little Pony, but --like I said-- the characters who storytell with magic-controlled visual aids pulled from the general area really connected to each other in my mind.

I think that's it for notes.

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