Axel struggled with the power of gods.
"You're forcing it. Stop."
Axel ground his teeth. He wanted Traveler to shut his mouth, but he hadn't actually spoken. The voice permeated his head, interrupting his train of focus. That cast off the last of his grasp on the pesky, jittery energy he could see in his mind.
Exhaling, Axel blinked open his eyes, turning to face Traveler. He could speak into minds, so Axel made it a point to speak aloud. "You killed my focus. Thanks a lot."
Traveler scowled, finally opening his mouth. "If you can call that focus."
Axel chuckled quietly, savoring the exquisite anger boiling beneath. In another life, he would have made short work of assholes challenging him like this. He was good at it, precisely because he was that particular brand of asshole. But the creature before him clad in flowing dark robes and wearing the face of a human was nothing so small. And Axel suspected he was aware of every impassioned feeling contained below the surface. It was hard to keep secrets from something that might have been a god.
Axel decided to play deflection. "Is there any particular reason you go by that ridiculous title? What was your real name before all of…this?" He gestured wildly to their private glen. Oh it looked real enough; the trees and lake and valley edges reminded him of a place from childhood on a distant world. But the sky revealed the truth—blue light faded on the horizons all gave way to the stark black of space, permeated by iridescent nebula fingers that could have been pillars of creation.
Traveler remained unmoved, his eyes betraying no distraction. "Control is not the key, Dillon. The sooner you get that through your thick skull, the easier these sessions are going to be."
The boiling within ignited into pure rage. That was going too far. "Don't call me that! That name— that person is not me!"
Traveler smiled wryly, which only infuriated Axel further. "Does that answer your question about my 'ridiculous title'?"
Axel exhaled, folding his arms and turning away as the anger simmered off. He should have known better; Traveler was too good at getting a rise out of him. And he actually enjoyed it. Again, he was Axel's kind of asshole. It was a trained art. A perverse enjoyment.
The trickling stream lulled him back to rational thought. Axel was getting rusty. He was better than this; he had orchestrated the downfall of great men and women once upon a time. He could get a rise out of others the likes of which would put Traveler to shame. But he was falling into similar traps.
"Now that you've gotten over your little temper tantrum, shall we get back to it?"
The spark returned, but Axel smothered it. He was smarter than this creature. He wouldn't make the same mistake again today; not when there was so much to do.
"Yes," he said evenly. "Show me again."
Traveler nodded and Axel closed his eyes. In the beginning, the mysticism of what they practiced was almost too much. It took a lot of time and patience to get to this point. More time than Axel would care to admit. Though technically not a dead man, he had all the status and cares of one, so he put in the time. He listened to Traveler and his deceitful little bitch as they taught him the ways of the gods.
He never would have imagined the things they could teach him.
The artificial world around him closed out and Axel probed deep with inner sight. It wasn't the same as seeing with his physical eyes, but there was little else to compare it to. He thought he saw as though from his head the sparks of energy and power that existed deep within. The Seed of something greater.
"Yes, the smaller manifold of a greater framework." Traveler droned on in the back of Axel's mind. "We've been over this: it's almost a life unto itself. You will command it, but you cannot force it. The relationship is no different than the biology of your mortality. But unlike your toe or gut, you can craft something from the deepest part of self."
"The soul," Axel echoed helpfully.
Traveler hesitated. He always acted so uncomfortable about this topic. "A spiritual aspect, yes, but only in that it exists on a less material plane."
"It is my center self, yes?"
"It is an extension of my core from this immaterial plane, giving me identity, energy, and life in the material."
"All true to a fault."
Axel grinned. "Then why not skip the formalities and call it a soul?"
He was getting better at this. He could feel something; a pained, irritable emotion coming from Traveler. He wasn't certain if that was because the creature plugged into his mind or if it was Axel's own powers growing. But he felt the exasperation all the same and knew he was getting to him.
"If it helps your mortal mind to understand, then fine—we'll call it a soul."
Axel kept his eyes closed, focusing on the swirling point of glowing energy. Now that he was in a better mood it was easier to focus and pester Traveler simultaneously. He was in his element—the same self that once undermined nations. "For a god, you seem so determined to play the part of an atheist. Have a little faith in yourself."
Traveler's presence retreated, but Axel felt the emotion all the same. He cackled aloud, pleased with himself. The creature was irritable and goaded. Despite all his elevation and power, he could be aggravated by one small man. And that did wonders for Axel's mood.
The energy manifold sparked, lines and points of light expanding in Axel's inner sight. He gasped, feeling and understanding new sensations as the Seed grew; expanded. Enveloped.
"Very good," Traveler grunted.
Axel would normally have teased his teacher, but the rush coursing through his body was too much to ignore. It was a strange mixture of physical and immaterial self; reaching out beyond himself into the fictional world around him. It wasn't nearly as fictional as he believed, and that gave Axel pause.
He sensed the molecular breakdown of the trees and grass and ferns around their small glen. He saw the bacteria and soil composition; the atoms of hydrogen and oxygen in the water of the lake and stream. Axel was aware of all these things, as well as a barrier of energy surrounding them; preserving the glen. This little world folded in higher realms of existence was far more real than Axel could have imagined.
But he couldn't press beyond the cusp of energy wrapping it all neatly together.
"Whoa." Traveler's presence washed over him. "Hold on there, cowboy. You're not ready to reach out into Eternity. You'll fry your little mortal brain."
Axel railed against the sudden control. No! He was getting it! He could finally see and understand! Traveler couldn't rein him in; not now!
Natural eyes bolting open, Axel charged the god. He leapt at him, smacking into his body like a solid bulkhead. He landed in a heap on the ground, the momentary impact and pain evaporating. That was how Axel knew he wasn't dead. But the strange powers governing this small fold reality quickly mended his injuries.
Traveler shook his head, putting his hands on his hips. "Surprise. That worked about as well as the other thirty-two times you've done that."
Axel's head stopped spinning. "You could at least do the ghost thing your little girlfriend does when I attack her."
"Not my girlfriend and I am not nice like her. You should know that by now."
Axel unconsciously rubbed what should have been the sore spot on his head. There was no pain; no lingering bruise. It seemed he couldn't really hurt himself in this existence. And Axel knew—he had tried far too often.
Recovered, Axel closed his eyes and reached out with his inner sight again. It was all still there, thank god. He could see his Seed and the force it exerted on their small bubble. He knew from precise measurements by the energy that the world had a diameter of thirty kilometers on the short end, and sixty on the longer side. The actual surface was only three hundred meters deep; the sky less than sixty.
In some ways it felt like a giant hand had scooped up a slice of a planet, wrapped it in a glass container, and set it sailing through the galaxy. But that wasn't interstellar space out there; and those weren't nebulous clouds of gas birthing new stars.
"Why did you make this little world for me so small?" said Axel.
"I didn't make it," Traveler's voice echoed in his mind. "These fold spaces exist all throughout Eternity. They come in all shapes and sizes. We chose this one for you because it reminded you so much of home."
Axel bristled at that comment, but kept his temper in check. He wasn't going to lose his grip—not while his grasp on Seed was working so beautifully. It was teaching him all sorts of interesting things. Now past the basic composition of matter and quantities, he could see the extra dimensions and layers to reality. Those were harder to press.
"I didn't ask for this," he commented offhand.
"No, but it was necessary, despite what you would say. I think they were left behind specifically for those who first ascend. Small little slices of our former existence to help ground us on the path upwards."
Axel didn't push the matter. Despite Traveler's attitude of playing the god who would be an atheist, there were beliefs of Beings higher still. Creatures that enabled Traveler and Axel to reach these planes of existence. Real Gods who governed the powers with which Axel hoped to soon govern. Gods who created little scoops of worlds in glass bubbles for the untrained to practice in.
It was too much theology for Axel at the moment. Not when he had a new power to master.
He was surprised when a thread reached out and touched at the heart of his Seed. It was a startling sensation, prompting new sensory input and understanding. It took him a moment to understand what was happening. He was sensing something new.
It could have stood on the edge of their glen or a million lightyears from the cusp. But it was out there, close by…no, passing by.
"Yes, I see her."
Axel blinked open his eyes. "Her?"
"Just someone passing through. She won't bother us."
Traveler turned inward again, and for the first time Axel could sense what he was doing. Reaching out with his Seed, interacting with and shaping the finest layers of reality in their little bubble existence. It intrigued Axel to sense this movement and shaping of power from his teacher. He had never sensed the creature's power before. It was time to see what else he could understand about the so-called god.
He couldn't help but leave a single thread probing out to the edge of the world. Out towards a young woman passing by.
There were threads of destiny about her, and they called to Axel in strange ways he couldn't understand.