The sounds of screaming came from down the hall, their lingering whispers echoed in his ears. But they weren’t his own. He saw the ghosts come from their bodies sometimes, wander around the triage ward -hollow eyed and confused – until they dissipated into the…whatever that came next. His nurse, a constantly grumpy man of about 30, sat off to the side reading a girly magazine. This time the woman had a passing resemblance to Armadiis, he chuckled at that – inwardly anyway. His bound mouth, gauzed where teeth had been broken from the gums, didn’t allow for him to speak. From time to time, his tongue would drift to the empty meat that once held his chompers, sticking into the holes that remained. One good eye roved beneath his brow, the other awaiting a genuine CIREN augment. Maybe it would be a yellow eye – like Cayce’s.
He watched his nurse look furtively around, then leave the room. His hand had been massaging his junk and there was little doubt of his purpose. This was the worst time, stuck in a triage ward with ghosts lingering, and all alone as well. The ghosts seemed to avoid places with the living – as if some vestige of their former humanity made them sense the electricity of the life. Their AURA you might say, apparently the thing that biotics descends from. He had loads of time to contemplate the things Armadiis had said in those last days in the desert. Her lips moving in the way that drove him crazy with lust, her hair – much longer now – sweeping over the values of her face, her blind eyes roving madly with their strange and enamoring pupils clouded, the tattoos of her genes, circling her eyes like permanent eyeshadow – she would be dead by now; an exotic beauty snuffed out by the astral will. He kept the last images of his love there, where even the Darkman couldn’t reach, in the place of silence.
Though his abilities had grown massively during their journey to the Gods’ Woods, the Darkman would appear occasionally – whether real or an illusion, and dance about the dying fields in his mind. His hands would pick gray flowers and make macabre wreaths out of them, holding them to him in a mockery of love. That grim smile, wonderful in its own way, plastered to his lips. It hadn’t happened for a while now, and for that he was glad. Semnen – Tet had often said “Get your mind right and your soul might follow.” And now, how true that felt. Though he still couldn’t see the face of the Anazii priest for what he had done, there were wise words that came from those thin, humorless lips.
The nurse returned, a look of post-coitus highly evident in his eyes, and began to examine the instruments. He checked the blood pressure, EKG monitors, and the lobe shift. After the basics, he went to the computer in the corner and plugged his hand into the wire. After a few moments, an intrusion space was found and an incursion began. These were always painful – but CIREN cared little for the discomfort, after all, what he had seen was worth his death to discover.
It began. The sharp feeling of being underwater – perhaps floating in your own brain juices – followed by the feeling of your fingernails shattering. The last part was the worst though – an indescribable feeling of digital pain, brought on by the machine’s very nature. The worst over, the incursion solidified. There stood the nurse, dirty scrubs now clean, in the darkening field of flowers that spread out like a virus. His hair was perfect, even when a wind was summoned. The nurse placed a hand into the gray field, fingers splayed like pincers, and drew some dead flowers up.
“It’s curious how you choose to show this as a field, even when they are dying. I know I’ve asked you before, but why a field of flowers?” The digital nurses mouth turned up in a grimace, “And why so gray?” He took a flower in his grip and began to pluck the petals, letting them float with the breeze. The petals spent, he dropped the bleeding stem and moved to the edge of the field. There was always a darkness there, keeping these incursions from getting too far, but today the blackness seemed less intense. The nurse placed a flattened palm on the glass like visage.
“I see we are getting weaker now, good. The Ultedine seems to be just the key. “ His gaze turned to the field, “Or are you pretending again?” He sniffed a little and stooped down to touch the ground. His fingers danced like the Darkman’s boots, tracing indistinct patterns there. Each one felt like being tickled and prodded at once. Sometimes electric like foreplay, sometimes sharp like a needle. The nurse sat at the rim of the field, pulled out a digital pad, and began to ask questions.
“ You have visited the Gods’ Woods with the outlaw Camuss Airau, a place forbidden by CIREN and the Watchers of the Path, for this you have been arrested. Commandant General Leanun Harius will grant you leniency in the event that you share the knowledge of your time there….You know the rest.”
The nurse shifted his jacket off, aligned his elbows against the darkness and sighed.
“ This day marks the fortyith time we’ve done this, boy. I’m sure the Commandant is growing impatient. Do you realize what this knowledge could mean to the war? Perhaps even a defeat of that Truth rabble. So, knowing all this, why do you resist? Surely you realize the value of this information – after all – you’ve been to a place where no memorable person has gone in almost seven-thousand years, what did you see? Was it terrors and horrors beyond the scope of your existence? Maybe legends you never believed to be real?”
The nurse waited, but only for a moment, before pulling a cigarette – or a digital one anyhow – and lighting it. The smoke tendrils caught in the wind and blew trails against the darkness. The nurse watched them attentively for a few seconds, before returning to his query.
“ What did you see? The Watchers want to know, and this resistance is pointless in every way. If the Ultedine doesn’t work, we’ll find something else. We can replace your teeth, your eye, and your missing arm with great ease – but only if you give us the knowledge you possess. Luzzil, we’ll even find you a hot chick to bang! Or multiple ones. All their good for anyways…”The drug did seem to be working, and that was bad. The image of Armadiis was all to much to resist, and so – like everything that became that way – it manifested itself.
She walked from the darkness, nude except for a strange haze between the thighs and into the field of flowers. Her path through them gave life. The gray turned to a bouquet of color as she passed by, running like rivulets across it all. The nurse raised a eyebrow.
“Well, that’s some honey right there. Damn son, is this a memory or did you and this beauty get down and dirty? Fuck man, if so, good on you.”
It made him mad to hear that man use such disrespect for even this mere fragment of the woman he adored. The image’s hair became fiery like an inferno, her eyes turned all black with a small white pupil at the center, her teeth elongated in sabers. The image became the vision of the dark Armadiis, and walked slowly towards the nurse, who scrambled up in surprise. To his credit, instead of fleeing, he began to examine this image from all sides. His feet trod the beautiful flowers which sprung up again in abject defiance. The figure of Armadiis grabbed him by the neck after a few moments of the examination and dragged him to the wall of darkness.
Lanou finally spoke back, after forty times, the gift was too hard to contain. His voice resounded like the king’s pronunciations in those old Herman plays.
“ You wish to know what I know, but the fathomless depths of your brain could barely comprehend. Camuss even had a hard time, and his mind leans towards my own. There in the darkness awaits your answers, the ones you can report back, the things I’ve seen…past the rift to the unknown – worlds unbalanced and ashes so white you’d believe them to be stars. The giants that stride in that land – forgotten by our ancestors for reason insurmountable, and the creatures that lurk throughout that strange country. There, you see the frozen pyramids, there you see the forgotten cities, and there you see the edge of our world. Herman traveled there once, to meet with those termed Others, the true masters of all reality, and close a pact that has been broken. There my friends die before me in ways befitting no life, and there – at last – you will find the Darkman and his hands placed on strings you don’t know how to understand.”
Lanou appeared in the field, formed as perfectly as birth itself. His hands shook slightly, but the fury was at bay. He wore an old band shirt and jeans as were his custom. His eyes both worked and his hair hung like cascades around his head. The nurse choked. Lanou moved towards them both, placing his hand on Armadiis’ shoulder, returning her to the woman he had loved. She must have gained a passing figment of the woman she represented, for her lips met his and he did not resist.
The nurse watched while gurgling for breath, eyes wide and limbs strewn. The two finished their kiss and Lanou turned his blue eyes onto his tormentor. He crouched down, hands at his knees, and looked into the nurse’s face.
“What is your name, you who wishes to take this odyssey?”
The nurse hesitated, hands kneading the dirt, before swallowing a reply. Lanou repeated the question, and this time received an answer.
“My name is Jonas…Jonas Dervelin. Please, I didn’t do anything, I’m just an employee! We thought you were brain dead, maybe even a veggie. I don’t know what to say! Please, its my duty!”
The man held his hands before him, covering his face, which turned into his shoulder. Lanou huffed and dressed Armadiis’ doppelganger. He waited until the man removed his hands, so that his fearful eyes shown. Lanou spoke to him while tending to the flowers of his mind.
“ You wish to take this journey with me, to see what I saw?” The nurse…err…Jonas nodded.
“ There are things there, in that forbidden place, that will change you. Do you understand?” he received another nod, “ Then know you will suffer, since I suffered there, you will watch the things that torment me, and see the reasons I cut my own tongue out the first time – before you bastards regrew it. I will share these things, but with you, no other.”
Lanou pulled on some flowers, making them tower over the field like sentries. His hands caressed the body of Armadiis his mind had afforded, and somewhere, behind the darkness, a part of him met her in the way of love. The focus though, was Jonas. Lanou sat in the field for a while, enjoying the silence while Jonas sat to the side, back against the darkness, fumbling with his pad. A distant beeping – probably from the waking world – echoed for a moment before he quashed it. He finished behind the curtain with the Armadiis figment, and now came back to this one state, eyes burning with tears of joy and sorrow. He turned those eyes to the nurse and their soulful glaze made the man stir.
“ This nightmare unfolds before my eyes, and I won’t resist it any longer. She is dead, Camuss is dead, I should be dead, The White Dove has failed, felled by the Priest who held it for millenia, and the Darkman’s machinations are stirring in the darkest echoes of existence. This is his plan – it always has been – to fell the creator of all things, his own father, and to extinguish the celestial plane for all time. The man wishes to kill the angels, mortalize them, and take away that which makes them divine. He is not alone, and this battle you speak of – in worlds unaccounted for – will ring the triumph of the schemer, the eternal flame, the last Archon – Genesuis Felin Azraeli. This journey will require courage, and so, with all this known, do you still wish to see?”Jonas nodded silently, his face contorted. Lanou nodded.
“ Then we begin.”
The images crossed the fathomable planes, swirling like creatures of celestial call. Things once colorful turned stark monochrome, things once monochrome turned brilliant. The Darkness fell away and they were in an ancient temple, of architecture beyond consideration. Ivy hung like a fountain across golden stones and metals of brilliant hue. The statues lined the walls, holding weapons of ancient make, that complemented their noble visages. Semen-tet crossed the path of view, his stature proud, his walk hurried. He carried with him a short scabbard, blue hands gripped tightly around. The priest stopped, his all black eyes looked into the shadows around, and then he moved once more. The view followed him, or rather, Lanou had followed.
In the great room, a hall of feasting and honor, Savra the Exile sat at the massive oaken table, his armor glinting. He turned his gaze up when Tet entered the hall, wisdom and honesty showing there. The big Zetharin stood slowly, his smile breaking through the fur of his muzzle.
“My good friend, what may I do for you?” The cold wind blew into the room ruffling his fur beneath the armor. The priest returned an equally as jovial grin.
“I thought we might go for a stroll, the air isn’t as venomous as the desert usually has, so I thought the master of the prophecy and the one to fulfill it might walk and discuss the creator’s vision.”
Savra opened his arms in a suggestion of a hug. He took a sip from the imbedded water supply of his armor. “Why the fuck not, this is getting tiresome,” His mighty feline hand gestured at the various maps and stones on the desk – battle plans – Jonas suddenly knew – before curling into their place inside his paw – a strange evolution of normal feline claw anatomy. Tet motioned to the sword, “Do you mind, my friend?” Savra shook his head, grin still apparent. “Of course not, that sword is always welcome near me…after all, its seen me through the worst of my life – all five-hundred years of it.” The warriors eyes fell to his arms where patterns traced old battles. His gaze, yellow and ancient, was ages away for a moment, and then back to the place of his body. He motioned for the priest to hand him the sword, “I trust the modifications weren’t too difficult? I’d hate to give a gift of this caliber without it being right.”
The priest stared down at the scabbard. His gaze solemn. Hands tightening on the haft. He looked up finally, lips thin. “It is done, just as you wanted.” The priest knew what he held – fate.
Savra gestured with an open hand. Tet placed the scabbard there. The wood and platinum inlay looked more regal than before – as if some latent energy stirred there. The warrior brought the sword to his eye, expertise shining in the pupil. With quick movements, the length twisted and flashed. The bite of steel resounded as the blade ejected momentarily. Savra’s other hand flew up and grabbed the hilt. The length of the weapon slowly came from the scabbard, its blade sheer and blue even in the darkness. The big Zetharin beamed after a few moments, canines drawing back his muzzle.
“A wonder! Brilliant, my friend, simply brilliant. Do you think this gift will suffice? “ Savra turned his gaze, now solemn, onto the priest. Those dark eyes questioned, scars settling. The priest looked at the blade, pupils narrowing in his skull. The wind ruffled his clothing, the billowy garb danced for a moment. The desert wind felt cold. The sky above seemed to weep. Rain began, rain…in a desert.
“It is a gift worthy to come from your hand. The creator left us, but you have come to herald the return. I need to know though…” The priest sank to his meditation bench, hands folding into his robes. He bowed his head, ponytail falling at his neck. “Why this man? What do you see there? I’ve waited twelve-thousand years for this moment, to give you the sword of the Feld’ran, our last great project…”
Tet brought his head up to face the meditation sphere, it’s light accenting angular planes. Even his all-black eyes took up the sheen. Nostrils inflamed, his chest rose.
“This is not the way things were told, YOU are supposed to be the one to do this. YOU are who I’ve waited for…The White Dove Prophecy was true after all – and now you offer to throw it at some man that you’ve only known for a few months, I just cannot…” Savra put a paw in the air, the priest halted. The warrior put the blade into its scabbard, securing the hilt with a strap. Savra’s muzzle turned to the sky. For a moment, there was weariness there – the fires of myriad battles, the memories of the dying and bleeding – before composure asserted itself.
“You are surprised. I know, I am too. This was supposed to be my legacy – a journey into the things made and lost. I never knew this destiny – but I was born according to it – parameters set before my time, there to inform my own life.” The warrior’s eyes glinted as the moon caught them. His fur seemed to shuffle in the wind. All at once, the things that made him the mighty exile of reputation fell, and the philosopher emerged.
“ But those parameters have changed now. I am tired of this, “ His traced traced a scar, “I am tired of the wars. Blood no longer pleases me, seeing the last light of the soul no longer provides victory. I am old, and if not physically so, I am old in here.” His paw pointed to his brain.
The wind trailed off, leaving nothing behind. There was a peace there for seconds, as the two stood and thought. No more images came after. The silence reigned over all. Savra spoke to it.
“ Those parameters no longer exist, I would argue. I am still the one chosen for this – so much as you have proved – but I know nothing of this world or this malice you call the Darkman. The names spoken in these halls – wretched from the lips of those with hatred – mean little to me. I have no context.”
Savra joined Semnen-Tet at the meditation bench, allowing the sphere to trace his graying fur. The sword in its scabbard sat between his paws, held gingerly. The Zetharin sighed, his nose twitching with the thousands of scents around.
“So now I grant this weapon – the weapon of all people, all existences forever and after, to one who holds that hatred but sees through clear eyes. One who can meld the needs of their world with the needs of the ones long gone. I still remain a champion, my great brother, but there are few battles left within my heart. Our prisoner – guest if you will – must follow through where I cannot. And you,” The wisdom left in the one good eye sparked, “You must aid the one I have chosen.”
Semnen-Tet sat for a moment longer, fighting something inside – dark and motivating. His eyes snapped open as he nodded understanding. His hands gestured for the weapon of the Feld’ran – the blade of The Archon. Savra placed it there, eye still open and watched. The priest’s hands explored the weapon he had birthed, felt its weight, felt its life. One hand of the great warrior reached out from within his paw and undid the strap.
“Look at the thing which your life has guarded – you are the keeper of your race’s last gasp. Here, you see what has been told. I shall not wield it, but the one I’ve chosen will – there is fire in his heart that matches this blade – that fire must be used – fanned to its utmost.”
Semnen- Tet stood. The wind picked up again and the desert chill came back. Savra sat in silent meditation – fully at peace. Tet drew the sword to its length, examining the blade. His face puckered, thin lips down at the corners, eyes watery. A weapon of such simple beauty – honed by his craft, birthed by the fate of things. He cast a glance at Savra the Just, exile of his world – killer of thousands in a war not his own.
And then, the priest swung the sword and claimed the champion’s head.
“So much for twelve-thousand years, my great brother.”
The champion’s blood splattered on the hilt, leaving liquid in the engraved word ‘Muroka’
The image of Lanou confronted Jonas, eyes seeking.
“Are you uncomfortable?”
Jonas nodded – this invasive visage was unlike anything he had seen or done. The recall was perfect – even the winds felt ripe with moisture. The boy before him – tow headed and clear eyed – watched carefully.
“Not a visage – an actual memory. I followed them, that is what I saw. That sword was meant for your Sarenestri, Vanderkien, or at least the man who had pretended to be him. The outlaw you speak of, Camuss, knew that he could take it for himself. His theft of a blade built for the so-called salvation of existences, set the events in motion. The horrors that followed only built as the time went by…we buried Savra in the inner catacomb of the temple…it was hard.”
A sudden tear fell from the witch’s eye, tracing over the black tattoos of her kind. Her white hair was bodily in the winds. Semnen-Tet had fled with the sword and as Camuss stood there, pissed off and more, a rumble echoed in the sky. Camuss swore to the corpse that he would “Take the bastard out” and “Slit him from top to groin” Savra’s headless corpse spoke not. The head had been adorned with his helmet and waited to receive the body in their stone tomb.
Camuss shook his head, his black hair lost in the night behind the fire. Stars shone through its strands before settling. Armadiis couldn’t contain the tears now,and they made her face shine. Lanou brought a hand to her face – a motion watched jealously by the ex-Agent – and wiped the tears away. ‘Gentleness in despair’, that’s what the Darkman had said all those months before in the hills.
The body was observed and ranted over until midnight – as was the Zetharin custom – and then each mourning person came forth to receive a ribbon of the warrior’s flesh. They ate these and drank blood from an open vein. This was the burial of a king, and a fitting end for the last of their race. Perhaps there were other Zetharins out there, but Savra the Exile – once called the Just, was now among the many that had gone long ages ago.
Camuss fumed. He crunched his fists in fury – but it wasn’t for the dead – it was just his nature. Perhaps a small specter of the “Goodness” that Savra had seen in his broken frame. The former Agent pledged vengeance – and none to see that night would doubt him.
A sudden sound broke this visage, the call of the lobe transistor outside. The outside, in the room where the broken form of this boy lay in a bed, feet chained and teeth gone. Both men looked at each other, and Jonas nodded understanding. He gathered his things, and waited for the incursion to end. Lanou stood by, hands in his pockets.
“I’ll be seeing you again, Jonas. They won’t let this lie will they?” Jonas looked down at his pad to see the time.
“Of course not. The Commandant is insistent. These memories could give us a way to beat the Truth.”
An electronic sound bounced out again, and Lanou shook his head in disappointment.
“You can’t ‘beat’ reality, Jonas. The Darkman is RIGHT. The things he speaks – the things he’s done – it’s all for real. It is the Truth – just like he says.”
The boy took his hands from the pockets, holding them out. His eyes met Jonas’ own.
“You let those out there know these things. This war is pointless. There is no way to win, the choices were made ages ago before you. Save as many as you can, it’s all you can do.”
The beeping grew constant and Jonas woke to the triage ward. He wasn’t alone in the room though, and allowed his eyes to clear. Two CIREN guards stood near the bathroom, guns slung under their arms. They wore white armor – even more clean than the bandages used in this place – special forces, the elite. A rude noise issued from the bathroom – a fart. The guards exchanged a look. A voice swore about toilet paper and the noise of the faucet cut in and then out. The curtain was pulled back by a gloved artificial hand. The guards stood to attention. And a familiar face greeted him as they saluted.
Harius spoke to Jonas with a kind way, “I see we’ve made contact finally. Good job. I was ready to go about 30 more times there.” The Commandant General winked, “It seems the Watchers have done their work well – this….umm, Ultedine – seems to be doing the trick. I’m hoping this guy’s brain will end up like clay in our hands.”
Harius tweaked his long mustache. Jonas stood straight in front of the man.
“Geez boy, I’m not a boogey man. This is your place of work, not mine. I’m lost in all this, “ His hands motioned around, “junk. Even the lights mean nothing to me.”
Harius turned to the guards and dismissed them with a half-hearted wave. He sat at the chair behind the lobe transistor, eyes scanning the interface. He grinned slightly, bafflement evident on his features. There was no understanding in his eyes. He gestured at the device,
“It’s all fucking Tressian to me, man. This is your thing – I’m just here to justify the expense – those Watchers are some money-pinching bastards.”
Harius shifted in the chair, hands coming to his chin while clasped.
“So what have you learned, my friend, and when do you plan to go back in?”
The commandant-general stood up and clasped a hand to Jonas’ shoulder. His blue eyes shown with the cunning of an animal.
“Scratch all of that, I plan on keeping these sessions going for a while. There must be a chink in the Darkman’s armor somewhere. Drill this boy, offer him whatever he wishes – I don’t care if he wants a Tressian dick grafted – this is the gold mine, people will know this for ages to come. Don’t you agree?”
Jonas could only nod, but somewhere – deep inside – he heard Lanou’s words and knew the truth.