Julius felt Xoxtris' presence like a tidal wave, crashing down upon him and threatening to sweep away everything he knew. He could feel the power surging through his veins, every thought screeching into silence as if shattered like glass. His mental walls broke apart beneath the onslaught, and he fought against it with waning strength.
His breathing grew labored as a minute passed, his body trembling from exhaustion. All around him were ancient secrets, fragmented bits of knowledge that flooded in like music from another world. Julius felt himself slipping away, memories fading and faces becoming unrecognizable as each wave pulled further and further away from who he was before. Mystical revelations swirled within his mind until logic became foreign, and reality was forgotten. Chunks of his memory slowly disappeared into oblivion until he couldn't remember anything.
The roiling waters licked hungrily at what remained of Julius, desperate to pick him apart molecule by molecule. The darkness of Xoxtris engulfed him until it seemed he was lost forever, a prisoner in his own mind, and the words ringing out from his mouth echoed the call of an imminent being from which the universe was a manifestation.
Time held no meaning here, and matter even less, as he felt himself drifting away into oblivion - a realm where light and dark blurred together in an endless void. Darkness had become so pervasive that only madness remained, leaving little space for reason.
Abruptly, Julius felt his consciousness shift. He suddenly found himself in a warm, dimly lit room, face to face with Xoxtris himself.
The deity stood before him, wrapped in a cloak of shifting darkness, staring off into the distance with a look of sorrow on their face. Something tugged at Julius' chest and the back of his throat prickled. Am I crying? He wondered at himself.
"Lukius, these, people, they didn't need to be 'fixed'; they weren't ill... He, and they, were literally bursting with life."
Snapped out of his thoughts, Julius scoffed at Xoxtris. "Then what does that make people like me?" Julius replied bitterly. As an arcanix, one born without magic, he often felt defective.
Xoxtris turned towards Julius. "Duality in all things. Remember that. One can't survive without the other," they said gently.
"Survive? It literally makes me Death!" Julius shouted in frustration.
"The opposite of Life is not Death, like you guys are inclined to believe," Xoxtris explained patiently. "Death is not the end, remember? Life is the journey, the action to achieve fulfillment, so when living is done, the opposite of Life is Stillness, Oneness."
"And yet you wonder why people don't seek ascension..." Julius muttered.
Xoxtris sighed. "If I have to explain it, it defeats the purpose. You can only become enlightened by the journey, not the result. You must discover why ascension and enlightenment are important for yourselves."
Julius stared quizzically at Xoxtris. "You don't act like some Supreme God... I would have figured frustration and impatience were beneath you, or you beyond it, whatever."
Xoxtris returned his confused stare and said, "Why would I not experience the 'negative emotions' like mortals do? As you all like to say, from Me came everything. Everything I created is loved and cherished. I do not favor one or the other, both are me, and from me. Duality is more than just accepting you must live with something unpreferable. Duality happens when you recognize you need it and love the pain as much as the joy."
"It amazes me that anyone has ascended, with those standards," Julius remarked.
Xoxtris chuckled in response.
"So, if you're not supposed to explain all this to me, to mortals, then why are you?" Julius asked.
Xoxtris' expression turned sad. "You know why. Ascension doesn't take your planar body with you because it can't hold up under the energy. After serving as my vessel..."
"I'll break," Julius finished grimly. He felt a lump form in the back of his throat, an unfamiliar sensation given his many brushes with death.
Xoxtris gave him a melancholy smile. "You haven't asked the one question you've spent your whole life wanting to ask."
Julius cleared his throat and grimaced. "That's kind of creepy, even if you are the Omniarch. Well? How 'bout it, then? Why have I heard your voice every time I pass through the Gates? The real reason, not the scientific one."
"The real reason is the scientific one. It's because you are the opposite of Life. You are Stillness," Xoxtris explained. "Ascending is about becoming One again and returning home. Because you already represent Oneness, you can 'hear' me better than those who haven't."
"Are you telling me that I've ascended, and that all of the pain, the torture, the suffering, the death, has been part of it? Because if that's the case, then I want no part of the group hug!"
Julius paced back and forth in an uncharacteristic display of emotion. Xoxtris observed him, letting Julius sort out his personal feelings himself.
"Besides," he continued. "I highly doubt someone who has committed as many atrocities as I have could figure out how, let alone achieve it." Julius spat out bitterly.
Xoxtris cocked their head to the side, puzzled. "But you already have?"
Julius stumbled, quickly correcting his footing. "Excuse me, what?"
"'You'll know how to come back home once you've learned everything there is to learn and felt everything there is to feel,'" Xoxtris quoted Naen the Learned calmly. "You have felt everything, yes, including torture and starvation. You wanted to find me, and you knew where to look. Am I not 'home'?"
Julius was stunned into silence, unable to find the words to argue.
"Yes, but I haven't learned everything there is to learn- I didn't go to school; I couldn't tell you how the Kaxlese ripped the Aecax Plateau into the sky, let alone how to ascend," he finally managed.
"Education is not the same thing as wisdom," Xoxtris explained. "Your life experiences taught you lessons, not some textbook. Your mind did the computing in how to take that knowledge and shape it, change it, embrace it, or otherwise implement it somehow. Humanity is in its sixth cycle- that is, they've repeated the same mistakes six times and have yet to learn from any of them, as evidenced by the current situation. At each of these cycles, the slate was wiped clean, knowledge was reset, and even the earliest humans ascended when it was their time. Do you think learning the science behind setting a fire, or how to operate Gates, existed then? I assure you, it did not."
Julius rubbed his temples, struggling to comprehend the deity's abstract philosophies. As he opened his mouth to pose another question, the room around him seemed to flicker. Julius blinked hard, then looked down to see his fingertips fading to transparency.
"What's happening?" he muttered, flexing his hands as they phased between solidity and wispy smoke.
Xoxtris gave a knowing smile. "It seems our time together nears its end. Your physical form calls you back."
The room flickered again, like a dying light bulb. With each burst of darkness came clearer visions imposed over the void —a stormy sky, red hair, flashes of lightning. Julius swayed on his feet.
Their surroundings pulsed with instability. Julius's body lost tangibility, bubbles floating up from the depths of an inky ocean. He strained to keep sight of Xoxtris' face.
"What now?" Julius cried as the deity receded into the distance.
"Stillness," came the distant, echoing reply.
When all of his body had floated away as bubbles, the white world dissolved. Sensation rushed back into Julius' body - cold, fat droplets pelting his skin, the smell of smoke and blood. He blinked, adjusting to the chaotic battlefield, but was overwhelmed by it all. Panic consumed him and he tried to cry out, but only a choking gurgle escaped. Trapped in his own head, he screamed and screamed. The world began to recede to black yet again.
He was barely conscious when Evelynn’s familiar face entered his clouded vision. His mind stirred and the fog parted, allowing him to remember what it felt like to live as a human again. Evelynn noticed and her own gaze deepened with compassion. He watched as her lips curled into a faint smile and her eyes seemed to glow with a comforting warmth. She closed the gap between them and placed a hand on his cheek, sending a wave of warmth over the coldness that had taken root in his veins, and in that brief moment, he felt a spark of hope that he could will back his humanity.
Then cold-tempered steel pierced Julius' flesh and everything changed in an instant - a jolt of awareness before he succumbed to the inky depths. Divinity exploded through his veins like lightning as it left his wounded body, roaring in vengeance, in release, as his own self was erased completely, leaving behind a shell of broken un-faith.
Evelynn stood in stunned silence as she watched her father wrestle the bloodied blade from Julius' back, her stomach lurching and time seeming to stop. Julius' form remained upright for an instant, and then his figure began to crumple like a petal from a wilting flower. Instinctively, she lunged for his body before it hit the ground, cradling him in her arms. His skin felt clammy, and his breath was shallow. "Shh…" Evelynn soothed. "Your mission is done. Rest." She searched his face for recognition as a single tear slipped down his cheek; his obsidian eyes seemed to plead with her.
"Who are you?" she whispered frantically. Julius furrowed his brow, a wave of pain crossing his face as he gathered the pieces of himself together one final time. “We are Xoxtris…” he uttered softly before darkness filled the space between them.