The sound of her heavy footsteps barely cut through the clamour of the drunken rabble that occupied one of the Muracant district’s fancier bars as she calmly stepped through the kitsch, swinging saloon doors; and yet the entirety of the crowd – which consisted mainly of Cirulians, Droghuls and other, bipedal races most commonly found in the lower districts – went dead silent whilst looks of fear watched her as she gracefully waded her way between the nautical themed tables and chairs towards the murky, rusted counter. Any other time she would have chosen to hide those features which inspire feelings of horror and dread amongst every other race that inhabited the great capital, Ghemeral, but this was not one of those times. This time, she had forgone any disguises; disguises that for decades provided her with means to hide her true nature from the other species of the world and for the first time in years she was walking freely amongst them. She had felt something in the Aether, not moments ago; something she hadn’t felt for over a century. She had felt the mind of Demetrius, presumed dead, but now finally awoken. She grinned.
She discarded her cloak with her clawed, oversized hands revealing the reddish scales that enveloped most of her sinewy, ashen skin as they glistened brightly in the dull neon light of the tacky, art deco advertisements that lined the otherwise bare concrete walls. This complimented the bioluminescent crevices which glowed with a fiery hue between the plates of hide that made up the remainder of her armoured skin. It didn’t help that her face had degenerated over years of changing her DNA to disguise herself, giving her certain features not unlike those found on a mutilated, degraded corpse. Her body was riddled with scars, certain parts of her skeletal structure which should not be visible were and her eyes were two black holes seemingly leading into an abyss of endless darkness, dotted with a blood red iris and an even blacker pupil.
The dusty air was laced with both wonderment and fear. You couldn’t blame anyone for staring; to a majority of the civilized world, her very existence was but myth and legend. Only few knew better, and every last person in this bar tonight now did too.
The massive claws which encapsulated the front of her feet clicked sharply against the muddy, wooden floorboards as she reached the counter where she promptly pulled up a stool and whipped up her tail in order to comfortably sit down; the latter motion startling the bartender who jarringly snapped back to reality. He was a Cirulian, a tall and bulky race known for their courage and lack of fear up to the point where it was still argued today whether the Cirulian species lacked common sense amongst their basic instincts and whether it was something they lost somewhere along the evolutionary path millions of years ago or if they never possessed any altogether; so it was a rare sight to see one speechless, let alone frozen in fear.
She had to admit, the situation excited her. For centuries she had dreamt about the day her species would finally reveal themselves to the world once again and today, the day of Demetrius’ return, would prove to be that day; be it her species had evolved to be a far cry from what it used to be last time they dominated the planet. She slowly opened her vicious mouth with the sound of grinding bone as her giant, carnivorous teeth parted to reveal her black, slender tongue. It was mostly visible through the openings riddling the flesh of her cheeks which appeared to have rotted away eons ago as she began to speak in the Cirulian language with a dark, raspy growl which at the same time vibrated the very bones in one’s body while threatening to shatter them through the screeching noise with which it was laced.
“Strongest you’ve got. And double it, I’m having a rough day.” She smirked at her own humour; something the bartender clearly did not appreciate as much as she did. Her smile morphed into a grimace as she was growing weary now of the endless staring.
“You are free to inform the inquisitors any time you like, by the way, I won’t stop you.”
She sighed as this still sparked no action in the terrified civilians. She slammed her giant, bony fist on the table causing it to crack.
“Now would be good!” she roared with a volume that shook the glasses around her, causing some to fall over and shatter on the floor. This finally sparked some survival instinct as she watched the bartended nearly trip over himself as he sprinted for the backdoor, instigating a chain reaction in the remainder of the bar’s patrons as they fought for the nearest exit. Surprisingly, some chose to stay. Whether it was out of curiosity, utter terror, sheer stupidity or complete drunkenness, she could not care to guess.
“Don’t forget to inform the captain, it is imperative he attends!” she yelled after the bartender before he disappeared from sight.
“I guess it’s self-serve tonight,” she quipped as she reached to grab the oldest Roschtkar, a fearsome spirit which in the Cirulian language literally translated into ‘liquid courage’.
“Allow me… Aerys.” A voice carrying a screeching growl not unlike her own, yet with a strange celestial hum encapsulating it came from the darkness behind her, speaking in her own native tongue. She flinched at hearing her own name and a chill crept up her jagged spine. It was a man that stepped forth from the shadows and picked up the bottle of Roschtkar before pouring it into a glass and sliding it towards Aerys. His figure was draped in a heavy, obviously valuable black cloak and his face was hidden in the shadow of his gold-trimmed hood, but the voice could not be mistaken.
“Heremys.” She tried hard to hide the quiver of fear in her voice, but a faint laugh from under the concealing hood meant that she most likely failed. “To what do I owe the… displeasure? I know you know the contract is yet to be fulfilled.”
Heremys was silent while Aerys downed her Roschtkar in a single swig. He was never a man of many words. He lifted his head slightly, pulling back some of the shadow and revealing his skin which was flawless, fair and even appeared to glow with a virtuous radiance before he finally spoke.
“This is where you are planning to kill him?” A sense of mockery laced his question.
“This wasn’t the plan originally, no. And I admit it’s not… optimal, but certain events caused me to improvise. Rest assured, the plan will work.” Aerys glanced over to the stool next to hers with a nervous frown and realised that she wasn’t so sure herself.
“No it won’t,” Heremys countered dryly, as if he was reading her thoughts. Aerys snapped her gaze back at him.
“You doubt my…” before she could finish her sentence, Heremys slammed down the bottle of Roschtkar, startling her. There was a brief silence before he spoke again.
“The plan is off.” With that, Heremys turned to leave.
“What!?” Aerys’ claws shattered her glass in anger and surprise. “You can’t go back on a deal you made with us, and you know that!”
“The plan is off because the target has changed.” Heremys came to a halt without turning towards her. “Nobody is going back on any deal. You will still receive full payment for this target and another, equal payment for the next. Think of it as getting paid twice for only one job.”
“You don’t understand!” Aerys jumped up from her chair, slamming her open palms against the surface of the counter with such force it caused the shattered crack she made before to extend along the entire length of the counter while she struggled to stop herself from shaking with dread. “Killing him is the only way I will get out of here alive. It is part of the plan!”
“Then change the plan!” His raspy voice now booming with anger as he promptly turned back to face her. “If he dies, you go against our will. You know who you are speaking to, you know who I represent and therefore I know you know… you really don’t want to do that.” Heremys’ voice calmed again as he headed for the door. “If you do make it out of here alive, your next contract will reach you the usual way.” He came to a halt in the doorway and turned towards her one last time. “I take it you felt it too. His return means nothing; you are still ours. Demetrius will change nothing. Still… this will prove to be an interesting turn of events. It is time to pick a side, Aerys.” With that, he disappeared into the darkness of the night.
Aerys had to think quickly. She turned to look at the bar stool beside her and panicked. She realised, for the first time in a long time, she was without a plan. She thought of simply running out the door, but the clamour of armour informed her this was already no longer an option; she was surrounded. She calmly sunk back into her uncomfortable seat as the clanking of metal outside came to a stop and the screeching of the saloon door’s rusty hinges suddenly filled the otherwise silent bar, sending chills through her bones. She made out six sets of four footsteps; Captain Caldir and his entourage. There was no sound of armour; befitting of his arrogance, as if he were aware of his newly bestowed invulnerability.
“Human!” His voice was bombastic and confident while laced with disgust. Aerys could already tell she was going to hate him. If she had not already known, his overacting voice would have given away that he was a Bakur; a race too proud and arrogant for their own good who believed they stood superior above all other races. In other words, a world class bigot. In truth, their arrogance had hardly any basis; Bakur were weak, frail and vulnerable and did not even possess an extraordinary amount of intelligence. The only thing that made them strong was their sheer numbers and their infallible determination to dominate. In a way, this reminded her of how her own race used to be, and that stung more than anything. To Aerys, people like Caldir represented the reason humanity lied on the brink of extinction and the reason her and her kin were forced into hiding by her own kind.
“Let me guess,” he started as his four legged body calmly climbed onto the chair next to Aerys, resting his underbelly on the hard, leathery cushion. The thick tail into which his lower body transitioned curled upwards behind him, idly dangling the poison spitter at the end of his tail; something his species must have needed somewhere along the evolutionary path. Everything was going according to plan; the old plan. Things could not have been worse.
“You must be drowning your sorrows because you are the worst at what you do, have I got that right?” A moment passed before Caldir burst into forced laughter, his subordinates awkwardly joining in just a moment too late. “Or perhaps you just really want to die?” He leaned his shark-like head in closer, his tone more serious now and his several rows of teeth clearly visible. The breath which flowed from the nostrils at the pointed tip of his elliptical, elongated face brushed her cheek, making her shiver in disgust, while the corner of her eye was stabbed by the shine that glazed off of the collection of short, pointed horns that lined the back of his head. He tauntingly placed his oversized rifle on the counter in front of them, almost daring her to go for it, but Aerys knew better; if there was anything Bakur had going for them, it was their incredible reflexes. He folded his upper arms arrogantly while his smaller, abdominal arms rested on the handles of the chair in a relaxed manner. It was almost as if he knew just how much he had the upper hand.
“You really think you could waltz into my town and disturb these good people with your… ugly countenance and nothing bad would come of it?”
“If ugliness was a crime, you wouldn’t be captain.” Aerys giggled at her own jip, momentarily forgetting the grievous nature of the situation. Caldir continued as if he did not hear her audacious comment. “Your race is scum, a mistake by the Gods, a blight on this land and I won’t rest until I have rid the world of every last one of you vile abominations.”
By now, Aerys was struggling to stay calm. Never had she wanted to kill anyone this badly, and that included Zerus, harbinger of the Erebus. With her left hand, she angrily clenched the brass railing that encompassed the bar counter while her right hand was clasped around a small device, something that for now she vowed to cling on to for dear life.
“So I am just going to go ahead and arrest you,” he exclaimed nonchalantly. This startled Aerys so much she nearly dropped the precious item in her hand.
“A…arrest?” She almost laughed at how absurd that sounded.
“Y…yes,” he retorted, mocking her stutter. “You will have a full tribunal and everything, the whole deal. Tribunal, that’s three, right? Let’s see… there’ll be the hanging, the firing squad and finally the chair. If you survive all three, you will be declared innocent and be set free!” Caldir turned to face his entourage who promptly joined in his boisterous guffaw as if they would regret it if they didn’t. Aerys, on the other hand, could not muster anything more but a deadpan sigh, angry at herself for believing for even a second that she could have gotten off with a simple arrest and strongly considered unleashing the fury of her little device right about now. Caldir wiped tears of laughter from two of his six eyes as he swivelled back to face Aerys.
“But seriously though, short of killing everyone in here, there is no chance you are living to see another sunrise.”
“I meant to,” Aerys spoke quietly, closing her eyes in dismay. There was a brief silence until Caldir broke his dumbfound demeanour and leaned in once more.
“Kill everyone in here,” Aerys said with the same level of dismay. Caldir leaned back for a moment, having returned to a dumbfound expression. His agape mouth curled into a smile and a scoff before he broke out into wild, uncontrollable laughter. This time, his subordinates were too nervous to join in and were more concerned with what Aerys meant.
“You don’t think I could?” Aerys growled with a sense of hurt pride. Caldir took a moment to compose himself.
“Oh I don’t doubt you could, human, that’s not it. It’s just that… what is this? A confession? What, you think you have a conscience now? You think… haha… you think that by sparing our lives and confessing, we would spare yours?”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Aerys barked, insulted. “I’m clearing no conscience, and I’m certainly not ‘sparing’ your miserable life.”
“No, you are right. I know you humans too well.”
Aerys scoffed at this remark.
“You meant to kill me,” Caldir continued, “which means I was a target given to you in a contract; and you have just been told the target has changed. Am I correct?” Caldir leaned back in his chair, content with himself. Now it was Aerys who was dumbfound. Her mouth opened but no sound came out as her brow frowned in panicked confusion. Aerys’ mind became saturated with shooting thoughts, too sporadically for her to make sense out of it, until Caldir’s raspy voice snapped her back to reality.
“Try not to hurt yourself thinking so hard. I take it from your confusion that you didn’t have time to read the papers this morning. Don’t worry about it, I won’t bother you with the politics of the matter in the final moments of your life.”
“You gave up the council candidacy to your brother, Diran,” Aerys interrupted.
“Look who’s starting to figure things out. Very good.”
“I know your brother has strong ties with Erebus, and that he was second choice, after you, to ascend to a position in the council after I, well, assassinated the last Bakur member.” Aerys grinned as she said this. “The fact that the target on your head was withdrawn must mean that you willingly stepped down. A warning from your brother, perhaps? I suppose sibling love isn’t dead just yet. Now why does Erebus want Diran in the council so badly? This must be about more than simply a council position. And the target that took your place in my contract, a courtesy of your brother, I assume? A man in his position would have known that saving your life meant condemning someone else’s. Once a Spectre's contract is made…”
“Sigadur Kur Varenali is a problem. A problem you won’t get to solve. This is one contract you will never fulfil; you cannot kill me, but I will do everything within my power to end your life.” Caldir leaned in closer as he threatened Aerys. “What was the plan anyway? How did you possibly think to kill me and get out of here alive? Do tell.”
Aerys smirked as she thought about how uncomfortable Caldir was about to become with what she was about to tell him.
“There is a bomb under your seat, and I am holding a dead man’s trigger.” Aerys could tangibly feel the shift in the room and she could not resist poking the bear. “In case you didn’t know, that is a trigger that activates when I let go of-“
“I know what it is!” Caldir barked angrily. Much to Aerys’ satisfaction, Caldir was visably agitated and uncomfortable by the position he now found himself in, causing him to shift anxiously in his seat. It was obvious that he struggled to stay composed and maintain his control over the situation. He tried to hide the nervous quiver in his voice as he spoke once more.
“Any explosion small enough to only affect me would not be strong enough to kill me.” Caldir calmly awaited Aerys’ reply, hoping he was right.
“Actually, the plan was to kill every last one of you in here.”
This seemed to bring back the laughter in Caldir, albeit a nervous laugh.
“Your plan was to blow up this whole bar and yourself with it, just to kill me? I’m flattered that I am a target worthy of your own death.”
This made Aerys scoff loudly.
“I said every one of you. I’ve survived worse.”
Caldir promptly went quiet; his smile gone, replaced with an anxious frown. He believed her.
“Dead man’s trigger, you say?” Caldir spoke with a stalwart voice.
“I let go, everyone dies.” Aerys maintained a matter-of-fact tone.
“Everyone but me, that is.” She was enjoying the shift of power.
“Why don’t you give it here before somebody gets hurt.” Caldir reached out one of his abdominal arms.
Aerys simply scoffed in reply.
“We both know you are not allowed to kill me,” Caldir pressed, “very bad things would come of that, I assure you. So that trigger is a worthless bargaining chip. Now hand it over!” He was clearly losing his patience; one would, sitting on top of a bomb.
Aerys didn’t respond in any way, but simply sat there in silence, ignoring him almost mockingly. A moment of silence passed. Aerys leaned forward to grab another glass when Caldir violently kicked back his chair and in one fierce movement leaned over her, shouting in her ear.
“Hand me the trigger, you worthless piece of shit! I’m going to kill you and then my men are going to have fun maiming your dead corpse! Erebus won’t be here to protect you now. They’ll drop you like you dropped your own kin to be a slave to their biggest enemy. No honour amongst scum, right? I suppose you like it too, like a worthless dog grovelling to its master.”
Aerys’ eyes shot wide with rage. His words stung deep into her core, more than Caldir knew, but just as much as he’d hoped as he continued his angry rant.
“You’re pathetic! You and your entire species. Backstabbing and betraying each other, no wonder you live on the brink of extinction. You’re weak! Just like the last human I killed.”
Aerys knew he was referring to Dionys, a dear friend of hers, but she hadn’t known that it was Caldir that killed him.
“Betrayed by his own scum kind, scum like you. Think about how he died because of weak, pathetic cowards like you. It’ll be the last thought you ever have.” Caldir’s eyes were fuming with rage while Aeyris squeezed hers shut, trying to find calm within herself, but failing to do so.
“Actually, it’ll be yours.” With that, Aerys lifted her hand, motioning to pass the trigger to Caldir but opened her hand before it reached his. There was absolute silence, like time stood still for the briefest of moments, before Caldir processed the situation he thought impossible. All six of his eyes shot wide as he screamed and struggled through the bar’s clutter, throwing chairs aside as he ran behind his subordinates towards the front door. But it was too late. Aerys closed her eyes once more and let the flames wash over her before the shockwave threw her against the wall, shrapnel piercing her skin across her entire body causing unimaginable agony. Agony which she felt was worth it. Roaring fireballs shattered the windows of the building before even the walls gave way, spraying concrete debris far into the streets. The sound was deafening, even demolishing the windows of the surrounding buildings. Before long, the building collapsed in a roaring inferno which no one could possibly have survived.
At the far reaches of the rubble, a pile of rocks crumbled apart, revealing a black, charred figure emerging from it. Aerys barely had skin left on her body, which resembled nothing more than a smoldering carcass. As she crawled out of the rubble, her body began to regenerate, pushing the shrapnel outwards through her body, causing her to scream in anguish. It was a level of agony she had hoped never to experience again. Once most of her muscle had grown back, she stood straight and began staggering away from the scene.
“Damn. Now I’ve done it.”
Darkness. Pain was the next thing to fill his mind as he struggled to open his eyes; a pain that led him to believe a great time had passed since he last used them. He struggled in vain, however, as it did nothing to repel the darkness that surrounded him. It was then that he realised the darkness did not only veil his vision, but his mind as well. As he moved to sit up, agonizingly straining every muscle in his body whilst doing so, he found he could not bring a single memory to mind. He slid off what felt like a stone slab in an attempt to stand straight; an action quickly deemed premature for someone who had just woken up from what must have been a lengthy coma. As he sat himself back down onto the cold surface he ran the more obvious questions through his head: “What happened?”; “Where am I?”; “How did I get here?”, but none of them sparked even the vaguest of answers. Each of these questions paled in comparison, however, to the question that last filled his mind: “Who am I?” He posed the question again and again, first as a thought and then a whisper until he found himself screaming the question at the top of his lungs; his throat burning as his hoarse voice rushed through it. Nothing. He did not have the slightest clue as to his origin or identity and not a hundred inquiring screams seemed to draw as much as an inkling from the recesses of his mind. With this query unresolved, all other answers would stand without reference and likely cascade into a chain of increased confusion, with each subsequent resolution leaving more questions than answers. He frowned until the muscles of his face burned from disuse upon which he laughed quietly at the irony of the fact that had circumstances been different – like a memory intact – this situation would have called for panic and despair. Instead, he found himself to be as calm as a man with nothing to lose; in many ways, he now was.
At least that much he knew; he was a man. More specifically, a member of man-kind, although that word no longer meant what it used to. He was not sure how he knew, but he was certain that while he belonged to the human species, he was a far cry from what it once meant to be human. His mind may have been void of personal memory, but facts and common knowledge were slowly returning to him, as is common with retrograde amnesia. If not for this, the state of his body made it clear just how far removed he was from the species known as Homo sapiens. As he ran his claw-like fingers from the external bone structures that spanned between his major joints onto the scaled plates of exoskeleton that ran in between, he facetiously wondered if he was even in the same genus. His musing was cut short, however, and replaced with contemplation on the subject of his current amnesic condition. An average retrograde amnesiac would not lose the entirety of their memory, let alone their identity. Their memory would also return over time with adequate stimulation, but he had a feeling this was not average. As he cradled his head between his hands in frustration, he found the answer to at least one of his questions; his right hand felt the unpleasant texture of severe scar tissue covering that half of his face.
‘Well, that answers that question,’ he whispered to himself with a shiver in his voice. He must have suffered an incredible trauma to his head to have ended up in this state. As expected, this answer did little more than spawn a series of new questions to which he was probably not going to find an answer any time soon. “Was it an accident? Do I have enemies? How did I survive? How long have I been here? Was I nursed back to health or am I presumed dead?” The last query in particular drove a cold shiver through his spine as he considered the pitch black room he found himself in, or the cold slab of stone he woke up on. He jumped up, more stable this time, as he tried his best not to think of the word “tomb” and set out to locate the edges of his confinement. Walking blindly with his arms stretched out before him, his heart sank as he soon reached a solid stone wall. “Tomb” was now the only word on his mind.
He closed his eyes again; not that it made a difference to the darkness surrounding him, it’s just one of those things you do when you’re trying to think. He started moving along the bare wall, slowly exploring its surface for any sign of an exit. He suddenly stopped.
What is that? … Light? A tiny, bright dot had appeared at the centre of his vision. No matter which way he faced, the small light remained precisely where it was. He made several attempts at opening his eyes, but found that he was unable to do so. He realised this is something that would normally call for panic, but instead the light appeared soothing, if not familiar somehow. As he calmed his mind and mentally reached out towards it, he found all his other senses picking up strange, yet familiar sensations. His ears were flooded with the sound of water rushing towards him, louder and louder until it completely deafened him, making it impossible to focus on anything else; that is until the sound was matched by its scent. The smell was so powerful he could taste it. Again, as with every aspect of this strange light, while completely alien and hard to describe, the pungent aroma seemed like something he’d tasted before. If he had to describe it, he would say it smelled and tasted like burnt metal with a peculiar acidic quality so sharp it ran a stabbing pain through every organ that sensed it. Its presence slowly grew until it had filled the entirety of his mouth upon which it began to travel down his throat. He staggered as he fought back his gag reflex. Struggling to breathe, he redirected his attention towards the light and began to question his choice to reach out to it.
He tried to pull his mind away from the light, which did nothing but cause it to latch on more strongly. As he started to panic, the roaring noise pounded down on him as if it were an actual flood beating down on his chest and tearing at his ear drums. He made an attempt to physically back away when whatever substance tortured his taste and smell now began filling his veins. It felt as if invisible syringes were penetrating all areas of his skin and pumping searing cold sludge into his veins; his senses were overcome by the agonizing sensation of this rancid fluid crawling across the surface of his body until eventually it seeped deep into his internal organs. The entire process seemed to progress excruciatingly slow, but in truth he had no idea how much time had passed. What he did know was how badly he wanted this torment to come to an end. He made one last attempt to fight the light’s pull which brought on instant regret as pulling back caused the freezing contents of his veins to move in the opposite direction – towards the light – and with it he felt his entire cardiovascular system shift beneath his skin. The sensation was so intense it felt like it would tear free from his body, leaving his ruptured remains in its wake. He wailed with the last of his strength until every fibre of his being was wholly devoid of willpower. He hoped the worst had passed with his defeat, but none of the anguish he was forced to endure throughout the entirety of this process was as dreadful, as horrific as the heinously jarring sensation of having his mind forcibly severed from his body. His tactile senses dislocated as he struggled to maintain his sense of self in the sea of light that had crept forth from the lone dot and now flooded the world around him, effectively blinding his every sense, until all that remained was his thoughts, enveloped by never ending light.
Then, as quickly as it had washed over him, the light parted to reveal a figure.
A shadow moved swiftly through cobblestone streets which were – despite the full moon – wholly wrapped in darkness, aiding in keeping his movement hidden from those who would seek to find him. In the near distance, snarls and growls could be heard between the scurrying sound of claws grazing stone and wood. The figure crept its way between every recess and alcove that lined the alleyways which bound together the various shady bars and industrial warehouses that comprised the Muracant district’s murky docks until he was promptly halted by extravagantly ornate, bronze balustrades. He used to pride himself with his knowledge of the maze that was Ghemeral’s under-city, but his memory betrayed him as he now found himself trapped on the edge with no way back. He had been beat at his own game.
He sighed in frustration; after all that had happened, it finally comes to an end. In a way, he was glad. He was old. Older than anyone could imagine. He had lived through things the greatest minds of fantastical literature could not have conjured up if they tried. So much history, so many experiences; and he was the only one on the entire planet that knew the whole truth; the truth about the ancient ruins being uncovered across the known world, ruins of an ancient civilization that ruled the planet millions of years ago. The only one to know the truth about the black star, Tartarus, a dark abyss that permanently lined the southern horizon, vigilantly guarding the skies of the southern hemisphere, never moving from its post. The civilizations of the world would do well to fear it, and those who revere it would falter at the truth. He rues the day his people placed it there and shivered as he thought back on the years that followed. Had he not done everything he could? Perhaps not. Perhaps all could have been saved. But then he’d look around at the wonderful world of today and, truth be told, there were days when he wondered if maybe what happened had to happen, despite the horrendous cost.
None of that mattered now. He had watched countless civilizations rise and fall throughout his lifespan, and now it was his time. The last of his kind on this planet. All that was left to do now was to warn the one species fit to continue his legacy. Dark days were coming and there was only a small group of individuals willing – and capable – of ending the coming storm before it destroys everything in its path. He had searched endlessly to locate them, but they had all gone into hiding just as he’d told them to – a long, long time ago – from the aforementioned, proverbial storm. That was before he had learned what he now knows, however, and he needed them now, more than ever, to rise again and end it all for good – no matter the cost.
He was both relieved and worried that recently one of them had carelessly entered the Aether, practically announcing their current location to everyone else able to connect. It was foolish and dangerous, but thankfully a chance to finally get back into contact with them and call for their aid.
The figure forwent the sheltering embrace the shadows had consistently provided him with and now bathed in the silvery light of the full moon as he calmly strode towards the adorned railing with an unearthly grace. His stride was that of a predator; his legs bent back like those of one, yet he had no tail to match. The brilliant glow of the sole celestial body at last revealed his alien features. As the white light touched his sinewy figure, his skin turned pale as if to match it – like that of a chameleon adapting to its environment – and now contrasted strongly against the black veins that ran beneath it. His slender features appeared frail, yet powerful, accentuating the prominent bone structure that lay underneath. His entire body was completely devoid of even a single hair; even his head, which arched back slenderly into a tapered, elongated point. His four eyes, hidden subtly underneath a layer of skin, stared out into the distance with a sense of awe, as he reached the bronze barrier to which he clung with his wispy, four-fingered hands. He had spent more years of his life creeping and crawling through the underworks of this capitol of the world than he cared to remember and still would be, had he not been forced out of hiding. Tonight, none of that mattered anymore and he was simply grateful for the view that would now be the last thing he ever saw. A view that was easily the most extraordinary, the most breathtaking view anyone in the civilized world had ever laid eyes on.
The inhabitants of this floating kingdom unanimously agreed that there was no collection of words in the whole of the Kahrulian language more beautiful and inspiring than Vara’ghemeral aargula, which translated – quite aptly – into ‘star-covered night sky’; and the sight was nothing short of that.
Being quite the mouthful for most foreign races, the city was more commonly known by its shorter name, 'Ghemeral'. Calling it a city does not do justice to its unfathomable size, however; it was more akin to a kingdom, which made the fact that it floated several kilometres high in the sky all the more impressive. It usually sat right above the cloud line, but on rare and coveted cloudless nights like these, one could view the entirety of the city's rock bed, the mysterious and mystical beating heart of the levitating technology keeping this behemoth afloat. No one yet knew why these several kilometre long chunks of rock flew, nor did anyone know why, at night, their underbellies lit up as bright as the stars from which they had earned their name and periodically bellowed out rivers of flame, like an airship expelling ballast. All everyone did know was that on these special nights, when you looked down upon the vast lake above which this kingdom floats and lost yourself in the majestic collection of reflections these luminous rocks spilled unto the eerily still surface below, you could imagine yourself floating through space with the starry sky lying underneath you, rather than above.
The only thing to tarnish your fantasy would have been the large and numerous tendrils dangling down from the rocks, all the way down, until they reached the water where they disappeared into the subsurface abyss, appearing like slender, fragile pillars, precariously supporting the entire structure. In a way, the whole thing was reminiscent of a swarm of enormous, bioluminescent jellyfish, floating aimlessly through the pitch black darkness that is the endless sea; except, somehow they were also carrying an entire civilization on their backs.
It was easy to see why people chose to settle here. In the endless smoke clouds and dust storms that rage on the surface, Ghemeral was like a bright beacon in the night, luring wanderers with its promise of safety. It was positioned above the planet's largest known crater which now acted like a basin for the world's largest known lake, the Great Lake of Drak’valisi; the edge of which was lined with a vast mountain range, varying between snow-covered peaks and fertile valleys, all the while providing the perfect protective wall against threats from the vast desert wasteland that surrounded the crater as far as the eye could see.
The creature’s mouth reached all the way to where his ears would have been – if he’d had any – as he smiled contently, bearing dozens of razor sharp teeth. He gazed out into the distance, ecstatic about finally making contact again, yet worried about what it might mean for their safety. With his claws still wrapped around the railing, he leaned forward and with a deep and piercing voice roared in an alien language.
“Demetrius, it is I, Lachesis. I must admit I worried for your safety when I first felt your presence in the Aether, but as always, I trust you know what you are doing. Instead, I am glad to know you are still alive and hope this message finds you well. The moment could not have been more apt, as it is finally time to take action. We must awaken from our slumber, crawl out from hiding and unite ourselves; it is the only way we can stop the horror that has been put in motion. A horror that will quite literally consume the world. I, myself, will not be part of this, it pains me to say, you are on your own now for my time has come.”
His head jolted to the side as he could hear the ominous sound of scraping claws behind him.
“Arkah’va. They have found me as they will most certainly find all of you. I have kept the secret safe for as long as I could and I do not know how much they suspect, but tread wearily, my old friend, for dark days are ahead. My race will hunt you, all of you, without mercy. The last of mankind is dwindling to extinction, and ironically I must ask you to aid in this process. Your brethren, the Erebus, are the bearers of the horror of which I spoke. I am so sorry to ask this of you, all of you, for I know what this means, but you cannot begin to grasp what is at stake. Everything is in motion now and there is nothing we can do but bring about the end of the Erebus, before they bring about the end of all that we know.”
In a single movement he gracefully jumped the railing and was now precariously balancing on the edge, several hundred meters above the shimmering surface of the dark lake.
“You must join Aerys. I know you and her have had your differences but you must find it in yourself to forgive her for her recent choices. She may be performing the duties of a Spectre, but her heart still lies with the Nyx, I can assure you. You must hurry, for the Erebus surely sensed your presence in the Aether as I did and will be coming for you. You must go now.”
Behind him a calamity of sounds gathered as his attacker sprinted towards him.
“You know where to go, you know what must be done. I wish you luck in saving the world.”
With that, he leaned forward and disappeared over the edge.
It was time to call in all favours. Aerys had to find out everything she could about her target, Sigadur Kur Varenali, if she was to stay a step ahead of the Erebus and more importantly, stay alive. She was not going to kill him, but she had to know why the Erebus wanted him dead. She had been their puppet for far too long; today was the day she had waited for, ever since she had given up her morals out of fear and despair. Today was the day she finally fought back once again, like she used to when the Nyx were still what they once were, before the Great Retribution – as the Erebus liked to call it. The Great Retribution, which destroyed the Nyx, condemned them to this life of concealment and made them what they are today, decrepit husks with the faces of demons for which the world shunned them. Seeing Heremys, or any of the Erebus, was always an agonizing insult, a painful reminder of what the Nyx used to be, before they were forcibly and mercilessly scarred beyond recognition for their “sins against the values of the Erebus.”
Aerys began to daydream back to the days when the Nyx and the Erebus were one, united and fighting under the same cause. Back when they called themselves the Hypnos, The humans who slept through time. Life was hopeful back then. Aerys was angry with herself for thinking back on this, and tightened her hand which was resting on her leg. She curled her claws and dragged them across her flesh until thick blood seeped through five gaping wounds.
“That will heal easily,” she winced, watching the drops stain deeply into the stone, “the past will not.” She laughed quietly at the irony.
Now was not the time for nostalgia. If anything, there had never been a more inappropriate time. Work was to be done, and it was not beneficial to Aerys, or anyone for that matter, to linger on what could have been. That could get her killed, and now that Demetrius had returned, her role in defeating the Erebus was imperative.
Over the years she had managed to track down a few other Nyx that were not as well hidden as they should have been; this was a good thing, however, as Aerys was going to need the help of every last one of them in the time that was to come if the Nyx hoped to succeed over the Erebus. One of them did pretty well for himself; Aerys knew not what life he led in the shadows, but did know it had earned him a few important friends, among which was a senator with whom Aerys had now arranged a meeting. Aerys needed to find out what happened behind the closed doors of the council if she were to discover the reason behind the contract against Varenali. The senator was once a student of Varenali. She was a great admirer of him and his archaeological work, which is why she was eager to help.
Aerys did not make it out to the Vara’nini district very often, but when she did, she was always surprised at the difference between it and the other districts. No expense was spared to make the class difference as great as possible. The buildings were tall, sleek and adorned with all manner of exotic stonework and rare metals. The amount of gold in this district probably made up a quarter of the allowed weight of this island. She clenched her fist thinking about how many people could have been spared from exile if they just threw some of it into the Great Lake of Drak’valisi that lied beneath Ghemeral.
Engineers had taken the time to estimate the maximum weight each island could safely carry, and based on that a population control had been set in place. It was the reason Ghemeral had no need for prisons; criminals were exiled to the merciless desert to make room for new people, be it visitors, immigrants or local families on the waiting list to have a child. On a floating city, you had to apply and register to be allowed to expand your family. Every gram counted; except in Vara’nini, where the streets were paved with gold. Because of this, it was nearly impossible to gain a permit to visit, let alone live in Vara’nini or even the rest of the island. The population was kept to a minimum. Aerys was not even allowed to be there, but she had her ways of going wherever she wanted. One more person was not going to make the island sink.
Vara’nini. It meant ‘little night-sky’. Most likely named that way for some of the more peculiar architecture in this district. There was the Tristura building, for example. ‘Tristura’ meant moon, and that was just what it was. An enormous skyscraper shaped like a half-moon, its tapered ends pointing high towards the sky. Or Ghemeral Hall, a true marvel of engineering, shaped like a shimmering star. Numerous structures emanated in all directions from the centre of the middle tower, thin and sharp like icicles somehow defying gravity. It was hard for Aerys to be too impressed, however, when she thought about the poverty of the lower districts compared to the riches of this one. She was going to have to put her grudge against the upper class aside for now, as she needed the help of one of them. But then again, just because she needed the senator’s help it did not mean she couldn’t hate her.
After hours of sneaking through the shadows, Aerys had finally reached her destination. It was one of the taller buildings near the centre of the district. She figured she was not going to be let into the building without proper identification, so she began scaling the outer wall of the building. This is where having claws for hands turned out to be quite beneficial.
The wind was getting stronger as Aerys reached dizzying heights, making it harder to latch on to the building's stonework. When she looked around she could see several great airships going about their business in the distance and took a moment to admire them. They were no mere zeppelins, but true flying dreadnoughts, ironclad and armed with enormous firepower top and bottom. There was no visible balloon, making how these behemoths stayed afloat a mystery as great as the floating islands of Ghemeral itself. Only a few beings knew the secret, and they had full monopoly on airship manufacturing. They called themselves Duna'gligosa, ‘Sky-riders’. Aerys did suspect, without a doubt, that this was technology far beyond any of this world's civilizations, like finding a mobile phone in the middle ages. There had to be more behind it, and she had a feeling it was Hesperides. Hesperides was a sort of dome-shaped, city-sized bunker in the far east, built to withstand the end of the world. She had never been there herself, but she had heard rumours from other Nyx that it has been inhabited by humans, all through the apocalypse and the millennia that followed, ever evolving, ever progressing. They were said to possess technology beyond your wildest imagination, and even though they were originally human, they had evolved beyond recognition. Aerys was going to have to make her way there one day, as they were surely to be in the interest of the Erebus.
She counted the windows as she continued to make her way up the building and stopped when she reached what she hoped was the twenty-fourth floor. Aerys briefly glanced downwards, simply for the sake of feeling the rush, then slipped into the already open window of what she had estimated was the right apartment. She hoped she had estimated correctly, or there was going to be a lot of explaining to do.
The room was mostly dark, but a few dim lights revealed enough for Aerys to know that the Senator was no woman of humility. The furniture was ornately carved out of exotic woods from far beyond the desert and lined with the finest of silver and gold. Across the room, hides and furs of endangered species were proudly displayed as rugs, leather linings and wall ornaments. The pieces of art that decorated the remaining spaces were atrocious, a requirement for being pretentious.