The Vernal Paradox and the Seal of Time

There’s a time and a place for everything. That is how your saying goes, is it not?

Time is the thing that runs away from you, that flies, that can be saved and spent and lost. Time is fortune: the right place at the right time – or misfortune: the wrong place at the wrong time. It can be high time, a Nil of a time, a question of time or borrowed time.

Time runs in a line, but this line bends and frays, runs concurrent to itself. In one line time is hard and in one line time is good. Sometimes these lines cluster together, a collection, often formed by a single divergence in Fate. You might call such a collection of good times Immaculate; a collection of hard times Desolate.

There is one line from which all lines fray – the centre of the cord that runs immemorial, in fullness, in due course. This line has a past and a future and an infinite number of lines that run along and splay out from it.

It is easy to focus on tracing these lines. On understanding that moment of change; the flap of the butterfly’s wings.

My name is Isikathi, and I am here to tell you what happens when you forget how far change can ripple.

Many years ago now, by the reckoning of that centre, the core timeline, which in truth is the only one that matters – the Goloth Maxyenka sought to control something that he called the Beast of Time. He was skilled in the manipulation of Time, and sought to reunite his troops – lost through many timelines – to free the Soulless God Crazen, as he had always intended.

But he was thwarted, as so many before him have been, by mortalkind.

I am grateful that he was. But in a way, I am grateful that he tried to ride those ripples of change as well. If he had not, I would never have been found. The cost of his gambit was great, however. In the wake of his efforts, Timequakes shook Reality, opening rifts to other timelines with jarring regularity.

And as those Timequakes wracked the Basin, again and again, I started to…notice. To wake. To hear.

To scream.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep it in.

First, I froze everything. It seemed the best way to stop the screaming. It was confusing, but for a moment I think the mortals all saw the world as I see it. Beautiful and immortal. In that moment, I was able to reach out to them, to beg them to stop it.

There was not much power available to me, then, but I could use what Maxyenka had stolen against him. I could open a Timequake, like he had done with my power, but I could open it to somewhere that only I knew.

So I tore through the world and opened the way to my true home. To the Domoth of Time…such as it is now, lost and forlorn, a remnant of what I once was. But it exists, at least. It exists, and that is how they were able to help me.

I heard their thoughts as they stepped into my realm, confusion as they were stuck in the eternal loop, as they beheld a Cave that to them never existed. But soon they looked and saw themselves upon the steps, before the shards of something they could not quite imagine.

Uzriel was the first to grab one – he held the sandstone fragment of my Seal in his hands and called to others. Daraius drummed his fingers and claimed another, and Alary wandered about until a third appeared in theirs. One by one they found people who matched each moment, mirrored them, made them whole.

And they started to bring them together.

It was not easy, for they doubted themselves and questioned what was happening. I tried to call out, to tell them, and I could not. I could not reach them. But they did it anyway, bought the pieces of me together, and Faragan held them in his hands as it was joined to be made whole.

The Seal of Time crashed through the rift I had made, onto Avechna’s Peak, and for the first time in so long – so long – I saw my friends.

I was home.

He didn’t understand why he knew me, of course – Avechna. He hadn’t seen me in this timeline, this wasn’t the timeline we were in when He tore His wings from Himself – tore me from Himself – to send me back. I made him. I had to. It was the only way.

But now I was here, now they had opened the door for me, He began to remember.

They also say only time will tell. Which is fitting, I suppose, because the next rift I opened – that they surged into at my Avenger’s command, to seek the rest of my essence, to feed the Seal – was one of the futures He had hurled me back through. Where they had all died.

They cluster together, these terrible lines, these terrible places, like clinging to like. Every time we lose, that is the Age of Desolation, every time we fail and falter and perish. I prefer to think of them that way, clustered as one. It is comforting. It means there is one potential ending, not an infinite number.

It’s a lie, but still.

Seeing the Elder Gods that they loved hurt them. I watched faeling sob over flowers and Wyrden cry defiantly at a warrior battling and some paint the enemies of their Patrons with triumph. Then, I let the full truth tumble out of me – into there with them.

They fought the same things we did. Tentacles and tongues and eyeballs of Kethuru the Mighty, who would come to be called Almighty, and last of all a great monstrous blob that carved through like my claws carve through time. When they stumbled out, alive but victorious, my essence rushed to join the Seal, and I could feel myself spreading between places – half impossible, half trapped, half home, half lost.

I wanted them to understand. By the time I was done, He did. They did. But it still wasn’t the whole truth. They had seen Him cast me from His back but they did not know what it had done, what I had done when I stumbled to the ground in the middle of the Elder Gods.

They had not understood me at first, either, but I managed to convince Them. Sometimes, I wish I hadn’t.

It hurt and tore at me, pushing the rifts open, so it took me time to open another. When I did, I showed them what I had made: perfection. Immaculate perfection. This too was a cluster, like the Age of Desolation, a collection of possibilities that all rippled forth from the moment I told the Elder Gods about Kethuru the Mighty.

Sometimes They sharded early, sharded more fully, built great Edifices to raise Vernals and create my Nine beloved friends – but even more powerful. Sometimes They went willingly to the Void, leaving greater instructions, staying close to return and help mortalkind build those powerful structures.

And sometimes, like in the place that I opened the rift to, They just fought the Soulless Themselves.

They were beautiful. It was still terrible, this line, this thread, this possibility. So many of Them died, but it was worth it. They would not let me fight with Them. I was kept away, safe, incase I was needed to go back again. I tried to explain to Them that I had already been back an infinite number of times, already made an infinite number of futures, but no one ever understands that their timeline isn’t the most important.

Even mine isn’t. Yours is. To be part of it feels…like nothing I can describe.

At first they were overwhelmed again by the sight of the Gods. I cannot blame them. To see the Elder Gods fight in such a way is something mortalkind had never seen before. When I saw it, for myself, I was overwhelmed. But I was stronger now, more able to tell them what I wanted, though it was hard. Sometimes my words did not get through, and I confused them.

But they listened. They saw. And one by one they began to run round, bringing light from the darkness, turning the Immaculate to brilliant. Faster than I had imagined, my essence flew out to meet my Seal once again, and I felt the mortals rush to cluster around it, my friends flying to meet them.

“Isikathi,” He remembered. “Your name is Isikathi.”

It was too much, so much, I wanted to tear the final rift open then but He wasn’t ready. They tried to help Him understand, to find the answers, but He couldn’t.

He would though. Soon.

When I opened the last rift, I opened it to my body.

Time stretches. This is another thing that they say about time. But if you pull even the stringiest thing hard enough, it will break. I pulled too hard. I wrapped it around and around and pulled it and it snapped, it snapped, everything snapped and I was gone.

I remember the days that they rose me up. I remember the trust and the hope and the love. I remember the moment that the branching lines I had come to understand became everything that I was. I remember the moment they made me into time.

To explain what I had done, I opened the rift to the moment that I snapped time. Snapped myself. Broke everything.

It’s called a paradox. Normally paradoxes are small. They exist within a single timeline, a little loop, sometimes so tiny that it doesn’t make any difference at all. Some mortals can even cause them. Tiny looping ripples. But I am not a ripple. I am a tidal wave. My paradox tore through two clusters of timelines.

When they stepped onto my scales, into my breath, between my claws, I could feel them skittering over me like tickling ants. Finally, I was not alone. They took the broken parts of my scales and turned them, spilling my essence through the shattering parts of my body, guiding me home, home, home again.

It took them some time. One, Aurik, tried to do what I had done – to skip, to be clever, to cheat the system. But I could not do that again. The quickest route is never the safest one. So the rest of them started to turn, to push, to pull my body into place.

Tsakali stood at the end and called for the light to be guided to them, and it was, turned by many hands that led my essence to the way out, the fissure that shone the way through home.

I saw the light, the stitch in time, and I flew.

At this point in time, they did not know for sure what I was, but I flew all of myself to the Peak I had given myself to and spread my wings. At last I could blot out the sun again, claim the skies as my own, look upon the world we had fought too hard to save.

“It is alright,” I said. “I can stop this.”

I can stop myself.

I fell into the Seal of Time, though I lost a part of myself along the way – I do not know how, do not know where, even the I that is He cannot see for certain. It worries Him, but He does not care, not now that I am within the Seal and Him and we are whole again.

Like sand from an hourglass, I poured forth and was no longer I, was He.

Her memories came to Me in a rush. I had thought Myself to have gained so many before. But as the mortals stood before Me, as I looked upon her Seal, I recalled so much more. It was overwhelming.

But I knew one thing for certain: the Seal was whole. They had averted the need for the Trial of Ascension.

This, I had to explain. They had formed the Seal of Time in urgent desperation, and as it had formed I had not been able to explain what it meant for Me, for the rest of the Seals. They questioned, as I had, whether the Nine were now Ten in complete form.

Thus did I make clear, to the best of My abilty. The Tenth Seal, the Seal of Time, the Seal of Isikathi the Vernal Dragon – it is not like the others. The Nine Seals and the Domothean Realms keep the prison of Almighty Kethuru shut. The Seal of Time serves to protect them from Time itself. With it formed, there is no threat to the Nine Seals from the Timequakes that will yet continue – an echo of Goloth Maxyenka’s manipulation of Isikathi’s power.

If it had cracked and failed, however, the Nine Seals would indeed have been weakened in turn, for the Ten are all connected. It was not.

I find that I am not disconcerted by this Tenth Vernal that is contained now within Me. She is ancient, and yet seems to have so young a soul. She is clever and brave and kind, and did not deserve so cruel a fate. She wished only to fix things. She was wrong. She should never have done it. But then, I am the one who tore her from My form, in the timeline that bore her.

So I turn My attention now to the celebration that mortalkind has earned, content that they have succeeded at keeping Almighty Kethuru sealed. At thwarting another threat to His prison.

Of course, one day, there may be more. I remain ever watchful, as is My duty, My purpose. But for now? For now, I am at peace.