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Chapter 103

Page history last edited by Anonymoose 3 years, 10 months ago

I felt as if I were trapped in the confines of a marble coffin. A prison laid out on the back of an unsecured truck be as.it sped down a rocky and shoddy logging road. Its driver could not muster an ounce of care about the poor thing's suspension, or the innards of the poor schmuck trapped in the back without a seat-belt. That is about halfway to the kind of hell unfolding all around me.


Everything not bolted down were at the mercy of relentless tremors. My body rattled along with everything and the walls themselves looked ready to shatter. My feet were planted firmly on the ground, but the rigidly solid marble like stone served as the perfect conduit for each pulse. Every crest and trough of each narrow wavelength shot straight into my core at a machine gun's pace. I could feel the marrow in my bones churn to jelly.


None of this could be written off as a mere earthquake. Subtle movements of tectonic plates interrupted by periods of great violence could not explain this phenomenon. And while it carried on and grew worse by the second, the mad professor celebrated.


     “It works!” Vee squealed with delight. “It works!”


While Vee looked about ready to start dancing I clung onto the console for dear life. All the fatigue and injuries I accumulated up until this point became painfully obvious. Duct tape solutions had not fully mended broken bones. Torn ligaments were tied back together and I had been given nothing more than am aspirin for the concussions My knees were weak and unable to hold up my weight under the relentless tremors. Nearly overdosing on magical remedies bought me time not a solution. My body slowly degenerated back to its crippled state. I had no idea how much time I had, but it could not be long.


Through the marble slab I used as support I could feel it warming like a server booting up. There were no disks or moving parts so far as I could tell, yet I could feel it was coming alive. Its display of strange high-relief runes shone brighter than before with a hundred LED like lights.


     “Over ten thousand years and it works!” Vee screamed as he threw his head back crowed toward the heavens.


A switch flipped somewhere inside Vee's head. His emotionless facade had been consumed by a sort of inner child. Two dark fish-like eyes darted to and fro in a vain attempt to absorb every detail. The mad scientist's curiosity is gluttonous. Insatiable. Vee was like a starving man who had spent his life in the desert and had seen the ocean for the first time in his life. He told me how much the world bored him, but I saw none of that now. Now bore witness to the wonders his mind could not comprehend and could not be happier.


There is so very little left of that gaunt skeleton left. This psychopathic madman made me long for those Lecter levels of creep in the past. Those unsettling pricks on the back of my neck were preferable to this abject terror. I cried out in a plea for a return to sanity.


     “This isn't what happened before!” I shouted over the din. “What the fuck is going on?”


It was a vain attempt to snap Vee back to reality. He opted to busy himself by tracing his fingers across the surface of the console. The whole setup happened to fan out like a pipe organ's keys. A thousand thoughts of flight and fancy danced before him and what occurred around him were as trivial as next Tuesday's breakfast menu. An alien language spread across the surface on the console consumed him. There lay an endless array of possibilities.


     “Don't even think about it!” I screamed in protest. “You don't know what it's capable of.”


     “There you are wrong, Mr. Laven. I do know. I know it can do anything.”


When he said anything what I heard was nothing natural. I watched, and felt, as the pearly white room vibrated. A sensation which disorientated the senses and confounded reason. An utterly alien sensation a couple orders of magnitude worse than those before it. Yet... I could not shake this feeling was not totally unfamiliar.


The room had its own vector and velocity. We were heading up, as if in an elevator. No matter the violence being inflicted on this room, the coffin remained absolutely impervious to harm. A deafening screech of grinding stone demonstrated that it was not by a lack of trying. That would suggest that hideous grinding noise must be the surrounding stone being pulverized by this coffin's unstoppable ascent. Nothing else makes a noise like it.


     “It is a marvel beyond mere mortals,” Vee elucidated. “A tool to challenge to will of gods. For what is a tool's true purpose, but to create another instrument greater than itself? Should that continue into posterity, the natural result in wonders beyond your wildest imagination.”


     “And did you stop and think about why this thing was buried? You were telling me not long ago about all the death and destruction this tool caused.”


     “If the gods are offended by this transgression then let them strike it down.”


     “Yeah, that's how I planned to spend me afternoon. Right after running through a deadly gauntlet and getting my bones crushed by a drugged up gladiator I wanted to place myself right at the centre of some divine intervention!”


     “Not even the gods could challenge the Babel system's defensive matrix,” Vee said, trying to iron out my evident distress. “Even unto its final hour Man had to surrender Babel over to those agents of the divine. Brute force from the outside was futile. Surrender, or guile and trickery were the only weaknesses of Babel.”


     “If that's true why would it still exist?”


     “Who knows?”


Vee shrugged and I did not take it as a good sign where things were going. We weren't just playing with fire. What Vee is doing was playing with gasoline. Fun and games—as well as toxic—up until you stray too close to a spark or open flame.


     “If you are well read, if you are well traveled, you will have realized that this monolithic Empire is anything but homogenous. There is division within the Church itself. Animism, shamanism and paganism persist on the boarders of the Empire's influence. In spite of its efforts to stamp it out. And depending on who you ask, the myth is differs. Yet the story of Babel exists in them all. Such is the greatness of it... and the trauma of its collapse. A few will claim the gods' sealing of Babel also weakened their existence to this plane. That the more they buried Babel the more they dug their own graves. Some will say that many gods were lost in the fight against the great beasts and the denizens of Pandemonium. Others will say they never existed in the first place. That the Almighty was the only god to have ever existed. Who is right? We will likely never know. I doubt that the Lord of Monsters knows herself. And no one has heard the voice of the Almighty in nearly a thousand years... But that is all inconsequential for today. What fascinating tale it weaves is the consequences of its presence... Or in the case you may be familiar with—their absence. I know of one and you should as well. A civilization whose bleached bones roast under the Tyrant Sun.”


My heart thumped once and it thumped hard.


     “What did you—”


     “No need to hold cards so close to your chest, Mr. Laven. You are but a minor whisper on the wind. One voice lost in a litany of other tales. I will, however, admit yours is a particularly shrill one. I must berate myself nonetheless. To take a salamander with you into that accursed place... What a simple solution to an insurmountable problem. Thousands of years worth of folklore tell tales foolish treasure seekers delving into the desert who never return. Of course the scorching heat and chill of the night would affect neither of you. I, and others, must chastise ourselves for such an oversight... But, as they say, to the brave goes the spoils.”


     “How about you spit it out already? Or is being as cryptic as possible a requirement for that secret society of yours?”


     “Think, Mr. Laven. How does life spring from a barren wasteland? Northwards lay nothing except than frigid tundra with barely a spark of civilization to be seen. Vast salt plains make up the wast still the ocean. To the west lay mountain ranges isolating it from the bounty of more hospitable lands. Toward the south is where life recovers so gradually. And only the most desperate of life forms would dare call it home. Rainfall measured over decades, not months. A place molded by an alien culture, a colony of another people whose origin is a thousand leagues away. And all of that scrubbed away with the subtraction of one vital element.”


Something stolen. The gears in my head turned and recalled a conversation from within a fantastical place. An ephemeral memory which was hard to visual and pin down. Mu own voice recoiled and hushed into a murmur amongst the grinding stone.


     “...A crystal.”


Robbed from the treasury of that place's royal family. Greedy viscounts who could not have known better. A group of men who betrayed their liege and foolishly handed over the beating heart of their kingdom to a vicious and vindictive god.


     “Yet another ancient mystery lost,” Vee shrugged.


Our conversation had taken turn to Susan's old haunt. A forgotten kingdom washed away under thousands of years of cursed winds. A strange otherworldly force which eroded everything. Not solely the physical remains, but the spiritual ones as well. An oppressive curse scouring it of all life. It did appear to be almost alien in its placement. A sub-tropical Nile river civilization a three or four thousand more kilometers north of where it should be.


With a flick of Vee's wrist, the console sprung to life a once more. It shone a brighter hue than before. An audible hum was let loose and stone beneath the console began shifting. I watched as it rose upward.


     “Then you are saying that everything which is Yaleria is tied to all this ancient magic mumbo-jumbo?”


     “That lost kingdom would have been nothing more than a great vast salt plain without that mumbo-jumbo. The remnants of a time when the sea levels were much higher. Yaleria's current state of affairs is a result of Babel being trapped in a latent state. Death. Stagnation. An endless swamp. My conjecture is that the Bright Wall itself has interfered with proper drainage of these lands for centuries. In addition to letting necrotic magic build up to alarming levels. Casually being let loose in bursts. Likely the cause for the regular invasions of the undead.”


     “And something going haywire with it resulted in that civil war.”


     “Which is why, I assume, you were tasked with opening the flood gates... A temporary solution. A solution which lacks ambition. “Vee flashed a mischievous smile, “Why go through all the trouble of stealing the milk when you can take cow?”


Vee knew this would happen. He had to. There was this new twisted of ecstasy plastered onto his face. Yet I could do nothing more than grit my teeth in anger and hold on tight. A lot of my anger was directed inward. I should not have fallen for it, but thinking that I could do something to help everyone else and stop all this bloodshed got the better of me. Vee exploited that weakness and forced me to act prematurely.


     “You wished for the reservoir of mana trapped beneath the inactive tower to be released. Am I mistaken? Vee inquired.


I did not respond. My gloomy and wide eyed expression must have said it all for me. Vee smiled at his vindication and continued.


     “And that would provide the necessary fuel for that dead princess' intervention. To stop my employer's hostile takeover of this realm. I do not doubt the possibility. All that mana could flood out across Yaleria in nearly an instant.”


     “And I take it that's what the tunnels and caverns are all about?” I posited.


     “Yes,” Vee nodded enthusiastically. “So you did take notice. What you saw was the lattice network. Ancient support tunnels. Magic circles lines carved beneath the surface. Well beneath the bedrock of Greater Yaleria—”


That explains a lot. It explained all those strange glyphs, and etchings across the walls that looked similar to electrical circuits. Perhaps this mana stuff operated under some similar principle. That lich wizard awakened when enough of it became present. Princess Hyria and her court magician could no doubt muster a lot more in order to help Duke Malco. Would it be enough to stop Count Aaron in his tracks? That is the sole thing that kept me going. The sooner I could put a stop to this petty war the better.


     “—Yet this pillar, a part of a greater whole, can offer so much more.”


While Vee babbled on, the surround-sound grinding ceased. It very suddenly ceased. My ears were elated as it subsided into an ever weakening roar beneath my feet. I checked for blood and was relieved to find they were merely suffering from some minor barotrauma... On second thought that brought up a whole new list of concerns.


     “Ah,” Vee sighed as he twisted his head around to soak in the stimuli. “We have cleared the seal. Excellent. Most excellent.”


Ignoring my protests, the professor mashed his fingers onto the console's keys. The consequences of his meddling were immediate. A pulse through the tower. One with an opposing polarity to the one trying to shake it to pieces. And then there was a light. Several bursts of sunlight to be precise. Natural light poured in through dozens of tiny fractures.


Vee raised his arms into the air and moved them like a maestro in sync with the impregnable marble superstructure's disjointment. A few cracks multiplied into many. Those few increased exponentially till the whole interior was awash with light. My eyes stung as if it had been years since I last saw the sun.


Like petals of a giant flower, the lily white marble room's walls unfurled. There were no moving parts nor mechanism to explain it. It moved as if the stone were a living, breathing thing. But its opening invited not only the sun and fresh—bitterly cold—air, but hundreds of kilograms of rocky debris and dust which had ridden high up into the sky with us.


Intermittent between those clouds of debris was the first of the wonder's Vee spoke of. Yaleria's low hanging clouds were within reach. Low hanging stratus clouds a mere two kilometres above the surface... But we were only a few hundred meters away. We've already risen as high as any skyscraper.


A bitter chill from the thinning atmosphere bit at my skin and nipped at the tip of my nose. A balmy and overcast early summer day quickly felt like a bitter fall and then a cruel winter. Yet it was the wind chill itself which could do me in. High altitude winds made it feel like minus double digits. As frail as my mortal body was my concerns were with the tower itself. Building this high is suicidal.


     “It all should come tumbling down, shouldn't it?” Vee said, completing my thought aloud. “But why doesn't it? It does not appear thick enough to survive natural forces working upon it, correct? Yet here it rises. Here it was and is now again. A monument in defiance of the gods themselves.”


The console separated from the monotonous white marble into its own platform. Above it hung the only remaining shelter. For only above the console had the marble ceiling not peeled away. It stood resolute against the last rain of debris, meanwhile, I could not stop myself from shrinking under the cacophony. Nor could I stop myself from hacking and wheezing as the last cloud of pulverized stone was whisked away into the Yalerian sky.


And as if it read my mind, the perimeter of the platform saw an arrangement of stone rise out of the floor. It bore a pattern reminiscent of a stone hedge.


     “Magnificent!” Vee howled. “Soaring among the clouds themselves. To think the ancients were not writing in hyperbole... Truly astounding. Even the gods themselves would have nothing to hide behind. There is naught but the heavens above!”


Things had gotten out of hand. There were things happening now that seemed to have nothing to do with what Vee was doing. I might dare claim that this place was coming alive. Its stones moved in such an organic way that I had a hard time banishing that stray through. A retching gut feeling in the pit of my stomach warning me. That feeling had yet to let me down. I had to make a habit of trusting it more. I'd start by trying to bring a stop this madness.


     “Vee, this has gone too far. You don't know what the hell you are doing,” I protested while trying to pull myself back onto my feet. “You are messing with shit you don't understand!”


I was surely a pitiful sight. Clinging and dragging myself up an axillary console with my knees still numb and buckling. None of that concerned me at the moment. There was only one voice of caution and reason this high up in the sky.


     “Maybe I don't understand much, hell, I might not understand a single damn thing going on right now... But I know damn well the damage that's been done. We've pushed through at least two dozen stories of solid stone. And now we're still going up? You of all people should be able to figure out what kind of damage that has done to the Bright Keep.”


     “So what?” Vee said, casually dismissing off my anger.


     “So what?” So WHAT?”


My fury redoubled, but he didn't pay my enraged visage any mind. There is a big difference between merely observing a phenomenon and actively seeking to provoke it. And now Vee admitted that is exactly what he is doing. And to make matters worse, the mad man confessed he had no idea what he is doing.


     “Come now, Mr. Laven. You may find it shocking, but the affairs of this world are run by those who know less than you do. It is hardly wisdom that turns the wheels of history. That right belongs to the bold! So do not falter now.”


     “I would not have done a thing had I known you were going to raise ancient monoliths!”


     “As I suspected,” Vee sighed. “And that is why my hand was forced. Had I merely stood by and observed you very well have let this historic opportunity pass us by.”


     “You bastard,” I hissed.


     “I pegged as someone more self-aware than this. This is a sad display. Do not disappoint me again so soon. Not when we're so close to witnessing one of the great wonders of the ancient world in all its glory. We shall turn the page and write the next chapter of this world with our own hands!”


     “And we stopped being on the same page after knocking over that throne. I can't say we are reading the same god damn book anymore.”


Nothing at the Lich's tomb could have prepared me for this. It had been nothing more than a fancy light show. A bunch of frivolous fanfare for a seal breaking. It released a reservoir of magic power dammed up under Yaleria. It didn't cause the earth to be swallowed up. No cataclysmic events tore the realm asunder. All that effort for completing that green crystalline key. Yet neither the princess nor her sorceress warned me something like this could happen. I believe they would have warned me.


Now Vee has hijacked this device. Once I had played my part, the professor brushed me aside. He admitted himself that he intended for this to happen from the start. Vee lied to me. Used me. Saved my life for no other reason than to threaten the whole world for a bite out of the forbidden fruit. The only reason I was still alive is due to his desire to have a witness. There is I nothing I could do but watch and protest.


Vee's expression hardened when he looked back toward me. He probably sensed the incredible amount of anger pouring out from my eyes. I could no longer contain it. He studied my face for a moment and frowned.


     “The Eternal Cycle. Does the phrase mean nothing to you, Mr. Laven?”


     “Can't say it does,” I spat.


     “Not too surprising. The Church has gone out of its way to make people forget it. They desire to put up the illusion of its immortality. Priests and prophets and will tell you of foretold events. Visions granted to them from divine sources. Poppycock. All of it. You may speak to scholars, but their histories are so full of holes that if they were sails not even a hurricane would carry them. No. No no no no no Those charlatans merely realized that history repeats itself. They are attuned to the signs of the wheel turning. And soon it will enter its third full revolution—”


Another sinister grin from the man.


     “—centuries ahead of schedule.”


Now I'm a hundred percent convinced the man is insane. There's no way he was completely there. Without those seemingly magic-like powers of his, the man would be trapped in the confines of a padded room... Or in this world, the fate would likely be burnt at the stake.


     “There will be panic. Not in the streets, of course, but at the tables of power. A single tower rising is an ill omen.”


     The color drained from my face as I spoke, “Half an hour ago you were telling me that Babel is the reason why Canaan was destroyed.”


Something had gone wrong with Babel all those years ago. Three beasts emerged that annihilated everything. I had my doubts something like that would happen again, what with monsters as they are, but now its confirmed that's not the only disaster it can cause. We're talking about extinction level events here. Something reserved for when a comet makes impact.


     “Ohohoho, the world is more resilient than you give it credit for... But I will confess that Babel has a tendency to make entire civilizations... Disappear.”


     “So you know full well what this thing can do—and you still want to mess with it!?”


     “Of course!” Vee shouted with delight. “Kingdoms, cultures and entire peoples come and go, but the truth always remains the same.” His voice grew dire as he leveled his eyes and without a hint of remorse proclaimed, “There's no price too high I would not pay to know it.”


Not for a single second did the consequences of his actions register. All that mattered to him was the mystery to unravel. Damned be those who get caught in the crossfire.


     “Canaan vanished, and was forgotten, but not in vain. Despite cursing himself as he reached up to grab hold of the sun—man tasted godhood. Any suffering from discovering that truth, even if only in that brief before destruction, was worth it. To hold the whole cosmos in your hand... What a euphoria it must have been. The pettiness of the material downfall pales in comparison. Not even creating his own demons was sufficient punishment for treading into domains he was never meant venture within.


Now he had a dopy expression of someone high on narcotics. His own vivid imagination flooding his system with nearly enough dopamine to cause an overdose. Yet he just as quickly slipped back into a lucid state. I was having a hard time following Vee. He began to go further off the deep end the further we continued to shoot upward toward the sky. He appeared disjointed and unable to focus on any one topic for long. Not only did I have to distill what came out of his mouth on the fly, but I had to use half digested banter to translate the new.


I could do nothing more than hold on for dear life and gape in horror.


As we conversed Babel's flowering bud completed its transmogrification and shuddered to a sudden stop. The tower jostled underneath my feet as our upward acceleration abruptly stopped. Its crown crested the clouds and I could see the top of clouds in every direction. Yet I could not find their silver linings.


We were not talking in mere meters anymore. This was to be measured in kilometers. I would wager four at the very least. More than double that of the tallest I knew as possible. And those were made of concrete and steel. Not stone. In the distance I could spy the summits of mountains peeking out from beneath the clouds. Were it not for the clouds I could have very well witnessed the curvature of the planet.


     “And bless their souls at the Church of the Almighty. They realized this as well. Albeit only in part. The early Church spent its infancy faced with an old dilemma. With the previous Monster Lord died it weathered an existential crisis. What purpose would it serve in the peace they had won? Ever since the great three beasts were vanquished, and after the death of each Monster Lord thereafter, man has stumbled during the advent of the next disaster. Although united, the same descent into civil war occurred. Time and time again. Camaraderie between men erodes and they regress to their baser natures. Never learning that there will always be another Monster Lord to claw its way out from Hell. But this Church... This one sought to not make the same mistake. They would keep mankind united at any cost. So too would they monopolize its secrets. Anything to keep that Eternal Cycle from turning.”


     “And next you're going to tell me—”


     “That the unforeseen occurred nonetheless?” Vee said as he flashed a grin. “Empires rise and fall in cycles. Yet in the face of its own inevitable extinction, the Empire and the Church of the Almighty sought to stave off this inevitability. It had an entire world to explore and exploit. Endless room for growth and lost lands to conquer. And it did so under an iron fist. All motions of independence and reestablished of lost kingdoms had to crushed utterly. And in its arrogance knew itself by no other name than THE Empire. And it worked until about two centuries ago. The first written records of strange new monsters began to appear. Donning a human mask and licentious womanly forms. Treated as curiosity's at first. Sirens singing sailors into shipwrecks were nothing new. It was a little over a century ago when their complacency would cost them. The Sixty Year War. A mass insurgency rotting away at the Empire from within. An enemy using a weapon which The Empire had not prepared itself for.”


     “What in the hell does that have to do with here and now?”


     “It's all a threat to the Eternal Cycle. Both the machinations of man and monster. Both defying the destiny laid out before it. An Empire which wishes to live forever. And a life form seeking redemption. A hijacking of natural processes. A rejection of their base natures. And if history is thrown off its rails what purpose do the men with white collars serve? What comes of their God's promises failing to come into fruition? Servitude into posterity, or a selfish flash of freedom. What is the best for mankind?”


     “How about neither?” I said in defiance.


His smile faded away. Vee leveled his eyes and glared at me with utmost seriousness.


     “Should this cycle break, the old mysteries shall fade away. The eternal endeavor of rediscovering hidden knowledge is sole reason Ouroboros exists. Millennia of pain and suffering to preserve the secret to godhood... Thrown away. I, for one, cannot abide it. Ouroboros', my own pursuit of truth and knowledge will not be stopped. No matter the content. No matter the consequences. I care not for Man nor Monster.”


Vee leaned in and made the skin on the back of my neck crawl. I threw back at him my utmost disdain, but was careful to not let the black of his eyes sink their fangs in me.


     “Are we on the same page now, Mr. Laven?”


After being in suspended animation, the heartbeat in my chest returned. Blood flowed through my veins and it brought colour back to my cheeks. A deep crimson red. A hot burning rogue that swelled with anger. My eyes nearly felt as if they were bulging out from their sockets. The taste of iron lay thick in my mouth. A fury smouldered in my soul.


My body felt like it could freeze at any moment as it shivered. Such was the altitude we were now parlaying at. How I wish I could have taken the time to marvel at the view, but there was something hideous I had to give my full attention to. Nothing more than latent anger kept my joints from freezing over and locking up. I could feel my knees weakening and my stomach churn anew with the vertigo from looking down at the ground below. Yet with the rumbling now gone I could at last muster the strength to stand upright.


     “And you'd do all of that—all of this—untold destruction... Just so that YOU can know for one second what godhood is?” I roared. “Unimaginable destruction is something anything, anyone, can do. That's not godhood!”


     “I said I once dabbled in the mysteries of lightning, did I not?” Vee said so very nonchalantly. “Its destructive power was a tertiary focus of mine—”


He could not be bothered to carry on our conversation anymore. All the flashing lights and a new pattern of light flicking on the console drew in Vee's gaze like a black hole. His hands moved at lightning speed across the runes scattered across the console. He appeared to me someone who was working on the device with trial and error. The worst thing you could do with something you do not comprehend what it is and what it can do.


I could no longer stand idly by. I had the strength back in my legs, so I lunged and grabbed hold of Vee's wrist. There was a jolt of static shock, but it offered no more resistance than an ordinary door knob above a shag carpet. A firm yank and I pulled him off the console. It felt no different from grabbing a skeleton. He had no weight to him at all. There wasn't a hint of resistance despite the visual attempt to do so. I lifted his arm high up into the air which pulled his whole body away from the console. His eyes went wide with astonishment. Perhaps it never occurred to him that I would get physical. Maybe it was due to him believing I couldn't. He couldn't do much with my hand clamped down around the wrist device hidden underneath his sleeve.


     “Secondary to what?” I said menacingly.


What I expected out of such a weakling was tacit compliance, but instead I got fury. A litany of abuse poured out from his pale and gangly frame.




The eccentric, but typically calm and collected, professor began to trash about in my grip. His eyes went wide with animalistic fury as he clawed in vain with his other hand at my own. Were he flexible enough he might have tried biting me. I stood there dumbfounded. A few moments past before it occurred to me what the cause might be. Haphephobia: the fear of being touched.


When my body was broken on the ground before him earlier, the man had done nothing to gauge my injuries. He splashed some alchemical water on me as if such a simple task were a chore. His physique is particularly frail, so there is some logical reason to fear being manhandled like this. Yet this here had degenerated into hysterics. Vee had yet to say another intelligible word after demanding I let him free.


He would not be able to put up any sort of resistance without his magic devices. Perhaps that static shock would have normally been sufficient to deter others, but it had little effect on me; the same with all the other magic phenomenon. With that knowledge in mind I confidently reached out to the crux of this whole disaster. I caught the green crystal key in my grip. In my anger I thought I could put a halt to the madness with one more yank. But as my fingers grazed past the anhydrous key it rejected me. Violently.


A pulse of green lightning leaped out and bit me on the hand. It assaulted the nerves in my arm which caused it to reflexively jerk backward. It throbbed and stung as if I had slept on it for an entire night and threw me off balance. I stumbled backwards and then lurched forward in a misguided attempt to keep myself from falling flat on my back. My hands slammed into the cold hard marble and my knees followed suit.


Something befuddled my senses. I could see flickers of green lightning leap off my bare skin. An electrical shock of some sorts forced my whole nervous system to reboot. From the tips to my fingers ,to the end of my toes, a painful tingling caused my muscles to seize up. My throbbing heart fluttered as a counter-current coursing though me threatened to stop it beating altogether.


Of course this meant that I had lost my grip on Vee. I was quickly reminded when a leather sole impacted against my back. There wasn't enough strength in my arms to hold myself. My arms gave way and my face slammed into the white marble. The next blow came from the tip of a boot as it collided with my rib cage.


     “Don't. Ever. Touch. ME!” Vee shouted.


Each word came with its own boot to my torso. That last one hit side of my head and set off the fireworks. I tried to get back onto my feet, but one last blow sent me spiraling back down to the ground. It was more of a push than a kick and it sent me over the edge of the platform and tumbling down the stairs. Thankfully Vee could not muster the strength to send me down to the bottom. I came to a stop about halfway down.


Every breath I now tried to take brought about another stabbing pain on the left side of my chest. Vee had managed to fracture at least one of my ribs. I tenderly nursed the side of my torso and felt for the injuries beneath the swelling welts. A hissing seethe escaped my lips each time I touched it, but at least I could feel there was nothing broken through. Eventually the pain subsided and my vision and hearing returned. Vee's furious red faced expression atop the platform above me is what greeted me.


He was hoarse of breath and on the verge of hyperventilating. Yet as he sucked in more of the cool high altitude air, the look on his face showed his usual calm returning. A quick readjustment of his coat and he turned his back on me. No doubt returning to the console.


     “I am thoroughly disappointed,” Vee raged. “And here I held onto a sliver of hope that you could be brought to see reason. Maybe then you would have realized that it is far too late to turn back now.”


Witnessing the look on his face could have left anyone with that impression. Yet I could not muster a retort. My lungs refused to fill with enough air to raise my voice to anything more than a murmur.


     “...Why?” I gasped as rolled about in a vain.


     “Why? Because mana is child's play!” Vee turned his head and shouted. “If Babel were a mere collection of conduits for magic they would hardly be anything of note. No. That is not it.”


I could hear the hum of the console intensify greater than it had before. A strange new shudder caused yet another shiver throughout the tower. Another seal faded away. It kept happening one after another.


     “My quest for truth had me dissect the secrets of lightning: The gods' flame. A symbol of their anger. A manifestation of their power on this material plane. Because which grants life is no different from that which taketh it away.”


All the splendor of the world lay below me. Down the stairs, across the lower platform and beyond the Stonehenge barrier the horizon waited. A sea of clouds with a mountain range rising up above them far to the east. Below that was the Brightwall snaking through the marshland of Yaleria like a miniature Great Wall. The way the sun glistened off those clouds had an almost calming effect. But now those clouds were beginning to turn black. It wasn't a new weather system blowing in from the west. No new rain bloated storm from the sea. All those pristine white clouds suddenly turned.


     “And give life... That is what I desired. Just as you said yourself. True power lies not in destruction, but in creation. Yet every act a human takes destroys. An enviable march toward entropy. He feeds himself by taking life. He builds a house by destroying trees. Fire, god's gift to man, is not true creation. Bashing two rocks together until dry tinder burns to ashes. Man creates nothing. He can only destroy. And I sought to overcome that.”


My head was clear enough to take a swing at what Vee is talking about. With the creation of those golems. All those living suits of armor were no doubt his doing and done all in the name of that goal. And something else he no doubt created. That abomination which I spied following him around long ago.


     “And that's where your Patches came from. An artificial human being—”


     “Stitched together from corpses.”


Like a real Dr. Frankenstein. That makes all the lightning make sense. But I could do nothing else but shake my head at the thought of a man actually trying to make such a thing happen. Yet I shouldn't be so surprised. This place was chock full of weird reality bending nonsense.


     “Regardless—each experiment was a failure. No matter how many times I performed it, or which parts I used, the result was always the same. More monsters. Initially mindless, slow to adapt, but relentless in maturing. And always female... No matter the parts.”


Wait. Hold on. Is he saying there are more than one Patches? My heart sank as the shadow of some insidious truth began to stir in the back of my mind. I did not want to face it, but at the same time I could not turn away. Nor could I ever hope to run away. A fresh wind blew, but there was an eerie silence which hushed it immediately after.


     “I was not so skilled at first and had to cobble Patches' brain together from different donors. It has left her with a rather shattered psyche. She is a testament to the idea of beginners luck,” Vee chuckled softly. “Yet she served as functioning prototype.”


A prototype. The first of many should the first succeed. Another spike through my heart. A subtle twist of hidden in his words left me more disturbed than before. It begged me to ask a single question. One I knew in my heart that I did not want answered.


     “...Where did you get your parts.”


“An Empire in turmoil provides many raw materials. War leaves many casualties as does persecution. I had more difficulty chasing storms than misery.”


My knuckles went white from the clenching of my fists. My body involuntarily spasmed due to the pain, but I kept my lips shut tight. But there could be no doubts my body began to shake with something else other than pain. Something woven in between what Vee had said began to gnaw at me. He had mentioned that the other Mks III and IV were containment shells gone horribly wrong. Women wearing steel armor. Yet they were the armor itself. Steel containers rather that took on the form of humans. Human women. They were meant to be containment for abyssal energy. Abyssal energy he got from—


     The corner of my lip began to tic, “No... You didn't.”


     “The Monster Lord doth waste great potential,” Vee declared, heartlessly and with a tinge of jealousy. “I deigned I could use it better.”


     “You created life—and then you stole it for yourself...”


     “Unlife, Mr. Laven. Failures. Bastardizations of life. And the Mk.2s were hardly an improvement over the Mk.Is. They merely achieved a semblance of sentience earlier than previous attempts. And as such, they became a hassle and a liability that much sooner. But all was not lost. I re-purposed them once isolating that which made them—them. Waste not want not and all that. Yet still no matter how hard I tried I could not properly isolate the abyssal energy. As if it had a mind of its own. Which is why I could not let the opportunities Babel brings pass me by. If the theories I have heard are correct it is more than a great magic conduit. It is the nexus. The epicenter. The genesis of abyssal energy itself.”


     “You sick son of a bitch!”


     “And when man first tasted the power of light's shadow, opposite but equal to creation itself, they could not be stopped. I defy the gods. I defy the cowardice of men! God gifted fire to man, but it was lightning he stole for himself!”


And there came the light show. All those roiling dark clouds flickered to life. A symphony of thunderclaps arched across the sky. The tower itself sat at the eye of the storm and acted as if it were an orchestration of the right hand rule. Like iron filings the clouds formed concentric circles and danced merrily around the tower. Upwards came the energy from out of the earth. I could actually see the pale blue winds dance and flutter about. Mana was concentrating to the point where it is visible with the unaided eye. It mirrored the clouds and swirled about in field lines that were spiraling inwards.


A giant magic circle. Its scope and scale unlike anything I had bore witness to before. And that sabbath had put together a particularly impressive one.


     “More. More power! Ancient ones show me the way!” Vee laughed manically.


He threw his hands into the air, danced around in circles and then slammed his hands back into the console. Babel obeyed his commands and from the canopy above another spire rose higher into sky. It had all the markings of a radio spire. I had little doubt it served as more than the symbolic spear point aimed toward the heavens. No sooner than that thought crossed my mind, the extra hundred meters of white marble gathered all the electricity onto its self. A giant lightning rod. At least I assumed it was electricity and lightning. I could no longer be sure because it served as a void where the blue winds of mana fell into.


An unfathomable amount of energy kept collapsing into a single point in space until it actually took on physical properties. A giant ball of blue plasma. It shone like a disco ball and will-o'-the-wisps of mana orbited like electrons around an atom's nucleus. Except that so much of it gathered until it formed a solid sphere.


And while the thunder never ceased, or Vee's rantings and raving abated, that blue sphere turned to white and then black. Not a straight jet-black. It had a sheen of purple to it as well. With that garish purple sphere can a low soul shattering screech. No different from a heated nail hammered in one ear and out through the other. I could feel it throbbing inside my head. All attempts to cover my ears were futile. Meanwhile, Vee gawked at the dancing wavelengths on his wrist mounted device. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he marveled at the data streaming in. He appeared oblivious to the noise.


It throbbed like a heart. Its birthing cries were inhuman. I watched as it grew from the size of an apple to the size of a basketball. It did not reach its limit until it reached three meters in diameter. Soon I realized that it was not the sphere itself which made the noise. No one could explain away the mind bending wail that way. It was everything else which was screaming. Reality itself warped and protested around that purple glowing sphere. It was abyssal energy. Pure abyssal energy. The supposed shadow to light. It is anti-creation.


     “More! I need more,” Vee sang at the top of his lungs. “Just a little more data. Show me the secret to how it is done!”


     “Vee!” I screamed in turn.


But I accomplished nothing more than filling my lungs with ozone. No protest of mine would reach him and it left me feeling lightheaded. My lungs convulsed and I went into a coughing fit.


This burning sensation in my lungs would soon be secondary to the terrifying sight of a crack running along the abyssal sphere. Worse than cracking glass, the destabilization of the plasma sent out a new invigorated banshee-like squeal. Whatever power was going into this thing had reached critical mass. This sphere would not hold together much longer!


Yet I could not speak another word in this polluted air.


A flash of light erupted from a crack in its side. It sputtered a few times but then shot upward toward the sky as a giant ray. A purple beam which shot up toward space. I wish I could have unheard that horrible sound it made as the very air in its path was violently destroyed. A trail of fire was left in its wake. We were fortunate it did not set the atmosphere itself on fire.


That release drained the size of the sphere, but only marginally. And it didn't take more than ten seconds before it began expanding again. Large in part to Vee's continued meddling with the controls. I could hear the sound of his fingers tap across the lit display in earnest. The sphere had no time to recover before it swelled once more and the cracks along its surface as it neared its critical mass returned. But this time it was expanding faster than before. It grew larger than last time before it would inevitability shatter.


     “VEE!” I croaked in pain in spite of the ozone rich air.


He did not heed my call. A screech much worse than the last rocked reality. The purplish sphere broke in half like an egg and its contents vented. It did not take much of an opening and the small fracture was no doubt worse than large one, or many. A miniature quasar of energy, whatever it was, screamed across the sky. This time it came out horizontally. It raked across the clouds which went beyond evaporation into annihilation. The skies parted as a laser zoomed across my field of vision. It covered the breast of the eastern horizon and not even the mountain looming above the clouds could stop it. It passed through it as if it were never there to begin with.


The abyssal sphere entered a dormant state at last. It spun in place atop the spire and hummed peacefully. That brain rattling din also stopped. I could also breathe again. My sinuses were clear of ozone, and while my lungs still stung, the damage being done to them stopped. Now there was but an eerie silence. Replaced by an eerie sight.


About fifty kilometers in the distance the eastern mountain which capped the Brightwall rose upward into the sky. Legends suggested the gods raised it and its twin brother in the west to close off the Shadelands to the north. Except I could not say it was its brother's twin any longer. From our vantage point I could see it change color. A hundred fault lines wove their way across the mountain. It looked like trails of molten rock.


I heard a pop and fizzle erupt behind me. It was so loud and sudden that my head turned involuntarily toward it. There stood Vee, gazing toward the same mountain as me. He examined the device on his wrist with a stone faced expression. The one which displayed the wavelength which had exploded. I suppose I ought to say he is now examining its remains. Perhaps after overloading?


When I looked back there were now fires consuming the entire mountain and its glacial cap evaporated in mere seconds. Anything on or near it would have died immediately in all that steam. That terrifying thought was quickly pushed to the back burner. Just as the sphere had, the mountain began to radiate beams of light from what looked like cracks in its surface.


     "Oh god," were the words which fumbled out of my slackened jaw.


Something boiled inside all the rock and could no longer be contained. One ray of light was followed by two more than eight. A sense of dread shut my eyes on reflex. My arm threw itself across my face immediately afterword. There is not as much darkness as I would have thought. My entire field of vision went bleach white and the whole world went deaf.

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