~Dive Into the Heart of Gaia~
"...I dream in pictures,
but the sound is muted...
Falling into space,
at the end of time..."
This lack of sight and sound was all that met Elliot's senses when, in a dream that felt like anything but a dream, he opened his eyes to find himself falling headfirst through a silent, dimly illuminated void. Although he felt himself sinking at a rapid pace, there was also a tangible weightlessness that partially carried him aloft throughout the fall. It was as if he were descending through water, or the vacuum that lies between worlds, only to his perplexion he found himself quite able to breathe.
Eventually he became aware of a vast, flat expanse looming below him, and with a well timed backward roll through the void, he touched down feet-first onto what seemed to be the floor of this strange place. Using the odd slowness of his landing as a chance to reorient himself, Elliot closed his eyes again and sunk into a kneel in the same fluid motion of the backward roll, gently bringing his momentum to a stop.
Elliot allowed himself a few moments to regain his bearings, but as he opened his eyes again and started to stand up, he still found himself in that same featureless dark plane, made just barely visible by a faint light source that seemed to come from everywhere above him.
Bewildered by the strangeness of it all, Elliot began to take a step forward when suddenly the floor beneath him splintered and erupted into hundreds of angular black fragments. Hardly acknowledging the inclusion of a much brighter light source coming to life beneath him now, he gazed on in awe as the fragments inexplicably shifted into an immense flock of white birds, all of which took flight into the distance beyond his sight.
Only when they all had vanished into the darkness ahead did Elliot finally look down at the light below, and with even greater astonishment realize he was now standing on the edge of an enormous circle, made out of what seemed to be one incredibly thick piece of stained glass. But what surprised him most of all was the design on this floor; layered circles of intricately-patterned seashells, waves, flowers, and suns, all surrounding an almost lifelike depiction of a deeply-tanned woman he recognized almost immediately. She had shoulder-length dark blonde hair and deep brown eyes that shone with an undiminishable spark of life, and was clad in a matching red and black "wrap around"-style skirt and scarf, worn like an outfit sutiable for a day at the beach. A large red flower sat above her right ear, and two leis of smaller, bright blue flowers hung around both her neck and her left wrist.
"Sasha...?" Elliot meant to ask aloud, now more confused than ever, but though his lips formed the name, his voice did not accompany them.
He had no time to dwell on this bizarre turn of events, though, for with little warning he felt something akin to a formless, disembodied presence appear behind him and soundlessly drift up into the void directly overhead. Turning in response to the unseen movement, inexplicably Elliot felt no menace from this strange presense as it passed by above him, though he blinked a little as it began to silently float words through the air directly into his mind.
So much to do... so little time...
But there is no need to rush... no need to be afraid...
Things will eventually fall into place...
All you must do now is step forward... Can you do so...?
Elliot paused for a moment, not sure if the presense meant going beyond the stained glass circle, but with a resigned shrug he began walking towards the opposide end. He felt a impluse to stop as he reached the middle of the circle, however, and looked on with a puzzled expression as three giant stone pedestals emerged through the floor in front of him with a low rumble (the first real sound that Elliot had heard since this all started); one directly ahead, and two on either side of him. The presence "spoke" again, though as it did so atop each of the three pedestals appeared an object which levitated in place, ornate in design but not garrishly decorative: a staff, a sword, and a shield.
Power sleeps within you...
If you give it form...
it will give you strength...
Perplexed but undenaibly curious at the same time, Elliot cautiously walked over to the three pedestals and took each of the objects in his hands, marvelling at how light they were in comparison to how they looked. As he examined each of them, the presence described their meaning.
First, the staff:
The power of the Mystic...
A staff of wonder and ruin...
Then the sword:
The power of the Warrior...
A sword of terrible desctruction...
And finally, the shield:
The power of the Guardian...
Kindness to aid friends...
A shield to repel all...
Which form shall you choose...?
Walking back to the center of the circle, Elliot turned and looked again at the three objects, thinking carefully on what the presence said about each. He decided early on that he had no need for what was offered by the sword, as it did not represent what he felt himself to be, but he spent quite some time gazing back and forth between the staff and the shield. Elliot honestly felt as though both represented him equally, and if he could do so he would have chosen both, but after long inner deliberation he had to admit that more often than not friends were more important to him than he was, and summarily walked back over to the shield, taking it in hand once more.
Is this the form you choose...? the presence asked, to which Elliot nodded, and immediately following that the shield vanished from his hands in a flash of light. Then the presence continued.
Your path is set...
...Now, what will you give up in exchange...?
That question was easy for Elliot to answer, who quickly understood the balance present in these choices as he walked over to the sword without a second thought. When he took the weapon in hand, the presence asked if this was the power he wanted to relinquish, and Elliot nodded unhesitatingly.
Just after the sword also vanished from Elliot's hands in a flash, the three pedestals shuddered in unison and began to sink back through the stained glass. When they had disappeared completely, the circle itself gave a tremendous rumble that made him stumble briefly, and as it shattered in a wave to vanish into the surrounding blackness, Elliot knew immediately that there was no way he could outrun it, not that there seemed to be anywhere else to run to.
Helplessly, Elliot could only try and protect himself as the part of the circle directly underfoot fell away, and amidst a thousand eerily beautiful shards of broken glass he once again plunged headfirst into the dark. He soon realized he was descending slowly again, but when the shards each in turn became enveloped by the void, for several nevous seconds Elliot could see absolutely nothing.
As he continued to float downward, slowly another self-lit stained glass circle came into view below, though from his current height Elliot could see that the circle wasn't a flat piece, but rather the top of an immense pillar. Still, it was the circle marking the pillar's apex that caught his attention the most, this one depicting a very odd-looking series of objects related to cutting, styling, and maintaining hair, as well as many faceless mannequin heads sporting a wide variety of different hairstyles and colors. But when Elliot saw the woman in the center of the circle -- her short black hair with a wide blonde streak in the middle, the tiny square-framed glasses worn over sky blue eyes that gleamed with self-assurance, and both the white vest and black leather pants she was clad in -- the surrounding decor became all too appropriate.
Vanessa... he inwardly observed in a matter-of-fact tone.
After Elliot righted himself in mid-air, and landed at the edge of this new circle, the shield that he had chosen earlier suddenly reappeared in his hand with another flash of light. As he looked upon it once more, the presence "spoke" again.
Use this power to protect yourself and others...
for there will be times when you will have to fight...
Wondering how he was to properly use a shield as a weapon, having never done so before, Elliot gingerly began taking a few experimental swings when he just barely noticed an abrupt movement within his peripheral vision. It was a small, swirling mass of blackness that appeared to be just underneath the surface of the glass, but as it moved closer to Elliot it rose up through the floor and began to take on a more discernable -- and much more threatening -- shape.
Standing before Elliot at that moment, spastic movements and all, was now the shadowy, meanacing, and unmistakable form of a Faceless Troller. A second black mass appeared soon after, it too taking on a similarly disturbing stature. As Elliot brandished the shield and prepared himself for what looked to be an unavoidable confrontation, the presence had only this piece of advice:
Hold true to what you are...
With little warning, the first Faceless Troller quickly leapt towards Elliot, clawed fingers extending as though it were aiming straight for his throat. Gritting his teeth determinedly, Elliot hopped up to meet it in mid-air, shoving the shield forward just as the creature came within range.
He felt the impact through his hand and arm as the shield collided into the Faceless Troller with a grimly satisfying thwack, and as they descended back to the floor Elliot took the shield in both hands and brought it down on his stunned adversary's head with a tremendous crash.
The Faceless Troller dispersed into wisps of swirling blackness once more, then vanished altogether like it had never been there in the first place. As if sensing its new predicamant, the other Troller stopped its charge and sunk back into the glass floor in a retreat, and was almost immediately replaced by a vastly larger black mass. Instead of moving as though about to take on another form, though, the inky darkness spread out like paint had been poured on the stained glass, and it wasn't long before it covered most of the floor and flowed under Elliot's feet.
A split-second later, Elliot abruptly felt the floor beneath him cease to exist, and in shock he tried to scramble free as the blackness started slowly sucking him downward into itself. Despite his efforts, gradually Elliot sunk farther and farther, though he shut his eyes and continued to resist as best he could. But then, not long after he closed his eyes, it dawned on him that the pulling sensation he felt before was gone, and that he was now lying on his back on top of yet another stained glass pillar.
Unlike the previous two, this circle bore no recognizable images; just patterns of intricately sweeping lines, symbols, and geometric shapes. Also unlike the previous two was the inclusion of what appeared to be a transparent but elegantly carved set of double doors, sitting on the edge of the circle across from Elliot. He rose to his feet and walked over to them, but it only took a second to know for certain that the doors weren't solid, and that there was no way to open them.
On a hunch, Elliot walked around behind the doors, and was only half-surprised to find that from here, the doors were actually quite solid. Pushing on them, the doors opened easily, revealing nothing but the part of the circle in front of it -- the exact place where he had just been.
Well, that's... helpful, Elliot mentally remarked, starting to walk back around to the front of the doors, but could only blink in puzzlement as he began to see from the other side a veil of blinding light inside the now-open doorway. Protecting his eyes with his free hand, Elliot warily stepped into the enveloping white.
When he felt that the brightness had dimmed down to the point where he could see again, Elliot lowered his hand to see that he was now standing on what looked to be an endless set of stairs, with each step consisting of an immobile square of levitating stained glass. He could see nothing but these long, wide steps descending behind him, but up ahead Elliot could see the vague outline of a humanoid figure on one of the steps farther on, standing off to one side.
The time is drawing near, but have patience... the presence suddenly echoed in Elliot's mind.
There will be questions asked of you... and you must answer them honestly.
Nodding once in understanding, Elliot began what was to be an unexpectedly long climb up the stairs towards the distant figure. As he drew closer, though, Elliot realized that it was a transparent illusion of another woman he recognized. She looked much younger than Sasha and Vanessa, with innocent-looking purple eyes and shoulder-length light brown hair that was tied with bows into two pigtails in the back, and she wore an ankle-length yellow sundress that had green shoulder straps, and red trim at her shoulder level that bore a single flower with pink petals on it.
The illusion of Rina stopped Elliot and asked him a question. "What's most important to you?"
He stood for a while in thought, but one look at the shield in his hand soon brought an answer to him. "The people I care about," he answered, speaking aloud for the first time.
Stepping to one side to let him pass, the illusion of Rina called out to Elliot as he began climbing the steps again, giving him pause. "Is friendship and love really such a big deal?"
Elliot responsed at length, "To me... yes," then resumed ascending the stairs without another word.
Some time later, Elliot noticed another illusory figure up ahead, and like the others, he recognized this woman as well. Wearing a long, flowing dress of seafoam green, and a matching bonnet atop her long, wavy golden blonde hair decorated with purple ribbons and bright red flowers, she looked down the stairs at him with shining pale blue eyes, silently waiting for him to reach her step.
The illusion of Ruby stopped Elliot and asked him a question. "What do you desire from life?"
After long moments of delicate consideration, he eventually came upon the most realistic answer he could honestly think of. He wanted to say peace and happiness, but knew all too well such things can come and go like the tides.
"To broaden my horizons," he replied, for really, the only thing he felt himself entitled to was simply to see as much as there was to life -- and indeed, existence as a whole -- as he possibly could.
With a simple echo of, "To broaden your horizons, hm?", the illusion of Ruby also stepped aside to let Elliot resume his climb.
When several more minutes had passed, Elliot saw what he assumed to be the final figure appear farther up the stairs. The closer he got, the more he recognized about her as well; the deeply bronzed features of her skin, the long black hair, the elegant wide-collared lilac vest, the charcoal gray skirt, the golden bangles that adorned both of her ears and wrists as well as her neck, and the pale blue and purple markings that adorned her shoulders and the center of her forehead, not to mention just below her wisdom-filled dark green eyes.
The illusion of Josie stopped Elliot and asked him a question. "What is it that you fear?"
Time felt as though it had stretched into an indeterminable length as Elliot contemplated her question, for while there certainly was no shortage of things to be afraid of in life, trying to find what to him was the one fear to outdo all others proved to be a much more difficult task than he could have ever anticipated. But then, quite suddenly, in the midst of all those possibilities arose what Elliot thought was an obvious thing for him to say.
"I'm afraid... of being indecisive," he answered with a timid laugh, admitting it as much to himself as he was to her. It was true, there were plenty of times and situations when, faced with so many choices to pick from, Elliot often decided to make no choice at all without even thinking about it.
Appearing to be satisfied with his response, the illusion of Josie moved to allow Elliot to go on up the stairs, but after he had put a few steps between them she asked another question. "Is being indecisive really that frightening?"
Elliot stopped and half-turned to regard her, still standing on that step with the same unjudging, inquisitive expression as before. "It depends on the choice that has to be made," he began, thinking about it with an increasing calm as he continued speaking, "but there are times when choosing not to make a decision... is really not much of a choice."
With that, Elliot turned back and continued walking up the steps, and after what felt like half an hour he noticed that the stairs were starting to make a wide curve to the right. Just then a feeling of urgency came over Elliot, causing him to quicken his pace. At first he merely walked up the stairs a little faster than before, but soon enough he was jogging lightly, then almost running from step to step, and all the while another stained glass pillar slowly emerged out of the darkness, with the stairs leading right up to the top, where Elliot guessed another circle bearing the image of someone he recognized awaited him.
He wasn't disappointed when he finally reached it, and beheld within the intricate rings of ankhs, spiked bracelets, and emblazed tattoos the rebelliousy alluring visage of Moira. The small, heart-shaped tattoo just below one of her brown eyes did nothing to betray the proud expression in her gaze, or the self-assurance that seemed all-too-apparent in her short black hair, the studded leather jacket and pants she wore, and the lace-lined lilac top she had on underneath the jacket.
Looking up, Elliot noticed that unlike the other pillars, far above this one there was a single point of light shining down onto part of the circle, and feeling drawn towards it, Elliot slowly approached.
The presence "spoke" again in that moment, almost startling him a bit, if only because he hadn't "heard" it in a while.
The closer you get to light, the greater your shadow becomes...
Realizing that the light above would indeed cast a shadow, Elliot turned around and noticed with astonishment that the shadow was continuing to stretch across the glass, all the way to the edge. When it reached that point, though, it suddenly forced its way from being a two-dimensional outline into a pitch-black duplicate of Elliot. Causing him even further alarm than it already had, this shadow of Elliot then proceeded to grow into gigantic proportions, distorting itself into a semi-flat, undecipherable collection of abstract shapes as it continued to increase in size, eventually coming to a stop as it hovered meanacingly in mid-air.
The sight of what now loomed before him was enough to put Elliot in a state bordering between intimidated shock and astonished curiosity, as he also recognized the abstract figure.
"(........)?!" he stammered breathlessly, eyes wide. "But why...?"
But don't be afraid..., "said" the presence.
Elliot tried to heed the warning, though he also thought it prudent to back up and put some distance between himself and this bizarre monstrosity that his shadow had become. Within seconds Elliot realized he'd reached the edge of the circle, and readied the shield again as his mind raced to find what could be the best way to fend against this entity.
The presence started to speak again, but Elliot was only able to hear it say And don't forget... before the surreal figure started to float towards him with a threatening air. Once it had gotten close enough it suddenly ascended briefly before slamming down onto the circle's surface, creating shockwaves composed of what almost looked like black fire. Elliot had to dive out of the way to avoid them, and after waiting for the waves to subside, Elliot ran in with the shield leading the way, leaping up to swing twice at the thing that was once his shadow.
It seemed solid enough, as the impacts Elliot felt through the shield told him, but when he started to land from the jump he mentally kicked himself for not noticing earlier that the shockwaves had left something else in their wake. A pair of Faceless Trolls had appeared during Elliot's airborne offensive, so that when he landed not only did he have to fend them off, but also keep an eye out for any attacks from the abstract figure.
Luckily the Faceless Trolls seemed to possess little in the area of intellect or strategy, and with a few deft sidesteps and dodges to put them off-balance Elliot was able to take the advantage and disperse them with two overhead smashes from the shield. With the distractions no longer present, Elliot could turn his attention back to the monstrosity his shadow had become.
Very nearly catching him unawares, the figure suddenly muttered something in a deep, rumbling voice that Elliot couldn't even begin to understand, though he had no trouble fathoming the intent of the dangerously large spear of ice that formed in front it. Elliot rightly anticipated that the ice lance would come right for him, he charged towards the figure with the intent of not giving that deadly-looking shard much time to gain speed, so that blocking it with the shield wouldn't impart too much force.
The idea paid off, as the ice lance darted towards Elliot, who brought the shield in front of him and braced with it with both hands as he ran straight ahead, which caused the lance to shatter against the barrier without requiring too much resistance on his part. Minute pieces of ice scattered around and past Elliot as he ran on, jumping up once again when he got close enough to lay into the figure once more with a series of hits from the shield.
Elliot felt something about the figure that he couldn't quite make sense of abruptly give way under the force of his last attack, and thinking the battle must be over, started to back up as he landed. The shield vanished in a flash as he did so, but it seemed like a moment too soon as the abstract figure crashed down onto the surface of the stained glass circle one final time.
He tried to jump backwards to dodge, but the force of the blow knocked Elliot onto his backside, and before he could get back to his feet he found himself sitting in the middle of what appeared to be a whirlpool composed of swirling darkness. Feeling himself start to sink into it, once again Elliot struggled to resist its pull, but alarmingly the whirlpool continued to spread, and wispy black tendrils even rose up from it to wrap around both his neck and his outstretched arm.
As Elliot desperately reached for the tendril around his neck with his other hand, and the abstract figure began to slowly approach him with what he assumed to be the intent of finishing him off, Elliot heard the presence "speak" once again.
--But don't be afraid...
Darkness and light are but two halves of the same whole...
Letting the words restore some of his sensibility, Elliot slowly relented in his attempts to free himself from the tendrils of darkness and tried to calm himself down, though he couldn't help but do so hesitatingly as more began to reach out and wrap themselves around him as they started to pull him even farther down into the black whirlpool underneath.
Just as the blackness enveloped him and took away his sight and the rest of his senses, Elliot "heard" the presence for the last time.
And don't forget...
What you truly are... is that which eyes alone cannot see...
Elliot normally would have tried to think on those words with all the cognitive and philosophical powers available to him, but loss of consciousness in that particular instant kept him from doing so.
The next thing Elliot was aware of was the sound of waves rhythmically breaking against the sandy shore that he found himself laying on. Slowly opening his eyes as he sat up, he took in the spectacle of a beach that he often visited, the brilliant glare of the low-hanging evening sun casting its deep, reddish-orange glow over everything around him; the ocean, the sand, and the rocks, trees, and plants that dotted the shore. Majestic, just like it was here at this time on any clear day; just like it was when he recalled falling asleep here eariler.
"Everything's tinted the same shade," he absently commented, his mind already pouring over the events of the dream that even now felt as though it had really taken place. There was so much of it that he couldn't make sense of, and yet deep within him he couldn't deny that whatever it was, it had been very important; enough so that he knew he could never forget it.
Just as he started to plant his hands against sand in order to get to his feet, Elliot's right hand brushed against something laying on the beach next to him. Looking down at it, he saw that it was an unusual-looking, sword-like weapon, seemingly made out of multiple pieces of steel, though it proved to be much lighter than he expected when he picked it up.
The blade itself didn't look like it had any discernable edge, and oddly enough the tip folded in on itself, creating a large geometric shape. A gold-colored hexagonal metal ring surrounded the handle, serving as a handguard, and at the bottom end of the handguard there was a small ring with a thin chain attached to it at one end, while the other end of the chain terminated in a round medal with words and shapes etched onto it that Elliot didn't recognize.
Although he had no clue what it was, in a nearly instinctive way Elliot knew that it was somehow connected to that "half-dream". The only thing he could really wonder in that instant, as he held the weapon up into the setting sun, was what he was supposed to do with it.
[Elliot received Anesidora's Woe.]
It was incredibly well-written Elliot! Are you going to make that into a story? I'd love to read it!!!!
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