Saturday, 5 November 2011

Project Skyshell 005

Chapter 3 Effects and Causes

When she had heard from control that someone had to get in touch with Anira, Ailu had instantly volunteered for the task. There were many reasons for this. One of them being that Ailu and Anira had been friends for a very long time now. First they had just worked together. The handler and the spy. Their assignments being mandated by sheer chance or even worse by the planning department. Whenever they worked together they had a very good chemistry going. Other handlers had warned Ailu that Anira was borderline insane, with a tendency to give in to sudden flashes of 'inspiration' that usually resulted in rather spectacular incidents. Ailu loved it. She quickly adapted to Anira's style of controlled mayhem getting very comfortable in become the straight man to her partners outbursts. This brought the two of them closer together, helping them to get the results which convinced mission control that Ailu was able to control the outbursts of Agent Leyma harnessing her full potential. In reality Ailu was just very good t covering their tracks. Together they had become proficient to bend the rules into ever more complex pretzel shapes.

    This time they had reached the limits of what they could get away with though. Ailu had been travelling for days to Anira's personal hideout as the bearer of bad news. She felt slightly guilty about this. Through volunteering she had gotten out of her office into a first class cabin in a sky cruiser followed by trekking for a day through the forest covered mountains surrounding her friends home. It was like a paid holiday. But you had to take the good things in life with the bad ones.
    Anira's house was built into the side of a mountain overlooking a lake. Down the slope all the way to the shore was a green meadow covered in all manner of grasses and wild flowers. The only signs of civilisation where the house on the slope and a tiny boat house with an equally minuscule dock at its side. Three stories tall with a grass covered roof that curved all the way down to the ground it looked a bit like a startled hill with several large round windows for eyes and a big wooded door for a mouth. The boat house simply looked lost in the vast expanse of nature surrounding it.
    By the time Ailu reached the entrance of the house the sun had set leaving just an orange glow behind as a friendly greeting to the fast approaching night. She was about to knock when a window above her was opened, Anira's head appeared and said: "The door is open, just come in, I am about to finish my exercises."
    Ailu had been in many houses belonging to agents. While Anira's was certainly not small nor lacking in comforts that made life not only easier but out right pleasant, it was compared to all the other houses she had seen, her own included, downright modest. The furniture was of expert craftsmanship there was nothing luxurious about it. The things here were not cheap because they had been made by masters of their craft out of high quality materials but nothing inside the house was designed to impress or to be used as symbol of wealth instead as say a chair or a cupboard. The rooms themselves were also rather small. A large room from Ailu's own city apartment would have comfortably fit the three largest rooms in Anira's home. The effect this all had was that this house was incredibly comfortable and cosy.
    She met Anira up stairs, in her training room. The largest covering half of the surface area of the house and two storeys in hight. It was mostly empty containing only a meditation mat and candles, a few rather unhappy looking sparring dummies and if one could count that the soft floor cover that forgave all but the most violent falls.
    "Hey Ailu." Anira said working her way through the Seven Forms of the Sage's Deflections.
"Hello Anira. How are the holidays?"

    "Pretty good so far. Was visiting the family in the first two weeks. Was nice even though my mother keeps nagging me about never being home. And it looks like my hopeless little brother might have actually found a woman with enough patience to see past his pathological shyness. And just before I got a serious case of family poisoning I left for home." Anira smiled. "And you?"
    "Good I guess. . ."
"You guess?" Anira shot her a short questioning glance but did not break her kata. "OK what's the bad news?"

    ". . . er. . ."

"Don't even try to pretend that there aren't any. Why else would you come all the way out here?"

    "Maybe because I want to visit a friend?" Ailu did not want to argue but when ever Anira was being a insufferable know-it-all she could not help herself.
"You are not due for holidays for at least another month and I somehow doubt mission control would let you go for a week-long holiday just to say hello to a friend of yours." Anira had finished her final form. "So?"

    "You have been suspended from active duty."

"Ah. OK. Do you want a coffee?" she said as she walked past Ailu out of the room.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Project Skyshell 004

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."

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Project Skyshell 003

Chapter 2 Ascending Genius
    Tyrzo Galevion after a long arduous journey had finally, finally reached the Fortress of Terminal Justice. Following a long cold trail from the lofty heights Atlytenia the nation that hung suspended from the Skyshell, through the very crust of the earth into the Inner World into the Kingdom X.
    Tyrzo was looking for a soul that had been lost long ago. The soul of a brilliant magician who had in his burning desire to force his way past the boundaries of ignorance committed crimes so abhorrent that he was sentenced to the most severe punishment known to man. Full body death followed by the evaporation of his immortal soul. He would be completely erased from the world and while his soul burned it would power the most powerful artefacts for the benefit of all.

    At least that was the theory. While it was true that the most monstrous of criminals were denied rebirth followed by the destruction of their souls, some of these monsters carried with them knowledge and expertise that was deemed to important to be lost for ever. So in an act of rationalisation filled with some of the most elaborate ethical contortions it was decided that these individuals should not face the burning of their souls just yet. Instead their souls would be placed in special flasks of glass and metal built especially to hold their essences and keep their minds alive. Inside these prisons that did not forget who they were, as it usually happens to disembodied souls. That way they had a long time to contemplate their evil ways. The only diversion they ever had from their endless exile inside their own minds was when they were call to advice their captors or provide them with data collected during the days of their career as human monsters. Only then after they had done their service to society, which is to mean as soon as they could not provide anything of importance to anyone any more, were they allowed to burn for the good of all.
    The Fortress of Terminal Justice was the prison that housed the worst of the worst. A combined effort by many different nations who had agreed to provide a secure environment for all these evil men and women. And a perfect safe location to keep their unsavoury secrets out of the public eye. And it was also a convenient place to store most of the machines and weapons that worked only when fed with human souls as their very existence tended to scare most people weak and powerful alike. For Tyrzo this made matter a lot easier. Instead of having to elaborately plan a break in he only had to talk to King Xsistis the idiot sovereign of Kingdom X. The king didn't even really want the money, most of all he wanted recognition. The reason why the Fortress was located in X was that none of the participating powers trusted the other with keeping the criminally brilliant within their borders, closely followed by the fear when it became general knowledge what it was housing. King Xsistis VIII the grand father of man now sitting on the thrown on the other had was only to happy to play host to the prison as he had hoped that this would put him on equal terms with the powers from above ground. Tyrzo smiled and shock his head. The folly of the dimly lit.
    He walked up the narrow path hewn out of the very rock on which the Fortress of Terminal Justice was standing. To his left and right were only deep chasms. The only way to the only gate to the jail was barely broad enough for one person to walk upon and always carried the menace of being hurled by a strong gust of wind into the stony depths far, far below. The security measures were half hearted. While the Fortress could be kept against most invading armies for quite a while and the abhorrent weapons inside were more than enough to destroy who ever thought of laying siege to it, it was rather easy for a single man such as Tyrzo himself to simply walk up to and through the front door.
    As he reached it he was very well aware of the monolithic metal statues standing left and right of the entrance. As he stepped through the door he saw that the great main hallway was flanked by was practically a honour guard of more of these giant machines. Every single one of them was a prison cell itself. It contained the soul of someone whose crime was severe enough to justify body death but whose soul was allowed to live on. But only after going through lengthy tour of duty inside one of a penal automaton. A suit of armour that robed him from his magical powers and slowly drained his soul to power its mechanisms. While immobile like sculptures every single one of them was itching to jump into action, perform one heroic deed that might foreshorten its sentence and set its soul free again. As Tyrzo walked passed them he felt their gazes upon him, some of the most powerful among them even managed to very lightly probe the outer reaches of his mental presence with a feeble probe. This just made his smile a bit wider. The automaton guards were nothing. For he who knew his enemy while he himself remained unknown was destined for victory.
    The third and final layer of security was far less obvious. Into the very structure of the Fortress where built conduits of power, through which the mind-force of a powerful sorcerer could be channelled giving him control over the wide assortment of weapons that had been fitted into building itself. Tyrzo knew that among all the glances that were cast at him there was one that was not looking at him with hunger but one that was mostly empty of any strong emotion. A glance that seemed to seep out of the very walls, the floor the ceiling. It watched him from all angles, it watched were he came from and where he was going. This was the only variable that Tyrzo could not fully determine before he came here. This presence represented a risk, a very small one but one that could open the door to all kinds of disasters. It belonged to the only free man that dwelt inside the Fortress, the Nameless Warden. A man who within this walls held almost limitless power. Now Tyrzo's smile broke out into a smile. This was what was making this endeavour fun.
    The Nameless Warden expected him inside a large domed room that was located in the perfect centre of the fortress. The dome itself was made from a clear translucent stone that let in the reddish light of the Inner Sun, the planets glowing core that shone its warmth and light onto the realms of the Inner World. The effect was rather dramatic. IT painted the Warden in his oversized armour in the colours of rust and blood. His animated armour was ridiculously thick, outlining the bulging body of a humanoid bull rather than that of a man. The face of the Warden was that of an old man, his white hair combed back to a ponytail to reveal his regal face with its ominously lit harsh angles and sharp ridges. Before he had entered Tyrzo had been very careful to hide his smile and appear neutral but seeing this figure in front of him was almost to much. It was the eyes jet black housing a baleful flicker of light that nearly tipped him over the edge. It was so childish. He could almost imagine how the people who had come up with the design for the Nameless Wardens appearance had been filling one slight after the other with ideas one more outrageous than the other. He carefully hid his smile inside of smirk, smirks came easy to him. He also reminded himself that this sentinel would inspire shock and awe in the uneducated but at the same time would breed overconfidence in people like him. Just because he looked like he was hiding some princess in a deep dungeon did not mean that he was to be taking lightly.
    They stood in silence for a while. Tyrzo wondering if this was another psychological ploy to keep visitors under control or if he was actually expected to say something specific. Yet in the end it was the Nameless Warden who broke the silence.
    "What do you seek?" he said in a rumbling voice that sounded powerful yet wise.
"I have been sent here by the Council of Terminal Justice to extract from one of the prisoners information vital for the greater good of all." he answered in his best arse on official business voice.

    "Is that so?" the Warden asked "And who is it who is required to answer the call of nations so that he may redeem himself in time to be released into the flames?"
"I need to speak to Khrus Cydral." this was the crucial point. Tyrzo knew that Cydral had been sentenced to body death and evaporation for his crimes and he also knew that he was deemed to useful to burn immediately. His trial had one upon a time been a great spectacle as well as his condemnation into the Fortress of Terminal Justice. What Tyrzo did not know though was whether Cydral had outlived his usefulness. In that case he might have been burned a long time ago or another even worse scenario was that someone else had come and gotten him out of the fortress.

    "Khrus Cydral. . ." the Nameless Warden said pausing for dramatic effect. That and to expand his consciousness into the archives of the fortress to see where the prisoner was. "Yes indeed, he is held deep below in the fifth circle of final storage. He will be due to transfer into the final circle of disposal in 30 years."
    Tyrzo did not really care, "I will not need him that long. Do not worry."

"Then I need to see the Letter of Authorisation." he declared in his thunderous voice with a solemnity that Tyrzo's opinion would have made him a big hit at every wedding or martial arts contest. He stepped forward taking out a scroll of parchment out of one of his inner pockets. The Nameless Warden broke the seals, unrolled the letter and his eyes opened wide in surprise.

    "This is a. . ." his voice turned into a gurgle before he could finish the sentence.

"A forgery? Yes I know." said Tyrzo finishing the sentence for the Warden. "And I do apologize for it being such a crude one. But I did what it was made for." and he allowed his wide grin to return to his face.

    The Nameless Warden let go of the paper, as it fell to the ground it revealed the hilt of a knife, its blade well hidden inside the Warden's abdomen. The hilt was bound in leather and around the grip a ruby wire was wound. The wire was pulsating with light in the rhythm of the slowing heart of the Warden. With each pulse the glowing turned brighter and shone longer.
    The Warden slowly overcoming the shock of the unexpected attack drew in a rattling breath. "But surely you know" his eyes grew firm again "that by killing my body you will only make me stronger?" he now looked Tyrzo straight in the eyes, his face a marked by cold anger.
    "Of course I do. What kind of idiot do you think I am?" Tyrzo answered regarding the Warden with a crooked smile.
    "And do you realize that once this shell of mine is gone you will have no chance to beat me in combat?" the Warden continued. His mortal voice growing more feeble, but the one echoing through Tyrzo's mind gaining in force.
    "Yes. I know." he answered with a sigh. "I actually did my homework, you know?"
"So how do you..." this time Tyrzo did not let the Warden finish he cut of his speech with a wave of his hand and pointed at the dagger.

    "See that knife. I put a lot of love into the creation of that one. While it will not kill you it will trap your soul. And before you even start. I know that it will not hold you forever, but it will hold you for long enough to get what I came here for. Once you control this place again I will be long gone."

"You can not escape." said the warden

 "Really? Watch me." answered Tyrzo as he walked past the entrance door accompanied by the screams of the Nameless Warden and the sudden shrieking of the prisons sirens.

Project Skyshell 002

Chapter 1 Falling Out (continued)

They were still tiny motes in the sky far above. But Anira recognized the sky blue glint of their crystalline armour and could make out how they were accelerating towards the ground, towards her, with no heed for the approaching ground. That she had just left one giant glowing arrow pointing more or less in her direction did not help her situation in the least but it was better than stealthily smashing her body on the hard cobbles below. No matter. She would take care of one problem at a time. She had now almost reached her destination and was forming her hand seals with the thoughtless precision of muscle memory that had been honed for centuries expanding her presence out of her body, interlocking it with the being of the building in front of her as she landed on the wall. She open her self up to gravity and repaid her what she had owed her to accelerate her down again and cushioning her impact to the wall. By now her pursuers had detected the still red hot trail of partially molten rock on the other building and were closing in with great speed. By now Anira could make out their bodies and their streamlined helmets that resembled the head of a hawk. While they now knew exactly into which part of the city she had fallen their eyes were pointing in the wrong direction. This bought her enough time to arrive at the bottom of the street unharmed and make her escape. If she made it to the safe-house she was free.
    The wall she was sliding down now was perfectly sleek had the slightest inclination, the architect was obviously trying to show off, and free of any protruding bits of masonry. It was perfect to slowly break her descent to a leisurely pace without leaving a burning trail behind her. By now the bodyguard of the ambassador had come dangerously close, they were now sparkling in the soft light of the midnight city but they had also come close enough to the ground that even they in their high-magic armour had pay their respects to gravity who would not be denied. They spread out the broad majestic wings of their armour to break their fall. When the first guard arrived at her first point of impact she had only ten or so storeys to so while her pursuer was flapping his magnificent wings positioning him in front of her cooling trail that was by now only a soft orange glow, she decided to speed things up a bit again. She changed position and in stead of sliding she was now starting to run down the wall while furiously chaining one hand seal to the next in order to pull of what she hoped would be her finally stunt of the night. After a short sprint covering most of the distance between her and the ground she jumped off used all of her atrophied shell-art skills to harden her body for to coming impact and as she slammed into the floor released all the energy that lady gravity demanded into one big gust of wind.    
    This should have blown up enough dust and small debris into the air to cloak her hasty retreat from her pursuers, but instead it simply passed over the slick enamelled cobble stones of Dahiri's more affluent district without any resistance. The only thing that was in the way was the donkey drawn cart of a pan maker making his way through the street to some part of the night market. Anira lost her balance as her body failed to absorb all of the remaining shock from her impact and while she could avoid planting her face squarely into the ground she did a very undignified somersault leaving her lying on her back sliding for a few more meters, while seeing out of the corner of her eyes the most curious sight of a cart full of pots and pans tumbling through the air spilling its contents all over the place and dragging behind it a scandalized donkey and an understandable surprised old man behind it. This quickly changed her original plan of closing her eyes and dying of shame to scrambling back on her feet as fast as she could and to run followed by the deafening crash of hundreds of pots and pans, the screaming of an angry donkey and the rather loud lack of sound made by one very surprised potmonger and several elite soldiers.

    Sometimes the best strategy is to simply run like the wind and that is exactly what Anira did. Where magic fails one if often saved by the ancient art of sprinting. The next corner wasn't far and as she slid around it one could still hear the the noise of metal lids rolling over the cobbles or getting comfortable on the floor after doing some circles over the spot that had caught their fancy. She did not wait for the bodyguard to land and was already around the next corner when their commanding officer was barking orders to his men telling them to spread out and find their target.
    Anira had to slow down partially because she was already looking out of place in her, admittedly fabulous, evening gown but also because she was by now out of breath and feeling the twangs of pain that always came when magic was cast without much caution. For everything she willed she had to find a proper source of power and if she did not or if it was not enough to pay for the effect that she had created the power she owed was taken directly from her soul. The amount she had lost was harmless she was a professional who knew her limits exactly. She could also cast by the ear without overestimating the power at her disposal. But she had been running and falling and crashing all in a panic and the exertion was taking its toll.
    She had to force herself form not doubling over as she felt another spike of pain in her gut when she finally knew that she might make it through the night. At first it was just a faint smell of spices, quickly followed by the sound of voices talking, arguing and haggling. She had found one of Dahiri's fabled night markets. Giant celebrations of commerce forming a giant web covering dozens of streets stretching over several quarters and in some places extending up several storeys. Once inside one of them she'd be able to shake her pursuers for good. She moved into a stereotypical dark side alley containing large trash containers and even a sleeping bum at the end of which she could see a constant stream of people strolling past. Perfect. She decided to prepare a last goodbye message for the men behind her in form of a invocation strip. She took a slender bit of paper out of a well concealed pocket, pricked her left index finger with hairpin and wrote sigils of evocation unto it. She attached the strip onto a wall with a determined wipe of her hand. She placed a gold sansen into the half open hand of the bum as way of apology for what would happen once someone activated the invocation strip and vanished into the crowed.
    Ten minutes later Anira was clad in the bright colours of a cloak in the local style and wearing a rather pretty headscarf decorated with all manner of sparkling stones which were reflecting the earth-lights of the market with enthusiasm. While her shell-art might be crap she was perfectly able to change the colour of both her skin and her eyes on a whim, it had cost her a lot of pain and frustration but this was a skill that was far to helpful for a spy like her to neglect. It also came in very handy when sent on assignments to country where the sun came uncomfortably close to the inner limit of the skyshell. She took the medallion that hung half hidden from her neck into her hand, it had the form of a simple opal disc, putting it against her forehead. She closed her eyes, carefully inching with her mind into to the artefact until she made contact and it showed her in golden lines and hues her way to her extraction point. As she opened her eyes the images projected by the medallion were still hanging in the air slowly slotting into place overlaying the real world she was seeing. She put it back careful that it kept touching her skin. Now she only needed to follow the golden dust road and all would be fine. Well until the debriefing when her boss senior executive handler Kelsheron would chew her out for her lack of subtlety. But Anira could not have cared less. Her holidays were due pretty much now and she had only taken this assignment only because free agent Suladrin had been almost killed during her last assignment and was still recovering form her injuries. He would scream, she would let the words rush past her like the autumn wind and then four weeks of blissful laziness.
    "There she is!"
    At first Anira did not realize that they meant her. She was still picturing herself in her home deep in the wilds doing mostly nothing followed by eating sumptuous meals followed by sleeping maybe interrupted by some sporty activities with some of her more intimate friends to liven things up a bit. Then she saw three large men in shining blue crystal armour with a pair of enormous wings folded neatly behind them all of them looking at her and already half into a sprint. The man in front furiously signing orders to his men. While Anira was not fluent in the sign language of Nomad Elites she did know enough about tactics that they would not simply run after her like three morons chasing a panicked chicken.
    Now though it was back to basics. Running.

    As soon as she had reached the next crossroads she got rid of her cloak. What ever they were doing to track her it was obviously enhanced with magic. Her little disguise would not help her at all to evade them. But the cloak could still be used to her advantage. As it billowed out behind her, she started weaving threads of power with her hands expanding the cloak causing its bright colours to shift in mesmerizing patterns. A cheap parlour trick, but it was fast and effective. Of course it did not work against her pursuers. Their helmets protecting their minds form such cheap mesmerism, but it worked pretty well on the everyone else on the street. The streets she was moving through was not crowded but busy enough for her pattern to attract enough people to bumble into the way of the soldiers leading into a rather neat pileup. It would take her hunters a while to force their way through the mass of undulating people, long enough for Anira to escape. The safe house was well protected against all forms of magical tracking and as long as no one saw her get inside she'd be gone.

    She took great care to stay well under the awnings of the stalls lining the streets. She might be tracked by magic but she did not have to help the ambassadors men by staying in plain sight. She was pretty sure that at least part of the people trying to get her had taken to the skies again and were looking out for her from above. For some reason the idea of being stalked by human vultures made Anira enormously uncomfortable. She did not like to be reduced to a scared little animal close to death.
    Just two more blocks and shed be free. Luck threw her a bone in form of an alley that was formed by two ancient squat buildings which became wider as they rose towards the skyshell, meeting some thirty meters above forming a high ceilinged tunnel. Once inside she paused for a moment to create another invocation strip like the one she left in the other alley. This one she planted squat in the middle of the way, for a moment she thought about hiding it under her headscarf but then she decided against it, she really liked the way it looked and if she was being pursued the people behind her were probably to busy to scan the floor of a dark side street for traps. If they did they would find it with scarf of with out if they didn't they were in for a colourful surprise. She kept running. No one appeared behind her. Perfect. Only one and a half blocks left.
    She came to a skidding halt almost falling when a large blue figure cut out of sapphire with the body of man and the head of a hawk landed in front of the alleys exit. The figure stood up slowly turning to face her and, folding his beautiful giant wings behind his back started moving towards her. Finding her footing again Anira was half turning following her instinct for flight when she saw that the creature in front of her puled out a thick compact onyx rod form his belt. She recognized it the weapon and new that running was not really going to help this time. She also noticed that she was sick of running. And that she actually wasn’t afraid but rather very angry. The evening had gone so well, everything was perfect until that stupid idiot of an ambassador had decided to impress two pairs of breasts with his office instead of being the good host he was supposed to be. And not only did he just throw open the doors announcing his arrival with a loud "tadaa", it was also pretty much the only thirty seconds where she could not possibly hide or talk her way out of the situation. And now she was being hunted like a rabbit through a city by a bunch of idiots dressed up like animal men. No. This would end now.
    "Out of my way boy." she growled.
The soldier in front of her ignored her. Instead he started to sing in a deep resonant voice some ancient hymn of incantation. The rod in his hand reacted to his voice, sigils starting to glow golden on its matte black surface.
    "I did warn you." she said suddenly changing her stance into that of a runner in mid sprint. She inhaled pulling in the power of the air and the heat of the night city into her body, her fingers started moving in complex patterns moulding the energy she was drawing in.
    Now lines of power started to converge on the rods surface. Little sparks dancing over its surface while the soldiers voice slowly grew deeper and steadily louder.
    Anira was still drawing in breath, the air around her body now starting to waver in the heat haze of the power she was accumulating.
    Then with one powerful shout she released the energy she had drawn in, exploding into motion running towards the soldier, striking the space directly in front of his breast plate with a smash of her elbow releasing a shock-wave of energy and moving past him in a blink of an eye.
    She stood still. behind her two parallel lines were gleaming in fading radiance where her feet had slid over the floor as she decelerated. Behind her the rod in the hand of the soldier quivered and fell out of his hand. The sigils fading. Only when the weapon had hit the floor with a loud clinking noise did the soldier move. He was caught by an enormous force sent flying into the air his brilliant blue armour exploding into a million tiny pieces as he spun around showering the alley with the remnants of his priceless uniform that had taken months of work by the most skilled grand high master sanctificers of the Nomad Empire. Anira exhaled.
    Two other guards had appeared at the far end of the alley. They only hesitated for the shortest of time when they saw what had happened to their comrade before they started to run towards their target. One of them sang a powerful short incantation extending his wings lifting off while the other kept running on the ground as there was hardly any place for one of them with fully extended wings in the little street as it were. Anira looked at them inclining her head a bit, the grinned an asymmetric smile, flipped them the bird and walked away. The enraged soldiers doubled their efforts to catch her stepping into Anira's with reckless enthusiasm.
    The invocation strip exploded into a wall of light, nothing that would not be filtered by the helmets of the artefact armour of the bodyguards, but the the shaking ground sent soldier on the ground rolling in form of a magnificently armoured ball of disoriented arms and legs right into the next wall. While the one in the air was surprise and shocked by the stone hewn sentinels stepping out of the walls unsheathing their four meter swords. A second rate illusion that only lasted a few seconds but long enough to shock the airborne man into an ill advised evasive manoeuvre that ended with an intimate moment with a building and a crumpled heap of soldier on the ground.
    By the time the two man had regained their footing and some of their dignity Anira had entered a small inconspicuous building which had folded it self neatly into the ground when no one was looking, leaving nothing behind but a dusty street corner. Anira followed a one way, one use underground tunnel which left behind nothing but solid rock. On thing the Free Agency was quite proud off was the near perfection of their safe houses. Inside it Ailu Leyka an old friend of Anira and long time handler was waiting for her.
    "Back already?" Ailu asked.

"Yes things did not quite go according to plan." Anira answered.

    "Did you complete the assignment?"


    "Perhaps?" Ailu gave Anira a look that was half question mark half exasperation. "What exatly is that supposed to mean?"
"Well" answered Anira now looking a bit like a child caught stealing biscuits "technically I should have gotten the information..."

    "Technically?" hope left Ailu's voice to die quietly in a corner.

"I did not get to sift through the ambassadors memory crystals and copy the information that I should get. But" and Anira's face lit up, "I grabbed all of the Ambassadors memory crystals and took of with them."

"That means we certainly have all the information our client requested, our target has no idea why we where there and the Agency gets to sift through all the rest of the information we got out of the mission. See everybody wins!"

    "You know that Kelsheron will have your head on a plate for this right?"
"Phhh. He will do a lot a screaming. I will go into my holidays and no one will stop me because they will think that I am slipping. And once I am back it will be all water under the bridge."

    "That easy... eh?"
"Sure! What's the worst thing that could possibly happen?"

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Project Skyshell 001

Chapter 1 Falling Out

A promising night had ended in a total fiasco. Anira Leyma had left ambassador Nahalka's party in quite a hurry. She had been caught red handed in his office her fingers deep in crystals containing state secrets leaving her with no choice than to depart with the utmost hurry. There was no time to think, only adrenaline and a dash of embarrassment to drive her along and it drove her right through the window. The closed window. Under normal circumstances this would have been at the very least a bad idea that would reward her cuts with a bouquet of bruises. But ambassador Nahalka was a representative of the Nomad Empire and as such had his mobile embassy on top of floating island which to delight and impress his guests was now floating smugly right under a canopy of clouds.
    At least, thought Anira, this would give her enough time to find a way to escape certain death. She had survived worse. At least this time she was not poisoned nor did she hang suspended over a lake of molten rock or stalked by an incorporeal assassin who would only live in a body again if she died. It was just her and the free fall. Her soul was powerful and would survive the impact. On the other hand with the speed she was falling at her immortal essence would probably smack right through the planets outer shell directly into the Inner World and where would she get a body then? She shook her head, taking a deep breath forcing her fear away. Right now there was nothing much she could do. Her magic would get her nowhere right now. Her mind-force was powerful but it could not cheat gravity and she once she had grasped the advanced concepts of the shell-art as a young adult a few bodies ago she stopped cultivating it. So turning her body into metal or any other feats of impressive body-shell mastery where beyond her. The embassy was now only a small speck above her and below her the field of light that was the city Dahiri was spreading over the ground with unfortunate speed. Yet it was this field of light that gave Anira a bit of hope. Dahiri like all the cities of the Hinkyoda qu Shyosha, the kingdom of the hundred cities, was by ancient law bound to cover only a limited amount of soil and thus the building of the city stretched far towards the skyshell. If she could move near enough to one of the great sky-towers shed be able to slide along its polished stone walls slowly breaking her fall, landing with dignity and disappearing into the crowds of the night markets. That way she would even make it to her rendezvous point early for a change.
    She made her way towards one of the shining spires trying to get close enough to be able to almost touch them but not so close that a sudden gust of wind or a navigational error on her side would skewer her on one of the many decorative shafts and rods and columns for which the local architecture was so well known. By now she was plummeting between to large towers both a couple dozen meters away from her. Seeing the floors of the buildings pass her by as one colourful smear gave her a much better idea of her true speed and despite all her professional training she felt her panic rising again. The time for deep breaths was over now. She either found a way to break her fall or she would explode in a gory mess in on the floor below her. Teeth grinding in concentration she willed her self slowly towards the tower that seemed to be a bit more frugal about balconies and outlying towers, avoiding them as well as she could. She had to force herself to continue breathing as she tried to ignore the gusts of wind caused by bits of building passing her by at distances that would be deemed scandalous in polite company.
    By now she had found a nice long stretch that was nothing but a wall of shining stone decorated with shining windows. Good enough. She had forced herself at arms distance to it, focusing just on the bit in front of her. It was just a somewhat garish wall with changing colours that were so in style with the rich and taste resistant these days. She stretched out her hand, which was not nearly ripped off an open window, and started to feel the wall. The flow of its essence. Once the connection had been established she performed her hand seals expanding her own power into that of the building, heating the stone using her considerable falling speed to power the process. The wall in front of her started to glow red hot and to melt right away leaving a streak of angry scarlet behind her. Whenever she passed a window it evaporated but at least she was losing speed. But not fast enough. Below her balcony was rushing towards her ringed by her friends the pointy spires and veteran spears that had retired to a life of wall decoration. Feeling the power of her magic flow through her gave Anira back her confidence. She would probably die a violent death as that was the usual fate for a mercenary spy such as her but not today. Cheating gravity only a little bit she crouched on down on the wall beside her. her hands and feet leaving shining trails behind her. She fixed the building adjacent to hers. It was maybe thirty meters away. But she could close that distance. Again her hand went into a flurry of motion as she formed the hand seals necessary to redirect the force of her fall from the vertical into the horizontal. One last deep breath and she released the final sign and jumped.
    She was moving a graceful arc towards the other smaller building which was thankfully a far older structure, from a time when people thought that a really elegant building should only be one sleek unbroken surface. Perfect. Now she only had to make her jump. If she had used to much force she would smash into the wall in front of her smashing all of her bones into post-modern shapes or if she had used to little force she would find her self to far away from any larger structure to use to slow her down. As she reached the middle of the flat arc of her jump she spun her leg in front of her, it looked like she had performed an almost perfect jump. She smiled into the sky above her. A smile that died an early death. Above her in the sky she saw several figures moving at an alarming speed towards the ground. It looked that the ambassador was not happy with her sudden departure and had sent a squad of his personal bodyguard after her. Maybe to make sure that she was dead and quite certainly to retrieve the crystals she had grabbed just before her great escape. While Anira was confident that she could lose the guards once she entered the crowded streets of the night markets below her they had one serious advantage as long as she was still airborne. They had flying armour.

Monday, 31 October 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 pre-flight check.

OK. NaNoWriMo is at hand!

With this Project Rain moves from the infernal pits of procrastination to official hiatus until December when it will be back. (Or else I eat my own feet)

The next thing to appear here is Project Skyshell, my attemtp to write a fantasy novel.
Things not to expect: grit and darkness, low magic, 'realistic' characters (meaning irredeamable arseholes)
What it should contain: tons of magic, over the top plot and action and some serious twists in the plot.
What it will do is: probably fail to reach any of my goals but it should be fun for me to write and for you to read. Feel free to comment. Comments is what will keep me alive appart from the radiation of my screen.