Chapter 2 Ascending Genius (continued)
He had not walked two steps into the hall when the automaton prisons came to life. The did this apart from glowing red orbs of light in their eyes with a lack of drama. Where they were motionless statues a moment ago now they where reading their various weapons and moving towards Tyrzo who was busy drawing his own sword which he had draped into special cloth to prevent its aura of power to leak. He also pulled out a phial filled with his blood from a cushioned pocket near his heart and slotted it into his blade. His weapon was slowly gorging itself on its master's blood turning his life force into destructive power. The guard automatons did not have to courtesy to wait for him to be ready of course but charged him instantly. They did so in complete silence who ever had made the statues had added an enchantment to them that absorbed sound. A simple bit of magic with rather unsettling effect. Tyrzo despite himself did feel the cold damp tentacles of fear caressing him very softly.
The first wave of guardians was upon him. As his sword was still not ready he rebuked his assailants with one forceful hand-seal, stopping them in their tracks. Pushing them even back a bit. But the automatons were inexorable and simply marched against the force that was trying to stop them. Inch by inch they kept getting closer pushing the tips of their spears forward with them. Tyrzo was impressed by the craftsman ship with which the automatons had been built, he knew apart from him self only a handful of sacntificers who could have built such complex machines that would have also been able to withstand the power of his mind-force without taking damage let alone advance against it. With a hiss his sword ejected the empty vial of blood. Tyrzo took another vial out of his pocket and slotted it into the sword that was now ready for combat. He turned sideways to evade the incoming slow motion attacks releasing his seal. The automatons suddenly stumbled forward and right past him. He twirled his blade around him in one fast fluid motion, the weapon leaking raw magical essence from its life force engorged runes and without a glance back moved down the corridor.
Behind him the sentinels criss crossed in lines glowing in an eldritch light exploded into countless pieces. For one moment the only thing moving in the entire fortress was Tyrzo as the guardians froze in shock contemplating what had just happened. Tyrzo kept smiling.
He was man almost without peers. His power honed over many generations, focused by an iron will and an insatiable hunger to excel knew no no equal. Yet he was not perfect. One of his greatest flaws, one that kept returning to haunt him no matter how hard he tried to better himself was his hubris. Tyrzo shone so bright that everyone else appeared to be a pale shadow. No matter how much Tyrzo tried to work on his humility the chronic weakness of his fellow man always guided him down the path of overconfidence. A fact he always forgot until the day came when his pride almost killed him.
Today was such a day.
His grin that had been fading since he left the Nameless Warden behind had started to broaden again as he heard the rumble of the falling debris behind him. What he did not notice though was that the automatons around him had stopped moving for far to long. Their burning eyes remained fixed on the heaps of rubble behind him. Tyrzo failed to notice how the attention had shifted from him to what he had left. He also did not notice that now the lesser ornamental statues, gargoyles and even the engravings in the doors, walls, ceilings and even the floors had become animated. Every trapped soul was apart his and the Wardens had become acutely aware of what had just happened. Someone had destroyed a group of guardian constructs. Not damaged not broken utterly annihilated. With that the magic that bound the soul to its cage was gone. It meant freedom.
When the attention focused back on Tyrzo he knew that something was amiss. The ferocity of the stares was startling and despite the magic that kept all the constructs silent their mental turmoil was such that it got passed those barriers and felt the entire fortress with a soft rasping sound like the last breath of a dying man. Tyrzo had two more vials of his blood left. His survival instinct told him to ready the next vial. Though his rational mind did not really know why he had long learned to listen to these whispers. No one had ever died from being to cautious.
The hissing noise had now grown louder and changed to almost a growl. Tyrzo felt fear that was as always tinged with a bit of excitement. He started to breath in and in and in. Absorbing as much air as he could converting it into latent magic energy. He new that something would happen and it would happen soon. His aura started to flare saturated with magic when all the guards suddenly attacked as one. Gone was the order in which they had previously positioned themselves now they all stormed in pushing each other aside in a desperate attempt to be the first to reach the intruder with his blade that promised an early release from their solitary confinements.
As they descended on him from all directions, Tyrzo exhaled one sharp short breath making one sharp hand-seal while twirling his blade around him in a protective pattern. Before the first of his assailants had reached he charged them with a burst of improbable speed. No he too was leaving behind a trail of light just like his blade. Every sentinel that left the ground to attack him landed in a million pieces.
With every fallen guard the attack became more frenzied. No matter how fast Tyrzo moved he was constantly enveloped by a sphere of stone. The debris he was producing was starting to impede his magic as he had to stop inhaling to prevent choking on the dust. When the very stone tiles began to shake when he approached and the figures of heroes of old that had been half carved into the walls started to tear themselves from their places he knew that something was clearly amiss. This should not happen. If they kept mobbing him like this he would run out of juice to power his magic. At that point he would die. Killed by a swarm of half dead souls encased in walking tombs design to dampen their innate power. He did smile at the thought for one short moment as the irony of that death amused him, but it was not time for him to be killed just to make a punchline heavy with meaning.
He had cut his way through another living wall of opposition when he came upon an opening. The gate to the stair way that would lead him down into the bowels of the fortress. He did not even risk taking the stairs. Almost every stone in this cursed place was infused with a damned soul. He would not be denied his prize by some murderous steps trying to trip him. He directed the flow of his essence into his feet, jumped, made contact with the essence of the wall of the stair case and ran along it instead. Keeping his footing on the wavering walls was relatively easy and his descent was faster this way. He cast a quick look back. Behind him the stone guardian were trying to push through the door, clawing at each other in silent fury.
Why would they go to such lengths only to get killed.
"Stupid!" screamed Tyrzo "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! suddenly everything made sense. He understood that when he 'killed' them what he was actually doing was liberating them from the confines of their eternal jails. No wonder they had been rushing him, apart from killing him this was the only legal was the only possible way for them to escape their punishment. All those sentinels he had destroyed had released their inhabitants who now were rushing into the world to find an embryo onto which they could latch and thus be born again.
When he arrived at the foot of the stairs a group of guardians was already waiting form him. Once they saw his blurred form speeding down the wall they became animated bursting through the doorway towards him. It was time for Tyrzo to be clever. It was time to do something stupid. He broke off the head of the blood vial he had been holding in his hand he doubled his efforts to drag in as much air into his burning lungs as possible and started to pour the blood into his open mouth. The blood poured through his mouth and entered his lungs as he concentrated using his shell-art to adapt his body to extract the life force from his blood. A complex manoeuvre even as part of a carefully rehearsed slow ritual, most unwise while sprinting over shaking ground jumping into a forest of weapons pointed at him.
His mind exploded into overdrive. He was thinking faster tracking everything in front of him and around him at the same time with perfect clarity. He felt his aura like he normally felt his skin, touching all around him as it expanded even further changing colour to a deep crimson leaving bloody splashes on every surface it touched. His body started to move parallel to his conscious thoughts. He simply pointed in to the direction he wanted to go while his reflexes did the rest. His sword was not moving in fluid motions any more but was now thrusting, cutting, slicing in a irregular staccato rhythm. Where he had annihilated his enemies before he was now crippling them as he rushed past them. Now he left a trail of twitching wrecks behind him. Still imbued with their prisoner souls but unable to do more than desperate flopping motions on the floor. In many cases his sword cut the threads of the silencing magic, so that the things he left behind made grinding, crashing noises and the keening noises of the imprisoned souls could be heard. When Tyrzo heard the sound made by a suffering soul he realized why the silencing spells had been placed on the sentinels in the first place.
No time for mercy.
He kept rushing forward towards his goal. The attacks became more infrequent the further he got as the guardian began to realize that he did not bring them freedom any more but a fate even worse than what they had to endure already. As Tyrzo's aura began to fade again, the power of his own additional life force exhausted the attacks had almost ceased completely. Now that he had broken the will of his enemy though this was hardly a problem. The lines of power along his blade began to dim with the second vial of blood depleted. Tyrzo had to suppress his feeling of elation. He had not reached his goal yet, nor had he left the Fortress of Terminal Justice a life yet. He had only one vial of blood left. Another unplanned for disaster like the one he had just escaped would mean the end of him and worst of all the end of his ambitions. He might be ambitious but Tyrzo was not doing all this to gain personal glory or power. There were much easier ways to accomplish this. No. he was doing this for the good of all man-kind. Sometimes a man had to do not what society wanted but what society needed. When he had started his plan a long time ago he knew that he would have to break rules, overstep boundaries and do things that some might even consider as evil. But he decided that he'd rather live with this enormous guilt than to do nothing. There was just to much at stake.
He finally reached the fifth circle of final storage. The last stage before the annihilation. Here the souls were kept for 144 years and if no one needed them in that time they would finally see the release of evaporation, leaving the world once and for all, taking their sins with them. While the wing containing the storage unit was Cyclopean in dimensions the final room in which the souls are stored was quite small. The centre most sphere among dozens. Tyrzo had lost count how many gates he had past. The endless sequence of yard thick stone walls, followed by yard thick lead walls and the progressively shrinking gates produced a suffocating atmosphere. He actually had to duck to pass the last three doors. The room that held the prison spheres was only three or four yards in diameter. In it stood two simple cast iron tripods each one of them holding a almost spherical flask of thick glass into which several rods of cold sigil covered iron were stuck containing a shining plasma in the typical gold hues of the life force of sentient beings. The light coming from these flasks was not very bright but looking directly into it hurt they eyes and there was something fundamentally wrong with the light which filled the hearts of old that beheld it with a primordial terror.
Tyrzo moved his head away looking at the flasks only from the corner of his eyes. He stretched out his hand and touched the rust covered metal stopper of the flask that was closest to him. He relaxed, letting his mind slowly sink through the stopper to touch the mind that lay beyond it.
Telepathy was impossible. The mind of a human was his and his alone. While powerful emotions could be detected this was considered just a form of empathy. No one had ever been able to tell what someone else was thinking. There were several charlatans and so called mind-readers out there who used every trick known to man kind and coming up with new ones every once in a while, but in the end they always tuned out to be frauds. Tyrzo himself had in his younger years campaigned against these frauds, so it came as a potent shock to him that suddenly he was immersed in another man's mind. There were no clear thoughts here. Just a torrent of strange recollections, twisted dreams, aberrant ideas, horrible impulses and abominable hungers. He forced the thoughts into focus attempting to see who this person was.
"What have you done to deserve this torment?" he asked more himself than the soul he was touching.
The answer came in pictures and sounds and smells and worst of all feelings of elation. Bodies. So many bodies. Hundreds of them. Thousands. Mutilated, sick, deformed, twisted. On purpose. In the name of progress. For the 'greater good'. But in reality it was done out of morbid curiosity and for the intoxicating feeling of becoming the master of the suffering of so many lives. It did not stop at the bodies though. Once the body dies the soul lives on. And if you catch it?
If you catch it you can experiment on the very force of life that animates the body and bestows it with reason.
This was not the soul of Khrus Cydral, it was that of Shar Nizlaal the man who invented the machines used to imprison souls and burn them to power artefacts. The man that caused the Soul Fire wars that had devastated the planet two and a half millennia ago. The most reviled figure in al history was still alive.
Tyrzo pulled himself out of the mind of Nizlaal. His face was drained of all colour, shivering all over he sat down on the hard stone floor. His smile and even his smirk had vanished from his face. For a long time he sat there shaking whimpering softly every once in a while. His mind was polluted with the horrible images from Nizlaal's mind, his feelings infected by the mad man's lusts. His iron will had slipped from his fingers.
He tried very hard to distance himself from his feelings. Acknowledging that his reaction was normal, that his terror made him human. Proof that his ambition was not corrupt. His ambition! He summoned up his plan. What was at stake. He remembered what he had promised his partners what they had all risked, what they had to sacrifice to reach their goal. Slowly he came to his senses. Fear was replaced by determination. He steadied himself. Got up and walked over to the next flask. He stretched out his hand hesitated only for the shortest of moments, forced his hand forward and touched the metal stopper.
This time the sudden appearance of a mind that was not his own all around him was less of a shock. And this mind was far less deranged. What he saw was ambition. A well meaning heart and a daunting vision. Then a slide down the slippery slope. Pushing the boundaries a bit to far, making mistakes with fatal consequences and the realization that it was to late for remorse. The result was now all that mattered. Only through the spectacular breakthrough Cydral had envisioned could he ever hope to find forgiveness in the eyes of others and before himself. But he never got that far. He was caught by agents before he could set his final plan into motion. Now there was only regret.
"Do not worry, your time is yet to come." Tyrzo thought.
"Wh... who is there?" the voice of Khrus Cydral echoed through his mind.
"A friend. I have come to help you." Tyrzo answered.
"Help?" the disbelief of a man who had forgotten that hope existed.
"Yes, my friend. I am going to free you and help you fulfil your destiny."
As Tyrzo retreated from the soul of the prisoner followed by a wave of thankfulness he learned that even a soul without a body can cry.
He placed the flask containing the soul of Khrus Cydral with much care into a thickly padded sack and left the fifth circle of final storage leaving only the soul of Nizlaal behind him flickering faintly in the dark.
A moment later he was back in the room took the other flask saying "You are not done paying yet you prick."
As he walked out his smiled had returned to his face.
Tyrzo moved back up, occasionally making a sudden movement just to scare the automaton guards feeling perfectly content with himself. Remembering how 'well' things had gone so far he stopped in his tracks for a moment and concentrated on his surroundings. It looked like he was slowly learning his lesson. Either he had been curled up in shock for longer than he thought or his wonderful hand crafted dagger was not working as well as it should have, for he could feel the presence of the Nameless Warden slowly seeping out of every corner again. He was far from back in control over the Fortress of Terminal Justice nevertheless he was growing in power to fast for Tyrzo to leave the premises without further incident. Which was just as well as he had prepared for the eventuality that his artefact was not enough.
The Nameless Warden was on his hands and knees again when Tyrzo returned to the central room.
The Warden raised his head saying: "You will pay for this intruder.", the voice was now filled with hatred. The solemnity long lost.
"Oh really? How so?" asked Tyrzo.
"You have defiled the Fortress of Terminal Justice. You have struck down the Nameless Warden and you have stolen the sole of one of the most depraved individuals in the world." the Warden wanted to add something else but Tyrzo interrupted him.
"And I have also stolen the soul of Khrus Cydral." he said shaking the padded sack in front of the Warden's nose.
When the sentinel realized who the other soul in the flask had to be he became more agitated but now his voice was filled with fear.
"No! You mustn't free him! He is a monster far beyond redemption!"
"Which must be the reason why you kept him in your private collection for more than two thousand years." disgust had crept into Tyrzo’s voice. "But don't worry, I will make him pay for what he has done. He will pay like no one before him had to pay." After a short pause in which the Warden stared at him in disbelief Tyrzo continued "well it was fabulous talking to you. But I really have to go now."
"You will not leave her alive. My powers have almost returned to me." as he said this the Warden raised himself up "You may have overcome the guards. But you will not overcome the Fortresses weapon systems."
"I could poke you again with my knife?"
The Nameless Warden snorted. "As if that trick would work twice on me. I am right now redirecting my soul into the very fortress itself your puny toy cannot touch me then.!
"Don't worry. I knew that already. I was just shitting you. And I also know something else. Something that you don't know. Something which I will find rather hilarious and you will find most unfortunate."
"And what would that be?" the Warden asked arching an eyebrow standing now to his full hight, squaring his shoulders.
"I know your name."
"No. That is impossible! I consumed my own name during the rituals of empowerment to become the Nameless Warden."
"God. Where you a teacher before you became Warden? You certainly are as boring as one and have this incredible talent to annoy people with facts they have known for most their adult lives. Where was I? Ah yes. Your name! Yep you ate your name. How did it taste? No matter. While it was consumed by you you still left imprints of it every where. Very faint ones. But they were there. And if you, like me, go out of your way to find all these tiny traces, subtle echoes and shit. . . then you can rebuild something what was once lost."
"No... No. Nooo!"
"You just said that. Well your name which I shall give you as a parting gift was and now again is Zolon Karaladras." the moment Tyrzo had uttered the name the Zolon who had once been the Nameless Warden, lost most of his power. His roar of pain soon became a whimper as he lost contact to the parts of his soul that he had shifted into the fortress. The dagger that still was stuck in his abdomen erupted into a bright shining light again sucking his now weakened soul into the ruby sitting on its pommel. With a whimper the large armoured figure fell over. Tryzo turned away and left.
"Who... what are you?" asked Zolon Karalaras who had one been the Nameless Warden of the Fortress of Terminal Justice with his last breath. As darkness enveloped him when his soul was trapped he could just make out the answer.
"What I am? I am a genius."