Armageddon – 4.02

Kyle watched some of the students file back behind the stage and into another room. He’d heard something about food. He was among those too unsettled to leave their seats. Students with their heads down in their hands. A row ahead of him, a girl’s shoulders went up and down silently. She had messy black hair.

Just looking at the faces he could see, everyone was fucked up by this.

Kyle couldn’t tell himself he wasn’t rattled, though. It’d be a lie. He’d started out in all this shit looking for a way to cope, maybe even to bring back Jillian. He couldn’t comprehend the total loss the Utopians had just suffered, but he also couldn’t really bring himself to be surprised. He just wasn’t that kind of person.

What’s my next step?

The Ouroboros was up by the Masters, who were plotting. He turned around and sat down on the edge of the stage, crossing his arms. Where was the sickle he’d come in with? Kyle wondered. More so, why is he staring at me?

Professor Cobb kept glancing at the being. He was fascinated. He followed its line of sight to Kyle, who sat back with his helmet in his lap. Cobb frowned.

Kyle didn’t react. He was a little burned out, really. Consequence of being jacked up to an android for several hours looking for Doran. His eyes were blurry and his mind hazy.

Suddenly, the Sanctuary doors swung open. Porter?

In came a man with tattered clothes hanging off his emaciated frame. He looked around, taking in the room, before coming to sit on the same pew seat as Kyle. He looked, wide-eyed at the Ouroboros, before following their gaze right back to Kyle, who noticed his eyes weren’t wide, but that the lids were missing.

“As I have foretold,” they said, raspy.

“Did you?…” Kyle looked him over. “Did you come out of the rubble?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I studied under Master Laird. He died.”

“Not you, though? Master Babba tossed the mountains.”

The Lidless man only stared in response. Obviously, he knew that.

Kyle sat back, looking away but quickly finding his eyes locked with the Ouroboros. He got sick of it.

He stood up and excused himself to the back room.

It was a kitchen. People stood around, many sitting on the floor. Lanterns had been set out, casting dense shadows. He could see a young man eating a sandwich at the steel counter. He seemed apathetic to the other person sitting shaking on the floor by their feet.

Kyle was a psychologist. He really thought that he should be talking to some of these people. Out of everyone at the Monastery, only more than a hundred remained. They had to function, too. Everyone had lost someone.

He saw his hands bash the stainless countertop, denting it. The man eating his sandwich didn’t look up.

Kyle slowly exhaled. Anger is not my… master, he remembered.

“Fuck my shit right up,” he said, looking at his aching hands.

“We’re gonna move soon,” the sandwich guy spoke. He kicked the one by his leg.

“R-right,” they ratified.

Kyle recognized them. He’d studied associated files earlier in the day. “Beaulieu’s?”

The young man nodded. “What’s left.”

“You lost someone?” he asked, instincts getting the better of him.

“Our brother,” the one on the floor answered.

Kyle stood in silence for a moment. He had an idea, but he wasn’t sure. On a psychological level, it would feel irreverent. He’d read their file. “You’re a… Gestalt?” he said.

“It’s like a mirror… light,” the standing one answered. “I don’t know. Catherine knows.” He looked at the half-eaten sandwich in his hand. He saw a sink across the room and threw it, hitting the wall above. “How the fuck did this happen?”

He felt the answer was better left unsaid. “You amplify the power between you,” he explained. “Why didn’t you ever expand the circuit?”

The Beaulieu brother grimaced.

“I…” Kyle started, “why don’t you let me shore up the circuit? You’re used to a triune power hierarchy. I’m willing to guess it’s not going to work, maybe at all, without that structure.”

The Beaulieu’s made no move.

“We deploy…” he looked at his wrist, where Aku would have the information on his mind. An automatic response. The dark screen was barely visible in the light. “…soon.”

Still, no answer.

Just a little push. Don’t assert yourself.

“Come on, let’s get it set up with your sister?”

Finally, he nodded.

Okay, now we get working.

O

Porter hit the doors moving. He had a white-knuckle grip on the katana in his hand.

The Ouroboros sat up, starting towards him. They met in the middle of the aisle, the Ouroboros asking him. “You’re now ready?”

He was. “We need to gather forces as fast as possible before Aku can mobilize their network. Come on!” He called.

Cobb retorted, “We were waiting for you, Porter.”

He ignored him as they went for the doors. All the students, who’d been grouping amongst themselves, quickly picked up. Many of them were in casual clothes. They weren’t prepared. One student, clad in massive spiked red-steel armor, was clearly uncomfortable. Everyone had to go, though.

Kyle went with the crowd out the door and into the cold. They were a bunch of college students in street clothes, for the most part, about to fight in space.

Somehow.

Porter was in the lead, the Masters quickly backing him up. He waved his hand, setting the portal for the Martian surface, the red planet.

Over the heads in front of him, Kyle could see a ruddy rock valley and twilight sky above. Catherine was next to him, holding his hand palm up and reading from a notebook in her other. She was introducing him to the circuit. His arm was tingly as fuck.

They passed through the portal. Kyle knew he was ready.

The students quickly spread out as the sky came into view. The blue sky of a Martian sunset. He realized the administration program had control again. And he realized he was wrong.

A swarm of spheres so dense they darkened the sky, a swarm of drones buzzed like a train in his ear. He saw as Porter charged forward. The drones were grouping in his path as he ran out of sight. Kyle looked up and through. They were gathered in the way, but he could see through. A hazy silhouette of the Martian fleet was affixed in the atmosphere, gleaming on one side with the sun.

“How is this… a plan?” he asked, pissed.

The throng moved past him and Catherine. There were a few others still preparing spells, but they were left behind as well.

A slap hit him. He turned, red-faced, to Catherine.

“We’re gonna fuck the robots up,” she growled. “That’s the plan.”

She slapped his hand a few times, trying to draw out the spell. A mark welled up on the skin, three intersecting circles. The innermost space glowed. He felt a thrumming in his chest. The two brothers had an aura appear around them, pulsing to the thrum.

Every muscle in his body vibrated. He was light headed as hell.

“You ever flown before?” one brother asked him.

“I’ve tried a few spells,” Kyle answered, swaying on his feet. He brought up his helmet from under his arm. The visor wouldn’t work. He threw it aside.

“It’s wide open,” the younger brother said, the one who’d been on the floor earlier.

“Come on!” the other launched, followed by the younger.

They disappeared into the sky. It was lit up by laser fire. The drone swarm was going crazy, beyond the canyon they were in, and down to the valley where most the fighting was happening. He could feel how tough he was. Several protective spells were on him. It was hell up there, though.

Kyle took a breath. In with the air came lightness, then speed.

He launched. He found his way to the Beaulieu brothers in the sky, lasers glancing off him. They were racing through the air, tearing through the orbs.

He took in the landscape. The colonized Martian world was dotted with greenery. Every machine on the planet was buzzing in the air. The Eidolon were tearing up the ground fighting. In the distance, several smaller cities were melted. The drones and small crafts attacking were being put down. This was no military response.

Then, he saw it.

Lowering down from orbit was one of the Martian ships. It was joining the fight?

Kyle tried moving forward, putting his hands out and bashing one of the drones out of the air. A dragon, a literal dragon, was roaring somewhere. It was all too much to take in.

The Martian ship bared its canons. The massive guns glowed hot. They took aim at the sky and ground as the ship continued to drop quickly. It wasn’t stopping.

Canons fired at them.

O

Porter was in the valley. Trees were flattened by the dragon to his right, tumbling over them and breathing lightning. He’d lost sight of the Ouroboros. Cobb was with him.

The flurry of drones was almost too thick to see through. They’d built shields overhead, but some were slipping through.

Wulff grabbed O’Reilly by the shoulder and shouted something in his ear, over the chaos. They didn’t have long, here. He had Smith at his side. He was the only one which could use magic to purge Aku from the fleet’s systems. They needed to get him up.

Porter craned his head to see the ship above.

Or bring them down, he thought.

That same ship opened fire. O’Reilly and Miller, with the help of the students, quickly fortified the shield. Each of them devoted themselves to that task, setting up a human ring. It wasn’t a pretty tactic, all of them shouting in a circle.

This had been the best their portal could do. They only had one option, now.

“Smith, Babba, you’re with me. We need!” he looked over the crowd. He traced back the weak fortification spell that was on him to a girl crouching by a fallen tree. “You! You’re coming with us!” Finally, he pointed to Master Babba. “We need to get on that ship. We need to go up.

She nodded. The Elementalist planted her feet. All of them braced as the ground shot like a piston. Once they were up and into the hailstorm, a torrent grabbed them. Babba was the only one upright. Porter fought to stay oriented as the wind carried them.

He righted himself, seeing their destination approach. The black, monolithic ship drew closer. He pushed ahead of the others, willing himself forward. They needed a way in.

Porter was going to make that way.

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Motley – 1.06

Time had passed, since my manifestation. More days had gone by, and things were changing. I could no longer understand what I was feeling. Things changed in that they became exponentially more intricate, this only masked by the inherent enormity and complexity of reality.

Rambling.

I could feel the delicate movement of time, unreliable as it was. I was working on my Attunement. It was more about knowing myself than knowing Existence.

Solipsism is one explanation. But the base idea is an oversimplification. As always, it seems. The mind craves simplicity. It’s comparable to peace.

I was in my chamber, and the light was low or absent, the hour was late. I entered my bathroom to approach the sink and look in the mirror.

Need to shave, at some point.

I stared at myself, looking into my eyes. It was a dissociative technique, which helped in Attunement, but took a toll. Everything became distant, the more I looked into those eyes.

I see you. But I reject you.

It’d been a few weeks since Kendall had put the hurt on Cat, and things had been going well enough. Physical confrontations had been avoided. Ash can be surprisingly low-key when he wants to be. Downright charming even.

Focusing on objective truth, I tried to meditate on further information. Segue my consciousness away from sensory reality, into pure information.

Something is coming.

That was disconcerting, but not unexpected. Something big was not far off, and it wasn’t just the War Games. Those would be important enough.

It was a steady, inexorable thing, that worried me.

Need space. Can’t sleep.

Exiting the bathroom, I came out into the white main room. I got down and closed my eyes, pressing my forehead to the floor. It would be backwards to say this required intense focus, but it did. There was one thing all my effort was focused on, and that was wisdom. With that came power. I had access to the preternatural. I had a foot in the door.

Humans are not inherently supernatural things. We’re made of information, we think by that information, and therefore we’re beneath it. Souls, by default, are just records, metadata. They don’t make you special, and the only way they mean anything is when interpreted through external values. The same as morality. I grasp them. It’s like a joke. You have to have magic, to get it. You need administrative status, a red pill, to circumvent the naturalism of reality. Its substance is a different thing entirely. A pure causality, within a sort of Platonic space.

Sometimes magic is given by deities. Sometimes it’s made possible by cosmological constants, put in place by Eldritch things. And sometimes it’s inaccessible, a fiction, in places which sought out technology. Ultimately though there’s just one question. That same bitch of a question. The one which everything comes down to.

Wherefore?

I grimaced. The unexamined life is not worth living, so the saying goes. It doesn’t warn you what examining your worth will yield.

For all this understanding, I had gained something.

Shifting my mind, it was possible, with time, to view a place out of sight.

O

I smashed my fist into the punching bag and felt the recoil through my arm. Twisting, I hit the rebounding bag with an elbow, keeping it bouncing back and forth, swinging it more than I was supposed to, just for the fun of it.

Couldn’t sleep. Neither could the only other occupant of the gym, I supposed.

He was free lifting weights, and as he rose with a grunt, he exacerbated the aberrant trait about him. He had no eyelids.

A Revenant, my insight told me. Powerful, and incidentally, abominable.

He was staring at me, and I gave a smile, then taking a breather. The lighting was shady in the gym, keeping with the nighttime atmosphere. I wasn’t anywhere near Porter’s Sanctuary but instead was far below in the rock somewhere. The gym was seldom visited, apparently, the acolytes were mostly erudite, less interested in the body.

Well, at least when it’s two in the morning, they were.

A door swung open, out of sight, and slammed.

 “You,” Kendall called, from across the room.

“Me?” I said, without looking. I took a swig of water, and then watched him approach, from where I sat on a bench. I threw my coat over my shoulder.

Meeeeee?” Asked the Eyelidless man, with his long stringy hair, drawing out the word. “I’ve seen what the waking mind sleeps to forget, I am-” I tuned out his monologue as Kendall struck a hands on hips pose right over me.

“You need to stop escaping your enclosure, this is becoming obnoxious.”

“That part of it is humorous but unintentional,” I said, “and you should have a reason, or precedent, for a long term order like that. Should’ve been in the contract, if you cared that much.”

Liddy was still talking, low and ominously in the background. I was half paying attention. Something about a sacred darkness, hell, and the oncoming night.

“You need to respect me and my wishes, that’s in the contract.”

“Per the order of importance, which I liked, by the way, I get to prioritize lives over that command. I’m working out, that could save lives one day.”

“You’re just coming up with any and every excuse, Doran.”

“Yes, because I’m not some spirit or thing, I’m a sentient human being and I go where I damn well please,” I said, suddenly changing my demeanor.

Kendall recovered fast. “You’re mine, is what you are.”

“Just like Odessa?” I said.

He didn’t recover from that.

I rubbed a hand over my face, thinking while I had time.

I need a shave.

“Why don’t you just speak your mind, Kendall? We both know your reasoning. He’s on both of our minds. Mine, increasingly.” I raised my brow to look up and meet his eyes.

“Christopher conjured you, and I can’t have anyone to finding out. I’d be expelled or exiled. You need to stop fucking around and making a show of yourself. The more attention you get, the closer someone is to asking questions.” I looked and Lidless was gone. Kendall had apparently noticed and I hadn’t, which was… disturbing, to say the least. “You’re pushing the line, constantly, and it shows.”

“I uh… I apologize.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. I’m just as lost in this situation as you are. And even though it may seem like I’m withholding information, I’m really not,” I said. “I’ll stop wandering at night, and after classes. Not beyond the Sanctuary, anyway. You’ve got to stop locking me in, though.”

“I’ll take that deal. You can understand why I wouldn’t offer the same to Ashmedai, though, or Anna. Flight risks, even with their contracts.”

“Untrustworthy and unstable. Yes…”

Kendall put his hands in his vest pockets and shifted his weight. “You need to pick a weapon for the War Games,” he said, after a while.

“I agree. I’m thinking of picking an implement.”

“You practice magic?” He was almost upset.

“Kind of. I’ve been working on orienting myself with Attunement, getting ready to actually cast something. But, whenever I get close, I shy away from picking a channeling device. I’m more of a hands-free kind of guy. Can’t see myself with a wand or weapon. There’s a different method, which I’m moving towards.”

“Don’t you dare attempt anything in the field, Doran. You’ll be going up against educated Battlemages, and they’ll outmatch you.”

I hung my head and nodded, all the while smiling out of sight. “I won’t.”

“Good. Pick a weapon. The Tech Guild will ruin anything too advanced, so be wary of that. Don’t use anything connected to a signal.”

“I’m aware, I’ve read the info. Every Guild will be involved in the War Games, and even though it’s volunteer based for those not in the Eidolons, almost no one misses. It’s obligatory. A cultural pillar. It’s about Unity.”

“Mhm.”

“Mhm,” I echoed.

Kendall seemed to think for a moment. “We’re so gonna die.”

“Probably,” I agreed with a laugh.

Then, “…what’d you mea-.” He reconsidered. “You know, Doran, magic isn’t something to fuck around with. Especially for… people in abnormal states. Can you tell me you know what you’re doing?”

“The shadow in the light is unseen but does not cease. All things are. Magic is simply the power to choose which are known.”

This was my interest. It’d been about a month, and I’d done next to nothing but think. There was too much to learn. Everything necessitated reflection.

Kendall thought about that. He opened his mouth to speak but then shut it. “That sounds heady, but doesn’t say a lot to the practical nature of the craft.”

Eh. “It’s different wherever you are. I could say the language is information, but that’s not very helpful, now is it. The general principle is cause and effect. One needs sway, abstract cause, and reason.”

“That’s still lacking substance. What you’re describing is Mana, to a degree. But the philosophy is unnecessary.”

Pffffffffffffffft.

“Anyone can learn the systems. Yours is based in procedure, and intent. Which is why, when dealing with more concrete entities, like Odessa, Anna, and myself, your contracts fall prey to interpretation. But with Ash, a spiritual thing, your intent is as clear as your wordage. Willful ignorance is not within his power.”

Kendall wrinkled his brow. “Each is their own. No contract can change that.”

“The contract harnesses.”

“Yeah?”

“It, like everything, though, is limited. Purpose of want and want is a trick.”

“I’m in control,” Kendall assured. “Your purposes are my purposes.”

Our relationship was built on mutually assured destruction. Which was awkward, to say the least. The common understanding was to fear one another, but we were both too convinced of ourselves to do that. I, of my intelligence, and him, of the knowledge that no bound thing was beyond his power.

I didn’t underestimate him, though.

We exchanged a wordless goodbye, and I went on my way. Exiting the gym, I walked through tunnels, passing a restroom, and a lounge.

My intent had been to get space, to think, but just like sleep, it was difficult.

Walking the halls, I considered the oncoming battle. The War Games. They were a defining moment, a turning point. The way they went would determine the future as every moment did. Special relevance, though, was given to them.

Two sides, one winner. I couldn’t say if the wind was in my favor.

But I was growing, and that was what mattered. I had an obligation, and a moral imperative. I believed in those things. Not just gain.

There were ideals, and beyond the quibbling, they were clear. There were truths, and beyond the doubt, they were obvious. But there was an ache there.

I crossed a threshold and came outside.

Brr. Frail. The noise is muddling. The noise is yours.

Doubt.

I shook my head and pulled on my jacket. Got going to where I would.