Chapter 6 (continued)
"Good." said Mother and Father in unison their circlets shimmering slightly. "Tell us Aveonato, what do you remember of your mission?"
"Nothing." Aveonato answered truthfully.
"Think." said Father with his stern but kind voice. "Think carefully and try to remember." added Mother in her warm soothing voice.
"Think!" they demanded together.
Aveonato tried to remember. He remembered going to the briefing. He did remember leaving headquarters and the view of the air-port at dawn the dew covering the meadows, leaving the buildings in front of him shimmering as in covered in glowing drops of Amber. He remembered travelling to his destination in Cydoritanis the realm in shadows and the city lights when he walked its streets on the first day, eternally shining night and shadowed day. He remembered himself looking up to the sky-shell in awe as he saw for the first time the lights of Atlytenia the kingdom that was carved into the sky-shell itself, marvelling at its lights illuminating the sky with falls stars.
In his memories he went through every step of his journey, remembering all the things he had done. The scenes he had chosen to imprint in his mind stood out most vividly, just by closing his eyes concentrating a bit he could summon those short moments almost as if he were there again.
Yet of his mission he remembered nothing. As it should be.
"Mother. Father. I remember nothing of the mission. I remember my travels. As I remember most vividly the anchors I have etched into my memory. As it should be."
"As it should be." intoned the two empty faced figures in front of him. "Now son, close your eyes and sleep. It is time to extract the records."
Aveonato closed his eyes. As always he felt a sharp pain setting all the nerves in his body ablaze, but he said nothing. The pain of extraction was a small price to pay for all that Mother and Father had done for him. He felt proud that once again he had come back home victorious. As he began to smile he sunk into a deep black void.
Father today was the man who had actually found Aveonato so many years ago in one of the unnamed jungles that still covered much of the surface of the Inner World. He had been part of some strange savage tribe that had been for reasons unknown to him been almost completely slaughtered. He and his team had been roaming the rain-forests looking for natives with abnormal magical powers. Back in his days in the academy his professors had shaken their heads in sad disappointment that one of their students was obsessed with this strange notion that there were ways to conduct magic unknown to high civilization, much less in the savage tribes of the Inner World. He had remained adamant, to young to be held back by notions of realism. This had almost sealed his career as a research mage. Lucky for him he had talked to a representative of the Free Agency about his theories. Well he had talked about everyone about his theories, even if it did not get him any acknowledgement from his professors it did impress the girls in his year. The agency representative was impressed enough with his general academic achievements which coupled with his penchant to think along a path that was bordering on apostasy but at least in essence plausible that she concluded that he would make a great analyst.
Indeed he excelled in the tasks given to him. He worked hard, diligently and bent over backwards to come up with as may plausible alternative scenarios as possible to any given situation no matter how trivial. This led to some stunning success stories. Enough for the agency to indulge him and send him all expenses paid on to a field trip to test his theories. For the Free Agency it was a win-win situation. Even if he came back empty handed his loyalty would be strengthened even further and in case he was right it would be the Free Agency that would be studying these new forms of magic first and every one else second. If at all.
The expedition was almost an utter disaster. Despite the advances of modern magic and an expert team the wild jungles of the Inner World were home to many secrets it had withheld in its feral embrace, many of them deadly. Only one week in and their High Master healer had contracted a disease that burned him when ever he tried to use his magic no matter how trivial and so the one man responsible for keeping the team healthy succumbed to a trivial infection which he could have cured with ease under any other circumstance. The rest of the voyage did not go any better. Utterly lost, sick and demoralized the team worked its way through the jungles only finding tribes that were shockingly primitive, even worse than the professors had believed or deeply hostile or both. They had long given up now only trying to get back home alive when they stumbled over Aveonato and the dead of his tribe. Feeling sorry for the barbarian child they took him with them feeding him and hoping that he might guide them out of the terrifying green labyrinth. In time they discovered that though young around ten to twelve years old he knew enough about the local herbs to relief most of the research parties ailments.
In time they also came to discover than none of them could produce the cures as Aveonato it was trough a form of magic that they did not understand that this half-animal child could turn the vile poisonous plants of the jungle into medicine.
In time they escaped back into civilization with the boy as their hard earned trophy. More than half of the original research team had been left behind dead in the forest their souls probably damned to be re-born in some savage body. But they had Aveonato with all his mysterious skills who under the patient guidance of the first Father began to learn about the language and rules of modern society. Under the guidance of Father followed shortly by Mother an expert trainer of the Night Circle agents the boy grew into a very promising man. His powers growing with his body enhanced by rigorous systematic training in the traditional arts. It soon turned out that Aveonato had a special knack for sanctificing artefacts of strange power while also being adept in both mind-force and shell-art. What did not happen though was the breakthrough that Father had hoped for. While Aveonato could use magic in ways that no one else could he did not understand it in a way that he could have taught it to others. Work with him was slow. First Father was frustrated with this development. It would take many decades is not centuries to decipher the secrets of his personal key to scientific glory. That the agency was slowly growing impatient with the resources it had sunk into first Father's pet project without seeing any tangible success was not helping either. Seeing the great talent of the youth the Cardinal Directors the very leaders of the Free Agency pressed for Aveonato's inclusion into active service.
The first Father knew that he would only be able to delay turning Aveonato into an agent but never prevent it. So he came up with a plan one that would benefit all. His research, the wishes of the Cardinal Directors and Aveonato himself. He went before the conclave of the Cardinals and asked for permission to create a batch of body-copies, implanting soul conductors into Aveonato's body as well as providing his handler with a strong sympathetic soul catcher. So if he should die on a mission, something that would happen eventually to an agent of the Midnight Circle his souls could be retrieved to be implanted into a body-copy.
This had not gone all to well with the old ones. Using exact body copies, implanting soul conducting equipment into a living human and using a soul catcher on him were all acts that would be considered vile in practically every nation in the world. Yet this was a special case. If Aveonato was lost his abilities would be lost with him. The board of Cardinal Directors nearly had him demoted and imprisoned for the suggestion alone. He could talk reason into them though telling them to consider it in the end it was not even clear of all the necessary steps that had to be taken were even technically possible.
The next day he was given the green light. Despite the vehement protests of the Cardinal Director of Ethics he was to collaborate with another work group in the Night department who were currently working on a project named Night-Shade. They were attempting with only partial success to enhance agents in a way that they would be able to execute their missions without any conscious knowledge of their objectives. So far the results were disastrous as the unconscious agents turned into uncontrollable murderers under the influence of their implants once they were active, often going after their own support team. At least they did not remember anything once they had stopped their rampage waking up in half congealed puddles of gore.
Aveonato was different though. His body accepted the implants with little trouble as did his mind the unconscious commands given to it. He had been averse to violence for al his life, his personality soft and kind. Pretty much the most unlikely candidate for the midnight shift. Yet when he was under the influence of the implants he would commit acts of violence with a precision that slightly disturbed his handlers. His actions were soft, without malice and with not the slightest hint of mercy. When he came too it was always a good while after the deed and only after he had moved away from the place were it had happened.
The rest was easy. His soul had a very high affinity to conductors, catching it was almost trivial even from his living body, it held its identity for over a week when in containment and took rapidly to body-copies. All things that were problematic if not impossible for everyone else. Another great mystery that Aveonato posed. But now there was ample time for his secrets to be deciphered no matter how long it took.
The only other thing was the monitoring of his missions but that was an almost trivial problem. Recording what he experienced into the crystals inserted into the base of his skull was a simple matter as was encoding the data that was so collected. Fortunately they could simply adapt the Void Integrated Network Encryption, or VINE for short to do that.
The first Father and Mother waited until Aveonato had completely sunk into deep unconsciousness before they opened their minds to the information feed that was sent to their circlets from the the data crystals. Their masks projected an image of the information directly into their altered eyes. To them it appeared as if a mandala of glyphs, sigils and pictures appeared floating between them and Aveonato. The strange structure bloomed, quavered and extended into strange directions until it had become a pulsating globular shape with no apparent symmetry. This outer shell was composed of all the memories that Aveonato had acquired during his last mission. The most vivid spots where the snapshots he had taken in irregular intervals. Memories that were especially clear, vivid and true. The shape had also several dark spots, irregularities in the memory which contradicted parts of the story this particular reminiscence told. It were these dark spots that were interesting to Mother and Father. Both of them chose one of these holes in the narrative structure diving into the network below where all these seeming inconsistencies were interconnected and once Mother and Father met within the depths of the network they could start to decipher in which way all these holes were connected, thereby unfolding the hidden truths, hidden within the falsehoods tainting this particular memory.
As the truth unfolded before them they saw the target of the mission. A traitor that had run away with secrets that were not his to divulge. He had run. He had hidden. He had been seeking asylum. He had hoped. His hopes, his fears, his secrets. They all died with him. His soul caught in a cursed amulet that was buried in an unnamed desert, he would only would know freedom once he had lost all of his former personality, only then would his soul be able to let go of the amulet and seek out a new host body to be hopefully reborn into a better life. The actual death itself was quite unspectacular. In what looked like a storage room of an animated puppet theatre strewn with costumes and full of various mechanical puppets in different states of disassembly Aveonato had found the traitor and ritually stabbed him to stop the flow of his life force, stunning his soul. He did not suffer.
As they retreated from the memory seeing that the mission had been executed perfectly the first Father had for a moment the impression that one of the puppets, a simple thing in a midnight blue cloak with a rudimentary expression carved into its face plate had shifted from a neutral expression into a slight derisive smile.