Monday, November 28, 2011

Land Games Act 3 Chapter 2


   Her first thought upon awaking was Maybe it was all a dream.  But memories poured incessantly into her aching head, as they did every time she woke, and she did not have the energy to actively try and deceive herself.  It wasn’t a dream.  They’re really dead.  And it’s her fault.  As she shivered beneath her blankets, she could recall the last few images of her fading dreams.  It was unclear, but there was a young girl, crying in a corner, knee deep in a pool of blood.  Fucking piece of shit morbid cliché, she thought.  She’d never had much of an imagination. 
    She contemplated getting out of bed, but couldn’t think a reason to bother.  She’d failed.  She’d tried to defeat Jayle for the sake of her mother and Rouma.  But she’d given in to her weakness, and let her go, and now she wasn’t in any position to change her mind.  Almost as soon as she’d made that deal with Jayle, after she’d shrugged out of her embrace and retreated to the quiet darkness of her own castle, she’d felt a constant ache of regret.  It wasn’t that she thought that her decision was wrong.  But when she’d been trying to defeat Jayle, she’d been focused and completely certain in the righteousness of her actions.  It had been easy, then, to turn off the grief, to retreat into the intricacies of the game.  To focus on numbers, strategy, tactics.  No it was all gone, and she had nothing to block out the dark thoughts that assailed her day and night.  Just get it over with.  I can’t take this anymore.  I just want to…
    Her thoughts trailed off unfinished.  She’d thought the same pointless, apathetic thoughts again and again for weeks now, running them over in her mind like a dog worrying a bone.  She was now so tired of her own thoughts that she did her best not to think at all.  But then she just felt cold. 
    She felt a light pressure as her Companion’s arms tightened around her. 
    “Hey.  You awake?” he asked, as though he couldn’t tell. 
    “Alright, then.  Sleep all you want.  You need to rest,” he told her again.  He’d said little else since she’d let Jayle go. 
    “No.  Let me up,”  Seol said.  She wriggled out of Ceus’s embrace and rose, pulling the blanket with her.  Nowadays, she always felt cold.  Ceus stood up behind her, but she refused to look at him.  “I’d like to be alone now.” 
    “Of course.  Call me if you need anything, Seol.”  She remained still until she heard the door close, then let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.  She didn’t know what to think of Ceus anymore.  Without him, she’d have gone insane by now.  But she knew his attention was artificial, and worse, his compassion was a mirror that showed her just how pathetic she really was.  She shouldn’t need him, or anyone else.  She certainly shouldn’t need Jayle. 
     She left the lights off.  She liked the dark; it kept things simple.  Still shivering, she crossed to her wardrobe and opened it, revealing a hallway several dozen feet long, fully stocked with hundreds of intricate outfits, each designed to convey a clear message to the world around her.  She didn’t even glance at them, turning instead to the dresser drawers at her feet.  She pulled out a loose pair of sweat pants and a thick, woolen shirt.  She used to enjoy choosing just the right set of clothes to suit her mood, but right now, she only cared about comfort.  She would not be seen today, except by Ceus.
    Her life had been turned upside down yet again in the past week.  After she’d recovered from the initial shock of her family members deaths, she’d thrown herself headlong into the game.  Though at the time she’d convinced herself she was motivated by a desire for revenge, she could now admit that she had been desperate for anything that would keep her mind occupied, keep her too busy to think.  Now that the game had come grinding to a halt, she was left with nothing to do.  Nothing but dark, persistent thoughts.  Outside, her castle was surrounded by an army of silver machines, growing larger by the hour.  She and the other members of Team Aqua (so strange to think of them as her team-mates) had agreed to sit back, recover their forces, and see what happened for now.  With the enormous forces House Void now had to deploy, they couldn’t risk a straightforward fight with it.  Which meant she was doing a whole lot of nothing. 
    Dressed, she wandered back to the bed and collapsed on it, considering going back to sleep.  But she’d probably just end up with more nightmares.  She’d stayed awake for nearly a week without sleep during her assault on Jayle, but she still couldn’t seem to sleep more than a couple hours at a time.  Idly, she waved her hand back and forth across the air overhead, trying to get the attention of her interface.  When nothing happened, she swore under her breath and spoke up.  With an almost blinding light, a cocoon of silvery filigree appeared around her, meaningless symbols like henna mehndi.  She dimmed it to spare her eyes and tapped around to a few of her saved sites.  The official House Mercury bulletin had a steady stream of propaganda issued forth by her father, or at least her father’s personalized speech-writing programs.  She also had access to the memo-laden network used by inner Mercury family members, but it was suspiciously quiet.  She suspected her father had cut her off from the majority of his correspondence, hoping to keep her focused on the game.  She wished she knew enough about computers to hack her way into his personal messages, but she’d never bothered learning about that sort of thing.  Ceus certainly had the skills required, but his programming would never allow him to bypass the security of his owners.  She would have to put up with being kept in the dark. 
    The Imperial News Network was of little use, as usual.  There were numerous articles drafted by (supposedly) key members of the Imperial Court reassuring the general population that all rumors of armed conflict between Houses were completely unfounded, which of course meant there had to be some truth to them.  And then there was the House Jade bulletin.  Since the assassination, Seol had subscribed to every feed supplying information about House Jade that she could get her hands on.  The problem with that was that so many of them were completely unsubstantiated.  At the moment her inbox contained more than a dozen tabloid style rumors about Marona Jade which she could tell were false at a glance.  She really needed to clear that thing out. 
    Finally she checked her personal messages, though she did not expect anything.  She had never been a very chatty girl, so she corresponded with others only rarely.  So she was surprised when she saw there was indeed a message from an old friend.  The icon shone the bright orange color of House Dawn.  In a daze, she opened it reveal only a simple text message.  

To: Seol Mercury
From:  Aurora Dawn
Subject: just read the damn thing

    Hey Seol, how are you doin?  First of all of course I wanted to say I’m really sorry to hear what happened.  I attached a big message along with the one my family sent a few weeks ago, but eventually I realized, duh, you probably got like four hundred of those things I doubt you even read any of them.  So again, I feel terrible and I want you to know that I’m here for you if you want to talk to someone. 
    Its been so long since we’ve talked, I feel terrible for letting it take something horrible to get me to message you again, I’ve just been so busy since my House gave me a real assignment.  I’m in charge of a fleet, if you can believe it, and am on my way to a really interesting place right now.  I’d really like to tell you about it, but of course it is *classified*.  I’ll tell you everything if we get the chance to ever meet in person (which may actually be a possibility one of these days!). 
    One little word of advice: talk to Jayle.  You guys used to be such good friends, don’t deny it, I was there.  So however awful you must be feeling now, please don’t push your friends away.  I know you like to think that you don’t need anyone’s help (and you’d be right, most of the time) but everyone has their limit.  Talk to Jayle.  Let her help you. 
C’ya again soon!  Dawn. 

    Seol stared at the message, bemused.  She hadn’t talked to Dawn in about three years now, long before the Land Games had even begun.  She could remember the girl, all smiles and laughter, pulling them all together after each training session to talk or visit digital clubs until the late hours of the morning.  She’d been older than Seol and Jayle, already verging on the minimum age for participation, and had left training a year before they’d learned they were going to be joining the Games.  She’d be nearly eighteen now.  Seol decided she should respond later… House Dawn had never been close to House Jade.  It was possible she could have a potential ally there. 
    Bored, she turned over and pulled a blanket over her head, again trying to clear her thoughts.  Jayle had said she would help her to remove Marona, and it made sense for her to do so.  With Marona dead or exiled, the ruler of Jade would be her daughter, who was not yet two years old, making Jayle the effective head of the family.  If the girl had any shred of personal ambition, then it made sense for her to throw in with Seol.  But could she really trust her?  And what exactly was she planning to do anyway?  Its not as though she had the force of House Mercury behind her, not while her father ran things.  And she already knew he would prefer to avoid antagonizing the Jades any further…
    “You are being invited to receive a message,” the preprogrammed voice of her interface said. 
    “Tell ‘em to fuck off,” Seol muttered, but it didn’t hear her. 
    “The sender is the contestant of House Blanc.  Name unknown.” 
    House Blanc? 
    Seol threw off the blanket and sat up in a rush, the interface expanding around her.  She hadn’t misheard.  The blank white shield of House Blanc floated before her, a tiny blinking light indicating that he/she was awaiting a response.  Why the hell are they messaging me now?  As far as she knew, the Blanc player hadn’t contacted a single other player since the game had begun.  And now, just out of the blue…
    “Respond.”  She surprised herself with the intensity of her curiosity.  Maybe she just wanted something to keep her distracted for a little longer. 
    Blanc didn’t transmit an image.  A voice simply piped in from the air a few feet ahead of her, as though a ghost were standing in her room.  The voice was made up of a blend of voices, some male, some female, all speaking in unison, with a slight mechanical tone, so it was impossible to guess anything about the speaker’s identity. 
    “Good morning miss Mercury.  Well, it’s morning for you.  It’s a big planet, so you can’t expect our time zones to really sync up most of the time.  I’m surprised you responded.  From what I can tell, you seem to be the rather distant sort.” 
    “Why are you talking to me?” Seol asked.  Immediately after she realized it was one of the overly-blunt statements her teachers had did there best to dissuade her from using so often.  She had a hard time dressing up her statements in polite language.  She considered apologizing, but decided that she really didn’t care. 
    “Straight to the point, as usual.  Couldn’t you at least make an attempt to engage in small talk for a just a little while?  Everyone I speak to lately is so impatient.  And you don’t even have the excuse of being an alien.  Ah, well, it’s true that I have things to do, so I will adhere to your will and keep this short.  There’s a few reasons I decided to talk with you today…”  The voice drifted, as though the ghost were pacing across her room.  “I should think it only natural for me to succumb to loneliness after all this time.  It has been so long since I’ve talked to one of my own kind.  But I’ve managed on my own for years now, so that certainly isn’t the only reason.  I suppose you could say I’m a bit anxious.  Things are going to be changing soon.  I’ve been looking forward to what’ll happen for years.  But change is never easy.  I cannot entirely purge myself of these feelings of apprehension.  But most of all, I suppose I want to offer you my condolences.”     
    “You and everyone else.  What’s the point?  Saying your sorry won’t make anything better,” Seol said.  She was starting to regret answering. 
    “Oh, I know.  You’ll have to trust me on this, but I am the only one on this planet who knows exactly what you’re going through.  The words of those who still have happiness cannot easily reach one entrenched in the pit of despair.  But I have been where you are, Seol, and in fact I am only now arranging the means to evacuate myself from that dark abyss.  So I hope my words will mean more than the countless impotent phrases you’ve been assailed with these past weeks.  I offer you a word of advice:  give up.  Stop trying to be strong.  Stop holding back your tears.  Let yourself break down, collapse into complete and utter devastation.  When you come back out of it, all of your sorrow will be gone.  In its place, transformed, will be true determination.  Not the temporary flash of self-righteous fury that has moved you in the recent battles.  Hot emotions only run so long before they fizzle out, leaving misery in their wake.  What you need is cold, unfeeling, unbreakable force of will.  What does not kill you makes you stronger.” 
    “What do you mean, you understand me?   You’ve lost someone too?” Seol said softly. 
    “Oh yes.  It was several years ago, but I felt the sting for a long long time.  But now I do not, because I took the advice I have just given you, and gave in to my sorrow.  And now I have emerged, reborn from the crucible of calamity.  And though I fully understand that the pain of losing a loved one cannot be measured in terms of numerical value, I still invite you to consider that in your case you at least have a family left to comfort you.  Your father still lives, along with the rest of your esteemed House Mercury.  I was left with no one.” 
    “Your House was destroyed then?” Seol asked.  “I’m sorry.  I can imagine that would be a very distressing event.  But I don’t believe you.” 
    “Oh?  Tell me, dear, in what way do my words smell of falsehood?  What have I done to have so completely misplaced your trust?”  Despite the obviously false nature of the voice, Seol could still tell it was amused. 
    “How about everything?”  Seol said.  “You call me up out of nowhere and start acting like you know me, with this big tragic back-story that just happens to relate to my situation?  Its too convenient.  Also, your story needs work.”
    “Oh ho, did you find yourself a plot hole?” 
    “You’re an official player in the Land Games.  That means you belong to a House selected by the Emperor for this event.  You have the resources to get yourself a castle and maneuvered your way into being selected for this game.  You expect me to believe you were able to accomplish all that as the last survivor of a ruined House?” 
    “Well, well, quite the deduction miss Mercury.  You’re obviously an astute observer.  Learn how to talk to your betters, and you may even make a decent Heir one day.” 
    “Are you done?” 
    “Oh, I suppose.  I do in fact have work to get too.  My clammy companion is as impatient as ever.  I’ll just once more reiterate my condolences, and, if I may, clear up a little misconception I believe you have construed.”
    “And what’s that?”  Seol asked.  The voice was silent for some time, and then Seol jumped in shock as it spoke from directly behind her head. 
    “You assumed I was expressing my sympathy for the unfortunate deaths in your family, but you’ve got it wrong.  I’m apologizing for something that will cause you much grief down the line.  Something I myself am going to be responsible for, and therefore have every reason to sincerely feel some apprehension for.” 
    Seol whipped around, of course saw nothing, and stood to get away from the voice. 
    “Well what is it?” she asked. 
    “I’m sorry you’re never going to get your revenge.  Before you ever get the chance to defeat Lady Marona, your House will be as dead as mine.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Land Games Act 3 Chapter 1


    It watches.  Before It squirms the subject, her muscles tight and twisted.   Her tendons pulsate.  Instinct demands she try to express her pain through the manipulation of her carapace.  Sound.  Vibration.  Sensations which reach out to others.  Sensations which insist on the attentions of the indifferent.  Sensations which demand a response.  Pain.  She is in pain.  But no sound comes.  No vibration.  Her shell has been removed.  Pale clammy skin lays exposed.  White, with a faint pink tinge.  Quivering, she presses her shell-less body against the clear walls of the observation tank.  Senseless.  This clearly causes more pain.  And yet she persists.  Does she desire more pain?  Does it somehow distract her from her fear?  Is fear worse than pain?  It is not sure.  It has only rarely felt pain.  It has never feared. 
    The figure in the tank was a young female indigenous native.  A species as yet unnamed by humans.  This suits It fine.  It has never cared much for names.  It was informed Its name is Three but this is not what It calls itself, in the silence within its head.  It thinks of itself as Itself.  But this young female has a name.  Her name is Final Blessing.  A pessimistic name.  A name given by those with no more hope.  A sad thought.  It does not enjoy sad thoughts.  Desperate for some response, she begins to strike the sides of the tank with her body.  It wonders.  So much pain.  So much fear.  And yet she chose this.  So many have come forward, fully aware, yet willing to endure.  To overcome fear.  To overcome pain.  Three times, It turned away this young one.  Three times, It told her that she could not withstand the tests.  She was too young.  Her body was too frail.  She would not last.  And yet again she came, a fourth time.  Asking.  Begging.  All the while, knowing what she would have to go through.  She was not ignorant.  She was there when Red Flowers On Snow succumbed to the pain and died.  She was watching when Fallen But Not Lost begged for release.  She knew.  And yet-
    It did not understand.  But It could try. 
    It spun Its inner mechanisms faster, sending out a wave of vibrations centering on Its forearm, drawn out before It on the edge of the console.  Every tiny speck of Its armored appendage stood out clearly to Its investigation.  With Its vibration sense It could detect even the tiniest of imperfections in the smooth black shell.  It extended a long curved talon and pressed its jagged point against the shell.  It would try to understand pain.  It pressed down with as much force as It could and slowly dragged the claw across Its arm.  A high pitched keening noise rose up and a slight mark appeared, a long line of grated shell.  Immediately Its shell began to regenerate, creating a slight tingling sensation like that of static electricity.  It felt no pain.  Its shell was too thick.  It would have to try harder. 
    It raised the claw, and thrust it down with a force of ten thousand pounds per square inch.  The claw pierced the shell accompanied by the sound of a sharp crack.  Thick blood, blue-verging-on-black, pumped out quickly, congealing almost instantly to the consistency of drying plastic.  It withdrew Its claw.  A sharp sensation ran up Its arm.  It was unpleasant.  This was pain.  It thought It understood.  But when It turned back to the subject to continue observation, the sharpness did not cease.  It continued.  It grew more and more unpleasant.  It glanced around uneasily.  It did not know what to do.  The pain did not stop.  How could it continue like this?  It tried to ignore, tried to focus, but the pain grew.  It could not think clearly.  It could not-
    It roared, releasing the full blast of its seismic force on the room at random.  It swung Its claws across the nearest console, tearing it to ribbons.  It slammed Its tendrils against the walls and floors, leaving holes behind.  It beat Its arms against the floor.  Alarms blared, competing with the Its roars of pain and fury.  Interfaces appeared, shining bright in the darkness, warnings etched across their surface.  It slashed at them, tore apart whatever It could find.
    And then all at once it was over.  The pain shut off as though a switch had been pressed.  Ah yes.  Combat pain control.  It was a built in function, allowing the body to be flooded briefly with adrenalin and the sensation of pain.  For motivation.  Data showed that those who could feel pain performed better in combat.  But continuous pain was unnecessary.  After the appropriate amount of time was allowed, the brain shut the feeling down.  It was no longer needed.  It felt immense relief.  It had not enjoyed the sense of pain.  Though it had lasted only thirteen seconds, it was an experience that It did not again wish to experience. 
    The thought gave It pause. 
    It did not enjoy pain.  It did not wish it again.  It briefly considered stabbing Itself again, and felt a sudden jolt of intense displeasure.  Fear.  This was fear.  It felt satisfaction.  In such a short time, It had come to understand pain.  It now understood fear.  This was good.  There was so much to learn.  It could not afford to learn slowly. 
    It went back. 

    Pale green fluid bubbled.  It fizzed around the edges of Its carapace.  It floated in a large tank.  Surrounded by others.  Men and women.  Not like itself.  Bodies of soft pink and brown skin.  Exposed eyes and useless vestigial features.  They spoke, aural vibrations softly bouncing from surface to surface.  It was hard to detect them in the tank.  A pair of them moved closer, standing just before the tank.  One male.  One female.  Now It could hear.  They spoke: 
    “-really don’t think your giving this enough thought.  We’ve had considerable success with-” The male spoke.  He stood poised, upper body withdrawn.  Hands clenched.  Nervous.  Submissive.  The lesser of these two humans. 
    “This one is useless.  Not so useless as the last two, I’ll give you that.  But still, there are issues.  Its EEG ratings are much too high,” the female answered.  She did not allow the male to finish his words.  Did she find them offensive?  She stared to one side.  Foot tapping continuously.  One hand searching a pocket of her coverings.  Anxious.  Bored. 
    “I still don’t see why that’s such an issue.  We don’t know for sure what it even means.  It warrants further study.”     
    “It means it’s thinking.  Look around.  What has changed about the local area in the past three weeks?  Nothing.  Same room, same people-” 
    It was confused.  The words this woman said were obviously false.  In the corner of the room, a spider worked industriously, building a web.  The spider had not been there yesterday.  Near the tank, a small object had been dropped, an oblong piece of plastic half an inch long, shattered at one end.  It had been dropped by an assistant two days ago and rolled beneath a table, gone unnoticed.  Another worker had chopped off several inches of their hair a week prior.  There were so many things changing all the time It had trouble noting them all.  But it was confident it had missed nothing. 
    “-what is there for it to think about?  It should be settling down into standby mode and waiting for new stimuli.  We set the engagement parameters too high, just as I warned about.  We’d be better off scrapping this one and getting started on Four.” 
    “But if it’s thinking so much, then it must be learning something.  This could be good.” 
    “No, it’ll just be focusing on a lot of extraneous details.  It’s too stupid to know what’s important.  Look, it can hear us right now, you know?  It’s floating there listening to us talk about what a failure it is and what is it doing?  Nothing.  No reaction.  What kind of-”
    Both figures jumped back, shock running across their features.  Its claws were pressed against the tank, where it had slammed them as she spoke.  Small cracks spread across the tanks surface.  Alarms blared.  A force field, invisible but bright as a spotlight to It, surrounded the tank automatically.  It paid them no attention, lost in thought.  Why had It struck the tank?  It had not been decision.  It had done it spontaneously. 

    It returned to the present.  A loud crash attracted Its attention.  Final Blessing was writhing in the tank, twisting in pain.  She had extended one hand and slammed it hard against the tank.  It glanced at the readings.  She did not have long to live.  Another failure.  Another waste of life. 
    Another slam.  Her palm against the tank wall, the barrier separating her from all else.  It understood.  Moving swiftly, it crept to the edge of the tank and extended Its hand, palm to the glass.  Fingers over fingers.  She looked towards Its head with her eyes, shockingly large and blue outside their shell.  It thought It saw a hint of release. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Land Games Act 2 Chapter 11


    A smile on his face, he spread the window wider to let in the sun, and looked out on the fields surrounding his conquered castle.  His window zoomed in, showing the battle lines drawn up only a hundred miles away.  Serge’s lines of tanks and dragoons looked impotent against the horde of black war machines arrayed by House Void.  They were practically in firing range of each other, yet there had been no battle since Brand had been eliminated yesterday.  Three didn’t seem interested, and Serge didn’t want to provoke him before he had time to reinforce the border.  Brand realized he was thinking strategically and almost laughed out loud.  It doesn’t matter to me anymore. 
    “Brand,” Volca’s voice spoke from behind him, sounding oddly consolatory.  Since he’d lost Volca had been almost silent, and seemed somewhat confused.  She probably didn’t know what she was supposed to do in this situation, especially since Serge hadn’t taken him prisoner as protocol warranted.  “Your message is being answered.  He’s… he’s here.” 
    Brand turned, and was met with the sight of his half-brother Ryam standing in his room, looking tired.  It was shocking how different he looked, eyes bloodshot and framed with dark circles, skin pale and clammy.  He sniffed heavily, obviously suffering from a cold.  It had been a long time since Brand had actually seen him.  He’d avoided him for so long, and now he was momentarily concerned what Ryam thought about that.  He had every right to be angry… but somehow Brand felt he would understand. 
    “Hey bro.  Been a while,” Brand said. 
    “Indeed it has,” Ryam glanced around the room with apparent interest.  “Just like back home in here, isn’t it?  That must’ve been comforting.”
    “Eh, I didn’t really have much time to use it.  Been fighting a war and all.” 
    “So… you’ve been eliminated then?” 
    “Yeah.  Sorry I had to go out first, but it was close.  Seol was like five seconds away from taking Jayle down,” Brand said. 
    “It’s a good thing she didn’t, actually.” 
    “All things considered, everything has worked out for the best.  I’ve been at Court for half a year now, Brand, and I can tell you, something big is coming.  There might not be a real war, hell, no one wants that, but there’s a good chance houses will start aiming missiles at each other soon.  A good missile salvo does wonders for negotiation you know.  Anyway, the point I’m making is, when this shit goes down we don’t want to be on house Jade’s bad side.  If you actually had defeated Marona’s kid sister yesterday… well it certainly wouldn’t have done us any favors.” 
    “So, good job getting your ass kicked then?” 
    “Ha, I guess so.  So what now?  You gonna hang out at Serge’s castle?  Or how about Seol, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind you moving in for a few months.  You guys are gonna get married after all.” 
    “Actually, I’m not going to anyone’s castle,” Brand said.  He realized his palms were sweating, and Volca shooting him a surprised glance was no help.  He’d run this conversation over and over in his head, but honestly he had no idea how it was gonna go.  Ever since Ryam had become The Heir, he’d felt like there was a wall between them.  He’d never been very good at reading people anyway.  All he knew how to do was just say what he thought up front and let people deal with it.  So here goes…
    “I’ve been on this planet for more than two years and I haven’t seen an inch of it with my own eyes.  I’m gonna get out, take a look around.  See what it is we’re supposed to be fighting over,” he said, feinting nonchalance.
    “Oh really?”  Ryam just looked amused.  “You think that’s safe?  I think I’ve heard the natives there refer to you as demons.”
    “I’ll be fine.  Volca will be with me,” he said turning towards her.  To his surprise, she did not appear to be preparing to go off on him.  She looked thoughtful, which probably meant she was running hundreds of probability functions in her head all at once.
    “Hm, yes, I think that will do.  You deserve to have some fun for awhile.  Once this game is over, there will be plenty to do.”    
    “Alright then, I guess I’d better get going.  If Void decides to move in I’m gonna get captured by the wrong player and that would be all kinds of awkward.”
    “That’s one more thing I wanted to ask you about.   I’ve reviewed the battle data.  It doesn’t make sense.  Three deployed an army far larger than it should be able to have created with its resources.  Before your units lost power, it had already conquered a sixth of the Aqua continent, in a matter of hours.  How is that possible?”
    “Beats me,” Brand shrugged.  “Maybe I’ll find out something while I’m looking around.  I’ll keep you posted.”
    “Thanks, please do.  Enjoy yourself.”  He signed off with a wave.

    “Are you sure about this Brand?” Volca asked as they descended in the elevator.
    “Not really.  It’s probably a bad idea,” he said.  “But I think it’s worth doing.”
    “You really want me to come with you?”
    “Huh?  Of course.  I’d get lost in like an hour without you there,” he said.
    “I just thought… I was under the impression…”
    “What?  Spit it out.”
    “I was starting to believe you resented my support.  I want you to know… I have to follow my programming Brand.  My purpose is very clear.  You were supposed to play this game to win, and I was supposed to ensure that you played at your best.  Whether you wanted to, or whether I thought you should, was irrelevant.  I didn’t have a choice in the matter,” she said, quietly.
    “It’s alright.  Without you bugging me all the time I’d probably have been knocked off a year ago.  But the games over now, so… what is it you’re supposed to do now?”
    “I…don’t know.  It is a very strange feeling.”  He grinned, and put his hand on her shoulder.
    “Welcome to my world.  Oh, here’s our stop.”  The elevator chimed and the doors slid open swiftly.  Bright sunlight, real sunlight, flooded in and his eyes ached at the unusual sensation.  He put up his hand, fingers spread, to block out the sun, and took in the view ahead.  It was a burned and battered wasteland, utterly devastated, not a sight he really wanted to see.  But beyond it was a horizon.  And beyond that…
    We’ll find out.  

End of Act 2

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Land Games Act 2 Chapter 10


    “From here onward, you go alone,” the white one, the Deceiver said, the doorway opening before him, a crackling wall of invisible substance holding the ocean back.  The path ahead loomed wide like the maw of a giant beast, ready to swallow him whole. 
    “Why?  You brought me here to show me something did you not?  Is this not all a part of your plan?  Don’t you have any more self-serving lies to tell me?” he’d asked indignantly, trying to hide his fear. 
    “You have called me a liar again and again, but beyond this gate lies the truth.  You must find it for yourself.  When you return, I am confident that your mind will have been transformed,” it said. 
    “And if I do not return?  Perhaps I would rather die free than live as captive to a demon.”      “Then I will have wasted a good deal of my time, and I will certainly be cross.  What does it matter to you?  You won’t be there,” it said, amused.  “Well?  What are you waiting for?  Are you scared?” 
    “I am the Farseer, chosen by fate.  I have nothing to fear,” he said, and forced himself to step forward.  The energy crackled across his shell, and though the ocean’s water was right there, only an arm’s length away, it was pushed back the further he advanced, as though he were walking in a clear bubble of air.  He tried not to be impressed at the sight. 
    Beyond the ship was a mountain of rock and coral, with a swirl of colorful snakes swimming in and out of every crevice.  From a distance, it would appear unremarkable, just one of protrusions rising up from the ocean floor.  But as he ran his far-sense over it, he could sense the open space within, a network of tunnels arranged in a spiral like the inside of a conch.  Exactly like those the Woken had been building for thousands of years. 
    An unremarkable split in the rock wall led to an opening large enough for him.  It was near the top of the spire, a window that would have commanded a high view of the surrounding area were this a home.  He slipped inside, batting away the angry snakes with his far-sense, and emerged in darkness.  A light began to rise up from nowhere, and he realized that it was coming from the edge of the shield that surrounded him.  He wondered how the demon could be doing such a thing, and if it would suddenly cease if he strayed too far from it’s machine.  The light revealed the curve of the spiral wall, leading down and widening as it went.  The walls here were dark and covered in more coral, but below, he could see a hint of color…
    Farseer descended.  As he got lower, the coral ran out, and the walls began to shift and grow brighter before him.  Splashes of color, no doubt once bright and cheery, covered every surface.  Some of them made up mosaics, long pieces of art with a new piece revealed with every turn of the shell.  A wave of homesickness washed over him, surprising him with its intensity.  His home, before he’d been moved to the grand temple in Hope Beneath The Petals, had been much the same as this structure, a tall tower with a single spiral chamber narrowing the closer it got to the top.  As a young child, he had been assigned to the top with three other hatchlings, and they had ran wildly up and down the tower with little regard for the other tenants personal areas.  Six families of many generations had lived in that spire, and they were all so close that the separation of blood was a mere formality.  He had grown up with half a dozen grandmothers and grandfathers, and more uncles, aunts, and cousins than he could count.  His own parents had painted several of the mosaics, his father in particular was a devout and talented artist.  Since he was born, Farseer had often walked past the painting of an older Farseer on the thirteenth turn, the orange markings on his shell shining like fire. 
    Here and there were signs of a long ended life.  Old refuse littered the alcoves built into the inner wall of the tower, the small cells created for those who needed to focus on their work without the constant distraction of those coming and going.  He peered into one such alcove, its walls painted teal like blood, and realized there were dozens of smaller holes on the sides of the walls, probably meant to hold scrolls, now covered in little crabs and sea slugs.  Every home had such a place, where all the books were kept in one common spot, so that any tenant could read as they pleased.  Though of course, some books were kept in secret…
    In the next alcove he found a corpse.  Its shell twinkled in the light, having transmuted over the centuries into a diamond-like form.  He could no longer guess its sex of color, but it was facing him, as though it had died trying to climb the tower.  He ran his far-sense over it gently, and felt a number of small holes riddling the back of its shell.  He didn’t know what sort of weapon had been used, but this Woken had been murdered.  Is this the truth I am sent to find? he wondered bitterly.  Even without the presence of demons, his people had often turned against each other, fighting wars for the sake of greed and pride.  He did not need to see this. 
    The bottom of the tower held a much worse sight. 
    At the lowest level was a pair of huge doors, their frames shattered open.  A huge pile of crystal shells covered the floor, untold dozens of Woken cut down as they tried to push their way in or out of the home.  The bodies were stacked as though some had been trying to climb over each other in their desperation to escape.  Others had been brought down on their way up the first landing, trying to reach the top of the tower.  For what?  There was no escape there, they would only have delayed their deaths. 
    He shuddered as he clambered over the corpses surrounding the entrance.  If there was some truth to find here, he wanted to find it fast.  He was tired of death and destruction.  He braced himself for more corpses when he emerged from the home.  What he found made him drop his far-sense in shock. 
    A large plaza waited before him.  More towers, more homes of countless numbers of his people rose up on all sides.  Hundreds more corpses littered the floor.  But standing tall over them all were a familiar, terrible sight.  Long spindly legs holding up hulking weapons of destruction.  Unseeing eyes of soulless glass.  Cannons that fired long hot streaks of burning death, stronger than any crossbow.  Golems. 
    But these were not the golems of the demons.  His far-sense reached inside of them, and the horrible knowledge he withdrew could never be unlearned.  The bodies of these golems stood on four legs.  Their heads were a huge triangular shell, painted in bright and florid colors, bearing crests painted in painstaking pride.  Tendrils hung down from their backs, spiked and capped with another cannon.  And the space within was arranged so that ones left legs would go here, their right legs there, and have just enough space to access the controls wrapped around on all sides.  These machines were a horrible caricature of his own body. 
    The mind of the Farseer recoiled at the knowledge that his own people had built such golems, used them as weapons of slaughter against their own kind, and declared with full certainty that this discovery should never be revealed, lest his people be once again tempted down that road. 
    But the mind of the revolutionary, the mind of the one who shook with fury at the thought of the demons enthralling his planet, not with malevolence, but with cold degrading indifference, looked on these weapons and thought Yes, I can use these.