Amy’s meditation brought no peace that night. Images of the future on the Shadow she’d taken the shape-changing ooze kept scratching across the surface of the void within her. She held the picture of the Broken Mandala in her mind, her first Broken Mandala, and fed the errant thoughts into the Void. Variant images returned as quickly as she could feed them.
You’re no oracle.
Of course not.
She found no solace in that. Nor did she find solace in her rationalizations: That the actions of others were beyond her control. That if they minded her warnings, the World-City New Tokyo would not fall. That it was a century, if not a millennium too soon to gauge the good or evil she’d done to the Shadow. Even were the Chaos Ooze to break containment, through its own guile or human folly, might apocalypse’s bizarre alchemy — the blood of valiants and innocents, tears of the newly damned, a swamp of terror-pheromones — not birth another unique Shadow-person like Amy? Might the blunders of another like Amy spawned the strife in her home Shadow, the unique soil which had produced her? For all that she thought herself unique to the multiverse, could Amy’s existence be nothing more than the response to her own Amanojaku ultimately becoming the Amanojaku for another Initiate?
The thoughts disturbed her. Mostly because they wouldn’t go away. She’d broken her own cycle of reincarnation.
Only a fool denies the Universe’s nature.
But neither her, nor her deriding voice knew fully the Universe’s nature. And Amy did know she had never met the theoretical Amanojaku who had wrecked her home Shadow’s peace, just as she didn’t know — no one knew — the outcome of her actions in New Tokyo.
I am unique.
That thought slowed the arrival of others beyond the image she held in her mind, one imperfect mandala of the ten-thousand and one imperfect mandalas she had collected. In time, her mind stilled.
Where in infinite Shadow have I encountered one such as me?
She hadn’t. She had encountered no one like her. No one with her appearance, her mind, her powers. Amberites had talked of encountering Shadows of themselves, but Amy, for all her searching, had encountered nothing of that kind.
She had encountered no one who had stood against the power of outer chaos, the Logrus, with nothing but the cracked blade of a flawed mandala, and survived…
Fury crushed the mandala’s image. Amy had bared her full power before the Amberites. She had bared her full power in the fight against Chaos. She had lost.
Amy chose victory or defeat for herself. She refused this unchosen outcome.
You’ve found a rival.
I’ve found a power that exceeds my own.
The thought disturbed her profoundly: She had found a person whose grasp of the fundamental powers exceeded her own. It felt the same as when she’d first viewed the broken mandala, beneath the omen trees, so long ago. A rival. A power. Something to test the limits of her power against.
Had she been bored until just now? She had been. But no longer.
It never occurred to Amy that the power she faced could have been pooled by many initiates. Her psyche demanded one monolithic power to strive against.