Birth is painful. Rebirth is just as painful.
At least, when you are born as a baby you have no memory of the process. As an adult, every second is an experience in torment and patience. There is no rushing the process. Your body and soul have to connect and reconnect. Neurons that have ceased firing are woken. Nerve endings once again learn how to fire electrical currents, sparking synapses into action, and your brain begins to filter and process those electrical impulses.
Your heart pounds. Sluggishly at first. Stronger as the thrum dub of beat and rhythm renew pulse and pressure. The noise of blood slowly rushing towards your head, blood that has begun to clot requiring more force to pump and move, slowly responds. And as blood flows, electrons fire, and your lungs expand, your body experiences an awakening.
The numbness, first. Then pins and needle, slight almost pleasurable at first, but painful and insistent as the prickle increase, the familiar experience of a body part falling asleep and wakening when blood flow is restored. The effect is interesting, but the longer the numbness has occurred, the more painful the process restoring adequate blood flow can be.
Slowly the myriad autonomous systems that worked in harmony to regulate the body come back online. Synapses firing. Lungs expanding. Blood flow. Digestion. Endocrine systems. Sound, sights, and smells functioning. And my brain slowly restored and able to process and understand the stimuli my body is processing.
Being reborn should have been a wondrous event. A blessing. For me, it was anything but. S-Prime had sent me back without allowing me time to respond, agree, or bargain.
Frankly, I was confused. Why would S-Prime appear as my Grandmother? Was this some subtle mind-fuck or was it just done because I had the deepest connection with that person? From my past experience, she was my protector, perhaps S-Prime chose her form as a construct as a way to assuage any resentment I may hold.
For a few moments, I allowed myself to be selfish. Too not care about what was transpiring around me, or how the Wild Hunt had ended. I took time for myself and to grieve. To mourn for Caraid.
And to honor his sacrifice. S-Prime had said Caraid was restored, but I wasn't sure what that meant, and it didn't negate his sacrifice. I don't know why Caraid decided to accept my fate and step in as my replacement with the Wild Hunt. But I would remember his sacrifice and devotion. And I would find a way to restore him to real life, even if it meant I must ascend to Godhood to do so.
Finally. Muscle control and movement possible, I reached to wipe the tears from my eyes. I didn't have the luxury to wallow and mourn; I needed to pull myself together. Standing, I focused on the now, trying to understand what I was seeing. My sight wasn't the most powerful sense I was experiencing at the moment. Smell and sound were.
Cries and screams from wounded, and the roasted and burnt smell of cooked flesh. A scent that induced nausea and forced me to spend a moment battling my gag reflex and my desire to throw up.
Blackened and charred bodies littered the ground. Interspersed with a forest of ice sculptures, people that had yet to thaw and either be restored to life or found dead. Those that had refused the Wild Hunt's call and had been found innocent.
As I watched, the ice that encased these individuals began to slowly melt. Rivulets of water dripping onto the floor and mixing with blood and viscera from the recent battle. Temperatures that had been below freezing, slowly rose until the room was once again temperate and comfortable.
All furnishings, the very walls, and the ground that surrounded me had been trampled to dust, a stark reminder of the destructive power of Beleros Aura. The fire that burned, the absolute cold that destroyed. Metal weapons and armor had shattered once that frigid tableau had struck.
As people thawed, confusion and uncertainty became common. Relief at survival soon gave way to cries of despair as loved ones that had been killed or joined the Wild Hunt and were missing were identified. Wailing and rending of clothing and flesh soon filled the room, as the last touches of the Wild Hunt receded. Restoring the banquet hall to the world of Talahm, the Wild Hunt domain softly receding.
Ignoring my surroundings as Talahm slowly solidified, I decided it was time to take stock and see exactly what S-Prime and System's pronouncement had done to me and what those changes would mean.
[Applying new restrictions…]
[System attempting to default to saved backup…]
[Overwrite in process…]
[New restrictions and safety protocols compiled…]
My attempt to access my Status was the final impetus that S-Prime needed to complete and repair the functionality of the System. The Universe blinked. And in that blink of time, everything was destroyed, System code and anti-virus were updated, and every particle of matter was reconstituted in the latest iteration of System.
System 2.0 was now live
[S-Prime Message -]
[You have discovered an incongruity in System. System was created and initiated to reward and guide; punishing and creating Avatar's to act as agents of punishment is not a function of System.
Corruption and tampering have been isolated. The System has been re-compiled and patched.
Gwyn ap Nudd Avatar has been deleted]
[Hidden S-Prime Quest Completed – Allow S-Prime to act and repair System Corruption and Inconsistency]
[Reward - User Level increased – Prince: Level 3]
[Name: Teigh Mac de Beleros y Cyronax]
[ Rank: Prince Level 3 (Pending)]
[Title: Summerland's Protector]
[Title: Zeus' Bane]
[Danu's Kiss: You have been blessed by Wild Magic and the Goddess Danu. The wee folk, sprites, and earth elementals will obey your commands. You can call upon the Wild Magic to enhance any spell cast once every third day.]
[Sithern's created by you will conform and move to your will after creation.]
[Health Pool: 2400 (2804)]
[Magic Strength: 3600 (4004)]
[Strength: 14.01 (2.02)]
[Agility: 14.01 (2.02)]
[Intellect: 20.01 (2.02)]
[Will Power: 20.01 (2.02)]
[Earth Affinity: 15%]
[Air Affinity: 32%]
[Water Affinity: 15%]
[Fire Affinity: 85%]
[Nature Affinity: 70%]
[Death Affinity: 15%]
[Spell menu - Disabled]
[Skill menu - Disabled]
Somehow these messages didn't comfort me. In fact, they only increased my anger. I'd thought for some time that I was manipulated and used by S-Prime. It had guided and hastened my awakening in this world too quickly. Offering rewards and incentives that were just too tempting to ignore.
These announcements only re-affirmed that belief. I was the bait in S-Prime's game. The required pawn S-Prime needed to demonstrate conclusively that System had been tampered with and give It permissions to intervene. I wasn't sure why it needed to act in such a convoluted manner. Possibly some cosmic or universal law that demanded non-interference on Its part.
[System Generated Quest - Status Mandatory
Identify those responsible for tampering with System programming and learn how those actions were possible - Time Limit - None]
Maybe System's actions had been so egregious and obvious that S-Prime was able to ignore those Cosmic restraints that constrained It from acting. I now believed my reincarnation wasn't a serendipitous or chance occurrence. S-Prime had used me to further Its own agenda. And in doing so, I had almost lost Caraid, System functionality, and my ring. And wasted a respawn.
Now, I had a mandatory quest to find the source.
I was pissed. Manipulate me, fine. Punish me, fine. But, at least have the decency to explain the problem. I would have happily helped. I wasn't sure what I could have done differently, but no matter, now I was forced to accept the consequences. One thing was certain, I would find a way to honor the sacrifice Caraid made by taking my place in the Hunt.
[You know the angst and sentiment is appreciated. But before you engage in righteous indignation, shouldn't you ask me what I think,] Caraid said amusement evident in his voice.
"Caraid?” I responded stunned and amazed, but happy that communications had been re-established.
"Gwyn said you had been made a warrior of the Hunt! That you had volunteered to take my place, and that you were denied to me forever."
[That is true.]
[System’s Avatar made the offer, and I accepted]
[A temporarily created Avatar of a virus-infested System that attempted to thwart the will of S-Prime. An Avatar that had been created and given administrative functions, at that moment, falsely, because of an error in programming.]
[These actions and yours allowed S-Prime to identify and patch System.]
[Rip us asunder?]
[Did you forget that S-Prime linked our souls?]
[I am a part of you. I have no form, no substance. I was created to guide and help you. We were woven together before you reincarnated. Our fates are intertwined.]
[I exist in the realm where phantoms and dreams are created. And like the Wild Hunt, I am Quicksilver, a construct of magic, betwixt and between, the instant where rain transforms into the snow. I exist within and outside of reality. Our merging was quixotic and serendipitous a perfect alignment of possibilities.]
[The whole greater than the sum.]
[My Agreement to take your place in the Wild Hunt could not sunder our connection. Since we were joined together, I haven't existed separately. In this realm, from the very start, I was always a part of you. So why would my joining the Wild Hunt alter that connection?]
I was relieved that Caraid had not been taken from me. Not being able to talk to him recently had felt like having an arm removed. He had become an integral part of me. I had begun thinking of him as a real brother. He was someone I could trust, implicitly, and our backgrounds were similar enough that we had connected emotionally because of those shared experiences.
[S-Prime has allowed me to stay a member of the Hunt. It could have restored us to how we were, but by joining the Hunt, I have access to a corporeal form and body.]
[We can still communicate. There is no distance between here and there because there is no here or there. And as long as the Hunt is not summoned, in those silent moments of expectation and preparedness, I am free to continue my partnership with you.]
[But realize and remember, my choice did place limits on our bond. When the Hunt calls, I must answer. In those moments of service, answering the call from the Hunt will take precedence over the connection between us. During those times when the Hunt is called, I will honor your agreement and serve. I will Hunt,] Caraid concluded.
[Eventually, as I learn to control and marshal those energies that allow the Hunt to manifest, I should be able to control the body more thoroughly and join you physically.]
“You've found a way to gain a body!” I exclaimed in delight.
"But, if you and I can still talk, and S-Prime negated the nerfs that System applied, why am I getting truncated System status screens?" I asked confused.
[S-Prime did modify the edict placed on the Ring of Hidden Depths. That item was SYSTEM purchased, and you performed the necessary requirements to form a soul bond. Spit, blood, or semen, remember?]
[Your semen upgraded the item. It transformed the ring to artifact tier level and blood and semen was used to establish ownership for you and those that share your lineage.]
[Avatar-Gwyn did not have the ability or authority to remove the ring, no matter the attempt. The garbled words you were hearing when talking to Avatar-Gwyn were System errors that S-Prime was able to track.]
"You seem strangely well versed, almost as if S-Prime and you have had a conversation," I said. "Are you in contact with S-Prime?"
[The Wild Hunt is a unique phenomenon. A collection of individuals that act in concert. A hive mind mentality that moves as one, acts as one, thinks as one while Hunting.]
[When a fragment of Gwyn ap Nudd was imbued by System and made Avatar, that fragment remained in contact with the real Gwyn and his host. The change to Avatar included a splinter of awareness that remained available to the collective mind that makes up the Wild Hunt.]
[What he knew, we knew. What he experienced, we experienced. And when System Reboot occurred, when the Universe paused, everything was destroyed and remade in that nano-second of time.]
[For most the Universal re-set was a brief hiccup of time and space. Barely noticeable, but the event allowed the re-formatting of System that was required to encompass the entire breadth and width of creation.]
[Because System created an avatar modeled and based on Gwyn ap Nudd, he became the focal point of that re-write. S-Prime used that connection as an Avatar to System to trace the corruption and hacks, allowing it to overwrite and apply a successful patch.]
[The collective mind of the Hunt shared Gwyn ap Nudd's experience. The millions and millions of minds, the vast intellect combined, and our attention to detail while linked, allowed the many minds to minutely and narrowly focus on events.]
[And because the collective was so expansive and focused on events, it allowed some bleed through to be processed. I didn't 'speak' with S-Prime. But the Wild Hunt came to know It and some of Its goals.]
[Perhaps just an infinitesimal amount of Its knowledge. But enough for conjecture and supposition to be formed.]
[The Wild Hunt is a Cosmic force of nature.]
[Destructive, unmovable, and unemotional. Until that is, this back-door hack to System allowed our purpose to be co-opted. Like a force of nature, there are certain rules and laws that must be followed.]
[The Hunt cannot address the wrongs done to System or act to destroy those who would tamper with Its purpose. But justice is owed.]
[The patch allowed the Wild Hunt and S-Prime's goals to merge. The Wild Hunt subsumed the mission it was created to encompass, to seek justice and dispense vengeance, and allow the instrument of S-Prime to find those guilty and to seek justice.] Caraid explained.
[Gwyn ap Nudd was within his right to judge and deliver his sentence to you when you died.]
[But he exceeded his authority when System created an Avatar and imbued that creation with Administrative authority. This abuse gave S-Prime the opening It required to act and allowed the Wild Hunt to act as a collective to adjust the parameters of justice, slightly.]
[At that moment, you were the chosen instrument of S-Prime. You were an Agent of Change. The focus of opportunity that the multi-verse coalesced around. At that moment, you were the instrument of rebirth.]
[That may change.]
[That may have already changed. You may have already completed the task S-Prime meant for you. But you are the only instrument of change the Wild Hunt had access too.]
"So, I've become an instrument of the Hunt as well as S-Prime?" I asked. "Just once, it would be nice if I were asked my opinion. These behind the scene and back-door manipulations are becoming wearisome."
[Weren't you asked your opinion when you were offered the choice to be reborn? To reincarnate in this body?] Caraid asked.
"Is there any way to free you from the Hunt?" I wondered choosing to ignore his question tacitly recognizing that my complaints were childish in nature and completely unfounded. Plus, Caraid was right.
[I don't know.]
[I know it's never been done before. I'm also not sure there is a point to trying. At least until I have more information on what being a member of the Wild Hunt entails. And definitely not before I learn how to create and control the body the Hunt has provided me.] Caraid answered.
"Wait. You said we are still one soul. So, what does that mean if I die without a respawn? Will I join the Hunt, or will you reincarnate if I do?"
[Again, I'm not certain. I'm not sure the Powers ever envisioned a circumstance like ours. Other than S-Prime. It will have contingencies in place if that event does occur.]
Our conversation was interrupted as those around me finally thawed enough to restore thought and movement. My Vassals were the first to approach me, with my guards quickly following. Making a mental note to pick up the discussion with Caraid at a later time, I began to examine those that had fallen.
I would be no help in identifying friend from foe of those that had attended, I hadn't spoken or been introduced to any of them before the events of the Hunt transpired, so I decided right if I could discover the fate of Lord Kel and Lady Patricia.
Lady Patricia's body was splayed inelegantly, her Siren features easily recognizable, she was obviously dead. Her face frozen, features etched with horror and surprise. The terror and disbelief that she had failed and that the Hunt was so powerful obvious.
What was interesting was Lord Kel.
He was alive. Not coherent, but alive.
He was a blubbering mess of tears and snot, despondent and in despair as he draped his wrecked and ruined body over the lifeless form of Lady Patricia. His despair and pain engulfed his persona and may have been what protected his mind from shattering completely.
His grief separated him from those around him and isolated him in an island of uncertainty and devastation. His ability to survive in the face of the Hunt was stunning and confusing. It could only mean one thing. Gwyn ap Nudd had found him innocent. Somehow, despite his involvement with Olympians and his addiction and dependence on Elfshot, he had been absolved.
As I approached Lord Kel, another System announcement was generated that completely stunned me.
[You have, through your actions, defeated Lord Kel of Kel Fief.]
[Rewards – Variable]
[Do you wish to claim this land as your territory?]
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