A tower rises out of the earth, sleekly building up to the top, which is flat. The tower looks organic in design, but artificial in execution, with a tapering effect as it streams toward the top, as though a tree grew there until someone cut off the top and coated it in whitewash. Another reasonable simile would be that someone put a gigantic oddly-shaped funnel upside-down and then poured marble into, like a sandcastle made into a monument to manâ€™s achievement. It is nonetheless breathtakingâ€¦ and out of place.
The carpet around the tower is green, the thick canopy of trees covering all of the ground about the tower, and spreading to the mountain range in the distance. The mountains form a ring around the tower, a seemingly perfect uniform radius going from mountain to tower in the entire circle, once again startlingly natural and artificial at the same time. The bowl of the valley falls down to a flat level at which point the forest begins which goes all the way up to the walls of the tower.
Lightning cracks through the sky, taking the surreal scene and temporarily painting it in a stark black and white, the false color photo of gods. The flash is instant and omnipresent, not being lightning but the exaggeration of what the interior of lightning is expected to look like. After a moment, itâ€™s gone.
Standing at the edge of the towerâ€™s flat circular roof is a figure with long black hair tied back behind its head. This hair is whipping in the wild winds before the perfect storm soon to break, along with the flowing coats, cloaks, mantles, and robes that make up this figureâ€™s clothing. There is no color in this figure, the manifold layers of clothing being the same shade of gray, and so the lines that define the figureâ€™s form blur and reshape with the wind. In all of this the interior person stands stock-still, resolute, calm, a bastion against which the chaos of the world strikes and screams to no effect.
Ideal lightning arcs once again through the sky, flashing the figureâ€™s amorphous shadow across the gray-white floor of the towerâ€™s roof. The shadow lacks as many details as the owner of the shadow, casting a void around any kind of definition that one could try to pin on the figure.
The figureâ€™s face is home to a pair of piercing dark eyes and little else, as the figureâ€™s face, from nose down, is covered by a mask made of some solid material embedded in the figureâ€™s innermost mantle. It is not form-fitting, thus the mask is still while the head can move, but the remaining details of this figure are thrown once again away, creating an endless middle ground where it lacks as many definitions as possible while still remaining a coherent being.
The figure could be a man or a woman, an adult or a child. It is impossible to tell. With the few ageless and androgynous features showing and everything else covered in the dark gray film of its clothes, this figure is without many defining characteristics. It is difficult to call the figure tall, difficult to say if itâ€™s broad-shouldered or wiry, fat or thin, light or dark, anything. The gray haze of the figureâ€™s clothes wreathed about it an unnatural anonymity, hinting at as few details as possible.
And so this figure focuses, though not upon anything important: All there is to see from here is the uniformly boring landscape.
As the storm began to brew to its expected level of intensity, a strange orb of light forms in the sky. This light is brilliant and dim all at once, and burns a circular opening for itself through the clouds of the storm, revealing the thin crescent of the moon, and then directs its beam down at the top of the tower. Then, as suddenly as the light appeared, itâ€™s gone, and the clouds flow back into the empty space above the tower.
The figure fails to notice this entire process, staring off into the distance as though possessed with an urgent need to see new meaning in the mountains. Though its back was to the whole event, there is little doubt that it had noticed the spectacle.
As the light dazzle fades, there is a new figure standing on middle of the towerâ€™s top, clothed not in fabric, but in darkly-lacquered and enameled plate armor. It is clearly a man, or a very manly woman, due to height, build, lack of breast and bust, and presence. Only this figureâ€™s eyes are visible through a raised visor, deep brown eyes, not without color, but with a depth that makes up for there being no other vent for this manâ€™s expression and emotion to the outside world.
The man, after appearing, sways a bit as though disoriented, stumbles a few steps as though caught in mid-stride, then regains his footing. There is an odd silence about this manâ€™s movements, since he is wreathed in armor, and yet he makes none of the clinking noises that are usually associated with knights and soldiers moving on foot. He also moves with a fluidity also not found in such garbed soldiers and warriors. The only noises he makes are his footfalls, with a light tapping tattoo that is brisk and light once again contradictory to the evidence of this manâ€™s garb. Another curious aspect of this man is that he is totally unarmed, which is odd since he went through the trouble of being fully armored for this meeting.
The man approaches the figure from his entry-point in the center of the towerâ€™s roof, covering the span with speed and efficiency. Once he reaches his goal, he kneels without a sound, even as his armor scrapes against the strange material of the tower.
The figure appears oblivious to his presence, once again captivated by the mysterious qualities that the bland landscape possesses in such magnitude.
â€œThank you for coming. I know you dislike Transit. Please, stand. You know I hate that kind of formality from my subordinates.â€
The voice in which this figure speaks is equally lacking in qualities, having no intonation or timbre, and barely any tone at all. It is androgynous and does sound like it is carried on the air. The voice is more in terms of a presence, which is felt and understood by those who hear it, rather than a mode of communication easily connected to the figure.
The man speaks, his voice deep and full and as powerful as his eyes. In it, there is a slight quaver. Neither is he rattled nor surprised by the voice, for it is not new to him, nor does he seem to be afraid of the figure before whom he prostrated himself. The quaver is not for the figure to who he speaks, but instead for the news which he brings. The fear is strong.
â€œYes, my lord.â€
â€œ..And yet you still insist on kneeling there. Have it your way. To continue with the matter at hand: I am sorry I could not come to see you. I am required here. You needed to see me?â€
The voice enveloped him, filling him with both a strange confidence in himself, a loyalty to his lord, and a growing dread for what he must say next. He thus attempts to stave away disgrace for a few moments by not directly addressing his failure.
â€œYes, my lord. Troop movements have begun. There will soon be war in Varda.â€
The voice once again booms, its reassuring feel and volume enveloping the man in security, and yet also increasing his fear. He does not want to disappoint his master.
â€œWell, so much for everlasting peace. I didnâ€™t much like it anyway. But that canâ€™t be the reason why you needed to see me. Is there something else?â€
â€œYes, my lord. The hunt for the chosen continues as planned. Richtor and Reinhardt are searching the western March nowâ€¦ though you could easily just tell us who they are.â€
The figure sighs, expressing mild frustration and great sorrow in this normally mundane exercise of the lungs, and precious seconds tick by while the man continues to ready himself for the bad news he brings.
â€œYou know that it doesnâ€™t work in that way. Fate happens but does not inform those whom it guides. For me to tell you would unravel the tapestry and destroy the chain of events weâ€™ve worked so hard to bring into being. What else?â€
The man searches inside of his mind for a potential bit of newsâ€¦ he needs more time. Just to stave off his eventual humiliation.
â€œSonja is pregnant again. Maybe Arnaud will have a brother or sister, soon.â€
â€œThank you for telling me this. This was clearly the reason you came here to speak with me, since the doings of you and your wife have such great importance as to merit your Transit here to spend some of my precious time here detailing it to me. Is that all?â€
The reproach is sarcastic and friendly, but it still stings. It is impossible to hide from the voice. The man now realizes that his gambit for more time to compose himself has failed. He can hide nothing from his lord.
â€œYes, my lord. Itâ€¦ It is about my mission.â€
The figure stands still, and the man says nothing. There is a long silence following his words. â€œDonâ€™t keep me in suspense. Youâ€™ve spent enough time as it is getting to this point. What about the mission?â€
The man then steeled himself to tell his story and hoped he could maintain his composure through the entire speech. He sighed inwardly, his loyalty to his master and not the fear of punishment keeping his tongue still.
â€œSpecifically, about Ash.â€
â€œThat is a tone that I do not like to hear when my subordinates report their progress. What happened?â€
Here, as its first movement, the figure moves its gloved hand out of its robes and extends it to its side. Knowing his cue, the man walks up, steels himself, and takes his masterâ€™s hand.
Of all the things I do, the joy of battle, and the thrill of facing a decent opponent burns inside of me. I strive constantly to improve myself, my mind, my body, my spirit. And so, I sat in anticipation, waiting for my next chance to test my skill.
The dismal ruin of a forgotten time sat in its stillness around us. This place has not seen any inhabitants for a long time. Itâ€™s funny, how these ruins never have anything living in them. Itâ€™s like theyâ€™re cursed. But, since no one has ever found a curse in any of the ruins, no one has ever been struck with a magical aliment coming from being in a ruin, and no gruesome death has ever befallen someone while they were in a ruin that wasnâ€™t completely explainable, it is reasonable to assume that, eerie or no, it is safe to be in a ruin. This ruin was no different from many others I have been to.
Then again, I have always despised being in ruins. They are a testimony to failure, to weakness, to a strange show of splendor and grandeur that was not meant to last through the ages. My contempt for the builders is tempered by the fear of whatever caused them to cease to be. There was once something dangerous in these ruins, there had to be. I know it.
The sound of my quarryâ€™s footsteps echoing down the courtyard snap me out of my reverie. The steps are soft and light, yet on the strange Ruin-Rock that makes up the ruins, the footsteps of a spider could be heard. And almost any sound that was not generated by something rubbing against the stone was never heard.
Another eerie part about the ruins; you can never hear yourself scream.
My hiding place behind the column was a bit contrived, but I could think of no better. I could not use any of my magic to conceal myself, since magic suffers from the same deficiencies as sound in a place made of Ruin-Rock. I could not hide on the ceiling, I could not conjure some shadows, I could not blend into the wall. I am reduced to hiding behind a column in a temple to the vaingloriousness of a civilization that no longer lives, hoping that my prey does not notice me in the shadows that I have no power to make any longer or deeper.
It does not put me at ease to think that my opponent has the same disadvantages.
As he passes me, I poise myself to strike, and making sure that the darts are tucked safely in the pocket of my sleeve, for easy access.
This man is wearing a suit that seems to be made entirely of black. Not of a black material, but of the very essence of black. This suit conforms perfectly to his every move, and I wonder for a moment at its origin.
I can see no weapons, yet there is no comfort in this, either. It only means that my quarry either has them where I canâ€™t get at them, or worse yet, doesnâ€™t need them at all.
The sliding of my foot along the ground generates a noise that I do not want to make.
He hears me. He turns, and he sees me in the shadows. By then it is too late, and I am upon him.
The battle begins fiercely, my blade raking cleanly across his chest, but too far from him to cause anything but superficial damage.
The blood is out. It seeps like a fine wine from his wound, giving me the promise of the glory of the kill.
My second move with my blade is parried. He has acquired his own sword, from where I do not know. As I press my attack, he backs away in the onslaught, capably defending against each blow, but not able to make any attacks of his own. Every few blows I would knick him or cut him in a minor way, but none of my attacks, with my hands, feet, head, body, or blade, were causing any serious damage.
Every time one of us cried, it went unheard. Every time our blades met, there was no sound. The silent duel went on, the only sound the shuffling of our feet.
Sunlight glittered down upon the fight, and blood, his, was sparsely spattered in a few places along the Ruin-Rock, the red shining clearly on the off-white. He was losing.
After ten minutes of sparring, I finally exploited a weakness in his defense- He was not at home with a sword. His movements were always too large, and he was not as efficient in moving as he should have been. During one of his large movements, I knocked him down, and disarmed him, his sword flying silently away until it hit a far wall loudly, then clattered onto the floor. The noise was piercing to both of us- we had grown accustomed to the quiet of the ruins. I winced.
Then I went in for the kill, my blade angling for his neck, when he had used my momentâ€™s distraction with the noise to re-arm himself with a musket. He got off a shot, the ball flying into my shoulder and throwing me backward with the silent explosion of the gunpowder. I was dazed for a short while, but I came around soon enough to see him lumbering toward a door that had not been there before. I could not reach him in time, but I remembered my darts in their pocket on my arm.
Slipping a dart into my hand, I threw it at him as the door closed. I saw it hit him in the buttocks.
The man lets go.
â€œI then spent an uneventful hour attempting to find a way of opening the door that Ash had used to escape. I could not. In retrospect, my lord, I should not have engaged him on his home turf. Iâ€¦ I am sorry, lord.â€
There is a little wetness around the manâ€™s eyes. A single tear drops onto the ground, wetting it with a single drop. The sound of the tear seemed to echo in the air.
â€œYou know what this means.â€ Says the figure, the voice no longer filling the man with the confidence and security that it did just moment ago, only with dread of the oncoming punishment for failing his lord.
â€œYes, my lord.â€
â€œYour perfect record has been besmirched.â€
The man blinks his tears out of his eyes. He could not raise his head to face his master.
â€œMy lord, my honor has been broken. Please, allow me to be discharged from your service. I have failed you.â€
The voice sounds once again, this time giving the man an impression of disbelief.
â€œNonsense. Everyone is capable of making mistakes, even the most loyal servants. Even gods. What matters is: can you say that youâ€™ve learned from what happened?â€
The man is, of course, clearly surprised.
â€œYâ€¦Yes, my lord. I have learned from my mistake!â€
Suddenly, there is a flash of delicate fingers around some kind of globe. It lasts no more than an instant, but the scene between the man and his master now no longer seems to be quite real. It becomes obvious that, all this time, rather than the two having their intercourse, this message, this instant, is recorded and viewed from a distance. It is not real.
â€œGood. You are a good man. You know I could not manage without you. Any of you.â€
Another flash, this time showing the arms and the chest of the woman whose hands are around the iridescent globe. The flashes are eerily reminiscent of the ideal lightning that was so profuse not long ago.
â€œThank you, my lord.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry about it. Believe it or not, you have actually given me some good newsâ€¦â€
The tower is gone.
The woman holding the iridescent globe between her parted hands is standing there, her fingers making a light network about this globe. It is now clear that some form of power or energy has been crackling around her fingertips and around the globe, creating what could have been the ideal lightning. Her entire body is visible, except for her face. Her breasts, midsection, and groin are covered by some flowing cloth, but there is not much cloth there. Her feet are above the misty ground. Nothing else can be discerned about where she is. The distance extending behind her looks much the same as the foreground, continuing on until the horizon, which seems to be of the same misty color and the same misty texture as the ground.
Around the woman, various images keep flashing in and out of view as the globe she is holding begins to break apart. These illusions are projected from nowhere, to nowhere. Itâ€™s as though a series of memories are on parade for viewing right at that moment.
An aristocratic-looking man who looks a lot younger than he is appears first, his clear gray eyes wide open in horror, his facial features showing much distress. He cries â€œYou canâ€™t do this!â€ and is gone.
A second figure, face shrouded by the hood of a cloak. The calm, cool voice says â€œIt ends here.â€ Then the figure is gone.
Another figure, very calm and beautiful, a woman with pale hair and clear eyes. She seems to be telling someone with a resigned tone that â€œYou cannot escape your fate.â€
Then she is gone.
The next figure is a man with strong, heroic features. His sandy hair is falling around his faceguard, and with a stern determination, he proclaims: â€œPeople no longer need Godsâ€¦â€ and then he is gone.
There is a man who is clearly very determined, his normally slack features squeezed together and his unkempt brown hair seems to be whipping about him. He yells, â€œYou canâ€™t understand!â€ then he is gone.
There is a strange, boyish looking girl with short blonde hair and a face covered with freckles, and her mouth hidden behind a handkerchief, staring at something that cannot be seen. â€œDo you know what this isâ€¦?â€ and then is gone.
There is a wounded-looking man with long black hair, blood trickling from his mouth as he stares dreamily at someone, and says â€œPleaseâ€¦ stay with meâ€¦â€ He then is gone.
The last figure is a man who seems very serene, yet sad. He also has black hair, held back by an elegant circlet, and aristocratic features that seem to have the weight of the world in them. He looks forlornly at no one, and tells them â€œGoodbye, my brotherâ€¦â€ Then he, too, is gone.
The woman lowers her hands, and the images stop, the ball levitates up above her head.
A blast of wind begins to flow from the globe, and suddenly all of the hair that was covering her face whips backwards, revealing her face for the first time. Her face is slightly elevated, her head tipped back as the wind blasts down at her from above. She slowly tips her head down to be level with her body, and then stares straight out. She opens her eyes, and the elegance of her face is suddenly composed, a quiet beauty that captivates those who look on. Her eyes are full of sadness, and the quiet fury of one who is powerless. She looks out, and she callsâ€¦
The globe cracks, then explodes.
And the stuff of nightmares is free.
Ryan wakes up screaming.
He keeps on screaming, even while he sits bolt upright and smacks his head against the bunk above him, and thus he generates a sound that sounds somewhat like this:
â€œAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGGHGHGHGHGGHGH *Bonk* Shit!â€
Everyone else in the Junior Officersâ€™ Barracks is, by now, awake.
â€œWhat the hell is going on?â€
â€œIs it Sam? I bet itâ€™s Sam.â€
â€œIt ainâ€™t me! Itâ€™s Ryan!â€
â€œRyan, what the hell do you think youâ€™re doingâ€
â€œOw, my back!â€
â€œDamnit, whatâ€™s this about? I was having the dream with the women!â€
â€œStupid country folk. See all the hell youâ€™ve raised?â€
â€œWhich dream with the women?â€
â€œDoes it matter?â€
â€œDamn stupid kids.â€
All of this swims by Ryan, who is at the moment, panting, with sweat sliding down his boyish features. He tentatively touched the spot where he hit his head on the top bunk, and feels the sting of something thatâ€™s going to be a nasty bruise in the morning. Ryan is still a little fuzzy, though. Combination of him just waking up, smacking his head hard enough to cause a concussion, and hisâ€¦ his what? Hallucination? Vision?
He gathers whatever sanity he can muster, and says to himself, â€œAâ€¦ A dream?â€
The other residents of the Junior Officerâ€™s Barracks take in this response to the sudden disturbance in the area.
â€œYou woke us all up â€˜cause youâ€™re havinâ€™ nightmares?!?!â€
â€œOkay, whatever. Iâ€™m going back to sleep.â€
â€œYeah, you say that. Iâ€™m probably not going to get my women back.â€
Ryan wipes his hand across his forehead and slides it through his carrot-colored hair. Was that it? Just a dream? Seemed soâ€¦ real. He looked out at the sky. Clear sky. No storm. Big, round moon.
Yeah. Just a dream. Without a second thought, Ryan put his head back down on his pillow and closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep.
End of Prologue.
"There is great disorder under Heaven, and the situation is excellent."
"I eat the talking bees because I am George Washington Christ"
-From "Bob the Ball"</p>