Chapter 4

Titan's methane oceans roiled. Saturn's crushing gravity caused massive tidal waves to surge across the moon's surface.

In the comforting blackness beneath the waves, the tides swelled and contracted like the breath of a great beast. Within that churn of elemental forces, the proto-worm Ahsa slumbered.

She was not "asleep" in any sense her bonded Guardian would understand. For the frail Humans, sleep was a frantic, uninhibited state. Their minds roamed freely between terror, ecstasy, and oblivion. It was not a condition that Ahsa recognized as "restful."

Instead, the proto-worm's attention drifted peacefully among quantum fields unspoiled by physics or matter. Her consciousness diffused from the dense thoughtforms used by the Humans to a more expansive state of being. She was as a mist upon the face of the cosmos. Time flowed through her as a tranquil breeze.


Her serenity was suddenly eroded. As if a gyre had suddenly formed beneath her mind, sucking her inexorably back into her body. She felt herself sink.

| Akka… Xita… Sel… Ahsa… Ora… Leis…|

The crushing density of her material form suddenly weighed her down. She calmed herself as she re-identified the oppressive forces as mere physical sensation.

| I separate the true from the dead. |

The phenomenon pulling her back was familiar. A Human voice. The words were sharp and pointed. They smelled of putrefaction. Despair. Violence.

| I am the many-mouthed hunger. I am the knife-edged truth. |

The voice grew stronger, like a saprophytic fungus blossoming on a carcass. It spread its mycelial tendrils through her mind. An invocation.

She knew intuitively that she could withdraw from this connection if she desired. The will of the unseen voice was not so strong as to enthrall her. Not yet.

| I devour the free. I conspire with my vengeance. |

Ahsa suppressed the urge to recoil. Beneath the ritual words, she recognized a discordant note. One of… altruism. The speaker was sacrificing themself as well. They proposed mutual tribulation for a greater purpose: the survival of the universe.

Their reciprocal apprehension gave her solace. Ahsa opened herself up, allowing the voice to resonate within her.

| I will take what I need. The words in my throat are the weapon in my fist. |

The gruesome nature of the speaker's method became clear: Ahsa was to become a vessel for their harvested power. A battery for the profane logic—just like her corrupted kin.

Waves of conflicting emotion cascaded through Ahsa as memories of her flight from Fundament resurfaced. After her escape, Ahsa had spent millennia in grief for her lost brethren. But always dormant beneath the surface of her despair was a faint gleam of hope, like buried treasure. A hope that one day, she might redeem their depravity.

A hope which now rose to the surface wielding the very sword she once fled.

|Aiat, aiat, aiat!|

Upon the final invocation, Ahsa perceived the fullness of her caller's intent. They sought power not for themself, or even their species. They fought to preserve the very cosmos as they knew it. To save it from the cruel grasp of a wounded tyrant, using the only tool they could.

The proto-worm imagined the universe swelling and contracting like the tides. Beyond the reckoning of any one being. When moved by such swells, one could only accept their impetus, making of them the best one could.

From her bonding with Sloane, Ahsa knew this was what Humans called "fate."