-Aesma and the Three Masters-

(And the Lessons She Didn’t Learn from Them)
PART 3: 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 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 was mighty, but his gaze was singular. The Master of aesthetics 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.”
“Aesma, I pity you, for though you wallow in it, I have excised myself from struggle. I have never committed an act of violence in my life,” said the Master sadly, and all their attendants wept.
“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.”
Aesma was disbelieving, as the Master continued.
“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.”
Though cowed and squinting, Aesma was incredibly irritated by the singing and swooning of the Master’s virginal entourage, and her bites itched hotly, and so she asked yet another stupid question.
“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.
“Why do you hold so much pain in your heart, Aesma?” spoke the Master gently. “Open your illuminated mind to me, so I may help you align yourself with righteousness.”
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 and the Three Masters-
(And the Lessons She Never Learned from Them)
PART 4: 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.
“Your oafish disciple Pree Aesma has wrecked my Panopticon,” bellowed the Master of space-time.
“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.”
“And you,” YISUN said, to the weeping Master of ethics, “are of purest mind and heart, but by looking only inwardly, can not perceive external illusion.”
“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.
“Plainly, I will tell you,” said YISUN, “it is Pree Aesma.”
“What!” spat Aesma, furious, and the others echoed her sentiment.
“The three of you were content with your mastery, but Aesma is not,” said YISUN.
“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.
“What three lessons did you learn, Aesma?” asked YISUN after they had left.
“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.
“Perfect,” said YISUN.