"Aesma and the Three Masters (And the Lessons She Never Learned from Them)" is a four-part story in the world of Kill Six Billion Demons. Released on November 12, 2014, "Aesma and the Three Masters" can be found as a series of bonus offerings in Chapter 4. From an in-universe perspective, details about the story are still unclear. Who wrote it, where it originated, or whether it exists as a standalone work have not been explained.
When a young goddess by the name of Aesma ventures out to challenge YISUN's three greatest disciples, she defeats them by sheer ineptitude. But when Aesma returns to YISUN, she also discovers the greatest truths escape her altogether.
There came a time when YISUN and their disciple, Aesma, came to be in YISUN's speaking house, which was often host to the drunken brawls of the many gods as they engaged in heated, and often bloody debate. The previous night had been no different, and the bronze walls still smoked and glowed with the fury and violence of their words. YISUN, as master of the house, reclined as the servants of that place set about undoing the devastation of the night with tired and practiced ease.
Aesma was small in stature, of raw black skin, many teeth, a large mouth, and a bright red tongue. She nurtured an evil and burning passion for dominion over all things, and thus an ugly hunger constantly ruled her otherwise pretty face. YISUN was extremely fond of her, as it was with all ugly children.
"Master of Masters, King of Kings, Empress of Empresses," said Aesma greedily, "Who is the most powerful of your servants?"
For this had been the topic of the night before, and none in attendance had been fit to answer it, for each of them loudly proclaimed themselves king over the other. YISUN had declined to make a judgment, as was the manner, so Aesma was surprised when YISUN shook from their reverie.
"Why they!" said Aesma, fuming.
"They have been my disciples for at least 30 kalpas, they have studied well my teachings, and each is the holder of an absolute and insurmountable truth, "spoke YISUN, gravely, "If you are so discontent you may find them on the road and challenge them if you wish."
Without a word Aesma rudely snatched up Pedam's walking stick, which could hop thirty leagues at a time, and Akaroth's feather cloak, which could ride winds both interstellar and terrestrial, and bashing aside servants in her mad scramble, she leapt to the edge of that house and rode the void to the road of the Ruling King.
Aesma and the Master of space-time
Almost immediately Aesma found the estate of the Master of space-time, a lunar domain of immense proportions. It was incredibly hard to miss the Master, as he was a man thirty stories tall, with skin speckled as a night sky, and in his tangled hair, among his shaggy brow, and scattered in his great knotted beard were a multitude of burning stars. He had served for uncounted centuries as chief architect of the gods after attaining his mastery, and even now was building a mighty dark tower greater than any mountain, and the clangs of his immense silver chisel shivered Aesma's bones as she approached. But she had little regard for his mighty stature as a furious mischief was in her.
"From whom?" spoke the Master, furrowing his brow.
"Ho!" rumbled the Master, and stroked his mustaches. "I suppose it is true then. I have long studied the scope and stretch of YISUN's work, and through immense effort I have attained knowledge of the shape of all things. Down to the exact nano-angstrom!"
Aesma was disbelieving, but the Master showed her each Planck length of each mountain on his estate. And still she was disbelieving, and he showed her the exact number of grains of dust in the universe, and the number of carbon atoms in her body, and the potential shape and shadow of every animal that breathed, swam, flew, or flashed through quantum states.
But still she was not content, so the Master set down his mighty chisel with a crack and gestured to the wide plain and bade Aesma look, and showed her the way to look. He bade her bring forth her illuminated consciousness, and she did, and the Master was humorously surprised, for it was a small, evil thing, a nasty red coal, and he wondered why she was so favored as YISUN's disciple. But then he brought forth his own mind and it was as a great celestial blaze, and as he cast it on the landscape before him, Aesma saw it warp and shift, the hills like water that flowed from form to form. The sky cracked and ignited and was replaced by fire and light, and darkness swallowed and disgorged the land like a great bulbous blossom. Aesma realized then that the Master had perfect knowledge not only of the precise shape of things, but also all the shapes they would ever have and be.
"I have attained mastery of the ultimate and insurmountable truth of Form. Thus, through my mighty studies I know the exact measure of YISUN's work, the way it is, and the way it always will be. So my knowledge is all encompassing, and perfection is my breath," said the Master. "Even small things such as yourself, young Aesma," he said with a jovial wink.
"What are you building?" said Aesma, with dark intent, as a furious scheme was bubbling to the top of her evil mind.
"My Panopticon," said the Master of space-time proudly, and clapped the stone of his construction with a sound that shook the dust from the seven corners of the multiverse, "the ultimate observatory. Though my knowledge is limitless, my sight is regretfully less so. With this I will contemplate all things at once, and I will truly be the highest in the land. I will have no need for mundane struggles once I can contemplate all of infinity!"
"That's stupid!" said Aesma, and kicked the dark construction, stubbing her delicate toes. Her yelp of pain set the Master to chuckling mightily as this poor vicious girl, but then Aesma shot him a ferocious glance and asked a stupid question.
"If you know the shape of everything, what is the shape of the universe!" said she.
The Master scoffed humorously at this precocious question. "Well clearly, I know it from the inside!" he said.
"How can you know the shape of anything if you only look at it from the inside!" snapped Aesma, evilly, and the Master gave a great booming laugh that shook stars from his beard, and as they crashed to the dust in great fiery trails, Aesma had to scamper to dodge them.
"Can a man bend his eyes to look at his own face? What an odd question!" said the Master, "It has no outside shape, little one, and thus it is and will always be so."
"I'll take a look and tell you, worm!" spat Aesma, and she tore off her clothes wildly.
"What are you doing?" rumbled the Master, bemusedly, but before he could finish, Aesma had planted her feet and took a great hot breath. Her skin puckered and her chest swelled and her small wicked form grew outwards suddenly to fifteen stories tall. The sudden change disoriented her, and she fell over, denting a mountain. the Master chuckled at her idiocy as she huffed and puffed and stumbled about, and went to turn back to his work, but then there was another great breath and Aesma swelled monstrously, to twice the Master's height.
"Ho! Stop this foolishness!" said the Master, amazed at this idiot girl, but before he could say another word, she took another mighty breath and swelled to ten times the Master's height. The mountains shuddered and the Master's great unfinished tower shivered as though struck. Now true worry gripped the Master, and he shouted for Aesma to stop, but her monstrous, straining face grew further away as she grew to a hundred times the Master's height, and then a thousand, and on the fifth breath the land itself was rent up, and the mountains buckled and warped, and the great stones of the Panopticon were ripped from their foundations in the terrible gale of Aesma's inhalations. the Master was dumbstruck, for though his illuminated mind was much larger and fiercer than Aesma, he had not glimpsed this destruction. And still Aesma grew a million times, a hundred billion times larger than the Master, and the stars bent and space-time itself warped with her great weight. Finally, it gave way, and Aesma tumbled through and outside creation. The great clap as she ripped through woke the archons on their flensing tree, and the worms that shivered in Hansa's corpse outside reality, and the plum garden of YISUN's speaking house was so shaken it bore very little fruit that year.
Had Aesma looked then, she would have glimpsed the entirety of existence and non-existence in its totality, and in viewing it she would have discovered the secret name of God, and avoided her maiming by asking YISUN this question some time later. But at that moment, her hubris and pride at her besting of the Master were the only things on her cramped and evil mind, so she gave it but a glance, and discovered that it was somewhat wheel-shaped.
It was extremely cold outside of existence, and Aesma was quite naked, moreover holding so much air in a form so large was quite painful, so she abruptly and quite mindlessly let it go, and plummeted back through the crack in existence and back to the feet of the Master of space-time, who was thrown around like a leaf in the great storm of her exhalation.
"Plainly you are not the strongest of YISUN's disciples!" cackled Aesma, and danced naked and stuck her great red tongue out at the broken and defeated master. "Tell me, as you promised!" implored the Master of space-time, hot tears thundering to the earth like mighty comets, "What is the shape of the universe?"
Aesma and the Master of aesthetic
Aesma left the Master of space-time humiliated and battered and set upon the road again, but the heat of victory very quickly cooled into the smoldering jealousy that was her usual manner, and she struck on.
The estate of the Master of aesthetic was not difficult to find either. It hung suspended like a brightly glowing jewel in the blackness of the void. Aesma was taken aback as she hurtled closer, for it grew quickly in in her vision into an expansive palace the size of a city, whose shining streets and ways were packed to the brim with admirers and followers of unbelievable shapes and sizes. As Aesma stowed Pedam's walking stick, she could hardly move without being assailed with a riot of color and sound and personage. Sprays of brightly plumed dancers spun in the air and sang in speech, thought, and machine code. The cafes were thick with serious-faced philosophers and wild, frenetic writers from the seven corners of the multiverse burning a hundred thousand tongues into brightly fired glyphs. Thick-armed artists and poet-engineers packed the streets, perched over glowing canvases, crowds of admirers and assistants gathered around them, goggle-eyed and gaping.
Any god or man could have spent an age swallowed in the glorious spectacle, but it merely frustrated Aesma, who rudely cleaved her way through the impossible crowds for three days, scavenging from luminous cafes, and using Pedam's stave to viciously fend off uncounted party invitations. But finally, she made her way to the center of that palace, where there was a hall the size of a cavern, filled with rich music, celebrants, and docile animals from a thousand stories. As she smacked and wrenched her way through man, beasts, and admirer alike, she came upon a large, beautiful pool, and there seated upon the water was the Master of aesthetic.
Aesma was somewhat taken aback, as the riotous chaos of the Master's estate had led her to expect the Master's art to be quite shallow. But the Master herself was an extremely plain looking woman, dressed almost completely naked in a simple wrapping cloth, her skin and eyes a dull white, her head and brow shaved, and Aesma immediately understood the power she was dealing with.
"Young Aesma, who has trumped that gigantic clown, the Master of space-time," said the Master of aesthetic in a perfectly unremarkable voice. "What an odd question. Did you not stay and observe my estate before coming here?" she added.
"I don't have time for such frivolity when my reputation is on the line!" fumed Aesma,
"It is so," said the Master as they sipped their liquor.
"How so!" said Aesma quickly.
"Though I have sacrificed much, I have attained mastery of the ultimate and insurmountable truth of Art," the Master said, "No movement of mind, muscle, or voice is unknown to me. I can measure sorrow, or joy, or pain, or love as plainly as the fingers of my hand. I have laid bare the great filaments of color and sound that connect all life in the multiverse, and I may pluck upon them as I please. Perfection is my breath."
"Nonsense! Any fool can say what Art is!" protested Aesma, chewing. "My face is said to be beautiful to many!" she said, contorting her expression so her face resembled the shy, demure, maid that she never was. The crowd of onlookers gasped, so sudden was the transformation. "But for me," she said, relaxing her expression into her usual demonic countenance, "It is a hideous face of weakness."
"Have you not seen my estate, my Palace of Resonance?" said the Master. "It is the ultimate cynosure, my final work. Until the end of days the greatest minds and artists will flock here in hope of drinking of my perfection, but never attain it."
Aesma conceded that she had not seen the estate.
"Show me your illuminated mind," commanded the Master in her perfectly normal voice. Aesma did, and the Master was shocked at how writhing and wicked it was. She quickly resolved to give Aesma some tutelage. Motioning for Aesma to follow, she walked out into the city-palace.
Aesma quickly realized that in her hurry to find the Master, she had made a critical oversight. The Palace itself was more than an estate, it was a gallery of monumental proportions, whose architecture thrummed with a harmony that she felt in her bones.
"We will start," said the Master, "with a work to your liking."
They stopped at a grand, worn looking theatre. Inside they lingered and ordered drinks while a comedian began a ballad of bawdy poetry. "Of my design," said the Master, and as the poem progressed, Aesma, though reticent, quickly found herself unable to contain her mirth. By the end, most of the audience was in stitches on the floor, and Aesma's sides were raked raw from laughing. "A fine work," conceded Aesma, "but not perfect!"
"An early work," said the Master slyly, and they progressed to a grand golden dome, where they watched an opera of the Master's design and ordered increasingly more expensive liquor. At first, Aesma was merely amused by the opera, a simple work about a heroine's conquest of her fears. But as the work progressed, she found herself increasingly more involved in the plot, which dragged her from emotional high to emotional low, hooked into her throat so tightly that it was raw from screaming from joy and fear. And by the end, she realized that the opera had been written about her, Aesma. It truly was perfection.
"Very well!" conceded Aesma, hoarsely, as they proceeded onwards. By now they had gathered a tail three leagues long of admirers and followers. "But my earlier point still stands," she continued, gathering her wits, "Aesma has enjoyed your work. But who's to say she will enjoy the next."
"It is true what you said before," said the Master, "that Art is a matter of perspective. So is reality. The Master of space-time was a fool precisely because he failed to see this. No matter how deep he looked, he could only see with his own eyes, the consummate fool."
"I have also mastered perspective, "she said, "so I will teach you the way to change your form and the shape of your earthly mind, and the color of my meaning will become known to you."
They changed their form and bearing to two bearded youths, young men, and it wasn't long before Aesma felt a stirring in her root and a quickening in her chest. The dance had a perfect effect on her male form.
"Blast you!" she spat.
"You will see nothing is unknown to me," said the Master, laughing heartily, "Meaning is the essence of existence, and it is a tapestry I weave at my pleasure."
They spent the rest of the week like that, moving from dance, to art born in light and blood, to song, to music, to performance, to transcendental math, such staggering works as Aesma felt a lifetime pass with each one. Each time they shifted from form to form like the flickering of a candle. Sometimes they were beasts, drinking in the perfection of a fresh kill, sometimes they tuned their ears to trans-dimensional winds. They lived as masochists, as beggars, as kings, as gods, as men, as women, as hermaphrodites, as worms, as stars. The time wicked away like quicksilver, and soon, having gathered a crowd that trailed behind them nearly the length of the palace, they retired to the pool at the center of it all. Aesma near collapsed from exhaustion, and quickly demanded copious liquor to cure her hangover. The Master was wholly unaffected and reclined in the center of her pool in her perfectly plain flesh.
"So you see," said the Master, "I have mastered Meaning in all its forms and perspectives. My insight is the deepest there is, and so all come to bask in my perfection. That is why I am the strongest of YISUN's disciples."
"Die screaming," croaked Aesma, and the hot fire of jealousy gathered itself within her, and she spat out another stupid question.
"If you understand so deeply, then what is the universal Art?" said Aesma wickedly.
"There is none," said the Master, untroubled.
"There must be one!" said Aesma, fire rising in her heart, "What's all this about meaning if there isn't anything universal about it!"
"I had thought it to be love, or perhaps lovemaking," said the Master, dismissive, "But of course, universal thinking is shallow, did I not tell you this? Meaning and existence are exercises of self. So it is, and always will be. You should know this, Aesma."
"Of course there's one, you smug fop!" spat Aesma, and rage began to bubble up in her boiling mind. "I'll find it, here!"
"I have little time for the unworthy," said the Master, and made to call for her servants to cast out Aesma. But before the Master could even extend her littlest finger, Aesma let loose a wild howl and began to tantrum.
"I'll show you!" she roared, and clothed herself in death. "I'll find you a universal Art in the ruins of your palace!" Her tongue lolled, and her eyes weeped blood, and she spat fire and tore out of the pool. She began to rip apart the docile animals there, and their cries of pain brought a hundred martial artists from the crowd, who made to stop her. But Aesma in her destroyer form was a fiendish creature with thirty five arms and three ancillary battle consciousnesses, whose skin was plated like iron and gave off acrid smoke that seared the weak. She beat them bloody and then ran amok in the crowd, breaking and slashing and hurling men and women from fifty thousand worlds to and fro, destroying priceless works of art millennia in the making, and generally making a mess of things.
Her rampage lasted three days and only ceased when the Master herself sallied forth from her pool with thirty five mendicant saints who impaled Aesma on puresilver lances. Her berserk rage finally draining from her body, Aesma conceded.
"Why do you tear up my house, you wretched thing!" said the Master.
"To find the universal Art!" howled Aesma.
"There is no such thing, stupid girl," said the Master, and Aesma dealt her a single blow across the face. And as the Master was struck, she realized terribly and immediately that Aesma was right. Although Aesma in her blind rage did not realize it, she had spoken with a language understood by all the great men, artists, beasts, philosopher-kings, angels and poets from a million worlds gathered at the Master's estate.
"The universal art is violence," said the Master, shocked.
"Aha!" said Aesma in sudden realization.
The Master could say nothing.
"I told you!" Aesma cackled, as she was dragged away, and thrown off the shattered and burning Palace into the void.
"That's awful," said the Master.
Her body drooped and crumpled, and all the lights in her beautiful glowing palace slowly died as she dragged herself to her pool, which had grown an ugly shade, and wept.
Aesma and the Master of ethics
Flush with victory and battle, Aesma took to the road again with extremely little regard for the beautiful community of light and sound she had so violently shattered, and with ignorant glee, she whistled as she rode the void in search of the Master of ethics.
The estate of the Master was easy to find, as it lay atop a shining mountain whose peak was so tall it could be seen from near all creation. Aesma scoffed at such an obstacle and with a mighty stroke of Pedam's thirty league stave, flung herself to the top. But as she spun up its sides, she saw up its slopes were crawling with grand streams of men, beasts, and demigods. And when she reached the top she beheld a great cacophony, a heaving sea of pilgrims, and rising majestically out of the center was a great shining temple of unbelievable breadth and width, with a peculiar shape that Aesma couldn't quite make out.
Almost immediately Aesma was smashed to and fro by a mass of bodies of every color, shape, and gender imaginable, and the discordant litany of a thousand tongues nearly deafened her. Irate, she swept the legs out from a broad swathe of pilgrims a kilometer wide with a single swipe of Pedam's stave, and questioned them viciously as they crawled about in pain.
"Where is the Master of ethics!" she spat, lashing the prostrate pilgrims as they clutched their bleeding shins. Among them Aesma couldn't see a single unified creed or dogma. There were bell-ringing pilgrims, and cat-burning pilgrims, and hands-and-feet beating pilgrims (who were crying in joy at the exquisite beating Aesma had dealt them), and many more besides.
"Ask the holy men!" cried the pilgrims, and Aesma saw that sprouting from the mighty temple's base were an uncounted number of smaller temples, growing like ugly ornamented mushrooms as though to squash the life out of each other. So with the hook of Pedam's stave, she lifted thirty of them clean off their foundations and shook them vigorously until a number of ruddy, sweating priests fell out.
"Begone demon!" the priests wailed in unison, grasping for various holy symbols, so Aesma gave them a drubbing with her stave.
"Where is the Master of ethics!" she said, picking her nose as she sat upon a holy man's chest.
"He is the holiest of holies and has hidden himself from the sight of the wicked!" gasped the priest in great pain, for Aesma's evil body was heavier than iron and hotter than a forge, "and ye shall never learn the secret way to pass unto his ultimate truth!"
So Aesma rapped him in the stones, and resolved to ask a dog, as they were far more reliable than both pilgrims and holy men.
"He is in the temple of 109 chambers," said the dog, "each holier than the one before, and only the successively more pure of heart may pass through."
Aesma kicked the dog, and turned to go, but the dog said, "By the law of dogs, you must carry my burden for a single day. And so I grant you my fleas, so I may rest a single night," and all the fleas of the dog jumped to Aesma and she howled and scratched and struck at the dog, but the law of dogs was exceptionally strong, and so she could do naught but mutter angrily at being tricked as she pressed on.
As Aesma closed in on the temple, she saw that it took the form of an immense lantern, with shining gates for its apertures, and through one of those gates she could gaze all the way through its 109 chambers to a tiny pinprick of light.
She sprang through the first gate, but was immediately set upon by a great flock of ten thousand multicolored priests, who slammed the second gate shut before her.
"You may progress no further," shrieked the priests as they flapped about her, "until you have performed the sacred rituals and proven yourself worthy!"
"What are they?" grumbled Aesma, beating priests off her ankles. But the ten thousand priests gave ten thousand answers. Some of them claimed Aesma needed to cleanse the ghosts of her past lives, others claimed she must douse herself in virgin's blood, others still required her to stick pins through every hand length of her body. Soon the priests' disagreement turned to rage and they set upon each other, and still would not let Aesma pass. But Aesma had little time for this foolishness, so she plucked ten-thousand feathers from Akaroth's cloak, and breathed fire into them, and each became a perfect copy of her evil body, which performed the rituals requested with terrifying quickness, and dissolved into ash. Bested, the battered priests unlocked the gate, and Aesma leapt through into the next chamber.
Immediately, Aesma was set upon by a great crowd of nine thousand shaven monks, all requesting she chant a different mantra to pass, each proclaiming the other charlatan. And as before, spitting curses, she plucked nine-thousand feathers from Akaroth's cloak, and up sprung her simulacra, and she continued.
So it progressed, from monks, to hierophants, to bearded sages, to ten-thousand year old yogis. And eventually Aesma ran out of feathers in that great cloak, and it was scattered to nothing, so she began to use the threads of her clothing. And when her clothing was likewise spent, she turned to hairs on her body. And when she was plucked completely hairless, she turned to eyelashes.
Finally, Aesma came to the 107th chamber. The walls were silver, and inside were ten beautiful, glowing youths, wearing only transcendental smiles and silence. Yet still they could not agree, and they motioned to ten scrolls, where ten ancient koans were written, and each bade her read a different one. But Aesma, raw, naked, itching from the fleas that still clung to her skin, was quite irate, and instead dealt them a wicked lashing with Pedam's stave and dove into the next room before they could recover.
In the 108th chamber, the walls were gold, and there were five wise and august elders seated on five golden thrones, wielding scepters of command, with tongues of brass and curled beards of iron. Behind each elder was a different golden door to pass through to the final chamber.
"Out with ye, devil!" proclaimed the elders in solemn voice, "never shall thou learn the secret way into the final chamber, for thy soul is black as midnight!"
"I am Aesma the Destroyer, you old fools! Your reward for your impudence is my greatstaff," snapped Aesma, thoroughly sick of this whole scenario, and swung Pedam's walking stick and caved the whole wall in, though with a mighty flash the famous stave shattered into 50 smoldering pieces, which were later gathered by the pilgrims fleeing that place and still burn to this day.
So plucked raw, and clad only in fleas, Aesma leapt into the final chamber, which was full of light and sweet music.
Aesma knew immediately that the Master of ethics was the most powerful of the three Masters, and truly the holiest of holies. They were a hermaphrodite of pure, blazing, gold-brown skin, with long, glossy black hair, a perfect smile, and crowned with flowers and fire. They sat hovering in the golden air ringed with nineteen virginal attendant demigods who swooned and sang choruses of praise.
Aesma was struck with wonderment, for the great light of Truth emanated from the 109th chamber, and she was surprised she had not seen it before. The pulsing light scoured her blackened mind, and she felt strong and sudden trepidation.
The Master of ethics did not befoul their perfect lips with air, but instead smiled in five ways as they spoke with a mind-voice that rung with eons.
"I have heard of your defeat of the other masters," they said, intoning gloriously and knowingly. It is true that I am the strongest of YISUN's disciples."
Aesma scrabbled against the great light in that room, and sucked her itching hands.
"How so?" said she.
"The Master of space-time time was mighty, but his gaze was singular. The Master of aesthetic had a broader gaze, but still she looked outwards. These were their fatal flaws. I have looked inward," said the Master of ethics, making a small gesture of humility and song, and their virgin attendants gasped in wonderment. "It is only through mastery of the internal self that we may master the external self. Now all who gaze upon my temple may learn the righteous way."
Aesma tremored at that, for the light of that great temple seemed very powerful indeed.
"I have studied YISUN's teachings," the Master continued, "and every holy text produced by man or mind besides. I have aligned my sight and every aspect of my being away from violence and towards gloriousness and the moral right of all consciousness. Therefore I have mastered the ultimate and insurmountable truth of Truth itself, and perfection is my breath."
"Nonsense!" spat Aesma, incredulous.
"No, it's true," the Master said, casting their infinite eyes downwards, "I was born immaculately from the lotus that sprang from YISUN's right eye, and so caused no mother pain. From birth I had the knowledge of a full grown man or woman, and so taught myself to regulate the flow of my consciousness to never require food or drink."
"I was raised by the three legendary beasts that hold up the throne of YISUN. From the Roc, I learned discipline of language, to never harm another by words. From the Behemoth, discipline of body, to perfect my spirit and flesh and never raise hand to man or beast. And from the Leviathan, I learned discipline of mind, to purge all evil thoughts before they are formed."
"Then why are you still here, you self-righteous twit? If you're so holy, isn't it selfish of you to stick around?" she hissed, enraged at the purity of this luminous being.
"Truly, I wish to sublime," said the deity, and their attendants bowed their heads in pity, "but the single selfishness I allow myself is to exist. I alone am the sustainer of this great light of Truth that shines here in this temple, by which men may learn enlightenment, the beacon that can be seen from all corners of the universe! Without my teaching, a great darkness would surely wash over creation."
At this Aesma was confused, for the light had seemed quite small when she stood outside the temple, and she had barely perceived it until now. But still, she could find no fault with the Master's words, and fumed and gnashed her teeth in defeat.
Aesma obeyed, and the Master beheld the painful red embers of Aesma's mind, and saw how twisted and writhing it was. Such was the intense pity in their perfect breast at this wretched sight that they wept tears of pure crystal, and they took a single golden step earthwards, reaching out towards Aesma.
But at that precise moment, exactly a day had passed, and the fleas on Aesma's body, as bound by the law of dogs, ended their tenancy in all directions at once. And as the Master's perfect and supple foot touched the ground, in their great pity and distraction, they quite carelessly stepped upon a single flea and crushed the life out of it.
Immediately the nineteen attendants of the Master screamed and pointed and laughed at the Master's momentary transgression. Their faces became ugly with shock and horror, and they danced about, wailing. The Master was stunned by their careless behavior and thoughtless actions at the Master's minor breach of self, and cast their great, shining mind upon them, and was struck dumb, for though the attendants had spent their infinite lives at the Master's side, the Master could see that not a fraction of the great light of Truth had penetrated their souls, and their minds still teemed with impurity.
With great consternation, the Master flew rapidly to the 108th chamber of the great temple, where the five august elders lay battered, and saw that not a single scrap of the great light of Truth had penetrated this room at all. So they strode with increasing concern to the 107th chamber, where the ten youths lay groaning, and saw that not one iota of the great light of Truth had even entered through even the door way.
And so the Master strode, from chamber to chamber, hurtling through each shimmering gate in horror, and each time the already dim light of Truth grew increasingly dimmer. And finally the Master exited the temple, and saw the heaving discord outside, and cast out their mind with an awesome heat and glorious fire that nearly flattened the ground itself. But as they stood, golden, with molten sweat dripping off their perfect form, they could not detect one speck the great light of Truth anywhere outside that temple in the entirety of creation.
"How could this be?" gasped the Master, but as they turned, they saw that, although already hardly visible, the light in the temple was sputtering and dying. Planting their golden feet, the Master hooked into their transcendent consciousnesses and swallowed the stars, and directed their immense and dread will towards the light.
But no matter how hard they burned with glorious incandescent power, the light grew dimmer, and dimmer, and as it flickered, a great murmur went up amongst those inside and outside the temple.
"The light in the temple is dying!" murmured the cat-burning pilgrims, squinting.
"Do you see a light, dying there?" said the bell ringing pilgrims, peering into the temple.
"What light?" said the hand-and-foot-beating pilgrims, straining to see.
Eventually there was agreement that there hadn't really been a light there in the first place, and with that, what little remained of it finally sputtered and vanished as the temple went completely dark. A great ripple went out through the heaving sea of priests and pilgrims, and ever so slowly, they began to drain out of the temple and off the mountain in great tides, and then streams, and then rivulets.
Finally the nineteen virginal attendants ran shrieking past the straining Master, holding up their robes, and pattered their way down the rocks. A dog came close, and sat, and scratched its haunches.
Then, at the very last, Aesma stumbled out of the blackened temple, goggling in disbelief.
"You!" gaped the Master, "What have you done?"
"Truly, nothing!" protested Aesma, and the Master realized then that they had never sustained the great light of Truth at all, but it had been a false light, fed not by the purity of a single great consciousness blazing outward, but by the gazes of a million small and ignorant minds gazing inward.
With this terrible realization, the Master sat down heavily in the dust, and for the very first time felt a black twinge of hatred.
"You!" sputtered the Master again.
Aesma didn't learn this lesson at all, as she was far too hot, itchy, and confused to focus on such trivial things as her enlightenment. She kicked the dog once, and returned its fleas, for which the dog was grateful. Then, scratching her buttocks, she rode the void stark naked.
Aesma in the speaking house
Though Aesma as she traveled was far too ignorant to realize it, a great note of discord had been struck and now rang with terrible fury across the universe. The estates of the three great Masters were shattered and wasted, and, disgraced, they gathered up what few followers they could and their instruments of debate and war, and rode at once to YISUN's speaking house to vent their anger.
"That hideous worm burned my Palace," sulked the Master of aesthetic, whose skin and clothing had turned the color of bruises, and knotted her lank hair.
"She has scattered my students, and darkened my temple," wept the Master of ethics, "who now will teach the truth of your Word?"
At that moment, Aesma returned to the hall, quite oblivious, and a great wail went up amongst those assembled. YISUN motioned for silence and said, "I told Aesma you were my strongest disciples. This was a lie."
The three Masters were taken aback by this assertion, and loudly protested, but YISUN continued.
"You, the Master of space-time, are exceptionally strong indeed. But you limit yourself by the shape of what is, and not by the shape you want it to be."
"You, the Master of aesthetic, are strong as well, but by seeing only beauty you blind yourself."
"Who is the strongest, then?" clamored the Master of space-time, banging his great chisel with a crash that shook the speaking house, "Let me know them and I will take their measure!" The others echoed the same, and the hall was soon filled with imploring cries.
"What!" spat Aesma, furious, and the others echoed her sentiment.
"But she is an idiot, and a loathsome schemer!" wailed the Master of aesthetic.
"This is true," said YISUN fondly, "but she carries with her the most powerful mastery, which is the hunger of desire. She is the Master of want."
The three Masters considered this statement, as there was a lesson in it, and as they were each exceptionally wise, they realized its power, and one by one they slunk away to their ruined estates.
"The universe is somewhat wheel-shaped!" said Aesma, proud.
"Surely, but only from one angle," said YISUN, amused.
"The universal art is violence!" continued Aesma, hotly.
"Truly, but the second and far greater is lying," said YISUN.
"The Truth is dependent on those who uphold it!" she finished, stamping her feet.
"There is no such thing as Truth," said YISUN, "rely on lies instead. They are far more consistent."
"Why, Lord?" sputtered Aesma.
"Because we constantly strive to uphold them."
"What is your meaning, oh lord of lords, oh queen of queens!" growled Aesma, gnashing her white teeth. "You sent me on this fool's errand!"
"You are a liar, and you have a mind of boiling wicked schemes," said YISUN, "and for this you are my favored daughter. You alone among my disciples struggle."
"Struggle, Lord?" said Aesma, trying to catch some meaning.
"Struggle is all there is," said YISUN, "want and struggle are the twin essences of existence, and to rest is death. You are a mercurial fighter, quick of finger, you hate stagnation and thirst terribly for power. You accept the world not as it is but seek greater shapes beyond, and strive fiercely to carve it to your will with the dread instruments of hunger. For this you are my strongest disciple."
"I still don't understand," fumed Aesma, frustrated.
- Chronologically, this story occurs after "Prim Leaves Her Father's House" but before Psalms 10:26, since it references Hansa's death but alludes to the fact that Aesma has not been disfigured yet.
- In physics, the Planck length and the Angstrom refer to extraordinarily small units of length.
- The Master of space-time claims to know every object down to the last nano-angstrom, which would be equivalent to one billionth of one tenth-billionth of one meter.
- In Harlan Ellison's short story "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream", the famous quote from the villain AI about how much it hates humans also references the nano-angstrom: "If the word hate was engraved on each nanoangstrom of these hundreds of millions of miles [of circuits] it would not equal one one-billionth of the hate I feel for humans at this micro-instant. For you. Hate. Hate."
- The secret text of Parts III and IV ("Reach heaven through violence") can be seen as a reference to either the Third Middle Hymn in the Song of Maybe or Meti's Sword Manual.