“Hey, you billowy crimson bastard! Olé!” I screamed as I waved the charmed carmine cloth at the massive malevolent spirit.
I knew it was stupid.
Getting the undivided attention of such a powerful entity was a recipe for personal peril, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. I had just watched most of my friends fall and things looked fairly hopeless for those of us that were left. I was desperate and I was angry at this thing that had caused so much strife and suffering – and I felt it was only fair that he felt the same towards me.
Ahkmatix saw me waving the cloth and his glowing red eyes flared brighter. His wispy spiritual form roiled and he let out a piercing screech. Yup, he was pissed. I quickly ducked down behind cover.
I huddled next to Zeno’s fallen form behind part of the wall of force, and was relieved to see he was still breathing. I was even more relieved when blink kicked in and whisked me to safety from the red spirit’s reprisal.
From the safety of the Ethereal plane, I quickly surveyed the colorless scene before me:
Set had dropped like a rag doll when the last death pulse hit.
The gruesome shell that had once been Harry lay near Set’s still body, still twitching faintly with un-life.
Zeno was knocked out on the ground next to me.
Helli was nowhere to be seen.
Tem stood over set, somehow still fighting through a dozen wounds but it was clear that she couldn’t go on much longer.
In short, we were utterly fucked. I prepared to cast one last ditch attack on the necromantic ritual mechanism.
I blinked back from the borderworld, arms raised to cast my spell, and suddenly I heard a bizarre deep noise – I struggle to describe it now; it had an ordered cadence to it like a spoken word, but was unintelligible and seemed to echo and reverberate until it became a drone, and seemed to be all around me and – just like that I was back in the Border Ethereal.
Huh, usually there’s a few seconds between blinks.
I looked down at Zeno and saw my body beside his, still in shades of gray. Oh shit.
Suddenly my body colorized, it had blinked back to the ethereal! I began to desperately will myself to re-enter my body – surely this could work! – when suddenly the droning noise became louder and I was ripped away as if in a strong current.
I could only watch as the scene before me – the culmination of my mortal life, apparently – shrank into infinity, and I was sent sailing into oblivion.
After what seemed like only a few moments, the darkness gave way to a featureless black plain and the reverberating noise faded from my perception. Looking around the empty space was disorienting, the dark sky above was nearly the same shade of dark gray as the ground that stretched to a distant horizon. A circular dais began to rise from the ground nearby, hadn’t Harry mentioned something like this from when he had died last time? Suddenly, I felt another, different tugging at my spiritual essence.
It felt like something was suddenly spinning in my chest and it was picking up speed! Looking down, I could see my form distending, my chest pulling out like taffy, becoming translucent, and a vibrant silver-white light glowing within. Terrified, I grabbed onto it, and tried to push my thorax back into shape, willing the light back inside. I had the feeling that to let this glowing shape out would diminish me. Clutching my chest, my feet lifted off the ground, hovering with the ground just out of reach, and I began to move away from the dais.
The glow grew brighter and brighter and I could feel spinning vibrations in my chest growing in intensity until it became such that the orientation of my body became fixed despite my thrashing. At this point my body – though I was beginning to realize that I had just left my body behind in the mortal realm so what was I actually looking at? – was almost completely transparent, and I zoomed, ever faster, along the flat ground. With the dais shrinking to imperceptibility in the distance, and the cracks in the ground beginning to blur, it was no longer possible to tell how fast I was going.
Peeking between – or rather through – my ghostly arms, the light was almost too bright to look at, but I could just make out a shape at the center of me. Like a wheel with an axle hole, but the rim was oddly blurred by its rotation. I glanced up towards my direction of travel just in time to see a large sparkling white disc in front of me, rapidly growing to fill my vision as I sped toward it. oh shit – I crashed through it.
I am different
Thoughts are clear and orderly
The silver light fades
Blue sky all around
Floating gears turn each other
On each a landscape
I speed quickly past
Up ahead is << REGULUS >>
A tiered pyramid
Each tier is a cog
Each wider than a mountain
Each a vast city
Ornate stone buildings
Canals, parks, roads, sewers, << LAW >>
Sixty and four gears
About a great central axle
I fly to the top
My speed decreases
I approach the pinnacle
Atop the high cog
A sprawling network of gears
Coats the mile-wide cog
Shafts, gears, cams, links, pins,
escapements, ratchets, bearings,
screws, nuts, rivets, springs
And in the center
A building, << A CATHEDRAL >>
I float on inside
Through the square portal
A long passage of clockwork
Ends in a chamber
A great brass torso
Emerging from the clockwork
As if made from it
Sixty and four arms
Flip levers and dials
In constant motion
Atop the thorax
A noble visage peers down
Ten paces above
<< WELCOME HOME SMALL ONE >>
<< YOU HAVE RETURNED SOMEWHAT LATE>>
<< YOU WERE EXPECTED >>
<< THREE YEARS, TWO MONTHS, >>
<< TWENTY SIX DAYS, FOUR HOURS, >>
<< NINE MINUTES AGO >>
<< BUT ALL IN GOOD TIME >>
<< I WILL JUST PROCESS YOU NOW >>
<< ALL WILL BE KNOWN SOON >>
A brass hand rises
It grips through my chest and pullsanditburnslikefirelikeIwilldieagain –
The hand releases
<< YOUR EXTRA TIME HAS >>
<< LEFT YOU QUITE … DEVELOPED >>
<< MOST IRREGULAR >>
I gasp and sputter
The shining cog floats back in
Resting in my chest
The figure watches me
Eyes calculate, hand reaches
I rally my mind
“Wait!” I cried, I felt my mind was fully my own again for the moment. “Why would you destroy me? What have I done to deserve this?”
<< MOST IRREGULAR, YOU DO NOT KNOW YOURSELF >>
Its voice boomed in my mind. “I know that if you continue, I’ll die… well, more than I already have. It felt like you were tearing me apart. Please,” I begged this alien being, “At least explain why, please!”
<< YOU GO. YOU ABSORB. YOU LEARN. YOU RETURN. THAT IS YOUR PURPOSE. YOUR TARDINESS HAS COMPLICATED MATTERS. YOUR PECULIARITY WILL NOT MESH AND MUST BE REMOVED. YET IT CLINGS. MOST IRREGULAR >>
“What? My peculiarity?” My mind raced, trying to make sense of what I’d witnessed – the literal gear in my chest , this clockwork behemoth. I noticed on a wall behind the being, amongst the sundry mechanisms, long arrangements of glowing gears. They spun and rocked, reversing directions frequently. Some were enmeshed in series or other arrangements, others freewheeled. There were many empty pins that could fit more. Did it want to put me on that wall?
I willed my chest to return to opacity, for my form to be what it was in life. I’m not a fucking gear!
It didn’t have much effect, but the being seemed to notice my attempt.
<< YOU ARE NO LONGER FIT FOR YOUR PURPOSE … BUT PERHAPS YOU WILL FIT ANOTHER. THOUGH SINCE YOU WILL NOT MESH YOU MUST EXPLAIN YOURSELF MANUALLY. WHY DID YOU NOT RETURN ON SCHEDULE? >>
“I don’t know what you are talking about, I was not aware of any schedule!”
<< MOST IRREGULAR. YOUR KEEPERS SHOULD HAVE EXPLAINED AND MY AGENTS SHOULD HAVE COLLECTED YOU. BUT WE CAN DISCUSS THAT MORE LATER. TELL ME, DOES THIS BOND BETWEEN YOUR PECULIARITY AND YOUR COVENANT PROVIDE YOU… POWER? >>
I had known for years that I was … different. To think this place, this entity, was the cause. Is it also why my parents were killed? I had to play along to find out. I recalled what Harper Elion had told me so long ago.
“I had some magical ability when I was alive, if that is what you mean. My mentor told me my magic seemed to be drawn from the plane of Mechanus – is that where we are now?”
<< YES, THIS IS MECHANUS. AND I AM PRIMUS. I AM LAW. I PRESERVE THE COSMOS.
WHAT YOU SAY IS FASCINATING. THE METHODS BY WHICH I EXTEND MY POWER BEYOND MECHANUS ARE NOT UNLIMITED. THE UNIQUE ARRANGEMENT OF YOUR SOUL HAS POTENTIAL.
SERVE ME AND I CAN SHARE MY KNOWLEDGE WITH YOU, ALONG WITH THE POWER YOU CURRENTLY CARRY. OR, I CAN REMOVE YOUR PECULIARITY AND RETURN IT TO THE FUGUE. YOUR CHOICE. >>
It wasn’t a difficult choice. I had a feeling I might have been serving him already without realizing it and preserving the cosmos sounded pretty fun. …Also I was pretty sure I was dead so my prospects seemed few.
“Very well, I will serve you to the best of my abilities. But I am not a machine, I may not be as tireless as you expect…”
<< I WILL LEARN ABOUT YOU AS I TEACH. LET US BEGIN >>
The telepathic presence in my mind grew even more intense. and my thoughts became overwhelmed.
Primus speaks to me
Mentally reciting law
And giving knowledge
<< REMEMBER MY LAWS >>
<< I WILL ALLOW YOU TO SERVE
<< IF YOU UPHOLD THEM >>
<< NONE MAY STOP THEIR END >>
<< SOULS BELONG TO THE DIVINE >>
<< TIME IS MONOTONE >>
<< HONOR ALL CONTRACTS >>
<< RIGHT JUDGEMENTS MUST BE UPHELD>>
…the list continued…
For what seems like days
Primus reads the laws and forms
I lose track of time
Another voice in my head
Zeno, was that you?
<< AN INTERRUPTION. AN OPPORTUNITY, ALSO. YOU ARE BEING CALLED. WE ARE NOT DONE HERE, BUT A PRIME MATERIAL BODY IS … CONVENIENT. YOU ARE MOST USEFUL TO ME IN THE PRIME MATERIAL – I WILL ALLOW YOU TO RETURN.
THE TRANSITION WILL BE MORE … ABRUPT THAN I HAD PLANNED, BUT YOU WILL RECOVER. IN TIME. >>
I wasn’t too keen on the sound of “in time”, but I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to live again. My friends still needed me! I had things to do! I was about to respond when the telepathic presence retracted unceremoniously from my mind –
<< GOODBYE >>
– My mind reeled from the sudden psychic non-sequitur, and I was a meteor again. No gradual windup this time – I was just hurtling through the air, straight through the walls of the cathedral. Complex clockwork blurred around me as I emerged into the air above the vast cog city.
I flew in reverse through roughly the same path I had taken to get to the city. Along the way I began to feel a presence around me. Multiple, familiar presences! Unlike the whirling, tense flight before, now I felt comfortable, like I was back around the campfire with my friends.
I focused on that feeling with all my might, and soon I could hear faint voices, their voices!
Zeno spoke warmly of needing my guidance – seemed pretty generous of him, but I do draw good maps, that must be what he meant.
Set told of our budding friendship and admiration of my principles – I felt protective of Set, despite our close ages. I hoped that I could be a role model again, and more than anything, a friend.
Tem complimented my valor and selflessness – I hadn’t ever thought of myself in that way, but it felt nice to have her approval.
Helli wove a tale of opposites who were also alike. I almost laughed for joy, hopefully we’ll find more loopholes together soon.
While I had been listening, the world had faded around me.
All was black. All was quiet.
And then, I gasped, and opened my eyes.