The disguise was fool proof. He figured out how to use the thick gloves to simulate having three or four fingers, as that seemed to be a variable number amongst the...things which lived here, which seemed to value arguing and politicking over eating and sleeping.
For the life of him, he is not sure if he will get use to this...bizarre place. This city which puts stories he's heard about Thessia or Illium to shame. Quickly navigating through corridors of wood and gold, past bamboo fences where the wind talks to itself, past lions made of some sort of moving stone, he pulls the hood tighter over his face and keeps the folder pressed firmly against his side.
It has taken weeks for this to get to this point. His careful use of the charm keeps others from even seeing him, passing by as an invisible underling. Even the guards of this area, whatever it is- he never caught the name- do not notice him. He isn't even an intruder to him. He is nothing.
Even those who see him, who notice him, cannot tell what he is- just a nameless, faceless courier. Certainly not someone who isn't even of this universe.
It has taken weeks. It has taken months, since this journey has begun. But he finds the office, behind golden doors which radiate warmth, through corridors which flow with power that makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. But now he stands in the office, now he stands in the fashioned black and gold robes before this...being.
Taller than tall. White hair standing like jagged bolts of electricity and white fire. Shapes of what can only be hardened light hovering around him. In fact, his skin, his hair, his eyes- all seem to be made of the same flowing energy. There is a power in this pale, glowing being he has never seen before. And the white eyes of this one- this god- pierce his disguise without even effort.
"Hello, Exalted," he says, voice smooth, dignified. Paternal, even. "You've put forth some effort to see me. Why?"
He sighs, and pulls back his hood. Black dreads fall around his face, the pale lavender skin and yellow eyes marking him as, he hopes, different from others in this realm. Perhaps not, though. He's spent time here, after all.
"My name is Kal'Reegar vas Rayya nar Idenna," he states, "I'm the Chosen of Journeys and-"
The god raises a finger. "Ah. A Chosen of Journeys. There are twenty of you." Deft ivory hands opens a book which appears on the desk. "Mm. Odd, I see no record...yes." He blinks, looking up at Kal. "Yes, indeed. Very interesting." He makes a motion with his hand, gesturing to him. "Continue."
Kal closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "I'm here on an important mission," he says, "Long story short, there's a problem, your help is needed, and I have a friend who needs to consult with you on important matters regarding the Exaltations."
The god cocks an eyebrow. And then the wall next to him, perpendicular to Kal and the entrance, explodes as if a wrecking ball had caved through it. Smoke and dust fills the room. Kal instinctively covers his face. The god simply turns to the hole, and the giant now occupying where his Western wall used to be.
Five meters tall. Plated in gold, in silver and in prismatic sinew. It stands tall, yet hunched over, the grill covering the lower half of its face venting steam as two rainbow eyes center on the god. It stands over him, overshadowing him. And then throws out its arms and bellows in a voice loud enough that Kal wonders why they even bothered with stealth at all.
"LYTEK! I have RETURNED!"
And the God of Exaltation, the Right Hand of power, looks upon the battle form of of the golden giant and manages a short, flat,
Glorious Shotgun Princess:
Two fingered hands clench into loose fists as he walks through the streets of noise and cacophony. Hood covering his face, the only discernible feature the odd yellow eyes, her walks in time with the swaying of the black and gold cloaks and leathers. Silver sand still falls from the folds of his robes as he walks with purpose, with destination in mind and close.
He is going home. Even if he has been here longer than he has lived. Even if he will miss it, he is going home. Fingers trace in the hidden compartments of long sleeves, readying weapons for surprises. Readying hidden daggers, readying whatever he could carry, even as his mind hovers over the switches of the powers he has mastered.
Behind him, with heavy footfalls the golden giant follows a step behind. Rainbow facet eyes dart in their sockets. The unrelenting, unmistakable haze of the shield around him gives the giant confidence, as does his faith in the traveler before him.
"We're almost there," Autochthon states, voice wavering slightly as they walk through the brass city streets.
There is still noise and music, which is good. He has already counted off several escape routes in the event of silence. Hurrying their pace, they feel the portal before they see it, the golden and brass structure that stands higher and firm, unchanging as the vast landscape shifts at whim. One of the few constants in this mad realm.
He feels the sand in his boots moving, and grinds his teeth as they approach. But there is something odd. Narrowing yellow eyes, he turns to find his companion frozen in place. For a moment, he wonders if there was a breakdown of some sort, or a glitch he needs to fix, but no. He is not frozen, unmoving. Instead of freezing mid step, he has stepped back.
A thick and plated arm is held up in front of his grill, his other hand at his side and aimed at the portal, all manner of weapon and tool cycling into its palm place but not locking. Careful, thundering steps back from the giant, and Kal turns to find a figure in front of the portal and waiting for them.
Tall, at least a head taller than Kal. He could probably be even taller if he wanted, of course. Broad and muscular, strength radiating from him, but easy to miss if you don't know what to look for. Green hair waves about him, falling past his shoulders in the wind and noise with occasional strands wafting up as flame.
An open coat of the finest red and brass silks hangs over his shoulder, revealing a broad chest of tanned and unblemished skin save for a gemstone over his heart, pulsing like an eye.
Four arms, their broadness and strength hidden by the long sleeves, end in four hands resting on a brass and silver sword of impossible craftsmanship, and two emerald eyes look past Kal as if he were not even there.
"Greetings, Brother Machine." He smiles with ivory teeth, voice thundering, heard through all this impossible realm. "The King of Kings had dreamt you would come here, but never dared hope you would. Have you come, finally, to join your brothers and sisters?"
Eyes narrow. Hands roam over the pommel of the sword.
"Or have you come to join my sweet Ruvelia?"
Autochthon does not answer, backing away more, terror evident on the mask of his battle armor. Sighing, Kal'Reegar turns to the guardian- more than a guardian, he knows. "I'll handle this," he says, voice a quiet whisper.
And as he walks to the gate, Kal reminisces on the first time they came here, long years and years before...
Journeyman, Chapter 1:
The Traveler and the Endless Sands
They pass through the portal- streaming fire and golden sun gives way to rays of silver and the shifting feel of gravity pulling him in every direction at once. Kal'Reegar is no stranger to teleportation and transit- he tested out Tali's portable Mass Relay, after all- but he is a stranger to this.
He's no stranger to a portal- to something that should be instantaneous, taking so long. He began counting seconds- counting minutes- then hours. Things stretched, like the world became something out of a drug trip painting. Hours became days.
Five days later, the world made sense again.
The world of Deus Machina- of the golden plains, of the millions of Champions, of the fixed sun overhead- becomes a street of brass. Taking a deep breath, yellow eyes dart form side to side. Looking around him, he sees a wide street made of varnished brass and layered stone. Around him, buildings rise into every direction- upwards. Sideways. Ending in jagged roofs and spearheads. Ending in tortured faces and reaching arms.
And instead of a sky, Kal sees another city, moving slowly above them.
"Where the Hell are we?" he breathes.
"Malfeas." The golden sphere floats next to him. Autochthon narrows his glowing iris, looking skyward. "Demon City. Hell itself, at least according to some definitions. Odd, it seems to be night, but it's never night here."
Music fills the sky, fills the streets. All manner of instruments. Sounds he has never heard before, shaking the air and ground with the noise. Kal rubs the back of his head, feeling the seams of his helmet; replaced before he came here. Just in case.
He hears it before he sees it. Hears the procession of massive feet. Blinking, he watches as the giants clear the curve of the street. Massive, jagged. Forged of a mixture of metal, stone, and flesh. Each bares the face of something. He can't tell what, only that it isn't happy. There are four of them, marching alongside two lines of what appears to be large, disproportionate, hairy men. Which are also armored and carrying spears.
The giants are carrying a chair. Made of brass and stone, bejeweled with emeralds and glass. The chair, the throne is as large as the giants, carved into languages he cannot read. Sculpted with shapes he cannot understand.
Sitting at the center of the throne, diminutive to the cushions and chair, there is a woman. Ivory skin, red hair so dark it appears black flowing down her back and over her shoulders. Green eyes the color and cut of faceted emeralds, lounging against the armrests as her black, green lined dress flows over it and her.
"Welcoming committee?" Kal whispers.
"I am unsure," Autochthon responds, iris shifting, "I confess. I have not been here before."
The entourage comes to a halt. She moves, flows off of the chair, and walks with such grace that her bare feet never touch the ground. "Welcome, travelers." Her voice is silk and firm hands on sore shoulders. "You have come to the eternal domain of the King of All Kings."
She spreads out her arms, bowing gracefully. Red hair spills over her, touching the floor. Or, hovering directly above it. "I am the Voice of the Eternal Yozi. Honored Travelers, I welcome you to-"
She stands up. Rolling her head back, she is jerked up like a puppet on a string. Her eyes fill with black, ink and oil. A third eye of white framed black opens upon her forehead. Lowered back onto her feet, the woman turns to them. And she starts laughing.
Throwing her head back, she laughs, loud and echoing chortles as she smacks her hand against her face. Stumbling over to the throne, she presses her hand against it to keep upright, tears of black pitch running down her cheeks, pounding her hand against it and then against the street as she slides down with her back against the leg of one of the brass giants.
She continues laughing for several minutes. Puddles of pitch form at her feet, chortles becoming guffaws, then giggles, then girlish squeals of utter delight.
Picking herself up, she walks over to the pair. "Oh. Oh wow. I never expected this."
Throwing her arms out wide, she smiles with yellow teeth. "Welcome! To Malfeas! Especially you, Brother Machine." Giggling again, she grins from ear to ear in an unnaturally large smile. "I must say, though. Of all the things you should be afraid of, it shouldn't be dying. Because I don't think our King is going to let you die until he's finished taking out every. Last. Bit. Of his resentment towards you."
Kal blinks. He glances to the side, idly looking for exits. Passageways. Alleys.
"Oh, how I'm sure he's dreamt of this. How we all have. And I must say, according to my contact? How you have shed your power? Become a mere god like you are now? Become so much less than what you were, and then willingly come here?"
The woman brings her arms apart, and brings them together. Again, and again, in a loud, slow clap. Again, and again, for minutes as her smile gets wider and wider. "I'm pretty sure Ligier's already heating up the forge for the things they will be fitting into your orifices, brother." Eyes closed, smile all teeth, she brings her hands together with a squeal. "This is going to be amazing. And I didn't even do anything!"
The pitch and ink vanishes. Stumbling, shaking her head, the woman blinks. She bows, opens her mouth to speak again. She jerks, stumbling up to standing. Her skin traces itself with brass lines and her eyes begin to glow with green fire. Staring straight at Autochthon, she begins to scream with a rage that begins all the way at the depths of her soul.
And then she stumbles back. Twitching and thrashing in every direction, an array of colors, symbols, and flames wash over her from every direction, before she finally collapses unconscious onto the street.
"Autochthon?" Kal stares at the woman, as Auto watches in utter silence. "Why did the lady jerk around before collapsing like someone pole axed her?"
Night gives way to day. Green sunlight shines down directly on them. "This...may have been a misstep on my part," Autochthon stares. He clears his throat. "I would suggest running."
There is evading danger. Then there is fooling oneself that the danger has passed, and Kal'Reegar knows this is the former and not the latter. The street gave way to an alleyway, and deft hands found a sackcloth cloak to hide himself with, and a second to drape over his companion. Music fills a busy city street as they walk together, mixing through crowds of people.
He's pretty sure they're people. Different colors, shapes. Insects the size of men, more of those disproportionate, hairy people. He tries to think of what they remind him off. Finally hits it with a brief course in his marine training on alien fauna. Gorillas.
Or Elcor. Elcor with human faces, at least.
The eye shifts from side to side, the hood surrounding the sphere and the cloak hanging off of it as it floats on head level with Kal. They walk through an open market, past marching bronze spiders pulling carts of worms the size of cows.
"Hey," Kal says, "Want to tell me what was up with that welcoming committee?"
The eye twitches. Silve plates shift along the iris. "I have not understood..." He trails off, pauses. "I have underestimated the resentment my kin have held towards me. While the...while the Dragon I have always known hated me, I...have underestimated the rage." The eye dips down. "Especially his. As long as we are in his borders, we cannot escape his gaze."
"Who's?" Kal watches a set of spiders arguing- each of them at least the size of a man, and very furry. Makes a mental note not to bring Tali here. Then the pang hits his gut like a punch.
"Malfeas," Autochthon whispers, "Malfeas knows we are here. He knows I am here."
Kal shrugs. "You said we're in Malfeas, right? So is that a person, too? Or a city?"
The eye slowly turns to Kal, floating sideways. "Kal'Reegar, Malfeas is both. He is like I was. A being, a place. A universe. He is vast, and powerful, and angry." The iris narrows. The ball dips down. "Because of what I did. To give you an idea, I have examined religions of several species. He quite well once mapped to the human Abrahamic concept of God. Once. And is now crippled, lessened. By my hand."
Kal nods, one eye on the ball, one on the street. "So he's a god?"
"Not a god, Kal'Reegar. The God." The eye shifts. "Was. But is no longer."
Kal works his jaw underneath his mask. He turns back to the street and goes silent, walking alongside the floating sphere. They pass through city blocks, unnoticed and unwatched. Past nightmare architecture that stretches the sky. Watching as blocks shift. Watching a street ground into rubble as another street takes its place.
"This place is insane," Kal whispers.
Autochthon is silent in his agreement. As hours stretch into days, as Kal finally hears the rumbling in his stomach, he once more turns to ask the sphere for directions. Only to find that now, the golden genius is staring into the distance. There is the distinct rattling of golden plates, and the iris is wide and open.
Idly, Kal wonders if he broke.
The crowd begins pushing. The massive elcor-with-people-faces charge past, roaring. The insects, the spiders both massive and man sized. The things- all alien, all bizarre, charge past them, push past them. It is then that Kal finally notices that the street is silent.
"What's up with that?" Kal asks, and waves his hand in front of Autochthon's eye. "Hey! Are you...broke or something? Why's everyone panicking?"
The answer comes in the form of a high pitched, terrified shriek from Autochthon. A scream, loud and long, and filled with such pure fear that it makes Kal take a step back and turn in the direction Autochthon is facing. Which is when he sees it, for the first time.
It comes in the form of a red tinge on the air. A wind, in the distance which makes the air twirl and dance. He can see it, in the distance. Lazily coming closer and closer, as the wind flows through the distant buildings and distant streets, becoming more and more defined.
There are screams in the buildings, cut off in mid sentence. He sees a beast charging out of a stable, the size of a tank. It collapses, dead, in mid step. A blue skinned man runs out. He stops, lifts up. His legs disappear above the knee. His eyes disappear, but no blood leaks out. A halo of red air wraps around his head as his tongue, nose, and ears vanish.
And then he is dead, laying face down on the street. And then he is nothing, like stone eroded over hundreds of years.
"Oh ancestors," Kal whispers, "What the fuck is that?"
"Run!" Autochthon screams, "Run! Run! RUN! RUN! RUN! RUN! RUN! RUN! WE HAVE TO RUN!"
Autochthon's screams become high pitched noise, static over speakers and fingers scraping over chalkboards. Grabbing the ends of the cloak, Kal runs, dragging the ball, cloak and all behind him as he sprints down the street.
Down the street, racing the wind. He runs alongside the aliens and creatures, arms and knees pumping. Hunger and fatigue is supplanted by outright terror. Especially as he sees other racers dropping behind him. One of the gorillas stops, clutching his throat before dissolving to dust. A woman with red skin and black eyes jerks in mid step, collapsing. More and more around him, even as he still sees the red gales behind him.
Then, Kal does the regrettable mistake of looking up. As does Autochthon, which only prompts him to scream louder.
A hurricane of red wind churns high above, larger than the city block. Larger than many together. Larger than a dreadnought.
"Oh ancestors," Kal breathes.
"We are all going to die!" Autochthon finishes.
Kal'Reegar has never been one to accept his fate. Instead, still running, adrenaline and whatever magic he has powering him, he begins looking for escapes. He glances from side to side. He locks eyes briefly with the black haired girl running alongside him, unaffected by the wind and skipping. She favors him with an ivory smile, which is followed by a louder shriek from Autochthon.
People around them are screaming, roaring, banging metal and rattling cages. As Kal passes, he can't help but notice how the sound is cutting off behind him. He doesn't look back, only forward, and something in the back of his mind clicks. Information- not his, but from something older- and he wraps Autochthon's cloak around his hand.
The line of silence is getting closer and closer. But he finally sees it. A shifting, struggling creature upon a black marble stone, bulbous and smooth, featureless. It moves its worm like neck, roaring and warbling as more it stretches its mouth and swallows one of the gorilla-people whole. Good enough, Kal thinks.
He sprints, races the wind. He knows the price, somehow, and leaps as the thing lowers its mouth towards Kal. The gullet stretches wide, and Kal can feel something drained from him, just as it swallows him and Autochthon whole. The creature warbles and burps. Then seizes up, dropping dead before eroding into fine sand.
Three fingers hands clench into fists around rubble. Groaning, shaking his head, Kal'Reegar opens his eyes to the sound of a high pitched drone. Turning to his side, he identifies the source as Autochthon, eye down into the rubble and dirt of the blasted street they landed in, his shriek muted due to him being half buried.
Kal pulls himself up to seated, tucking his knees against his chest. Reaching over, he grabs a separation in the plates in the eye and yanks Autochthon out, to be rewarded with the ear piercing shriek. Iris wide open, plates shaking, Kal sits next to Auto as he continues his terrified squeal for several more minutes.
Then the plates shift, the iris closes, and Autochthon floats back up. "Ah, yes! We've escaped!" He turns, shifting down to face Kal. "Excellent work, Exalted. Knew I made the right choice in asking you."
Kal holds his hands in his head with a groan. "Great."
He stands, looking up, and finds rubble as far as the eye can see. There are- were- buildings here. Now there is rubble. Bodies and things, crushes underneath. Rubbing the back of his head, he begins walking as Auto floats alongside. "No idea where we are," Kal says, "I mean, no idea where we were before, either."
"Yes...yes!" Autochthon's iris opens wide. "Hold on! I have an idea!" The sphere floats off before Kal can get in another word. Groaning, Kal lets his hands drop at his side, turns, and stares into the still eyes of a partially flattened gorilla hanging in the air in front of him.
There is a wind, holding up the body, holding it in front of Kal. It- and the flattened ape, circle around him. With a gust that he barely feels, the body whips away, retreating into the distance. Rubbing the back of his head, Kal continues walking. Even as more bodies around him are picked up, pausing to turn to the sidereal and zipping away.
Walking through the rubble, Kal can't help but compare this wasteland to a blast site. Something came through here- something big, stamping this place flat. There is nothing here, as far as his eye can see, higher than his waist. At least, if he doesn't count the holes he could drop into that are the size of a frigate.
He glances down, and sees that there is a wind now following him. A steady gust, the discoloration and faint rippling of the air the only thing giving it away. It is the size of a small person, undulating and shifting the ground beneath it. Stopping, the wind stops too, rushing around him in a circle.
"Ah, yes! Hello! Kal'Reegar, you have met one of my nieces!"
Autochthon zooms back over, bobbing up and down. He tilts down, as the wind sits at Kal's side. Bits of dust and rock hover inside it, before it rises and hovers around Kal's shoulder. "Yes, hello!" Autochthon continues, "Which one are you, then? Well, he's not blind and he still has all his skin so YES! Hello Kamilla!"
The wind happily circles Kal's head, as the quarian rests his hands on his hips. "Great. Say, Auto? Where did you head off to?"
"I had an IDEA! Which was a good one!" Autochthon bobs up and down, iris closing. "I have convinced one of my siblings to aid us, as we are currently in the presence of one of them who does not actively or inactively despise me!"
The ground beneath Kal's feet shudders. Debris and rocks jump, hanging in the air before crashing down. Some do not, hanging in the air and speeding off into the distance. Kal finds himself off balance- shifting side to side. The world itself angles itself, the ground inclining itself towards something in the distance.
And then, Kal looks up and sees it. Or tries to see it. Tries to think of what it sees, as it approaches. He cannot see it clearly, because there is no light- or at least, the light is wrapping around it as it approaches, warped by its approach.
As a traveler through space, as a marine on the migrant fleet, Kal is familiar with stellar phenomena. But he has never seen one this close. He should never have seen one this close, but that part of Kal's mind that is not devoting itself to self preservation confirms that yes. Yes it is.
It is, indeed, a black hole, walking towards them. Light bending, gravity crushing. Making the earth beneath it lurch up towards it as its footsteps make him struggle to stay balanced.
Kal'Reegar stares up at the thing before him. Tries to make out something- features, faces, something. His brain attempts to cope, and does so badly, eyes wide beneath his mask and locked on the massive dense thing before him. Although, it does remind him of an Elcor. Mainly due to having four legs and no neck.
But then he doesn't think of it as an Elcor. Then his mind tells him what it is, as some deep part of him is screaming The Black Boar that Twists the Skies.
"Isidoros," Kal whispers.
Auto turns from the black hole to Kal. "Yes! That is his name. Have you met?"
Kal struggles for words.
"Anyway!" Auto turns back to the thing standing before them, "This is Kal'Reegar, a Sidereal accompanying me for my journey. Say hello, brother!"
The air shakes with the words, and the bow wave throws Kal off his feet. He flips end over end through the air before slamming into a pile of rubble and falling unconscious. Auto turns to the pile, then back to the black hole as the wind floats off to Kal.
"I told you that you need to speak softer. Now we have to wait for him to wake up."
The world warps around them- a lensing effect, Kal imagines, from the weight of the thing he's currently sitting on. Ground shakes beneath the hooves of this object, this beast. This brother, or at least sibling of the golden sphere resting next to him. "So," Kal starts. He clears his throat, turning from Autochthon to the head of the black boar. "Why are you...not hating him?"
He jams a thumb towards Auto. Auto's iris closes. A spark runs over the silver.
Cause I don't care, comes the response, rumbling like earthquakes.
"Isidoros is...singular, with one exception," Autochthon explains, "He cannot be stopped, he cannot be halted, but he can be reasoned with."
I go where I go. That's it. A rumble, rippling through the fur. The voice speaks in clipped, short thundercracks. Strong enough to stop me and I stop. Haven't been stopped.
Kal taps his fingers on his leg. Adjusting his position, sitting cross legged as scenery passes them buy, he muses silently. Thinking about what he's seen. Thinking about where he has been. Considering the implausibility, even as he feels the cool gust on his back from the wind that is following him.
"So, why did you agree to carry us?"
A snort, shaking the air like a thundercrack. Autochthon asked me. Made something stronger than me, so I decided to. Don't care otherwise.
"Most of my kin resent me for my actions in the War." Autochthon floats over to Kal, hovering in front of him. "Isidoros does not care, one way or the other. I had to argue that since my creations have stopped him, he was obligated to do this for me." A pause. The iris shifts. "I was not sure it would work."
Don't care one way or another. The Exalt and the god turn towards the swaying head of the black hole boar. Was heading towards the desert but not going through it. You still have to get through her before you're in Creation.
Kal stares at the boar, then turns to Auto. "Her? Her who?"
Autochthon sighs, lowering his eye. Golden plates shift around him and the spark flickers behind the iris. "He means Cecelyne."
The rumbling recedes into the distance. Standing at the edge of a brass street, Kal'Reegar glancing to Autochthon next to him, and to the wind shifting next to him. Looking up at the barely defined plain in front of him, he once again questions whether or not this is a bad idea. "So, this is a border, right?" he asks.
"Yes," Autochthon confirms, "The edge of Malfeas. An edge. Past this is Cecelyne. Take a step forward and we will transit to there."
He can make out...some definition. It looks less like a desert to his eyes. It looks more like the surface of a moon. And not the life-bearing kind he sees around gas giants, but the cold, dead, and gray ones.
Beneath his helmet, Kal clenches his eyes shut. Sensors note and massage his temples with compressed air. It makes no sense, he muses. But then again, nothing else has since he went through the portal. Taking a step, Kal, half expects a drop.
But instead, his foot comes down on fine gray sand. Turning around, he sees an endless desert behind him, featureless and gray and stretching into the infinite horizon. Turning around, he sees more of the same, and no sign of brass streets. His reaction is, all considering, sensible.
"The fuck just happened?"
The golden sphere floats past, followed by the wind. "Excellent, we've transitioned successfully. Come along, it takes five days to reach Creation."
Kal looks back. No, he can see the gates. The streets, somehow, but only in the corner of his vision. "Wait, what happened? We were there and now we're not?"
"I imagine Malfeas has sealed us out." The iris twists and sparks. "It may take some effort to get back in once we are prepared to return to Deus Machina. This may prove troublesome but ONWARD! We can deal with this problem later!"
Kal grits his teeth. Clenching fists, he begins walking after them. "Dammit, I wish I could tell you how much I hate you."
"I doubt it is even one inkling of the amount Cecelyne does, if that is any comfort!"
Kal works his jaw. The sand rises between his toes, and he can feel it grinding against his feet. "Oh no. Oh fucking no. You did not just imply that this giant damn desert is also your fucking brother!"
The eye turns. Two plates on either side of it- which he was sure were not there before- rise as if in a shrug. "Sister, actually. She is a creature of laws and rules. As it stands, the current rule is that we must travel for five days to reach Creation." There is a sound, as if Autochthon is sucking in breath he does not need through teeth he does not have. "Ah, yes. I may have exaggerated, as well. Cecelyne is the sister- she is a girl, by the way- of Malfeas. Technically, she is more my cousin." Another pause. "Additionally, she is also...from a certain point of view, by the way, you could say that she, Law, is the mother of the Principle of Hierarchy."
Kal blinks. He glances at the wind, then back at Auto. He looks down and shifts his feet in the sand. "So. Wait. You're saying this," he points down to the sand, "Is the mother of the big cloud of glass balls that Tali and Shepard ran into?"
"Only from a certain point of view!"
Kal blinks again. He blinks again. The implications run through his head, hitting the large mental wall of wharblegarble. "Dare I ask who the father was?"
There is a moment of rare silence from the golden sphere. "Well. From a certain point of view, it was Malfeas-who-Was. Kingship, Dominion. Together with Law, that creates Hierarchy."
Kal makes a weak chuckle. "So the glass balls came from the sand being melted?"
Autochthon harrumphs. "It was certainly much more complicated than that!"
Autochthon turns and continues floating. Kal walks alongside him. "So the big brass city got together with the big desert and had a group of fiery balls." He rubs the back of his neck, angling a glance at Auto. "Weird, but kind of sweet. What about you? Get together with, what? An ocean? Maybe a moon? I mean, which one of the lady...things...were you sweet with?"
The iris narrows. Electricity sparks around the iris and a random bolt of lightning turns the sand beneath Autochthon to glass. "None. I was too hideous for them to look upon." The sphere turns back to the horizon. "It will take us five days to cross. We should keep walking."
They were not the only travelers on the long silver sands. They would pass bodies, travelers face down in the desert, some eroded all the way to bones. As they passed them, the wind would float over, picking them up and carrying them away before returning a short time later.
"Where do you think she's taking them?" Kal asks.
Autochthon shrugs, and continues floating. Kal rubs the back of his neck, realizing that terrible truth. "I'm referring to wind as female. I don't believe I just did that. Like the desert is female, or the giant city with the green sun is male."
He mutters under his breath. There is already sand in his suit. And it isn't moving like sand, either. It managed to get past his seals, somehow, and now it's...roaming over his backside. "Ancestors, this sucks. And you've been damn quiet since I asked you about your love life."
The golden ball harrumphs. "It matters not. It takes us five days to reach the end of the desert and transit to Creation. We have time to be angry and to let anger go."
He blinks. "Wait, five days. What if we, I don't know, walk faster?"
"How about if we go really, really slow?"
"Five days. However, I would not recommend it, as that is against the rules and would make her upset."
Kal stops, arms hanging at his side. "That...that makes no sense."
The sphere stops, and floats back over. Behind them, Kamilla passes by, carrying away a skull and a leg bone. "It does. In its own twisted way. Cecelyne is the principle of Law. Therefor, within her borders, does she establish the Law. And her Law says that we must travel for five days to reach the edge of this desolation."
Kal works his jaw, under his helmet. "I...I still don't understand what that means!"
The plates shrug on the golden sphere. "I sympathize. The laws are hypocritical and nonsensical, and designed only to make you miserable. But they are Her laws and she is Law, and hence they must be followed!"
Kamilla floats by, holding a torso. She stops, turning to the two, and continues on. Kal works his jaw under his helmet, resting his palm against the tinted glass. Autochthon only stairs, shifting winds and sands around them, occasional arcs of lightning lighting the inside of his eye. Arms hanging at his side, Kal finally puts the pieces together.
"Tali...didn't explain a lot to me," he says, "But...you created, this." He pats his hand to his chest. "This...this thing inside me, right?"
"Yes. I created the Exaltations."
"Why?" Kal asks. He shrugs, hands ups. "I...look, I don't know the first thing about this. We get into the city, and the first thing that happens is the lady who greets us gets...possessed by a freakin' two bit supervillain, and then we get chased by a hurricane. Those...those are your family, right? Them, and the giant...thing...we rode on? And this?" He points down. "This to? This is your cousin?"
The eye tilts, its approximation of a nod. Kal asks himself how he got so good at reading the gestures of a half meter in diameter golden ball with no volume control, but rolls with it.
"Yes. They are." The head tilts. It shrugs. "At least, these are their jouten. They are bigger than this."
Kal works his jaw. Needs to find out what the Hell a jouten is at some point but still. "So why did you make'em?" The eye turns back to him. Behind Autochthon, Kamilla flies away with a thing that likes like the child of a Hanar and a Volus. "People fight wars for reasons, and that's what it was, right? So...why?"
The iris narrow, almost closing completely into a solid disc of silver. "Why?" The voice comes as almost a whisper. "Simple, really. I was too disgusting for them to look upon. I was always the one that was" There is a sound like metal grinding deep within the eye. "I was always the one who's talents were abused but never appreciated. Everything I created, every wonder I worked from impossibility was taken and not once was I considered anything more than a disgusting freak."
Kal takes a step back. "Wait. Wait a minute, Auto. You might be-"
"Every. Last. Thing." Thunder cracks overhead. "I created the Games and they took them. I created the Jadeborn and they shunned them. I created the Sun and Malfeas-that-was wrenched it from me so that his begotten son could have an appropriate chariot." Lightning strikes within a few paces of Kal, melting sand to glass. Kamilla flutters over, hovering behind Kal. "They took my inventions! They took my ideas! They took my patience and my craftsmanship! They took my SON and butchered him to create humanity!"
Kal takes another step back. The air above churns with the sounds of thunder and gathering static. Kamilla floats back with him, swirling behind his back. "Auto, what you're telling me? You...basically crippled God."
"I. Had. Cause." Thunder roars. Lightning strikes around them. A perfect circle of sand, all around them, become fine reflective glass. The golden sphere shakes, and lowers, the iris shifting open as the lightning within crackles and churns and grows dimmer. "Yes. Yes, I had cause."
Kamilla makes the sound of wind chimes. Darting under Kal's arm, she whirls around Autochthon. "We should continue on," Auto says, "We make no progress like this."
Floating, bobbing up and down in the air, Autochthon continues onward with Kamilla in tow. After a moment, Kal follows.
They walked, for hours, in total silence. Kamilla had taken her place in close proximity to her gold and round uncle, making the sound of sad wind chimes and occasionally gusting around him. She only left his side to carry away the occasional stray corpse.
Kal walked behind them, his thoughts drifting. To home. To the fleet. To the mission. To the war he finds himself embroiled in- the possibly hopeless war they nonetheless scored a great victory in. Mostly, though, they drift to one thing in particular. A face.
Long, curly purple hair. Eyes that had...have brilliance behind them he can't even begin to approach. Bravery that makes him, a trained Migrant Marine, feel like a kid hiding in a corner. Given, though, his memories mainly drift to her kissing him. Mainly to that.
Picking up his pace, he walks up to the sphere. He needs to talk. He needs to argue. He needs to get his mind off home, somehow. "So," he starts, "Can I-"
"No!" Autochthon bellows, but Kal quickly realizes he's looking past him, "Sand Pirate Blood Apes! We have been spotted!"
Well, Kal thinks. That works too.
Hands clench in just the right way. Electricity runs over the back of his hands as his knuckle dusters activate. Taking off in a sprint, he passes Auto, passes Kamilla, and charges towards the sound of horns and bellows.
And then he asks himself what Blood Apes are. Passing a dune, running into view of the three ships somehow sailing on sand, he gets his answer. So, he thinks, that's what those 'Elcor with human faces' he kept running into are actually called.
Ah well, Kal thinks. Can't be worse than Krogans. A final leap, and he runs up a thrown iron spear. The forward ship. Makes a mental count; seven of those...big...things. All wearing leather jackets, jerkins, and metal helmets. They roar at him as he leaps over the bow, weaving through the air and towards the mast.
One hand on the wood, he spins around it. Momentum carries him through the air. Fist back, eyes glowing yellow, he lets the Essence flow and calls up the boom. This is what he does.
Terrestrial Martial Art: Synthetic Hero Style
Care with Fragile Organics
The punch slams into the face of one of the blood apes. Essence and gravity do the rest. The shock runs through the face, through the skull, and vibrates the bone. Stumbling back, the demon is unconscious before he hits the deck.
A spear comes down where he was. Two, in fact. Where he was, but not where he is now. A standing leap sends him above them. His feet snap out, and smack them both in the face, twisting in mid air to grab the mast and kick himself off. He turns, flies knee first, and swings his foot into the side of a surprise'd ape's head.
Mass Effect Bludgeon.
The snap and a crack of thunder tosses him off the ship. Two down, five to go. On this ship, at least.
He falls back, back leg bent, front leg planted firmly on the hardwood. Hands in front of him. Opens one, turns it, and gestures them forward. "C'mon," he breathes, "Let's dance."
They take the bait. Two run at him, spears overhead. Sidearms in their free hand, cocked back and fingers on the trigger. He swings to the side. A fired pellet ignites a chunk of the bow behind him. Yeah, he thinks, That's mine now.
Moves like lightning, quick and hard. Slams one fist into one blood ape's face, ducks out of the way of the flying teeth. Grabs the gun as he goes limp, grabs the spear with the other hand. Swings the shaft into the back of the other's head and sends him down. This is his element. This is what he does.
He's a Migrant Fleet Marine, and this a boarding action.
The spear goes flying, and pins a charging ape to the mast. He grabs his gun, a punch to the jaw knocking him out, and slides across the deck. A quick check, a quick look, and he kicks open a door at waist height, cocks the gun, and fires.
Roars and shrieks from behind him as he runs, and he leaps off just as their powder stocks ignite. The blast sends him through the air, flipping end over end. Tucking and rolling, he heads the kinetic barriers squeal, gets more of the damn sand in his suit, and lands a crouch.
Two more of the ships bearing down. Beneath his mask, Kal'Reegar grins. This, he thinks, is a lot more his comfort zone. "I need something that explodes," he breathes.
He gets his wish, when a white lance flies out of nowhere. A flash of vermillion and it slams into one of the ships on the side, tearing it one end to the other. The ship buckles, collapses. Flames burst from within and sends metal, wood and crew flying.
One of whom is launched towards him. The ape sees him, and roars, arms out and diving towards him.
And then there's what Kal honestly calls a blur. Someone, right out of nowhere. She flies across the sand, slamming a foot into one arm, swinging the side of her hand into the other. The ape screams as bones shatter, but the scream's cut off when she just flows around him and wraps her arms around the ape's neck.
The ape is dead, face down in the sand and the woman is standing on him. Features hidden by grey cloth, a cloak surrounding her and scarves covering everything on her face save for green eyes. She stands on the dead ape, as the final ship comes alive with roars and bellows. It circles them as the sides open, harpoon guns sliding out.
And then the woman speaks, and it is with a tone that makes Kal want to salute.
"This traveler and his companions are under my protection." The voice carries onto the ship. Carries through the sand and air, crisp and clear. "Know this, if you wish to test the limits. One person in Hell has fought me and lived. He is behind me. You are are in front of me."
Eyes narrow. An extended hand wraps with vermillion. "If you value your lives, be somewhere else."
The ship turns and speeds away without a word. No argument given, none needed. Kal can already sense how the fight would have been a losing proposition. He clears his throat, hands folded behind him, chest out and head high.
"Thanks for the assistance, Ma'am," he says, "We were just-"
The eyes pin him where he stands. "Sidereal." She bites the word back like a bitter fruit. "Are they letting you out of Yu Shan young, or were you some unlucky Ronin who exalted in the middle of Hell?"
She walks over to him, grabbing him by the elbow. "Come with me. And I won't tell your big bad Sifu how you fought a group of Blood Apes like a punch drunk Haslanti..." The eyes narrow as her voice trails off. She looks down at his hand, then back at his helmet.
"What are you?" she demands, voice a quiet, but pointed whisper, "You're not human."
"And who are you?" He says the words before he can think them. The voice is familiar. The eyes, too. Something, something about her is setting off all sorts of bells in the back of his head.
And then she pulls down the scarves, revealing her face. Once again, Kal'Reegar speaks before he really should. "Captain Shepard? What are you doing he-"
The hand moves like an attacking snake. The helmet explodes, glass and metal and plastics expanding into a sphere around his head, as the force sends him off his feet and out of her grip. Kal'Reegar is unconscious before he hits the sand.
End Chapter 1