Saturday, 19 November 2011

Project Sky-Shell 017

Chapter 9 (continued)

"It's back between the anvil and the hammer then." she said to her self. If she could not clear her head she might as well return to get some work done. Now that she had decided to return to the Pinnacle she did not feel like taking her time any more. Thinking about her obligations ruined the beauty of the harsh environments around her and she would not let her negative feelings become connected with her refuge. She took out the medallion in the form of the symbol of the order that every knight wore at any time. It was a metal disc embossed with a narrow triangle pointing up with an open base representing the Pinnacle of Cognition, the point surrounded by lines stretching from the point itself representing the light of the beacon. A smaller crystal disc was embedded into the backside of the medallion, another reminder to her last life.

    It was said, quite a lot, far to often for Julin's tastes, that Kana Ganris had stood against the traitors who would have wanted to destroy the very roots of the order. Which sounded quite impressive if not for the fact that Ran Morlan the great traitor had been the best friend of Kana. Some even say that they had been secret lovers having a long standing affair that remained full of passion long after they had lost all enthusiasm for the partners there were actually married to. Morlan had thought that the meritocracy upon which the Order was founded was corrupted beyond repair. It was not the worthy who ascended to the highest positions but those who were best connected to those in power. If you knew no one you were know one. Julin felt tempted to agree with Morlan, but not Kana.
    Morlan had tried to convince Kana Ganris to join his cause. He would push the Order forward under one unified vision rewarding the capable, punishing the corrupt. Kana would not have non of it. She remained silent but did never join the conspiracy nor did she want to hear a word about it. Then on the day of the coup it was her who stood before the gates to the grand hall were the High Savants of the Order convened, blocking the way of the rebels. After increasingly heated words had been exchanged Ran Morlan and Kana Ganris duelled. Their fight it was said was spectacular for the two pitted all their mastery in the arts of combat against each other. It was also the first time that too such powerful disciples of the Order of Reason had fought each other. Much to Julin's distress Kana's was now also immortalized in may new forms of combat that had been developed after the fight taking into account the new insights into the strengths and weaknesses of their fighting style.

    In the end their fight ended on top of the outer walls of the Pinnacle of Cognition. Kana wounded Ran so severely that he could not go on fighting and Ran wounded Kana in such a way that she herself collapsed and fell of the Pinnacle. Her body was spared the worst damage by her armour which was cracked and bent but not destroyed. The story goes to say that she looked as she were sleeping. Her soul though, her soul was lost. Of course hers was not the first soul lost to the Order but it was the most heroic death of a high profile member of the Order's leadership that it was decided that such a tragedy could not be allowed to repeat. For Ran Morlan survived long enough to be judged and sentenced to The Long March to Redemption. His soul put into a bottle, taken to the the Inner World and shot into its unforgiving jungles teeming with unspeakable dangers and savage barbarian tribes. Many saw it as a horrible injustice that a traitor's soul was saved while that of a hero was lost.
    And all that had led to the saviour stone, a hardened crystal reinforced by a metal mesh work especially attuned to the soul of the owner of the medallion in the. Should the knight die for what ever reason the saviour stone would capture the soul keeping active for up to a week, so that it may be properly reincarnated. The idea was that in time, as the process was perfected, every knight of the Order would have one. The crystal disc was now only found in the medallions of a few members of the Order of Reason selected for their brilliance and lives full of achievement. Julin was pretty sure that she had done nothing to earn it yet. But there it was declaring her the very first among equals in the group of prospective full knights who had just recently entered their second life.

     The saviour stone and Julin exchanged poisonous glances before she invoked the amulets power. Nudging the circuits inside the amulet a sophisticated mental prod made the medallion come alive. Shining with pearlescent light it painted a complex summoning circle in mid air in front of her. She stepped forward touching it with the medallion which dissolved into the moving pattern making it glow even brighter sending out a shock-wave of light. She stepped through the glowing circle, her armour flowing around her as she passed through it. On the other side she now stood in her heavy Order of Reason armour, the summoning circle dimming away into nothingness behind her.
     She marched forwards to wards a large rock into which she inscribed with swift finger strokes perfected over decades of training in her first preparatory life signs of transmutation. She touched the sigils with her finger tips, gently tugging at the essence of the stone. Closing her hand to a fist, pulling it back punching into the rock with a swift forceful motion. Upon impact the large stone exploded into a rock shaped cloud made out of motes of power. She opened her fist grabbed the edge of the energy cloud pulling it back towards her, absorbing the shining light into her armour. The power flowed along the conductor lines which Julin had placed into it over years of hard toil during her last life imbuing it with power.

    She changed into the position of a runner in mid spring, sighting the Pinnacle of Cognition, her goal. She wriggled her fingers as she always did when she was about to unleash great amounts of power. She focused on the path she was about to take, visualising the ebbs and flows of the land, the twists and turns of her chosen path and then with a quick movement she accelerated to enormous speeds leaving nothing behind her but an empty valley and the roar of the wind she forced into motion.

                                            *    *    *    *

    When she returned to the Pinnacle of Cognition she made her way towards the training grounds. If she was not to have her peace of mind at least she could spend some time with her best friend. Pretty much the only friend Julin had. Her past had turned her into a celebrity. Her prominent position had turned her into an outsider. Most tutors treated her with a respect she had not earned, which did not endear her to her peers at all. The few people who actually approached her were the wrong kind of people. Sycophants, brown-nosers, toadies and those who thought that they would be able to gain some benefits from hanging around with the great Kana Ganris reborn. She hated all of them. In the end there was almost no one left for her to talk to. No one but Lex Niva.
    Lex was in many ways the complete opposite to Julin which had the strange effect that they shared many of the same problems if for different reasons. Where Julin had been born with the soul of a legendary hero Lex had been born with the soul of no one. This rarely ever happened especially in the Order of Reason where pregnant knights would go to the halls of the passing, so that the souls of knights who were close to death could return into the fold of the Order as soon as they had left their old lives. Lex's mother had done so of course and yet Lex was a first-born. The child gestating in his mothers body had not attracted the soul of anyone in time and thus had by a miracle of nature that to this day was not understood produced a new soul of its own.

    While the Order did officially not discriminate against no one, after all one of its main axioms as written in the Book of Reason is that all souls are created equal and that it is the right, no the duty of everyone to reach for the greatest enlightenment. However it was also believed that a new soul could not possibly have all the accumulated wisdom of an old soul. True old souls who were born again as infants did not remember much if anything of their past lives, but they all had a knack for learning everything very fast. Indeed young Lex was tragically slow in all subjects the target of scorn of his peers and pity of his teachers.
    What he had done was work like an animal. Knowing that he was somehow inferior to everyone else around him he worked on everything he did with a fervour bordering on fanaticism. In the end when he reached the mid-point of his life he had surpassed almost everyone else who relying on their innate talents were not as motivated to work as Lex was. After all the first life was only preparation of knighthood. Learning the basic techniques, making the first armour and weapons, boring stuff. Everyone knew that the really exiting things only ever started during the second life. Why waste time on back breaking work of little worth? It was like learning to cook and trying to excel in cleaning pots and pans before one was allowed to actually do some actual cooking.
    The only exception was Julin. While she did not share the deep seated drive to become a better human with Lex, she much rather dreamed of having a normal run of the mill soul herself, she had found refuge in training. The only way to get rid of everyone was her excuse that she had no time for mingling, talking or even looking at certain people because she was working hard on her techniques. While this kind of work was seen as an adorable waste of time in Lex's case it was seen as the mark of a true High Savant returned to life in Julin's case.
    This way they came to know each other. Julin had always felt a strange sense of kinship with Lex as he was as much an outsider as she was but could never bring herself to talk to him. For even mythical heroes who have returned from the grave have trouble talking to boys when they are a certain age. Lex on the other hand would have never dreamt of talking to the legendary Julin Ganris, direct descendant and heir of the soul of High Savant Kana Ganris.
    The training gave them a common ground. There was nothing awkward about exercising the many arts a novice of the Order of Reason had to master before even being considered for the position of knight. Lex was always much to focused on trying ever harder than to notice with whom he was spending most of the time, while Julin was happy to have finally found someone who treated her like a normal human being. Not that this would not become another annoying part of her growing legend. There she was Julin Ganris devoting her time to teach the useless first-born Lex Niva in the basic arts of the Order. So when ever Lex achieved something it was because of Julin's tireless devotion to the less fortunate and when Julin did not measure up to expectations it was because that boy Niva was holding her back.

    None of this could break their friendship though. As time went by the became inseparable. Always the best of friends and at times lovers. They grew old together always remaining the two odd men out, which forged an unbreakable bond between the two of them. One that caused them all manners of grief during their life and even at the time of their death. Julin was seen as an exceptional individual so she was fast tracked to rebirth, scheduled at sixty instead of the usual range of seventy to eighty. While Lex was deemed surprisingly capable for a first-born but he would not be ready for a soul transfer until at least one hundred and twenty. They suspected that the people responsible for this decision were trying to break them apart as well as secretly hoping that Lex would kick the bucket before he was due to his transfer.
    Julin lobbied hard for Lex to be transferred with her. However not even Julin Ganris could change the decision about the time when Lex was allowed to enter his second life. Therefore she then refused the transfer of her soul year after year devoting her time to cultivate the soul of that promising first-born. In the end they were finally allowed to switch bodies when they were a hundred years old. One reason being that Julin Ganris was overdue in becoming a knight of the Order of Reason again so that she could in due time regain her position as High Savant. The other was that despite what everyone else thought Lex was extremely proficient in the use of even advanced shell-art with the effect that age had no great effect on him in the regular sparing matches the only person that could beat him despite his age was Julin.
    Switching bodies also brought its share of unexpected problems. The usual method was that the old body was first sent into sleep followed by being gently lowered into a peaceful death. The soul was caught with utmost care to be directly transferred into the next body. A body especially cultivated for new knights at the breaking point between youth and adulthood. The raging hormone storms of puberty were passed but the new shell was still young and flexible. It was deemed the best time to implant a cognizant soul. The body was still receptive while the mind had to deal with a lesser shock when returned into a shell that was still very much under the influence of its various glands.
So far the theory.

    What actually happened was that Julin was transferred into a perfect specimen of an 18 year old female body gently sculpted into perfection. After in the beginning of their second life the young knights were expected to travel the world for three decades after they had grown used to their new body. And while superficialities were a shallowness that afflicted the mind of the less enlightened they were a fact of life and the Order of Reason had a reputation to maintain. It was also well known that beautiful people were generally treated better and thought of as more trustworthy and intelligent.
    Lex was transferred by 'accident' into the body of a 16 year old body that was not yet ready for transfer. It was still not clear if it would pass the Order's strict standards of aesthetics and it was of course still going through puberty. Julin was furious and she may or may have not punched the overseer responsible for the transfer in the face after a civilized discussion with him had quickly turned into a shouting match. If who ever was responsible for this had thought that this would dived them they were wrong.
    Young Lex was incredibly awkward and retreated into the shyness that had been such an integral part of the youth of his last life. But his complete and utter trust of Julin had not changed in the least. Around her he was always at ease, filled with a confidence of an entire life of companionship. His new younger self also felt incredibly protective for Julin. He was not so angry about what had happened to him, he was not in the least surprised really, but he was outraged at the amount of disrespect that they had shown to Julin. Who in turn found this slightly exaggerated protective behaviour by her old friend adorable beyond words. In the end they fell madly in love with each other with an ardour and unshakable belief in its undying qualities as made possible by only the most enthusiastic of hormones.
    That was two years ago. So far their undying love was doing pretty well. When Julin had arrived at the training field seeing Lex work out she felt proud of her man, excited by how flawless his technique was which they had in large parts invented themselves, impressed by his now very impressive physique and more than slightly aroused. She could not help but smile, her decades of experience rolled their eyes in exasperation but were shoved away by the exuberance of her feelings. She would have enough time to be sensible when she was old again. If at all.
    Lex was going through his usual unarmed, unarmoured moves which were the very basis of all combat styles used by the knights. Most others did not even bother with it any more except as warm-up routine before starting with the good stuff involving the swords that were the trademark of the order. Lex had once said to Julin that it anchored his mind, helped him to focus. She suspected that he simply liked to show of his half naked body glistening with sweat while his muscles coiled hypnotically under his lightly tanned skin.
    Lex noticed Julin out of the corner of his eye and decided that it was time to show off. He removed his amulet from his neck, flipped like a coin high into the air. When it came down again he catched it mid flight extending his arm while invoking the summoning circle high in the air. Julin could not suppress smiling at this, the move was utterly useless. It looked extremely cool, especially as Lex cast the medallion into the glowing invocation circle taking a running jump somersaulting through it turning gracefully in mid-air as it coalesced around him. In proper combat moves like that would get him very killed very fast. Julin could see that he was sneaking a look at her to see whether she was suitably impressed. She shook her head at his posturing. Lex landed in a crouch venting the energy from his jump in blast of air to great dramatic effect. As he stood he pulled out the great sword he had built himself. A large monster of a two handed blade that consisted of a grip, an impossibly thin metal edge and a filigree net of gem wires. As he pulled it out of its sheath he began to power it with his life-force giving the blade a golden body, turning it into a two-hander that was so sharp it could cut currents of air, while being lighter than than a regular short-sword.
    Lex stood there his shining weapon held high in one hand he then quavered for a moment and fell over.
    Julin giggled but not so loud that Lex could hear her in case he was still conscious, his dignity having suffered a heavy blow. Officially the sword had no name yet but Julin had named it Sired in Vain. The idea behind the sword was sound but it used such massive amounts of energy that Lex had hardly any strength left to wield it once he had summoned. In addition to that he usually fainted if he tried to use it after he had exerted himself.
    Men... Julin thought. Why did they insist on being such idiots all the time. But she did not really mind. At least Lex was aiming high. Beyond that Lex was his idiot, a very cute one at that which would now have to be teased back into consciousness. She walked over to her companion of more than one life deciding to help him up to his feet again.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Project Sky-Shell 016

Chapter 9 Journeys

Clear cold air. The rich colours of nature. The silence that was only accentuated by the cold breath of the wind and the murmur of a brook that still dreamed of one day turning into a massive stream. Julin Ganris loved it this was her escape from the pressure of everyday life at the Order of Reason which in her case were even more severe than that of most others. While she had transferred to an adult body for the first time about two years ago her soul was very old. One hundred and twenty years ago she had been a High Savant of the Order of Reason a leader both in research as well as in political matters.
    Julin remembered nothing of that time as her soul had wandered aimlessly for to long to retain any memories nevertheless she was constantly reminded of her glorious past. A past that might as well have belonged to any other stranger. Just to make matters worse she was in the very strange position of being her own spiritual great-grand-mother as her past life that cast such dark a shadow over all her new life was Kana Ganris of whom she was directly related by blood. While every kind of superstition was forbidden in the Order many could not help but feel that this fact was meaningful. She had pointed out that this was simply a coincidence this had only led to being scrutinized even further to test the 'Ganris Hypothesis' named in her honour and to her dismay. It postulated that souls were after they had been liberated from their bodies were attracted towards their own families thereby retaining the unity between the hereditary characteristics with those of the soul. The worst part about it was that Julin could not help but admit that the hypothesis was at the very least plausible.
    Now there was an entire work group toiling away trying to track the most powerful souls in the world to see in which way they migrated into new bodies. A research field that was rather thankless and would probably not yield any decent results for a couple of generations as most powerful souls carefully migrated into new bodies long before they were due to die a natural death. While those liberated into the great open world did so usually under rather violent circumstances. Being present in such a time as well as having both time and equipment to track the freed soul was bound to be a very rare occurrence. There was the idea of tracking lesser souls that did not warrant a rebirth into an adult body but where left to the natural cycle, but those souls were feeble to begin with dissipating so fast that tracking them was neigh impossible with the current generation of instruments.
    As Julin wandered alongside the brook feeling the wind caressing her face she wondered if her soul hand wandered these mountain ranges near the Pinnacle of Cognition where her past life had died valiantly protecting the values of the Order. She stopped, normally roaming the mountain plateaus in which the Order of Reason had established its university state cleared her mind. Yet to day it kept returning to the burden that she had inherited from the stranger that she herself had been. She turned around. Facing the Pinnacle of Cognition again which hovered freely above the other, lesser mountains, turning around its own axis at a tranquil pace. It was the centre of the Order, were it had turned from a secular order that was spread among many nations but home at none into a sovereign state of its own. The site had been chosen because it was located far inside of the no man's land of the Eastern Ranges, had abundant stores of resources and as it was a slender rock with steep cliffs on all sides easy to defend.
    It was still a fortress but now it was not a shelter any more, instead it had turned into the very symbol representing the Order. It was the first mountain that had been made airborne by man. While the circumstance had been very favourable as the mountain was extremely rich in flow-stone which will start to float if imbued with the tiniest speck of power it was still a massive undertaking to break the foundations of the mountains. So was balancing out the flow-stone deposits within so that the mountain once liberated would not simply tip over when starting to hover, or fly to high and crash into the sky-shell. The spin was added in later generations long after a the beacon was installed on its top burning in a artificial fire so bright that its focused brilliance rivalled the sun turning the Pinnacle of Reason into the largest air-beacon the world had ever seen through shaded eyes. With the added rotation which as it turned out could be used to power the beacon itself, it was now a proper lighthouse.
    Julin sometimes wondered if the symbolism used by the Order was not counter productive. After all their main goal was to advance reason and banish all traces of superstition as well as bring the light of knowledge to all. However as time passed the marks and motives of the Order had become so overwhelming that they had the strange effect of fostering faith instead of critical thinking. As long as the High Standards of Research where followed though there really wasn't any real danger of straying from the Path to Enlightenment. Besides the common people were so awe of the Order that any knight instantly commanded their respect. A reaction that was greatly enhanced by the Order's many symbols.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Project Sky-Shell 015

Chapter 8 (continued)

"He did what?" Tyrzo's mask that so far had shown a neutral face shifted without him really wanting it to into a shocked configuration.

    Sree looked at him through her still impassive mask. She sighed and took her mask off revealing her face, she understood that it was important to keep their identity secret from the world but here in their safest of hideouts it was ridiculous. She shook her long black hair our dismissing her robe with a short hand gesture. The cloth of her robe contracted started to glow and exploded into a field of thousands of tiny glittering blue stars which vanished as they faded. As the robe vanished so did the illusion of her body giving way to the reality of her massive heavy armour.

    "I said," she repeated slowly looking Tyrzo directly into his eyes "that the venerable Feng Shima decided to leave behind all pretences of mortality. He used his power, which I must say we underestimated, to transmute his body into pure energy." She massaged her temples with the thumb and index finger of her lest hand for a moment before continuing. "Look Tyrzo, I was even more surprised than you are. I had sought him out to tell him that we would meet here as you had a critical break through. He look right through me for a long time before telling me that he had considered all things and come to the conclusion that it was for the best if he went along his path into ultimate immortality. Suffice to say that I had no idea what he was talking about. Then he just took a deep breath and started pushing out hand-seals in a way I have never seen, he combined that with some kind of ritual movement casting some most peculiar and extremely puissant net of power around him. He drew upon the very power of the deep earth for his final performance. Then he slowly exhaled turning his body into energy. He maintained his form walk towards me touching my shoulder telling me to not be afraid. As if I was afraid of that. I wish he ha told me before hand so I could have set-up a measuring circle and some proper equipment. Well. Water under the bridge I am afraid. He then told me to tell you that regardless of what you thought, he mentioned you by name Tyrzo, he had not abandoned our cause. He said that you did well to bring our plan forward so rapidly. He would now hurry ahead to aid us in our struggle. We were not to lose hope but keep our eyes open for in time with his new found power he would reveal himself to us." she shrugged. "After that he slowly dissolved into the earth, it did not take long until I could not feel his being any more."
    Tyrzo shifted his mask back into neutral but could not bring himself to remove the signs of his resignation from his body language. He slumped onto a wide sofa letting his head fall back. Looking at the ceiling he asked "When exactly was that?"
    Sree took a seat opposite Tyrzo. "Two or three weeks after you returned from the Inner World and told us that you were close a to a breakthrough that would change the general situation strongly to our advantage. That would be six weeks ago I'd estimate."

    Prince Nirza who had been looking out of the window turned around also dismissing his disguise. His mask melted back from his face flowing to the back of his head coalescing into a choker of burnt silver while his robe parted turning into a cape with a midnight blue exterior and blood red lining. "There is, I think, no need to panic. Obviously the venerable Feng Shima knows very well what he is doing. We ought to trust him, for he has yet to let us down." He walked to a broad armchair but remained standing next to it.
    "We have also yet to understand they way his strange old head works." Tyrzo said. He moved his head back up to watch his companions. "Why now of all times. We are so close to the final step of our plan." For a moment he was at a loss for words."What was he thinking?"
    "We shall know in proper time." the prince said remaining calm. "Has he not always stood in the background watching for the most time? Even without him we shall not want for power."
    "Oh really?" Tyrzo was now annoyed. "This it the one time we really need his personal power for the breakthrough and he decides just now to go and dissolve?"
    "Get a grip Tyrzo." Sree said. "Prince Nirza is right. The venerable Feng Shima has taught is a lot. His ways of magic are unique and we were fortunate enough to learn from him. He had no apprentices, no followers, no chroniclers, nothing. Yet he did help us and I am sure that he did not just turn himself into" Sree's voice was getting progressively louder, "into pure energy merging with the very crust of the planet just so that he may get on your nerves."

    "Tyrzo has a point though." it was the first time Niani spoke up since they had greeted each other. "Despite his involvement to our cause was tangential in a way. Always very interested in how we came along. Almost eager to show us his ways. But the old man never was an active part of the planning was he? Still we relied on him for the final push. Without the ridiculous power of his mind-force we will have trouble of breaking the last barrier. I've done some more calculations using the measurements I did up here and it looks like our approximations were not good enough." her mask drew up one corner of her mouth in displeasure.
    "In the end," the prince said "it is only a question of power. We might not be his equal in the field of Mind-Force but we more than make up for it in inventiveness as well as use of high magic artefacts. His power was always very much centred on himself. With my blood technology we might very well still be able to draw a sufficient amount of power. Think about it." the prince started pacing up and down as he was starting to think. One hand behind his back his other gesticulating to underline his arguments. "The venerable Feng Shima was to be the fist with which to smash the obstacles before us. Now that we have lost his raw power we mus rely on our own ingenuity. This will force us to focus our efforts even more. Thus we reduce the risk of making a fatal error in the final stage of our grand endeavour. He shall not use blunt force any more. Instead we will build us a hammer." he stopped turning back to his companions again. "We know more than enough to master this task. It will be even a greater triumph. For us and for mankind."
    Sree nodded. "He is right. I have though this through a couple of times. I am sure you have too Tyrzo. How would you do it alone. We can build a 'hammer'. It will take us a bit longer. But aren't we ahead of our schedule anyway? We might as well do it in style while at the same time coming up with artefacts that no mortal man has ever dreamt of before. That way we may also get to know what in the name of Cold Reason it was that the venerable Feng Shima is trying to achieve with his mind over matter demonstration."
    Tyrzo just nodded in silence. It was Niani who started talking again. "So it is decided then. We will work on building a hammer to replace the old man Shima. The Prince can look into how to overcome the problems with the energy supply. You and Sree can work on building us a hammer while I can do much better estimates about what is ahead of us and what we need to move forward up here. Especially now that you obviously have found a source of abundant power." She moved her hand in a wide arc encompassing the entire room with all its glowing lights.
    "That's right Tyrzo. What's up with all the lights?" Sree asked.
    The question had the effect of enveloping Tyrzo in a warm blanket of smugness which gave him back his self assured smile that unconsciously found its way to his mask. Sitting much more upright he said: "This is why I have called you here actually. As you can see I have overcome the greatest shortcoming of the dark side of the moon. We now have an almost unlimited power supply, which turns this hideout into the perfect base of operations. I admit that getting here remains an incredible pain in the arse. But now we can do most of the preliminary work from here."
    "But how have you achieved this remarkable feat?" asked Prince Nirza looking around as if seeing the room for the first time.
"I will tell you Nashrin, but first you need to give me your word of honour to not act rashly until you have heard me out?"

    "I beg your pardon?" the prince asked.
"Please just indulge me. The matter is complicated.

    "You have my word then." the prince agreed with some unease.
Tyrzo steeled himself, preparing for the worst, preforming hand-seals behind his back before saying: "The base is powered by the energy of a captive soul."
    He didn't see the prince moving. His silver and gold sword was in front of his face, the moment Tyrzo had cast his hand-seals to protect himself. Had he not anticipated the move of the prince he would be either dead or heavily wounded already. But he had. His own sword was half way out of its sheath while he was rushing back. The blades throwing sparks and eldritch lightning as they scraped past each other. He shoved the Nirza away with his weapon the effect many being that he pushed him self back approaching the wall fast. Casting two further hand-seals in quick succession Tyrzo boosted his strength while at the same time channelling the kinetic energy of his retreat into one powerful shout. The force of the blast hurled the prince away while pushing him hard into the wall. He jumped to absorb the power of the impact into his legs casting another seal to divert the power into his aura. Now glowing softly he stood with his sword at the ready. Now he was prepared for further attacks.
    The prince had spread his cape wide to slow him down. When he passed Sree who had stepped out of the way with a weary expression he had almost come to a complete halt. floating gently to the grounds, veins bulging red lighting crawling down his skin.
    "Nashrin!" Tyrzo called out, "You gave me your word."
"A monster such as you does not stand under the protection of honour." the lips of the prince curled back exposing his immaculate teeth. He roared in anger as his body was shaken in anger. "How dare you try to trick me when you have cast aside all human decency. Galevion, for commiting the ultimate crime you will die!"

    While the prince and Tyrzo was fighting Niani had crossed her arms stepping well out of the way of the fight waiting for it to come to an end one way or the other. While Sree had summoned the helmet of her armour casting dubious looks at Tyrzo who returned her a gaze that asked her what she was waiting for.

    "So," Tyrzo asked calmly using his steady breathing to imbue his blade with power, "you say that there are certain crimes that are so unforgivable that the perpetrator relinquishes his right to be treated like a human?"

The prince simply screamed out his rage blasting forward to strike down his ally.

    "The man whose soul I am using," Tyrzo spoke through gritted teeth as he side stepped the prince's attack blocking his wide power full swing with his sword absorbing its energy with his sword "is a criminal."
    The Prince had to fight for a moment to maintain his balance now that his momentum was suddenly gone. "No crime is such that it would warrant such an abominable form of punishment!" He closed his fist igniting the spiked energy Tyrzo had absorbed into his body.
    Tyrzo screamed as the power he had channelled from the princes attack turned into spikes of energy in his body. With the scream he discharged all of his pent up power through his aura causing. The blaze seared the floor, ceiling and walls of his living room instantly turning all the furniture it touched into ashes apart from those shielded from the blast by Nirza's body. "This is not a common criminal, Nashrin!" he shouted through the pain.
    The prince stood suddenly before him the edge of his sword touching Tyrzo's throat. "Who? Who on this entire earth is such a beast to deserve to have his immortal soul burned to nothingness?" he asked his hot breath scalding the skin of Tyrzo's face.
    "First of all," Tyrzo hissed "I am not burning anyone, just using parts of the soul." he was calming down now. He had his free hand with an open palm directed against the abdomen of the prince, redirecting the heat waves caused by the eruption of his blood fuelled into it in case that it became necessary to blast him away on short notice. This time he did not channel the power through his aura but through the gem-stone wires worked into his clothes instead. Not nearly as effective but also not as dangerous.
    "That," the prince said his eyes now solid red, his teeth turning into vicious points, "makes it even worse!"
"Really?" Tyrzo used a part of the Nirza's power to erect a barrier between them giving him the chance to relax a bit and take a careful step back away from the teeth. "It just happens to be the soul of Shar Nizlaal."

    For the first time since his outburst the prince paused. "This cannot be."
"Believe me it is. I would not make jokes about this Nashrin. As you know I went into the Kingdom X to break into the Fortress of Terminal Justice to retrieve the soul of Khrus Cydral and guess who was sitting next to him waiting to be burned away into oblivion."

    "It cannot be. Nizlaal is long dead. He was judged for his abhorrent crimes!"
"That is what I thought too. What everyone believed. But we were lied to. Everyone was deceived by the few in control of the Fortress of Terminal Justice. It makes sense. Instead of erasing him for ever from the world he was kept for his knowledge, safe in his little bottle outlasting the millennia while everyone else was still caught in the mortal coil. Oh bitter irony! I touched his soul and saw his true natures. He is even worse than you imagine. I wanted to leave him there as he was finally destined to be evaporated. But then I thought why should he get away with it that easily? Also who knows if not someone thought that his knowledge would be convenient enough to keep him around a bit longer. After all there is no way that he could have lasted that long in the Fortress if he had not been taken out of the vaults for consultation on various occasions?"

    "I..." the bestial aspects drained from the prince slowly returning his regal aspect to him. "I am sorry my friend. I have misjudged you."
"I noticed. And you Sree? Why the fuck didn't you help me?"

    "If you really had turned to soul burning I would have helped Prince Nirza in disposing of you Tyrzo." she replied.

"You too Sree? Really?" for the first time Tyrzo seemed truly shocked. Sree looked away. "I can't believe that you people would really think so lowly of me. Of me! I brought us together. I was the one who came to you when everyone else had turned the backs to you. Who was the one who gave you the benefit of the doubt? Who was there for you during your darkest hours? huh?" Now even the prince lowered his eyes.

    "Sree when the Order cast you ought I left my work the instant I heard about it to look for you. When the world turned against your blood magic in their ignorance Nashrin, who was it who stepped in using up what ever favours I was still owed to make people listen to you? Huh? Niani do I have to mention the state you were when I found you?" Niani still had not moved her mask thoroughly neutral.
    "It is the blood. I can't still quite control its bestial effects." Prince Nirza said in a low voice that had lost most of its grandeur. "I am deeply sorry old friend. You are of course right, I should never have let doubts cloud my judgement before not hearing you out."
    "It's OK. Sree?"
"I am very sorry Tyrzo but you have been so obsessed with your work lately that for a moment I was not sure how far you would go."

    Tyrzo shook his head. "This is ridiculous. We all follow one goal and that is the general enlightenment of all. We want to illuminate the world and push past the boundaries placed upon us by the short sighted nature of the uneducated. We have a noble goal set before us. Out vision, our integrity is the most important thing that we have. Never, in my entire life would I ever betray these ideals upon which we have forged our bond. Never. So please do me the favour of never doubting me again."
    There was an embarrassed silence. "Until of course you see me actually going insane and setting fire to orphans and kittens." he added.
Sree snickered and the prince shook his head smiling. The tension leaving the room.

"Now that we have cleared that up we might want to proceed? We still have a lot of work to do. As mentioned we now have more than enough work ahead of us and there is one other thing that I wanted to tell you. I was successful in retrieving the soul of Khrus Cydral and thanks in part to the work of Nashrin and the information I gleaned from the madman Nizlaal I could integrate his soul-container into an automaton body. That way we can take advantage of his knowledge and skills without risking his memory by implanting him into a body nor do we have to plunge into his soul proper to try to coax the information from his half conscious mind."

Tyrzo moved to the large double door at the far end of the room opening it with a dramatic gesture.

"My friends I present to you Khrus Cydral the great genius that almost solved one of the greatest riddles of all time."

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Project Sky-Shell 014

Chapter 8 Visitors

Tyrzo was applying finishing touches to his latest master work. A task that was now so much easier that he was slowly burning away the soul of the greatest criminal that ever lived. What he had done, he had done for justice but having the perk of an energy source that was nearly limitless really was the crowning bit. He actually put the energy to good use. Almost without exception everyone else had simply taken Nizlaal's amoral research plan and built their own versions of the weapons that he had designed. Giant soul cannons that burned one hundred souls in a single shot causing destruction on a scale seen never before. At least these were quiescent now as there were hardly enough criminals who were so irredeemably corrupt that they were sentenced to evaporation let alone hundreds of them. That only left the single soul shells used in soul casters which now were mainly used by potentates as deterrent, attack a king and be burned in soul fire.

    At least the Order of Reason hat the Great Soul Furnace in which it disposed of its greatest traitors. The soul furnace would burn for up to a year with the essence of the criminal allowing the Order to build some of its most impressive wonders. Of course there were always vivid discussions about slippery slopes and the dangers that the furnace posed. What if someone started to burn souls just to get access to it? Ridiculous! Only the most vile of monsters would be eligible for evaporation and even those were usually kept around for their knowledge, most of them were then pardoned after a century or three of service to the order, their sentence downgraded to 'The Long Path of Redemption'. This meant that the artefacts that kept their personalities intact were removed so that they would lose all their memories of their previous lives and then their soul-container would be shot into the wilderness of the Inner World where they were reborn among the primitive tribes there, destined to slowly work their way back to civilisation. Also anyone setting up someone else for evaporation would be deemed a high traitor himself. Tyrzo wondered what would happen if anyone would go into the furnace voluntarily.
    The automaton body in front of Tyrzo was slowly taking shape, this was something he wanted to finish before the others arrived. He really loved putting his back into everything that he did as long as no one looked to make it appear effortless when they did. Now that his associates were about to appear having not one breakthrough but two at the same time was sure to impress them. At least it should. They were a tough crowd. He had recruited the four most brilliant free thinking minds of the world into one group managing to keep their egos in check directing them to work towards a common goal. Handling two or three geniuses was worse than herding cats, but four? That was almost insane. Well Tyrzo enjoyed the challenge.
    He was carving a final sigil inside of what would become the automatons heavily armoured breastplate imbuing it with the power to withstand ridiculous amounts of damage. Even absorbing parts of its power to make the automaton even stronger. The clever bit was that the sigil itself was powered by the motion of the automaton. It would not be active directly but only after a couple of days of movement, but then he was not expecting someone attacking his new creation with military level combat magic any time soon.
    Tyrzo had always loved the process of sanctifying. It relaxed him. getting to know the material he was working with, forming it carefully to enhance the ways the power of magic flowed naturally through the raw material, gently tracing it over and over during the process. Making delicate inlays from gem-wire that he had hand spun for the occasion and then lastly the carving of the sigils which imbued the object with power. When ever he had to clam down or think or just needed to unwind he worked on some little device or other.
    "What have I told you Master Cydral? Soon you shall have a body again." Tyrzo said to the soul container that stood next to him on his workbench glowing in warm golden hues. "It will also make you faster, stronger and better than any other living man, if I do say so myself." He formed a few quick hand-seals activating his shell-art giving him self superhuman strength. He grabbed the breast plate picking it up from the work bench, his body quivering under the strain. He placed the plate with care into its mounting. He released the shell-art enhancing him while exhaling sharply causing everything around him in a one metre radius to be covered in a thin film of ice as he paid for the excess energy his magic had cost him in ambient heat.
    "I do have to apologize for the lack of a voice unit in the automaton but I have not had the chance to acquire one yet." he said to the soul in its container. "But I will take care of it as soon as time permits. You will be able to freely write and use the I admit very basic facial expressions that I worked into the faceplate."
    "Now the only thing that I have to do is to take the genius in a bottle," he took the container "and place it into its new body of pure shining metal." and placed it inside the automaton's body. He gently removed some of the metal pins from the container replacing them with ones from inside the metal body and attaching various cables and wires to it. "There. That should do it." He closed the breast plate with a push, then adjusted the head until it locked in place with an audible click. He examined every bit of the metal fame in front of him one last time to make absolutely sure that everything was as it should.
    "Perfect. Now we just need a little help from our evil friend. . ." he took a metal rod inscribed with various signs of power that was connected to the base's power network via a red glowing gem wire. He spoke the word of activation watching with a grin that grew ever wider as the little rod started glowing with power. When it started vibrating and humming with it he laughed in delight. "This is even better than I had imagined. Everyone should have a war criminal burning stove in his house!" He used the rod to close all the seams in the armour of the automaton. Severing the few remaining wire connections and sealing the remaining holes. With that done he deactivated the red glowing rod, taking an elongated bolt which glowed in a dull unpleasant silver light once activated which was also connected to the central power grid. He inserted this bolt into the back of the neck of the automaton giving it its first jolt of power closing all the circuits within.
    Tyrzo gently removed the wire from the rod that had seamlessly merged with the rest of the artefact and moved quickly to the front of the automaton to watch it come to live.
    When his guests arrived Tyrzo was expecting them. It had involved a bit of hurrying and some hiding of chaos by shoving it hurriedly into closets, but in the end he stood in the second story of his balcony looking into the stars moving through the furthest layers of the sky-shell deeply in thought. He was mainly thinking that it was incredibly uncomfortable to be standing in a thoughtful pose for ten minutes while waiting for his guests to finally walk into view. It was even worse watching them walk at a leisurely pace towards his home. At least he got to watch them through his mask with out them noticing that he was not regarding the stars meditating on their secrets. He was very pleased that as soon as they had come into view of his humble abode they had noticed that every window was shining like a beacon in the almost eternal night on the dark side of the moon. He was sure that they were wondering were he got all the energy to get away with such splendour.
    What was far less pleasing was that there were only three people coming towards him instead of four. While everyone was dressed like him in a midnight blue robe wearing white masks without openings with carved in faces he could tell them apart by their build and the way they walked.
    The tall broad shouldered man that could not help but to look regal even in disguise was prince Nashrin Nirza great innovator of blood magic. The prince had single handedly elevated blood rituals from borderline fraudulent hedge magic to a high art for which the world now envied him. He could extract blood from sentients using the tiny specks of life force within them to great effect. He had passed laws in his domain that reduced the monetary taxes considerably yet had balanced this out by demanding a blood tithe every month. The power he drew from his blood pools was phenomenal, this combined with the rampant rumours about him protected him from attacks by greedy neighbours. The low taxes also attracted people from all over the globe who went their to make their fortune no matter how creepy their lord was. This in addition to the fruits of the princes research had also made him incredibly wealthy.
    To his left was the tall slender figure of Sree Invonia an old friend of Tyrzo's they both met during his sojourn at the Order of Reason she had been a master knight when he had arrived there. They had quickly become fast friends sharing theories, work, adventures and other more intimate things. After Tyrzo had left the Order they had remained friends. Sree had a similar problem to Tyrzo, she was much to open minded for the strict Order of Reason that combined with her status as itinerant Knight wandering the world to fight the evil of superstition had brought her into contact with many schools of magic that where deemed fallacious by the Order. Her insistence of treating even the most ridiculous form of witchery of the more barbaric of tribes with utmost respect trying to find the root of truth within their errant doctrines had in the end led to her dismissal from the Order. Tyrzo had been there for her then helping her to find own place in the world. To this day Sree kept her armour and swords from the order, upgrading them with the due veneration as time passed. Quite as if she had never left the order. She once told them that some individuals inside the order had turned against her but that she was still part of the Order and would remain loyal to its cause until the end of time.
    Sree was having an animated discussion with the woman next to her. She was smaller almost tiny but what she lacked in height she made up for with curves of which she had many all of them in the most flattering places. This was Niani Danar the great Atlytenian traitor. Oh great Atlytenia most exalted of all nations, built into the very crust of the sky-shell. Closest nation of all to the final mysteries of the stars also the one furthest removed from them. For a people that lived right next to them, their highest houses going past the channels of the sun and the moon almost touching the outer crust, they were adamant that no one should ever move past that final frontier. This was something that drove Niani crazy. She was not the only Atlytenian whose imagination was fired up at night when sitting in the highest towers she could hear the clicking, whirring and scraping of the passing stars. No there were others like her. But she was the first to work her way through the most prestigious of the Atlytenian academies becoming a renowned professor in her own right who never gave up her dream of the stars. How were they connected to humanity that they would react to what they did on earth? What powered their motion among the outer layer of the sky-shell and from where did the aurora come from? Was the outer crust maybe not the last?
    She insisted that such questions should be allowed. There was a great scandal that shook the society of Atlytenia for weeks. In the end she lost. Because of her great services to her country she was speared the death sentence but she was forced into exile declared persona non grata. She was never to return and every Atlytenian who dared to as much talk to her risked of sharing her fate.

    The person so conspicuously missing was the venerable Feng Shima one of the very few people to ever reach the level of Transcendent Power in the discipline of mind-force. For most people immortality was a concept that contained various reincarnations which for most also brought the loss of memory as few could afford growing a full replacement body when their time was starting to run out. Fewer still had the considerable wealth it took to actually maintain a replacement body at all time as well as the artefacts necessary to capture the soul after death while keeping their memories alive so that when they returned to their new bodies they remained the same person as before. Not so Feng Shima. High grand master of sanctifier. Power of shell-art. Transcendent power of mind-force. His total mastery of body, mind and energy made him come as close to true immortality as anyone yet. In a way the venerable Feng Shima was the odd man out. The thumb opposite to the four fingers. While everyone else was deeply devoted to the advancement of knowledge Feng Shima was looking for personal enlightenment. This had never been a problem though because in most things he and the others saw eye to eye. In the end everyone had to struggle to attain real true understanding. It was only that Feng Shima's gaze was directed inside where the others were looking outwards. The four had greatly benefited from his teachings improving both their shell-art as well as their mind-force using the many meditations and exercises he taught them while he learned from them the higher art of sanctificing. He always listened to their theories, never interrupting, thinking about them sometimes for months on end only to return with a shockingly insightful comment. Always thanking the one he had listened to for showing him a new way of thinking.
    Tyrzo felt apprehensive. Of all the people in their group the venerable Feng Shima was the last who would miss a major reunion. Something must had happened. Something dreadful. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Project Sky-Shell 013

Chapter 7 (continued)

After fetching their luggage they left the air-port, Anira eyeing the locals suspiciously while Ailu kept her eyes open for a cab to take them to the cities best hotel. she told the delighted cab driver to take the scenic route as they were for the first time in Khirlon and love to take in the sights. The driver fanned the fire setting his vehicle in motion. What had seemed like a flat expanse of land covered in a forest turned out to be an area covered in rolling hills which were well hidden by the trees which all seemed to grow only to a certain height. The city was spread wide over the forest. There hardly were any large groups of buildings together, only ever a handful surrounded by a generous amount of trees.

The driver went along explaining the local custom of venerating the forest that brought them so much wealth affording the people of Khirlon a comfortable life, while he was blasting through the streets. The driver taking his eyes of the street to feed the fires of his auto-mobile told his passengers that hardly ever anything serious happened, as all the people of Khirlon were connected at a basic level they they could feel each others presence. Ailu asked what happened in the rare cases that there were accidents. To which the driver replied as cheerful as ever that those almost always ended in the death of all involved. Ailu hid her face in her hand pretending to be enjoying the green streaks that were the trees rushing them by outside, while Anira murmured something along the lines that she should have worked more on her shell-art.

The driver only ever reduced his speed when they passed noteworthy buildings which where few and far between. Sometime he stopped in front of elder trees which were venerated to a degree that seemed a bit ridiculous and incredibly backwards to Anira and Ailu. Seeing the expression in their faces the driver added that it was from these elder trees that they harvested the heart-wood out of which they carved the mind-roots which were implanted into their heads right after birth. It was the only way to make an implant that kept growing within the human brain. Only the right type of elder tree could be used to make implants that would not damage the brain of its host. After all you wanted the root network that grew out of the mind-root to interface with your brain and not grow right through it. Anira turned to Ailu mouthing "I hate you!" to her while keeping her sweetest master spy smile, nodding politely to the driver.

After an hour they finally arrived at their hotel paid the driver handsomely and walked into the reception. They had not quite reached the door when someone opened the door for them welcoming them to the Forest Flower.

"You knew we were coming?" asked Anira, turning to Ailu to ask if she had reserved rooms while she wasn’t looking at the air-port.

"Yes of course ma'am I sensed the arrival of the cab with its two passengers. It is a honour that you have chosen to stay in the Forest Flower. Please allow me to take care of your luggage." the concierge held open the door while two eager looking bell-boys appeared taking care of the suit cases. "rest assured that we will do our utmost to anticipate your very wishes."

"Thank you." Anira said with her perfect smile still in place. She turned to Ailu to cast a beady eyed gaze in her direction. Ailu only smiled.

"How long will you be staying?" asked the concierge as he ushered the two women into the palatial foyer which was a large hall made entirely of dark polished wood that was encircled by a gallery held up by arcades carved to look like trees.

"Not long we are a here mainly for business. Probably a day or two." answered Anira.

"Of course." he lead them towards the large reception at the far end of the room that was framed by two large stair cases leading up to the gallery.

"How many rooms do you require?"

"That depends how many bedrooms your largest suite has. . ." Anira replied.

"The Elder Father Suite comes with two bedrooms and a large room for up to six servants."

"That will do. Ailu could you take care of the formalities please?" Ailu nodded. While she was taking care of the paperwork Anira started a bit of small talk with the concierge. After the man had warmed to her dropping his formal stance ever so slightly Anira asked if he did know about the seed of the Living City. He did. While he did not quite understand why they wanted to see such an abominable place when they were surrounded by the beauty of Khirlon with its verdant forests, he did explain how to get there. It turned out that it was only a short walk away from the hotel itself. So Anira and Ailu decided to go there after having dinner.

Later that evening they were walking down the surprisingly dark streets of Khirlon City. While there were lights in the streets when there were buildings the forests were without any artificial light. The road was quite broad though so there was a thin strip of open sky visible above their heads with a full moon shining from above. Even though it seemed that the moon was flickering slightly. Anira wondered if this was some kind of creepy side-effect of the thought web that was covering everything in Khirlon.

For one brave minute she had extended her consciousness out of her body after the had left the first batch of buildings behind her. The though-net was everywhere, pulsating from the ground, hanging from the trees like thick vines. The moment she had expanded her mind the net reacted to her, extending tendrils towards her trying to burrow their way into her soul. She did not wait to see how far they got, she retreated immediately inside her body raising every kind of protective shielding technique she knew to prevent any further probing.

About half way to their destination they passed a little hub that seemed to consist mostly of bars. A drunk man came out of one the establishments, washed out from his watering hole by a wave of raucous noise. He stood there swaying gently as the door slowly swung shut behind him leaving him in silence contemplating his next move. It was then that he saw Anira and Ailu.

"Hey!" he called. "Hey, there ladies!" he moved towards them Anira stopped moving while Ailu ignored the man and kept walking until she noticed that her friend wasn't moving any more.

Standing still with arms crossed Anira waited for the man to approach her. Ailu watched the scene unfold looking tired. She was about to say something but she knew that that would just make matters worse.

"Looking for a good time ladies?" the man said.

"Piss off." Anira suggested with a dead pan voice and matching face.

"Ah come on don't be shy. You and your cute friend over there can have a great time with me."

"Not gonna happen. This is your last warning, mate."

"Hey don't play hard to get. We should cut all the talk and go straight to some. . ." the man walked forward and tried to touch Anira's shoulder. Somehow her shoulder wasn't there any more when his hand arrived at its destination.

"How good is you shell-art?" Anira asked.

The man grinned wide. "You'd be surprised what I can do with my. . ."

"Can you get hard really fast?" Anira interrupted him again. "Like if I snap my fingers would you then turn as hard as say stone." her voice still without out any emotion.

The man laughed a nervous laugh half insecure half not quite believing his luck. "Sure." he started fingering his belt.

"You're gonna need that." Anira had reached the man before his fingers had even touched the buckle of his belt, she had past him at the moment he had. By now he had stopped moving. His eyes were bulging out of his head. He doubled over, thunder rolled down the street rattling doors and windows, sending the man flying in a wide arc back towards the bar he had come out of. He crashed right through the door hitting the floor sliding along it on his back only stopped by the bar.

Anira turned to Ailu smiling lifting her hands into the air fingers spread. "Did you see that? No hand seals!"

"You are sooo childish." Was the the only thing Ailu said before she turned around and walked away.

By now the patrons of several bars had rushed to the windows to look at what had caused the detonation they had just heard. As Anira noticed that all eyes were on her she pointed into the direction where she had come from and said: "He went that way!" All pairs of eyes looked into the direction she was pointing then at her. It did not took long for the spectators to decide that what ever had happened they did not really want to know that urgently about the details. Te guard would take care of it surely.

The patrons went back to their drinks while Anira followed Ailu.

"He lied." Anira said after they had walked in silence for a while.


"The guy. I have hit sponges that were harder."

"The sooner we never speak of this episode the better. Why do you be so incredibly embarrassing in public?"

"Oh come on. The idiot had it coming and it was funny."

Ailu didn't say anything to that.

"Look." she finally said pointing towards a solitary house standing in the middle of a clearing, the first they had seen in Khirlon. "We found the seed."

Among the many anomalies of the world the Living City was among the strangest. It was a wandering city hanging suspended from the sky-shell. That alone would not make it all that special were it not for the strange circumstance that its inhabitants had, aeons ago, decided to leave their mortal bodies behind for good and instead to transfer their souls into their very houses. Why they had decided to take such a dramatic step not even the citizens of the Living City remembered. One theory claimed that it was a philosophical question, that in the end the house was nothing more than the body of modern man. Others again said that it was a stab at true immortality, after all a well built house could last for millennia being much more resilient than the body of the even most advanced masters of magic.

What ever the reason the fact remained that there was a city that was alive. Like all living beings it reproduced. Normally by budding new buildings thereby growing in size. But that was not real reproduction so the inhabitants of the Living City devised a plan that should give give them real offspring. These were the seeds. Small parts of the Living City that were dropped down onto the earth. The seeds, mostly just single bricks or a wall, would take root growing into new houses. It was deemed a good idea.

Most people were less thrilled when they noticed that some strange rocks had fallen from the sky and sprouted after some time a sentient house. Errors were made on both sides. The Living City went aggressive taking hostages infecting local structures, the original inhabitants tore the houses down and at some point brought the war to the City itself. No one remembers who started the conflict. In the end it led to a war lasting several decades which only ended after the knights of the Order of Reason got involved into the war with the intention to stop it. The order of reason was the first to recognize the Living City as a sovereign state and its buildings as sentient beings possessing an immortal soul. It took almost another decade until peace was finally declared, treaties were signed and order restored.

This established the deep friendship between the Order of Reason and the Living City that knew now where it could spread its seed, where it was not welcome. Apart from that it had also some success in germinating new daughter metropolises in barren lands that had so far been deemed unattractive by most humans. Establishing some very successful city states that were exceedingly popular with merchants and all kinds of shady folk hailing from the full gradient of the grey scale.

Anira and Ailu were standing in front of what was probably the least successful city-seed in the entire world. The house was three stories tall doing its best to sport a wood finish on its stone walls with the same type of windows as the others they had seen. It even sported the columns that looked like trees that seemed to be the hight of good taste in Khirlon yet it looked completely out of place. The clearing itself looked strange. Not only was there no grass or any other plant growing on the ground but the trees themselves actually grew away from it.

As they walked towards the house a light turned on in one room in the second floor, casting a road of light towards them.

"Looks like the seed is still awake." Ailu said.

The closer they got the more lights turned on. Now the wooden door with its fine carvings showing a forest scene was illuminated by the lights framing it. When they had come even closer the door opened on its own. Inside the house the style of the house was one of elegant understatement. The warm indirect light flowed over the interior accentuating the furnishings without casting one hard shadow. The main door closed behind them with a soft click.

"Good evening." said Ailu. " house. We are representatives of the Free Agency. We would like to ask you a couple of questions if that's possible."

In answer they heard a creaking noise coming from the stairs. As they looked in the direction from where the noise had come from the lights along the stairs turned on and of in a rhythm that made it look as if the light was flowing upstairs. Anira and Ailu look at each other exchanging meaningful glances before the followed the leading lights to the second floor, where a door opened for them. As they moved along the corridor it they both though that they saw a human figure moving alongside them down the corridor. They only ever saw the shade out of the corner of their eyes. When ever they looked they only saw their own reflections in the windows.

Beyond the door lay a small atrium with a white marble fountain in its middle. It consisted of a water filled basin reflecting the light of the adjacent rooms with the statue of a woman and a man pouring water from large stone jugs. The door closed behind Anira and Ailu and the statues turned their heads towards them making a rasping noise that sounded like two tombstones rubbing together.

"Welcome strangers. You can call me Lee." the statues intoned with a harmonious unison of a warm male and female voice.

"You name is Lee?" asked Ailu with an arched eyebrow.

"Yes. Do you have a problem with my name?" the twin statue asked back.

"er... no. That's perfectly OK. It's only that as far as I know city-seeds always have the name of their street as their official name."

The statues regarded Ailu for a moment then looked s bit crestfallen. "My address is Alien Square 1. Which I find somewhat insulting to be frank. So I decided to shorten it to Lee."

Vacant looks from Ailu and Anira.

"Like in Ai-LEE-en?"

"Ah" said Ailu. "Oh. . ." added Anira.

"You are obviously not from here."

"No." said Ailu

"Thank the founding houses for that. This place is driving me insane. When I was cast down here I thought I would have an easy life. An advanced civilisation, their representatives all lovely people. They even made me a clearing so that I would not smash into one of their stupid trees on my way down.
But it turns out they were not happy that I could not become a part of their deviant community. And by the corner stones of my parents did they poke me with those stupid stick of theirs. Bunch of mossbacks. . ." the statues rolled their eyes and sighed a sigh full of gravel and strained nerves.

"Well at least they did not tear you down." Anira said.

"I wish." the statue answered. "No they are perfectly polite. They just treat me like a convenient freak."


"Yes. When ever it's official business I am that creepy house, the outsider that is politely tolerated but generally shunned. Who the fuck knows what I am thinking after all. They probably think I will try to eat their stupid trees or some shit. Did you know that they transplanted the trees to form this clearing? Well whatever. As long as the sun is shining it's all: shun the evil house! But the moment the sun sets guess who is the number one address everyone goes to to shag their mistress or experiment with their deviant sexuality? At least I think it is deviant. It's so long ago that I had one of those bodies that I can't quite remember what's proper any more. Spending years among these fucking weirdos. . ." while the female head kept talking the male one added "See what I did there?" winking. ". . .has certainly cost me some sanity and perspective. So yes. I am really convenient and everyone fucking knows it because they are all connected with each other via that parasite tree in their heads. I mean who in their right fucking mind does that?"

"You transferred your ´soul into a house." Anira pointed out.

"So? Being a house is brilliant. You are quasi immortal. You get to shelter other people within you. You can grow some wicked extensions. And the sex is subtle and the orgasms last for an eternity."

"Too much information." Anira said. "I think?" Ailu nodded wide eyed.

"What? Why.? Houses making love are very delicate. We gently touch each other with our plumbing!" the statues ignored the ways their audiences faces distorted somewhere between confused revulsion and laughter. "Apart from semi detacheds of course. They just know no shame. I mean it is nice that you are in love and everything but by the Founding Houses show some decency. And disregarding terraced houses of course. Now those are just perverts."

Anira blinked a couple of times. "Yes. Well about the reason of our visit."

"Oh, please don't tell me that you just came here to fuck. . .' the statues sighed.

"What? No! I am pretty sure official Free Agency business was mentioned."

"Yes. Yes there was something like that. So what do you want?"

"We'd like to know there the Living City is." Ailu said

"I haven't got the faintest idea."

"Huh? I thought you seeds can sense your mother city?" Ailu asked.

"You'd be usually right. But mother is far away right now and this fucking mind-net of the local yokels dampens my perception considerably."

"We came her for nothing?" Anira asked distributing accusatory stares between Ailu and the statues.

"But" the statues interjected "I can sense my nearest sibling. It should be able to tell you where to find mother."

"Well out with it." Anira demanded.

"Sure. But you will have to do me a favour."

"OK what do you want?" Anira shrugged.

"Take me with you."


Monday, 14 November 2011

Projectg Sky-Shell 012

Chapter 7 Travellers

After two weeks of travel in the most luxurious as well as slowest air-liners Anira and Ailu had arrived at their first destination. Usually Anira was used to feel relieved to be finally out of the ship at the start of mission but that was because she usually took express clippers or travelled third class or below. This time was different. She was not a secret agent but a representative of the Free Agency on a information gathering expedition. She did not have to hide her identity quite the contrary now she almost had the duty to be very clear about her status as a prime consultant for the Free Agency. As such she had to mind the image of her employer in mind. This meant mandatory first class. Just to make sure Anira and Ailu each had ordered the most expensive suites on the ships they where travelling in. Once they had to bribe the shipping company to get rid of a lesser noble who had reserved the only other suite on one of the ships they had taken. all of the bills were sent back to the Agency going to the treasury after Kelsheron had been very clearly inserted into all the forms as the man responsible for the expenses. One would have thought that travelling in a slow airship with nothing much to do but enjoy the sights would become boring soon. But being spoilt rotten by a staff that was only the ring of a bell away at every time of the day had a strangely addicting effect. Anira and Ailu had started calling each other 'Your Highness' courtesying each other entertaining for a short moment the idea that the best way to find the living city was to continue travelling by air-ship until they spotted it on the sky-shell. In the end professionalism won.

    "OK So this is?" Anira asked looking around the small but very well kept airport where they had gotten off the ISS - Spiral Dancer.
"Welcome to the democracy of Khirlon, the number one exporter of high quality heart-woods in the eastern quadrant and home to some of the best wood sanctificers anywhere you'd care to mention." answered Ailu making a dramatic sweep with her hand pointing outside the large windows to their left showing a rather idyllic, Anira's first association was boring, city that was carefully built into a sprawling forest stretching to the horizon.

    "Democracy? Haven't been in once of those in quite some time. What form is it, representative?"
"Nope direct. The Khirloniads like to claim that their democracy is the purest of them all, pointing out that their success strongly supports their claim."

    Anira had stopped at the panoramic window and was looking out. "Does it? This place looks like its strongest claim is to a cure for insomnia. This place does not look sleepy it seems to be in a coma."
"Khirlon while small is one of the greater economic powers of the eastern quadrant and has not lost a war in the last 200 years or so. Which is quite the feat considering that the people here are quite pacifistic." Ailu was now in her encyclopedia mode. At the start of each mission she would always give Anira a short résumé about the most important facts of the nation they were in as well as the possible targets. Anira had a suspected that Ailu had way to much fun with her little talks, but then Anira enjoyed her little lectures. Ailu always kept it short and usually kept the most interesting bits for later, by now this had turned into one of their typical mission rituals.

    "OK what is their secret."
"Well the Khirloniads are always prepared for war. Every single one of them goes through two years of military service before they are considered full citizens and adults. When they beat their enemy back they unfailingly invade the attacker usually taking some small village or unimportant outpost." Ailu paused.

    "Why is that?"
"It is meant as a warning."

    "How is taking some backwater village a warning?"
"Every settlement they have ever taken remains fiercely loyal to Khirlon." Ailu said with a faint smile dawning on her face.

    "And how pray, do they manage to turn the conquered into such enthusiastic citizens?" here it comes though Anira.
"They turn them all into a part of the democracy."

    "That is all?"
"Remember how I told you that they consider themselves to be the purest democracy of them all?"

    "Yes." Anira played along.
"They achieve this magnificent feat by implanting artefacts into the brains of all the citizens. The moment a Khirloniad is born before he or she even gets a taste of mothers milk a special rod shaped device is shoved through the hole in the cranium into their brain that takes root there connecting them with everyone else."

    ". . ." Anira looked at Ailu with eyes wide open "OK. Even I think that is creepy. Are they some kind of hive mind?" she looked around slightly nervous.
"No. The implant works subconsciously. Everyone's opinion, believes, wishes etc... are taken and transmitted to everyone else. So every individual influences the others and is influenced by everyone else. That way the majority decides what happens."

    "I can see how that turns the new acquisitions into happy new citizens but how does their government work? If everything is done subconsciously?"
"They have a lottery. Whenever someone is born here a lot is drawn most of them are blank but every once in a while a green one is drawn which means that these children are going to become politicians. A great honour but also a great tragedy for the families involved."

    "This is going to get even more creepy, isn't it?"
Ailu grinned. "Very. These children are taken away from their families, they get more implants than anyone else, their personalities are suppressed for the most part the one thing governing their behaviour above all else is the will of the people." Ailu made a tadaa movement with her hands.

    "That is deeply disturbing. Now tell me why we are here and why I should not walk right back into the ship and leave this fucking place?"
"Because a seed of the Living City lives here." Ailu responded.

    "Ailu I know a dozen cities with seeds of the Living City and not one of them, not one of them is half as disturbing as this cursed place."
"And that's why we are here. The seed can't become a citizen. While the Khirloniads are very tolerant of outsiders they will never accept an alien into their midst. If you are not part of the democracy you are not part of the community. The seed is being shunned by almost everyone. It is bored, in dire need of company and probably even a bit scared. Getting some information out of it should be easy. "

Project Sky-Shell 011

Chapter 6 (continued)

Tyrzo had finally returned to his secret hideout. Even a genius such as him had sometimes ideas that were in hindsight probably not as good as they had seemed at first. He had an ongoing love-hate relationship with his headquarters. In a way it was perfect, far removed from prying eyes, a spacious building burrowing into the soil of a property so big that he could comfortably add a couple of cities to it and not run out of space. It was also very close to his newest pet project. It was also insufferable. Far away from any kind of civilisation, getting there was always an incredible pain in the arse. Every emergency was invariably close to being a disaster.

    Every extension of the base was a massive undertaking, especially as this was supposed to be a secret base, thus necessitating that Tyrzo did all of the work himself. He had tried automatons but they were simply to stupid to get any kind of work beyond the most simple done. He might have used automatons with imprisoned souls animating them to help him out but then what? There was no way he was using slave labour for his personal sanctum. People had called Tyrzo all manner of things but he was not a slaver. Even if he had found people volunteering for this kind of work he could not let them go and spill his secrets, now could he. He was also not a murderer. His close associates, calling them friends would have been a dangerous misconception, was also mostly out of the question as most of them would not recognize a days worth of hard honest work even if it had been explained by the best tutors of the Order of Reason.
    In the end his love for his chosen home won out every time and that was because his hideout had one thing in abundant supply.

    Through incredible effort, painstaking planing and innovations in the field of magic he had built him self a base on the dark side of the moon.
Ever since Tyrzo had been a child he had dreamed of becoming a research mage. Could there be anything more exiting that to extract the secrets of nature? With every step bringing mankind closer to complete enlightenment. Tyrzo doubted that all the secrets of the world would be solved in the near future but that was exactly was what made research so exiting for him. So many new things to learn, so many strange riddles posed by reality that just waited to be solved by a brilliant mind.

    But that was not the only reason why he was drawn to magic. The other reason were the robes, the towers, the laboratories. The knowledge came with all these wonderful trappings that made it look even more exiting than it was on its own. He remembered the feeling he had when he had bought his first tower. On top of an cantankerous looking rock overlooking a suitably tiny and adorably backwards village. The villagers themselves though painfully ignorant had been incredibly sweet people which had surprised Tyrzo a bit. He had been hoping for a bit more pitchforks and torches. But then it was actually much nicer to be approached by his new neighbours who had actually taken an interest into his work, not that they really understood what he was doing but there was a real interest in his work, especially coming from the children. In the end he helped out the villagers using his combination of knowledge and magic to improve their lives and educating their young and they brought him food, drink and company. In a way that had been the best time of his life. He had positively been living his childhood dream. Researching at night in his tower, out alone in the wilderness bringing the gift of knowledge to the people still living in darkness.
    Things did turn sour after a generation though. Not because of the villagers. They were lovely. But because of the local lord who had started to raise the taxes to levels quickly rising above the ridiculous. This led to a small revolt that Tyrzo helped to incite. When the armed tax collectors came to set the record straight they were confronted by Tyrzo who had been sitting cross legged on the main road just outside the village. He gave them a little chest full of money containing what he told them was a reasonable amount of tax money and told them to get lost. They declined. He kicked all manner of things out of them sending them packing. Shortly after he learned why the idiot lord was so busy squeezing his people. There was a war going on with some neighbour or other. So the next thing that came was not another better armed tax patrol or a mercenary warrior mage, instead it was the battle front that washed over them.

   The war like most conflicts was an utter farce fuelled by the greed of the powerful, fought up on the backs of the common people. Tyrzo repelled the invading army with help of the lord's troops but he had a hard time seeing any difference between the two fighting powers. After the battle was over he paid both lords a visit and told them very emphatically that they would stop troubling his village or face the consequences. Tyrzo was far younger back then and a bit of an idiot he had to admit himself. In the end after some nasty escalation had to leave his tower so that the villagers could live in peace again. But he had left that episode with a couple of lessons learned. One was that the only thing that separated the common people from those in power was usually a lack of education and that those in power had the tendency to slip into behaviours that were detrimental for the good of all. He himself had fallen into that trap. Him! A genius! There was only one way out of it. Universal enlightenment. The more everyone knew the better the situation for all would be. This had steered him into the arms of the Order of Reason for almost two centuries. Their meritocratic society, their neutral political stance, their eternal quest to foster the advancement of knowledge and fighting superstition wherever it showed its ugly head were all very close to his heart. But in the end he had left. There had been arguments, differences in opinion. In the end the Order while a important stepping stone but he had to move forward to go looking for a solution on his own.
   Remembering that he was expecting visitors he focused on the present again. There were still things that he had to take care off. First on the list was to find a solution to his energy problem. One of the many problems of having a house on the dark side of the moon was getting sufficient energy to that damned place. Back on the planet there were so many sources of energy that it never really was a problem. There was a sun shining every day, wind blowing, the heat of the deep earth, the life force of the plants, many things. On the moon. On the moon there was nothing. It was simply a round rock, mostly flat on the backside, the most exiting thing there was large stone column attaching it to its track in the sky, but that was about it. The sun was no help either. The day on the 'shadow' side of the moon when it came was short and extremely painful. Tyrzo had learned that the hard way. Again his enthusiasm had gotten the better of him. He had started building his house during the night acknowledging the eventual day but not really thinking that it would be a big deal.
   Tyrzo winced as he remembered his first sunlit day in his new home. The feeling of being burned, baked and suffocated alive at the same time while he frantically dug himself deeper and deeper into the hard moon rock wondering how far the heat of the sun could possibly reach. Humility came hard to Tyrzo. Usually by knocking down the door flying feet first into his face. He seriously hoped that these kind of missteps on his side would soon be part of his past.
   By now his house was sun hardened. But that did not solve the energy crisis. The sun blasted his hideout with the ferocity... well of a sun, but he could hardly harness any of its power, he was mostly busy redirecting the heat away from his house. At first he had though of concentrating the energy onto s few spots of moon rock causing it to melt and so retain some of the heat energy. But moon-stone had an incredible heat capacity soaking up enormous amounts of energy while barely ever heating up. Instead it transmitted the energy to the far side of the satellite where the energy was released in the form of moon-light. Tyrzo consoled himself that was one more secret wrested from nature. It had also solved his lighting problem, but the rest remained.
   He entered his newest deepest vault, hidden behind a ridiculous amount of portals, doors and air-locks. They were there not out of any real necessity, all of these obstacles actually retracted automatically when they felt his presence. It was mostly to keep up appearances, this was to the benefit of the guest he housed at the end of this particular tunnel. After he was done with it he had modified the head of a soul-prison automaton to be fitted on top of a soul-containment bottle. He had placed that on the top of the one containing the soul of Shar Nizlaal the wonderful individual the world had to thank for soul-prisons in the first place, for them and for the technology to burn souls to extract the enormous amounts of energy they held within.
   He had then walked with the now conscious Nizlaal down this very long corridor dutifully going through the motions of opening every single gate and door. The locking mechanisms of which grew ever more ridiculous the further inside they got, explaining in detail how impenetrable each one of them was, how much more secure this place was than the Fortress of Terminal Justice. When he had finally arrived in the cramped final chamber he had placed the head gingerly on top a of plinth especially built to hold the bottle with its new head. To round things of he had looked Nizlaal directly into the eyes and told him that even if there was anyone else in the world who would want to free his filthy soul they would never find him here on the dark side of the moon. The pushed the nose of the immobile automaton face in front of him, turned around cape fluttering dramatically walking away laughing his best overlord laugh. The doors only closing after he had left the corridor starting with that furthest from Nizlaal and ending with the one next to him leaving him conscious in the dark.
   Now Tyrzo had returned with a perfectly formed diamond rod in his hands. "Good morning Shaar. How are you feeling today?" he asked cheerfully.
"I almost feel sorry that no one has come up with a way to make prison-automatons that can talk, I'd love to hear your opinion on how we have expanded on your early work." Tyrzo lied. While not very popular voice modules for prison automatons existed. Despite his enormous talents he did not know how to build one himself which was a bit of a problem for other reasons. It was also unfortunate that getting one of them would take a while.

"You know, I have been very impressed both by your work as well as by your methods. You have always been a great role-model for me. When ever I was in a situation that you may consider a moral grey area, I thought what would Shar Nizlaal the greatest monster do in my stead. And then I would do the exact opposite." he grinned broadly tapping the head in front of him gently with the diamond rod.

"Another thing I did was asking myself what a monster such as yourself could possibly had to do as to pay for his monstrous deeds. So many hours that I spent trying to find a way to avenge all those innocent people that you murdered, those who you tortured in life, then in death only to destroy their otherwise immortal souls for ever." Tyrzo paused for a moment his smile fading, "I still to this day have problems imagining the magnitude of your crimes. I always asked my self what kind of mind such a monster must have. How twisted and evil it had to be. Until I got a first hand look. I must say that I was after the shock had slowly subsided. . . did you know that you can scrub yourself so hard under a shower that you start to bleed? Even after you have used your shell-art as a reflex to harden it? Funny thing, your nails also harden in instinct."

    Tyrzo paused for a moment. "Where was I? Mind of a monster? A yes. Of course I had a peek into your mind. What a disappointment that turned out to be. I was expecting some sort of inhuman evil yet what I found was a small, selfish mind. You just didn't give a toss, did you? It was all so fascinating, it was so rewarding to find out all these things. The cries of agony, they were just a distraction. You even though about ways of silencing them or finding a way to quench the pain, but no that would have been a waste of effort, right?" by now Tyrzo's voice was shaking very slightly in anger. He wished that he had a head which could express feelings. But that kind of technology was sadly also out of his reach, both in skill and distance. He would have loved to have seen fear in the faze of Shar Nizlaal. But one can not have everything in life. Maybe someday later.
    With his voice again cold and hard he continued "In a way what I am about to do now makes me to a much greater monster than you ever were. You and your tiny shrivelled mind. I can very well imagine what others feel. I can see the pain of others, feeling it almost as if it were my own. I also know mercy and kindness. And yet. And yet I will push all these feelings aside. I will consciously ignore them to cause you the most horrible pain anyone has ever felt and I will make sure that it will last forever. Where you mindlessly chose to hurt people I chose to do so deliberately. While you were sitting her all alone in the darkness, hopefully going insane from boredom I did my research. I got the best figures I could find to find out how many you made suffer. I do not want to cause you more pain than you have caused others after all."
    Tyrzo held up the diamond rod "See this? This is the conduit that will connect your rotten soul to the machines surrounding you. This will become your crowning achievement. Parts of your soul are going to be removed from its core, transported into furnace arrays, without breaking the connection to your juicy core mind you, where they then will be slowly burnt. all of these are extensions of your own work. In a way this makes me your greatest pupil. Under other circumstances some of the things I invented to make this work would doom me like you to a nice solitary shelve in the Fortress of Terminal Justice followed by eventual evaporation. But as we happen to be on the moon were there is only my house I guess I will let this slide past this one time. After all now you will really experience some justice and the best part is by powering my home with your horrid soul you provide me here with the energy I needed so urgently to advance my own plans." Tyrzo fitted the diamond rod into the socket into which it had to be placed only the upper end not quite connecting. He held it with his left index finger finishing his little speech, "This time you will actually take part in something good. In something for the benefit of all. Maybe in this way you will eventually pay for all your crimes." Tyrzo's smiled broadened. He pushed the rod completely into its slot.
    The diamond connector began to glow in the soft gold hues of a souls energy, the gemstone wires starting to glow as the power of the essence of Nizlaal's soul was passed through them. There was a light shudder sending a vibration through the entire complex as the first furnace array sprang to life starting to burn the trickle of soul that was dripped slowly into it. The room around Tyrzo began to pulsate while the eyes of the prison-construct's head began to flicker.

    "If you excuse me, I am expecting guests shortly and we both a have a lot of work to do."