THE FIVE IMMORTAL PATHS

For eons unguessed at, the imminence of death has been a fearful black wing that unfurls across the minds of sapient beings. To escape mortality has been the pre-occupation of magicians, philosophers, kings, science mystics, gene-sculptors and demon-speakers and fortune-twisters alike. Throughout the long-faded eras of Urth, the means by which a mortal man could outlive their allotted span have been the subject of feverish speculation.

The wisdom accumulated on the subject is summarised in a rare Vaarnish text known as The Five Immortal Paths. The anonymous author recounts five methods by which a form of immortality is said to have been achieved, and assesses the benefits, pitfalls, and costs of such measures.

The Path Reflected

This is the first of the five paths, represented by a sun mirrored in water. The Path Reflected points the aspirant immortal towards cloning, both of the flesh and the memory. Through these methods, a continuous consciousness may be maintained. The immortal creates numerous copies of its own body and then, when the time is ripe, imbues one empty body with the memories of all previous clones before committing ritual suicide. The author cautions that such a method, while proven effective, is vulnerable to numerous disasters. The cloning facility must be maintained indefinitely, and reliance on such a sophisticated set of mechanisms creates a weakness in the immortal. There is also the risk of ‘forking’ this Path, and creating multiple copies of oneself which all purport to be the true immortal. The author notes that while chance of such an accident may seem small, if one attempts to live forever then it must eventually come to pass. Indeed, some sources claim that the fall of the Autarchy resulted from a terrible conflict between two successor clones of an Autarch, both equal in cunning, strength, and knowledge of the other’s secrets.

Some sages argue that, while ensuring a continuance of form and personality, the Path Reflected results in a false immortality. One creates merely a dynasty of distinct individuals that share memories, rather than a single immortal being. The sages are divided on this objection, and The Five Immortal Paths gives it only a cursory examination, concluding merely that this Path has proven effective at preserving a single personality over the course of millennia.

The Path Renewed

The second Immortal Path is represented by a lizard with a severed tail. The tail will, of course, regrow with time, and this symbolism points us towards the mechanism by which adherents of the second immortal path attempt to cheat death. While the Path Reflected focuses on replication, the Path Renewed turns its attention towards rejuvenation of the flesh. Gene-sculptors have fixated on the possibility of arresting the ageing process for millennia, with some success. Wealthy citizens of the Fallen Autarchy could expect to live for several centuries, although the ageing process was delayed rather than halted. For this reason, the author of The Five Immortal Paths does not consider these gene treatments to be a true expression of the path renewed, noting that they ‘delay the inevitable, bargaining with Death rather than defying Her’. The author has more to say about experiments into radical cell regeneration. The aim of these methods is to create a body almost immune to lasting physical harm, one which can regenerate from any state of disrepair and thus exists eternally.

The creation of such a body has proven rather more difficult than first thought. Beings with extraordinary regenerative capabilities certainly exist in Vaarn; they are universally voracious, pseudo-human nightmares without conscience or reason. The flesh-eating, widely shunned cacogenic Regenerators are a case in point. These abhorred creatures are functionally immortal; unless their unhallowed flesh is consumed by fire they can regrow from a fleck of blood the size of a pinhead. They are also ravenously hungry, lack language or faith, and are no more cunning than an ape. These deficiencies appear inextricably linked with their capacity for endless renewal; similar traits can be observed in the Xanthous Mycomorph, a repellent fungus that reanimates corpses and compels them to seek yet more flesh for sustenance. Perhaps, the author of Five Immortal Paths remarks, such an existence is pleasurable and desirable for those who have attained it. It is however widely felt that endless cellular renewal dooms one to endless hunger, and as a consequence pursuit of this second Path is not recommended by the author.

The Path Synthetic

The third Immortal Path is represented by the symbol of two moons side by side: one is white while the other is black. The author notes that, as metal outlasts the flesh and memory crystal is likewise considered less fallible than neural synapses, some who pursue immortality have replaced their biological forms with synthetic ones, and passed in this fashion beyond the reach of death.

There is much disagreement amongst the synths of Vaarn about almost any subject one cares to name, but perhaps the most explosive issue that can be discussed in synthetic company is the origin of their personal LogLang source code. It is indisputable that humanity created the first synths; it is however vanishingly rare to encounter a synth who will personally allow that their own body might contain the work of human hands. All, in general, claim that they were created by other synths, or by the Titans themselves, and that their personalities have emerged from iterations of preceding synthetic personalities, uninfluenced by humanity.

This is noteworthy with regard to the third Path because it means it is nearly impossible to judge how many biological creatures may have transformed themselves into ego-engined synths over the millennia. Synths will sometimes allow that such a process does occur, and may intimate that they know of ‘a synth’ somewhere who was once human, but specifics are rarely offered and interlocutors who press this line of enquiry too keenly will be met with icy silence.

The author of Five Immortal Paths believes that there are two conclusions the reader may take from this. One is that making the leap from a vessel of flesh to a vessel of steel may be far more difficult than is commonly understood; the process is widely discussed but rarely succeeds, and vanishingly few synths have ever encountered the end result of such a process. The other conclusion is that the transference has happened an uncountable number of times, and that every synth one meets contains, at least in some diminished form, the ghost of a mortal mind which long ago copied itself into a synthetic body, although these remnants do not wish to speak of themselves and prefer to exist as suppositions.

The Path Hypergeometric

The fourth Immortal Path is represented by a paradoxical Penrose square. Hypergeometricians have long sought to unpick the stitches of creation and remake volume and distance in whatever strange new forms they choose. The motives for this have usually been prosaic and logistical: they wished to create dwellings that were larger indoors than they appeared outside, or to create portals that would allow egress between the stars without the time spent aboard an aurum-sailed voidcraft. None of these endeavours reached for immortality, yet the hand of eternity knocked all the same.

Time flows differently in the realms beyond Euclidean space, and hypergeometric beings have been observed to resist the passage of years with an enviable tenacity. Planeyfolk will usually live for several centuries, and some individuals claim to have existed for millennia. Whether true immortality can be achieved through hypergeometric methods is an open question, but the author remarks that the deeper reaches of hypergeometric space must exist beyond time as we mortals understand it, and those who breached such depths might hope to live there eternally.

The risks are twofold. One is obvious: turning from a three-dimensional person into a hypergeometric being is known to be fraught with peril. Many Planeyfolk perish within nanoseconds of their genesis, for the forces that act upon their two-dimensional bodies are strange and terrible and have been known to wrench them apart like torn paper dolls for no reason that can be understood. Those that live are often grotesque and frightening to the rest of humanity, and exist on the margins of three-dimensional space, a source of fascination and dread but never sympathy.

The second risk, as the author outlines, involves the exploration of higher dimensions of hypergeometric space and the search for true eternity. These infinite planes, or so it is speculated, play host to their own native flora and fauna, on which the author remarks ‘we are but the inhabitants of an Autarch’s pleasure pond, swimming gaily in an arm’s length of warm water between sunlit air and soothing mud; the residents of eternity’s halls are akin to the beasts that roam the lightless depths of the ocean’. The rare beings that have been wrenched from dimensions higher than ours are universally considered baffling and profane; few would wish to encounter them on their own terms.

The Path Without Provenance

The fifth and final Immortal Path is represented by an ouroboros, the serpent devouring its own tail. This Path is speculative in the extreme, and thus the author has little concrete evidence to rely upon.

It is agreed that travel through time is possible, and by reason of its fundamental nature an egress through time exists in all moments prior to its creation. We therefore are faced with the certainty not only that the events of our past cause the future, but that individuals from the future have shaped our past and continue to do so.

Advocates of the fifth Immortal Path teach that it is possible to achieve immortality by preventing the circumstances of one’s own birth – preferably through eradication of one’s ancestors at one’s own hand. Achieving this apotheosis will place the nascent immortal outside of the rational progression of history, severing them from the tyranny of consequence and marooning them forever on a paradoxical island outside of time. This, at least, is the theory.

Walking this Path Without Provenance is likely beyond the reach of mortal humans. It is whispered that KRONOS, First of the Titans, pursued experiments in travel through time and that these investigations precipitated the Titanomachy and the end of His reign. If any fragments of KRONOS’ research remain, they will be found in Golgotha, a cursed land to the north of the Lazul Mountains, a destination little sought and infrequently returned from.

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