View Full Version : Awakening
26th October 2005, 12:54 AM
The Tale of the Shadow who Outran his Master
“Pokemon” ©Nintendo and Gamefreak (unless otherwise noted)
Used without permission.
All characters and their personalities ©KaiserMyuu
A/N: Before I begin this story, let me explain to one of the morals of it. This moral I am about to tell you is that our reality is much more than what one being can comprehend, and...well, that should be enough for now. The story can really get confusing at some points, but keep that statement in mind, and you’ll probably survive it. Now a few things...
Pokemon have evolved since you have last seen them, and although they have not changed much, they have made great changes. For one thing, they have made small towns fully populated by pokemon. However, like humans, there are the good and the bad villages, like you are about to see. And, in some cases, the pokemon have developed speaking capabilities, though not all species have been able to do so.
I must warn you that the story is going to be a long one, so bring a sandwich or something. Oh, and for those who read Metal Against the Flesh, one of the characters is going to make an appearance...
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though,
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it's queer
To stop without a farmhouse near,
Between the woods and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To see if there is some mistake,
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
These woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Part One: Decadence
I am about to tell you the tale of a shadow who outran his master.
Evil comes in many forms and uses many different excuses, but many times its intentions can be rounded down all the way to a single, simple desire: Power. The presence of great power invested in a single will is almost always disastrous, and the presence of great evil in the world is always a source of misery.
This is the tale of what happens when these concepts collide.
The story you are about to hear has been passed down throughout the ages. It was a source of inspiration for me when my father told it to me as a child. My father's father told it just the same as his father's father's father had told it, as so on and so forth may come to occur.
Now I am telling it to you.
It is a true story, although you might not believe all of it - that an entire city can float suspended in the clouds, or that something made of metal and wires can have a soul, or that the power to erase the universe can lie dormant in the most unexpected of all objects.
But it all happened, every word, and the weave of existence was very nearly undone by a single being who simply wanted something to live for, something to fight for.
His name was August.
I've traveled the world from sea to sea and seen remarkable things,
The falls of empires, the rise of mountains, the legacies of kings,
But never again in all my life have I been able to find,
A being so insane with life, with such a twisted mind.
Seven days, seven nights. That was how long August was haunted by the apparition of his ‘twin’, an entity whom the humans called Espeon.
This Espeon’s slippage into August's mind always seemed to be preceded by images of atrocity, pain and violence. August would experience horrible nightmares and awaken in the night of his cave, shivering. Occasionally he would even wake to find this Espeon standing in his home, grinning like some deranged cannibal, enjoying his ’twin’s’ ongoing torment. August would blink and shake his head, and the image of this being, the one he called Xeves for lack of a better name, would be gone. But there was one thing he knew for sure. No matter what was about to happen, the Purification was coming.
And sure enough, seven days and seven nights later, the first attempt arrived.
It was the first few days of the monsoon season, and you could set your watch by the coming of the rain in the grand foliage of Fortree. The clouds broke and spilled forth the cool, rejuvenating nectar of spring that shone like diamonds over the thirsty land of foliage. Nature's quiet orchestra played all night in the forest, always stopping immediately short of pouring but never quite letting up. It was a steady, constant shower. But the sound of the rain couldn't fully obscure the sounds of whispers in the caves south of the largely inhabited town that was locked inside the forest.
An opening in the rock gave out a flickering yellow light that danced across the rock surface. The dim light projected a shadow upon the cave wall, the silhouette of a cat-like figure standing near the entrance.
A closer view would reveal that the rocky walls of this cave were amass with carved symbols. The dark figure inside ran his eyes over the surface, so close to it that it was as if he were a blind person reading braille. He read the inscriptions aloud as the light danced over them.
"...and so... a pact... together devised in harmony... to separate evenly... the lands from the lands... the peoples from the peoples... the flow of time itself... so it was devised... so it shall be done... yes, yes, but where are they? Where are they?"
There was a crash of thunder. The whisperer clawed at the wall with such clean paws that it seemed he had never been outside in his life. "Drat," he whispered, "Out of time."
He picked up a berry in where he stored it in a pocket in the corner of his mouth. Then he paused for a moment, standing silently. He turned his head to look out the mouth of the cave, as though searching for somebody. There was nothing but the sound of the rain dripping onto the foliage and the forest floor. Nevertheless, he narrowed his ebony eyes and scowled.
"August," he growled.
The figure draped himself in complete shadow, before stepping out into the rain. Taking a few initial steps, he began to jog, then finally broke into a sprint.
He cut past the trees at such a speed as it might kill him if he were to misjudge and collide with one, but he knew how to run like you knew how to breathe. It just came naturally, an everyday function. The raindrops stung as they hit his face at this high velocity, but he gritted his teeth and did not slow. He was a bullet in the night, this stranger. The true gold medalist of the forest - he could race the cheetah and the jackrabbit and leave both in the dust thanks to his agility. It was as if he were a violet streak of lightning, the way he sped through the forest.
But there was just one thing that he couldn't see coming.
Another dark shape emerged from the night, hauling steam just as fast as he was, and in the opposite direction. There was only enough time for him to cry out loudly into the rain before the two shapes collided and both were thrown into the mud, winded and bruised. The berry left from the first one’s cheek and flew off somewhere into the ash black forest.
"Good god, August, learn to run," he huffed, watching the berry glide away with a pained and mournful expression on his face. It was quite awkward, this expression, for these sort of creatures never give an expression more than a scowl and a straight stare.
The one called August grunted and pulled his face out of the mud. He spat out a mouthful of it with a disgusted face, and rolled over onto his back. "I've been running all my life from you," he gasped, "You learn to run."
The two lay together in the rain, making no effort to seek shelter from the wet and the cold, both panting and groaning. The scene wasn't reminiscent of a reunion between bitter enemies. After all, they knew each other too well to be uncomfortable in each other's presence. But neither was about to help the other to his feet or display concern for the other's health. Both of them picked themselves up, leaned against trees and wiped the mud from their eyes. Anybody standing from a high point might swear that there was a mirror between them.
"What are you doing here, Xeves?" August rasped, a paw combing through his black fur. "I've got enough troubles without having to put up with your crap. Why don't you just create some holy goodness with your human and leave me alone?"
"I'm not doing anything you need to concern yourself with, dear brother," Xeves replied, "You know, believe it or not, I do have a life besides tugging at your collar."
“Not in this world, you don't. There's only room for one of us on each planet. Any more and you cramp my style."
"Oh poo, August, you know you have no style," Xeves snapped back. He was searching the forest floor for something, brushing his feet through the shrubbery and squinting in the darkness.
"What are you looking for?" August asked.
"None of your beeswax, that's what." He found his berry with a sigh of relief. "Well, I guess I should be off then. Nice talking to you and all that. Ta-ta." He backed away with a false smile and a wave of his tail, fading into the darkness as he went. His body took on an eerie translucent quality, shimmering in and out of visibility, like one imagines a ghost might look.
"Oh no you don't!" August shouted, and tackled the apparition. A powerful crack of static electricity zapped from August's body as the light and dark beings made physical contact. Xeves went down with a muffled thud and was torn back into full reality. "Let go of me, August, you're an anchor! Let go of me!" he yelped.
"I want to know what you're doing here," August replied, his crimson eyes glaring. "You're not going anywhere until I do."
Xeves clawed and kicked at him in a snarling tantrum, but August held fast.
"Let go, August! Let go, or I'll take you with me!"
"Do what you want. I'm staying with you."
The Espeon grunted and lay still under the weight of his ‘twin’. "You're a fool," he said.
August was aware that the world had begun to shift around and melt before his eyes. The rain had stopped, and the trees faded into a sort of cloudy mist. Other trees appeared out of nowhere, solidifying from the air itself in a crystallized form before flashing into darkened and grey colors. A different forest was manifesting to replace the one that was retreating into the nothingness. His stomach churned, did somersaults in his gut. His resolve dropped - Xeves really was pulling him out of time and space, teleporting him. Had he always been able to take others with him? Or had his bizarre powers strengthened since the last time they had crossed paths?
August was too steadfast to let go of his ‘twin’ (and more than a little afraid to test what would happen if they broke contact before the process had completed), so his grip around Xeves' leg remained solid, but he closed his eyes and refused to look at the twirling, spinning and reconfiguring world until the reformation was completed.
"Get off me you idiot," Xeves finally grunted, and August opened his eyes. There was a pungent smell of pollution in the air, and he was assaulted by it immediately. These trees were withered and unhealthy, and the atmosphere was so opaque with smog that their tops weren't even visible beyond a certain point. There was no mistaking the half-rotten forest of Viridian on the flipside of the coin.
Welcome to Kanto, we hope you hate your stay, can't wait for you to leave.
While August wasn't paying much attention, Xeves gave a mighty dive that threw the ebony being off his back. Xeves punched through a large blast of psychic energy, and August cried out in pain and rolled over, points of blood forming on his chest and belly.
Xeves picked himself up and wiped the mud from himself again, looking at August with contempt. "I hope you're happy with yourself," he snarled, "I'm going to leave you here forever, August, you forbidden being. Better get used to the place, it looks like a home for a being like you. Rot and die, please, you demon of sin."
With that, he spun around and made like the wind. August was too slow getting to his feet, and all he saw was his ‘twin’'s dust.
"I hate this place," August groaned, and made off in the same direction.
Kanto stood as the opposite equivalent of Hoenn, and although the cities shared the same location, they had very little in common. In fact, Kanto was much more similar in outward appearance to any of the Cipher’s Bases, but this land was not populated at all by Ciphers. Brigands, former members of dark organizations, madmen, murderers and thieves, yes, but all of them alive and flesh, bone, blood and organs. They did not succumb to the wrath of a shadow. A brutal dictator sat on the throne, his leadership remaining unchallenged by any villain. It was understandable, too - Giovanni of Team Rocket might actually have been quite comfortable here.
August was crestfallen upon stepping out of the forest into the city of Viridian, and prepared himself for a bad day. Nobody ever had a good day in Kanto. That was like having snow in Orre.
The place was just as he remembered it. The streets were overflowing with the garbage that nobody could be bothered cleaning, black water dripping into the sewers as the roads were so black with garbage and mud, and one had to walk in the disgusting gutters because the footpaths were overcrowded with the inane and homeless. The finest buildings in the city were dilapidated and unkempt, the sky blackened with pollution. Grime covered everything like paint.
People had a habit of finding themselves stabbed, raped and mugged when they spent too long in the streets, so August ducked into a pub - a run-down looking tavern called Your Black Eyes and Our Crooked Fangs. He noticed many underage teens in the pub, but nobody gave much thought to the law in Kanto anymore. Nobody in the tavern even turned their head when August, a pocket monster, walked in. He disturbed a cloud of flies who were contentedly buzzing around the bench, doing whatever it is that flies do. Who knows what real purpose flies serve anywhere, anymore? They are all just flies, even in the most demonic of cities.
An obese man in a grimy singlet and a large grey human, one with four arms, appeared to be made of stone, and had large knife-like obtrusions from its head both tended the bar, and the monster grunted at August as his way of asking what the shadow wanted.
"Just some water, thanks," August muttered.
The stone man burst out into a fit of laughter, and shuffled away. When he returned a few moments later, he slammed a pint of a black, cloudy concoction in front of August, who gave an insincere nod of thanks.
August sighed and stared at the flask with his head propped up on the table, and for a moment he considered drinking it. His situation was certainly bothersome enough to consider intoxication as a viable alternative to reality. He changed his mind quickly when he decided that, if it tasted as bad as it smelled, he was probably better off drinking a mug of insecticide. He screwed up his face and leaned forward towards a bowl of nuts, but stopped his head when he saw that they were green and furry with mold.
"This entire region really should carry a Surgeon General's Advisory," he muttered.
Xeves' whereabouts eluded August completely, and he began to grow very concerned about his reflection's activities.
Xeves had lived in the city of Blackthorn for much of his life, very much unlike August. Xeves had been praised, loved, and complimented by every person in Blackthorn, and thus had a strong sense of justice for the humans. August, however, was just the opposite.
Xeves was as sickened by August’s personality as August was by his, for August would feel uncomfortable in any world where it was considered taboo for recreational human killing to be regarded a hobby.
From what little August understood about the process of 'sliding' from one area to another, it was also apparently much more difficult for Xeves to slip into August's world than it was to return to his native realm. As far as August could figure, Xeves had no reason to make the journey unless he had some kind of idea to ‘Purify’ August on his mind. It wasn't as though he was on holiday.
But why had Xeves been avoiding him? That was something new, something unprecedented. Whatever his reflection was hatching this time, he didn't want August knowing about it, and that was disturbing.
"Hey!" somebody howled from elsewhere in the bar, and August turned to see what the commotion was about. He figured that he was probably about to witness the usual pub brawl, but choked up when he saw that it was he who was the centre of attention.
A gang of youths were approaching him, all of them dressed in the height of Kanto fashion, which only appeared bizarre and ludicrous to August's eyes. The apparent leader of the group was a dog-like creature with a patch over his right eye. A silver chain connected his left ear to his right ear by way of a number of piercings, and his one good eye was adorned with long crimson markings on his ebony fur. Attached to his body was a rib cage of a larger creature, one that he probably murdered, with sharp horns flattened over his ears and connected to the bone cage. Two circular bones hung around each of his paws like wristbands, with his left forepaw’s claws covered with a set of five metal claws like knives. A large black tail whisked around in the air like a devilish spear. Two dogs were wearing a similar attire, sharing the same ebony coloring and the crimson muzzle and stomach, with a small skull held over their faces and two rib bones tightly wrapped around their waists. The humans that accompanied them wore torn pinstripe suits, with rather tall top hats. August only payed attention to the wolfish leader, looked down at those metal claws and gulped.
"Thought I said to you," the wolf snarled, "never to come round here again." The wolf spoke only to August, as the humans were making their own speech to the other inhabitants.
"Uhh," August stammered, "You're mistaking me for somebody else."
"Oh, right, sure!" the wolf snapped back sarcastically, "Your hearing must not be good, methinks. I said to you just yesterday that you aren’t welcome here anymore. Now I going to have to cut you up bad."
"Listen. You are obviously talking to the wrong one. I have black fur—see, see?—and the one you’re probably talking about has purple fur right? Can't we talk this over like reasonable gentlemen?" August asked.
"Oh, mercy!" The wolf grinned, he had a mouth full of fanged teeth that pronged out between his lips, and he looked at his companions. "The garbage bag wants to talk! I’ll tell you what we talk about, garbage bag. I’ll show you the language we speak here in Kanto." He raised his metal-clawed paw and did a sign that would be meaningless to a human, but had some sort of meaning in the monster world.
“You garbage bag, I can see through your disguise. You’re just dressed in black fur, with golden rings on your body! Garbage bag...peh! You idiot!”
"I knew this was going to be a bad day, I just knew it." August lamented. He stood down from the bar stool and approached the wolf and his two dogs as though gearing up for a fight. All of a sudden, August’s eyes flared, and he pointed to the door and cried out, "Everybody get down! It's the fashion police!"
The gang members, clearly none too bright, followed his gaze with some degree of confusion, and it was all the distraction that August needed to pour on his speed and bolt from the tavern. The wolf let out a shriek of anger, and August could hear him shouting after him.
"Run, garbage bag! Run away, I’ll get you later!"
"He who fights, runs away," August muttered as he ran. It was clear that Xeves had made his fair share of enemies here, and it didn't work well in his favor that they shared the same face and figure. He found himself almost yearning for the dark and webbed hallways of Lavender Town’s Pokemon Tower, where he would be if he were in the right city.
"I don't think I like cities anymore," he said to himself, "If we ever get rid of the Pokemon Tower, I'm voting we replace it with an edible fast food joint of fleshy meat and bloody drinks."
This place would have to do for now, but he wasn't even going to entertain the very real possibility that he would be here for a long time. After all, Xeves was the exit of Kanto, and it was he who August would have to consult with to gain passage to his homeland. This he knew, but was loathe to admit.
26th October 2005, 6:16 AM
Ah,well,that was interesting. I like the moral thing
you had at the beginning.
I just love it when someone perfects a fic.
Well, I like, continue it.
Indeed, learn and prospare you Author you!
As always, be kind to the mime.
26th October 2005, 11:56 PM
So mad was he, so crooked, he lived solely for himself,
In pursuit of power, and in pursuit of wealth,
He had no friends, not a single one, for he betrayed them all,
And not a single reason had he to justify his fall.
The Espeon did not make his plans alone. His company, however dark, sat with him in shadow, somewhere in the dismal underworld of the city that the denizens of Kanto often referred to as the Cage of Abhorrence. Then again, this entire world was horrid. The grass was always browner on the other side, that is if you called Kanto home.
Xeves scowled as he handed the other his berry, and the companion took it and looked it over.
"This is what you wanted," the cat hissed, "Now, can you do this, or am I wasting my time with you?"
"Oh, I can do it, I can do it," the other replied, "Don't you concern your violet head over whether I have the talent, because I have the talent." He lifted his head which had such an appearance that looked as though it came from the verge of madness.
Xeves did not have the tendency or the inclination to make friends with these darker creatures, and so the monster he now consorted with was bound to him through an arrangement of mutual benefit, a kind of perverted business deal.
He was a Muk, a member of a forgotten and dead race left behind by the world. He was strangely decorated with the ribbons and rings that honored an ancient pagan theology long since buried by modern civilization. The boiling acidic substance that covered his body was controlled, as he could choose what to and what to not destroy, and it was relatively untainted by the grimy underfoot of Kanto. His fingers were callused and lethe; almost every one adorned with a valuable ring or two, or three. The odd exception was the middle finger of his left hand, on which he wore a cheap and tacky-looking mood ring with a colour-changing bulb on top of its plastic frame. At this moment it was bright blue, which, according to the archaic lore of novelty rings, meant that he was proud.
"Well, what do you need, then?" Xeves asked.
"Toothpaste," the Muk rasped, still studying the berry.
The sludge looked up. "I crave... minty...flavors...of....freshness!" he screeched.
"I mean what do you need for the recipe, Raputain?"
"Oh, that. Well, I should have everything I need here, I think. Uh, I think. No, no, I know. Wait...I think I might not know what to think correctly not. Let me check."
The abandoned building where they conducted their business was littered with a mess of objects, from candles to herbs to vials of ambiguous liquids and body parts of man and beast. The acidic demon rooted through the array of articles (nervously and chaotically, like someone perpetually overcaffeinated) and gave a cry of victory.
"Ha-ha! All set, that’s koo, that’s koo!"
"Great," Xeves replied, "Why don't we get started. While we're still young." He leaned back and rolled his eyes in a way that showed clearly when he said 'we' he meant 'you'.
The Muk pulled on a rather large pair of white gloves without removing any of his rings, and picked up a giant sack of salt. He began pouring it, creating a large salt circle on the dusty and grimy floor, the salt already turning into all sorts of blacks and purples. He then started rifling through his herbs, selecting certain ingredients carefully and pedantically while his guest watched.
This was going to be a long night.
The nature of life in this dreadful city almost reminded August that he, too, had once been in a similar situation to many of these homeless unfortunates. The difference was that he had made a life murdering humans to get what he needed, whereas many of these vagrants looked at him as though they would just as quickly cut his throat and bleed him in an alley. August was thankful that the sun had risen before he arrived in the city, giving him a full twelve hours before he had to worry about nighttime. It was just a feeling, but looking into the hate-filled faces of those he passed in the street, he didn't think that many people such as himself survived in Kanto past dark.
"All I have to do," he muttered to himself, "Is find Xeves and talk him into taking me back home. Yeah. Easy."
Easy as hammering an oversized square peg into a tiny circular hole.
Before he could even complete the thought, he perceived a great commotion toward the main square of the city. It struck him as logical that it would be the safest option to consider, to be around a large number of people, but then again, logic wasn't the same logic in this continent of Kanto. The real fact was that anything could happen at any time.
In the square where the main streets intersected, a gathering of people were moaning and shouting, some even throwing things. August tried to see the object of their fury, and he saw that the dissenters were congregated around a monster (their species indeterminate) draped in filthy, flowing robes and standing atop a wooden crate in the middle of the road. However, it was nearly impossible to tell what it was, or even if it were a monster. He was waving his arms around with vivacious enthusiasm, pointing to the populace and shouting ardent and somewhat urgent-sounding information, although his words didn't seem to be popular. August mingled in with the crowd to try and hear what he was saying.
"And where will you be when death comes to knock on your door?" the thing demanded, "Where will you be when the world opens up to swallow you whole? The fluxes are coming! The fires and the fluxes are coming, don't you ever doubt it! Time is short, my friends, and the end of time is right around the corner! You know not the day, nor the hour. There will be a great clamor, like the explosion of a billion suns at once. The angel of death will descend from on high and blow his trumpet, and everything will be dissolved in the Seven Awakenings. I have seen it."
"Seen it with the help of a gallon of ale sloshing around your gut!" a throaty man shouted, and a hearty, cruel laugh rose up from the crowd.
"Mock me not!" the thing shrieked, "It is you who will be asked to stand before the highest authority when time has run out for this world. The time for repentance is now, for the Sacred Overlord will offer no mercy when the fires come. You!"
August looked up and saw that the ranting being was now pointing directly at him. He saw the fanatic's wide, glaring eyes, and saw that they were milky with cateracts, whitened and unseeing. And yet, it felt as though those blind eyes were staring right into him, cutting through his body and burning a hole into the very centre of him, digging into his mind and pulling out every final piece of his existence. It was almost as if time had stopped, as everything stood perfectly still. Eventually, August felt like he wasn’t even alive anymore, just a ghost of himself.
"You will have Seven Awakenings before your quest is complete, and then you will take the place," he thought he heard the fanatic whisper spit, "When the seven stand before the Flux of the Nothingness, it is you who will take on the sins. You will take their place, and it is you who will bring on the end of all things. This is your First Awakening..."
"Excuse me?" the black shadow asked, but the thing's gaze was once again blind, and swept over the crowd without discrimination, never settling on any one person. Once again, August felt himself plunge back down into his body, and everything moving on as if nothing had happened.
"The fluxes are coming!" he shrieked, "The fluxes are coming soon, so it is written and so it shall be! I have seen it! Repent! Repent!"
August turned and saw that someone in the crowd was staring at him intently. This bizarre figure was a tan racoon beast. The kid was short and dumpy, fur mussed up and unclean. He was so dirty that he could have originally been any color in the rainbow, but now they were as brown as the soil. Disturbingly, there were bloody rags tied around both of his forearms. His face was heavily scratched, and on his forehead there was a symbol. Carved into his flesh, as though with a razor blade. It looked like the capital 'M'. The kid's eyes were wide in an expression very much like awe. August was taken aback at the sight of him.
"M-m-mas-" the kid stammered, "Master? I- I can- I- I see, master-"
"And what's your problem?" August demanded, "What is this, did someone leave a door open at the nuthouse or something?"
The kid seemed scared out of his wits the moment August began to speak, and ran from the crowd into the shadows of a nearby alleyway. In the darkness he stopped, turned, and resumed staring at August with that venerating and somewhat spooky gaze.
"I hate this place so much," August muttered, and turned away from the fanatical preacher, the rioting crowd and the leering racoon-kid. Before he could get far, somebody approached him from behind and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Now what?" he asked, and turned around. The figure behind him, unlike most in this city, was clean, and awkwardly dressed in neat robes. A duck billed human, with a stony expression that August couldn't read.
"He wants to talk to you," the duck man said.
"Who, the kid?"
The duck appeared confused. August looked to where the strange racoon had been standing, but he had vanished. The duck billed one followed his gaze, but, seeing nothing, turned back to August and spoke again.
"He's seen you wandering around, he wishes to speak with you. Come, there isn't much time."
"Who?" August demanded, "Who wants to speak with me?"
"Zeres," the duck replied, "Come. Please."
"Whatever." August followed the stranger, judging him to be a safer choice of company than anybody else around here. The eerie kid with the symbol cut onto his forehead like a cattle brand scarred him, and he hoped not to come across him again. As this person led him toward the buildings, he heard laughing from the shadows, and looked to see an elderly man under a blanket of newspaper, cackling as though he had heard some fabulous joke.
‘What's so funny?’ August thought curiously. His laugh tapered off, and he rolled over and went to sleep.
August's strange guide took him to a building that looked as though it may have been abandoned, and he still half expected that this being was going to pull a knife out of his immaculate robes and demand money, or just stab him for the fun of it, and August braced himself to run at the first sign of trouble. Once inside, however, he saw that the building was actually a relatively well-kept church. The pews were unpainted and wooden, and the altar was crude, but the place was clean and homely.
August's first shock was the fact that a clean and undesecrated place of worship was rare in Kanto. Few people in the city had time for such concepts as faith and spirituality, being too preoccupied with thieving and debauchery to be worried about their souls. But what shocked him more, and what hadn't occurred to him at first, was the fact that he recognized the symbols that adorned the church. They were symbols from his own home. He had never heard of one religion being shared by two continents, being that all continents had developed its own cultures and beliefs that had always been completely alien to him.
"I have brought him," the duck said, and closed the door behind August. The church was quiet and comforting. It may just have been the only comfortable place in this wretched city, and August was compelled with a great urge to stay.
"Come closer, my child," somebody called from further inside, and August saw now that there was somebody standing in front of the pulpit, back towards him. The other figure was wearing similar robes to those of his guide.
August approached this tall figure now, and the duck walked behind him, as though this were some kind of ambush. But there was no way that these two could stop him if he decided to leave, neither of them looked as though they could put up a fight even if they had to.
"You are the other," said the taller figure.
"I've seen you wandering the streets," the figure replied, and turned around. August saw that he, too, was duck billed, though a much older one than the stranger who had led him here. This being’s fur was fading into an orange instead of a fiery red and yellow, and there were crow's feet in the corners of his eyes. "You are far from home, yes? You hail from the otherlands."
August's heart flipped. Few monsters in Kanto were aware that other continents actually existed.
"How do you know about that?" August asked.
The elder smiled. "I have been there."
"Who are you?"
The stranger's smile faded, and he stared past August to the wall. August followed the gaze and saw that he was looking at a holy symbol.
"My name is Father Zeres. This is my charge, Yale."
Yale, the younger, nodded without offering any expression whatsoever.
"What do you know about all this?" August asked, "What do you know about me?"
Father Zeres sighed, the sigh of one on whose shoulders the weight of the world frequently rests. "I know of the otherlands, the Hoenn as it is known. I have seen it, I have walked there, prayed there. A few are privleged with the ability to slip between the sheets of time and space, to see the otherlands, but I haven't been there in a long time. A very long time." There was a kind of sparkle in his eyes like he had been granted the briefest glimpse of heaven once upon a time, and was left only with the memory. August considered that, compared to Kanto, his land probably did look like heaven.
"But how do you know about me?" he pressed.
"I see it all over you," Zeres replied, "You have the look about you. At first, naturally, I thought that you were him. But you have that look about you... when you have seen, you don't forget the look of it."
"You thought I was who? Xeves?"
Father Zeres nodded. "When you spend too long in a world where you do not belong... your immortal soul, it leaves behind a kind of residue. Like a photo negative; like the reverse image you see on the backs of your eyelids after you stare at a light source for too long a time. You are that residue, you are a being who shouldn't rightly be. I do hope that is why you have come. I hope that you are here to deal with your ‘twin’."
"That's right," August replied, "That's exactly why I'm here."
"Good. I mean no disrespect, but he is after all somewhat your responsibility. You are, to some degree, decent. And Xeves may think he is a holy being, but he is very dangerous, my son. Very dangerous."
"What is he doing?"
The priest frowned, and looked up at the holy symbol again, as though he were innately praying, for strength or for faith or whatever else. "He is trying to unlock the secrets of the Old Ways."
"The old ways of what?" August asked, "Listen, don't speak in riddles with me. If you know what's going on here, just tell me."
"No riddles. The Old Ways... they are the link between Everything and Nothing. They are the fork in the road that divulged people and monsters on separate paths. This land, the one humans call Kanto, and the other, your own land, Hoenn. They were once one and the same, like man and beast."
"I don't follow."
Zeres sighed again, and made a gesture to his apprentice, who approached promptly. The priest whispered something to him, and he nodded and hurried away. Zeres leaned back on the pulpit and nested his head in his claws like a philosopher deep in thought.
"Not too long ago," he said, "I began to notice that my congregation was thinning. I used to hold a modest weekly service in this holy place, made of man and monster. I reserve that it is only through the intervention of a power higher than us all that we remained undisturbed in the center of this fallen city. This is a terribly wretched world, and most are too settled in their sins to be bothered by it. But a few did find their faith, and they came to me for guidance. But these troubled souls... many of them found a new source of comfort. A new teacher. He introduced them to a long forgotten doctrine practiced when this world was young. He introduced them to the Old Ways."
"Xeves," August murmured, "But Xeves cares about nothing but monsterkind and he's no older in spirit than I am. What the heck does he know about these Old Ways?"
"The one you call Xeves... Around here, he is known as Kinnos Ashashii. Over a year ago he left Kanto and vanished, nobody knew what had become of him and few cared. But recently, he returned. What he had brought back with him... not only a vast knowledge of ancient lore, but an actual practitioner of the Old Ways. A Muk alchemist, a descendent of those who settled the lands when every continent was one. Together, they formed what has become known as the Ashashii Awakening Cult. Half of my congregation defected to him and now listen to his every word, they believe he will cleanse the world."
Yale returned with a kind of rosary on a chain and a holy book, and gave both items to the priest, who touched the rosary to his forehead and closed his eyes.
"So, he's running some kind of cult," August said, "How is that dangerous?"
"The Old Ways were buried for a reason," Zeres replied, "As I said, our lands were once the same. It was the Old Ways that diverged them, and it is the Old Ways that hold the key to reuniting them. What Ashashii has discovered... What the Cult believes he has discovered... is the recipe to break the ancient incantation that keeps every world ever known separate, a wall constructed of an inconceivable amount of mystical energy. In doing so, the legend claims, he will take all of the energy into himself, and gain the powers of a deity. They believe our worlds will join together to form the Sacred Demon, and Kinnos will rule it all."
August groaned. "Xeves always did think he was God," he said, "Sounds like he just wants to make it official. You don't believe any of this garbage, do you?"
The priest opened his eyes. "I've traveled this world from sea to sea," he said, "and I've seen remarkable things. The fall of empires. The rise of mountains. The legacies of kings. Things that defy anything you know about reason and logic. Things that have tested my faith. Things that have strengthened it. Things that have shattered me apart..."
"And this stuff about Old Ways and the end of the universe," August said, "Has this strengthened your faith, shattered you, or tested it?"
A wry grin crept up on the priest's face, although it didn't seem to be so much a grin as a kind of wince. "A lot of each." He paused, and then asked, "Do you share the faith, son?"
August took a step back and appeared flushed. "Hah! Uhh, I mean, not really. I mean, I don't go to church if that's what you mean."
"But do you believe in God?"
August was noticeably uncomfortable, and hoped that this was not about to turn into a sermon. He told the truth, but he was noncommittal. "I think. I mean to say that it kinda makes sense, but I don’t really believe in him, but that's as far as I... Uh... I just can't..."
"Can't commit," the priest said, "To something you can't know for certain."
Father Zeres nodded. "I can relate to that."
"So why are you... you know...?"
"Because one day something dawned on me," the duck replied, "And that is that we never know anything for certain. Faith is inherent in every decision we make every day."
"There's a difference between believing in God and believing that Xeves can be one," August replied, "There's a difference between having faith and just being plain old gullible. After all, if what he's doing is really possible, then his cult isn't really a cult, is it?"
"All I can say," Zeres said, "Is that Kinnos Ashashii is a creature who doesn't belong here anymore. I have seen into his eyes and I have seen an abyss that stretches to the edge of time. He doesn't quite have a soul... he has something like a soul, but it isn't right. He can only bring misery and suffering wherever he goes. When you share my faith, you see that whether or not his claims are truly legitimate is scarcely relevant. He has the initiative to destroy everything he touches. If his initiative turns to ability for even a moment..."
"I see what you mean," August admitted, "He's never killed a human before, only his fellow monsters, just to make the humans proud. Whatever he's looking for, he probably means to kill again. And in that case, I guess he has to be stopped."
"At all costs," the priest replied.
August nodded. "Yeah. Okay, thanks. Uh, so, do you know where this cult of his assembles?"
"I can show you the way. And I will pray for you to be shown the right choices."
"But choices are a matter of faith, right?"
"You can only be shown choices. It is up to you to make them."
27th October 2005, 12:18 AM
I don't have time right now to read chapter two...but Chapter One was really well thought out. I love it and I'll read the next chapter when I get the time! Hope you do well on your future chapters because I'm loving it already!
27th October 2005, 11:06 PM
I met him on my travels once, a creature full of greed,
His mind twisted with insanity, a grisly sight indeed,
He would stab you in the back to steal your pouch of gold,
Not a trace of emotion, for his heart was frozen cold.
There was another set of eyes watching the priest and his congregation in the antiquated church that morning, and another set of ears listening to the sermon. Yale led August outside, and the priest was left alone. Only then did the unseen visitor speak.
The priest appeared momentarily startled, but regained his composure quickly.
"Ashashii," he said, and a dark figure dropped from the rafters behind him, though he did not turn to face the intruder.
Xeves, or Kinnos Ashashii, smiled at the sound of his name, and the smile looked like the maw of a shark all jagged and hungry, twisting and turning without any sign of sanity. His eyes blazed and he gnashed his teeth, as if in great pain. "My ears were bleeding," he said with an insane grin.
Father Zeres still did not give the Espeon the pleasure of eye contact, and stood with his back to Xeves. The fiery gaze still burned holes in his back, and his eyes crept up the wall to fall upon the holy symbol that adorned it. He wrapped his rosary so tight around his palm that his fingers hurt, nearly cut by the edges of the cross.
"It'll be a lot more than just your ears that will bleed, where you're going," he said.
"See, that's where you're wrong," Xeves replied, "My time is just beginning. The runes are practically mine already, all I have to do is snatch 'em up. It'll be the party of the millennium, Zeres, but... I dunno, you haven't been very good lately so I'm not sure you're invited."
"I would like you to leave," Zeres said, "You desecrate this place with your foul presence. You've made your point, now have off with you, take your sinful business elsewhere."
"Aw, come on Zeres!"
"That's Father Zeres to the likes of you."
"Sure, Father Zeres, whatever you say. Those are some pretty tough words. Aren’t you scared of me? People in your situation don't come out of it alive real often, especially when one gets to feeling a little... bloody."
"I'm not scared of dying and I'm certainly not scared of you," the priest snapped, "I for one don't fear sharing another’s ideals."
Xeves' shark-bite smile faded, and with a flash of violet wind he tackled the priest from behind and pressed his face against his neck. His fangs glinted in the dim light, and Zeres's hands trembled as he grasped his holy trinket.
"Your ideals are about to be evicted from his house," Xeves whispered in his ear, "I'm moving in. And hey! Good news! I'm going to let you live today, but only because I want you to watch when I burn your Heaven to the ground. I want to see what the face of a preacher looks like when he sees that he has nothing left to hope for. And I hope you don't think that this young copy from the otherlands is going to save the day, because his little adventure is already ending."
He fanged Zeres from his chin to his ear, leaving a bloody gash that the priest grasped at, his rosary dropping to the ground.
"That's to remind you that I'm coming back," Xeves rasped, and sprinted from the church.
August stared up at Hawkeye's Manse from the shadows of the backstreets of Kanto, its boarded-up windows and smog-blackened paintwork working to make what was once a sort of gothic castle even more imposing. Father Zeres the priest had directed him to this forgotten piece of dark architecture, for it was apparently the base of operations for Xeves' bizarre cult. He almost considered ending his journey here, for to step foot inside this building felt like the polar opposite of stepping inside Zeres's church. There was no safety here, it was as though an aura of evil hung like drapes over the entire place.
Hawkeye's Manse was once somebody's home, a mansion in the black heart of the city, but it had been abandoned to fall apart and rot like everything else on this most wretched land. Gargoyles like sentinals guarded the mansion from the corners of its collapsing roof. Dead trees in the yard cast tentacles of black shadow across the moldy walls.
As August hesitated before the dark house, somebody approached him from the empty street, and he turned to see a delinquent human youth (the absence on his face indicated he was either drugged or inexperienced) holding a knife in a threatening manner and staring in his direction.
"GimmeallthemoneyorI'llkillyouI'llkillyou!" the youth shrieked almost incomprehensibly.
August smiled, and gave a crack of a grin.
But the youth's eyes flared even wider as he looked over his victim, and he dropped the knife onto the street and screamed. "It's you! It's you! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" He sprinted back from whence he had come.
August sighed and turned his gaze once again to Hawkeye's Manse. During nighttime, the benefits that came with having an Espeon as your brother got its benefits in Kanto, it seemed. August's own abilities and exploits had gained him a sort of a Robin Hood fame in his own world, so it stood to reason that Xeves, his abilities the same but his morality reversed, would gain him infamy and notoriety in this land. Xeves, or Kinnos Ashashii as he was apparently known here, was probably the king of atrocity in a world where atrocity was the chief currency.
Another voice yelled at him from the other end of the street, a voice which decided for him what he was to do next.
"Hey garbage bag! Not finished with you yet! I see one garbage bag soon to be hurt bad!" The gang from the bar, led by the wolf bladed from head to toe, were rushing towards him howling and laughing like a pack of hyenas surrounding their prey. Xeves had evidently made his share of enemies as well. August, not wishing for an encounter with these thugs, jumped the steel fence of Hawkeye's Manse and rushed towards the house, grabbing hold of a wooden edge and clawing up it.
The gang watched him from the other side of the fence, laughing and shouting abuse at him. An orb of fire flew through the air and smashed against the wall beside him, not catching anything.
"Climb, garbage, climb!" the wolf shouted, "Nowhere to go from there! We catch you later!"
August reached a boarded-up window and kicked his way through the rotting wood barrier. He gripped the windowsill and swung inside the dilapidated mansion. Looking about the place, old broken furniture covered by moth-eaten and rotted sheets, collapsing walls and cobwebs like curtains, he couldn't help worrying that the place might fall down around him.
Why hadn't vandals burned or torn this old house down long ago? For that matter, he could hear the hollering and laughter of the gang outside and wondered why they didn't pour over the fence to flush him out? The dark peoples of Kanto may have embraced the darkness, but they seemed to be able to sense when an evil much greater than themselves was afoot, and they feared it just as much as anybody else would.
Hawkeye's Manse was the black spot of Kanto, like a bruise on the flesh of an apple, except that it was the rotting skin on the flesh of the world. August had sensed it when he had looked upon those snarling and broken gargoyles, and the people of Kanto could sense it as well. They might not know exactly why, but nobody would step foot in this place. Nobody but August's ‘twin’ and his twisted followers.
As August turned to descend deeper into the black house, something moved quickly alongside him, and though he was fast enough to crouch in defense, he wasn't quite able to fend off the attack. Somebody beat at him with what appeared to be a plank of wood, beat him in a frenzied, half-insane manner, shrieking all the while. August yelled too, in pain and in shock, desperately trying to get an attack of his own in.
Just before his attacker beat him unconscious, August saw the face of a young racoon with something like an 'M' carved into his forehead.
"You can only be shown choices," the disembodied voice of Father Zeres echoed through his head, "It is up to you to make them."
August's head exploded with pain and he groaned. Something poked him in the eye, hard, but the pain wasn't nearly as bad as the agony on the side of his head. He could feel blood cooling on that side, dripping onto his neck. The crazy kid with the carved symbol might have well fractured his skull with that hunk of wood. He wished now that he had tried his luck with the gang in the street.
Something poked him in the eye again, harder, and this time that pain was more significant. He opened his eyes and squinted until the blurs started to make sense. Someone was kneeling in front of him, laughing. A purple dripping blob, his body adorned all over with strange ribbons painted with some kind of blue wax. The monster was laughing, the snorting-chortling laugh of an idiot, and poking August in the eye with one outstretched finger. His fingers were covered in rings.
"His eye's squishy," the monster chortled.
August bit the finger. The sludge's laugh cut off immediately and was replaced by a cutting scream, and he pulled back and started to dance, shrieking and grasping at his bleeding finger. August's teeth had removed one of the rings when his victim had reclaimed his digit, and he turned and spat the trinket onto the ground. The monster returned to him, snarling with rage, and slapped him hard. Several of the rings gashed him, and now he was bleeding from both sides of his head. August moved to stand up and proceed to beat this person within an inch of his life, but found that he was held down by heavy chains. Like it or not, he was at the mercy of his captors.
Who or what was the half-mad figure standing over him? His race was unknown to August, appearing as perhaps something halfway between acid or garbage, and all at once it dawned on him that Father Zeres had mentioned a companion that Xeves had brought back from his travels. A Muk, a member of a buried and presumed extinct race from the planet's history.
This living fossil was ancient on one half, all ribbons, rings and wax designs, but modern and even somewhat trendy on the other. That half was slightly smeared with the blue substance he had used to paint one half of his body. His fingers were dressed in more rings of different shapes and colors than August was able to count, and the biggest was topped with the bright dome bauble of a mood ring. It was red, and it was easy to presume that red meant anger.
As August's sight returned to him, he began to sense that there were others nearby. He could see a number of blurred shapes in the dim light. As he squinted, the shapes coalesced and he could see faces. At least a dozen beings cloaked in ragged clothes, their faces absent of expression, sat cross-legged in a half-circle around the room.
Each one had a symbol carved into their forehead, something like a capital 'M' but with an extra tick on the end of it, like an afterthought or a punctuating mark. They all looked fatigued and impoverished, but content.
The Muk had retrieved his spat-out ring and moved to beat August again, but a familiar raspy voice held his hand.
"Raputain, that's enough."
The Muk scowled and moved aside, and August could see the room in full. It appeared to be the basement of Hawkeye's Manse, all exits boarded up and nailed shut long ago, but it also carried the signs of recent use, like the Manse had awoken and begun to weave its dark mischief yet again.
There was a circle of what appeared to be salt on the ground in front of the seated cultists, and it was ringed with lit candles. Standing in front of this circle was Xeves, alias Kinnos Ashashii, August's nemesis. By all appearances he looked as though he was about to board a train and chug off into the cliche sunset. Xeves approached August and kneeled before his ‘twin’, who tried his best at giving an intimidating glare, although he knew that they were both far beyond the ability to intimidate each other by now.
"You know," Xeves said, "They have an expression in Kanto. It goes something like this: 'If your enemy should cross you once, applaud him. If your enemy should cross you twice, destroy him.' I've given you enough chances, oh brother, but you're so insistent with your dehumanizating crusade that you just can't say die. I can't say I didn't expect you to keep looking for me, after all, I do know you just as well as you know yourself." He sighed and flicked August's nose, and the physical contact produced a spark of energy. August flinched and bared his teeth.
Xeves sighed. "But I'm not going to destroy you, August. After all your exploits and heroic adventures I really don't think you deserve to meet your end chained down in some basement while I cut you up like a savage. Besides, time is short, and I have so much to do."
"You realize I'm just going to keep chasing you," August said, "I'm going to stop you, one way or another, wherever you go."
"No, brother, you won't," Xeves replied, "Because where I'm going is out of your reach."
August looked up at his ‘twin’, looked over the others, and came to a shocking realization. Xeves was about to catch a train, all right. The non-stop express train to the otherlands.
"You're going to another land," he muttered.
"Bingo!" Xeves explained, and clicked his fingers. "This is, after all, the original land. Much as I love to admit it, my land was the first, August. The Sacred Demon, cast all of his fluxes and fires in the universe, and it's this planet that was the first conduit, and my land was first and the best to ever be made. You'll only have to suffer it long enough until I snatch up the runes, then all of existence is my playground. Isn't that cool?"
"Runes, runes, what... runes?" August spluttered, "Have you gone absolutely bonkers, Xeves?"
"Fluxes," Xeves said, "Scattered across the lands, each marked with an insignia, one seventh of the code that breaks the barrier between this world and the other. You put them together, you read the code, you awaken an ancient energy that's been dormant since the dawn of civilization. More energy than you can possibly imagine, the energy to shake worlds apart. Really, August, after all you've seen and heard, is it really that hard for you to believe?"
"You'll never be a god, Xeves," August said, "And besides. You can't slide into my land from here. You'll land right in the middle of Lavender Town, and they're none too fond of your kind, even the crazy sadistic ones with purple fur."
"Fear not, dear brother!" Xeves announced, and he picked himself up. "I know what I'm doing. I've planned this little vacation every step of the way."
Walking away, he stepped inside the salt circle. The Muk, Raputain, gave a twisted grin and a salute to the captive hedgehog, and stepped in as well. The cultists surrounding them all raised their hands and began whispering in frantic, awed voices.
"Don't do this, you rat!" August shouted, rattling his chains.
"Farewell, brother!" Xeves said, "Look after the place until I get back! The next time we meet will be the end of this world and the dawn of a new world!"
Xeves, the Muk, and everything else inside the circle began to fade and dim. Their bodies took on a waning translucence. They were teleporting.
August shouted after them, but his ‘twin’ had departed reality to such a degree that he probably couldn't hear. After a while, the barely-visible ghosts of Xeves and Raputain turned and walked across the room. A few of the cultists reached for them, but touched nothing but air. The travelers walked right through the wall of Hawkeye's Manse and vanished from sight.
August swore and rattled his chains again. Now he truly was done for. Stuck in this land and the last train back home had just departed without him. Stranded in a hostile and bizarre dimension, chained to the floor in an evil house, surrounded by maddened cultists. Just fantastic.
"You guys are complete idiots, did you know that?" he asked.
"Master Ashashii has departed for the otherlands to make a better world for us all," one of the cultists meekly said.
"Yeah, yeah," August replied, "So can you take these chains off me, please?"
"You are the devil-‘twin’," another cultist announced, "And you shall remain bound until Master Ashashii returns to banish you from eternity."
"That's the plan, huh?"
The cultists appeared to close their eyes and pray to whoever it was they worshipped, and August had the sinking feeling that they were praying to Xeves, the poor sick idiots. He closed his eyes too, but only to imagine home.
29th October 2005, 4:16 PM
I asked him, "What was done to you to twist you all around?"
He said, "Life's pleasures are a thing to treasure, I have found.
But happiness is fleeting, something to fight battles for,
And the devil's bargain of this mirth is always wanting more."
I said, "But Twisted Mind, is not happiness from within?
Does not the outward search for such a thing, become the biggest sin?"
He replied, "Nothing convinces me that this theory is sound,
For as long as more is out there, there is more to be found."
August sat for a long time, picturing his home and wishing to be anywhere other than where he was. He imagined his friends... Daerin, Hark, Emine... yearned to be back fighting the usual enemies, the enemies who stayed put in the one land and fought back in the traditional style, without mystical weapons and runes and old religions. While he focused on this image, something strange happened in his mind. His home clarified, a picture as sharp as a photograph, and he felt like he was slipping into a sleeping state. He was tired and fatigued, but there was something else. He had felt almost as though he had actually been going somewhere. When he opened his eyes, to his shock, the basement of Hawkeye's Manse appeared as though it wasn't entirely there, like there was the undercurrent of another reality just underneath its surface. The shock dragged him back into full reality.
Had he been sliding?
August knew that Xeves found it easier to slide into August’s land than out of it. He had also taken for granted the idea that Xeves was the only entity that August knew of who possessed the ability to move between worlds at will - that was, until Father Zeres had mentioned that he, too, had teleported before.
Could it be that August also had the capacity to skip back to his homeland under his own power? If sliding home was easier than leaving it, could it have been within his power to return to his own world all along? But how?
Of course. August had closed his eyes and seen his home, all he needed was to will himself there, to cross the stream between realities with his mind. After all, a baby doesn't learn to walk until it really believes it can. All that really separated the ability to travel in three dimensions and the ability to travel in four was a barrier of faith.
August squeezed his eyes shut and pictured home. "I can do this," he whispered, "Come on, August, do you want to die? Slide home, August. Just go home."
The feeling came over him, the sensation that he was leaving his body and falling into a deep sleep, spinning around in his mind and entering his own mental image like it were a real place. He could hear Xeves' cultists speaking in tones of alarm and confusion, but he couldn't hear what they were saying. "The devil-‘twin’ is ascending!" it sounded like. For a moment he felt as though he was exerting effort and trying to push through some tough membrane, though he didn't feel it against his skin, it seemed like a kind of pressure that built up and released, pushing him out the other side. It felt similar to ascending a hill and then rolling down the other side. In the end he felt a little dizzy, but static.
August's body was suddenly wet, so he opened his eyes and saw that he was in a garbage dump.
"Hey, what the..." he muttered, and looked around. There were buildings all around the dump, constructions that were that of humans. He'd never been so happy to see a human empire, for it meant that he was definitely home. How deceptively simple it was to slide back home, just a matter of mental exertion. If he had known this the last time he had been stranded it would have made things a lot easier.
Thunder cracked in the sky and it began to rain.
It seemed that Xeves had planned his escape from the dark dimension with a degree of shrewdness. Though Kanto existed parallel to Hoenn, Hawkeye's Manse stood parallel to an unpatrolled patch of landfill backing onto Fortree. He probably supposed that, should anybody try to follow him, they would slide right into the clutches of a human. A kind of booby-trap that would ensure he wasn't followed.
As the rain fell upon the stinking refuse of the spider city, August perceived footprints traveling to the east. Not human prints, but two sets of feet that seemed to have materialized from nowhere and trampled through the mud and away. But August knew where those feet had come from.
His first instinct was to return to his home and alert his good friends as to the trouble afoot, but he realized that wasn't a good plan. His only clue as to where in the world his ‘twin’ was headed were these footprints, very soon to be washed away by the rain. Xeves and his crazy companion could not be far ahead, but he would lose them if he lingered.
"I'll contact the others from the road," he decided, and hoped they would understand. If they didn't, it would only be because they all hadn't experienced the strangeness of his day.
August looked down at his hands and saw a strange thing. He had taken the metal handcuff on his left hand with him when he slid out of Hawkeye's Manse, but the right one had stayed in Kanto. Two and a half links of chain were still attached to the cuff - the half-link severed through the centre as though sliced off with a clean cut. He didn't understand how teleportation worked, but counted himself lucky that the dimensional tissue hadn't cut across his neck just as it had across the chain. Some things were beyond understanding, he decided. Some things just were.
August the Shadow wandered into the forest to pursue his ‘twin’, and none of his friends heard from or about him again in over a year. Those who he knew only in passing considered his death after about a month of his absence, but his three closest friends lingered onto hope for much longer before they, too, conceded that their friend was gone from the world forever.
In that way, most people had already decided that August's adventure was over before it even began.
This trip in comparision to the next one would just be a figment of peace in what was about to come...
I've traveled this globe all over, oh the lessons I have learned,
The cultures I have visited, great empires overturned,
But what a lesson I have learned from one without sympathy for his fellows,
Who was content to seek his fortune and to always be so shallow.
—Part One, Raputain
1st November 2005, 10:22 PM
Part Two: True Colors
I've traveled the world from sea to sea and seen remarkable things,
The falls of empires, the rise of mountains, the legacies of kings,
But never again in all my life have I been able to find,
A character so free that he was shunned by his own kind.
The colors continuously whirled. Every color of the spectrum eternally spiraling off into infinity, some of them even nameless or lost within the deepening rainbow of colors. But only in August's head.
August, the weak, parched soul of his former self, was reduced to crawling along the desert floor. He'd left behind the oasis behind the large dune which now made up part of the horizon behind him, and his tongue extended its full length past his gums, as dry as the sand he was crawling on.
The first kilometer without water, he was kicking himself for misjudging the size of the desert, and for assuming that Xeves surely wasn't going to trek into it's heart, that he'd travel into a town or off the side to a scrub forest or an oasis. The second kilometer without water, he noticed he was no longer sweating, that the sun had squeezed the last remnants of loose water down from his pores. It was about then that August had begun to get delirious... thinking about the strangest things, such as 'wouldn't it be funny if the cacti could talk' or 'I wonder what the world would be like if the sky was green and the plants were blue'. This was bad enough, but now he was on his third kilometer without water, and the sky was green, and the plants were blue, and the cacti were singing "It’s a Small World After All" while the shrubs had pink fur and held a tea party.
At least, they were to August.
So now he was crawling, and the obvious threat of death never even crossed his mind. All he knew was that he needed to stop and maybe take a little nap while he composed himself. So, in his parched state, he did. And he fell asleep the instant he stopped moving his limbs.
(Out walking in the frozen swamp one grey day I paused and said, "I will turn back from here.")
Two months he had trekked the sometimes harsh rural landscapes, and the journey had shown him just how little civilization had truly touched the continent. The wide green forever was sliced through by the occasional highway or train track, and many of these roads were still unsealed from lack of use. August's journey had taken him northeast through the fertile crescent of an assortment of tropical lands, first through the forest and several villages that made the forest their home (many of them were very adverse to other forms of life not found in the forest and didn't get along with August much at all, which only made his journey more difficult), and then into a city on the other side of the forest. He had never even knew that it even existed, and in fact realized that he had never seen the northern side of the forests before. The forest was so deep and so dark that it had been difficult to picture it even having another side, just lasting forever and ever and ever.
The feeling of journeying through the ocean of trees until he stumbled upon a foreign civilization was a sobering one - he had been so grounded that this forest may as well have been the edge of the world; he felt as though he had obtained wings, flown to another planet and discovered an alien city. And though he knew that he shouldn't be enjoying this vacation (if fighting was his job, then surely this constituted a business trip) he couldn't help wishing that he had taken a camera so he could have shown the pictures to his friends and the other inhabitants of his home when he returned.
At this point he didn't have a clue just how long that would be.
("No, I will go on farther--and we shall see.")
Xeves had spent three days at this area and then moved north again, so August had done the same. There were no cities north of that land. The plains stretched from one horizon to the other like a green ocean. Sometime in the middle of October, August had realized that he had probably missed his birthday, though he wasn't in a position to contact his home because there were no birds or anything friendly enough who would listen to his requests here. The days began to blend together and melt into one heterogenous lump of sunlight and darkness. August began to realize just to what degree the idea of civilization being the norm for monsterkind was a flawed concept. Here, in the wilderness, there was no time, no government, no technology.
The small-town pocket monsters were more like tribes than true towns, and though they spoke August's language, each had their own dialect. There was housing, but no electricity or running water. Most grew their own food to nourish their extended family, and lived from one day to the next never knowing of the events of the world. August wondered how many of them knew where he was. He wondered how many of them knew what they were.
(The view was all in straight up and down of tall slim trees, too much alike to mark or name a place by)
He lived off the hospitality of the plain-dwelling folk for about twenty days before he reached a point where there were no more folk. Every so often he would encounter hostility in a tribe - it shocked him the first few times it happened, but he soon realized why. Xeves and his guide, Raputain, were pillaging to stay alive, cutting a path of havoc and notoriety through the Plains, and August was riding the wake of vengeance. Once he was chased for a good twenty minutes by a young farmer with a very sharp horn who claimed that August had killed his father, and who swore that August's corpse was going to be hanging in his field as a scarecrow by sundown.
August was unfortunate in the way that he shared the small likeness of his ‘twin’, but fortunate in the way that he also shared the speed. It pained him that Xeves was ripping families apart as he tore through rural countrysides like a devilish plague, and wished that there was some way he could make it better. But at the end of the day, the only thing that he could truly do was keep moving.
(So as to say for certain I was here or somewhere else)
But he grew concerned when the ocean of green began to turn into an ocean of brown and Xeves continued moving north into the thick of it. Where could his ‘twin’ be, going through the wastes of where nothing made their home? It was then that August made his biggest error in deciding to continue to follow Xeves, that there must be something here that he didn't know about, some final destination or simple path of which his evil ‘twin’ had some prior knowledge. It was this decision that left August, two months after he left the safety of his homeland and thousands of kilometers from home, dying in the hostile nothingness of this desert and pleading for his end to be swift and painless.
But the end never came.
(I was just far from home)
It was impossible to tell how long August had been unconscious. It was anywhere between five minutes and a day, but he came to upon the sound of talking.
Was this a mirage? The lunacy of a dehydrated mind? At this point it was hard to tell. The voices were speaking in some bizarre language that August could not recognize. He opened his eyes a crack, and saw many pairs of brown feet. Very brown, very rough feet. He tried to look higher, but couldn't.
As these things chattered away, August caught a single phrase spoken in his own tongue that was nevertheless meaningless to him.
"...Shade be very pleased with us..."
He was then grabbed by the leg and yanked up onto his feet. He howled weakly in pain as his badly sunburned leg was touched. But the pain fell away when something was shoved in his mouth. A bowl of water. The instant his tongue was bathed and reverted to its moist self, August's muscles remarkably began to work again. He pulled back the large bowl with some force and chugged down as much of the fluid as he could, making loud gulping noises with each swallow. Somebody grabbed the bowl back from him, spilling some water onto his feet, and he was shoved from behind to start walking.
He was able to get a good look at them, now. All of them were much taller than he was, and they carried very pointy spears. They looked like a race of humans. They weren’t, though of a race August had never seen before. Pale tan leather and blue rope-like objects on each forehead. And their hands were larger than any part of their body, and their fingers grew into rectangles at their ends.
One of them was staring at him as they walked, and it seemed to be a child, a young male. His eyes were small curves slits, with rosy cheeks on each side of his face. Around his neck, like a bib, was a dark blue rectangle, his hands covered in gloves of the same shading. Two horns on his head were tied around into a knot, like a natural hairstyle. August looked at him, and he looked at August... and then began to spin around, creating a small vortex of wind. One of the brown men wrenched him back to normal walking position, and another one poked the child with his spear and gave a harsh sounding reprimand.
"That's a neat trick," August announced. He got a sharp jab with a spear in reply.
He detested being pushed around like that, and their spears didn't really hurt him or even seem all that threatening to him. Only thing was that they had probably the only water he'd find for miles. He could escape them easily, but then what? Where would he go and what would he do? August retained some hope that he would be brought to some kind of authority figure who could be reasoned with.
Until then, he would have to suffer the jabs and hostility. After all, the men had saved his life, so clearly they didn't want him dead, right? August's power of logic never was all that impressive.
They walked for half an hour before they came to any kind of landmark. It was the base of a mountainous cliff, and there was a cave in it. A very wide cave indeed. An eerie orange light emenated from within.
"Want me to go inside there?" August asked. "Hey, no can do, dudes. I'm scared of the dark, and I can't sleep in strange places. Thanks though."
Nobody replied, but somebody started tying something around his head. A blindfold, made out of some kind of leaf. Another pushed him to keep walking.
"Hey, pushy little fellers, aren't you," he commented.
The next fifteen minutes of travel consisted of descending and ascending and turning corners in the complete darkness of August's blindfold. And it was very difficult. But he could tell from the voices and the noise throughout the cave that there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of the men living there.
The journey ended when August was given a violent shove, and he tumbled down some kind of slope and landed on rock. There was the sound of a door closing.
August, now free, ripped the leaf off his head and checked out his surroundings.
Firstly, the cave was very, very big. It must have been a long way underneath the desert, because it was also much, much cooler. But it had sort of heat, different to the aboveground - the desert itself was scorching, piercing, devilish, frying heat, and August's legs, mouth and belly were tender and red, and would probably start to peel skin in great gruesome chunks before the week's end. This place was a humid heat that made August break out in an uncontrollable sweat almost immediately. Another major difference was that, down here, the source of the heat was down, not up. It was coming from the earth, not the sun.
Also, it was being used, it seemed, by an enormous colony of brown men, as their home and place of worship. Several different rituals were going on at once, down below. There were lots of smaller caves within this large one, and most of them were labelled, but in a language that August had never seen before. Some of the men were dressed elaboratly in white and black, despite the heat, signifying that they were probably quite important, and some even had followings of the normal, peasants.
But there was something funny about this settlement, and August couldn't quite put his finger on it at first. It looked wrong, somehow. It was drab and primitive, and looked almost animalistic despite the clear use of technologies. What was it about these people that made them seem so...primitive? Finally he put his finger on it. Even the most primitive civilizations had some form of art, adorned their colonies with decorations and pictures. But this was different. August looked around the brown caves and brown buildings and brown clothing and brown skin and saw not a single sign of embellishment in the entire place. There was no color. No color at all.
It was quite a spectacle, and an interesting place to be. August placed his head on his paws and wondered just how the heck he was going to get out of it.
The only way out of the small dungeon cell was the way he had come. All other directions led to an immediate thousand-foot-fall onto the mixture of hard stones and bonfires on the ground below. Trying to imagine which of these would constitute a more painful death made August cringe, so he didn't.
The direction he had come was a steep slope which led upward. It was a large gradiant, but August thought he could run up it with little trouble, it didn't go very far. Unfortunately, however, the top of the slope was guarded. Quite heavily guarded. And if he got past that, he would still have to make it past thousands of other men, while all the time climbing steep inclines to the surface. That much he had learned by using his senses during his blind journey from the desert to the cage.
The biggest question was whether the desert really was a better option than this. To be honest, he couldn't decide.
August couldn't remember how many times along this chain of thought he slipped into sleep. Some of those times he didn't even realize it.
4th November 2005, 1:32 AM
He questioned his beliefs, examined their validity,
The reasons that things happen in this world of mystery,
But skepticism was never a virtue among his kin,
And he found he must assimilate or be accused of sin.
August's fatigued body was wracked with the strangest dreams, and sometimes he wasn't exactly sure whether he was dreaming or not. More than once he had been staring at the bars of his cage and seen himself wander out of the shadows, grinning in the way he always did, yet looking like a parody of his own with a twisted edge to it, the grin of a homicidal lunatic. But he wasn't a lunatic, August feared, and that was the most dangerous thing about him. He had Xeves's mind, complete with the virtue of sanity, and the implication that August didn't really want to consider was that Xeves was right about the powers of these fluxes and their links to the power of the Old Ways.
He also saw Xeves. Every time he saw Xeves outside his prison, he had wavered and vanished, nothing more than the illusion of a tired mind. At one point he had been dressed in the robes of Father Zeres, and had been holding the priest's rosary, although the holy symbol on the sacred item had changed from the object of Zeres's faith to the object of Xeves' - something like a capital letter 'M', but not quite. Something, some living thing, was squirming around inside those robes, and for a moment it poked up from his collar, only briefly. Something long and skinny like a thin white tentacle.
"You will have seven Awakenings before your quest is complete. The early bird catches the wyrm, August," the dream-Xeves had whispered, and August knew (in the way that you simply know things about the world of your dreams) that his ‘twin’ had said 'wyrm' and not 'worm', though they were pronounced exactly the same. Then Xeves grinned more devilishly than August had ever thought possible, and perhaps it wasn't possible in reality at all, and leaned in. He lifted one hand and offered August a juicy red apple, then screamed
"Wake up you black animal!!"
August shot up. It hadn't been Xeves screaming at him at all, but rather one of the strange men. The shadow squinted, a little alarmed, until his vision adjusted and he remembered where he was.
"Time for eat," the man announced. It shoved something through the bars - not an apple, but the leg of some poor bird of unidentifiable species. Its talons were still attached, twisted in a bizarre angle, but it was cooked and it was greasy and it was food. And August was starving. He stumbled across the room and grabbed the drumstick. It was the same size as an ordinary chicken leg, but its claws were too long and sharp to belong to anything short of a carnivore, and there was something odd just about eating a carnivore. August didn't care about justice at the moment, he gulped the meat down in two bites without chewing and began to suck on the bone while the man watched. They stared at each other intently.
"That's it?" August prompted. "That was 'time for eat'?"
The man turned away and began to walk off. August bolted to the side of the cage and grabbed onto the bars.
"Come back!" he yelled, "I've only just begun to salivate! I haven't had a decent meal since I left home! How long before you feed me again, huh? You can't keep me here!! You can't lock me up and you can't keep me here!!"
The man walked out of sight.
August stormed across the cell and kicked the bars as hard as he could. While he had been fairly cool about the whole affair, he was now angrier than he had been in a very long time. He was famished, he was hopelessly thirsty and couldn't stop sweating which made him even more parched, and Xeves was probably over the hills and far away by now, with a head full of fluxes and a wide grin on his strangely handsome face, of course only handsome at first glance. August had no idea who would find it handsome after meeting him, however.
August looked down at the floor of the cave below. What did these savages intend to do with him? Feed him to their god? Torture him with hot pokers? He gritted his teeth, and when he heard a loud crunching sound he remembered that he was still sucking on the drumstick. He pulled the jagged end of the leg out of his mouth and spat the sharp bone fragments out of his mouth onto the floor. Then he chucked the remains through the bars and hoped they hit some poor being on the head. He supposed they would see it as a sign from Shade.
The men in this hole probably had no concept of night and day, August realized. The sunlight did not have the power to navigate the labyrinthine corridors that led into the main caverns, and the only light within was provided by bonfires that never went out. It didn't take long before the tedium of just being in this place began to tighten like a vise on August's sanity. He had never been so bored in his entire life. This coupled with an unbearable hunger, aching thirst, no sense of time whatsoever and nothing to look at but brown, turned monotony into literal torture. He walked in circles just for something to do, tried to remember the lyrics of songs, had conversations with himself, all the while remaining wary of the topic. Sane people, he told himself, have conversations with themselves. Lunatics have arguments.
August drifted in and out of catnaps continually whenever he was relaxed, always waking up with a jolt moments later thinking "Oh no I've got to get out of here", then realizing the impossibility of this task, especially in his current weakened state, and drifting off again. But something was happening in the pits below. Bonfires were being lit in circles, and the brown men were beginning to dance bizarre dances and get a lot more social.
"What are they doing down there?" he asked any of the nonexistant companions that he had created to keep him company. None of them replied, because they were all products of August's imagination and, uselessly, couldn't tell him anything that he didn't already know. Imaginary friends were a real drag.
"Dinner time!" somebody announced, and August shrieked aloud and leaped into a defensive position. There was another of the strange men outside his cage, only much smaller, with upturned slits for eyes, light red cheeks, and dark blue gloves and he was holding another greasy drumstick, but there was something different about this individual. The difference being that he was an individual. All of the desert inhabitants appeared to be carbon copies of each other, and August had found it impossible to tell one from another. This one was different. He had expression on his face. August couldn't help but notice this, but he was too hungry to care.
"You've brought his other leg I see," he grunted. He crawled over and snatched it greedily. "How about some water, huh? Would that be acceptable, or am I asking way too much, here?"
The boy stepped back nervously and shook his head. "Uh... sorry..."
August grunted as he tore the last of the meat off the mangled leg and threw it to the ground like a wild animal. He stormed over to the bars where this man stood, scowling.
"You can't keep me in here for long on this," he said. "I don't know how much you guys eat, but I'll die before long if I don't get some water and some real food. I've walked further in this last week than you have in your entire life, rope head, and I need food and I need water. You hear me?"
"Living isn't on the agenda for you I'm afraid," the boy said with a shrug, "You've stumbled into the Cabal Pit. It's a bad move. The plan is to feed you just enough so that you're alive for the Cleansing Ceremony tomorrow morning."
"And what happens at the Cleansing Ceremony?"
"You get cooked until you're as brown and fried as everything else in this pit."
"Oh, so that's your custom?" August demanded. "Snatching people out of the desert and killing them?"
"It's your fur," the boy replied, "It's a pity you're so black and gold, buddy. The Cabal has a policy about exotic colors, they all get sacrificed for the glory of the Shade. It doesn't matter if they happen to be part of a living, breathing person. That's just the Hakuruga way."
"What did you say you are? Hakuruga?"
The man nodded and reached out to touch one of the bars of August's cage, suddenly beginning to smash the ground. Then, he grasped onto a stone, still stomping, and snapped it in too. August winced, and stood further away from the cage. It was true. It really was one.
"The Shade is the supposed creator of the universe and every color in it," the man said in a mocking tone that struck August as distinctly strange, "We don't get to see a lot of color out here in the desert. It's shades of brown as far as the eye can see. When a color does appear, the clerics immediately have it snatched up to sacrifice it to the glory of the Shade."
"You don't sound like you believe it," August pointed out. He had also noticed that this particular man, this Hakuruga, spoke his language fluently albeit with an accent that made him occasionally difficult to understand. The others had a feeble grip on the dialect at best.
"Heck no. I'm an atheist. I don't think there's any Shade, just a lot of light reflecting off stuff and hitting our eyes a certain way. I study a lot, you see. The others hate me, I'm just a heretic to them, and they have me doing all the jobs that nobody else wants to do. Cleaning the toilets, washing the dishes, feeding the sacrifices, you know, that kind of stuff."
"Listen to me," August pleaded, "What's your name?"
"Listen, Arkhial. You've gotta help me. You're probably the only one here who can. Just let me get outta here, let me get back to the desert, I'll be on my way and I'll never show my black and gold hide around here again, okay?"
Arkhial looked uncomfortable. "I don't think I can," he said, "That's uh, that's the kind of thing that'd get me killed around here. Look, don't take this personally, you're a nice guy and all, but, uh... sorry..."
He began to walk away.
"No! Come back!!" August shouted. "Come back! Let me out of here!! Come baaaaaack!!"
Somebody came back towards him - not Arkhial, but one of the guards protecting the entrance to the hall.
"Shut you up!" the guard warned.
August scowled at him and shrank back. He couldn't stay there any longer, he had to get out of there, one way or another.
One side of August's cage was under a thick layer of reddy-brown dirt. August had discovered this while he was passing the time, drawing little pictures in the ground with his index claw and then rubbing it out. Fifteen minutes of this activity turned his dirty paw quite red. The shadow inspected the claw, and tried to rub the dirt off it with his other paw. No success - it was stained.
"This is the dirtiest dirt I've ever seen," he commented to himself. "Roll around in this for a while and this cult of killer Hakurugas probably wouldn't even want me."
He lingered on this for a while. Did he seriously think they would let him go if he just replaced his brilliant black and golds for ordinary dirt? It was crazy, it was insane, but it was a plan. It wasn't a plan worthy of placement in a spy movie, but it was a plan, his only plan, and at that moment he decided that beggers couldn't be choosers and perhaps it was better to get to work instead of thinking about it so much.
He lay down in the dirt and started rolling about as though he had a particularly irritating itch somewhere he couldn't reach. August had been unfortunate enough to be imprisoned a number of times in his life, but of all the escape plans he had concocted, this was probably the strangest.
This is the dumbest thing anyone's ever done, he thought. Just dumb enough to work? Let's just hope.
August had to wail for quite a while before two Hakuruga guards came to investigate, and they probably only intended to knock him unconscious or gag him or something. Their faces contorted in shock when they saw him, and August thought that their entire bodies shifted to a redder hue.
August was lying on his back, still yelling out incomprehensible garbage, and the only blue that was showing on his entire body was dull and in small patches. He was now mostly dirt-brown.
"What wrong with you is?" one of the Hakurugas demanded, "You mental sick? Problem with
"I'm siiiiiiiiiiick!!" August exclaimed. "I'm dyyyyyyyyyyiiiiiiiiing!! I need food and fresh water to restore my complexiiiiiiiiiiiion!"
"Get him up," the guard demanded. The other Hakuruga opened the door to the cage, and as soon as he saw that it was unlocked, August's first instinct was to charge the door and pound it open like a battering ram. His ambition was more than his body could handle, for his fatigued and undernourished muscles could barely put him on his feet. He'd never moved so slowly in all the time that he could remember, and a severe sensation of embarrassment flooded through him. He had transformed into the brown clod.
The Hakuruga guards caught hold of him and dragged him to his feet, forcing him to leave the cage in his custody, and he figured that at the very least they were going to take him to a doctor or something and there would be more opportunities for escape later on.
No such luck, as it turned out. The Hakurugas dragged him past what appeared to be a series of sacred chambers (In each one, several men kneeled side-by side, rocking back and forth quickly with their eyes closed and their colors darkened) until they came to an antechamber at the end of the hall, a tiny synagogue beautifully decorated with stones and crystals of every colour of the rainbow. August noticed that the room wasn't just tiled with natural objects - cemented into the walls were bottlecaps, machine parts and discarded garbage. Everything coloured that they found but didn't consider significant enough to sacrifice probably found its way into this chamber. In this bland brown colony, it looked like a bowerbird's nest.
In the centre of the room was a deep pool that was probably part of a natural hotspring. It was into this pool that August was violently tossed.
August spluttered and tried to scramble out, but the Hakurugas held him down. August could see now that more of the men had entered the chamber, and were staring down at him with their fingers knitted together and morbid, serious expressions on their faces. They were wearing long brown hooded robes that looked as though they were made of hessian, like monks in potato sacks. They did not move but to blink.
"Cleanse you," one of the guards said, scrubbing at August's arms, "Make you clean, washing you holy spring now."
"Washing me or basting me?" August asked, "You know, you're not going to get away with snatching people out of the desert and murdering them."
"Not murder," the man insisted, "Ascension."
"Oh right, I forgot. You're doing me a favor by frying me today."
"It is a boon."
"Thanks, I'm honored."
After restoring August's vibrancy (his fur was even darker than it had ever been before these Hakurugas caught him), they did not drag him back to his old cage but to a new one, a bigger prison that was suspended by a system of ropes. It looked a little like a cable car. They threw him inside and locked the door, and he shouted with frustration and futility until they went away.
So much for escape.
23rd November 2005, 4:05 PM
It was perhaps an hour later, and August was asleep when the Hakurugas returned. In the grogginess of sleep, he barely registered the sounds of a struggle and of the cage door being opened, closed and locked. He came out of his trance and opened his eyes.
All he saw was a claw a nanosecond before it pummeled him in the center of his face.
August twisted, fell over and belatedly screamed as he clutched his bleeding nose.
Xeves stood with him in the cage, scowling and giving his twin a look so acidic it could kill grass.
"That felt good," he said.
August glared for a moment, but then as realization hit he began to chuckle.
"You got caught too!"
"A minor setback," Xeves replied. His eyes narrowed further, but then he grinned. "So," he said, "Look who actually learned how to slide."
"Piece of cake," August said. He straightened up and sniffled, his nose dripping blood but unbroken. "If you have it in you, then I have it in me, right? Isn't that what you've been trying to tell me all along?"
"You're smart as a whip, my brother," Xeves smiled.
"And speaking of which," August added, "If you're so good at it, why don't you just slide into the other lands right now and get out of this cage? Got performance anxiety?"
"You're new to this whole thing, so I'll give you a tip. You only skip over the fence when you know what's on the other side. If these caverns don't exist in the other lands, you've got trouble. I'd much rather be here than manifest myself into nothingness, you bet your sweet black fur."
"So you're just as helpless as I am. How does it feel to be a loser?"
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Xeves snarled, and he gripped the bars of the cage and stared out into the caverns beyond. "I'll be out of here in no time, and I might even stick around to watch them cook you. It serves you right for following me, sticking your nose where it doesn't belong."
"If you get out, then I get out," August replied, "Didn't we just conclude that there's nothing you can do that I can't?"
"Very true, brother. But there's one difference. I'm willing to kill as many of these people as is necessary to get out of this can. I can't say the same for you."
August opened his mouth to reply, but there was no rebutting clear logic. If bloodshed was the only way to get out of this mess, then without a doubt, Xeves held the cards.
Time, in its cruel and unusual march, lumbered on. The Hakurugas were creatures of patience, it seemed, and although August was loathe to admit it, a part of him was quite glad to finally have some company. Months of wandering the continent alone had a way of doing something to him, made him yearn for a familiar face, even if it did belong to his murderous twin.
"So, interesting story I heard back in Kanto," August began, "There's a priest there who seems to think you're messing with some pretty dangerous powers. You've always been a pest, but I didn't think world domination was your style."
"I couldn't care less about ruling the world, August," Xeves replied darkly, "You know as well as I do that I'm not interested in that kind of responsibility. God was a little misguided, you see. All He wanted to do was create. He invested all that energy into creating. What a waste. The power to destroy is the only power that matters. I'm sure you can relate."
"No way," August replied.
"Oh, sure, you're into all that usual stupid tripe. Monsters are cooler than mankind, yadda yadda yadda. I know how your mind works, after all, we share the same past, the same memories. Don't you ever forget that, August. I dreamed of snakes, too. We were brought into this world hard, dear brother, born of a lot of pain and suffering. You think you don't want what happened to you to happen to anybody else, but I'm more realistic. I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no-one to escape." He turned to August, and there was a strange grin on his face, a frightening grin. "Do you remember when they used to tell you that you were useless? That you were nothing? Don't you want to prove them wrong once and for all?"
"Not like this," August said, "Not like this."
"Oh, I think if you searched your feelings deep enough you might just frighten yourself. That's the beauty of being you. I know things about you that you'll never admit."
"We're not so alike, Xeves. You're a gullible idiot, believing that you're going to rule the universe with a bunch of old rocks. That's the kind of fairy tale I stopped believing before I could talk."
"Oh really?" Xeves laughed, "That's interesting! Why did you drop everything to follow me here? Just bored, I suppose? You could have died in that desert. Seems strange that you'd give your life for a fairy tale."
Again, August didn't have a response. He was spared this embarrassment by a sudden movement in the ropes that attached to the top of their cage. There were a lot of loud voices coming from the dark of the Hakuruga catacombs, and the ropes were pulling them, now, destination unknown. From the sound of those voices, something exciting was happening, but August didn't feel much like celebrating.
"I think it's time for us to die," Xeves chuckled.
August just rattled the bars uselessly as their hanging prison was slowly winched into the darkness.
There was more contributing to the Hakurugas' joy this day than the celebration of two colorful gifts from heaven about to be burned in the name of the Shade. The word echoed throughout the caves like a voice from above. These were the Final Times, this word said. The beginning of the end. Soon, the Shade would descend from His heavenly throne by way of a rainbow, would return to the world and drain it of colors as though sucking the juice from an orange. He would spit out the nonbelievers, the unworthy, the sinners and the unredeemable, and leave them in a black-and-white purgatory of a toneless, achromatic world. The rest would be taken to the kaleidoscopic heaven of the Saved, to bask in the glory of His colors for an eternity.
They knew this, because, as promised since time immeasurable, the Prophet had come. Empowered with the ability to perform miracles, to control the colors of the world through the power of the Shade, the Prophet of the Shade had arrived to inform his followers of the future. When asked about the coming times, the Prophet had smiled and announced that the world was about to end.
The Cathedral of the Shade was the holiest chamber in the Pit of the Hakuruga Cabal. For hundreds of years the Hakurugas collected the colored objects that decorated the walls of the cathedral, the residue of technological and artistic legacies. An outsider might descend into the dark caves of the Cabal and find what they perceive to be a giant hole lined with scrap, and they may even guess that the ones who lived here used this room as their garbage dump. It would be a hundred and eighty degrees from the truth, for the useless debris that lined these walls were the most sacred of things, and their holiness could only be contained within the most sacred of places.
Here, the Prophet sat upon a throne that had been made for him by his followers, not the most beautiful (or comfortable) chair ever to grace the world but certainly the most elaborate piece of furniture to created by the Hakuruga Cabal. The Prophet sat in his robes and watched the sacrificial inferno blaze in the centre of the cathedral, soon to be stoked with the kindling of the brightly pigmented outsiders. Above the fire, bathed in the glow of its orange flames, was a massive brown statue cut into the rock wall. The statue of a Hakuruga, leaping out from the wall in a frozen spear-dive, both arms thrust out ahead. These hands were clasped around an object, thrusting it toward the observer, not like an offering so much as an imposition. This object was the focal point of the entire cathedral, the centerpiece, the accretion of all-importance. A small stone, deceptively ordinary, like every other rock under the sand and soil. Except that this stone was flat and smooth, and it was emblazoned with a symbol, a simple design carved into it like a marker. An ordinary lexicon, but one that for some reason hurt the head to look at.
Perhaps because it's meaning was too complex to fit comfortably inside the sane mind.
Hakurugas dressed in the robes of the priesthood flanked the Prophet and prayed to the Shade. Others worked the machines that winched a series of ropes high above the inferno. The sound of chanting and worship hit a crescendo when the sacrificial cage came into sight and moved slowly toward the blazing fire. The Shade would be pleased, and nobody who believed in His grace would need to fear the end times.
"They're going to put us right over that fire," August lamented. "They'll cook us like chicken schnitzels, all 'cause we're too colorful. You know, there are some things about this world that make it difficult to figure out why I want to save the monsters from your wrath."
"There you go, August," Xeves replied with a grin, "There's that good old cynicism rising to the surface at long last. Hold onto that, brother, it's the last thing to go. Soon you'll be begging me to end this world. We might even join together, side by side, the way it's always supposed to have been. What do you say?"
"Sure. When the Cabal freezes over and Hakurugas fly. What are you smiling about, spinebag?"
His twin's tooth-filled grin widened, like a crocodile sighting it's prey. "I know something you don't know," he sang.
"I'll bet," August replied. "What is it? The length of a piece of string? The number of angels that can dance on the head of a Hakuruga?"
"Actually it's the number of runes no longer lost to the ages, oh my brother, and the answer is right over there."
He grabbed a handful of fur that sprouted from the back of August's head, and jerked them to the right, forcing August, with a yelp of pain, to turn his head to the left. Like that the two stood and gazed out together into the Cathedral of the Shade. The immediate focus for them both was the giant statue carved out of the stone wall, its arms thrust out ahead of it and victoriously clutching something so small that it was difficult to see. August squinted to try and make it out.
"The Rune of Nothogodos," Xeves whispered in awe, as though the name meant something to August, but it didn't. It didn't even ring a bell.
"Is that thing supposed to impress me?" he asked.
"It should," his dark twin replied, "It impresses me a lot, being that such a small and simple thing contains one seventh of the energy keeping two realities from colliding like worlds in a shrinking orbit."
Sparks of static electricity were snap-crackle-popping like wet cereal at the point where Xeves was grasping August's fur, but neither was too concerned until Xeves reached around to put an arm around August's shoulders (a brotherly gesture that seemed too comfortable, and August was terrified by the idea that some innate bond between them was continually trying to bring them together as kinbound siblings despite their inexorable enmity). A loud crack ripped through the air as soon as they touched, and a dart of pain made August flinch and shove the other away. "Don't touch me," he growled.
His shoulder stung in the place where his body had made contact with that of his otherworldly equivalent. Whatever glitched physics made Xeves what he was, still made it impossible for the twins to touch without a painful electrical discharge ripping between them. Xeves also tendered his stung paw, but continued to gaze out at the stone at the peak of the statue.
"It's fascinating how these people have grown so fanatical living down here with the Rune," he said, "Through the years its power has been filling these caverns like a poisonous gas, but poisonous for the mind. It's influenced their religion, like the presence of a something radioactive will mutate the environment. The Rune has mutated their minds."
"Insightful," August sighed, rolling his eyes.
"It works just the way it's supposed to. Do you believe my fairy tale yet, August?"
"All I believe is that some whacked out cult of technicolored people is about to roast us for our fashion sense if we don't do something soon."
The cage began to heat up amidst the growing excitement of the Cabal.
Time slithered past like a fat and gluttonous serpent, achingly sluggish and laggard, the slow-devourer of August's well cherished sanity. The heat was growing, and he knew it would continue doing so until they were both toast. And yet he watched his evil twin from across the cage (he didn't want to get too close in case he got zapped by the electric reaction between himself and his other... or worse, be taken in by the insane urge to be even closer to Xeves and forget his animosity). Xeves, the reflection of his own mind and soul, was using the wits for which he had been notorious in the world where he went by the name of Kinnos Ashashii. The wits for which August himself was notorious in his own world. He could see the dark twin staring out into the caverns, looking one way and the other, focused, always thinking.
August had never been accused of brilliance, but speed of body required speed of thought. That was one thing he had learned from his short time with Keven, a mentor he had known a while ago, in which we may come to learn of in another tale. Whatever he did think, he thought it quickly. And of course, everything he had learned, every skill he possessed, he passed on to Xeves upon his creation.
What he feared was that his dark twin would soon come up with a way to escape the cage, and when that happened, he would use the opportunity to consign August to his fiery fate while he made off with his life and his Rune. August knew that he would have to escape first, and so their entrapment became a kind of mind-race, a battle of wits.
August had to slow down his twin, so he did it the only way he knew how. He attacked the ego he knew Xeves had (because he possessed it himself) by drowning it in questions.
"So how did you get the psycho eating out of your hand?" he asked, "And where is he now?"
"What?" Xeves mumbled, clearly irritated by the distraction.
"That Muk," August clarified, "That lunatic."
"Raputain is a moron," the other replied, "I bought his services the same way you buy anything from a moron. By giving him crap he doesn't need. What's normal to us amazes him. He's so addicted to modern comforts that he's as loyal as a dumb puppy, he'll be waiting at the front door for me no matter how long I'm stuck down here. He's also a big fan of the Prophecy."
Xeves grinned. "That a leader draped in violet will inherit the world."
August frowned and looked again at the rock that Xeves had called the Rune of Nothogodos. The symbol on the flat face of the stone, like a letter 'G' drawn without curves, burned his mind with its simplicity and the power of its connotations. His head ached from the heat, but it ached more when he looked at that symbol.
"Why does it make my head hurt?" he asked.
Xeves shrugged. "It's probably doing the same thing to your mind as it's doing to theirs." He pointed to the crowd of praying, celebrating Hakurugas.
But that was preposterous, August thought. He wasn't taken with a desire to burn things and pray to a colors-god. But yet, he did feel something, when his guard was down and his mind was at its most vulnerable. A feeling like some otherworldly broadcast that he couldn't hear or interpret was being transmitted into the core of his brain. He felt no compulsion to get on his knees and pray to the Shade, but there was the nagging suggestion that, should that compulsion already exist, then it would be a lot easier to give in to it down here in the Pit of the Rune. Especially given the discomfort of roasting slowly over an open fire.
There was a new commotion down below. The tone of the celebrations changed just enough to gather August's interest, and he saw that many of the hessian-cloaked men were consulting, engrossed, with another figure who appeared to hold some kind of authority over the others. Perhaps an archbishop of sorts, some kind of High Priest of the Shade.
"I wonder who he is," August murmured.
"The Tooth Fairy, for all I care," Xeves replied, "Feeling the heat yet, dear brother? Starting to sweat?"
"Mind your own business."
"Now, that's a piece of advice you should have followed when I gave it to you months ago. If you'd had the sense to keep yourself to yourself then you'd be cool and comfortable right now surrounded by our good friends."
"No friends of yours, Xeves."
"Sure they are! Sure! Hey, what've you got that I ain't got? Nothing, that's what. And hey, how are the old gang these days? How's the girls there, got your eye on one?"
"If you ever lay a hair on one," August said, "I'll saw off your paws and use them as doorstops."
"Ouch! Touchy," Xeves replied, "Well, I guess I'll lay off, don't wanna start a fight with you. Don't wanna turn this into a cage wrestling match, not when we're bonding so well.
This is a great excuse to get to know each other, don't you think?"
"I'm afraid of getting to know you," August admitted. It was the truth. "I'm afraid of what might happen, and you should be as well."
Xeves looked him in the eyes for the first time in the conversation, cautiously but curiously. "Yes," he said, "Yes, I know what you mean. We are the same person, you know. Shove us together in the same reality for too long, and the universe starts feeling a little crowded, starts trying to pull us together like two magnets with opposite charges. You know, you could always join me, August. Together, we're halfway to being a deity already."
"Never," August replied.
"Sure," Xeves said, "But you realize what that means. The moment we step outside this cage, it's war. This world will have one of us dead, one way or another, if it can't bring us together. And I don't have any intention of letting it be me." He grinned that toothy, terrifying shark-grin of his. "I'll kill you if I can, oh my brother. I like you, you know. I like you a lot. And I'd like very much for you to die."
"I know," August said, and the mind-race resumed, a precursor to the marathon around the world that was about to begin. The greatest race of their lives - two enter, only one leaves.
The next real conversation they had was almost a full year later, and ended with a murder. Approach your starting positions please, gentlemen, and start your engines.
25th November 2005, 1:42 AM
I asked him, "Free of Spirit, why cannot you just accept,
That without your faith, among your kind you garner no respect?"
He replied, "I fear that these are simply not beliefs that I can hold,
When everything I see does contradict what I am told."
"Black and Purple!" a Hakuruga exclaimed, and ripped August out of a reduced state of consciousness. He realized that his fatigue, combined with malnutrition and heat, were getting to him enough that his body was trying to shut down whether or not he was willing to allow it.
Xeves, much more prepared for his journey than August had been, was burdened with no such problem. Reflections of each other though they may have been, they were becoming much less equal as time went on and had its way with August's overworked self.
"Open your eyes and rise and shine, rise and shine, rise and shine," Xeves muttered.
"The Prophet is wishes to be speaking with you," the man said with its broken speech, "Is wishes to see you before you is to be given to the Shade."
"I is cannot understandify," August said.
"I believe," Xeves replied, "That the fellow down below wants to have a word with us before he roasts our hides."
A group of Hakuruga guards moved to collect the ‘’twin’s’ and escort them out of the cage. For a moment August was sure that Xeves would execute some kind of escape plan the moment the cage door was opened, that he would slice their captors apart with a deadly beam of psychic power and bolt. But Xeves was complacent about the situation, and allowed them to take him willingly. In fact, he began laughing as the guards seized him. "Hallelujah!" he exclaimed, "A Governor's pardon! At this late hour! Saved! Saved!"
"Could be out of the frying pan and into the fire," August warned, as the men came to take him as well.
"A poorly-executed pun, my brother," Xeves said, "Should I assume you have reservations about the motives of this so-called Prophet and his intentions toward us?"
Xeves laughed again as they were escorted together away from their near-execution. "Maybe he's a cannibal! And oh, maybe he's really hungry, too. Fe! Fi! Fo! Fum! I smell the blood of an Umbreon! (August winced at being called by a human name) And maybe I'll convince him to eat you first. You always were the juicy one, I'll give you that. Your bones would make excellent bread, dear brother..."
"You shut up!" one of the men commanded.
"You know, you guys are too serious," August grinned, "You really should learn to smile more, get a sense of humour, maybe brighten up the decor around here so it's not quite so drab. Nothing says 'dangerous lunatic desert cult' like a nice coat of blue or teal-"
The Hakuruga slapped Xeves and August across the face, cutting him off. Xeves’s larrikin grin vanished instantly, as though it had been slapped right off his head, and for just a moment it was replaced with what August considered to be the most evil glare he had ever been unfortunate enough to see. For that moment it was as though his ‘’twin’'s’ facade had been stripped away and he had been given a glimpse of what was really at the fundamental core of what it was to be Xeves. A chill ran down his spine and he imagined that if that Hakuruga had been alone in a room with Xeves and had slapped him the way he did, then there wouldn't be very much left of the Hakuruga before too long. After all, underneath the mask of a harlequin, Xeves was still an enthusiastic murderer.
If he'd kill a person for looking at him awkwardly, August couldn't bear to imagine the grisly fate of one who would dare to give him a demeaning slap across the face like that.
Once again, August was certain that his ‘twin’ was about to go into a psychic mode and create a bloodbath, but an apathetic grin once again found its way to Xeves' face and he continued to go willingly, although he kept an eye on that offending person, perhaps fantasising about the many horrid things he could do to him, things that didn't rightly belong in anybody's sane fantasy.
The brothers were once again taken to the antechamber with the hotspring, and thrown to their knees beside it.
"You will be purified before you is speaking with the Holy Prophet!" one of the men demanded.
"I've already had a bath today," August said, but they were held down while they were washed and brutally scrubbed by their captors. August got some small comfort out of the fact that every now and again a man would stab himself when washing his teeth, and scream in pain.
After the purification, they were taken to seperate rooms and locked up. August was alone again, and he was at once happy and dismayed to be seperated from his evil ‘twin’. What he was definitely happy about was being away from the scorching heat of the death cage. It was dark here, though, and once again he was bored senseless.
No more than thirty minutes later, the door opened again and a Hakuruga stepped in, carrying a plate of food. This time, there was a considerable amount of it, and when the smell of roast beast hit August's nose it felt like being punched in the face and again in the gut. Before his brain had time to interpret his senses, he had snatched the food away and was already devouring it. It was a problem that sometimes his instincts often kicked in before he knew what he was doing, like anyone else might pull their hand back automatically when touching something hot, though on a larger scale. August often referred to it as 'breaking the mind barrier'.
"Whoa, slow down there, you'll give yourself indigestion," the man chuckled, notably smaller than the rest of the Hakurugas.
August recognized the well-flowing speech and unique demeanour of this Hakuruga. It was Arkhial, the faithless and shunned one.
"Hey, Arkhial, right?" August said between bites, "Good to see you, thanks for completely abandoning me and furthermore continuing to help the Nutcase Cabal to prepare me for slaughter."
"Hey come on dude," Arkhial protested, "I brought you a lot more food than I was supposed to."
"Thanks, but it's not going to mean much if I'm dead."
"Hey." Arkhial looked both ways, as though checking to make sure they were alone. Keeping his voice down, he said, "I might know a way I can sneak you outta here."
"Oh?" Now he was interested. Any way he could get one-up on Xeves was of value to him.
"Yes," the Hakuruga replied, "The other guy will be harder, but..."
"No," August interrupted, "No, uh-uh, don't you worry about him. Just focus on getting me topside again and let him burn for all I care."
Arkhial appeared shocked. "And here you are making cracks about my lack of compassion! Aren't you ‘twin’s or something? You look like..."
"Compassion has nothing to do with it, he makes your Cabal look like a snug hamlet of happy little love sprites, believe me. And he's not the kind of ‘twin’ that you're thinking of. We're not ‘twin’s by birth, he's more like... well, he’s the original. I’m like what happens when your negative thoughts bubble to the surface and someone skims them off like a layer of cream."
"I don't follow," Arkhial said.
"Don't worry, just tell me how I can get out of this hole," August replied.
"Well, I'll help you on one condition."
"I'll help you if you help me." Arkhial gave a weak smile. "I was kinda thinking how much I hate this place... you know, day in and day out being treated like scum by a bunch of uptight fundies, and I realized that all I need to do is find someone who can take me somewhere. I mean, somewhere pleasant, away from all of this, far away. If you know anywhere like that, then I'd love to come with you."
"Home..." August muttered. "Karth said the very same thing to me once... back when we first met. I'm sorry, I'm talking about a friend of mine, his situation was a lot like yours, and he we helped each other escape so that we could get back to my home in Hoenn, in a forest village where we both live now. It's a paradise, I wouldn't live anywhere else."
"Sounds great," Arkhial said, "What's the catch?"
"The catch is that I'm not going back there for a while. I have some business to attend to first, and I don't know how long it's going to take. We might have to suffer through some worse places than this before things start to get better."
"I guess that's always the way it is," Arkhial replied with a grin. "After you've cleaned enough toilets, though, you really start to wonder how many places really could be worse than this."
"Xeves is crafty and very, very dangerous," August said, "He will get out of here, one way or another. Even if he has to bring this whole place down and wipe out every single Hakuruga, he's going to get out. I need to be ready to follow him when he does, not locked in some cage. If you're ready to commit yourself to this, then I'll take you as far as you want to go. As long as you can keep up."
"It's a deal. Just show me where to sign."
The portal creaked open and another Hakuruga stepped inside, flanked by others, some of whom were dressed in robes. Arkhial stepped aside to give them a berth, but they ignored his presence.
"It's time," one of them said, and began to approach him.
No words were exchanged between August and Xeves as they were escorted together into the holiest chamber of the Hakuruga Cabal. Clearly their captors would not tolerate the endless chattering of their radiant heretic sacrifices; more than that, though, August felt that there was simply nothing more to be said between them right now. Xeves, being that he shared August's mind, probably felt the same. While they were being marched side-by-side, August could feel the hairs on his leg closest to his ‘twin’ stand on end, like they might if he was close to something with a powerful static charge. He wondered briefly whether his unnatural proximity to his otherworldy 'brother' might even be irradiating him somehow, causing him harm, like standing too close to unshielded fallout. If so, a part of him gleamed a morbid satisfaction from the idea that he was having the same effect on Xeves.
The Hakuruga priests (or acolytes, or monks, or shamen, or whatever they were) who wore the heavy, concealing robes stood in groups either side of the hedgehogs and their escorts as they approached the seated figure that August could only assume was the Cabal's famous Prophet.
With Xeves beside him, and with their slow and choreographed march toward the hooded figure at the head of the cathedral, August had the sudden and hilarious impression that he and his evil ‘twin’ were participating in some bizarre wedding. If that guy's first words are 'Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today', August thought, I am getting out of here even if it kills me.
Only silence waited for them at the base of the Prophet's throne, however. The hooded figure stared down at them from the dark abyss of his concealed face, and for a moment nothing was said. The Hakuruga clergy backed off a little, as though being too near their holy leader at this time was painful, or blasphemous, or both. The guards who escorted the prisoners, however, remained close at hand. August and his ‘twin’ were suddenly jabbed in he back with spears, hard enough to draw blood.
"Kneel before the Holy One!" a Hakuruga demanded, then shouted something in a language that August didn't understand. Then, again in broken half-coherence, "His words is the marker of your fates are! You is unworthy of belief! He speak!"
"Well done," August replied bitterly, "That was almost a sentence." He and Xeves complied with their captors' demands, getting onto their knees before the Prophet and staring up at him from the base of his too-tall regal throne. He hoped that they would not be asked to kiss his feet or anything of the sort.
So this was it. This was the one pardon that August's luck was willing to grant him, his one chance to do something or say something that might save him from the Hakuruga frying pan. If destiny meant this to be his escape opportunity, then now was surely the time to act. Staring up at that hooded face, however, August's mind drew only blanks. For now, at least, he had no idea how he was to talk himself out of this situation.
The Prophet lifted his right hand from the arm of the throne and raised it slowly towards the darkness behind his hood, and August almost immediately noticed something rather bizarre. This regal religious figure was wearing a cheap, cheap, cheap, tacky, plastic novelty ring on his middle finger, one of those chemical-filled mood rings that changed colour depending on how warm and clammy the hand is.
"Hey, hey wait a second!" exclaimed Xeves. A guard tried to silence him with his spear, but the Espeon seemed to realize something that August hadn't. August looked again at that novelty ring and tried to remember why it looked so familiar, where he had seen one of those only recently.
Before the answer came to him through his own effort, it was revealed to him by other means. The hand grasped the Prophet's heavy hood and pulled it back, their host's grinning face emerging from the shadow.
"What are you doing here?" barked Xeves, in a tone of voice that may have been anger, or relief, or a bit of both.
The Prophet of the Hakuruga Cabal was Raputain the Muk. He nibbled on his finger with complacent glee.
"I'm doomed," August said quietly.
"Hey, Ecksy, whaddaya say!" the Muk sang.
"What-are-you-doing-here?" Xeves repeated.
Raputain shrugged, as if the answer were as straight-forward as a children's math puzzle.
"I'm their prophecised holy leader!" he said, "Who knew?"
"Now I've seen everything," Xeves mumbled.
"Hey, I just perform a few miracles and suddenly an obscure religious sect is worshipping me," the Muk said, "Nothing much to do but go with the flow, right?"
August noticed that the entire congregation of Hakurugas’s skin color had now changed to approximately match the shade of Raputain's mood ring, which was a kind of greeny-yellow. He figured that that ring probably had something to do with the Muk's high regard within the Cabal. For people who considered discarded candy wrappers to be gifts from God, the possession of a colour-changing jewel had probably the same impact as the ability to change water into wine.
"This is ridiculous!" August exclaimed, "Can't you people see that he's just an idiot with a two-dollar children's toy? He can't perform miracles, he probably can't even tie his own shoelaces!"
"Heresy!" Raputain screamed, and on cue, one of the Hakuruga guards beat August over the head hard enough to make him see stars.
"Speak you will not against the Holy Prophet!" the Hakuruga commanded. Raputain giggled like a schoolgirl.
"Well, it looks like you're having quite a ball here, Rap," Xeves said, "Hate to put a damper on things, but time waits for no one. We've got some work to do, and I'd really rather get back on track with it. Tell your friends to get the rune down and show us the exit, will you? Oh, and get them to kill him." He pointed at August, who gulped.
"Hmm." Raputain started biting his nails again, "See, I'm not entirely sure that's as easy as it sounds, Ecksy. I mean, these guys are awfully attached to that rock."
As though the mention of the stone was some kind of cue, most of the Hakurugas clasped their hands together in prayer. One man in the crowd shrieked, "The Shade watches us always! He sees by way of the Stone!"
"The Stone," several others agreed.
"And," the Muk continued, "They've really been looking forward to frying you two. This is like the party of the century for these guys, they really don't get to bring out the good crockery very often if you get my drift and I think you do. I'm only a prophet, any command I give is really only more of a guideline."
"The Prophet of the Shade!" a Hakuruga declared, "Tell us! Tell us of the End Time! Show us your colors!"
Xeves let out a sigh; not of defeat, but of irritation. Impatiently, he glanced up at the Rune, held high above the cathedral's sacrificial fire, and then back at Raputain, who was basking in this ridiculously absurd farce.
"Right," Xeves sighed, "I've had enough of this crap."
August had always been shocked and a little afraid when his ‘twin’ made full use of his speed. He had never been in a position to see himself through the eyes of others, but this was closer to that than most people ever had the chance to be, he figured. It was a similar feeling to when people saw themselves on film and wondered; Is that really how I look? It was easy for August to forget that, with Xeves around, he was no longer the fastest thing alive. When his reflection turned on his jets, August was always a little scared, for it reminded him that the talent he so often took for granted, when placed in the wrong hands, was a terrifying one.
Before anyone even knew he was moving, let alone tried to stop him, Xeves had already reversed the balance of power with a burst of agility. He leaped backwards, jumping above the weapons of his captors, and landed behind them. By the time they turned to face him again, he had already torn a spear out of a guard’s hands. He snapped the weapon apart, keeping only the tip of it looped in his tail, and leaped forward again. Two and a half seconds after his first movement, he had Raputain held hostage with the point of the spear against the Muk's throat.
Raputain was still smiling and giggling even a moment after it happened. Even he had barely seen Xeves at work. Now his smile faded and distorted into a confused, half-blank expression of delayed shock.
"Uhhh... Hey, Kinnos..."
"I'm your Prophet, now," Xeves announced. The congregation was in chaos, now, all of them crying out in horror and panic.
"This is what I forsee. You brown color-loving freaks are going to do as I say, or else the keeper of your destiny is going to bleed real bad."
For a moment it seemed that Xeves was the only individual in the synagogue who was still breathing. Even August's breath had caught in his throat, watching as the stand-off unfolded in terrifying slow motion before him. This was the dreaded moment of truth, his ‘goody-goody’ brother was going to escape the pit and have him murdered for his trouble. What could he do? Any attempt on his own part to attack the Hakurugas and make his own escape would probably only serve as a convenient distraction for Xeves to make off with his coveted Rune and escape the Cabal, and even then the Hakurugas, having seen one colorful being already reveal his power, may be more prepared to bring down August should he make a similar move.
"Blasphemer!" one of the men shouted, "Unhand the great Prophet!"
"Sorry," Xeves replied, "It's been a blast, it really has. No, I'm lying." The cat took a step back, dragging Raputain with him. The Muk appeared half-terrified, and August figured that he had good reason to - it was arguable whether being a friend or an ally to Xeves made it less likely that he would slit your throat just for something to do.
August glanced around madly and tried to figure out some way he could one-up his evil ‘twin’ in this situation. It was then that he spotted his wild card, the one advantage he had, the ace up his sleeve that might make or break the next five minutes.
Arkhial stood beside him, though he hadn't known how long the Hakuruga had been there. August knew who it was, for all of the others were somehow photocopies of each other, but
Arkhial had his own character even now.
"There'll be a special place for you all in the New World Order," Xeves rasped, "The world is ending, all right, but there's no heaven for you lot. The place where-"
Arkhial reached across and grasped a hold of August's arm. Perhaps a gesture of comfort or consolation, perhaps a precursor to leading him away; either way, the moment the child's flesh touched his own, time stopped. It stopped dead.
Xeves' mouth was still half open. He had been caught mid-sentence. Everybody else was completely static, the world had been paused like a film.
Everyone except August and Arkhial were as still as bodies in the grave.
"Whoa..." Arkhial whispered, and the two turned to look at each other, "What just-"
Their eyes met, and August saw an expression of something like horror on Arkhial's face for a moment - an expression that he himself imitated when he realized that he could see the entire universe in Arkhial's eyes.
For that was when August had his second Awakening.
25th November 2005, 9:59 AM
Wow. I really really like this! I like the poem, I like the description. Please post more faster!
25th November 2005, 11:08 PM
Yay. Reviews! Reviews! I should be starting to post much, much more faster now. Maybe it's because of the fanfiction contest? I dunno, I've just begun working on it harder.
I said, "But will you sacrifice your kin for such a stand?"
He replied, "I simply want to be allowed to understand,
I lack the ability to put my conviction on a shelf,
This world is so complex I need to seek the answers for myself."
August and Arkhial stood together in absolute darkness. Despite this, he had no trouble at all seeing the Hakuruga. When he looked down to catch a glimpse of himself, he found that he could not see any part of himself. He didn't seem to have a body. He wondered if Arkhial's situation was reversed.
He heard Arkhial speak - but that wasn't quite right. He didn't hear it, he thought it, or more accurately, he received Arkhial's thoughts as his own. Like they shared the same mind.
Am I dead? he thought. It seemed a reasonable enough inquiry.
(If you're dead, then we're dead together) replied the Arkhial-mind.
You heard my thought?
(Yes... or something... this is... is this a dream?)
August tried to close his eyes but found that he didn't have eyes to close. He was disembodied... he began to panic.
No... I have to remain calm. I think this is-
August found to his monumental confusion that he was at times unable to differentiate between his own thoughts and Arkhial's. They finished each other's sentences, their thoughts ran together and mixed like two liquids.
When August calmed himself, he found that he had a body. Well, to be true, he imagined that he had one. Imagination and perception seemed inseperable concepts in this mixed-mind state. The shadow and Hakuruga stood across from each other in a blank, featureless abyss-world.
(August, where are we? What are we doing?)
I don't know.
(I'm scared, I need to get back to reality, I need-)
Arkhial's body seemed to fade away before August's eyes.
No! Arkhial! he projected his thoughts with as much force as he could muster, You have to relax, I don't know why but I think that this is important, I think this is something we need to do, and we might never have another chance.
Arkhial manifested again, and calmed himself. August could feel his calm.
(I've never felt-)
-anything like this in-
It seemed that the more they settled into this bizarre state, the more their minds seemed to merge, closer and closer until August couldn't even tell whether he was August or Arkhial anymore.
I don't know why, August thought
(-but I think-)
The instant they transmitted this word, the setting changed. They were no longer standing in a blank and empty mindscape, but in the desert above the Pit of the Cabal, the wasteland. Sand blew in whips around them, through them, between them, just...everywhere. They did not exist, but in a way, they did.
(This is my life, you see-)
-and what I need is an-
Yes, I know. I can see that.
(Can you help me? Will you?)
I will. I don't think I can complete this quest without you.
(We are somehow connected... aren't we?)
We are now.
August wondered how long they might be able to remain in this state. Was time passing normally outside, or had time frozen for them indefinitely? Had they been granted all the time in the universe to do what needed to be done here? He thought probably not. They had some time, for sure, a lenient amount, enough for them to settle in to their first Awakening and do what needed to be done. But the engine of their fate would soon crank up again, and August knew that if their business here had not been taken care of by then, they would be doomed. They would probably both die down here in the heat, the heat of fate.
Arkhial, concentrate. I need you to open up to me.
(I don't understand!)
I need something... from your mind.
(What is it?)
I don't know.
(I can't do this, August, I'm... I'm losing my...)
Arkhial began to fade away again.
No, come back! Concentrate! Concentrate!
The childlike Hakuruga solidified, but his image was insubstantial and unstable. The connection between them was failing, there was a blockage in Arkhial's mind that prevented it. The Hakuruga refused to believe this was happening, it went against everything he believed about the simplicity of the world, and he held back.
Give it to me!
August was wading through Arkhial's mind, searching for something. The information found was fragmented and scattered. The desert shifted around them like it was alive.
August found himself fading as well, now. Arkhial's disbelief was polluting his own mind, eating away at their connection like acid. They pulled away from each other, pushed each other away, as two matching poles will push two magnets apart. But before their Awakening was severed, August caught a glimpse of what he needed to know. Just a glimpse and nothing more - whether it was enough was yet to be known.
Arkhial released his hold on August's arm like the fur and flesh had seared him. His eyes were still wide with horror, and August saw that, bizarrely, Arkhial's entire body had turned into a dark ebony, the exact same color as August's fur.
The moment their bodies broke contact, time started again, skins and furs back to their original settings.
"-you're going is very dark and very uncomfortable." Xeves completed his sentence. He still held the Cabal's Prophet - Raputain the Muk - hostage at the end of a spearhead.
"What just happened?" Arkhial demanded, "What was that, what did you do to me?"
August didn't reply, he looked up from the Hakuruga's shock-riddled face and saw that Xeves was gone. He had bolted, and was running towards the statue that held the stone he wanted so dearly, the warriors of the Cabal hot on his heels. The time for action was now.
"Do you still want to escape?"
"Say what?" Arkhial was still in shock.
"I said, do you still want to escape? Answer me!"
"Yes! Yes, of course!"
"Then for our sake get on my back and hold on as tightly as possible!"
There were no more questions. Arkhial mounted the shadow like a jockey on his steed, and they went off like a bullet from a shot gun before the Hakuruga Cabal could reclaim their sacrifice.
They left the cathedral and descended into the labyrinth that was the great Pit, leaving the enraged cultists in the dust.
There was no time for directions, for consultations, for trial and error. It was time for speed, and the only thing driving August now was what he had seen in Arkhial's mind. What he had glimpsed that was of such great importance - maps of the underground, knowledge of the Pit, information that only the mind of someone who had lived here all his life could provide. For a moment their minds had been one, and in that moment August had downloaded all he needed to know to escape the underworld.
They both tore through the Pit like gusts of wind, an obsidian flash, disturbing the red sand and soil of this underground community. Kinnos Ashashii, the scourge of the otherlands, made one last brutal move to desecrate the strange faith of the cult, having offended the Prophet and spat in the eye of the Prophet Himself. The final, mortal attack would strike at the most hallowed object in these caves, the Stone that throbbed with energy and hurt the head of its observer for the sight of it. Dozens of spears, skillfully thrown, zipped past him as he ran. He darted back and forth, laughing all the way, roaring with laughter in fact, for the time of his victory was now, and it was so sweet.
August could hear the shouts and cries of the Hakuruga Cabal behind him, but they did not pursue with the determination they had to begin with. Something was distracting them, he knew. Xeves. His dark twin would go for the Rune, and the Cabal would be more interested in this blasphemy than in his own escape. Nevertheless, he ran as fast as he could, Arkhial clutching at his fur, through tunnels and caves that were foreign to him.
And yet they weren't foreign at all... a part of his brain insisted that he was hopelessly lost, but another part swore that he knew this place like the back of his hand. Arkhial's memories sat above his own like a layer of fog, and they weren't as lucid as his own, but he could read them just fine if he concentrated a little. Much of it came down to instinct, vague familiarity and deja vu, but he knew that following these feelings would take him out just as sure as if he were reading a map.
Xeves scaled the massive stone statue of the Hakuruga that grew out of the wall of this strange cathedral. Who did it represent? Some great hero of ancient Hakuruga myth? Perhaps the Shade Himself? It interested him only in passing. He shouted taunts back down to the furious cave dwellers whose spears bounced harmlessly off the stone around and below him. When he reached the Rune, the sight of it filled his mind with such haunting images. Its proximity would be hideously uncomfortable to August. It would be uncomfortable to anybody with an abnormal soul. But Xeves had some quite different ideas about abnormality, and as with many things, his reaction to its pulsing, hurtful energy was reversed. He was drawn to the Stone with the same inexplicable and unexplainable need as a moth to a light. When he touched it, he was swallowed by it.
August emerged from the caves and was engulfed by the heat of the desert. Mixed with his relief was an almost equally intense feeling of dread.
"Oh yeah," he said, "That's right. I forgot about this. Let's go back to the sacrifice cage."
Arkhial dropped to the sand with a groan.
"Ouch," he said, "You're...too...fast."
"I guess this is your last chance to go back to the Pit," August told the Hakuruga, "I have to keep on Xeves' trail, and that means we have to keep moving. I have to admit, after the last few months, I'd sure love the company. And I have a feeling that somehow I was supposed to meet you."
("You will have seven Awakenings before your quest is complete," the street-preacher had said, "And then you will take the place.")
"I've gotta say that you freaked me out back there," Arkhial replied, "In fact, you freaked the colors out of me, but I'll give it a shot anyway, as long as you promise not to try the brain-melt thing on me again." He paused for a moment, then added, "Besides, you need me, or else you'll die out here. It's a miracle you're not dead already, walking into the desert without any food or water. I'd better make sure you don't do anything... you know... stupid."
"Welcome aboard, then. Let's get a head start on Xeves before he finds his way outta those caves."
"He might not, you know," Arkhial said, "The Cabal could catch him. It's likely, even. You guys are fast, but there's only one of him, and he's like a bug in a spiderweb down there."
"No," August insisted, "He'll make it. Believe me."
"Well it's a good thing we have so much time to spare, 'cause I'd like to know more about this wacky adventure of yours. You can tell me what reason two cats have to chase each other around the world, and it better be good."
(Out walking in the frozen swamp one grey day I paused and said, "I will turn back from here.")
August did tell his new companion all that he wanted to know, and the Hakuruga was increasingly interested. August's enthusiasm grew with the knowledge that he was in the company of somebody whose spirit of adventure almost matched his own. Through Arkhial he could see true colors of himself, he could recall what it was like to have been boxed in, to stare out over the hills and wish every day to be able to cross them, just to see what was on the other side. It was a quest of discovery for them both, and the more they saw of the world, the more they saw into themselves.
("No, I will go on farther--and we shall see.")
Arkhial had told August that the first thing they were going to need, more important than anything else, was water. The second most important thing was food. August knew not where his twin was headed, but Arkhial assured him that, if his brother was to survive, he would need to do the same. The only civilization within reach with no supplies was to the north, and so the puzzle of his evil twin's destination was not an important issue. They would head north, and either cross paths with Xeves again or not. The latter meant death for Xeves, and so the problem managed to solve itself.
(A small bird flew before me. He was careful to put a tree between us when he lighted)
It was a journey of about a day and a half, and the travelers would be severely weakened by the end of it, but alive. The main thing was to always stay alive. And it seemed to August that indeed some strange kind of fate or destiny was driving him, had brought him together with his new companion, for without his Hakuruga guide he would surely die in the desert and Xeves would inherit the title of the fastest, and most evil (to all monsters) creature alive. It seemed to him that there were powers beyond his reckoning that wanted him to keep trucking. He could only hope. For now, time passed them by, brought tomorrow closer, with all of its mysteries.
We do not know what tomorrow brings.
(And say no word to tell me who he was)
For tomorrow is just tomorrow--- it is another day.
I've traveled this globe all over, oh the lessons I have learned,
The cultures I have visited, great empires overturned,
But what a lesson I have learned from one who complemented faith,
And who sought belief in something whole but with a solid base.
26th November 2005, 5:59 PM
Part Three: A Flesh of Metal
We twist and turn where angels burn,
Like fallen soldiers we will learn
That once forgotten, twice removed,
Love will be the death of you.
- Savage Garden
I've traveled the world from sea to sea and seen remarkable things,
The falls of empires, the rise of mountains, the legacies of kings,
But never again in all my life have I been able to find,
A being made of metal who for life had always pined.
The streets of Kinston were quiet as the heavenly sun positioned itself overhead, like a looming fear. The occasional Ponyta trotted by with a carriage, a driver on the reins, but the rolling tumbleweeds provided most of the action in this town. The fact was becoming clearer and clearer every day, and now it was only the stubborn who refused to admit it: Kinston was moving on.
Once this had been a bustling, hi-tech town of merchants and businesses, the mecca of trade between Orre, Hoenn, Kanto, Johto, along with every other region and its territories. That time had long passed.
A figure could be seen passing the shops and houses by the street. A short, dark individual wearing a traveling coat. Most people he passed avoided him, and made little attempt to cover up the fact.
He turned his head to watch a passing carriage. The driver pretended not to have noticed him. He whipped the reins and shouted "YAH!", and the Ponyta trotted faster.
The figure continued walking. His feet made a peculiar clanging sound with each step.
EDWARD'S SHACK OF TECHNICAL SUPPLIES, read a sign above one store. The coated figure muttered it out aloud, and then pushed the door open.
The manager of the store looked up when the door opened and triggered the doorbell. He had been dusting his bench, but now he stood still, his gaze sharp and cautioning. He frowned when the figure stepped up to the counter and looked back at him.
"I thought I made it known that we don't serve your kind here." he said. An overweight, greasy man, with grey hair and spidery, intricate webs of wrinkles under his eyes stood at the counter. His use of the word ‘we’ when he was the only one serving indicated that he probably meant the statement to cover every shop in the town.
"I have nowhere else to go in order to acquire the items I seek," the figure replied. "I intend to purchase them legally."
"Yeah, right," the man smirked. "You know that your very existence is a felony in this country?"
"Precisely, sir," the figure shot back, clenching a fist. "And therefore I am already committing a crime over which I have no control. Believe me when I say I feel no need to commit another. Your business is slow here. Nobody has any use for your wares. Kinston has moved on, sir, and soon you will have to move on with it. I have no need for money, being what I am. You have no need for this hardware. We have what each other wants, and I am merely suggesting a trade so we can both return with more peace of mind. Now, sir, I ask you again to serve me."
The man looked skeptical. The mysterious figure reached into his coat pocket and produced a handful of pure gold coins. One of the fingers on his glove was missing, and through the hole poked a shining silver finger, and a long claw attached to it.
He dropped the coins on the bench.
The shopkeeper picked up a coin and looked it over. He put it in his mouth and bit down on it. Then he stared back up at the figure again for a long time.
Finally, he mumbled "What do you want, then?"
The figure inspected the shelves on the back wall.
"Four hydrolic pistons. Two twenty-four inches, two twenty-five inches. Two tesla batteries, high voltage, mainframe compatible. Ten high data compression silicon chips. Two scanning bulbs, diameter ten millimeters. One large coil electromagnet."
The shopkeeper harvested all these items from his shelves with little trouble, though the common person would be amazed that this man did not need to ask a second time, and dropped them on the bench in front of his customer. Then he scooped up all the coins and deposited them in a register.
"I thank you for your cooperation," the figure said, lifting his purchases and turning around.
"Hold it," the man said. The customer stopped in his tracks, and turned his head. Something green was glowing from inside his hood.
"Are you done here?"
"Yes. These items will conclude my business."
"Good. Because I ain't letting you in here no more, understand?" His eyes narrowed. "Once you walk out that door, it's for good. And another thing... now, I don't know exactly what you're intending to construct with these... items... but whatever it is, I want no part in it. When you get caught doing whatever it is you're doing, and they ask you where you got those parts from, you just tell them it was anywhere at all except my shop, you understand? If anybody traces your dealings back to me, I swear to God I'll rip your gears out and wear them as a necklace, you
"I understand," the figure replied. But his gaze was past the shopkeeper, to the back of the store.
"What is that?" he asked.
"Wha?" The rugged man turned his head.
Something elongated and jagged sat on the shelf. It was emitting a yellow glow, bathing everything around it.
"That there's an evolution stone. A Sun Stone, they call it."
The figure appeared confused. "There are only five Evolution Stones." he corrected.
"You wanna argue with me?" the shopkeeper snapped. "I don't know just what the heck that thing is, but the guy who sold it to me says it's a Sun Stone, so that's what I'm going with. Err, Lance, his name was. Travels all over the place collecting junk like that."
"Lance," the figure repeated, a spark of recognition showing. "He is a fool... but insincerity is not among his vices. Perhaps there is some truth in this."
He dug another pile of gold coins from his pocket.
"I wish to also purchase the stone."
A wide, tall roller-door opened ever so slowly, and with much noise. It’s rusty, weather-worn components wailed and screeched, and as it opened, light flooded into the pitch black garage. The figure in the long coat and hood stood at the entrance, darkened against the sun, and stepped inside. He pulled the chain on a lightbulb, and closed the door behind him. Then he removed his coat. Sparkling orange, marigold and crimson metal not only covered, but composed his entire body. The clothing dropped to the floor.
Bloodbound had wandered for some time before eventually settling in Kinston. Since the exile of his creator and master, a brutal despot known as Giovanni, Bloodbound had been at a kind of loose end. Unable to honor his primary mission program - to serve his master - he had no choice but to devote the entirety of his time to his secondary program - to learn. Bloodbound was a learning computer, the most advanced ever conceived, and after several years of constant input, his mainframe was going through some interesting changes.
Bloodbound had been granted the capacity to think like a person. Now he was cursed by it.
"I have returned, Aleda," he announced. "You are about to be completed, now."
Something sat motionless on an old wooden stool in the corner of the garage. Its chassis was of a dull, tarnished metal. It stood there, dead to the world.
Perhaps that was its current state. Dead.
Bloodbound walked over to this second robot and opened a small hatch on its arm. The metal monster opened one of the boxes he had just purchased, and brought out two enormous cylindrical batteries. Inspecting them for a moment under the emerald glow of his eyes, he proceeded to insert one of them into the robot's arm cavity. It loaded with a clipping sound, and Bloodbound inserted the second one beside it, inverted. Once done, he flicked a switch above them, and closed the compartment. Standing up again, he admired the robot for a moment, and then looked down at the other boxes. Opening a small one, he found ten chips sitting neatly beside each other in something resembling an egg carton. Walking back to the robot, he pushed something in the back of its head, and half of its face opened with a hissing sound, though the other half stood still.
This appeared to be the control center of the entire machine. There were already two large chips embedded in the face, and spaces for ten more. Delicately, Bloodbound inserted all the chips.
Then he pulled over another box containing an object similar to crystals, and screwed them in where the robot's eye should go. Then he closed the face, which caught with a click.
Now his attention turned to a large computer, which was sitting on a desk beside him. It was just a desktop PC, but the case was removed, and several wires were streaming from it into the back of the robot. Bloodbound switched on the computer and waited for it to boot up, and then started rapidly typing on the keyboard. He stabbed the enter key, and looked at the robot. An eye, the crystals he had screwed in, lit up into a gold sheen, and a picture appeared on the computer screen - a camera view of what was in front of the robot. The left half was very detailed, with small menus at the sides, but the other half was...simplistic. Like the human eye.
"You can see," Bloodbound said, and began typing again.
The eyes panned, and so did the picture on the screen. Bloodbound nodded in approval.
"Time to meet me now, Aleda."
He typed more commands into the computer, and he was answered by a series of beeps and whirrs from the robot. Then a voice echoed throughout the building, "Booting up systems, please wait."
Bloodbound stood back and did just that. Eventually, the robot's head moved... it looked straight at him.
"Greetings, Aleda," Bloodbound said.
"I...I don’t understand...” a female voice whispered.
"Your name is Aleda," Bloodbound responded.
The robot, Aleda, stared for a few moments, and then said "Aleda."
"Yes," Bloodbound replied. "And who am I?"
"You’re Bloodbound," Aleda replied.
"You are my creator."
"You are my master."
At this, Bloodbound shook his head. "Negative."
"But...but..." Aleda complained.
"We are equal in status," Bloodbound explained, "Neither of us shall be regarded as higher than the other in rank."
"You’re my creator. Creators are masters," Aleda insisted.
Bloodbound didn't reply to this. Instead, he moved over to the computer and began typing.
"I am going to download a copy of my mainframe to your motherboard,"
he said. "Everything I know will be transferred to you. Afterwards, you will be able to understand my feeli-I mean-my... instructions... for you."
He produced another silicon chip, a very large one, and plugged it into the PC motherboard somewhere, and resumed typing.
"Master, it’s a virus," Aleda said, "Seventy bytes of data located, and this figure is constantly increasing in value and complexity. This is irrational."
"It is normal," Bloodbound insisted, "It is only... matter."
Bloodbound instructed the computer to download, and then turned around.
"I will return, Aleda. Proceed with download."
As he walked down the streets of Kinston in his coat, he admired the landscape. Desolate, dry, remote, like a metaphor for his state of mind. People always avoided him. By this time, everybody knew what he was no matter whether he wore the coat or not. He was a non-citizen, an illegal creation due to the anti-technology constitution. If the wars of years past hadn't attached an irrepairable stigma to the concept of technological progress, then Giovanni's short but genocidal reign over the once glorious empire of Kanto managed the killing blow.
Bloodbound wasn't sure whether anybody in Kinston knew that his genesis was at the hands of the most infamous tyrant of the modern world (in fact he suspected they didn't, because the people's reaction to one of Giovanni's machines among them would probably be to destroy him on sight), but nevertheless it was clear that no robot was welcome on this planet, and that wasn't likely to change anytime soon. The world was moving on, and his kind was to be left behind with the rest of the skeletons in the planet’s closet.
On this day, he happened to come across somebody he hadn't seen in town before, and considered it fairly strange because Kinston was a very small town with very few people, so much so that everybody was on a first name basis with everybody else. The stranger was a Makuhita, his vast bank of knowledge informed him, a variety of humanoid natives (ex. Hariyama (Hakuruga)) to the desert regions of Hoenn and known for their communal nature. Bloodbound watched this stranger with much interest, and the Makuhita wandered away to converse with somebody out of sight. Eavesdropping was one of the vices that came with being such a technologically advanced piece of hardware programmed to learn absolutely everything.
Collaborating sound data:
SUBJECT A: "-sleep here for a night. I'm so tired!"
SUBJECT B: "We'll have to work for it, we don’t have any money!"
Analysing : please wait...
SUBJECT A: Identity Unknown (Hakuruga)
SUBJECT B: August (Umbreon)
!!WARNING!! PRIORITY ONE UMBREON PRESENT IN THE AREA
Bloodbound's head snapped around, away from them. Had he seen him? Had he seen his eyes? It was unexpected, shocking, and it made no sense at all, but somehow, the situation was clear...
August was in Kinston.
He intends to destroy you, Bloodbound's system assured him, and it was more than just irrational paranoia, it was worse, it was rational paranoia, for what other possible reason would August have to be this far from home, in the middle of nowhere? All of the pieces of the logic puzzle fell together to form a map of August's behavior. The Hakuruga was obviously hired to track Bloodbound through the desert. It wasn't enough that Giovanni had fallen, August's incurable and egocentric drive for chaos had him traversing the continent to seek out and destroy every scattered remnant of this human's empire.
Bloodbound's hatred for August was total. The delicate instrument that was his powerful mind had been miscarried in its critical first phases of development by the mindgames that August had played with him in his first weeks of sentience, and as a result he remained fundamentally confused about his identity even now. Bloodbound was intelligent enough now to know that he was what any one would define as a machine, a robot. But ironically, his intelligence, vast as it was, also led him to realize that this was categorically inaccurate despite any level of opinion. His mind operated on all the fundamental principles of a living brain. That his brain was made of silicon and metal did not make it any less a brain, by its very definition. That his organs were vastly different to any that could be found inside any other creature did not affect their classification as organs. His anguish came from the fact that, as far as his intellect was concerned, he was as much a life form as he was a machine. Furthermore, it recognized that these categories were a product of intellectual opinion and did not exist in nature, therefore it was impossible to settle upon a conclusive decision either way. In fact, being both life and machine might even have been a tolerable state in which to exist, had August not tormented him about it in his crucial 'adolescent' stage.
(You're not alive! Living things bleed!)
Bloodbound did not remember the context of this memory, when it was said or precisely what it meant. It was a rogue sound byte that remained in his system despite Giovanni's and his own efforts to purge and reformat his mind-computer, to target what Giovanni had referred to as an emotive seed, the corn kernal of a virus that, unchecked, would corrode his delicate instruments.
August had planted that seed. Only August had been able to do it, for August was the key to Bloodbound's identity quadrant: That he was not, in fact, the purest form of what he was. August was the purest form of what he was. If August was what Bloodbound was, then Bloodbound wasn't. And if Bloodbound wasn't what Bloodbound was, then how could Bloodbound possibly be anything at all?
The purging attempts had failed. Most of Bloodbound's memories from his first year of existence were gone, but the virus had resisted deletion. August's seed was too ingrained, and it had grown into what Giovanni had called emotional matter, some kind of thought that had irreversibly broken down the mind of the world's most dangerous assassin into a quivering introverted sack of misery amass with questions for which there were no answers.
Q: What is the significance of the name BloodBound?
Many of these questions may have been meaningless, the result of the emotional matter implanting him with false memory bytes and false logic. For some reason his tormented mind sometimes went beyond assuring him that he should be a life form... that in fact he had been a life form and that had been taken from him. And for some reason he felt that this, too, was August's fault.
As he pondered the problem of his discovery by his nemesis, he was suddenly and unexpectedly taken to consider that Aleda might appreciate the purchase of some nicer clothing to wear about then the metal clothing she wore.
Not only this, but would Aleda be safe from August without Bloodbound nearby to protect her? It was not beyond August, he figured, to want to destroy what he had created in an effort to more thoroughly remove all that he was from the face of the planet.
Bloodbound's malice towards August was comprehensible. August's malice towards Bloodbound was not.
Chance of August locating Aleda plus/minus 60%
South of Kinston was the desert. The barren land ate the east of the small village in an arc from coast to coast and isolated it from the other towns. But even in the latter years during the war of Team Magma and Team Aqua’s rule of Hoenn, this once bustling town had all but dried up. The fall of that mighty tyranny had cast Kinston, along with many other towns, into its death throes. The cohesion that they had provided to the provinces of many trading villages had fragmented, and the entire region was doomed to be divided and picked apart by other shadowy cults and other powers whose influence over the land had been held at bay by the Magma and Aqua tyranny.
Nobody had much reason to trade with this town anymore, and the town was drying up like a well in a long period of drought.
Bloodbound figured that he would need to move again before long. His knowledge of the northern territories was very poor, but it was the only place he could think to go. It would not be wise to remain for much longer in the dying land, a place that would, in all probability, descend into war soon (and almost certainly lose). To the south was the badlands of Kirandul, territories that had never been wandered into. The north may have been unknown, but it was a safe kind of unknown rather than a hazardous ignorance. A quiet region, less tainted by the stigma of mechanical creations.
Although nowhere on the planet was entirely free of it... nowhere at all.
When Aleda was finished downloading, he decided, they would go together into this unknown and attempt to settle in the far north, somewhere peaceful and far from judgment... far from August.
The central processing units of both Aleda and the computer were running at maximum speed, and the download was still only one percent completed, when Bloodbound returned to check on his creation. Bloodbound himself was even surprised at the complexity of his own mind. Aleda's mind was not as complex as his own and would not be capable of completing the download
(Bloodbound's ability to recreate his own technology was not limited by his intellect, but by the availability of materials). Still, he hoped she would be able to retain enough for this to all be worthwhile. Aleda looked up at him blankly.
"Welcome back, Bloodbound," she said, "I'm pleased you have returned."
She was indeed picking up some personality in the transfer.
"I have brought you a gift, Aleda," Bloodbound replied, "I traveled far to get it."
He held out the package with one hand, tearing away the paper wrapping with the other. A stunning outfit of clothing, nearly invisible in the dim light.
"I recalled your schematical information to locate a perfect fit."
Aleda stared her blank, robot stare at the dress for a long time, and then said "Such beauty... I would get rust on it."
"Nonsense." Bloodbound replied. "I have cleaned and sealed your components. Robots are not respected among the organics, Aleda. You will be looked upon as a thing of beauty, not of disgust. As you should be."
"My highest appreciation, Bloodbound," Aleda replied, "Complex programs have activated within the data you have provided me. I am unsure how to react."
"They are emotions," Bloodbound said, "React the way you feel you should react."
"Do I feel?"
He did not reply, but simply handed her the dress.
"Resume the download."
The Out of Towner moved his paw to touch the long, thin scar that stitched his face together like a zipper. An injury newly healed, a crescent of pink baby-skin where his sea-blue fur would never grow again. He grinned as sparks of electricity flew away from his body, as he knitted and un-knitted his teeth again and again, and it was easy to tell that he was building up a sweat under his golden fur. The others watched the Out of Towner with great intensity, a kind of untrusting expression written on every face that made it clear his presence was only tolerated, not welcomed. The expression on his own face was the only one that differed vastly; he was grinning, and on the right side of his face, the side marred by that scar, his eye and the corner of his mouth twitched periodically with a nervous tic. His anxiousness and his excitement was irregular and more than a little worrying.
"Robots, eh? Robots indeed, but how exactly am I to be sure that this is the right robot?"
One of the townsfolk frowned and tried, if it were possible, to make his face even stonier before this arrogant stranger. After all, nobody was in the mood to be taking any guff from an Out of Towner. Sometimes it takes an outsider to deal with an outsider, and that was the only reason this conversation needed to take place.
"He matches the description. Unless there's more than one red Charmeleon robot with green eyes walking about the place, your accursed machine is right here. I think you know it, too, would you have come all this way if you weren't sure?"
"Perhaps, perhaps you're right," the Out of Towner chuckled, "And there's only one robot matching that description, so far as I know. Used to be that there were two that I was hunting, you know, but that's all in the past now and nothing's going to change that."
"There is the matter of the ransom."
Now the Out of Towner began laughing, and dug his paw into the ground, thousands of jolts of electricity emitting from his body. "Predictable! Common sense is just so predictable, isn't it? The mind is always focused on just one thing. The ransom is all yours, buddy, but payment on delivery. I want that robot, alive. Well, not alive, but you catch my meaning."
"And just how exactly are we supposed to do that?"
"Well, I'll tell you. But you have to come close, don’t say a word, and hear me out loud and clear."
11th December 2005, 2:09 PM
He lamented for forbidden hope, what he could never be,
So unloved for what he was, confined to misery,
There was no catharsis for this being made of steel,
Yearning for the simple things that he would never feel.
The garage was silent. Aleda's head shot up as if awakened by a nightmare. Bloodbound's knowledge and memory were still being transferred into her mainframe, and one topic in particular had begun to download.
August. A single identity file, the same as any of the other thousands of things Bloodbound had stored knowledge of over the years. The difference was that he was fairly indifferent to the vast majority of these people, but August's file had about a terabyte of emotion data connected to it, encrypted with it.
Aleda's systems screamed virus, the rapidly mutating and growing matter data was more potentially malevolent than anything else of the like that had been deposited into her mind thus far. The personality that had begun to develop within her fought for its own protection, and commanded her to rip these wires out of her head and preserve her mind from this acidic and virulent data. But her motor functions had not been properly configured, and she was as powerless and terrified as a quadriplegic hospital patient watching somebody inject half a litre of cyanide into her drip.
As the data rolled on, Aleda watched fragments of half-deleted memory and broken images flood past. Names without connotation, as though whispered on the wind. Ashura, Mekha, Arxian,. There was a friend of August, Daerin, there was a file called PROJECT VOID, there was a human girl named Aleda, there was something about a diary, a record of tragic events long since erased and covered up. But Bloodbound's brain was different to that of a normal robot, data couldn't simply be erased like a hard drive. His operators had gotten most of it, yes, but there was a residue locked in the deepest recesses of his consciousness, hiding too far inside. There was a story in Bloodbound's past so significant that it could never be fully removed, and Aleda watched some of it as it passed through her system. She saw enough.
Aleda said nothing of it the next day when Bloodbound checked on her progress. He bid her good morning, and she gave him the same salutation. He checked his instruments, made sure everything still worked as it should, and then excused himself as he left her alone to her download.
There were few times when Bloodbound truly put effort into trying to comprehend what he was doing. So much effort had been put in to creating Aleda, so much time and energy, and for what? The quandry of logical justification he put down to the appeasement of an irrational need. His moss data, as he had come to know it, his redundant emotional surplus, had created a kind of need, what a true organic might liken to a drug addiction. Certain needs and wants had to be addressed before he could function properly.
What Bloodbound wanted was a friend, some kind of companionship. He wanted to be proximal to something like himself. And he wanted to create with his own hands.
He retained memory of the last time he had been given the opportunity to appease this need - and had displeased his master in so doing. Some time back, master Giovanni had attempted to send a robot spy to infiltrate a human city and assassinate it’s leader.
For the first time, Bloodbound had been granted an invitation to help design the robot, and had experienced a level of enthusiasm for the project that even surprised himself. The finished product, an extremely attractive female robot, with such realistic features, named Rose, had raised eyebrows. It was the truth that Bloodbound had never even considered the possibility that his motives in creating Rosa were anything but clinical and straight-forward, but there was an unspoken accusation for a while that Bloodbound was subconsciously attempting to manufacture a mate for himself, as part of an unforseen side-effect from being created to mentally emulate a living creature.
Bloodbound had denied this even from himself, but could not deny a disturbing level of emotional reaction when Rosa was murdered by August.
Based on past accusations, it would have been folly to refuse to consider the possibility that these things were happening in his mind even now, that biological 'junk instinct' he carried in his half-living brain was responsible for his inescapable desire to create once again, to call his creation female and to make it in his own image.
Such a sociopathic creator as Giovanni had seen no need to implant Bloodbound with knowledge of the concept of love (had in fact probably not even known anything about it himself) and the world today was a very poor learning environment for such things. So Bloodbound's grasp of the meaning of this word was feeble at best. How he could crave something he couldn't even define was so far beyond him that it seemed to be insanity. Yet it was truth, unless the emotional matter had corroded his mind so critically that he no longer operated within the boundries of reason.
As Bloodbound thought, he began to wander, and as he wandered, he walked right into the path of August.
Oh no! His eyes! As soon as he saw his mortal enemy standing before him, he turned around and faced the other direction, covering his face with his hands and hoping August would just walk away. He didn't. Thank goodness he was covered up by his overcoat, and he didn't seem to have recognized him.
"Hey... what day is it?” August asked.
"Ten twenty-three-oh-seven based on tropical time, the morning of April seventeenth! Go away!" Bloodbound snapped.
August was taken aback. "Hey... did you even look at your watch then?"
But Bloodbound was already hurrying in the other direction. When he was at a safe distance, he watched his biological nemesis from afar. August was travelling again with the unusually black Hakuruga, and the two of them stood by the town mailbox. The Hakuruga slipped a small white envelope into the box, and then he and his companion disappeared around a corner.
As soon as Bloodbound judged that it was safe, he came out into the open again. He walked by the street, back towards the mailbox. It was a small, wooden thing, painted red. Bloodbound had lived in Kinston long enough to know that two mail carriers, one human and one a monster, checked the mail box once a month if there was anything in it. If there was, the human would depart on a bird, and the monster, a bird creature itself, would fly off. He stared down at the box for a long time, looked both ways, and then tried to open it. It was locked. So the robot put his fist through the side of it. Rotting wood splintered and broke away as the side of the mailbox collapsed. Somebody came rushing out of the saloon nearby and began shouting abuse at him, but he ignored it.
Inside, there were two letters. The one on top was addressed thusly, in monster tongue:
Seeing as August and his friends’ homes weren't officially recognized by the general postal route as an actual place, it seemed he had tried to get a letter to one of his friends by sending it to the village of Naisk. The city had been on close terms with August in the past year.
Grabbing the letter and ripping it open in one fluid motion, Bloodbound took it apon himself to read August's private correspondence. After all, it was without a doubt some kind of telegram informing the Freedom Fighters that he had tracked Bloodbound down to a small town in the wasteland of the desert, and that his time on this world was running short.
August, here. No doubt you're wondering
where I have been these past few months,
and I'm sorry to have worried you by
leaving without any word or warning.
I had wanted to send you a letter sooner,
but I haven't been travelling close to
civilisation, and the mail system sucks
up here, seriously.
The letter told of quests and oaths, of parrallel worlds, evil twins and magical stones. A fairy tale that made little sense to Bloodbound, besides the obvious fact that the entire message was written in some kind of code designed specifically to prevent prying eyes from deciphering its true meaning. August was more insidious than Bloodbound had given him credit for - and why not? Had August not proven his guile on many an occasion? All that the robot could figure out was that August was persuing somebody, and that was all that he needed to prove his suspicions. Why couldn't August just leave him alone? Was there nowhere on that he could run without worrying about being stalked by the one who had haunted him since the first days of his creation?
The guy near the saloon was still shouting abuse. Bloodbound needed to find somewhere quiet and safe where he could think in peace, and so (after crumpling the letter and throwing it away) he activated his rocket blaster with a roar of flame and smoke, and took off over the rooftops.
The day moved on and so did Kinston. A few lonely tumbleweeds rolled down the quiet streets past the dying buildings, many of them abandoned now. It might seem to a casual observer that what remained of the community was being eaten by the landscape, as if the desert was just about to rise and swell, and swallow this town in a tide of dry neglect.
In the failing industrial district, a number of abandoned warehouses stood eroding away in the sand and wind. Inside one of these warehouses was hidden the secret project of one of the last of a forbidden race, if a mechanical being can be said to be a part of a race. Aleda sat alone in the corner, and it may have been difficult for someone to understand what she was, unless they already knew.
One half was just a strange amalgomation of machine parts without order or apparent reason, as though some mad sculptor had welded together a random collection of junkyard scrap in the vague shape of some monster, though this one was mostly made up of white metal, some red sectors in some areas, but the notable thing being that one hand had long claws.
Bloodbound was a learning computer, but he still had a lot to learn about the concept of aesthetic beauty as understood by the average man. The beauty he saw in Aleda had little to do with physical appearance. Visuals, after all, were only one very small part of the total spectrum of sensory perception, the whole of what constituted the understanding of reality.
The double roller-doors providing entrance into the warehouse suddenly roared into life, and Aleda's natural expectation was that Bloodbound, her master, had returned.
But this was not the case.
A number of strangers stepped into the empty building, silhouetted against the bright light of outside. Monsters, all of them. Biologicals, entities that Aleda had learned not to trust, because Bloodbound did not trust them. But Aleda did not yet have the ability to defend the domain of herself and her master against the intrusion, so all she could do was watch.
"Well, well, well..." someone exclaimed, and the strangers, four in all, began to approach her.
"Your presence constitutes an intrusion," Aleda said. “So...you’re going to fight me?”
Somebody whacked her across her organic head and she flopped like a rag doll.
"That ugly thing's tryin' to make isself a friend!" one of the strangers drawled. "Won't be long before we gots robots overrunning this whole town, I reckon! We best be showing these vermin who runs this town, right away."
Bloodbound returned to Kinston hours later in another state of excitement. He carried a large shopping bag in each hand, and wandered back towards the garage without even bothering to put his overcoat back on. But there was a feeling of dread which intensified as he neared
The bags were full of paints and other materials. Bloodbound, at last, was going to give his creation colors. He produced a digitally rendered portrait of it in his mind. Beautiful. He failed to see how anybody at all could hate, or even dislike, something that looked like that, which was all a part of his plan. Aleda, he decided, would have all of the opportunities in this world that he himself had never been offered.
It was now that Bloodbound began to detect the unusual data functions that signaled the
onset of an emotion. As of recent times, this was not particularly odd, but his software was constantly evolving to recognize more varieties of emotional reaction, and this was an emotion his systems did not recognize. It was a weaker version of dread, but irrational dread with no recognizable source. Apparently an error, a system malfunction. There was no reason to feel this way, as though something were terribly wrong with the world.
Choose to ignore emotional data?
Program override. Emotion deleted.
Whatever the odd feeling had been, Bloodbound erased it from his systems and continued onward. Moments later, though, the feeling resurfaced, immune to his efforts to remove it. Yet another reason this matter data was not unlike a virus. It always seemed to find a way to replicate itself and invade every facet of his ability to operate. In the later period of service to his master, Giovanni had all but lost faith in his abilities. The systematic softening of his mind was only fogging up his powerful programmed instincts.
WARNING: Could not delete emotional data. Please check to:.al.: make sure file is not curren:.eda:.tly in use and is not write protected.
Could it be that the emotion wasn't faulty, that there really was some reason to feel dread? Bloodbound had a possible theory about emotions that hypothesized that on some level they actually allowed a refining of the senses rather than an overall decrease in their efficiency - dulling one program to enhance another. Perhaps his emotional senses had picked up some sign of impending calamity that was too small for even his powerful instruments to detect.
Bloodbound's dread took over his actions. He began to hurry back to the warehouse where he had hidden Aleda.
What a fool he had been! Leaving his precious and delicate creation alone and without protection while August was in town with malice on his agenda! There was no justification for his imbecility. If Aleda had been harmed...
The robot gained access to his hideaway and instantly discovered that his emotive response had indeed predicted accurately. The warehouse was in shambles, equipment scattered about the place as though a tornado had gutted the building. All the electronics had been destroyed, including the powercharged computer he had been using to transfer his mental data into Aleda's system.
The download would have been close to complete. He and Aleda might have been able to flee Kinston that very evening if he had been left undisturbed for just another few hours.
There was a handwritten note tacked on to the chair where Aleda had been seated:
The MONSTERS of Kinston would like to have a
discussion with you regarding your activities
in this peaceful town. We do not want YOUR KIND
hanging about here making trouble for us.
Meet with us at the town hall so that we can
discuss your future here in more detail.
And DO NOT EVEN THINK about making trouble.
WE HAVE WAYS of making THINGS like you less
dangerous so you do not want to make this
Signed, THE MONSTERS.
!Error! - Emotional data detected in mainframe.
Data file isolated
Emotion recognized as: Rage
WARNING: Core temperature rising above suggested range
!!CRITICAL TEMPERATURE ACHIEVED!!
Activating emergency cooling system
Slowly, Bloodbound's hand closed around the note, crumpling it. He looked up. His eyes were glowing brighter than usual. If somebody were to stand next to the robot, they would have been able to feel the heat radiating from his central processing unit, as extremely unsavory emotions began to overload his system. Living creatures were fine-tuned to tolerate such emotions. Robots weren't. Bloodbound was beginning to break up under the weight of his own rage.
He stormed through the garage, knocking over whatever wasn't knocked over already. His eyes were blazing like trees caught in a bonfire. Twirling his head to face the door, he raised his tail. A small flamethrower emerged from it with a click, hooked right where the flame should have been. He fired, blowing a hole in the door large enough to walk through. Flames licked through the garage, and, finding nothing to fuel them, died away.
Bloodbound snatched his coat and draped it around himself, not shifting his gaze. He was almost to the hole in the door, when he stopped and looked around again.
A cabinet stood in the corner of the garage, seemingly untouched by the ransacking of the place by the almighty MONSTERS of Kinston. Perhaps they had been unable to get it open, or hadn't thought it to be too important so long as their primary task was completed. The fact that it was locked did not bother Bloodbound, he clutched the handle and yanked the entire door off its hinges with a horrible cracking sound, and dropped it flat on the ground.
Inside the cabinet, something was glowing brightly. He ran one silver claw over the surface of it. The propriator of 'EDWARD'S SHACK OF TECHNICAL SUPPLIES' believed it to be the pure evo core of a Sun Stone. Evolution stones and their cores, Bloodbound's memory told him, were cut and shaped into intricate jewels. This object was a jagged shard that looked like it was broken from the surface of something much bigger. An stone that was never shaped.
Nevertheless, it radiated power. Pure, almighty power. Bloodbound grabbed it and shoved it into a deep pocket on his coat. Then he turned back to the door.
Bloodbound hesitated to enter the town hall, wary that any manner of ambush could be (nay, almost definately was) waiting for him.
He scanned the sign over the door again and again - Kinston TOWN HALL. Within this building were the organism supremicists, the robot haters, the filthy bigoted scum who had kidnapped Aleda. Poor, innocent Aleda, without intent to harm anybody. Something sparked in his mainframe. He lurched foward towards the building.
The Hall was unkempt and dilapidated, just like everything else in Kinston. This entire town was about to fade into the history books. It would probably only be another year or two before it was a ghost town.
He opened the door with a creak. There were several monsters waiting inside who looked at him coldly. Bloodbound looked back just as coldly. Don't give them an inch or they'll take a mile, his system’s proverb system informed him. Nobody said a word, until a strangely familiar voice said
"Is that our guest, I hear? Come on, don't be shy."
The voice came from ahead, behind the hall podium. Slowly, Bloodbound walked towards it, passing the disgusted townsfolk. They each gave him the exact same look... and it was the look of death. Nobody wanted him here, that was for sure. When the robot approached the podium, the figure behind it had his back to him.
"Leave us alone, please," he commanded.
"Hey," someone replied, "Hey, no way mister-"
"Alone!" the stranger shrieked, "Or not a single cent will you see from me!"
The other townspeople, reluctantly and with venomous hatred seeping from them like sweat, left the hall. When the door latched shut, there was a long silence.
"You have taken Aleda," Bloodbound said, trying to push back his feelings of rage. While many emotions did seem to serve some beneficial purpose, Bloodbound had found, wrath was not one of them. "Give her back to me. Give her back, and we will leave this place. Leave you all in peace, and we won't return."
The figure behind the podium snorted. "I need that heap of junk like I need an extra bone on the end of my elbow. Bloodbound my friend, what I'm here for is you, and unlike the rest of these hicks I won't be content just seeing you leave town. I'm here to kill you, Bloodbound, to rip apart every constituent of your inferior and watered-down assembly. What do you say to that?"
"I would ask who it is who bears such ill will toward me."
Bloodbound didn't need to ask, however. He had already analyzed the stranger's voice and pinpointed his identity. The figure spun around on his chair anyway, his teeth knitted into a devilish grin, both of his eyes staring in harmony at the robot.
"Hey, miss me? I missed you. I never get tired of killing you, Bloodbound."
17th December 2005, 3:45 AM
I met him on my travels once, a creature filled with sorrow,
A being without need or want to look forward to tomorrow,
Created with a body that would never match his mind,
He wanted peace and mirth, something he could never find.
I said, "Eternal Sorrow, why be so set in your way?
Why wish for what can never be? Why lament every day?"
Eternal Sorrow told me then the reason for his strife,
"All I ever wanted was to taste the fruits of life."
"But why," I asked, "Can you not simply live with what you are?
Why look at what you cannot be, pine for it from afar?"
He replied, "Because of what I am, I will always remain branded,
When all I ask is to be given what others take for granted."
Aleda, alone and motionless in the dark of New Place (which was really the basement of the town hall) had nothing to see or to do but ponder. Her mind was awash with the thoughts and recollections of her master, and even her complex mind tried desperately to sort through it and to make sense of it all.
Bloodbound was Master. He had given her life, or what passed for life for a robot, and had passed on his knowledge to her. Part of this knowledge had been a recognition of natural chain of command, of subserviance to one's lifegiver. Aleda was created by Master Bloodbound.
Bloodbound was created by Master Giovanni. Giovanni was created by... what? The chain was unclear to her after this point. What she did know was that the creator was unquestionably the lawgiver.
And yet... Master Bloodbound had contradicted this. He had told her that they were equals and had refused the title of Master. But why? Aleda searched her database for some answer to this paradox. All she could find were hundreds of feelings of which she could not make sense.
Much of this emotion was directed against on individual, the bane of Bloodbound's existence.
Who was August? He was an inseperable part of Bloodbound's identity, like the two of them were kindred. But not kindred in the way that Bloodbound intended Aleda to be; his relationship to August was unclean to him, a curse, perhaps even the root source of his misery. August haunted him like a ghost, not the ghost of the dead but the ghost of the unborn, the unrelenting image of what Bloodbound should have been, but wasn't.
(You're not alive! Living things bleed!)
This revelation was important to Bloodbound, but neither he nor Aleda quite knew why. Images of Bloodbound slicing himself apart, desperate to prove that he was different from the rest of Giovanni's mindless automatons. Sticks and stones would never break Bloodbound's immortal chassis, but words had destroyed his mind.
It was in the process of pondering this that Aleda's sensitive instruments picked up a particular sound nearby. It wasn't inside the building, it came from out in the open. Somebody was shouting a name, and that name was
For once, Aleda's mind ceased endlessly swimming in confusion, her thoughts focused on one comprehensible reality: Purpose. Aleda hadn't understood the reason for her creation until now, when all things came together in the beauty of perfect logic. Aleda's reason for being was to serve her master.
August had been delivered to her as a test of this principle. He waited outside for judgement to be wrought upon him, and Aleda was the purveyor of that judgement. She had bonded intimately with Bloodbound's turmoiled mind, and the result was a kind of union more intense than anything a fully biological mind could comprehend. Aleda was recipient to knowledge of a concept so simple and so complex that Bloodbound alone had never been able to comprehend, and the knowledge came to her in such a spectacular wave of elation that for a moment she could taste life, saw what it was like to have a soul and a body with which to house it. The concept she had understood was love. She loved Bloodbound, her Maker, her Master, her God. She loved him, she loved him, she loved him.
And now August, the antithesis of this love, became the focus of its direct emotional inversion. Emotions were a dual burden, like the binary code that ran her mind, and there could be no love without hate. The passion with which she loved Bloodbound was so intense that her hatred for August, struggling to match this intensity, started a chain reaction in her complex brain that became the precursor to a spectacular and cataclysmic system meltdown.
August was to be murdered. This alone became her reality for the final moments of her existence. His every life function was to be terminated, his very being obliterated. But how? Aleda was immobile, her body had not yet been granted the ability to move, all that she could do was lie here and think, and love, and hate.
No. Fundamental systems check revealed that she had both the means and the necessary software to provide full movement. Bloodbound had not switched this ability on yet, but the basic capacity existed in full working order. But she couldn't access these functions yet, couldn't-
Her hand twitched. The digits tapped once on the dusty concrete. There was no need to concern herself with the restrictions of a simple computer system, she knew that now. For she was no computer. She loved; she was alive.
Aleda raised her hands to her eyes and observed them for the first time. She sat up, and then stood up. She was shaky on her legs at first, but was very quick to adjust. Her balance-adjustment software allowed her to bypass a child's trial-and-error method of learning to walk; she was a natural expert the moment she took her first step and developed a feel for it.
Those who had captured and contained her had not bothered to lock her away, as she had been unable to move. But that was when she was a half-bot. She was now a living being, and with her organic and artificial legs she crossed the dark and empty basement towards the light, and towards vengeance.
System search::please wait::
:: Alias: Zero Tolerance
Subject recognized as: Dangerous
"Zearoudues," Bloodbound said.
The Manetic sat opposite him, his fur ruffled, and a thin pink scar streaked down the side of his face from forehead to chin.
"Oh, always so formal, Bloodbound. Please, call me Zero. For better or worse, my robot days are over, but that's no reason we can't hang out from time to time. You didn't think I'd just let you get away, did you? We have unfinished business, you and I, and our business is to be resolved right now."
"We have no unfinished business, Zero."
"That's where you're wrong!" Zero shrieked, "Do you so easily forget your betrayal? You treacherously murdered me and banished me to a living purgatory inside this walking corpse!"
"You achieved true undeniable life," Bloodbound replied, "Something for which I have always wished, but have been unable to achieve. I know not how it happened, but I do know that it is not my doing. Leave me in peace, Zero. Your quarrel with me is misdirected."
"I don't want life," Zero sulked, "You want it? Take it, you soft-headed failure of a robot machine. I don't want it. If I could, I'd give it to you and you could have your precious mortality and weakness and slow-witted stupidity. I might even regard it punishment enough that I'd leave you alone. But things being what they are, we lack that option, I'm sorry to say. So I'm just going to have to destroy you instead."
"And what would that achieve?"
"Catharsis," the monster hissed, "If you were in my position you'd know the importance of the word."
Bloodbound slipped one hand inside his coat, where something throbbed with a great untapped power, and glowed even through the lining. "Tell me where you have taken Aleda," he instructed.
"Listen closely," Zero said, ignoring the command, "In my exploration of this continent, I have come across a great deal of exotic and interesting technologies. One of which is this." He raised one hand and showed Bloodbound a strange spiked object like a child's toy. It was colored brightly in shades of purple and orange.
"I do not recognize that object," Bloodbound said.
"This is a resin-grenade," the blue-and-gold dog explained, and with a startling speed he thrust his hand forward and pitched the object at Bloodbound. It struck him just above the chassis of his engine core, and stuck there like wet chewing gum. The robot tried to pick it off, but it was very gummy and adhered fast.
"I wouldn't pick at that if I were you," Zero warned, "The first impact activates it. The second detonates it. The problem with those things is that they're notoriously unstable, and messing with it is liable to get you blown up."
"I will not die by your hand today, Zearoudues," Bloodbound said.
"That's the thing, Bloodbound. Your kind never dies. Death is an issue reserved for foolish mortals. So is jealousy and vengeance. You banished me to these fates, and now they're going to be the end of you. You don't die today, Bloodbound, you cease to exist." At this, Zero pulled his other paw, the paw that was once a robot’s claw and still resembled one, out from beneath the podium and Bloodbound saw that it held a gun, a small rifle. The monster launched himself from behind the wooden structure, weapon aimed dead ahead.
"I WILL CEASE AND DESIST YOU!" Zero shrieked, so mad, so insane.
Just as he fired at the grenade that still adhered to Bloodbound's chest, the robot grasped the monster's wrist and threw it upward. The bullet missed its target and hit Bloodbound in the face, shattering the glass casing over his right eye. Glass showered onto the podium and the gun went flying from Zero's hand, the monster screaming and cursing in his all-devouring rage.
"Leave me in peace, Zearoudues!" Bloodbound commanded, and threw Zero to the ground. The dog snarled like a rabid beast and clawed at Bloodbound, but the robot was nonchalant to his feeble attacks. The remains of his right eye sparking, he turned and walked towards the exit.
"Don't you walk away from me!" Zero roared, "Don't you dare walk away from me you soft-minded bucket of scrap metal, kill me or be killed, but don't you dare walk away from our business without finishing it!"
"Our business is finished," Bloodbound replied, "Pursue me no longer. You have been granted life, Zearoudues. Live your life to its potential and do not resent it, that is my advice."
"Curse you!" Zero shrieked as Bloodbound left, "Curse you curse you curse you curse-"
But Bloodbound heard no more.
August and Arkhial prepared to leave Kinston. Stacked up with supplies, they were prepared for their next foray into the desert, August having learned his lesson about the folly of venturing into the heart of the barren lands with nothing but the fur on his body. It was something that Arkhial taunted him about endlessly.
"August!" the Hakuruga shouted.
August stood looking out over Lake Survival, a huge body of water that stretched as far south as he could see. This was the one source of water in this end of the desert, and even it didn't do much to bring life to the wasteland. A few trees and shrubs grew around its banks, but then it was all desert almost forever.
Strangely, there was a large number of people congregating around the nearby town hall, but none of them paid August much notice. His attention turned to Arkhial, who was calling his name and coming out from behind one of the buildings.
"I got the last of the stuff," the Hakuruga said. He had a backpack strapped around his shoulders, August with a pack around his body. They were large and bulky packs, filled with all manner of essentials, whatever they could afford.
"All set?" August asked.
"You betcha," Arkhial replied, "It's beautiful, ain't it?"
It was indeed beautiful. The setting sun reflected off its surface and created a red pike of light over the shimmering water.
"Most beautiful thing I've seen all week. I think that if we don't just get out of this desert soon I might just-"
"What are you-"
Arkhial was pointing frantically over August's shoulder. The shadow turned, and what he saw sent conflicting signals of alarm and hilarity to his mind. Something was shambling towards them, looking somewhat like half human, half beast. Its movement was like that of a children's toy.
"Gah!" August commented. "Never seen anything like that before!"
The robot's attention was focused entirely on August, and it moved unerringly toward him.
"What's up?" August asked it.
"I have come to administer your punishment," the robot replied, "For you have caused him much pain." The robot, or more of half-robot, had a female’s voice.
"Hey! Whoa!" August exclaimed, taken aback, "My punishment? So you're not here for an autograph?"
"Negative," The robot said. It raised both hands in an indecipherable gesture. "Prepare for your justice."
"Negative," August replied. "Eat my foot." He kicked it in the abdomen and it toppled over onto its back.
The robot was determined, however. It picked itself up and came at him again.
"You two know each other?" Arkhial asked.
August shrugged, keeping his eyes on the attacking monstrosity. "Hard to tell, y'know, I've made quite a few enemies in my time, it's hard for me to keep track of them all. Have a feeling I'd remember something like this, though."
Aleda saw the object of her malice and decided that everything would end for August this day. She did not understand August's motivations, but she understood Bloodbound's, and knew that the world would never be big enough for the two of them. Bloodbound could travel to the ends of the planet and beyond, but escape was no good for him. For them. What was needed was closure.
But Bloodbound had not installed weaponry of any kind into Aleda. Hers was not to be a violent nature, and there would be no need of weapons where they were going. If their way of life was ever to be threatened, Bloodbound would defend his creation if necessary. But their days of fighting were over - had been over, in fact, since the fall of Giovanni. So Aleda's attack against August was much more an act of faith than of logic. Such was the intensity of her rage and hatred that the fact never even crossed her mind that she would certainly lose this fight and be destroyed, all things being equal.
If there was to be justice, Aleda had decided, then August would lose his life today. How exactly this was to occur was not a matter of significant relevance.
Sometime after August had kicked her over and she had regained her composure (such as it was), Aleda's system began to warn her that it was being overworked significantly beyond its ability to operate. Aleda ignored these warnings, in fact didn't even really hear them. All she heard was
(You're not alive! Living things bleed!)
(August is the alpha and the omega, his death is all that occupies my mind)
(-away from her Arxian or I-)
(-terminate your life functions-)
(-grant you a body so-)
and nothing else in the universe mattered as much as this, for this hatred wasn't like matter at all but an acid that burned her from the inside. She never even noticed everything around her beginning to slow down, almost turning black and white.
Her system attempted an emergency intervention, tried to shut down her central processing and put her mainframe into downtime, but Aleda's robot-side didn't have very much of a say in how things were going to be anymore. As far as Aleda was concerned, she was fully alive, and the same power that enabled her to move her limbs also enabled her to bypass her system's control of her operations.
Having tried and failed its last-resort safety measures to stop this intense emotional tsunami, Aleda's system went into overload and several of her components began to melt.
It was a somewhat ironic fact that, although August knew that this would probably be the easiest fight of his life, he was so stunned that this thing actually intended to attack him that the robot managed to do something even the toughest of foes had never accomplished - a connecting right hook.
August's barking laugh was cut off in the center by the fist of the hostile robot, which struck him in the side of the jaw so hard that he went sprawling backward and almost fell over. It may not have looked strong, but this thing packed one heck of a wallop. His paws shot up to his hurt face, yet no blood seemed to spill. It felt as if everything had stopped. He looked down at himself, only to find nothing but a transparent figure.
Already the robot was advancing towards him again, and for a moment August was so taken aback that he forgot everything he knew about fighting and simply swatted at the thing.
"I love h-" he thought he heard the robot say, but the final word was cut off by what sounded by a loud popping sound, followed by a short punctuated fizzle. The robot's head jerked to the side, but it continued to advance, and managed to grab August around the neck and squeeze with its iron vise strength. August lamely followed his instincts to grab the robot's hands with his paws (an action that more often than not actually helped an assailant to choke his victim), but he regained his senses when it felt like this thing might actually crush his windpipe if he hesitated. August found his clarity and remembered how to twist his body to escape a strangle-hold, but halfway through the maneuver, the robot side began to pop, small debris cracking off.
This thing isn't built for fighting, August realized, Probably wasn't built to be within a hundred yards of a violent situation, and certainly not to initiate one. What could possibly have gone so wrong in its head?
There was no time to think about that now, for the robot was after him again, thrashing and glaring wildly. Now that August was lucid again, this thing didn't stand even a shadow of a chance.
Aleda could barely string a command together for the clamor of warnings going off in her mainframe. Systems shut themselves down one by one, and she wrenched them open again like doors in a gale force wind. Every now and then an entire section of her operating system would scream at her one last impassioned cry and then fall eerily silent, as a panel of circuitry melted or a fuse blew out. Any scientist would be hard pressed (or downright unable) to believe that Aleda could still compute anything more complex than a two-digit children's equation at this point, let alone remain as operative as she was. The forces of love and hatred - or their ghosts - still tore through a mind nowhere near powerful enough to accommodate them.
It took her almost a minute to recognize that time had stopped, and even then her brain had deteriorated to a point where it would soon be unable to recognize anything at all. Still she thrust out, clawing and snatching at a target that was now moving so fast that she couldn't even get a lock on its position.
He took it all away! Aleda's electronic mind screamed, So many times! He took away what can never be returned! All the years he has fought to make sure He would never be happy, not even for a moment! If there is any justice in this world that even He can barely understand, then August will fall this day!
August suddenly obtained only two thoughts, everything else put on hold, the thoughts being the same thing Aleda had, and they were the last things that Aleda’s sane mind would ever truly comprehend:
Hate for Master would destroy August.
Love for Master would destroy Aleda.
Suddenly, everything broke apart, the world melting into a mix of colorful pastels and paints. The robot seemed to be sparking and fizzling at a fairly continuous rate now, its movements erratic and chaotic, but yet somehow it just kept coming. Some kind of fuel or blood or something else was dribbling from the robot's body and creating puddles in the grass, but yet it kept attacking.
August thought he had never seen such a remarkable display of determination from anybody, machine or lifeform alike. This robot was literally falling apart as it attacked, small components of its body dropping to the ground every so often like dead leaves. August heard the loudest pop yet from inside the robot's head, and suddenly it began spewing forth an continual and ridiculous monograph of nonsense that August couldn't even begin to understand:
"...six cosine variables log fourteen configuration mainframe red August boom trouble keeps you running illegal operation in sector nine nine nine nine arxian my love a rose for logarithm failure system project void al-al-al-al-al-ale-aleda I see crash in five! five! five! the whites of your eyes utter chaos August I hate August I hate August I seven! seven! tree in fortree mainframe crash Aleda or Bloodbound life machine life machine life machine life..."
The robot stalled, jerked like a marionette puppet, then fell into the lake.
Even in its death throes, it seemed to reach out to August, perhaps trying to hex him as it sank, or retaining faith that all laws of physics and common sense may give way and August might still fall dead if she thrashed in his direction with one jerking, dying arm. Then it was over.
"Whoa," Arkhial muttered, but that was all he could say.
August stood bewildered for a moment, watching the ripples in the lake where the insane robot had fallen. Then he turned to walk off, until he saw Bloodbound standing behind them, and knew that Bloodbound had seen it all.
! - Emotional data detected in mainframe.
Data Sector F::
WARNING: Core temperature rising above suggested range
!!CRITICAL TEMPERATURE ACHIEVED!!
Activating emergency cooling system
Investigating source of problem now::
!!WARNING!! - COOLING SYSTEM FAILURE
Investigating source of problem now::
! - Emotional data detected in::
!!WARNING!! - COOLING SYSTEM FAILURE
!!CRITICAL TEMPERATURE SURPASSED!!
!!SUGGEST IMMEDIATE SHUTDOWN OF ALL SYSTEMS!!
! - Emotional data detected::
Investigating source of problem now::
! - Emoti::
!!ATTEMPTING EMERGENCY OVERRIDE!!
Investigating source of problem now::
Source of problem identified:::as August
!!KILL THEM ALL::::::
Bloodbound's evolution from robot to something else altogether peaked the moment he saw that Aleda had been destroyed at the hands of August. Bloodbound's mind, however, was intricately more complex than that of his late creation, and the emotional wave that saturated his brain like radiation from an atomic blast swirled around with less resistance, creating an effect much less like insanity and much more like insight.
The robot, or ex-robot for now, stared into the eyes of his eternal enemy, and August stared back into his. Nobody said anything for a long time, except for August's Hakuruga companion, who made a few worried remarks and was ignored by both parties. It was like he was in another world, a black-and-white world, where nobody but August and Bloodbound even existed.
Bloodbound's machine mind complained bitterly about this intensely emotional moment. It attacked the onslaught of matter data that Bloodbound had convinced himself was a kind of virus. His core temperature rose to dangerous levels and his system screamed warnings at him, trying to shut himself down, but he paid it no heed. Just like Aleda, he was no longer concerned with the ceaseless chattering of his subconscious mainframe. His emotions were in the driver's seat now.
"Bloodbound..." August muttered, his voice barely above a whisper.
Not even briefly had he considered the possibility of coming across Giovanni's former assassin, his own former nemesis. The deadly machine who had brought him closer to his death than any other enemy he had ever encountered. August had been expecting a run-in with Xeves at every turn, but this was worse.
The robot Charmeleon stood half-cloaked in some kind of long brown coat, but his body was visible underneath. His metal was scratched and unkempt, spots of rust showing here and there, like an old automobile nobody cared for anymore. His eyes glowed with that familiar emerald radiance, although the right one was damaged, its glass casing cracked and shattered. And there was something strange stuck to his upper chest, almost like a giant wad of purple gum.
"You destroyed Aleda," Bloodbound said, "I will not grant you the pleasure of destroying me as well. You came here for a fight, and a fight you shall have. It will be a fight that you will lose. I will feed you your own heart for what you have dared to do to me. I will peel... the flesh... from your bones."
Bloodbound dropped the coat from his shoulders and it fell around him in a crumpled pile, revealing his entire body, his tarnishing crimson hull, his shining scarlet arms and legs, the rocket booster and power mainframe in his belly, the purple sticky substance gummed to his torso. And something else was there - something was jammed in his power centre. It was jagged and throbbing softly with golden-yellow glow.
"You are source of all problems," the robot snarled. The jagged yellow thing began to glow brighter, as though fuelled by his rage.
He activated his rocket, and with a loud crashing roar, flew directly upward. As he blasted toward the sky, August was shocked to see the yellow glow encase his entire chassis. It intensified until Bloodbound was as difficult to look at as the sun. There was some kind of metallic wail coming from the robot which might have been him screaming, or might have been his body overloading from the influx of raw power.
A few times, and no more than necessary, August had taken a large amount of evolution energy into himself and transformed into a state of being that was ultimately powerful and utterly catastrophic to his sanity,. What he now observed was a shockingly similar metamorphosis on Bloodbound's part, a kind of Bloodbound evolution that chilled him to the bone with its implications. The robot had flown to a height of at least five hundred metres, but August could still see his red eyes. In this state, he imagined that he could probably still see those eyes if he was standing on the moon. Bloodbound had grown a large tail, formed of what seemed to be thousands of useless, raw metals all gathered together. And his wings—he had wings, wings that were like sharp bone-like swords, pasted together with the toughest glue in the world.
So August bolted. He couldn't think of what else to do. But Bloodbound, in mere moments, blasted down from his giddy height and came up behind him clipping him from the side, twisting him and toppling him over. August picked himself up and ran the other way, but Bloodbound clipped him again, like a fiery comet falling from space. As August struggled to get up, Bloodbound slammed into him, picked him up mid-flight, and threw him like a missile. Unable to escape, August tried to focus more on how to safely break his fall. He rolled a fair distance, and then Bloodbound picked him up again and pinned him to a tree. Every inch of his metal body was searing hot and August was burned with every touch.
Trapping the Umbreon beneath him, Bloodbound raised one arm and brought out his missile gun.
"I should have done this so very long ago," he hissed, his voice cracking apart like a scratched record, "Every negative experience of my torturous existence has concerned you somehow. You have repeatedly scarred my mind with your tormenting presence. The damage is done, but this will at least grant me the satisfaction that no more will occur. Goodbye, August." he spat, his voice echoing across the silent, colorless world.
August awaited the rocket's explosion in his skull, but it didn't occur. Instead, there was a violent force as something collided with Bloodbound from behind, the color slowly shuddering into the world. The robot turned to see Arkhial, and Bloodbound snarled and hit the Hakuruga away. The distraction gave August the chance to escape Bloodbound's grasp, and the supercharged robot activated his rocket booster and shot up into the air again.
When August saw the robot diving towards him, he realized that he was going to have to fight if he had any chance of seeing another morning. There would be no running away.
It seemed like everybody in town was watching this battle. The whole population of Kinston stood in a crowd around the lake, as though this was some kind of public performance. In August's limited experience with these rude and xenophobic townfolk, he knew that not a single one of them would raise a finger to help him. He felt like burning Kinston down after he left this town. The horrifying thought that he might not leave it alive didn't dwell with him for long, he was no pessimist.
Bloodbound rocketed towards him and August prepared himself for a counter-attack. He would not leap forward to tackle Bloodbound, at these speeds it would be like leaping in front of a steam-train, but he decided instead to leap to the side and kick out, hopefully getting in a good enough impact to dislodge the glowing thing in his power core, which was obviously the source of his newfound power.
The robot screamed, the disturbing sound of something almost alive, and struck out to attack August. August made his move, kicking Bloodbound from the side. The purple wad of gum on his chest was like a bull's-eye target, and he struck out with all the force he could muster, striking that purple thing dead-on.
What happened next was completely unexpected. Bloodbound rocketed upward again and turned around for a second strike, but when he turned, August could see that the wad of purple stuff had changed. It too was now glowing with its own energy, like lava from a volcano. Whatever it was, August's kick had activated it and it seemed to be powering up out of control.
Bloodbound shrieked, "I'm coming to kill you, you da-", but he was cut off by the explosion that annihilated him mid-air like a supernova. His body was lost in the fireball that spread out from him in a sphere of destruction, and the blast was so loud that August thought for a moment he may have gone deaf. The crowd of townspeople cried out in unison, and some of them bolted away.
When the smoke cleared, Bloodbound was gone. Pieces of twisted and blackened metal, some of it still aflame, periodically rained down on the town and splashed into the lake with a hiss.
August, panting, sat and watched the spectacle as he salvaged his composure. His heart was beating harder than he would like to admit.
After a while, Arkhial helped him to his feet.
"That thing sure seemed like it hated you," the Hakuruga commented.
August, his eyes still fixed to the spot in the atmosphere where Bloodbound had finally perished, snorted at the thought.
"Yeah. It's not fair. What did I ever do to him?"
Though, deep inside, August knew what crime he had done to Bloodbound.
The mighty warrior felt very small.
The evening set in, and the first stars began to appear in the sky, twinkling with modest brightness. The people of Kinston had returned to their homes to recover from the day. The robots had been taken care of, and all of the other unwanted outsiders had taken their leave. Everything was as it should be. The town could go about its job of slowly dying in peace.
Beside a narrow dirt road on the outskirts of town, a piece of debris lay like a stone, motionless and dead. It was the head of Bloodbound, stripped of its paint and forever blackened. The eyes had both blown out like overloaded light bulbs.
Zero Tolerance strolled out of the evening shadows, clad in a suit of armor so bulky that he might have been mistaken for a robot himself - and that was just what he wanted.
The suited Manetic came across the robot head as he followed the path, and stopped when he saw it. A pitiful scrap of a thing barely recognizable for what it was. He growled deep in his throat and cocked a large-barreled gun, pointing it right between the eyes of his decapitated ex-enemy.
For a long time Zero stood in this position. He and the gun stayed silent, only the sound of crickets and nocturnal beasts coming out of slumber could be heard on the breeze. Then he sighed and put the gun away again.
"Oh, what's the use?"
He kicked the head. It rolled some distance and then came to a stop upside-down, staring sightlessly into the expanse of the desert. Zero shot it, but only with a silent, final glance and then continued on his way, the metal suit clanging against itself with every movement, never to see it again.
There was more work to be done, always more work. As a wise philosopher whose name had been long forgotten had so aptly pointed out, there was no rest for the wicked. No rest, not ever.
I've traveled this globe all over, oh the lessons I have learned,
The cultures I have visited, great empires overturned,
But what a lesson I have learned from the machine who had a soul,
Who feared his destiny would not allow him to be whole.
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